Brown, Son & Ferguson: There Was a Key

Brown, Son & Ferguson: There Was a Key: Stories for Girls

Having written many excellent short stories, Savery made repeated efforts to interest publishers in a collection of them. As often as these manuscripts were submitted, she was told that there was no market for short stories. It is ironic, therefore, that her only published collection was issued in 1930 when she was almost unknown.

I have discussed this collection as a whole elsewhere. The book was not successful, and she rarely returned to allegory or myth thereafter.

The stories are listed alphabetically. The original order may be reconstructed by use of the page numbers.

The Angel in the Garden. Illus. by Manrico Coia. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, Limited, 52-58 Darnley St., Glasgow, in "There Was a Key." 1930, pp 42-59.

A poet and his tactful wife are distressed that their son Michael cannot enter into the imaginative play of their other children. The matter comes to a head when all but Michael can describe an angel standing tall and grave next to the lupin bed beneath the wall. Michael sees only lupins, so he is sent out to live a useful, but unpoetic life with his grandparents. When he is brought home years later with a terminal illness, it is only Michael that can see the angel. Savery states no morals. She only tells Michael's story.

Blue and Yellow make Green. Ibid., pp 74-81.

A brother and sister named Yellow and Blue live by themselves in a cottage. When new children come to live in cottages on either side of them, Yellow and Blue watch wondering as their neighbors clean up and cook fragrant-smelling meals. Then the boy and girl in one cottage buy red and gold paint, while the boy and girl on the other side buy red and blue. Pulling together, in a way that Yellow and Blue cannot understand, they create beautiful cottages of orange and purple. Quarreling, Yellow and Blue buy paint also, but their yellow and blue patchwork only produces laughs from passers-by. Not the best of Savery's stories, it ends predictably.

The Coloured Pebbles. Ibid., pp 9-17.

Something of a Pilgrim's Progress in miniature, but without Bunyan's labels, this story finds a group of children taking a long journey through difficult terrain to find the palace of their King. At the outset, six children volunteer to be leaders, among them Claris. The leaders are given heavy scrips filled with pebbles, while the followers' scrips are empty; however, as Claris proceeds, her scrip leaks, lightening her load, while some of her pebbles are retrieved by the children who follow her. Eventually, as their scrips fill, some of the followers are able to lead also. In the end, the children, scrips empty, look back to see that their pebbles have created a paved and shining path to the King's door. The allegory is clear enough, but there are no explanations.

Crystal Windows. Ibid., pp 1-8.

In this allegory of growing up, a group of little girls are allowed by their mothers to go play in the woods, where they find a mushroom-shaped house of fairy tales, games, and cleaning-up with crystal windows looking out on a lovely world. They stay for a long time, but as other children arrive, they are asked to move on to a bigger home. This proves to be white with a blue door, a house of real things and doing things together with windows looking out on wide plains. When at last they move on, less willingly than before, they find a still larger white house of new interests, away from childish play, a house of service to others that looks out on all the world. Most children would find this story difficult.

Lavender and Pansies Blue. Ibid., pp 32-41.

A witch buys a garden and plants black and purple seeds from which spring up hubris, melancholia, saevitia, indolentia, aspasia, vanitas, fraus, malevolentia, and herbs such as love-not, pouts, scowls, sly and spite, hate-me-quick, sting-heart, and snapever. Out come the townspeople's purses, and off they go with the witch's flowers to sow their own gardens. Into the dissension that follows comes a poor woman who sorrows at the witch's craft, but has no flowers to offer people other than lavender and pansies. Persecuted at first, the lavender-seller persists, and, in time, people begin to bring their pennies for her simple wares. According to the language of flowers, pansies denote loving thoughts, while lavender indicates luck or devotion. I don't know if Savery had these attributes in mind, but the rest of the allegory is clear enough, especially if one investigates the witch's flowers with a Latin dictionary.

Plant Me Pearls. Ibid., pp 60-73.

"Plant me pearls," said the mad King, intending to grow moon-blossoms. His courtiers are hesitant at first, but agree once they have concocted a plan of planting moon-daisies to provide a crop and returning surreptitiously to garner the pearls for themselves. Young Anthony, who has been enlisted to dig up wild moon-daisies for the courtiers, is surrounded by poor people who ask him to petition the King for their relief. When he does so, the King only replies, "I have planted pearls," but he does give Anthony wine, a gold chain, and some embroidered shirts to pass on to the poor. These gifts the King makes three times, while the courtiers watch each other carefully to prevent pearl-harvesting. Anthony tells the King of the moon-daisy plot, but Anthony is overheard and sentenced to die when the 'moon-blossoms' appear. The pearls are lost, but the people revolt, the courtiers are expelled, and Anthony is made Chancellor.

The Rainbow Ball. Ibid., pp 82-103.

In an allegory of salvation, a Stranger appears to village children, offering them bright, shining balls. Most receive what they request, a golden ball for one, a red ball for another, a many-striped ball for a third, and so on, though none are given the coveted rainbow ball. Margaret is last, and when she trusts the Stranger to choose for her, she receives a ball that is black. "Keep the balls very clean and bright," said the Stranger, and he offered to come when called to mend any balls that are injured. If they preserve their balls, they may come some day to live at his house, and he tells them where to find it, though they cannot come immediately. Margaret and the boy with the striped ball find that the balls are particularly bright when thrown up in the sunshine, and Margaret's black ball has color when viewed carefully. As the novelty wears off, the other children lose their balls, let them become soiled, or try to hide their defects with paint. Some trade balls with an old pedlar who tries unsuccessfully to get Margaret's. When a few children call upon the Stranger they find lost and dirty balls restored to them. Now and again a hooded Dark One summons children to the Stranger's house. When Margaret is called, she finds her black ball has turned into a rainbow ball. Savery offers no explanations.

The Red Flower. Ibid., pp 18-24.

The red flowers grow on a high tableland that is difficult to reach and are tended by a wise woman. Those smitten with mortal illness come to her, because the flowers cure infallibly. When the wise woman dies of old age, the tableland is overrun, and the red flowers are trampled and uprooted, until none remain. Then the tableland is deserted. Years later, four dying people come seeking help and discover, simultaneously, a single flower. Each in turn appeals to the others for the right to pick it, but in the end, each walks away. Left to itself, the flower flourishes and multiplies, to be discovered and nurtured many years later.

There Was a Key. Ibid., pp 25-31.

The day Lucky was born her fairy godmother died, and Lucky's only gift from the godmother's nephew was a set of keys on a silver ring. Yet the keys seemed to open any door, and Lucky went through life opening doors closed to everyone else. As often as old keys were used, new ones took their place. It is easy to see that the keys opened people's hearts, and Lucky deserved her name.