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The Flower Question (continued)

Freddie sat down and ate his breakfast - a boiled egg, orange juice, toast and marmalade. Alice finished her cornflakes and left without saying anything more.

After Freddie had finished his breakfast, he got up from the table and took his dishes to the sink.

"I think I'll go next door, Mummy," he said, "and see if Angus is up."

"He should be up by now, Freddie," said his mother; "you and Alice slept late this morning. It's already nine o'clock. You must have been tired after your trip to the Lake District."

* * *

In fact Angus was up, and had already had breakfast. He was in his room building a model airplane. It was going to have a little engine in it that would run on petrol.

Angus and Freddie greeted each other and Angus told Freddie about his model airplane. Freddie was impressed. Then Freddie told Angus about his family's visit to the Lake District. Finally, Freddie mentioned the chrysanthemums. He couldn't get them out of his mind. He kept thinking of the way they looked last night - all drooped over and very sad looking - and then how they looked this morning - bright, yellow faces smiling at anyone who stopped to see them.

"Angus, do you think flowers can be happy?" asked Freddie.

Angus thought. "Well," he said slowly, "they haven't got a mind, have they?"

It was Freddie's turn to think. "How could we tell whether they have a mind?" he asked, puzzled.

"Well," said Angus, ":if they could talk, then they'd have a mind . . . No, wait! Some dolls can talk . . . you know, talking dolls, like the one my sister has, and they don't have minds."

"Yeah, they're called 'talking dolls', agreed Freddie, "but do they really talk? Or did some real person talk and they made a recording that gets played when you pull the ring?"

"I guess they don't really talk," sighed Angus; "but if plants could really talk, we would know they have a mind. And if they have a mind, they can be happy. Anything with a mind can be happy or sad."

"Hey, I know," said Freddie; "they might be able to talk by radio waves, or something, . . . or by dust that goes from one plant to another."

"Yeah, Maybe," said Angus, "but we don't know. We don't even know whether Pepper can talk."

"He can," said Freddie, confidently; "when he wants to be let in he barks outside the door. When he wants to be let out he goes to the door and paws at it and barks. That's talking."

"Well, okay," said Angus; "but we still don't know about flowers."

Just then Angus's older sister, Fiona, stuck her head into Angus's room.

"Hello, Freddie," she said cheerfully; "how was the Lake District?"

"Good," said Freddie; "but, say, Fiona, what do you think? Can flowers be happy?"

Fiona though a moment. "Sure," she said confidently, "but why do you ask?"

"Auntie Gertie says they can be," he explained; "but my sister, Alice - she's such a drip - she says they don't have any feelings."

Fiona paused. "Well," she said, "I don't think they say to themselves, 'I'm happy', or 'I'm sad'. But they can show they're happy by blooming. And they must have some kind of feelings because they're so sensitive."

She paused again. "You know there's something called a 'sensitive plant'. It curls up when you touch it. It's like a butterfly. When you touch it ever so slightly, it curls up."

"Oh," said Angus, "that could be a reflex . . . you know, something like a spring. If you touch a spring, it may curl up, too."

"It's got to be sensitive anyway," Fiona insisted, "if it can have reflexes. If it can curl up, it's got to be sensitive. I've got to go. See you guys later."

Freddie and Angus returned to the model airplane. They forgot for a while about plants and whether they can be happy.

* * *

Freddie stayed at Angus's house all day, helping with the model airplane. His mother called him home to have his tea with Alice and Aunt Gertie. Mother and Father were going out for dinner. As the three of them sat at the kitchen table, Freddie decided to confront Aunt Gertie with the flower question: "Auntie Gertie, how do we know that Chrysants are happy?' "Didn't you see them today?" Aunt Gertie asked; their faces are all turned up and smiling at us." "Oh, you just want to pretend they're like people," said Alice, sourly. "You know they don't really have any feelings at all. The can't feel happy."

"Aunt Gertie straightened up in her chair. "Do you think happiness is a feeling, Alice?" she asked; "maybe a warm, gently tickling feeling that spreads over your body?"

"I don't know about that," said Alice, cautiously.

"If you think happiness is like the feeling of hot chocolate going down your throat on a cold day, then maybe flowers aren't happy," Aunt Gertie conceded; "so far as we know, they don't have that kind of sensation. But some of your happiest times are when you're doing something you like doing - singing in a big chorus, or playing a game well. You don't have time to stop and get warm feelings. Your happiness is just doing something you are good at doing with all you've got in you. Flowers can hold their heads high and show off their blossoms with all they have in them. When they are healthy and well watered they tend to do that. And that's happiness for a flower."

Freddie thought about what Aunt Gertie said. One of his happiest moments, he thought, came when he got to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" in a children's choir on Christmas Eve. He didn't know why he liked that carol so much, but he did. Maybe he had some warm feelings then, but happiness wasn't those warm feelings, or you could be happy by just going over to the gas fire. Maybe happiness for any living things is just doing something very well, with all you've got in you, as Auntie Gertie said. For a flower, that would be blooming.