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Title: Spring in a Shropshire Abbey
Author: Gaskell, Lady Catherine Henrietta Wallop Milnes
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SPRING IN A SHROPSHIRE ABBEY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

        [Illustration: WENLOCK ABBEY IN 1778.
        _From an Engraving after a Drawing by Paul Sandby, R.A._
        _Frontispiece._]

------------------------------------------------------------------------


SPRING IN A SHROPSHIRE ABBEY

by

LADY C. MILNES GASKELL

Author of
"The New Cinderella," and "Old Shropshire Life."

With Eighteen Illustrations



London
Smith, Elder & Co., 15, Waterloo Place
1905

(All rights reserved)

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Printed by
William Clowes and Sons, Limited,
London and Beccles.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                _I dedicate this book to dear
                Mrs. Boyle (E. V. B.), in affectionate
                and grateful memory of
                many charming talks that we
                had together one sunny winter
                in the far South._

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                            CHAPTER I

                            _JANUARY_

                                                                    PAGE

A day in the heart of winter--I lie in bed--My books, my dogs--My
daughter Bess--Flowers from Mentone--Cromwell's cabinet--My dog
Mouse--The feeding of the birds--The recollection of the beautiful
garden at La Mortola--The violets there--The Wenlock chimes--My
curtain, its strange devices--Colouring borrowed from the macaws--All
flowers not only have different shades but many colours--Mouse
runs downstairs--Visitors call--The children get wet--The German
governess's indignation--Bess offers to pay--Hals is carried off in
Henry's dressing-gown--The next day--My friend Constance comes down
and embroiders with me--Billy Buttons the robin--Bess and I visit the
gardens--A word about canaries in an aviary--Discussion with Bess on
saints--Auguste has cleaned Hals' suit--Burbidge walks with us--A talk
about gardening--An old gardener's view of dogs--Constance has a chat
with me--We talk on matters relating to the kitchen garden--Vegetables,
and how to cook them--Constance's future quilt, designs from Gerard's
flowers to be worked on old Shropshire hand-made linen--The servant
problem--Bess's request--Nana on dogs--Alone in the chapel hall--Thomas
à Kempis's book--The stone altar--The next day--The seed list--My
future borders--Bess and I go sledging--Bess tries to understand what
real poverty is--How to be happy a hard matter--Bess's offer of toys
                                                                       1


                           CHAPTER II

                           _FEBRUARY_

The beginning of spring--The spring of the North--The story of
St. Milburgha--Legends of her sanctity--Belief in the efficacy
of the saint's water--Wishing Well at Wenlock--First spring
flowers in the red-walled garden--I see starlings--The cock
chaffinch--Hals' visit--"Sister Helen" in the mouth of babes--Bess's
remorse--Constance's quilt from "Gerard's Herbal"--The peace of
Wenlock--Bess and her future--The difficulties of education--An
interview with Burbidge--How his brother was "overlooked"--I go to
Homer--Beautiful view--The story of Banister's Coppice--The arrest of
the Duke of Buckingham--The Duke's curse--Its effect upon the Banister
family--A visit to an old cottager--A noble life, and unclouded
faith--Nanny Morgan the witch--Her life and death--Bess returns--The
first snowdrops of the year--A walk home in the gloaming
                                                                      58


                             CHAPTER III

                               _MARCH_

The first signs of spring--Birds sing and call--Life
everywhere--Throstle and blackbird--Nature everywhere hard at
work--The monastic snails--Their use now--Only used for thrushes'
breakfasts--Terror of village folks at the thought that they might
be put in "ragouts"--Crocuses--Cloth of Gold--Rizzio--Sir W.
Scott--White Daphne--Hellebores--Arabis--Jenny Wren--Legends about
the bird--The pet robin's nest in the kettle--Stories and folklore
about the robin--Lambs at play--The gentle science of angling--Dame
Berners' book--The Abbot's walk--Peter "on ounts"--A talk about
rooks and their ways--The carrion crow and his eërie cry--I return
late for breakfast--Prince Charming--Talk about the pug-pup--Nana
hostile--Bess's suggestions of how and where to keep the pup--A talk
with a child about letters--Hours in the garden--Pear tree in sheets
of snow--Two hedges of roses--A bed of ranunculi--Burbidge takes me
aside--"The boys" are sent to garden in the distance, and I hear about
his brother and Sal--How the cure was effected--We go to Wenlock
station--Arrival of the pug--Mouse jealous--Mouse appeased--Even Nana
is kind to Prince Charming--An hour with Montaigne--A word about the
sword flower or Gladiolus--The arrival of the swans--Bess believes
them to be fairy princes--We feed them--Bess carried off by Nana--Bess
will not walk with me--Bess tells me that Fräulein has met with an
accident--A long walk alone over the fields with Mouse, after a
bunch of white violets--Favourite flowers--Rapture of the birds--The
lark a speck in the sky--Wood-sorrel--St. Patrick's plant--How Bess
spent the afternoon--Bess's purchase--The next morning--Nana's
indignation--Bess's full confession, and how she paid her debt
                                                                      93


                           CHAPTER IV

                             _APRIL_

A spring day--The Abbey fool--An old country rhyme--The old custom
of All Fools' Day revived--Old Adam full of splendour--A visit to
the Abbey pool--Clematises "opened out" to the light--The borders
full of spring flowers--Rose pruning--How roses should be pruned
differently--Something about bees--The tool-house--Bright colours
for the beehives--Scotch bees and their favourite colour--The old
Shropshire bee--Bess and I attend the removal of the bees--Masks
and bee-veils worn by gardeners--Burbidge whispers the charm--Bee
folklore--Bess and I help to paint the bee-houses--The bees are
freed--Thady Malone--His message--Mrs. Harley has sent for me--I
go off to Homer--The last scene--A death of brilliant hope and
happiness--Mouse and I return--The cuckoo--The joy of life, and the
beauty of spring--The Sunday before Easter, or Palm Sunday--The old
rite of the blessing of the boughs--All the young people in church wear
the golden willow--The walk in the churchyard--After luncheon I read
extracts from Sir Thomas Botelar's "Church Registers"--Wenlock history
in Tudor times--A word about Constance's quilt--The revival of the
May dance at Wenlock--A village _fête_--Bess to be May Queen--Marsh
marigold the special flower--Bess's delight at the thought of the
_fête_--Burbidge gives his consent--Virtuous indignation of old
Hester his wife--Easter Sunday--The Sacrament in the old church--In
the afternoon we visit Thady, who is down with a bad leg--Bess
takes him an Easter Egg--The mead of daffodils--"A bunch of daffs"
for luck--How Burbidge had planted them--Our visit to old Timothy
Theobalds--His tales of the old ways--Bull-baiting--Rejoicings at
Loppington--The Madeley bull-baitings--Courage of the Vicar of
Madeley and his eloquence--Stories of old May Day--Stories and old
accounts locally--Puritan dislike of the festival--A beautiful spring
morning--The summer flowers growing in strength--Beauty of the
cloister-garth--Division of the violet roots--The great daffodils
and their splendour--The gooseberry and currant cages--Burbidge's
dislike to bullfinches--The double primroses, their beauty and
charm--Preparations for the May dance--All the old servants are
occupied in making the May dance a success--A talk with Thady through
the window--A day in the woods--Birds' nests--Luncheon under the
greenwood tree--Fairy-stories--We wander home--Quotations about
sleep--The delights of a long day in the woods
                                                                     131


                            CHAPTER V

                              _MAY_

The May-pole--The dances--Bess's dress--Burbidge's fears for
his garden--Old Master Theobalds is taken ill--He revives,
thanks to Auguste's broth--A talk of old days--Wakes and Wishing
Wells--Grinning through a horse-collar, a rustic accomplishment in
the past--A walk to the Wrekin to drink out of the bird-bowls--Susie
Langford--Cock-fighting at Wenlock and elsewhere--Old customs and
sinful practices--Traditions about winners of the ring--Tom Moody--His
pet horse "Old Soul"--Tom's wild drives and leaps--How Tom was once
found in a bog--Tom and the Squire--Tom's funeral--View-holloa over the
grave--An afternoon in the ruined church--The story of St. Milburgha
as told by William of Malmesbury--Words about the monasteries from
many sources--The pity of the wreckage and destruction of so much that
was beautiful in the Reformation--Thady brings me a "Jack Squealer"--I
am taken off bird-nesting--I am shown the nest of a redstart, that
of a black ouzel, and one of a Jack Smut (black cap) on a bramble--A
beautiful night in the ruins--Narcissi in blossom like a mist of stars
at my feet--I think of all who have passed through the cloisters--The
end of the Abbey Church, a quarry for road-mending and for the
building of pigsties and cottages--My late tulips--A long walk in the
early morning--Beauty of the early hours of the day--The country in
full splendour--Oak Apple Day--Little boys going to school with the
badge of Stuart loyalty in their caps--The chevy--I pluck a bunch of
anemones--Poor Bess in disgrace--High words between Célestine and Mrs.
Langdale--How pleasant life would be without its worries--Silence in
dogs one of their chief charms and merits
                                                                     189


                           CHAPTER VI

                             _JUNE_

Peace again in the household--Bedding-out the east garden--"Cherry-pie"
geraniums--Scarlet verbenas--Clematis up the pillars, a future
glory--Planting the tubs--Sweet-smelling plants for the evening--The
hedgehog--Mouse and it are reconciled--A talk about hedgehogs--Auguste
and "les escargots"--What Auguste will do with them--The growing
demand in London--Bess and I enjoy the summer--The forsaken thrush's
nest--Old Timothy and the yellow water wagtail's nest--A youthful
memory--Old customs in Shropshire--Apple howlers--The old belief in
the devil--Modern thought has blotted him out--The old Pagan Belief
and how apple howling was but the last act of a Pagan rite--Domestic
service and old Timothy's views--Servants old and new--How man and maid
were engaged in the old days--A talk about stocks, and pillory--The
old punishments at Wenlock--Judy Cookson in the scold's bridle--The
sale of a wife--With a happy ending--A turn in the bee garden--White
Martagon lilies, English peonies, briars, columbines, lupins, Oriental
poppies, all about to open--A letter from Mrs. Stanley--Bess's views
on London--A walk in the garden after a night's rain--The beauty of
the rose--Old and new all are always welcome--A bush of rosemary--Old
saws and customs--Evelyn's enjoyment of sweet plants--The old Hampshire
garden--The burning bush--Laon Cathedral--Pinks, their delicious
scent--Many sorts, but all delightful--The herb garden--A word about
herbs--The single peony--Old beliefs about it--A drink of "peonina
tea" from the Witch--Mustard as a manure for tulips--Woodruff, its
sweet scent--Wormwood--Hester Burbidge a culler of herbs--Burbidge's
despotic rule--Camomile, clove-basil, and mallow, all grown for
medicinal purposes--Bess's views "on cherubims"--Bess's dream--A talk
about a butterfly collection--Mrs. Eccles and her request--The sprig of
bay--The old Roman belief--We meet Hals--Delight of the children--Bess
wishes to buy a brother--A week of holidays--Charles Kingsley's
Water-Babies--Long summer days--Walks and rides in the twilight--The
wonderful glory of June--Thady Malone--The field on the Edge--The
leveret--Mouse retrieves it, but does it no harm--Heaven--Bess declares
there must be dogs there--Thady's tale
                                                                     232


                           CHAPTER VII

                             _JULY_

A perfect summer's day--Wild birds strong on the wing--They can
mock at the terriers--My roses in full glory--My collection of Moss
roses--Chinese larkspurs or delphiniums--Larkspurs of many strange
colours--Chinese peonies--The glory of the tree peony--A hedge of
Austrian briar--The hybrid teas--The charm and excellence--The gorgeous
hybrid perpetuals--Irises and their beauty--Crimson ramblers and
Penzance briars--The bower garden--The charm of annuals--The border
beneath the old greengages--Marigolds--Stocks--Love-in-the-Mist--Sweet
sultan and cockscomb--Sweet peas in lines for picking--Bess's
treasure--Great excitement--A great twittering in the great yew
hedge--A cat the suspected cause--Greenfinches hover round us--I see
a nest--We fetch the garden steps--A moment of glory--Alas! I fall,
and heavily, in securing the prize--The treasure proves to be a
young cuckoo--Terror of the children--Help at last arrives--I cannot
spend the week, as I had intended, seeing friends framed in their
gardens--The children flit off to Constance, and I am left alone--An
afternoon of happy daydreams, past and present--The old Hampshire
garden--The great gardens of England--Shipton and its charms--James I.
of Scotland and his Quhair--The garden at Westminster where Chaucer
wrote--Lord Bacon's stately conception of what a garden should
be--The charms of wild gardening--A talk about Bacon--His greatness
and his baseness--Nonsuch--John Evelyn and his love of a garden--His
ride along the Mediterranean coast--Elizabeth of York's bower--Sir
Thomas More's garden--The gardens at Hampton Court--Moor Park and
its beauties in Hereford--Sheen--Sir William Temple's Moor Park in
Surrey--His sundial--The gardens of the ancients--The garden where
Epicurus walked--Where Solomon wrote--The Hesperides--The garden of
Alcinous--Chaucer's earthly paradise--Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia--The
wreaths of other centuries--The extent of Theobalds--Kenilworth and
its garden--The old delight of sweet scents--Bacon's suggestion
to surround the house with pleasant perfumes--Markham's nosegay
garden--Lawson's delight in a garden--A word about the gardeners of
the Middle Ages--Many of the gardens of the past are gone--The old
home of the Newports--The old gazebo at Eyton--The garden in which the
Masque of Flowers was given in 1613--The children return to me--How
they spent the afternoon--Shropshire games--Kiss-in-the-ring--Dog
Bingo--Bell-horses--Green Gravel--Wallflowers--Nuts in May--Three
Dukes a-riding--Ring of roses--A-walking up the green grass--I lie
awake--A volume of Milton--The charm of "Comus"--The beauty of the
masque--The stately ruins of Ludlow Castle--Princes who have visited
it in its days of splendour--The little murdered Princes--Prince
Arthur--The Lady Alice--John Milton--His learning--Musician and poet,
and a fine swordsman--Auguste's gift--Burbidge's roses--A word about
roses--Stories about ladies who have disliked them in the past--Hals'
visit draws to a close--Bess broken-hearted--We leave for the seaside
                                                                     280


                                INDEX
                                                                     323


                        LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                          TO FACE PAGE

  WENLOCK ABBEY IN 1778                                   _Frontispiece_
    _From an engraving after a drawing by Paul Sandby, R.A._

  THE ABBEY FARMERY      }                                            18
                         }
  THE CLOISTER GARDEN    }  _From photographs by kind permission      32
                         }    of Messrs. F. Frith & Co., Ltd._
  THE RED WALLED GARDEN  }                                            62

  WENLOCK ABBEY IN 1731                                               94
    _From Buck's view._

  "MOUSE" AT HOME    }
                     } _From photographs by Miss Gaskell_            114
  "MOUSE" ON A VISIT }

  THE CHAPEL HALL                                                    132
    _From a photograph by Miss K. Wintour._

  SIR THOMAS BOTELAR'S HOUSE                                         152
    _From a photograph by Mr. W. Golling._

  THE ABBEY RUINS                                                    174
    _From a photograph by kind permission of Messrs. F. Frith & Co.,
      Ltd._

  NEST OF GREENFINCH {                                          }
                     { _From photographs by kind permission of_ }    186
  NEST OF RING-OUZEL {               _Mrs. New._                }


  RUINS OF WENLOCK ABBEY IN 1778                                     202
    _From an engraving after a drawing by Paul Sandby, R.A._

  THE LAVABo                                                         224
    _From a photograph by Mr. W. Golling._

  THE OLD GUILDHALL                                                  246
    _From a photograph by kind permission of Messrs. F. Frith & Co.,
      Ltd._

  THE ORATORY                                                        264
    _From a photograph by Mr. W. Golling._

  CHAPTER HOUSE AT WENLOCK { _From photographs by kind permission }  292
                           {   of Messrs. F. Frith & Co.,         }
  OLD WENLOCK TOWN         {   Ltd._                              }  304

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     SPRING IN A SHROPSHIRE ABBEY



                               CHAPTER I

                                _JANUARY_


            Here, winter holds his unrejoicing court,
            And through his airy hall the loud misrule
            Of driving tempest is for ever heard.
                                      THOMSON'S _Seasons_.

It was a dark, dismal day. Thick black clouds hung across the sky.
There was a faint chirping of sparrows amongst the lifeless creepers,
and that was all. A roaring fire burnt in my grate; before which my
dog, a great tawny creature of the boarhound breed, lay sleeping at
her ease. It was cold, very cold; in all nature there seemed no life.
A white, thick covering rested upon the ground. Snow had fallen
heavily the last week of the old year, and much, I feared, must fall
again, judging by the yellowish grey, leaden pall I saw overhead.

I lay in bed; the doctor had just been, and had prescribed for me a
day of rest, and a day in the house, on account of a chill caught the
week before.

How immortal we should feel, I reflected, if it were not for
influenza, colds, and rheumatism, and such like small deer amongst
diseases. What a glory life would be in their absence! Alas! we poor
mortals, we spend much time in trivial illness; not maladies of the
heroic and grand mediæval school, such as the Black Death or the
sweating sickness, but in weary, long episodes of chills, and colds,
which make us feel ill, and low, and produce irritability and
heart-searchings. It is sad also to think how many days slip by for
all of us in the English winter--unloved and dreary days of twilight,
and of little pleasure unless taken rightly and softened by letters
to, and from old friends, and by hours spent with favourite books.

Yet each cloud has its silver lining, if we have but eyes to see; and
as an old cottager once said to me, "Yer might do worse than be in
bed when Mother Shipton plucks her geese." Yes, I reflected, I might
be worse, and I looked round my Norman-windowed chamber--for to-day
should be spent with my books.

Life to a woman, as has been justly said, is a series of interrupted
sentences; and in these days of hurry and scurry, life seems almost
more interrupted than it did to our mothers twenty years ago, and
leisure, of all delightful things, is the most delightful, the rarest
and the most difficult to obtain. Leisure with thought is a necessity
for mental development, and yet in these days of motor-driving,
flying-machines, and radium we only think of getting on--getting
on--but where?

I lay back comfortably and looked with pleasure at the pile of books
by my bedside. They were all dear, tried, and trusted friends. There
was Malory. How I love his pictures of forest and castle, and his
battles, while his last scenes of Launcelot and Arthur, are almost
the greatest, and grandest that I know.

[Sidenote: FLOWERS FROM THE SOUTH]

How pathetic they are! and yet how simple, instinct with living
poetry, and noble passion! Then I saw my much-worn Shakespeare, and I
looked forward to a dip in _The Tempest_, and later on meant to
refresh my mind with the story of the ill-fated Duke of Buckingham,
who was betrayed near here by his treacherous steward, Banister. I
looked round and saw other friends close to hand. Amiel's beautiful
story of a noble life, teeming with highest thought; "Gerontius'
Dream," by England's great poet and ecclesiastic; Tennyson's "Idylls
of the King;" and a few of Montaigne's admirable essays, "that
charming old man" of whom, Madame de Sévigné wrote, "it was
impossible to weary, for, old friend as he was, he seemed always so
fresh and new." I shall never be dull, I said with a laugh, and I
shall live in fairy-land with my dogs and my poets. "You might do
worse than lie in bed, as my old friend said," I repeated to myself;
and I realized that even for days spent in bed there were
compensations. Just as I was preparing to stretch out my arm and take
a volume of Amiel, there came a loud knock at the door, and my
daughter, a child of seven, ran in with the news--

"Oh, mama, here is a box of flowers for you, and they have come all
the way from France; I know it, for Célestine said so."

"Flowers," I cried; "how delightful!" On hearing me speak, the big
dog jumped up with a friendly growl, and insisted upon standing up
with her forepaws on the bed and inspecting the flowers.

"See!" cried Bess, "carnations and roses. Now, why can't we always
have carnations and roses? Miss Weldon says there is a time for
everything; but I'm sure there's never half time enough for flowers
and play."

"Perhaps not, Bess," I said. "But the snow and the frost make us long
for and love the flowers all the more, and if you did no lessons you
wouldn't enjoy your playtime half as much as you do now."

Bess laughed contemptuously; she is a somewhat modern child, and has
no time to look "ahead," as she calls it, nor any belief in the
glories of adversity. Gravely she seated herself on my bed and
enunciated the following sentences--

"Mama," she said in her clear bird-like voice, "I worry a little
about something every day."

"No, not really, dear," I answered, rather horrified at this unusual
display of gravity on her part. And I began to fear that there had
been too many lessons of late, and had a terrible vision of
over-pressure and undue precocity, as I took the little thing's hand
and said, "Tell me, what is it?" Whereupon Bess replied solemnly, her
eyes looking into space--

"I worry about something every day, and that is, wasting so much good
time on lessons, when I might be quite happy, and do nothing but
play."

"But, my dear," I began, "if it was all play, how would you ever
learn to read or to write? And when you grew up and got quite big,
you wouldn't like to be quite ignorant and to know nothing, would
you?"

"I should know as much as I ought," replied Bess, sturdily.

"No, dear, you wouldn't," I said. "You couldn't talk as a lady, you
wouldn't know any history or geography, or know how to speak French
or German, or be able to read nice books, or do any of the things
which are going to be very nice, but which perhaps are not very nice
just at the beginning."

"I should know what Burbidge knows," replied Bess, stoutly; "besides
which," she added, "dogs don't know French, and no dates, and yet
papa doesn't call them ignorant." And then my little maid turned with
a scarlet face, and feeling perhaps a little worsted in the argument
said, "Mama, let me scurry off for your maid."

[Sidenote: BESS ON EDUCATION]

A moment later Bess returned in company with Célestine, my French
maid. Célestine entered like a whirlwind; she was sure that "Madame
se fatigue." "With one cold in de head un repos absolu is necessary,"
she declared. However, when she saw the flowers, and I explained that
they came from "la belle France," she affirmed "que tout allait
bien," and was mollified. She brought me water and some vases, and
Bess and I proceeded to sort out the beautiful Neapolitan violets and
snip the ends of the rose and carnation stalks. "I like cutting,"
cried Bess, eagerly. "It's doing something, Burbidge says," and just
now the gardener is my little daughter's hero, and Burbidge's reasons
for everything in her eyes rule the universe. I like to think of the
poor stalks in water, I said; they are so thirsty, like poor tired
men who have travelled over sandy deserts. Then I asked Célestine to
hand me some water, and begged her to let it be tepid and to add a
few drops of eau-de-Cologne in each glass.

"Madame will spoil the rose and the carnation, his own smell is all
that is needed," answered my waiting-woman severely. But I begged her
to comply with my request, for I wanted my dear friend's gifts to
live in water as long as possible, and to revive quickly.

"Ah, they are charming," I said, as Célestine and Bess triumphantly
arranged the vases around my bed. They placed a bowl of roses on
Oliver Cromwell's cabinet, at least it was said to be his, a cabinet
of rose and walnut wood which has innumerable secret drawers. What
papers, I wondered, have lain there? Perhaps State papers from Master
Secretary Milton, poet and minister; ambitious, aspiring letters from
his wife; tear-stained appeals from Royalists; pretty notes from his
best beloved daughter, gentle Mistress Claypole. Who knows? And that
day it held my little pieces of jewelry, my fans, odds and ends of
ribbon, shoes, bows, and collars, and on it, filling the air with
sweet perfume, rested a bowl of January roses. How fragrant they
were, carrying with them all the breath of summer. Roses are the
sweetest of all flowers--the triumph of summer suns, and summer
rains, at least so they seemed to me. Those that I gazed on were a
selection of exquisite teas: pink, fawn, copper, and creamy white,
all the various tints of dying suns were represented, as they stood
in an old Caughley bowl; and then I looked at the carnations and
buried my nose in their sweet aromatic scent--some of these were of
absolute pearl grey, and make me think of the doves of St. Mark when
they circle or alight in the Piazza of the City of Lagoons.

"That's a beauty," said Bess, authoritatively. "Why it's the colour
of Smokey." Smokey is the nursery Persian cat. "I did not know,
mama," continued Bess, "that flowers was grey--I thought they was
always red, white, or blue. Burbidge would call that a dust-bin blow."

"Flowers are all colours--at least gardeners make them so," I
answered.

"Ah, madame forgets," interrupted Célestine, who with Gallic vivacity
always likes her share of the conversation, "there are no blue roses."

"You are right," I answered, "there are no blue roses; they are only
the flowers of our imaginations, but they never fade," and I laughed.
I spoke in French, and this irritated Bess. Bess has a Shropshire
nurse, Winifrede Milner, who has unfortunately an invincible
objection to Célestine, in fact to foreigners of all kinds. It is a
religion of hatred and objections, and creates continual
disagreements in the household. Bess, owing to the nursery feud,
sternly sets her face against everything foreign, and, above all,
against speaking another tongue.

[Sidenote: BESS DISLIKES FOREIGNERS]

"I won't jabber like Célestine when she talks," she cried, "it sounds
like shaking up a money-box, only no money comes out. Burbidge says
'foreigners are like sparrows when a cat's about. They talk when
they've nothing to say, and go on when they've done.'"

"Oh, Bess, you must not be rude. If you were in France, you wouldn't
like to hear rude things said about England, or English people."

"I shouldn't mind," replied Bess, sturdily, "because they wouldn't be
true. When things aren't true, Miss Weldon says, you should rise
above such considerations, and take no notice."

To divert the child I asked her abruptly what she was going to do.
"You must go out, Bess," I said, "if the sun shines, and take poor
Mouse." Mouse looked at me reproachfully as I spoke--she understood
my reference to outdoor exercise, but hated the idea of wetting her
feet, besides which she considered going out with any one except me
beneath her dignity. Of all boarhounds that I have ever known, mine
is the most self-indulgent and the most self-satisfied of my
acquaintance. Besides which, secretly I felt convinced she was
hopeful of sharing my meals, and lying later on the bed when no one
was looking.

"Old Mouse is no good," retorted Bess, disdainfully. "She only
follows grown-up people. If I lived in heaven," she added dreamily,
"I should have a real, live dog, that would walk with me, although I
was only a child cherubim."

"Well," I pursued, "but what are you going to do?"

"Me?" inquired Bess, with small attention to grammatical niceties.
"When I've done my lessons I shall go out with Burbidge. We are going
to put up cocoa-nuts for tom-tits, and hang up some pieces of fat
bacon for the starlings, besides which we are going to sweep round
the sundial for the rooks. Papa said they were to be fed, and we are
going to do it--Burbidge and me."

"What will Miss Weldon do?" I asked.

"Oh, she will read," with great contempt said Bess; "she reads, and
never sees anything. Burbidge says that there are many who would know
more if they read less."

"See after my canaries," I cried, as Bess flew off to finish her
lessons, buoyed up with the hope later of going out with our old
gardener. Outside I heard him, our faithful old retainer of some
seventy years, tramping heavily on the red Ercal gravel. He was about
to sweep a place by the sundial on which to feed my birds.

[Sidenote: FEEDING THE BIRDS]

Birds of all kinds come to this outside dining-hall--tom-tits, the
beautiful little blue and green variety, perky and no larger than a
wren; wrens with deep guttural bell-like notes and brown tails
up-tilted; robins with flaming breasts; ill-bred, iridescent,
chattering starlings; a few salmon-breasted chaffinches, the tamest
of all wild birds; spotted thrushes, and raven-hued blackbirds;
besides an army of grey sparrows, very tame, very cheeky, and very
quarrelsome. Added to all these were the rooks, and a flight of
grey-pated hungry jackdaws who uttered short sharp cries when they
saw the corn and scraps of bread, but who dared not approach as near
as the other and smaller birds.

Across my latticed windows dark shadows passed and repassed; they
were caused by the jackdaws and the rooks who swept down at
intervals, and carried off a big piece of bread when nobody was at
hand. The old gardener fed this strange feathered crew, and then
stood aside to see the fun. How the starlings jabbered and screamed,
and what an ill-bred, ill-conditioned lot they were, as they all
talked at once, screamed, scolded--vulgar, loud, noisy, common, and
essentially of low origin.

A few of the Watch Tower pigeons swept down with a flutter of musical
wings, and were about to fall upon the food, when crowds of jackdaws
left the old stone tiled roof and dashed in for their share, uttering
as they went their weird ghostly cry. For a moment the noise was
chaotic--the pigeons cooed and strutted, the starlings screamed, and
the jackdaws pressed greedily forward to seize and carry off all they
could get. Suddenly there was a noise, hungry, passionate, furious,
like an angry motor pressing forward in a race and bent on dealing
death on all sides; and I saw the peacock dash forward, his tail up,
and his neck outstretched. He fell upon the food and would allow none
to partake of any, till he had had his fill. Behind him followed his
three wives, but at a respectful distance; he was not gallant like a
barndoor cock, in fact he was much too fine a fellow to think of any
one but himself. His tail feathers were not yet quite perfect, and
they seemed swathed in places in silver paper, but his neck was
glorious, of a brilliant blue with shimmers of golden reflections,
and of a colour that has no equal. He had a viperish head, and was
gloriously beautiful, and morally, a collection of all the
vices--greedy, spiteful, and furiously ill-tempered. He slew, last
spring, a whole clutch of young "widdies," as the country people call
ducklings, and killed, in a fit of anger, two of his own chicks.
Burbidge dislikes him on account of the damage he does in a garden,
but respects him for his beauty.

"He is like an army of 'blows'" (blossoms), he says, "and creates
more damage than a tempest at harvest time, does old Adam."

Mouse, whilst I was watching the scene outside through the long
lancet window, seized upon her opportunity and leapt up upon the bed.

"I wish you wouldn't," I said feebly. "I am sure the fire was nice
enough, even for a dog." But Mouse thought differently; she turned
round in a distracting, disagreeable way, some three or four times,
as wild dogs are said to do in the prairies, on the bed--my bed, and
then flumped down heavily across my feet. I wriggled uneasily, but
Mouse had gained her point and had no feelings for my discomfort; she
rested upon the bed, which to every well-constituted dog-mind is a
great achievement, almost an acknowledgment of sovereignty. There she
would lie, I knew, until some divertisement could be suggested that
would appeal to her palate, or some suggestion of danger outside. For
Mouse is greedy and lazy, but faithful as most dogs are, and few
human beings. I dared not slap or speak rudely, for great Danes are
gifted with acute sensibilities; and if I were to be so ill-judged as
to express displeasure by an unpleasant gesture, she would remain
broken-hearted and aggrieved for the rest of the day.

Alas! for the liberty of the subject. I groaned for folks who indulge
their dogs in caprice and greed, but I had not the courage to fight
for myself and so had to suffer. There is really much to be urged in
favour of the fortunate people who are dog-less.

[Sidenote: A GARDEN OF EDEN]

I turned my head and looked with delight at my flowers. While I
gazed, my mind flew back, and away to the land of sunshine from
whence they came. I thought of sunny Mentone with its blue sky, and
glittering groves of oranges and lemons that hung in the sunlight
like balls of fire and light; of Cap St. Martin stretching seaward,
and, above all, of the beautiful garden of La Mortola that I visited
several times when I stayed at the Bellevue. How wonderfully
exquisite that garden was, running down to the turquoise sea, a
perfect fairy-land of delight--the old villa, once a mediæval palace,
in the centre, with its well, with its marble floors, its cypress
groves and fir pines, its sheets of brilliant anemones, its agaves
and aloes, and its cacti.

It made me think of the garden of Eden before the Fall, that garden
of La Mortola--it seemed hardly a real place, so beautiful was it;
and its thirty maidens that weeded the paths and watered the
blossoms, seemed scarcely more real.

How well I remembered walking round the garden, with the kind and
courteous owner of this land of enchantment; how he showed us all his
rare and strange plants, plants from all parts of the world, old and
new. There were many varieties of oranges and lemons, and the air, as
we walked in the golden light of a March day, was laden with the
entrancing sweetness of the Pittosporum. But above all, what
interested me most in the Enchanted Land was the old Roman road,
which runs just above the kitchen garden, and below the flower
garden. Here, it is recorded on a tablet let into the wall, is the
place where Napoleon and his victorious army passed into Italy. It is
a narrow little path on which the whole of the French army passed,
with scarcely room for two men to ride abreast. Below lay the sea
like a lake, of that wonderful delicate blue that is only to be seen
in Mediterranean waters, tideless and brilliant, and beyond were the
purple coasts of Corsica.

I remembered at the end of my first visit my kind host asking me
amongst his rare and beautiful flowers, what I had most admired? I
replied, the sheets of violets, but violets as it is impossible to
imagine in chilly England, sheets of purple, unhidden by leaves, and
gorgeous in their amethystine glory--violets growing in great beds
many yards long in the middle of the garden, like mantles of purple.
They were a glorious vision, a sight of beauty that I shall never
forget, a revelation of colour. As I looked at the bunches that my
friend had sent, I thought of those exquisite perfumed _parterres_,
of the song of the blackcaps amongst the olives, of the golden
sunlight, and of the radiant beauty of sea and sky. Yes, the garden
of La Mortola was wonderfully, marvellously beautiful, and it even
then seemed to me doubly beautiful, seeing it as I did in my mental
vision, across sheets of snow and in the grim atmosphere of an
English winter.

What a true joy beautiful memories are! the real jewels of the soul
that no robber can steal, and that no moth or rust can corrupt, the
great education of sense and heart. Then I took my books and enjoyed
a browse. What a good thing leisure is, leisure to read and think.
Nobody interrupted me, only the chimes of the old parish church told
me the hour from time to time.

With measured cadence, drowsily and melodiously they sounded across
the snow-bound earth. "Time to dream, time to dream," they seemed to
say.

Later on came my luncheon, cutlets with onion chips and jelly. Mouse
got the bones. She was polite enough to leap off the bed and to crack
them on the floor--and I was grateful for small mercies. A minute
afterwards, and I rang my hand-bell, and Célestine scurried down.

"Madame a froid, madame est malade," and in her impetuous Gallic way,
waited for no reply. However, when I could make myself heard, I told
her that I meant to get up, as my friend was coming down from the Red
House to embroider with me.

[Sidenote: THE GREAT CURTAINS]

When my toilet was completed, I begged Célestine to bring my big
basket from the chapel hall below, and the curtain that I was engaged
in embroidering for my oratory. The background is of yellow linen and
is thickly covered with fourteenth and fifteenth century birds,
beasts, and flowers, and in the centre of each there is an angel.

Each curtain is three yards four inches, by two yards four inches.
The birds, beasts, and flowers are all finely shaded and are worked
in crewels, tapestry wools divided, in darning and fine Berlin wools,
and all these various sorts seem to harmonize and mingle wonderfully
well together.

The picture, for it really is a picture, was drawn out for me by a
very skilful draughtsman. The birds, beasts, and angels have been
taken from old Italian work, from mediæval stained-glass windows, and
from old missals, and then drawn out to scale. There are Tudor roses,
Italian carnations, sprays of shadowy love-in-the-mist, dusky
wallflowers, and delightful half-heraldic birds and beasts, running
up and hanging down the stems. It is a great work. Constance, who is
good enough to admire it, says that she is sure that the Water-poet
would have said, if he could have seen it--

     "Flowers, plants and fishes, beasts, birds, flies and bees,
     Hills, dales, plains, pastures, skies, seas, rivers, trees:
     There's nothing near at hand or farthest sought
     But with the needle may be shaped and wrought.
     Moreover, posies rare and anagrams,
     Art's life included, within Nature's bounds."

There are four curtains to do, and alas, I have only one pair of
hands!

I keep all carefully covered up with old damask napkins as I go
along, so that neither ground nor work can get rubbed or soiled, and
embroider, myself, in what my old housekeeper calls pie-crust
sleeves, to save the slightest friction from my dress on the yellow
linen.

As to the cherubim's and seraphim's wings, they have been my great
and constant delight. I dreamt of a wild glory of colour which I
hardly dared to realize, but of which I found wonderful examples one
sunny day in the macaw grove at the Zoo. I went up and down and
inspected the marvellous birds for an hour, drinking in with rapture
the extraordinary richness of their plumage. How marvellous they
were! Red, blue, mauve, green, scarlet, rose, and yellow, all pure
unsullied colours, and like flashes of light. They seemed to me like
a triumphant tune set to pealing chords. There seemed in those
glorious creatures to be no drawbacks, no shadows, no trivialities of
daily life. In their resplendent feathers they appeared to gather
light and to reproduce the majesty of the sun itself.

[Sidenote: THE JOY OF COLOUR]

I went home, my eyes almost dazzled with their radiancy, and a week
after attempted to work into my curtain something of what I had
seen--a feeble reflection, I fear, but still a reflection. In my
angels and cherubim I have allowed no greys or browns, no twilight
shades. Everywhere I have introduced a pure warm note of intense
joyous colour, and if I have not always succeeded, at least the wings
of my celestial beings have been a great source of delight to
imagine, and to execute. In my colouring it has been always morning.
Bess was charmed to run and fetch me the different wools
needed--"Summer suns," she called them.

I have often noticed that to a young child, pure brilliant colours
are an intense joy and a source of gaiety. It is only as the shades
of the prison-house draw near, and press upon us, that the lack of
appreciation creeps in for what to children and to primitive man is a
great and constant glory. That day I was going to embroider some
anemones, such as I remembered in the old market-place of Mentone,
and a sprig of stocks, such as I recollected once having seen on a
drive to Brigg. The eye of the mind can be a great pleasure if
properly cultivated. It may not be actually correct, but it can give
the soul and the life of things remembered, even through the mist of
years.

And now one word, dear sister-devotees of the needle, about
embroidery. Do not imagine that shading in five or six shades of the
same colour, which is the way that nine people out of ten work, is
the true and natural one. This only produces a sad and wooden flower,
without life or gladness, and conceived and worked amongst the shades
of twilight. Take any flower and place it in the sunlight, and you
will see in any purple flower, for instance, that there are not only
different shades, but different colours--red, mauve, blue, lavender,
and violet. I realized as I gazed at my anemone, that it must be
embroidered in greyish lavenders, with here and there pure notes of
violet with heather tints, in red purples, in greyish whites, and
with a vivid apple-green centre. All these were strikingly different
colours, but were necessary in the shading to make my blossom look as
if it had grown amidst sunlight and shower.

I stood my bunch of real flowers in water in as strong a light as
possible; as to the sunshine, alas! of that there was but a scanty
supply, and I had to imagine that mostly, as also the scent of the
orange groves and the thrilling song of the blackcaps overhead, for
in our northern world, let it be written with sorrow, many and long
are the dull leaden months between each summer. Still light did
something, and imagination did the rest. I imagined myself back under
the brilliant sky of southern France, and I thought I saw the bowls
of brilliant flowers as I had known them, whilst I threaded my needle.

Suddenly Mouse slipped off the bed, and whined at the door. I
understood her anxiety to run out, for I, too, had heard a tramp on
the gravel path outside, and had seen the keeper Gregson go off
towards the back-door laden with a string of rabbits, a plover or
two, and a brace of partridges neatly fastened to a stick, as is the
way of keepers.

[Sidenote: MOUSE, POUR LE SPORT]

The black retriever that was following Gregson is a dear friend of
Mouse's. Once my dog went out shooting. In the cells of her brain
that day has always remained a red letter day; I believe on this
celebrated occasion she ran in, and did all that a sporting dog
should not do, knocked down a beater who was endeavouring to lead
"the great beast," fought a yellow retriever, but did find and
successfully bring back, puffing and panting like a grampus, a
wounded bird that had escaped keepers, beaters, and trained dogs.

"Her's like a great colt in the plough, but her has a beautiful
nose," Gregson always declared, "and if so be her had been brought up
proper, would have been an ornament to her profession."

The memory of this "jour de gloire," as Célestine called it, had
never left my canine friend, and my gigantic watch-dog had ever since
retained a devouring passion for field sports. To humour my dog, I
opened the door, and Mouse disappeared, and swept by like a
hurricane, ponderous and terrible, down the newel staircase heaving
and whining with impatience. A second later and I saw her below
greeting Gregson effusively.

Our old keeper was pleased at her welcome. "Good Mouse," I heard him
call. And then I heard him cry out to our French cook, Auguste,
"Mouse, she seems like a bobby off duty when she finds me. There's
nature in the dog for all her lives in the drawing-room, lies on
sofas and feeds on kickshaws." Auguste agreed, and then seeing the
game, gesticulated and exclaimed, "Quelle chasse! C'est splendide, et
vous----" A moment later I heard the door close, and Gregson
disappeared into the old Abbey kitchen to smoke, doubtless, the pipe
of peace, after partaking liberally of a certain game pie, that we
had the day before at luncheon.

The voices grew faint, and I returned to my work. I threaded several
needles with different colours, pricked them handy for use in a
pincushion, and then began to copy my flowers on the table as deftly
as I could, and awaited my friend.

It was very peaceful outside. All looked grey and cold, the snow lay
white and pure, and the only note of colour was the glistening ivy.
There was no sound, the starlings had vanished. Far away I saw a
flock of rooks, dim specks against the leaden sky. I sat and
embroidered in silence, when suddenly the calm of the winter
afternoon was broken by the gay laughter of a child, and I discerned
my Bess, chattering below with our old gardener Burbidge.

In one hand he carried a pole, whilst Bess had tightly clutched hold
of the other. I opened my lattice window and inquired what they were
about to do?

The reply came back from Burbidge that he and the gardeners were
going to shake off the snow from the great yew hedge by the
bowling-green. "The snow be like lead to my balls," said the old man,
"and as to the peacock's tail, I fear it will damage the poor bird
unless it be knocked off dang-swang"--which is Burbidge's Shropshire
way of saying "at once."

Burbidge always speaks of the yew peacock as the real bird, and of
Adam, our blue-necked pet, as "him that plagues us in the garden."

Bess laughed with joy at the thought of so congenial an occupation.

"I shall help too," she cried, as she waved her hand to me, "for Ben"
(the odd man) "has cut me a stick, and I am going to knock as well as
anybody. I have done all my lessons, mamsie," she bawled. "I know
enough for one day, and now I'm going to work, really work."

I kissed my hand, and Bess passed off the scene accompanied by a
train of gardeners.

[Sidenote: A COUNTRY BRINGING UP]

Just before Bess was quite out of sight Célestine poked out her head
from a top window above, and I heard her raise her voice to scold
angrily but ineffectually. Célestine has an unfortunate habit of
giving unasked, her advice freely. Like a cat, she has a horror of
getting wet, and has a rooted belief that _une petite fille bien
élevée_ should remain in, in bad weather, nurse her doll by the fire,
or learn to make her dolly's clothes. I did not catch all that my
maid said, but some of her stray words of indignation reached me. I
heard that something was not _gentil_, and something else was
_infâme_, and Bess in particular "une petite fille impolie." In
answer to this I caught a defiant laugh from Bess, and then Célestine
banged down her window above.

                          [Illustration:
                          _Photo by Frith._
                          THE ABBEY FARMERY.]

I sat down and worked in silence. Bess is an only child--and will
come to no harm under old Burbidge's care, I said to myself. In fact,
she will learn under his tutorship many of the delightful things that
make life worth having afterwards. She will so acquire the knowledge
of the things that are seen, and not learnt by book; she will get to
know the different notes of the birds, and to distinguish their eggs.
She will hear from him the names of the hedge-row flowers, and learn
where to find the rare ones, and know by country names all the sweet
natural things that enable us to appreciate a long walk in the
country, or a turn round our gardens. She will thus unconsciously
learn to love simple wild things, and homely pleasures, and these
will be for her stepping-stones to the higher education in the future.

Why is the society of old servants so delightful to children? I asked
myself this question, as I asked it also of my little maid, a few
weeks before, when she gave me her definition of a happy day--a day
to be spent, if I remember rightly, in the company of Burbidge with
Ben the odd boy, and in driving with Crawley, the Yorkshire coachman.

"I should like to be swung by Ben from the old walnut tree, to
garden, and catch tadpoles with Burbidge, and to drive the old grey
mare all by myself with Crawley." And Bess added: "Then, mamsie, I
should be quite happy; and mummie, do let it come true on my first
holiday, or on my next birthday." "If there could be no 'don'ts,'"
another time Bess told me, "I should be always good; and if I had no
nurse, or governess, I should never be naughty." I try to implant in
Bess's mind that nurse and governess are her duties in life. She
agrees but sadly, and like most modern people, poor child, wishes to
get rid of life's duties as quickly as possible. "I never mean to be
naughty," Bess asserts, "but naughtiness comes to me like spoiling a
frock, when I least expect it." And she once added, "I know, mummy,
if people didn't think me naughty I never should be."

I pondered over these nursery problems as the work grew under my
hands. How delicate and exquisite were all the shades of grey and
lavender in the real flowers. I inspected my threaded needles, but I
could not find amongst my crewels the necessary tints. I took a
thread of tapestry wool, divided it carefully, and then turning to a
box of Scotch fingering on cards, found exactly what was needed, a
warm shade of heather. Embroidery is so much to me. It is part of my
life, and flowers and birds when done recall thoughts and joys and
pains, as scents are said to bring back the past to most people. A
story is told of a French lady who, when they told her that her
daughter-in-law did not like needlework, replied, "She is very
young--she has never known real sorrow."

[Sidenote: A PLAYMATE FOR BESS]

All of a sudden I dropped my work and started up, for all the dogs
had begun to bark in chorus. I ran to the window. I heard the crunch
of the gravel, and a minute later I saw a carriage drawn by a pair of
greys stop before our old front door.

Out of the brougham there emerged the little figure of Harry, Colonel
Stanley's only little boy and Bess's playmate. He was accompanied by
his German governess, a fat, phlegmatic personage, Fräulein
Schliemann by name. As she got out, I heard her say, "I have one
letter to leave, most important," and she stood waiting on the
doorstep for Fremantle to show her into the house. In the selfsame
moment, Harry, hearing voices in the rose garden, without a word, and
nimble as a rabbit, darted through the wrought-iron gates and waved
his hand to Bess. In a second Bess appeared, a shower of snow upon
her cap and amongst her locks, but redolent of health, and full of
gaiety. "Is that you, Hals?" she cried, and the children dashed off
to the end of the garden together.

Fräulein in the mean time discoursed with Fremantle and gave up her
letter. All this I noticed from my room. Through my window I heard
peals of laughter, and I saw Hals on the back of an under-gardener,
pursued by Bess, who was engaged in throwing handfuls of snow at him.

Happily this spectacle was not witnessed by Fräulein Schliemann, for
water and snow are always repellent to her, and incomprehensible as
sources of pleasure or amusement. She heaved a big sigh and then,
preceded by the butler, went into the old chapel hall and plumped her
fat self down on an old oak chair. A quick knock at my door, and
Fremantle brought me the letter. The note contained an invitation for
Bess to go over and spend the following Saturday afternoon at
Hawkmoor, Colonel Stanley's country house, some six miles away. It
would be little Harry's birthday, I was told, and the diversions and
amusements in his honour, were to be great, and varied.

Punch and Judy in the front hall, a conjuror, a magic-lantern, and
later on a birthday cake, with lighted candles, as many as the years
that little Hals (as Bess calls him) would have attained to.

"Do," wrote my cousin, Venetia Stanley, "let little Bess be at
Harry's eighth birthday. I often feel my little lad is very lonely,
and Bess's presence would make his birthday a double joy."

In a moment I had scribbled back an answer. Of course Bess must go, I
wrote. Harry was a dear little boy, and being entertained and the art
of entertaining are parts of the higher and necessary education of
children. I carried down my note myself, and assured Fräulein of my
delight in accepting so charming an invitation for my little girl.

Fräulein simpered, and I called for tea. At the Abbey there are no
bells on the ground floor. Then I remembered the children, and turned
to Fräulein and asked her if she knew where they were.

"Heinrich is with Bess," I was told. About a quarter of an hour
later, when a hissing urn was brought in, I begged Fremantle to ring
my hand-bell, as a signal to the loiterers that tea was ready.

For some time this summons received no answer, but at last,
breathless but blissful, the children appeared. But in what a plight!
Heinrich's deep red velvet suit was soaked and sadly soiled, and his
cap and long flaxen curls dripped with moisture, whilst Bess's
garments were running with mud and wet, and as they both stood in the
chapel hall, little pools of water guttered down beside them.

[Sidenote: FRÄULEIN IS FURIOUS]

Fräulein started up and screamed hysterically, and I darted forward.
"My dears, how wet you are," I cried. "You must go and change at
once." And without another word I hurried off both children to the
nursery. It was an easy matter to put Bess into a fresh dry frock and
into a clean white pinafore, but what could be done with Harry? I
asked myself. He is a delicate child, and must not remain in damp
clothes, so I turned to him resolutely, and asked, "Which will you
do, Harry: get into one of Bess' dresses, or go to bed?"

"Oh, auntie," he answered, blushing furiously, for he always calls me
"auntie," although I am not his real aunt, "I would much rather go to
bed than wear a girl's dress."

So we were about to put him into bed when a sudden brilliant idea
flashed through my brain. "My husband's dressing-gown," I murmured.
In a moment, kindly Fremantle, who heard me, had fetched it. It was
yards too long, but it was turned up with an army of safety-pins, and
so Hals' vanity was not humiliated. At least he was clothed in male
attire! And we must always remember that self-respect in a little lad
is even more easily wounded than love.

Five minutes later both children were dry, and clad in other
costumes. "I don't think that they will be any the worse," I said to
my old nurse, Milner. But as I entered the chapel hall I noticed that
Fräulein looked as black as thunder. In her eyes the episode was a
most disagreeable, even a disgraceful occurrence.

Hals paused on the threshold for a moment and looked at me
beseechingly out of his pretty, round, short-sighted eyes.

"I am so sorry," I said apologetically, and felt really for a second
a transitory shame, Fräulein looked so fierce and injured. "How did
it happen?" I asked of Bess, by way of lifting the leaden pall of
silence.

"Only a rat hunt," answered that young lady, jauntily, with her mouth
full of buttered toast, for she had not waited for grace, but had
slipped into her seat at the head of the tea-table. "There was a
rat," she continued to explain, "in the potting-shed, and Trump and
Tartar smelt him out and ran after him, and Hals joined in and
tumbled over. He shouldn't wear smart clothes when he comes here.
Nobody wants him to. Gregson says, 'By gum, give me the varminty
sort,'" and Bess laughed rather rudely, after which there was an
awkward and prolonged pause.

"Hals is your guest," at last I said severely; upon which Bess turned
scarlet, and a second later plied Hals with seed and sponge cake at
once.

I had the velvet suit taken to the kitchen fire to dry, but I must
honestly confess that its magnificence was, I feared, a thing of the
past. While we sat on, Fremantle entered, and in his most
irreproachable voice informed us that Mrs. Langdale (the housekeeper)
was of opinion that Master Harry's suit would not be fit for him to
wear again that day. At this Fräulein wrung her hands and broke out
into ejaculations. "Mein Gott! mein Gott!" she cried, and began to
scold Harry furiously.

At this, Bess could keep down her wrath no longer. With flashing eyes
she confronted Hals' governess. "It was my fault, all my fault," she
said. "I told Hals to run like mad, and not to miss the fun."

Fräulein did not deign to answer Bess' justification of her pupil,
but glared at Hals; and we all remained on in silence, and I noted
that poor little Hals had a white face, and that both slices of cake
on his plate remained untouched.

[Sidenote: FRIENDSHIP'S OFFER]

"I will write and explain all to Mrs. Stanley," I said at last;
"only," and here I turned to Harry, "you must go back in the
dressing-gown, dear, and be wrapped up warmly in a rug. No colds must
be caught, and the suit shall be sent back to-morrow."

Hals nodded his head. Whatever happened he was not going to cry; only
girls and muffs cried, but he knew that there was a bad time coming,
when he would have to face the music.

Bess watched his face. She was up in arms. Directly after grace was
said, and this time by her in a jiffy, she flung herself off her
chair, flew upstairs defiant, and breathless. A minute later she
reappeared, her face crimson, but her mouth set.

"How much?" she asked of Fräulein, in a hostile spirit. "How much? I
say, if I _pay_, you mayn't punish."

But here Hals dashed forward, and would not let Bess put her purse
into his governess's hand. "Don't," he said; "boys can't take money
from girls." And Bess was left stammering and confused, with her own
sky-blue purse left in her little fat paw. I pretended not to see
what had happened as I sat down and wrote a note to my friend,
Venetia Stanley, to explain all, and to beg forgiveness for the
little culprit. I pleaded that tumbles, like accidents, would happen
in the best regulated nurseries. I addressed my letter, and stuck
down the envelope. This done, we all sat on in sombre silence round
the fire. All conversation died upon our lips, Fräulein looked so
sour and forbidding.

At last our gloomy interview was broken up by Fremantle entering the
room and announcing the fact that Colonel Stanley's carriage was at
the door, and a message from the coachman to the effect that he hoped
the greys would not be kept waiting.

Then without more ado, Fremantle lifted Hals in his arms, for the
dressing-gown was too long to permit the little boy to walk, and Tom,
the footman, followed with a thick fur rug to wrap round him. "Give
Master Hals my note," I called, as the little party vanished through
the outside door.

Fräulein went last, an evil glare on her fat face, and "as dark as
tempest," Burbidge would have said if he had seen her, and I noted
that she would not take my hand at parting. She evidently thought the
disaster that had befallen the red suit was due to me. I was _wae_
for the little man, as he vanished from my sight; that stupid German
woman had no more sympathy with the young life that throbbed and beat
in him, than if she were a table or a chair, and he would certainly
have what the French call a bad quarter of an hour with her before
she had done.

Bess stood for a minute or two after they were gone, and we looked
blankly at each other. Bess cried, "Beast, beast!" and then burst
into floods of tears. "She will punish him," she moaned, "she will
punish him," and she buried her face amongst the sofa cushions of the
great settee.

At first I felt powerless to soothe her, or to induce her to take a
less gloomy view of the situation. "It is unfair and mean of the old
Fräulein," she kept on calling out, "for I did offer to pay on the
nail" (Bess has acquired a considerable amount of slang); "and I
offered her all the money I had. Five shillings that came at
Christmas, half a crown from Uncle St. John, and sixpence which I won
in good marks from Miss Weldon." Bess was of opinion that so
magnificent a sum was enough for a king's ransom, and ought to have
bought all, or any attires, and to have silenced all voices of
reproof.

I did not undeceive my little maid. After all, it was all her earthly
wealth, and all that she possessed she had offered to save her little
friend from punishment. Later on darkness fell, Fremantle appeared
with a lamp, and Bess fetched her work, a kettle on a vermilion
ground of cross-stitch, which I have often been told "will be so
useful to papa on his birthday;" and I started reading aloud, for
Bess's edification, one of Hans Andersen's beautiful stories.

[Sidenote: "BETTER THAN TRUE"]

As I closed the book, Bess exclaimed, "It is not true, but it is
better than true--beautiful stories always are--and there, at least,
is no horrid German governess. If I chose," my little girl said, "I
should only have a Yorkshire, or a Shropshire governess. Burbidge
says there's many wise folks as cannot understand foreigners; and
Crawley says, 'Give me plain Yorkshire, and I'll knock sense into any
one's head.'" Then we discussed the story. I had read the tale of the
Ugly Duckling, perhaps the most beautiful story of all fairy-land.
Bess listened open-mouthed, and her eyes glistened like stars with
joy at the end. "I shall always think a swan is a fairy prince," she
murmured. "Why don't beautiful things happen much oftener? Only
lessons, nursery tea, stains, and mistakes come every day." As she
spoke, the old church clock struck seven, and Bess put away her work
in a little crimson bag.

I sat before the great open fireplace and listened to my little
girl's talk. Through the latticed windows of the oratory shone a soft
mist of stars.

"Sometimes beautiful things really happen," I said; and then through
the open door I saw old Nana standing. A hurried kiss from Bess, and
the child was gone.

Later on, in the evening, after dinner, I mounted the old newel
staircase and made my way to the old nursery up in the roof with its
latticed dormer windows. There, to my surprise, I found Bess wide
awake.

"I have told Miss Bess not to talk no more," said Nana, rather
sourly; "but she will run on about Master Harry and his German
punishments."

My old body's sympathy for once was with Fräulein, for spoiling a
vest and a velvet suit can never be otherwise than a crime in any
nurse's eyes.

I went and sat by my little maid's white dimity hung cot.

"I think he will be forgiven," I said.

"P'raps he'll turn into a fairy prince," said Bess, and she took my
hand, "and then it will all come right." In a few moments I saw that
she was getting drowsy, for she looked at me with half-closed
eyes--one eye tinnin' and the other carrin' trout, as Shropshire
folks say when you are overcome with sleep. Then Bess went on in the
sing-song voice that so often immediately precedes sleep with
children, "Hals was an ugly duck to-day, but he'll turn into a swan
or something nice some day."

"Some day," I nodded.

"Yes, when Hals' birthday comes." And Bess's eyes closed gently, and
she slipped away into the blessed land of dreams.

When I went downstairs I found a letter from my friend Constance of
the Red House, to tell me that at the last moment she was detained by
a visit from a poor old body whose son was ill, and so couldn't come
down to tea; but that she trusted on the morrow to find me, what Bess
calls, "quite better."

[Sidenote: BILLY FIRE-DEW COMES]

The following day fresh snow fell. All nature lay covered up with
what Burbidge calls "a fine hoodin'." Before my eyes a pure white
dazzling plain of snow extended, and even the old stone roof and the
ruined church glistened white and wonderful. As soon as I was called,
I opened my window and saw my tame robin, who one summer was hatched
in a yew hedge, appear on my window-sill. Billy Fire-Dew, Bess has
christened him, and Billy Buttons he is known as, by Burbidge and the
gardeners. He has a brilliant flame-coloured breast, soft rich brown
wings, and large round liquid eyes. For a minute he rested upon the
window, then with a joyous chirp he spread his wings and hopped upon
a great Spanish chestnut sixteenth-century chest, which stands in the
centre of my bedroom. On the chest are figures of gods and goddesses,
burnt in by an iron.

Happily I was not unprovided with suitable refreshment to offer my
little guest. A scrap of sponge cake in a wine glass, saved from last
night's dinner, met with his entire approval. It had been intended
for Mouse, but as at the last moment she could not be found, so Bill
was in luck. I sprinkled some crumbs about the chest, and on my
writing-table, and he hopped about puffing himself out, quite
unabashed, and partook freely of the breakfast I offered him. I did
not move as I watched him, but remained standing stock-still. I have
always found one of the great secrets of bird taming is to keep
immovable, till all sense of fear is lost by constant familiarity.

How beautiful he was, with his great hazel eyes, and his scarlet
waistcoat beneath his sober hood.

He chirped loudly as he ate, and then flew joyfully from table to
bed, and from bed to table, and so at last back to the window-sill,
uttering at moments his clear bell-like cry. Whilst I was engaged in
watching my little feathered friend, I heard the click of the latch
of my door, and Bess entered bearing in her arms the nursery cat Grey
Smokey.

"Oh, beware!" I cried alarmed. "Billy Fire-Dew is here." In an
instant Bess had opened the door again and evicted her favourite, but
not without noise; and Bill had caught fright, and with a loud shrill
cry, had flown into the garden.

Then, outside the door, Smokey began to mew piteously. "Let her in,"
I said, "she can do no harm now. Bill is quite safe." So the puss
entered, and although habitually the gentlest of creatures, I saw
that the instinct of an animal of prey was strong within her.

For Smokey paced up and down my room; her eyes shone like topazes in
the sunlight, and as she walked, she lashed her tail like a lioness
at the Zoo.

"She'd kill poor Bill if she could get him," I said.

"Yes," answered Bess, "and eat him up, without pepper and salt. Cats
are never really kind, not right through, for all their purring."

Then Bess asked me what I meant to do, now that I was well again.
"Papa," she said, "told me that I might go sledging some day; but
this morning you must take me and show me where St. Milburgha was
buried, and tell me also about the old monks. Do you know, mama, I
often think of the monks in bed. Last night--I don't remember all,
but there was something that happened with a man in a black gown, and
Hals did something as a swan--I rather disremember," continued my
little maid, with _naïveté_, "for I fell asleep before I could
rightly recollect. But Burbidge perhaps will tell me; he knows a lot
about monks. It is fine, as Nana says, to be such a scholard."

"Ah! now I remember," said Bess, after a pause. "Burbidge declares
that they walled up Christians, the monks, and drank out of golden
cups, and hunted the deer."

I was amused at Burbidge's views--they were obviously those of the
very primitive Protestant.

"Come into the garden this morning, child, and I will tell you a
little about the monks."

A few hours later I called "Bess!" from the gravel below. "Are you
ready?" Then I heard a buzz of excited voices from the nursery, and a
great fight, going on over the winding round of a comforter, and Bess
leapt down two stairs at a time and joined me in the garden.

[Sidenote: A WALK IN THE CLOISTERS]

I had my snowshoes on, so I had no sense of cold, and round my
shoulders heavy furs. Mouse sported before us rather like a
benevolent luggage train, whilst the two terriers, Tramp and Tartar,
cut capers, barked, and sniffed and frisked. These hunted in the
bushes, darted in and out, and sought for rabbits under every stone
and tree. They yelped and put their noses frantically into holes and
corners. Whether the rabbits were real or imaginary it was impossible
to say.

Bright sunshine fell upon the old red sandstone of which the later
part of the old Abbey Farmery is built, and cast an opalescent glare
on the snow-covered roof. The old yew hedges stood forth like banks
of verdant statuary, in places where the snow had melted, and on the
top of a stone ball stood the blue-necked peacock.

The day was deliciously crisp, clear, and invigorating, and Bess, as
she ran along, laughed and snowballed me and the dogs, and so we
wandered away into the cloisters.

"Tell me about it all," said Bess at last, confidentially, after a
time of breathless frolicking with the dogs. "Miss Weldon talks so
much that I can never understand her."

Then I told Bess in a few simple words about the cloisters. "There
was, first of all, dear," I said, "a party of Saxon ladies who lived
at the abbey, and the most beautiful was Milburgha, their abbess. She
came here to avoid a wicked Welsh prince, and she rode a beautiful
milk-white steed. And she was very holy."

"I should be holy, if I rode a milk-white steed," said Bess,
impulsively, "I am sure I should."

And then I added rather irrelevantly, "St. Milburgha kept geese."

"Saints and princesses always do," answered Bess, authoritatively. "I
know what they did, they combed their hair with golden combs, and
talked to emperors in back gardens. Then they always had flocks of
goats or geese. I don't think they could get on without that, mama,"
said my little maid, with a gasp. "It must be very amusing," she
continued, "to be a saint or a princess and have a crown. They have
them in Bible picture-books. Anyway, they never have any lessons or
governesses, hardly mamas, and they only talk to the animals."

                         [Illustration:
                         _Photo by Frith._
                         THE CLOISTER GARDEN.]

"But, my little girl," I urged, "saints have to be _very_ good; and
then you must remember, Bess, that princesses in all the stories have
to accomplish terrible tasks, and saints to endure terrible pains."

"Worse," asked Bess, "than taking horrible, nasty, filthy medicines,
worse than going to have teeth taken out by the dentist?"

"Worse than that," I answered.

[Sidenote: THE CROWN OF MARTYRDOM]

"Then I think I'll wait a little," replied Bess, with composure,
"before I change; for I should not like a crown after losing my
teeth, or worse, or even jam-rolly, if I had to take tumblers of
horrid physic first. And I have heard Burbidge say that, 'them as
wins a crown must walk on hot ploughshares first.' Still," she added,
"I should sometimes like to be good."

"How about doing disagreeable things, Bess? For I fear, at first,
that is what has to be done."

"Well, mama," answered Bess, "not too good; not good enough to die,
but just good enough to get a little more money for good marks than I
have ever got before."

And I saw by Bess's saucy smile that the day was a long, long way off
when she would ever be what she calls very, very good, _i.e._--

  Never dirty her hands;
  Never ruffle her hair; and
  Never answer back those in authority.

For a moment we ceased talking, and looked at the old carved stone
basin in which the successors of Roger de Montgomery's Clugniac monks
bathed in the twelfth century. On the broken shaft which supported
the basin are three carved panels; one represents the miraculous
draught of fishes and the other two St. Paul and St. Peter.

Bess shook her head and repeated sadly, "Of course I should like to
be a saint, but there must not be too much pain. It isn't fair of God
to want _too much_."

Then we wandered round to the east side of the old house, and I
looked up and pointed out to Bess the old stone gargoyles. And Bess
looked too.

"Those," she said, "are Christian devils. Nana says we never could
get on here without a Devil, and the monks had theirs too."

There are many times in life, I find, when it is wiser not to answer
a child, and this was just one. Strong light often dazzles, and,
after all, are we not all children groping in the dark?

We peeped into the kitchen from outside, and saw the coppers
glimmering like red gold on the shelves of the old oak dresser.
Auguste, the cook, was chopping some meat, and the blows he gave
resounded merrily through the crisp frosty air. I called through the
mullion window and asked if the little soiled suit of yesterday was
dry, as Fred the groom was to ride over to Hawkmoor and take it there
in the afternoon.

"Oui, madame la comtesse," cried Auguste, for by that title he always
addressed me; not that I have a title, but that Auguste thinks it
kind and polite so to address me. Besides, he has a confused belief
that every English woman has a title of some kind, and that its exact
nature is immaterial. As he spoke he opened the little oak door that
communicates with the garden and exclaimed joyously--

[Sidenote: AUGUSTE'S SECRET]

"Voyez, madame, le jeune comte will still be a joli garçon in it.
See, he will still rejoice the heart of his father and mother in
grenat foncé." So saying good-natured Auguste passed into the garden
displaying in his arms the red suit. A miracle seemed to have been
performed. There it was, spotless and dry, and as good as it was when
made by Messrs. Tags and Buttons of New Bond Street. Auguste laughed
and talked excitedly, gesticulated wildly, and assured me that he had
saved the costume by un secret--mais un secret suprême known alone to
him and to his family. "See, madame," he cried superbly, "le bon Dieu
ne pourrait pas mieux faire." Then he told me in confidence that it
was not in vain that his mother had been over thirty years
gouvernante in the household of Madame la Princesse de P----. She
knew everything, he asserted, "mais tous les secrets de ménage."

I bowed my head, and happily had the tact not to press for an
explanation, for I knew Auguste's recipes were real secrets, and as
jealously guarded as those of any War Office in Europe.

Bess clapped her hands. "Hals will be pleased," she said. "Because
now old Fräulein need not be cross, and there will be no punishments."

Auguste bowed solemnly. "Madame is satisfied," he said, and retired
like a beneficent fairy god-mother into the depth of his culinary
kingdom.

The difference between our people and the Latin races is great. I
have often noticed that Frenchmen or Italians are delighted to know
any housewifely trick or wile--and that ignorance of all other
departments but their own does not, in their eyes, constitute
intrinsic merit. Foreigners seldom say, "That was not my business,
sir," or "not my department." Whereas, in every well-constituted
English domestic mind, "not my business," or "not my work" is a creed
to be cherished firmly, whatever else dissolves or changes, and is
treated as the bulwark of English domestic life.

Before I left the kitchen door I asked for a saucer of chopped egg, a
slice of sponge cake, a roast potato, and half an apple for the
inhabitants of my aviary. Tramp and Tartar started barking furiously,
in a noisy inconsequent way; and off Bess and I went armed with
dainties. Mouse followed gravely, but not without misgivings, for she
took no interest in birds, and felt, I am sure, that they enjoyed far
too much consideration from me. Bess and I descended the steps which
led down from the garden to the field, but held on tightly to the
rails, for it was slippery.

"Mummie," cried out Bess, "mind, for it is slippery all over, like
walking over a glass door." However, we neither of us fell, and
reached the aviary door in safety. Then we saw rather a wonderful
sight: some forty canaries of all colours--green, cinnamon, jonquil,
clear and mealy, yellow, spotted and flaked, were all to be found
there. Poor little dears! They were making the most of the wintry
gleams of sunshine, and some of them looked rather hunched up and
puffy from the cold. They have a thatched shed, and in front, facing
due south, a long flight of some twenty feet for exercise, beneath
fine wire netting. But their playground was cold, as Bess said. As we
entered the cage, they flew round us with cries of joy. Canaries are
very easily tamed, and they perched on the saucer containing the
food. They ate greedily the chopped egg, and pecked at the sponge
cake and apple. Bess ran into their "bedroom" as she calls it, and
squeezed on "their dressing table" the "heart" of a big potato cooked
"in his jacket." One cock was singing sweetly. Burbidge must have
given them water only a few minutes before, for it was still tepid in
the dish, and some were drinking with avidity. We dropped a few drops
of sherry into the water to act as a cordial, from a flask that
Burbidge had got stowed away in a little box of what he calls
"extras," and I added a couple of rusty nails from the same store. I
noted that my dear old cock canary, "Bourton Boy," that I have had
some ten years and known from an egg, looked a little mopish--what
Bess calls "fat and fluffy." I watched him in silence, and tried to
discover what it was he lacked. There was an ample supply of egg,
apple, and of potato, not to speak of canary, rape, and hemp seed,
but he fluttered round and at last pecked violently at a crystal
button on my coat; then I knew what he was after, and called out
"sugar." Bess echoed the cry, and darted off like a little fairy for
some, finely pounded, in a scrap of paper from kind Auguste, who
adores "toutes les bêtes de madame." We had discovered rightly what
it was that the Bourton Boy was in need of. He uttered a note of joy,
and fell upon the sugar with a right good will directly we had placed
it in the cage, whilst Bess watched him.

[Sidenote: BOURTON BOY'S REQUEST]

"Why don't you give him lettuce, too? Auguste offered me some salad,"
she asked.

"It is not good for canaries till the spring," I replied. Then I went
to the end of the shed to see if there was plenty of fat bacon
hanging up--the birds' cod liver oil, as old Nana calls it. I
inspected a piece some three inches long and two wide. It was pecked
all over by voracious little beaks, and was quite thin in places. Fat
bacon is an excellent adjunct to an aviary, and is one of the best
means of keeping birds in health, and of special value to hens during
the nesting season. In winter, also, it seems to be very nourishing,
and to give great gloss and lustre to their plumage. After seeing
that their larder was well supplied, I turned to their baking-tin,
full of red sand and very fine oyster grit. It is really astonishing,
what an amount of grit all birds require to keep them in health. I
poked up the contents of the tin with my walking-stick. It was
amusing to watch the birds. In a moment all had left the seed, egg,
or potato, and were engaged in picking up the freshly turned sand. A
few months ago I was obliged to have the floor of the aviary firmly
cemented down, as otherwise I found that mice burrowed from
underneath and effected an entrance, and then attacked my pets. The
cement in a few days hardened, and now is like a rock, and I am glad
to say inroads from the furry little barbarians have become
impossible.

"My children of light," as I call them, having been visited, I turned
away and escaped with Bess out of the aviary, but not without great
care, and having resource to some stratagems, for my little feathered
friends all followed me closely, curious, and always hoping for fresh
delights. At a given signal, Bess slipped under my arm, and we closed
the door like lightning behind us.

As we mounted the stairs, we saw the old gardener Burbidge waiting
for us at the top. He looked like a picture of Old Time, with his
grey hair, his worn brown overcoat, his long grey beard, and behind
all, the background of snow.

"They are all well," I called out to him, "in spite of the cold."

"They was matted up yesterday," answered the old man, pointing
downwards to my pets. Then he went on to say how he and the gardeners
strengthened the artificial hedge on the east side, by adding fir
branches and some mats, "for it was fit to blow their feathers out,
that mortal sharp was the eastwinder;" and Burbidge looked at my pets
with indulgent pity, and added, "They be nesh folks, be canaries, for
all they write about them." Then he suspected Bess of giving them
forbidden food. "They mustn't have no green food. It be as bad for
'em as spring showers be for sucking gulleys" (goslings), he added,
"and that be certain death."

"But I haven't given them anything not allowed," stammered out Bess,
indignantly; "mama and I have only given them what we always do."

"Ah!" said Burbidge, softening, "that won't be no hurt then; and as
to potato and apple, they be the best quill revivers out, come
winter. But what sort of apple was it?"

I replied that the apple was a "Blenheim Orange" and no American.

[Sidenote: "NO NEED OF FOREIGN STUFF"]

"No need of foreign stuff in Shropshire," answered Burbidge, proudly.
"Our late apples are as sound as if they were only fruited yesterday."

Then I told him that the potato was one of the same sort that I had
last night at dinner--floury, sweet and mealy.

"Then I'll be bound," he replied, "you had an Up-to-Dater, or may be
a Sutton's Abundance; they be both sound as a sovereign, real gold
all through. No blotches or specks in they. We had four roods of both
on the farm. Fresh land, no manure and a dusty summer, and tatters
will take care of theirselves; but come a wet year, a field potato is
worth two in a garden, although I says it as shouldn't, but truth is
truth, although you have to look up a black chimney to find it, as
folks say."

Then old Burbidge went on to tell me how "Potatoes be right house
wenches in a garden, or same as clouts to floors; but don't you go to
takin' 'em from their nature too early, for when the tops bleed the
tubers will never be fit for squire's food, only fit for a petty
tradesman's table," and this with Burbidge is always a dark, and
outer land of disgrace.

Bess, Burbidge and I paced along the neat swept paths. At last I got
my word in. "No damage done by the snow?" I asked.

"I don't allow no damage," was our old retainer's stern reply;
"leastways, not after daylight. I and lads were out again with poles
this morning."

We wandered round the close-clipped yews, and peeped over into the
borders beyond, while Burbidge talked of "how all had been put to
bed" with pride. "Them as wants next year must mind this," he
exclaimed.

All my tea-roses, Chinese peonies, and tender plants had been duly
covered up with fern; and branches of spruce and Austrian fir had
been carefully placed in front of my clematises Flammula, Montana,
and Jackmanni, and round the posts on which my Crimson Rambler,
jessamine, and vine ramped in summer.

"They are just resting comfortable," said Burbidge, complacently. "We
all want sleep--plants and men--but let the plants have it suitable,
same as childer in their beds."

We had come to the end of the red-walled garden, and as he said this,
Burbidge opened the wrought-iron gate, and I passed down the flight
of stairs which leads to the front drive.

"To-morrow we must talk about the list of flowers," I cried, before
he was out of sight and hearing; "we must not forget the
butter-beans, and the foreign golden lettuces."

Burbidge nodded, but not enthusiastically. He doesn't what he calls
"hold to foreign things." England is his country, and, above all,
Shropshire his county, but being very faithful, he is indulgent to my
foibles. As Bess and I walked along the pathway, we lingered in the
cloisters, and for a moment looked away at the far distance.

We saw nothing but white fields which lay glittering in the sunshine,
and the spire of the parish church to the west, which shone like a
lance under the clear sky.

"Some day," Bess said, "take me right away, mamsie, far away with the
dogs," and she pointed to the snow-clad meadows that stretched round
the old Abbey precincts. "I like fields," she added, "better than
gardens to walk in, for there are no 'don'ts' there for the dogs."

[Sidenote: A RUINED HEDGE]

This remark from Bess alluded to my dislike of broken hedges, for, as
Burbidge says, "A yew hedge broken, is a kingdom ruined." I remember
this scathing remark was made on a terrible occasion when the great
Mouse dashed through a yew hedge in hot pursuit of a very young
rabbit, and indeed training down and replacing the broken limb of the
yew was no slight matter. It was, in Burbidge's phraseology, "a long
and break-back job, bad as sorting sheep on the Long-Mynd in a
snow-storm;" for, as our old gardener expressed it, "Nature be often
full of quirks, and sometimes disobliging as a maiden aunt that's got
long in the tooth, and that walks snip-snappy, with an empty purse."

Ever since this mishap my great hound's sporting habits have been,
therefore, somewhat restricted in the Pleasaunce. But if things have
gone wrong by evil chance, and large, very large, paw-marks can be
detected on the beds, Burbidge is not without his passing sarcasm. "I
prefer a bullock," or "Big dogs be made for kennels," he will say. I
recalled these reminiscences of spring and summer days, but felt
sure, for all he said, that Burbidge would never hurt a hair of my
dog's tail. Gradually the sunlight failed, and Bess and I went
indoors. I found my friend Constance, of the Red House, awaiting my
return.

Her eye fell on my garden catalogues. "One wants in life many good
ways of using common things," she said; "a variety in fact, without
the expense of change." And then Constance agreed with me that
vegetables in England were often only a waste material. "Many of us,"
I held, "only know sodden potatoes and cabbage, or salad with an
abominable, heavy cream sauce that reminds one of a furniture polish."

"Vegetables our side of the Channel," laughed Constance, "are a
serious difficulty, partly on account of the cook, and partly on
account of the gardener."

We agreed that the gardener would hardly ever pick them young or
tender enough, and that this applies to beans, carrots, peas and
artichokes. This set me thinking, and I mentioned a visit I once paid
to Chartres some years ago. It was in early June, and I saw several
waiters all shelling peas in the courtyard of the principal hotel. I
was surprised to note that each man had three little baskets in front
of him into which he threw his peas. I was astonished to see so many
little baskets, and asked why all the peas could not be put into one
basket. "Oh, madame," said the man in authority, "at Chartres we
acknowledge three qualities of peas, and then there are the pods, for
the pea-soup." In what English household would it be possible to get
the same amount of trouble taken?

"The methods adopted in England are different," said Constance dryly.
"As regards peas--generally the gardener leaves them till they have
attained the hardness of bullets, and then the cook cooks them solely
with water, and so a very good vegetable is made as nasty as it is
possible to make it."

Then we both came to the conclusion that peas, "as a fine art,"
should be picked very young, or else they were very unwholesome, and
that they should have mixed with them a little gravy, cream, or fresh
butter. After this Constance asked me about my butter-beans, which,
she told me, she thought excellent one day when she lunched with us
last September. I told her that the variety that I grew chiefly was
Wax Flageolet, and that my seed came from the foreign seedsman, Oskar
Knopff, but that now all sorts of butter-beans can be got from
English nurserymen, and that Messrs. Barr and Veitch have those and
many other excellent sorts.

"They are also as easy to grow, Burbidge says, as the old-fashioned
French kinds," I remarked, "but more juicy and mellow, although they
do not look quite so nice on the table. Auguste likes to give them a
few minutes longer in boiling, and invariably adds, as is the French
and Italian habit, some haricot beans of last year of the old scarlet
runner sort boiled quite soft." Then I praised the foreign habit of
serving all vegetables in cream, oil, or a little gravy, and added it
is setting the vegetable picture in a good frame. Then from beans we
turned to potatoes, and we discussed the best kinds to grow in a
moderate-sized garden.

From vegetables we wandered off to embroidery.

[Sidenote: A "WROUGHT SHEET" PLANNED]

"I want," Constance told me, "to design a quilt for a big
'four-poster.' What they would in the seventeenth century have called
a 'great wrought sheet.' I am thinking of doing," she said, "a great
border of old-world flowers all round my 'bed-spread,' as it is now
called in the art shops."

"What more enchanting," I cried enthusiastically, and recalled to her
mind the beautiful woodcuts that illustrate "Gerard's Herbal." "There
are there, all the flowers and herbs," I said, "that you could
possibly wish for, and they are all exquisitely drawn and well
adapted for such a purpose. The Great Holland, the single Velvet, the
Cinnamon, the Provence and the Damask roses, the very names are full
of poetry; then of wild flowers, you must think of the Wolfe's Bane,
the Mede Safron, Ladies' Smock, and Golden Mousear. In the garden,
there is the Guinny Hen, and, above all, the gilly-flowers of sorts,
and May pinks; and round you might work scrolls of words from poets
and philosophers about the joys of sleep." Then we talked the matter
over, and I got quite keen about the colour of the background, and
suggested a particular tint of jonquil canary. But Constance would
not hear of this, declared she preferred white, and meant to use the
hand-made "homespun," as Shropshire folks call the sheets of the
country that were made formerly at Westwood and round Wenlock up to
the second half of the last century. "I bought," she told me,
"several old pairs of large hand-made linen sheets at a sale two
years ago, and I feel sure they will be delightful to work on. They
are not unlike the Langdale linen, only not so fine." Then Constance
went on to say how, in the eighteenth century, every farmhouse in
Shropshire had its spinning wheels, and every cottager her love
spinning, when her neighbours would come and spin with her out of
love and good-fellowship. Besides the good wife's spinning, many a
maiden's wedding garments were thus made for her by her own
playmates, while it was with her own hands that the lass's wedding
sheets were always spun.

Was it a better world, I have often asked myself, when women loved
their spinning-wheels and tambour-frames?

Anyway it was a simpler world we both agreed, and probably a more
contented one, for all ladies then took delight in superintending,
and in the perfection of household work; and the world, high and low,
did not commonly feel wasted as it so often does now; and our tongues
ran on, on the servant problem.

[Sidenote: THE SERVANT PROBLEM DISCUSSED]

"A little more education," argued Constance, "and perhaps the world
will move more smoothly. If all the girls could play a tune or two
and knew a little more French, the world would not be so proud of
one-finger melodies, or isolated syllables of Gallic, that we can
vouch are incomprehensible to the native understanding. 'Tis not to
be expected, as old Betty in the Dingle says, 'as the sun can find
all the crannies at once.' Education is slow because gentility is
great, and real love or desire for knowledge rare. What we want is
not, as Montaigne said, 'more education, but better education.'"

Then we wandered on to what is knowledge and what are the things
worth knowing, and no doubt the hour till tea would have passed all
too quickly, if we had not been interrupted by Bess, who dashed
downstairs breathless, and bubbling over with excitement.

"A letter," she cried, "and a letter all for me. Nana," she
explained, "said I must not say 'yes' without your leave. But why
should papa only have dogs as a matter of course? Here is the note."

I took the little crumpled paper from Bess's hands. It was from
Maimie Armstrong and written to Bess by a friend's little girl. I
read that "there are several little pups. Mamma," continued Maimie,
"says you are to have one when it is old enough to leave old
Nick-nack. They are all blind now and cannot see, but suck all day.
One shall be sent in a basket.

"P.S.--I didn't write all this myself, because ink often goes wrong
with me and I can't spell, but James, the footman, has done it for
me." And then in a very large round child's hand. "Your loving
friend, Maimie Armstrong."

I straightened out the little sheet and then looked round at Bess.
She was literally trembling with excitement and she could hardly
speak, but somehow she managed to gasp out, "Mama, I cannot live
without a pug-pup." For the moment I believed she was speaking the
truth, so I answered, "Yes, dear, we must have even a pug-pup if it
is a necessity."

"Yes, yes," cried Bess, with rapture; "and then I shall be quite,
quite happy ever afterwards."

"What a good thing it is to be a child," said Constance, softly. "One
wants everything so badly."

At my acceding to Bess's request, Bess ran to me and hugged me
rapturously, and called out to old Nana, who had just appeared at the
head of the stairs, "I told you so; and the pug-pup is to live in the
nursery."

Nana did not greet this news with the pleasure expected of her, and
as the two mounted the stairs, I heard my old female retainer grumble
something to herself. But give her time, as Bess always says, "and
Nana will always come round, and find you a sweet out of some
cupboard before she's done."

My old Nana keeps her chamber spotless, tells my little maid long old
stories of Shropshire, and wages ceaseless war against fringes and
furbelows in her nursery maid. "God made me a good servant," she
always says, with austere pride. And I add reverently, "The Lord only
knows the extent of her long devotion." It has weathered many storms,
and has bid defiance to the blasts of misfortune, and to the frosts
of adversity. Like the gnarled oak of one of her native forests, Nan
has sheltered many young generations of saplings, and in her master's
family have centred her interests, her pleasures: to their well-being
she has given her life.

In the evening, after dinner, I went up the old stone staircase that
leads to the nursery. Bess was sleeping peacefully, but she was not
hugging, as is her wont, her favourite old doll "Sambo."

[Sidenote: THE PUG PRINCE]

"Her wouldn't to-night," explained Nana, "my little lamb; her thinks
of nothing but the pug-pup. I holds to dolls for little ladies, but
Miss Bess, she holds to dogs for herself. 'Oh, Nana,' her said, when
I was bathing her, 'I could not live without dogs. God makes them
into brothers for me.'

"Then I said, 'Why do you like 'em like that? 'Tis almost a sin.' She
answered, 'God never makes them answer back; and then we can do with
different toys.'

"Well," concluded Nan, pensively, as she took up her sewing, "my old
aunt said God Almighty made caterpillars for something, and I suppose
even dogs b'aint made for nought, leastways, they be pleasures to
some."

I laughed, for behind me, padding up the stairs reluctantly, but
faithfully, I saw through the open door my great Dane.

"I should miss Mouse dreadfully. Bess is right," I cried, "one's dog
never answers back, and is loving and sympathetic at all times, in
and out of season." I passed gently out of the room and went
downstairs. I left the dimity-hung chamber, and as I did so I had a
vision of a little bright, happy face. At seven, a pug-pup may seem
almost a fairy prince, or possess all the gifts of the philosopher's
stone. "Oh, happy childhood," I said, "which asks so little and wants
it so badly."

Great logs of wood blazed gaily on the great open hearth of the
chapel hall, between delicate bronze Italian dogs. The moon was
shining down from a sky of placid splendour, and the little oratory
looked in the evening light wonderful, and mystic. Through the old
irregular lattice windows I felt as if a message of peace was being
brought to me. No sound of bird or cry of beast greeted my ears. A
copy of Thomas à Kempis' immortal book lay near me on the table. I
took it up and read.

"In the Cross is Salvation, in the Cross is life. In the Cross is the
perfection of sanctity." I read the beautiful words over, and over
again. How exquisite the language is. What hope and radiance beam
through every syllable. "Yes," I said, in the stillness of this
wonderful place, "I too can hear His message, for this once also was
a holy and austere place, where men poured out their lives in the
ecstasies of prayer." Then I thought of the monk of St. Agnes as I
saw him in imagination across the long centuries, denying himself all
that makes life sweet, and welcome to most men, and devoting himself
heart and soul to holy meditation, and still holier penmanship.
Idleness he abhorred; labour, as he said, was his companion, silence
his friend, prayer his auxiliary. There seemed almost an overpowering
sense of holiness in the serene calm of the Abbey, and I strove
against it as if the air were unduly burdened with an incense too
strong to bear. I rose and went to the door and let in the night air.
I saw the dim outline of the trees and the dimmer outline of
garden-bed and bush. As I looked, in strange contrast, the glory of
the summer days returned to me. In the cold of January my mind
floated back to the joy of faintly budding woods, to deep red roses,
to the rich perfume of bee-haunted limes, and to pure lines of
blossoming lilies. All these I saw in my soul as I stood and gazed
into the chill darkness. The flowers seemed to laugh at me, and were
accompanied by fair visions of Joy, Love, and Life; but grim forlorn
winter, the symbol of the lonely soul in the mountain heights, has
also its own beauties. I looked round again, and the mystic sides of
Renunciation held me fast. The peace and devotion of the past seemed
to hold and chain me with irresistible force. I shut the door and
stood again in the place where saints had stood.

[Sidenote: THE HOLY PLACE]

Beside me was the great stone altar with its seven holy crosses,
before which kneeling kings had received the sacrament, and where
saint and sinner had received alike absolution. Outside alone the
stars were witnesses of my presence. They shone as they had shone a
thousand years ago, as they will shine a thousand years to come.
Pale, mystic, and eternal, a holy dew of wonder seemed to fall upon
my shoulders, the Peace of God is not of this world, nor can it be
culled from the joys of life.

It is the Christian's revelation of glory, but those that serve can
hear at times the still calm voice of benediction in such silent
places as this, or in the supreme moment of duty, "for in the cross
is the invincible sanctuary of the humble, in the cross of Christ is
the key of Paradise."

The next morning I rose early. There was much to do, for life can be
as busy in the country as in town. I wrote my letters, and according
to my constant custom--much laughed at, be it said, by many
friends--jotted down my engagements, duties, and pleasurable
excitements for the day. There were--

Some blankets to send to the poor. My list of flower seeds. And then
Bess and I were to go sledging in the lanes.

To English people sledging never seems a quite real amusement, and
always to belong a little to the region of a fairy-story.

Punctual to the moment, Burbidge appeared with long sheets of
foolscap, and we made out the list of seeds.

"Burbidge," I said grandly, as he handed to me the sheets of paper,
"I leave the vegetables to you, save just my foreign pets."

Burbidge bowed graciously and we were about to begin, when he could
not resist his usual speech about disliking foreign men, foreign
flowers, and foreign seeds.

"Yes," I rejoined slyly; "but you must remember how many people liked
the Mont D'Or beans and praised your Berlin lettuces."

"Well, so long as you and the squire were pleased, I know my duty,"
replied Burbidge, mollified.

"Which is?" I could not refrain from asking, for the old man has
always his old-fashioned formula at the tip of his tongue.

"Which is," repeated old Burbidge, rehearsing his old-fashioned
catechism solemnly, "watering in droughts, weeding all weathers, and
keeping a garden throughout peart and bobbish as if it war the Lord's
parlour."

"It is a very good duty," I said.

"Yes," answered Burbidge, complacently; "new fangled scholards
haven't got far beyond that, not even when they puts Latin names to
the job. They have County Councils now, and new tricks of all sorts,
but 'tis a pity as so many get up so early to misinform themselves,
but there be some as allus will live underground and call it light,
and there be none so ignorant as they as only reads books. They be
born bats for all the garnish of their words."

After which there followed a long pause--then Burbidge handed me his
list of vegetables.

"I haven't forgotten the foreigneerers," he said indulgently,
"carrots, potatoes, peas, onions, celery, and greens, sprouts, and
curls--enough even for a kitchen man, and the Lord Almighty would
have a job to know what a Froggy cannot chop up or slip into a sauce.
One might stock a county with extras, if one listened to they."

[Sidenote: LOVE IN THE MIST]

Then we turned to the flower list. Burbidge pointed with a big brown
finger to my entry of "Love in the Mist," as I wrote, for I proposed
having great patches of it in front of my lines of Madonna lilies,
varied by patches of carnations, stocks, and zinnias in turns.

"I don't hold," he said severely, "to so much bluery greenery before
my lilies. There won't be no colour in my borders." Then when I
protested, he added, "You like it, mam, 'cause it has a pretty name.
There's a deal in a name, but 'tisn't all that call it 'Love in the
Mist.' 'Devil in the Bush' was what my mother used to call it, and
other folks 'Laddie in a Hole.' But there's a deal too much talked
about such nonsense. Leave the maids alone, and eat your vittals, is
what I tell my boys, and then there'd be a lot of cakey nonsense left
out of the world."

Then Burbidge, knowing my heart was, what he terms, "set on blows,"
bowed slowly, and vanished.

Left to myself, I looked down the catalogue of flower seeds and
ordered to my heart's content; packets of shadowy Love in the Mist,
and Eckford's delightful sweet peas in exquisite shades of red,
mauve, lavender, rose, pink, scarlet, and pale yellow. Then I thought
of the sweetness of Centaury, the brilliant yellow of the Coreopsis,
the perfume of the mulberry-tinted Scabious, and the azure glory of
the Convolvulus Minor. I recalled the beauty of the godetias and the
opal splendour of the larkspurs, while the gorgeous shades of the
Malopes seemed to make an imaginary background of magnificence in my
borders, and in my mind's eye the diaphanous beauty of the Shirley
poppies seemed to add to the gorgeous sunlight of even sovereign
summer itself. And lastly, as the latest annuals of the year, I did
not forget to add some single moon-faced sunflowers, such as I once
saw at Linley in the old garden there--worn, white, shadowy creatures
with the tears of autumn in their veins.

It is a great delight to order your own flower list. It means a true
wealth of beauty in the future, brilliant colours and sweet odours,
and the promise of so much in the present. Promise is often like the
petals of last year's roses, and yet full of delights is the garden
of imagination. I sat on and dreamt of my future borders, in which no
frost nor hail, nor any evil thing would fall, and sat on drawing
little squares and rounds on white paper borders when my leisure was
suddenly disturbed. Too much leisure is not given to any mother of
the twentieth century. And Bess entered like a thunder clap.

"Mama," she called, "Mama, Crawley declares that you are going out
sledging. May I come--I want to, I want to?"

"Yes," I answered; "but you must do just as I tell you, get out if I
tell you, and not do anything foolish."

Bess agreed to all my stipulations. What would she not have agreed
to, to gain her point? And conditions, before they happen, do not sit
heavily on a child's soul.

At last even luncheon was over, and Bess awaited the sledge,
expectant and triumphant on the mounting-block.

Just as Bess was sure for the hundredth time that it must be almost
tea time, and that something must have happened to Bluebell, the
sound of the bells rang out across the frosty air.

"It comes, it comes," cried Bess, rapturously, "and oh, mama, isn't
it fun. It's better than walnuts on Sundays, or damming up a stream
with Burbidge, or even helping to wash Mouse with Fred," and my
little maid, in a flame-coloured serge mantle trimmed with grey
Chinchilla fur, leapt about with excitement.

[Sidenote: WE JOURNEY IN A SLEDGE]

A minute later, and Fremantle and the footman ran out with blankets,
which they carried in their arms in great brown-paper parcels. Each
parcel bore the name of one of the seven old women who were that
afternoon to receive a pair of blankets. We got in, and then somehow
all the parcels were piled up and round us--how I cannot really say,
but like a conjuring trick somehow it was done. At last, when all was
put in and Bess screamed out "safe," I shook the reins, old Bluebell
looked round demurely, and then trotted off. Mouse gave a deep bay of
exultation, Tramp and Tartar yelped frantically, and away we went.

The dogs barked, the bells jingled, and a keen, crisp wind played
upon us, packages and pony.

We drove along the old town. We passed the old Town Hall with its
whipping-post, and so up High Street past the beautiful old house
known as Ashfield Hall, once the old town house of the Lawleys, where
Charles I. is said to have slept during his wars, and where Prince
Rupert another time dined and rested with some of the gentlemen of
his guard. Ashfield Hall is a striking old house, with a gateway,
mullion and latticed windows, and beyond extends the old street,
known since the days of the pilgrims as Hospital Street.

Overhead stretched a laughing blue sky, and all round was what Bess
was pleased to term the Snow Queen's Kingdom. First of all, we went
to Newtown. We passed the red vicarage with its great dark green
ilex, and then up by the picturesque forge, where the blacksmith was
hammering on a shoe, away by the strange old cottages on the
Causeway, with a fall below them into the road of some seven or eight
feet, on we went as quickly as fat Bluebell could be persuaded to
trot. Then we mounted the hill, and I got out and led the old pony to
ease its burden, for a sledge is always a heavy weight when it has to
be dragged up hill. At last old Jenny James's cottage was reached,
and her parcel duly handed out.

"I like giving things," said Bess, superbly. "It seems to make you
happier."

"Yes," I answered; "but gifts are best when we give something that we
want ourselves."

"Don't you want the blankets, mama?" asked Bess, abruptly.

"Well, not exactly, dear," I answered. "Giving them didn't mean that
I had to go without my dinner, or even had to give up ordering my
seed list this morning."

"Must one really do that," asked Bess sadly, "before one can give
anything?"

"Perhaps, little one," I said, "to taste the very best happiness."
Then there was a little pause, which was at last broken by Bess
turning crimson and saying--

"Mamsie, I think it must be very, very difficult to be quite, quite
happy."

[Sidenote: GIFTS TO THE POOR]

I did not explain, but saw from Bess's expression that I had sown a
grain of a seed, and wondered when it would blossom. Then we turned
round and slipped down the hill at a brisk rattle, all the dogs
following hotly behind, to an old dame who had long had a promise of
a blanket. The old body came out joyfully and stood by her wicket
gate, beaming with pleasure. It is an awful thing, sometimes, the joy
of the poor over some little gift. It brings home to us at times our
own unworthiness more than anything else.

Old Sukey, as she is called by her neighbours, took her blankets from
Bess with delight. "I shall sleep now," she said, "like a cat by the
hearth, come summer come winter," and her old wrinkled face began to
twitch, and tears to rise in her poor old rheumy eyes. "Pretty dear,"
she said to Bess, "'tis most like a blow itself. I wish I had a bloom
to offer, but 'tis only a blessing now that I can give thee."

Again we turned, and pattered back post-haste up the Barrow Road to a
distant cottage.

"Is it a good thing to get a blessing?" asked Bess, suddenly.

"A very good thing, for it makes even the richest richer."

"Then," answered Bess, "when I grow up I mean to get a great many
blessings."

"How, little one, will you do that?"

"Why," answered Bess, "I shall give to everybody everything they
want, and buy for all the children all the toys that I can find."

"But supposing that you are not rich, that you haven't money in your
purse, or a cheque-book from the bank like papa?"

"Then I shall have to pray--and that will do it, for I'm sure the
good Lord wouldn't like to disoblige me."

At last all our visits were paid, and we had left seven happy old
souls, whom it was a comfort to think would all sleep the sounder for
our visit of that day.

As we drove home, Bess suddenly turned round and said--

"Mamsie, why can't they buy blankets?"

It is very hard for the child-mind to grasp that the necessities of
life--bread, blankets, and beds--do not come, in a child's language,
"all by themselves."

Puppies, pets, and chocolates, children can understand have to be
paid for; but the dull things, they consider, surely ought to grow
quite naturally, like the trees outside the nursery windows, all by
themselves, and of their own accord, as they would say.

I tried to explain to Bess what poverty really was, and told her what
it would mean to have no money, but to buy the absolute bare
necessities of life. Bess listened open-mouthed, and at the end
exclaimed--

"Why has God given me so much, and to poor children, then, so little?"

"I wonder," I replied; "but, anyway, as you have got so much, you
must do what you can to make other little boys and girls happier. For
God, when he gives much, will also ask much some day."

Bess did not answer, and we drove back in silence. It was very still
along the country lanes, save for the tinkling of the joyous bells.
Behind us followed our pack, Mouse panting somewhat, for she had fed
at luncheon time, not wisely, but too well; but Tramp and Tartar
scampered gaily after us. The whole country seemed enveloped in a
white winding-sheet, and the sunlight was dying out of the west. A
soft white mist was stealing up over all, but the voice of death was
gentle, calm, almost sweet, across the silent world. Cottages looked
out by their windows, blinking, and appeared almost as white as the
snow beneath them.

Old Bluebell seemed to know that her trot to the Abbey was her last
journey, and went with a good will. We passed the new hospital,
dashed down Sheinton Street, and so into the Italian gates by the old
Watch Tower of the abbot's, beyond the old Bull Ring where, through
many centuries, bulls were baited by dogs.

[Sidenote: "I WANT TO BE HAPPY"]

As we drew up before the door, Bess exclaimed, regretfully--

"Oh, mama, why has it all stopped? I should like driving in a sledge
to go on for ever and ever."

I kissed the little maid, and we went into tea. Bess hardly spoke,
and I thought her wearied by the excitement of the drive, but that
night, when I went up to see her in bed, she called out--

"Mamsie, mamsie, come quite close. A secret." So I sat down on the
little bed, and the little arms went round my neck. "Mama, I have
looked out a heap--a heap of toys--to send off to poor children. My
new doll Sabrina, my blue pig, my little box of tea things, the new
Noah's Ark, but Nana will not pack them up. She says they're too good
for poor children. Isn't she wicked, for I want to give them all, and
to be happy--happy as you mean me to be."



                              CHAPTER II

                                FEBRUARY


               "The Hag is astride
               This night for to ride,
               The devil and she together,
               Through thick and through thin,
               Now out, and now in,
               Though ne'er so foule be the weather."
                                HERRICK'S _Hesperides_.

Some weeks had passed, and I had been away from home. Rain had
fallen, and the snow had vanished like a dream--the first dawn of
spring had come. Not spring as we know her in the South of France or
in Southern Italy--gorgeous, gay, debonair--but shy, coy, and timid.
The spring of the North is like a maiden of the hills, timid and
reserved, yet infinitely attractive, what our French friends would
call "une sensitive."

There was, as yet, very little appearance that winter "brear Winter,"
as Spenser calls him, was routed and obliged with his legions of
frost and snow, to fly before the arrival of youth and life, and the
breath of triumphant zephyrs. A spring in the North is chiefly
proclaimed by the voice of the stormcock in some apple tree, by the
green peering noses of snowdrops, and here and there a crimson tassel
on the hazel tree and larch; but, above all, by the splendour of
golden and purple lights which come and go across the hillsides and
athwart wood and coppice. The turf, as I walked along, I noticed was
moist and soft, and oozed up under my feet. February fill-dyke, as
she is called, had come in due order, and in appointed form. Little
puddles glistened on the drive, and for all the patches here and
there of blue, there were leaden shadows and grey clouds, and it was
wise, if you wandered abroad, to have at hand the protecting
influence of an umbrella. I walked up the back drive, till I stood
before the well of our patron saint.

[Sidenote: THE "HOLY ONE OF WENLOCK"]

Long centuries ago the holy and beautiful daughter of Merewald, King
of Hereford, according to old tradition, came here and founded a
nunnery. The story runs that St. Milburgha, pursued by the
importunities of a Welsh prince, found a refuge at Wenlock, and
gathered round her a community of devoted women.

Tradition tells the story of how the saint fled on one occasion to
Stoke, a hamlet in the Clee Hills. The legend says that she fell
fainting from her milk-white steed as she neared a spring there. As
she did so she struck her head against a stone, causing blood to flow
freely from the wound. At that time, about the middle of February,
some countrymen were occupied in sowing barley in a field which was
called the Placks, and seeing the lovely lady in so sad a plight,
they ran to her assistance.

"Water," she wailed, but none seemed at hand. Then St. Milburgha bade
her steed strike his hoof against the rock, and, believed the
hagiologists, water, clear, wonderful and blessed, leapt forth at her
command. As it flowed, the lady is reported to have said: "Holy
water, flow now, and from all time." Then she stretched forth her
hands and blessed the fields where the barley had been sown, and
immediately, before the astonished eyes of all beholders, the grain
burst forth into tender blades of grass. Then St. Milburgha turned to
the countrymen.

"The wicked prince," she said, "and his pack of bloodhounds are close
upon me, therefore I must fly." And she bade them adieu, but not till
she had told them to sharpen their scythes, for the reaping of the
barley should take place that night.

All came to pass as the Blessed One had foretold, for as the
countrymen were busy reaping their grain, the heathen prince and his
followers arrived on the scene.

But the labourers were true and faithful hearts, and neither threats
nor promises could extract from them in what direction the Lady
Milburgha had fled.

When the prince saw that the peasants had begun to reap the grain
that had been sown the self-same day, a great awe fell upon him and
his lords, and he vowed that it was a vain and foolish thing to fight
against the Lord, and his anointed.

Other old writers tell how the river Corve, at the voice of God,
saved Lady Milburgha; and how, as soon as she had passed over its
waters, from an insignificant little brooklet it swelled into a
mighty flood which effectually barred the prince's progress. Amongst
other incidents mentioned by Saxon chroniclers, we hear that St.
Milburgha drove away the wild geese from the plots of the poor. Many
are the legends of the beautiful Shropshire saint that are still
cherished in the wild country between the Severn and the Clee. She
was as fair as she was good, it was said, and old writers told how,
when a veil once fell from her head in the early morning sunshine, it
remained suspended in the air until replaced by her own hand, and how
she wrought a miracle by prayer and brought back to life the son of a
poor widow; while all the while, a mystic and sacred flame burnt
beside her, a visible manifestation of her sanctity, for all to see.

[Sidenote: THE SAINT'S WELL]

I thought of all these beautiful old legends, fairy-stories of grace,
they seemed to me, as I wandered up the back lane and paused before
the saint's well at Wenlock, which is still said to cure sore eyes.

As I stopped to gaze down upon the deep well below, I noticed that
the little wicket gate was open, and that a child with a little jug
was about to descend the stairs to fetch what she termed in the
Shropshire tongue, "a spot o' water."

"Have you no water at home, my child, that you come here?" I asked.

"Oh yes," replied the little maiden, Fanny Milner by name, "there be
a hougy drop in our well after the rains; but grandam says I must get
some from here, or she'll never be able to read her chapter come
Sunday afternoon, with glasses or no glasses. Grandam says as it have
a greater power of healin' than ever lies in doctor's messes, or than
in bought stuffs neither. It be a _blessed_ water, grandam says, and
was washed in by a saint--and when saints meddle with water, they
makes, grandam says, a better job of it than any doctor, let him be
fit to burst with learning."

I smiled at the apple-cheeked little lass's quaint talk, and helped
her to fill her jar. The belief in the healing powers of the old well
lingers on, and many of the inhabitants of Much Wenlock are still of
opinion that water fetched from St. Milburgha's well can cure many
diseases, and particularly all malign affections of the eyes.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the holy wells of many
Welsh and Shropshire wells degenerated into Wishing wells. They then
lost their sacred character, and became centres of rural festivities.

It is said that at Much Wenlock on "Holy Thursday," high revels were
held formerly at St. Milburgha's well; that the young men after
service in the church bore green branches round the town, and that
they stopped at last before St. Milburgha's well. There, it is
alleged, the young maidens threw in crooked pins and "wished" for
sweethearts. Round the well, young men drank toasts in beer brewed
from water collected from the church roof, whilst the women sipped
sugar and water, and ate cakes. After many songs and much merriment,
the day ended with games such as "Pop the Green Man down," "Sally
Water," and "The Bull in the Ring," which games were followed by
country dances, such as "The Merry Millers of Ludlow," "John, come
and kiss me," "Tom Tizler," "Put on your smock o' Monday," and
"Sellingers all."

Such was the custom at Chirbury, at Churchstoke, and at many of the
Hill wakes, and from lonely cottage and village hamlets the boys and
girls gathered together, and danced and played in village and town.

                        [Illustration:
                        _Photo by Frith._
                        THE RED WALLED GARDEN.]

After shopping in the town, I entered the little old red-walled
garden where my annuals blossom in the lovely long June days. All
looked sad and brown, and "packed by" for rest, as Burbidge calls it.
I noticed, however, a few signs of returning life. The snowdrops had
little green noses, which peered above the ground, and here and there
the winter aconites had bubbled up into blossom. What funny little
prim things they were with their bonnets of gold, and their frills of
emerald green. I noted, also, that the "Mezeron-tree," as Bacon calls
it, was budding. How sweet would be its fragrance a few weeks later,
I thought, under the glow of a warm March sun.

I passed along, and looked at a line of yellow crocuses. The most
beautiful of all crocuses, veritable lamps of fire in a garden, are
those known as the Cloth of Gold. The golden thread was full of
promise, but as yet no blossom was expanded. How glorious they would
be when they opened to the sunshine. There is indeed almost heat in
their colour, it is so warm and splendid.

[Sidenote: MANY-COLOURED STARLINGS FLIT]

As I stood before these signs of dawning life, two starlings flitted
across the garden. How gay they were in their brilliant iridescent
plumage! The sun, as they passed me, struck the sheen of their backs,
and they seemed to shine a hundred colours, all at once. I tried to
count the colours that the sun brought forth in them, gold, red,
green, blue, gray and black with silver lights; but as I named the
colours, words seemed bald and inadequate to describe the beauty and
mutability of their hundred tints, for, as they moved, each colour
changed, dissolved, reappeared and vanished, to grow afresh in some
more wonderful and even more exquisite tint. And then suddenly the
sun was obscured behind a cloud, and my starlings, that seemed a
minute ago to hold in their plumage the beauty of the sun and the
moon and of the stars, became in a twinkling poor brown, everyday,
common little creatures. Like Ashputtel when the charm was gone, they
looked common little vulgar creatures, and as they flew over the wall
into the depths of the ivy on the ruined church, I wondered why I had
ever admired them.

Starlings, some fifty years ago, were often kept as pets. Burbidge
has told me that they are the cleverest mimics that breathe, being
"born apes," so to speak. Now, however, my old friend declares, "none
will do with them, for nobody cares for nought but popinjays, and
then they must have the colours of a gladiolus married to the voice
of a piano." So the English starling is no longer a village pet. A
few minutes later, and Burbidge told me that a spray of Chionodoxa
Luciliæ was out.

I peered round and I saw some little hard china like buttons, folded
tight in a sheath, and beyond, a cluster of bronze noses, about a
quarter of an inch above the ground. How lovely they will be, I
thought, all these delicate spring flowers. All blue, and all
wonderfully beautiful from the deep sapphire blue of the Chionodoxa
Sardensis, to the pale lavender of the dainty and exquisite Alleni.

Yes, the world is alive, I said, and laughed; for I knew that spring
must come in spite of snows and frosts, that the breath of life had
gone forth, mysterious, wonderful, the miracle of all the miracles,
and that the joy of spring and the glory of summer must come, as
inevitably as death and winter.

I turned and inspected a large bed of Chinese Peonies. I moved a
little of the protecting bracken placed there by the loving hand of
Burbidge, and peeped into the litter. Yes, they too, had heard the
call of spring. A few shoots had pierced through the soil, and they
were of the richest blood-red colour, like the shoots of the
tea-roses on the verandah of our hotel at Mentone. They were of the
deepest crimson, with a light in them that recalled the splendour of
a dying sun. Then I covered up the shoots quickly for fear of night
frosts, but with hope in my heart, for everywhere I knew the earth
must burst into bud and blossom; and as I listened to the storm-cock
in the plantation, I rejoiced with him in the lengthening days, and
in the growing sunshine.

[Sidenote: A JOYOUS CHAFFINCH]

I passed out of the garden, and walked down the stone stairs, through
the old wrought-iron gate, that is said to have belonged to the house
where the Rye House Plot was hatched. Just outside, and perched on a
silver holly, I saw a lovely cock chaffinch. A second later, he was
strutting gaily up and down on the grass! What a grand fellow he was,
with his lavender head, his greenish-grey back, his salmon breast,
and the brilliant white bars on his wings! What a cheery,
light-hearted little creature! "Joyeux comme un pinson," the French
say, and he is certainly the most light-hearted of English birds. The
Twink, or Bachelor bird he is often nicknamed, for when winter comes,
many of the cocks stretch their wings and fly off to foreign parts
and leave the hens behind. The pied-finch is his name in the village.
By nature a most joyous bird, the pied-finch is the last of the
summer singers, singing gaily into July, when the thrush and
blackbird are mute. I stood and watched him as he hopped about the
sward. He took no notice that I was near, for the Bachelor bird is
very fearless and curiously little apprehensive, or timid. All of a
sudden, I turned round and saw my great hound Mouse behind me.
"Mouse!" I cried, and with a bound she was beside me. For the first
twenty-four hours after my return, Mouse is miserable out of my
sight. She always gives me a boisterous welcome, and will not leave
me for a moment. She sniffs at my boxes, watches me out of the corner
of her eye, and wanders round me, trying often in a foolish, dumb way
to block my passage, if she thinks I wish to leave the room.

Panting, and running behind my dog, followed Bess.

"Mums," she said, "we couldn't think where you was gone. We hunted
everywhere. 'Like enough,' Burbidge said, 'you was hunting for
flowers.' But don't bother about little spikes and green things, for
Mouse and I want you badly."

"Hals is coming," continued Bess, "and this time without his
crab-tree governess. Burbidge says, 'Give me a Fräulein to turn the
cream sour;' and declares that 'You could make vinegar out of her!'"

"Well, then, my dear," I said, "you and Hals can thoroughly enjoy
yourselves, for you will be alone."

"Yes," answered Bess, "for when I saw Hals I said, 'Nothing but old,
old clothes--clothes that will nearly want gum to stick them on, and
that won't mind any mud.'"

"Did you enjoy yourself at Hals' birthday?" I asked, for on that
eventful day I was away.

"I should think I did, mamsie," and Bess's eyes glistened at the
recollection. "There was no conjurer, but the dearest little white
dog in the world, that did tricks, and he knew more tricks than a pig
at a fair, Nana said; and after that Cousin Alice, Miss Jordan, read
us some stories and poetry. First of all, she sang us such nice old
songs about 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary,' 'Little Boy Blue,' and 'I
saw Three Ships come Sailing,' and then she went on reading poetry.
She read us the 'Ancient Mariner,' and 'Sister Helen,' and I sat on
her knee; but Hals wouldn't sit on his mother's, because he said
people were looking, and boys had better sit on their own chairs. And
'Sister Helen' was quite real, and made me feel creepy, creepy. It
was all about two sisters--they hated some one, and made an image,
and they dug pins into it, and then they repeated bad words, and the
person for whom it was meant got iller and iller and died; and Hals
and me we liked it." So, chattering all the way, Bess and I regained
the house.

"Will there be cake--my favourite cake?" inquired Bess, "the one that
Hals likes best of all, with apricot jam and chocolate on the top?"

"Yes," I answered, "and Auguste has promised to make it himself. But
only one helping. You must try and be wise, little girl."

"I must try," said Bess, but not very hopefully.

Half an hour later and Hals arrived, without Fräulein Schliemann. We
all felt relieved; the two children embraced hurriedly, as if life
was all too short to get in all the fun of an afternoon spent in each
other's company; and then Bess said, "You can go now," sharply to the
little maid who had brought him over. "We don't want to be unkind,
but we want to be quite, quite alone, please;" then, thinking that
she had not been quite courteous, Bess ran impetuously out of the
room. "Poor thing!" she explained to me a minute after, "she must
read, because she cannot play; she cannot help it;" and Bess gave
Jane a story-book.

"You will find that very amusing," I heard her say through the open
door. "It is all about a naughty girl, but she couldn't help being
naughty, 'cause it was her nature."

Then Jane went up to the nursery, and a minute later Bess and Harry
bounced off together. Before leaving me she whispered something into
his ear.

An hour later and Fremantle rang the bell for tea.

[Sidenote: A GREAT, GREAT SECRET]

After a few moments of waiting Bess and Hals reappeared. They
whispered loudly, but I pretended not to hear what they said, for
Bess told me with flashing eyes that they had a great, great secret.

"The greatest secret, Mum Mum, that we ever had in our lives."

Their faces looked scarlet, and as to their hands, it is hard to say
of what colour they were originally. It was, however, Bess's special
_fête_, so I said nothing tactless about cleanliness, nor did I
allude to whispering being against the canons of good manners; for
there are moments when a mother should have eyes not to see, and ears
not to hear, and as a wise friend once said to me, "half the wisdom
of life is knowing when to be indulgent."

I need not have feared any excess on the part of the children as
regarded the cake and the jam, for they hardly ate any, and Auguste's
_chef d'oeuvre_ had only two small slices cut out of it.

Bess, I saw, was under the influence of some great excitement. She
could hardly sit still a moment, and fidgeted on her chair
repeatedly, till I feared she would topple backwards, chair and all.

At last tea was over, and grace was said, and the two children,
breathless, and absorbed, begged leave to go off.

"Yes," I answered, "but not out of doors; for, see, it is raining,
and I promised your mother, Hals, that you should not get wet."

"Oh no, it's nothing to do with puddles," cried Bess. "But, mum, may
I take some pins from your pincushion? Nurse won't let me have as
many as I want. And then will you say that nobody--nobody is to go
near us?"

"Very well," I answered, "only don't do anything that is really
wrong."

Bess avoided my gaze, and did not answer, and a minute later I heard
the two children scuttle up the newel staircase, and shortly after
heard the muffled sound of voices in the old tower of the Abbey that
a Lawley is said to have erected in the middle of the seventeenth
century.

[Sidenote: THE FAIRY-STORY]

About half an hour after, the children returned to me in the chapel
hall. Bess, I noticed, looked white and fagged, and both children
seemed exhausted by their play, whatever it was, so I made them sit
quiet, fetched my embroidery, and began to tell them a fairy-story. I
meandered along the paths of fiction. I fear my story had but little
plot, but it had fiery dragons, wild beasts, a fairy prince, and a
beautiful fairy princess, and, in the background, a wicked ogre. And
as I talked, the children sat entranced.

"You see," I said, as I heard the front-door bell ring, and heard the
tramp of horses outside, "the prince was to have everything, all that
his heart could wish--dogs, the golden bow and arrows, the azure
ball, and the deathless crimson rose--as long as he restrained his
temper, and never gave way to fits of violent passion. But if he
swore at his old nurse, Ancoretta, or struck the goat-herd, Fritz, or
even pinched the goose-girl, Mopsa, palace, dogs, bow, ball and rose
were all to disappear like a flash of lightning, and he was to become
again the poor little bare-legged village lad. Then the princess was
to be carried off by fiery dragons, and never return till he,
Florizel, had been able to grow good and pitiful again, and to do
some lowly, humble service to some poor old dame that everybody else
despised, and was unkind to."

At this point of my story, Fremantle entered and announced the
carriage.

"Go on, go on," cried the children in one breath. "We want to hear
what happened!"

But I answered, shaking my head, "How Prince Florizel was rude to his
tutor, ungrateful to his old nurse, and beat his faithful
foster-brother, Fritz, is another story, as Mr. Kipling would say;
and all this you must wait to hear in the second volume of my mind,
which will appear on Easter Monday, when Hals shall come over, if his
mother can spare him, and we three will all sail off in fairy barks
with silken sails to the far and happy land of Fancy."

So Harry departed, attended by Jane, and Bess sat on in silence
looking hard into the fire, and then early, and of her own accord,
pleaded fatigue and slipped off to bed.

Just as I was finishing dinner I saw old Nurse Milner standing in the
doorway.

"Nothing wrong, nurse?" I asked, starting up.

"Nothing very wrong," answered old Nana, cautiously; "leastways, Miss
Bess is not ill, but she seems out of sorts and won't say her prayers
to-night, and will keep throwing herself about, till I think she's
bound to fall out of bed. I have asked her what's the matter, but
she's as secret as a state door. She and Master Harry have been up to
some tricks, I'll be bound, for I don't hold to children playin' by
themselves, as if they were nothing but lambkins in a meadow. You
can't tell what they won't be up to, but this you may be sure of, to
childers left by themselves, mischief is natural sport." And old Nana
glared, and made me feel very small.

"No great harm done this time," I said, and went upstairs.

"What's the matter, little girl?" I asked. I took a little hot,
feverish hand and pressed her to tell me why she would not say her
prayers.

At first Bess was sullen--turned her head away, and would not speak;
but she could not resist my kiss, and at last confession bubbled up
to her lips.

[Sidenote: A LITTLE MAID'S CONFESSION]

"Mama," she exclaimed vehemently, "I have been wicked, very
wicked--wicked as an ogre or a she-dragon. Can you love me really and
truly when you know what I've done--really love me again?"

"I am sure I can," I answered, "only tell me. When I know, I can help
you."

Bess buried her head against my shoulder, and then rambled on rather
incoherently--

"Do you remember what I told you about Hals' birthday--how there
wasn't a conjurer but a white dog, and how, after the tricks were
done, Miss Jordan read us stories and told us poems? Well, there was
one bit of poetry that I wish I had never heard, nor Hals either, and
that was Sister Helen, because it has made me very wicked. It has
made me think of how I could pay out Fräulein. We both hate her, she
does nothing but punish; not punish you to make you good, but to make
you horrid. Hals catches it for not washing his hands, for not
brushing his hair, for not putting on his coat, for losing his
blotting-paper, for dropping his pencil. Everything means a
punishment with Fräulein. She pounces on him like a cat, and she has
him everywhere." Then, after a pause, Bess began again. "Hals and I
thought we would punish her, too--once and for all."

"Yes, Bess," I inquired; "but what did you do?"

"Mum, I was very naughty," replied my little girl, tearfully.
"To-day, Hals and I went upstairs, up to the tower, and I got a
dustpan and two candle-ends, and we lighted some sticks and some
paper in the dustpan--I stole some matches out of papa's room--and
then we melted up the wax."

"And then, Bess?"

"Then, when the wax was sticky and horrid, we stuck pins into it, and
I said, 'Please, God, let Fräulein die.' And Hals did not want to say
it, but I made him, for I said I wouldn't have God angry with only me.

"And then I called out, 'Let her die, God, in horrid pain, like the
snake last year that Burbidge killed and that wouldn't die straight
off; and then, dear Lord, let her go to hell and be kept there ever
afterwards.' But Hals wouldn't say that, because he had heard
Parsons, their stud groom, say you must give every beggar a chance,
so he bargained that she should come out one day and have some
chocolates. To which I said, if the Lord lets her out of hell, it
shall be only common chocolates, not like those that Uncle Paul
brought me back from Paris. Then Hals agreed, Mum Mum; only he said,
for all she was a German woman, the chock was not to be too nasty,
seeing that she would only have some once a year.

"Then Hals wanted to go away; but I said he shouldn't till we had
done the whole job.

"Then he and I blew out the fire and stamped upon the wax, and it was
quite soft and squashy and I pricked my foot; but nurse does not
know, for Eliza bathed me to-night, and Eliza did not notice."

"And after that?" I asked.

"Oh," sobbed Bess, "you will be very angry."

"Never mind, go on," I said.

"Then," said Bess, steeled to the point, in a penetrating broken
chirp, "after that I told Hals we must say bad words, for I knew that
bad words can do a great deal. But Hals couldn't think of any, so I
called him a muff and a milksop, and I told him to repeat after me
all that I said."

[Sidenote: HOW COULD I BE SO NAUGHTY?]

"What did you say?"

"Mama, I called out 'damn' three times."

"My dear, what a dreadful word! How did you know it?"

"Oh, once I heard Uncle Paul say it when he ran a nail in his boot;
and once I remembered that Crawley said it when he got his foot
caught in a gate-post out riding, and I have never forgotten it. And
worse," continued Bess, "I called out, 'hell! hell! hell!' and then I
was frightened; but I didn't let Hals see it, or he would have said
girls were only funks after all."

"Well, little girl, you have done wrong, and you know it; for it is
always wicked to curse anybody, and mean to pray that some evil may
befall them. But," I added, as I saw Bess's tear-stained little face,
"I am sure you're sorry; for think what a terrible thing it would be
if anything dreadful happened to Fräulein, and if you thought your
wicked words had brought it about."

Bess's composure by this time had quite broken down, she broke out
into a passionate fit of tears.

"Why don't you beat me, why don't you shake me, or do something?" she
cried.

"My poor little girl," I answered, and I took her in my arms and
prayed God that He would purify my little girl's heart, and give her
a pure white soul.

At last Bess's sobs grew less violent, and she lay quiet.

"Do you feel better now?" I asked.

"Yes," came back from Bess; "for the curses, Mum Mum, seem to have
gone out of the room and to be dying away. Before you came, the whole
place seemed full of them, and eyes, great horrid eyes, seemed to be
looking at me everywhere, and I couldn't rest, do what I would."

"Now you can sleep," I said with a smile, "and I will sit by you till
all the evil spirits are gone, and guard you."

So I sat on without speaking, and held Bess's hands till the dustman
of children's fancy came with his sandbags and threw the sand of
kindly oblivion into my little maiden's eyes, and she fell asleep.
Then softly and as delicately as I could, I untwined the little
network of fingers that had twined themselves so cunningly around
mine, and gave little Bess a parting kiss as I glided out of the room.

When I returned to the chapel hall I found a letter from Constance.
In a postscript she told me that the idea of the quilt was taking
form.

"From 'Gerard's Herbal' I have chosen," she wrote, "the King's
Chalice, or Serins' Cade; the Dalmatian Cap; the Guinny Hen; the
Broad-leaved Saffron; Goat's Rue, or the Herb of Grace; Ladies'
Smock; Golden Mouse-ear; Solomon's Seal; Star of Bethlehem; Sops in
Wine; Ales-hoof; Wolf's Bane and Golden Rod. I give you all the old
names. On a scroll I propose round the quilt or 'bed hoddin,' as
Shropshire folks would call it, to work wise and beautiful words
about sleep;" and her letter ended with an appeal to me, to help her,
by finding some apt saws and quotations for this purpose. Of course I
will; what a delightful excuse for looking through the poets, I said
to myself.

I looked at the old Dutch clock. Ten minutes, I said, before going to
bed. Ten minutes, ten golden minutes, when it is not a duty to do
anything, or a matter of reproach to be idle. The fire was dying
softly down. I saw all faintly by the dim light of the lamp--the dark
panelling, the two Turners, the old Bohemian bench, the stern outline
of the altar, and outside the still night.

[Sidenote: THE COMPANY OF SAINTS]

"Are you not afraid to sit by yourself?" a somewhat foolish friend
once asked me. "I should be terribly alarmed of ghosts."

"Afraid of holy spirits?" I remember answering. "No crime is
associated with Wenlock. There is only an atmosphere of prayer and
saintliness there, a fragrance from holy lives rising up to God in
perpetual intercession; surely such thoughts should make nobody
uneasy or unhappy."

"I don't know," my friend had replied. "But lancet windows, I know,
always make me creepy--and living in a church," she added
inconsequently, "would be almost as bad as having a house with a
curse. I am sure I should always be dreaming of finding a walled-up
skeleton, or something mediæval and uncomfortable."

At which we had both laughed, and I confessed that I liked being left
to my angels and my prayers, and that it was good to believe that one
had a soul, and that all the forces of God's world were not comprised
in steam, the Press, and electricity.

Then, as I sat on, my mind reverted to the little child, sleeping, I
hoped, peacefully upstairs. "Poor little impetuous Bess," I said to
myself, "I trust some day she will not break her heart against the
bars of earth. She wills, and wants, so strongly when the fit is on
her, and then afterwards, remorse, sorrow, and despair."

The child is the father of the man, and in my mind's eye I saw my
little maiden as she would be in womanhood--dark, passionate,
devoted, generous, impulsive, with a golden heart, but self-willed
and not easy to guide. Heaven grant her pathway may not lie across
many briars, and that I may be able to protect, and water the
flowers, in the garden of her soul.

All education is a hard matter, and we parents are often like
children groping in the dark. It takes all that mother and father can
do, friends and contemporaries, and, after all, in Burbidge's homely
language, is often "a parlous and weedy job." We so often give the
wrong thing to our children, and, what is worse, the wrong thing out
of love and affection. We so often, as Montaigne wrote, "stuff the
memory and leave the conscience and the understanding unfurnished and
void." We are too often knowing only in what makes present knowledge,
"and not at all in what is past, no more than which is to come." We
do not think sufficiently of the development and growth of character.
Above all, few fathers and mothers try simply to make their children
good men and women, without which all is lost; for, as the great
essayist said, "all other knowledge is hurtful to him or her who has
not the science of goodness."

We must not be afraid of emotion, at least, not of right emotion; nor
must we be shy of offering our highest tributes of admiration to
honour, virtue, and real greatness. We must not be ashamed to mention
honourable deeds, and we must teach our children that honourable
failure is better than dishonourable success.

Life is not all an armchair for youth to rest in, or a country of
roast larks even for the youngest, and there are higher and better
things even than having "a good time." Such were the thoughts that
flashed through my brain as I lighted my yellow Broseley-ware
candlestick and went up the oak stairs to bed.

                         ---------------------

The next day, as soon as I had finished breakfast, I got a message
from our old gardener, Burbidge, to the effect that he wished to
speak to me, and that at once.

[Sidenote: BROTHER BEN IS "OVERLOOKED"]

I found the old man in the long lower passage of the monks.

"What is it?" I asked. "Nothing wrong in the garden?"

"Not so bad as that; but 'tis about my brother as I've come."

"Your brother, Burbidge?" I repeated. "I did not even know that you
had one."

"Well," replied Burbidge, "'tisn't often as I speak of him, and 'tis
twenty year agone since I've seen 'im, for when folks be hearty yer
needn't trot round the country like a setter to see 'em; but now as
Benjamin is old and in danger, I think as I'd better have a day off,
and go and see him."

"Where does he live?" I asked.

"At Clun, just outside the town," was Burbidge's reply. "He's been
there these seventy year, and more. When he were quite a lad he lived
at Bridgnorth, but over seventy year he have a-lived with Farmers
Benson--first with Farmer James, then with his son Joshua, and lastly
with his grandson, Farmer Caleb. Benjamin he have a-buried two wives
and thirteen childer, and the berrial of the lot have a-come upon him
like tempest in summer. But he have allus kept hale and hearty--till
this year."

"Has Benjamin been able to work all these years?" I inquired.

"Of course he 'ave," replied Burbidge, scornfully. "Of course he did,
till he war _overlooked_."

"Overlooked?" I said, and turned to Burbidge puzzled.

After a pause, Burbidge, seeing that I did not realize the full
importance of his statement, repeated, "Overlooked, and by a _black_
witch too." And then he lowered his voice and added, "For all their
education, parsons, newspapers and what not, there be black witches,
and some of 'em has hearts as black as hell, and can suck the very
life out of a fellow."

"But surely your brother doesn't believe that _now_?"

"Doesn't he," answered Burbidge. "My brother knows better than to
disbelieve in devils and witches. You don't catch him going against
the Word of God like that. Yer might as well try to stir a puddin'
with an awl, or to repeat a verse of Hebrew under a moonless sky, as
tear up the old belief in the old Shropshire folk. The devil he won't
go out of Shropshire for all the papers daily, and weekly, as ever
town people read or write; no, not even to make place for trains, and
motors. He 'ave his place here, and he'll keep his wenches, the
witches, near him."

"But what has happened to your brother?" I asked, as soon as I could
get a word in.

"Why, just the same as has been happening for years, and thousands of
years to others, and which will happen, whether Shropshire be ruled
by a king or a queen, and which be Gospel truth whatever they say,
and which may come dwang-swang to any Christian man."

And thereupon I heard the story of how old Benjamin Burbidge had been
bewitched. I listened amazed, for the tale was more like an incident
in some witch's trial in James I.'s time than a story of modern life.

[Sidenote: BECKY SMOUT, THE WITCH]

"Yer must know," continued our old gardener, "as Benjamin war
waggoner at Bottomly Farm--and he have a-been so for years and years.
And a fine team his war--a team of roans and all mares--to get foals
off at the close. Well, and fat they war, and for all he war old,
horse and harness Benjamin minded surely. His horses were to him like
gold, and he put in elbow grease as if he war a lusty lad of twenty
in minding 'em. Well, one day his granddaughter Sally, who keeps
house for him, war mixin' meal for the poultry, when up comes Becky
Smout as they call her there, an old gangrel body, weazen, dark as
walnut juice, and the look of a vixen in her eyes. Some folks say she
came to Shropshire on a broomstick, and some seventy year agone from
Silverton on the Clee-side. 'Tis a land of witches that Clee Hill,
and allus have been a stronghold of the devil, as old Parson Jackson
used to say. When Becky saw the poultry meat, her belly craved for
it. Her held out both hands ape-like and her cried out, 'Let it be a
howgy sup, my wench.' But Sal war in a temper it seems. 'Let be,' she
sang out; 'dost think I've nought to do but to cram thy belly as if
thee were a yule-tide hog;' and folks say with both bowl, and spoon,
Sal flung out in a fanteag, because it seems Benjamin had promised
her for her own gewgaws what her could make by the sale of the fat
hens and the widdies come Christmas. And Becky her let her rage and
never, they say, spoke one single word, but looked at her darkly,
speered round, and wrote some devil's characters in the dust outside
the door; and as she passed down the lane they heard her laughin',
laughin' like an ecall on an April morning, fit to split her sides in
half. The next morning, when Sal got out to feed her poultry, she
picked up the speckled hen, and a morning or two arter she found the
yellow cock all stiff and cold with a kind of white froth round his
mouth. And after that, her war all of a tremble, war Sal. Her began
to hear voices, and to see things as folks shouldn't see, and to hear
bits of noises everywhere. And a kind of sweat seemed to ooze out
from her hands and feet, and her felt cold and hot all to a time, and
the doctor's physic did her no good, nor could any of Mrs. Benson's
draughts ease her. And they sent her off to the sea to stay with a
sister at Rhyl; but Sal her came back queerer than ever, and her
wouldn't speak, but would sit gaping and blinking as if her couldn't
mak' nothin' out, nor understood nought. And all the while Becky
would prance about aunty-pranty, and speer over the hedge, and laugh
and jabber and talk a heathen tongue."

"What is that?" I asked.

"_Why, their own tongue._"

"What is it like?"

"Oh, never you ask, marm," replied Burbidge sternly. "No pure-minded
woman ever spoke that tongue, but witches they take to it like
widdies" (ducklings) "to a horse pond. And for all Ben had cried
'Fudge,' and 'You don't catch an old fox nappin',' as he did at the
first when Sal were overtaken, he got mighty fidgety and couldn't
stop still. He took to dropping his pipe, wud begin a story and then
wud break off and laugh afore the joke was come, and his speech got
queer like Sal's, and at last he could bear it no longer, and he went
off to Becky. And he took a golden guinea that he had had off the
first Mrs. Benson, her as they called madam, for folks said that she
war a parson's daughter, and that she had given him for pulling her
lad out of a brook over seventy years agone, and that he valued like
the apple of his eye, and he pulled out the guinea from his waistcoat
pocket and he said 'This be yourn,' to Becky, 'if for the love of God
you'll take the curse off me and mine.' But her wudn't, wudn't Becky,
and her only laughed and laughed, same as an ecall in the Edge wood.
And then Ben ran out frightened, so that his legs seemed to give
under him, same as a hop shoot that has no stake, and he came home
jabbering, crying, and laughing like a frightened child, and nobody
could do nought with him.

[Sidenote: BURBIDGE SEEKS HIS BROTHER]

"Farmer Benson, he tried to do what he could as _maister_; but
Benjamin had lost all respect, and laughed at him same as if he had
been his gossip. Nor could any of his childers bring him to reason,
neither Frank nor Moses, his grown sons who live at Wolverhampton,
and have families of their own. So at last Mrs. Benson, her has
a-wrote to me, to come and try what I can do. And seeing that Ben and
I we be true brothers, and he so down in his luck, I thought as I'd
like to go and see him, and look in at a Craven Arms bit of a show of
a few spring things, and so get a holiday and a sight of poor Ben at
the same time, if so be I can be free to-day."

I assured Burbidge that he was quite free, as he expressed it, and I
trusted that he would find his brother better than he expected. "Only
make him believe that Becky Smout is an impostor," I said, "and has
no real power to injure him or his granddaughter, and all will go
well."

But at this advice Burbidge solemnly shook his head.

"They ideas does for the Quality," he grumbled, "but workin' folks
know better. Us wouldn't hold such creeds if they warn't deadly
real." And so saying, my old friend clumped down the mediæval
passage, and I was left thinking how little Shropshire was changed,
in spite of board schools and daily papers, from the Shropshire of
the Stuarts.

A minute later and I heard a child's voice close to my elbow, and saw
a little girl, Susie Rowe by name. "You here, Susie?" I said, and
asked the reason of her visit.

I was told "that grandam was but poorly," and Susie begged for a bit
of tea and a drop of broth. "Grandam doesn't know," added Susie,
blushing, "for her don't hold to begging; but Betty Beaman, the old
body what lives with her, her says, 'Hasten up, my maid, and bring
her something nice from the Abbey.'"

"Of course," I answered, "Mrs. Harley shall have anything I have."
And I called to Auguste to fill the basket with good things.

He filled a little can with milk, got a packet of tea and filled a
gallipot with _crême de Volaille_ from the larder. Susie passed me a
few minutes later, weighed down by her basket, but all smiles, and
she promised she would tell her grandmother to expect a visit from me
in the course of the afternoon.

Just before luncheon my little maiden appeared. She was sad, and
silent, and I did not allude to what had taken place yesterday; but
at luncheon-time I told her I was going to Homer, and invited her to
ride Jill whilst I walked.

It was a lovely afternoon, sweet and almost warm, but there was
little sunshine. All was enveloped in a soft grey mist. We walked
along the lanes, Jill nosing me at intervals for lumps of sugar.

Mouse was of the party, and ran backwards and forwards very pleased
and gay. A pony is always a pleasure to a dog; it seems to give state
and importance to a walk. Tramp and Tartar scampered ahead, and
sniffed and skurried round, and up, and down the high banks that
skirted the track.

At length we reached the lane that turns off from the Wenlock Road,
and Farley Dingle, and we stood on the top of the edge before dipping
down into the valley to the little hamlet below known as Homer.

[Sidenote: BANISTER'S COPPICE]

I stopped to look at, and admire the view; even in the subdued light
of a grey winter's day it was enchantingly beautiful. The little
cottages of Homer clustered in a circle at my feet, whilst round them
nestled orchards of apple trees and damsons, which last would soon be
out in a mist of white blossom, like a maze of stars on a frosty
night. Far away I saw Harley church, the woods of Belswardine, the
smoke of Shrewsbury lying like a mantle of vapour on the distant
plain, and to the west rose the great hills of Carodoc and the Long
Mynde, whilst immediately before me stretched the ill-fated spot
known as Banister's Coppice.

It was here, according to old tradition, that the unfortunate Duke of
Buckingham, in Richard III.'s reign, was betrayed by his faithless
steward at his house at Shinewood. The story ran that the duke's
cause did not prosper, and that his Welsh allies melted away, so that
he, finding himself hard pressed by the royal forces, and not able to
collect fresh troops, hurriedly disbanded his followers and fled to
the house of his servant Banister, or Banaistre, as he was called by
some of the old chroniclers.

Buckingham thought, having conferred great benefits on his servant,
that he could count upon his loyalty; but Banister was tempted by the
great reward, £1000, offered by the king for his master's
apprehension, and told "Master Mytton," then sheriff, where he was
concealed.

The duke, according to the old story, lay in a ditch near the house,
on the outskirts of the coppice, disguised, it is said, in the smock
of a countryman, and was arrested at night by John Mytton, who came
over from the old hall at Shipton, with a force of armed men. When
Buckingham knew that his arrest was due to the treachery of his
servant, he broke forth and cursed his faithless steward in the most
awful, and terrible manner. He cursed his goings in, and goings out,
the air he breathed, the liquor he drank, and the very bread he ate,
and with the same curse, he cursed all his family. According to
tradition, they all ended miserably.

An old writer declares, "Shortly after Banister had betrayed his
master, his son and heir waxed mad, and died in a boar's stye; his
eldest daughter, of excellent beauty, was suddenly stricken of a foul
leprosy; his second son became very marvellously deformed in his
limbs, whilst his youngest son was drowned 'and strangled' in a very
small puddle of water. And Banister himself, when he became of
extreme old age, was found guilty of a murder, and was only saved by
the intervention of the clergy, to whom he had paid large sums. As
for the £1000, the king," says the same old writer, "gave him not one
farthing, saying 'that a servant who had been so untrue to so good a
master, would be false to all other.'"

Shinewood House--for the old manor of the duke's time has gone--I
could not see, but I knew the place, and as I looked across wood and
meadow, all the old story and its tragedy came back to me. Some
writers say that Buckingham was executed at Shrewsbury, but
Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More declare that he was executed at
Salisbury on the feast of All Souls.

[Sidenote: A VISIT TO DONKEYLAND]

Bess and I walked down the cart-track and looked below. Five or six
donkeys were browsing on the scant herbage, for every one at Homer
keeps a donkey, and the common name of the hamlet is Donkeyland.
After a few minutes' walking, we left the main track, and made our
way to a little homestead that nestles close against the hill, and is
surrounded by a bower of fruit trees. As we turned through the wicket
a band of dark-eyed children quitted the little school and greeted
us. The children looked as if they belonged to another race than
those at Much Wenlock. They had dark, almost black eyes, and swarthy
skins. I have been told that in the end of the eighteenth century a
gang of gipsies came and settled at Homer, built huts for themselves,
married and settled there; and that is why the good folks of Homer
seem of a different race from the rest of the neighbourhood. I paused
before knocking at the cottage door, and begged Fred, the groom who
had followed us, to take my little maiden for a ride, and bring her
back in half an hour.

"Mayn't I come in?" asked Bess.

"Not to-day, for Mrs. Harley is really ill," I answered. "Take the
dogs, and come back presently."

Bess and her pony, followed by Tramp and Tartar, vanished, and old
Betty opened the cottage door. All was irreproachably clean. The
brass warming-pan over the chimney piece shone like gold, and the
old-fashioned dresser was garnished with spotless blue and white
china. There was a mug or two of lustre-ware, a few embroidered
samplers on the walls, and a pot or two of budding geraniums behind
the windows. Upon the hob a copper kettle hissed gaily.

I asked after Mrs. Harley, the owner of the cottage. But Betty shook
her head. "She 'ave a-heard the Lord's call," she replied; "but she's
ready--been ready this forty years, and her wants to go."

A minute later I found myself by my old friend's bedside. She had a
wonderful face, this old village woman. Through it shone the inner
light which once to see is never to forget. I sat down by her, at a
sign from Betty, and asked her how she did.

For all answer Mrs. Harley smiled.

"I fear you suffer?"

"That does not matter," came back from her, "for I am going home."

The room was a plain little room with old oak beams across the
ceiling, the covering on the bed was old and worn, there were only
the barest necessities of life, and yet as I sat watching my old
friend, I could almost hear the sound of angels' wings.

In spite of pain, long nights of sleeplessness, and a long and weary
illness, my old friend's face glowed with happiness, and in her eyes
was that perfect look of peace, which remains as a beacon to every
pilgrim who has ever met it. I offered to read to Mrs. Harley, but
she declined.

"No readin', dear, for I can hear Him myself. There's no need now to
speak or pray, I'm goin' Home. I, what be so tired." Then she thanked
me for coming, and asked me with an ethereal smile about "the little
one. Mak' her grow up worth havin'," she added seriously. "Every
child is made in the image of God, and it isn't parents as ought to
deface His image. 'Tisn't only book learning, and fine dressing, as
will make her a lady, but you'll do yer best," and she patted my hand
affectionately.

[Sidenote: TWO OLD FRIENDS]

Then my old friend began to talk of her past life, of her early
marriage, "fifty years agone," with a right God-fearing man; of her
happy married life, and then, calmly and bravely, of her joyous and
approaching death.

"I am going Home," were her last words, and I shall never forget the
exquisite certainty of her tone, as I left the room and followed
Betty downstairs.

A minute later, and Betty and I found ourselves in the little kitchen
below.

"I shall miss her terrible," she said in a husky voice. "Nell and I,
years and years agone, were scholards together when old Madam
Challoner taught in the little white house yonder, afore the new
school was built. We growed up and we married, the same year. Her got
a good man; I got a beauty, and a bad one. When Harley died, he left
his missus the cottage, garden, a few fields, and a tight bit of
money. Soon after her was left a widow, I went to see her, for
Marnwood Beaman, my man, he fell off a waggon, dead drunk, and was
killed, and I was left without a penny. I couldn't do much, for I had
got cripply ever since I had got the rheumatics, so I made up my mind
it war to the poor-house I war bound. One day (when I had stomached a
resolution to carry this through, and it costs the poorest body a lot
to do), I went, as I said, to see Nell afore I spoke to the overseer.

"When I got in, Nell, her comed up to me and her says, 'What ails
thee, Betty?' for my eyes were red and bulgy. Then I told her what
war on my mind, and that for all my cottage war a poor place, it went
sadly against the grain to leave it and to have a mistress to knopple
over me, and give me orders same as if I war a little maid at school.

"Then," added Betty, "Nell her brought me the greatest peace as I
have ever felt.

"Her said, with one of her grand smiles, and sometimes, for all her
war but poor folk, Nell looked a born duchess, but with a bit of an
angel too, 'Don't you think, Betty, of leaving and goin' to the
poor-house or any other institution, but stay you at home with me.
Pick up your duds and us two will live together, for my daughter be
married.

"'I don't want exactly a serving wench, nor a daughter, nor a sister,
but some one as is betwixt and between, and a bit of all three. Thee
can work a bit, give thee time, and we can crack an old tale together
after tea; I shan't be timid with thee, nor thee of me. Us shall be
just two old folks goin' down the hill together--and the getting down
shall be natural, and friendly. I can take thy hand, and thou canst
take mine.'

"And her did give me a hand," exclaimed old Betty, warmly, "a hand
that has kape me safe all these years; and I bless the Lord for such
a true and good friend."

We sat on in silence, and I could not but think how sweet, and loyal,
had been the friendship of these two old people. Suddenly Betty got
up and poked the fire.

"Last time as yer war callin'," she said, "yer asked me, mam, what I
could say about that Nanny Morgan, her as war a known witch. Nell
won't name her, for her says Nan was given up to the devil, and all
his works, and that her has something else to think of. But since yer
are wishful to know, and the little lady is not here, I'll tell yer
what I can.

[Sidenote: THE STORY OF THE WITCH]

"Nanny Morgan was the daughter of Richard Williams, and she war born
and bred in a little house up at Westwood, on the way to Presthope.
Yer must often have seen the place, as yer go to Five Chimneys. Nan
war a fine, strapping lass when first I remembered her. Dark, tall,
with steel-grey eyes. Her got into trouble when quite a maid for
having a finger in the pie of robbing Mrs. Powell at Bourton. Her was
tried at Shrewsbury for the robbery, and lay in prison, they said, a
long time. When her got out of prison her own people wouldn't harbour
her, they said, and she went and lived with the gipsies. There she
learnt card tricks, tellin' of fortunes, and took to wandering and
unchristian ways. Us didn't see her at Wenlock for a long while, but
one day she turned up at Wenlock Market on a Monday, and told a
friend that her had taken 'dad's old house' and meant to settle down
and bide in the old place.

"Her called herself then Nanny Morgan, though who Morgan war I never
rightly knew, most like some tinker man. Anyway, her went to
Westwood, and there her lived, told fortunes by cards and by
hand-readin', sold love drinks, and was hired out as a curser--and of
all the cursers, there war none that could curse with Nan. For her
cursed the goin's in and the goin's out of folks, the betwixt and
between, the side-ways and slip-slaps, till, as they said, there
wasn't foot-room for folks to stand on, nor a thimbleful of air for a
creature to breathe, that hard could Nanny curse.

"She was terrible to meet," continued Betty. "Once as I war walkin'
back to Homer after marketing at Wenlock, I looked up and Nan was
full in my road, straight against the sky. How her had comed there, I
don't know, but there her war, terrible fierce and sudden, and her
great eyes seemed to look through and through me, and I fair quailed
before her, as they say a partridge does afore a hawk. Every one war
feared of Nanny," added old Betty, "for they felt before her as
innocent as a child, and what war there as she couldn't do to them?

"Nan lived on at Westwood and none dared say her nay, or to refuse
her ought, and all the while she went on practising devil's arts,
till her got her death."

"How was that?" I asked.

"Well, it war years agone." And Betty thought for a moment and then
added, "'Twas in the year 1857 that Nan got her deserts.

"There war a young lodger as had a bed at Nan's, and Nan took to him
terrible, and the lovinger her got the more he held back; and the
witch played with 'um same as a cat does with a mouse, and wouldn't
let 'un off to marry his own sweetheart. So one evening, he went into
Wenlock, and he bought a knife, and he stole back to her house, and
she called him soft like a throstle. Then while she stirred her pot,
he stabbed her to get free of her love philters. When Mr. Yates, who
war mace-bearer and barber, comed up, he found Nan, they said, lying
in a pool of blood, but they durst not undress her for fear of
getting witch's blood, and we all know that that is a special
damnation.

"Her led a bad life, did Nan," pursued old Betty; "her kept a swarm
of cats, and one she called Hellblow and another Satan's Smile, and
her had a box of toads to work mysteries with, and these, they said,
would hop at night, and leer and talk familiar as spirits, and
besides these, there war a pack of wicked books. You yourself, mam,
have her card-table where her used to sit. One leg of it higher than
the rest, and the ledge below, was where her wickedest toad used to
perch--it as they called 'Dew,' and that had been bred up on
communion bread, to reveal secrets. Sometimes, I've heard, Nan would
fall a-kissin' that toad and whisper to it all sorts of unclean
spells. I couldn't abear the table. It might fall to speaking itself
at nights, and then the devil only knows what it would say."

There was a pause, and then old Betty went on to say--

"After Nan war buried, the books one and all war brought down to the
Falcon's Yard Inn and burnt publicly. So that war her end, and a
wickeder woman never lived."

As the sound of Betty's last words died away, I heard the noise of
horses' feet gaily trotting up the lane.

"That will be my Bess," I said, "and as the twilight is beginning, I
must return." Then I begged that Susie might come and tell me if
there is anything I could send for Mrs. Harley, and we passed out of
the door.

[Sidenote: THE FIRST FLOWERS OF THE YEAR]

As we neared the wicket, Bess called out, "Look, look, and see what I
have found. Three snowdrops all white, a hazel nut-tail, and a nice
sticky bud of a horse-chestnut; but never mind anything but the
snowdrops, for they bring luck, Nana says."

I took the first flowers of the year; what a dazzling white they
were! And I recalled, as I held them, the old legend of the "white
purification" as it was once called.

"And to think," said Betty, smiling and noting our joy over the
flowers, "as I haven't a blow to give my pretty," and she smiled at
Bess; "but us has nought in blow, save a bud or two of the damsons,
and I dursn't pull it, for folks say, him as pulls fruit blossom
deserves the same as her as burns bread-crumbs, and I wouldn't bring
her any ill-chance."

Then I passed out of the little cottage precincts. I saw old Betty
still holding the gate, a dim figure with a red shawl. Bess blew her
a kiss, the dogs barked furiously; even Mouse joined in her deep bell
notes, and once more we were under way on our own homeward journey.

A soft grey mist gathered round us, with the growing darkness. All
was very still after a few minutes, and the only sound that we heard
was the baying of a dog in the distance at some lonely farm.

Far away in the west gleamed a golden light. Once we passed a brown
figure of some labouring man returning to his cottage, and as we
neared a thicket of budding blackthorn we were greeted by the voice
of a throstle singing his evening hymn. I carried my flowers
reverently, for were they not the first promise of spring, the smile,
as it were, of the scarce known year?

"Mum," said Bess, as I lifted her off Jill's back, "could you spare
me one of the snowdrops to keep in my own nursery?"

I nodded acquiescence.

"Because," pursued the child, "I should like one. Just one. It would
help me, I think, to keep away eyes, and bad words, and perhaps might
make me good and happy. Nan says they used to bring in snowdrops to
make the children good, let me try, too."



                              CHAPTER III

                                 _MARCH_


              "To birdes and beestes
              That no blisse ne knoweth,
              And wild worms in wodes
              Through wynter thou them grievest,
              And makest hem welneigh meke,
              And mylde for defaute,
              And after thou sendest hem somer,
              That is hiz sovereign joye,
              And blisse to all that be,
              Both wilde and tame."
                           _Vision of Piers Ploughman._

The winds of heaven were blowing, blowing; dust was flying on the
roads. The old saying that "a peck is worth a king's ransom" returned
to my mind. February fill-dyke had filled the springs and the
streams, and now March with his gay sun, and wild winds was drying
them as hard as he could. How pleasant it was to see the sun again!
He had been almost a stranger in the cold dark months of the young
year. Yet early as it was, Phoebus was proud and glorious and at his
fiery darts all nature seemed to begin and start life afresh.

Man, beast, and bird, all felt the mysterious influence of spring,
whilst up the stems of all the trees and plants, the sap began to
mount again.

I woke up early, but the world had already commenced its work, golden
rays of sunlight were pouring into the windows and I found, too, that
the restlessness of nature had seized me also, so I went and peeped
out of an old chamber that commanded the eastern garden.

Outside, there was a sense of great awakening--the sun flashed
merrily down on the frosty turf, and the congealed drops were already
fast disappearing into the ground. Starlings hurried, hither and
thither, like iridescent jewels, snowdrops lifted their heads and
waved them triumphantly in the breeze. The quice, as Shropshire folk
call wood-pigeons, I heard cooing in their sweet persuasive note in a
distant chestnut, and as I fastened back the window the musical hum
of bees sporting in the crocuses, caught my ear.

From the end of the border ascended the fragrance of a clump of
violets. How sweet is the return of spring, I murmured, and how
wonderful. What a joy, one of the joys we can never grow tired of, or
too old to feel afresh each year. Winter seems so long, and the
awakening and sweet summer all too short.

I returned to my room, dressed quickly, and then went out into the
garden.

[Sidenote: THE SONG OF BIRDS]

Life, life seemed everywhere. The wild birds were singing, calling,
flying backwards and forwards and seeking food. The speckled
storm-cock, as they call the missel thrush in Shropshire, was singing
gloriously on the top branch of a gnarled apple tree, whilst from a
bush of ribes as I passed along, a frightened blackbird lumbered away
with his angry protesting rattle. How handsome he is, the cock
blackbird, with his plumage of raven hue, and his golden dagger of a
beak. In the twilight how irresistible is the deep regret of his
song. It is a song, sweet, tender, full of old memories, and brings
back in its subtle melancholy, dear faces, and the touch of dear lost
hands that helped and loved us once. The blackbird's note is quite
different from the thrush; the thrush's song is all pure joy, and
glad expectation. He sings of morning, and all his notes are in a
major key. He chants of wholesome work, of brave endeavour, and of
spring gladness. His rapture is like that of the early poets. No note
of sorrow dulls his glorious morning. Joy, health, happiness, these
are the keynotes of his rhapsody--and we are grateful to him as we
are grateful for the sunshine, for the laughter of children, and for
the scent of flowers. It is hard to say which song we love best. But
why choose, for are not both God's feathered choristers, and their
songs our earliest melodies of childhood?

How feverishly busy everything was that morning, and how seriously
all living things took the annual dawn of life. The birds on the
lawns were pecking, pecking everywhere, finding food and seeking
materials for the future homes of their young.

    [Illustration:
    _THE SOUTH WEST VIEW OF WENLOCK ABBEY. IN THE COUNTY OF SALOP._
    _From Buck's View._
    WENLOCK ABBEY IN 1731.]

I stood quite still, against an ivied wall, and watched an old thrush
bring up a fat snail in her beak. In a second she had cracked the
shell upon a monastic stone, and was feasting greedily on the
contents. When she had flown away, I examined the bits of broken
shell, and discovered that they were of a dull brownish colour, and
that the snail was one of the kind that the Clugniac monks are said
to have brought with them from France, when Roger the great Earl of
Montgomery, brought over his band of monks from La Charité sur Loire,
and founded his monastery at Wenlock soon after the Conquest.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth century snails of this kind,
"Escargots" as they were then termed, and still are called in France,
were constantly used as a remedy "for restoring a right motion of the
heart, and for casting out melancholy." A cure, it is said, was also
wrought by a "cunning jelly" made from them, and this was supposed to
be "proper" food for those who "dwindered" or who were "subject to a
weak, or queasy stomach."

In the fourteenth century, I have been told, snails were sold at Bath
and in other towns in the west, to such as had consumptive
tendencies. Knowing this, and seeing how much escargots were used in
the Middle Ages, not only as a delicacy by the monks and nobles, but
also in medicine with herbs, presumably amongst the poor, it is
curious now, the horror that exists at the thought of eating either
snails or frogs. At first, when I gave some dinners to the very
needy, they would hardly dare come for them, and declared that they
were sure that in Auguste's ragouts there would be found some
lurking, somewhere.

"Us doesn't dare to search in the broth," one old man said, "for us
doesn't know what low beasts, slugs, snails, tadpoles, and what not a
foreigner mightn't mix in." But now happily they are reassured, and
old Ged Bebb told me only last week, "That, for all that they war
heathan (the cook men), the meat war good, and proper, and what
Christian folks cud eat."

[Sidenote: FLOWERS OF TWILIGHT]

I passed into the old red-walled garden and stopped to admire the
long line of brilliant yellow crocuses. They were all aglow in the
brilliant sunlight, and stood drawn up like a regiment of soldiers in
line. I stood entranced, for each soldier seemed to be holding a
lamp, and in each lamp, or cup, the sun was reflected in a wonderful
golden glory. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the beauty of
golden crocuses in golden sunlight. They seem to fill the world with
gladness and to be March's crowning glory. I stopped and looked at my
clumps of crocuses, they were coming up gaily, but were yet hardly in
blossom.

Burbidge put in for me strong clumps of Sir Walter Scott, Rizzio, and
of beautiful Mont Blanc. All these were pushing up bravely, out of
their mother earth. In fact, they were bursting, as Bess calls it, to
be out.

A minute later, I turned to inspect my chionodoxas and scillas. A few
were coming into bloom. Luciliae had several sprays of delicate china
blue and white flowers, and coppery two-blade leaves, and a patch of
blue _Scilla Sibirica_ had reared already a spray or two of gorgeous
ultramarine blossoms; but it was still early in March, and that is
the time of the promise of beautiful things, not yet the realization
of Flora's _fête_.

As I went by a bush of white Daphne, I heard that the bees had
discovered this spring delight--they were buzzing quite fiercely
round its tiny flowerets. What a perfume the Daphne has! What an
enchantment of rich odours! The pink bush on the other side of the
garden I noted would blossom shortly, but there is quite ten days'
difference in the flowering of the two varieties. The white follows
"on the feet of snow," as Burbidge expresses it, and the pink, "when
the spring has come." Of daffodils there was no sign as yet, save the
little hard green spikes, but the purple hellebores were proud in
their sombre magnificence. These always seem to me flowers that might
fitly have decked the brows of some great enchantress, Morgan le Fay,
or the Lady of the Lake. They vary from green to darkest purple, and
they seem hardly flowers of gaiety or morning, but rather the shadowy
blooms of twilight. Unlike their sister, the beautiful _Helleborus
niger_, they will not live, plucked, in water. When gathered, they
fade almost instantaneously and hang their heads in spite of salt or
charcoal being added to the water. I have heard it said that if the
stalks be cunningly split first, before being put in water, that they
will last some time; but I cannot say I have ever found this plan
successful, and have come to the conclusion that if you want to see
your purple hellebores in beauty, you must go into the garden to do
so.

Then, as I walked on, I noted that the white arabis was flowering in
places. Such a dear, homely little flower as it is, much loved by the
bees who had gathered to it like to a honey jar. As I stood watching
"the little brown people," I heard the guttural click-click of the
little common wren. What a tiny little bird she is, the Jenny Wren of
the old nursery rhyme--"God Almighty's hen," some of the old folk
still call her here. It is wonderful to think that so deep a note can
come out of so small a body.

Jenny hopped about from twig to twig, gaily enough, cocked her tail,
and was, according to Burbidge, as "nimble as ninepence."

[Sidenote: THE NEST IN THE KETTLE]

Here in Shropshire, in spite of the superstition that she was under
special Divine Providence, the wren was often hunted at Yule-tide.
Gangs of boys used formerly to chase poor Jenny with sticks, in and
out of hedgerows, and over banks and stones. Particularly did this
ignoble sport take place on the sides of the Clee Hills, and on the
flanks of the Wrekin. Now, happily, the time of persecution is past,
and Jenny no longer suffers ill from the hands of men. Hopping
fearlessly near me was the pet robin that I fed through the evil days
of snow and frost. How gorgeous he looked, with his scarlet
waistcoat, how sleek and plump; and how full and liquid was his great
brown eye. I begged Burbidge to leave, as last year, the old iron
kettle in the arbour of honeysuckle, where he and Madam had their
nest and reared their offspring last spring. How tame she was, with
her little breast of yellowish brown and her liquid great eyes that
used to watch me so keenly when I looked down upon her in the kettle.
How patiently she sat, and how sweetly he sang to her, amongst the
blossoms, his whole throat moving with his trilling rapture. For two
years he and "Madam Buttons" have built in the kettle and brought up
their nestlings there, and preferred that site to a hole in bank or
wall, branch of tree, or to the thick shelter of the yews.

The robin is looked upon in Shropshire as a sacred bird. Folks here
believe that some terrible calamity will surely overtake him who robs
a nest or kills "God's cock." A poor woman once gravely told me that
her little son's arm was withered, "be like," she considered, "that
he had robbed a robin's nest."

"Him who slays a robin, may look to his special damnation," an old
man once said to me, who had seen what he termed a "gallous lad"
throw a stone at one.

"Why thee cannot be content to rob the other birds, and leave God
Almighty's fowls alone, I canna' understand," was also an angry
remark I once heard addressed by a mother to a seven-year-old lad,
and the remark was followed by sharp correction with a hazel switch.
The old fear of, and reverence for the robin comes doubtless from the
legend that the robin pricked his breast against the nails of the
cross, and ministered by song and devotion to the Divine Master in
His agony, and thus gained for himself and for all his posterity the
affection of God, and the gratitude of man. In the old miracle plays
the robin was often spoken of as "God's bird," and this also may have
gained for him the love of many generations.

I passed out of the wrought-iron gates, and went into the meadows on
the east side of the Abbey. The fields lay brown still, and were as
bare as a billiard-table. They had been closely nipped by industrious
sheep during long winter months, and now there was but little for the
young life to feed on. Old, heavy, grey-faced ewes were bleating and
baaing, whilst skipping, capering and leaping about were some eight
or nine lambs. What jocund games theirs were, what heights they
jumped, and with all four legs off the ground at once. As I looked, I
wondered what were the rules of the game, and what impulse directed
their sport; for there seemed to be a leader in the revels, who ran
and skipped first, after which they all ran round, mounted an
incline, descended and mounted it afresh, cutting a hundred capers,
and playing a hundred pranks, but all according to some old unwritten
law and regulation. After a few moments of watching the pretty little
creatures, I made my way to the old embankment which runs across the
meadows on the southern side, and which formed once the mighty dam of
the artificial lake from which the prior of Wenlock drew up his fish
in Lent and on special fast days. There probably during the Middle
Ages the lake was well supplied with carp, eels, trout, and perch.
Old Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of Sopwell, near St. Albans,
wrote much and praised warmly the pleasures of angling.

"If the sport fail," she wrote, "at least the angler hath his holsom
walke, and may enjoy at his ease the ayre and swete savoure of the
medes of floures that maketh him hungry and he may hear also the
melodious harmony of fowles." She then goes on to say that he can see
also, thus happily employed, "the wild broods of young swannes,
heerons, duckes, cotes and all other fowles," and declares that a
silent walk by stream or lake in her eyes confers a greater and
deeper happiness upon the angler "than all the noyse of hounds," than
"the blasts of hornes," or "the wilde scrye that hunters of fawkeners
can make."

I like to think of the holy brothers fishing here in their hours of
recreation, after their vigils, fasts, and prayers. As I walked along
I saw the group of willows that had turned crimson and brilliant
amber, and far away I heard the cawing of the rooks as they flew over
the plantation of poplars, which, too, were turning red. I followed
along the Abbot's Walk, as the townspeople term the dam, and then
passed through a hunting gate across a wild field of scrubby bushes
and rough herbage where the wild plover was uttering her melancholy
cry and wheeled in circles overhead. The mole-catcher had been at
work, a string of velvety moles hung like grapes upon a thorn.

Some years ago, "the ount catcher," as he is called here, old Peter
Purslowe, appeared in a moleskin waistcoat. Since then, however, he
has never worn another. "The missus," I was told, "found it too weedy
a job ever to make a second, although it furnishes well, but it had
more stitches than ever there be stones at the Abbey."

[Sidenote: THE RETURN OF THE ROOKS]

I approached the rookery; what a babel greeted my ears, yet if you
have ever listened carefully you will perceive that each rook has a
different note of voice, and I suspect, if you knew rooks
individually, you would notice, like in the songs of canaries, that
no two rooks ever caw precisely alike.

What a wonderful thing it is, the return of the rooks to any given
place.

For months they had been absent from this spot, gone nobody knows
where. Not a sign of them. And then, almost to a day, they
reappeared, and claimed their own tree and branch; and each pair, I
fancy, went back to the site of its former nest. Curious stories are
told of the sagacity of rooks, of their self-government, and of how
offenders who have disobeyed some common law have been executed
before large numbers, evidently as a judgment, and as a warning to
others.

As I watched them, a story bearing out the truth of this statement
came back to me. In the rookery of a friend there was hatched, I was
told, a rook with white wings. The community did not make any
objection to the youngster being reared there; but when, the
following year, the white-winged bird returned to an old avenue of
elms, where he had been hatched, exception was taken to his desire to
nest there. It seemed, said my friend, as if a congress was called,
and as if the strangely marked rook and his mate were given the
option to fly elsewhere, or receive some dire punishment; for at
intervals they were chased away, but kept on returning to the same
spot. All day, rooks seemed, said my informant, to flock to the
avenue, till the air seemed almost black with them. They flew, cawed
wildly, and seemed in a highly excited state. This went on hour after
hour, without any apparent change; until at last one old bird
descended from the branch on which he had been perched, and standing
on the grass, flapped his wings slowly, uttering a strange, low,
mysterious cry, more like the husky croaking of a carrion crow than
the cawing of a rook. In a moment the whole grove, said my informant,
resounded with the cries of the rooks, and one and all simultaneously
fell upon the unfortunate bird with the white wings, screaming and
cawing, and never rested until they had pecked him to death, and torn
almost every feather out of his helpless body.

I recalled this curious story, and then watched the birds as they
flew round, finding sticks for their nests. Ash sticks seemed to be
their favourite material, or twigs from the great wych-elm a field
away.

The rooks seemed, to quote a boyish expression, "to build fair,"
quite different from the mischievous jackdaws, "who will allus rather
thieve than work," as an old keeper once said to me.

It is curious how rooks change their food during the different months
of the year. They feed their young almost entirely on animal food
till they leave the nest. As a rule, they give the young rooks,
grubs, worms and cockchafers; but during the very dry summers that
closed the nineteenth century, being short of insect food, the old
birds took to robbing hen-coops, and fell also upon young pheasants
and partridges in the grass. Several keepers have told me that they
were obliged to destroy whole rookeries on this account, for when a
rook once takes to chickens or pheasants, like a man-eating tiger, he
will never return to humbler diet.

It is wonderful how tenacious rooks are, of returning year after year
to the same place, and how difficult it is for any one to start a new
colony. Nests may be put up, and young birds partially tamed, but it
is a hard matter, as a gardener once said to me, "to 'tice the rooks
against their will; 'tis like callin' the wild geese, unless they
wish to hear."

[Sidenote: ROOKS LEAVE FOR A DEATH]

In the South there is a strong belief that when the rooks abandon a
rookery some misfortune will happen to the owner. At Chilton Candover
it is said, there was much excitement because the rooks in Lady
Ashburton's park unaccountably forsook their nests. Almost
immediately afterwards occurred Lady Ashburton's death, and many
stories of a similar character are told.

As I leant over the fence, watching what was going on in the rookery,
I heard a strange low cry in the distance, as of something unearthly
and eërie--what Bess once said sounded like the "call-note of a
witch." I remarked in the great black bird that came overhead, a
different flight, slower and heavier than that of a rook, and I
recognized in the bird approaching a carrion crow.

I stood motionless. The rooks were too much occupied with their
building operations to notice the enemy, but the peewits, who lay
earlier in the meadow beyond, were calling uneasily, uttering that
strange cry of alarm which is their special note of warning. On flew
the carrion crow, the bird of ill-omen in the old ballads and a
messenger of death according to old belief. Anyway, if not quite so
evil as he has been represented, the crow is a bird that does great
damage to keepers and farmers and has few friends. As he flew away, I
heard at regular intervals, his creepy wicked cry.

Old Shropshire folks still repeat to their grandchildren, when they
see a carrion crow--

                      "Dead 'orse, dead 'orse,
                      Where? Where?
                      Prolly Moor. Prolly Moor.
                      We'll come, we'll come.
                      There's nought but bones."

In old days, Shropshire children used to imagine that carrion crows
flew off at night to Prolly Moor, there to roost. Prolly Moor is a
great tract of wild land that lies at the foot of the Longmynd, and
is said to be the sleeping-ground of crows and the place where
witches hold midnight revels. I kept my eyes on the bird, and saw him
sail away, skirting in his flight the old town, and at last I noted
that he flew over the top of the Edge, at the back of Wenlock Town.

[Sidenote: LIFE IS A DREAM]

As I retraced my steps homewards, I was greeted by the soft music of
the chimes. How prettily they sounded across the meadows; "Life is a
dream, life is a dream," they seemed to say; yet for all their dreamy
sound I remembered that they are calling out the hour of nine, and in
spite of the joy of spring, the cry of birds, and the charm of beast
and flower, I hurried up the stairs to the east garden and regained
the house.

On the threshold of the east entrance to the Abbey I met Bess.

"Mama," she said reprovingly, "where have you been? Your breakfast is
getting cold, and it is to-day, to-day I tell you."

The last part of Bess's speech referred to the gift--the present of
all the presents, as my little girl called it--which was to arrive;
in other words, to the pug puppy.

"Listen, mama," she cried, "it is to come by the train this
afternoon; and Mamie has sent me a ribbon, all blue," and my little
girl showed me a ribbon and a letter announcing the fact in a
childish round hand. "Pups," continued Bess, gravely, "cannot be
dressed in anything but blue. Then there is the day-bed to discuss,
his saucer and his supper plate--mamsie, there is a great deal to
do," and Bess hurried me upstairs to see the preparations.

We found together a white saucer, and Bess looked forward to washing
it. But Nan said severely, "Best let Liza, she understands such
things." And I feared, from the pursed-down corners of Nan's mouth,
poor master pug would get but a scant welcome. Bess noticed the
expression on old Nana's face and whispered, "Specs God never gave
Nan a dog-brother in all her life." Nan sat on stitching as if
nothing could move her from her seat, as she always does in moments
of irritation, and I must agree with Bess, that she was neither kind
nor helpful in her preparations for the arrival of Prince Charming,
as we christened our expected visitor.

As we left the room, Nan lifted her eyes from her work, and said
severely, "Might be a baby, I'm sure." We both felt rather chilled at
this, and Bess took my hand, and, while she jumped down two steps at
a time, asked if I didn't think my own bedroom would be better for
the Prince than hers.

"One dog more, mamsie," she urged, "couldn't make much difference.
Where there's place for Mouse, mams, I am sure there is place for a
pup."

"But supposing Mouse objected?" I said. "What a big mouth she has, and
what sharp teeth, and what a poor little thing the Prince would be in
her jaws! Besides," I asserted, "I must introduce them carefully; what
if our old friend should be jealous or 'unsympathetic' like another old
friend?"

"Whatever Mouse may be, she can never," declared Bess, "be real
cross, like a real live woman. Dogs aren't made that way." And so
that part of the subject dropped.

[Sidenote: PRINCE CHARMING IS COME]

I went down to breakfast, and Bess sat by me talking twelve by the
dozen; her whole soul was engrossed as to where the Prince's
day-basket was to be kept, and whether the miniature blanket was to
be tucked round his infinitesimal serene highness--or not.

As I got up from my breakfast, I saw to my dismay that the post had
brought me, what a friend calls, "an avenging pile of letters." How
many hours' writing they meant, and other people's work! Bess
standing by cried, "I wish they were all mine, I never get letters
except on my birthday, and at Christmas."

"And never have to answer them," I said. "Ah, my dear, when one grows
up, letters mean other things besides invitations and presents. They
can mean requests, bothers, worries, other people's work--and are
always sharp scissors for cutting up leisure, and preventing happy
hours in the garden or with one's embroidery."

"I shouldn't have them, then," retorted Bess, stolidly.

"What would you do?"

"Burn them and see what happened."

I looked at Bess and laughed. After all, the idea may be more
"Philosophe qu'on ne pense." But I was not strong enough to carry her
suggestion into action, so I kissed Bess, told her I could not carry
out her plan, and said I must write all the morning, but hoped by
industry to save the afternoon for myself, and to spend it as I
wished.

At last all the letters were answered--invitations, requests,
permissions, "characters," money sent to charities, and a great
packet was assembled in the letter-box--then when the last was
finished, I called to Mouse, and we wandered out together into the
garden.

I felt that I had earned the pleasure of a free time amid my birds
and flowers. I walked along the kitchen garden path and paused to
enjoy that most excellent and wholesome of all good smells, the odour
of newly upturned earth.

To the south is a hedge of thorn some four feet high, and facing the
same direction is a high wall where apricots, peaches and pears are
trained.

The pears were all in blossom in dense sheets of snow, and only tips
of green were visible here and there. To save the blooms from the
frost, Burbidge had put some tiffany in front of the trees, and fixed
down the coarse muslin-like stuff by laths of wood. There were also
cordons of pears running athwart the wall, and over these to protect
them he had put fir branches. These pears are of the magnificent
early dessert sorts such as Clapp's Favourite, Williams' Bon
Chrétien, Souvenir de Congrès, and beside these we have the earliest
variety of all, the delicious little Citron des Carmês, which often
yields a dish of pears the first week in August, before, so to speak,
one has begun to realize that summer is fleeting.

On entering our little kitchen garden, there is a hedge of roses on
each side trained against some iron rails. On one side ramps the
delightful Gloire de Dijon roses with all its many tinted blossoms of
orange, creamy white, and buff shades; on the other, is a hedge of
the superb old General Jacqueminot. The General is a magnificent
summer blossomer, he flowers in June even in Shropshire, and his
flowers are of the richest, fullest, crimson, and of delicious
sweetness--not as large as many of the new hybrid perpetual sorts,
but General Jacqueminot's rich red is of extreme beauty, and
whatsoever the season he always blossoms, and the scent is one of the
sweetest known. Then I paused to stop at my bed of Ranunculi, a
flower which once was held in great favour by English gardeners, but
which now seldom finds a place in English _parterres_. Nothing could
be seen but a few little curly leaves like sprouting parsley, but
later I hoped for and expected a glory of colour. I grow all colours,
crimson, vermilion, salmon, pink, fawn, cherry and black, and some
are of the darkest shade of sumptuous orange.

[Sidenote: THE VISIT TO CLUN]

These flowers are often found in old Italian Church work, and I have
read they were brought to Venice by the Moors, and so introduced into
Italy. I found Burbidge waiting for me as I came up to him. He said
he was pleased to see me. I had not seen the old man in the garden
for some weeks. He had been ill since his visit to Clun, and I had
only seen him in bed, and then in the presence of his old wife
Hester--an austere middle-aged woman "given to chapel ways," as
Burbidge expresses it, so I had heard nothing fresh of Benjamin or of
his granddaughter Sal. After we had settled the kinds of dahlias, and
how best to sow the sweet-peas, which last were to be sown in
separate groups in lines, I called my old gardener aside, away from
"his boys" as he calls them, although Roderick Pugh and Absolom
Preece are middle-aged men, and asked him in a whisper about his
visit to Clun.

"Was your brother better?" I asked. "Anyway, tell me about them all."

"Dahlias first," said Burbidge shortly, and touched his hat. And I
felt there was not a moment to be wasted, so we looked out a plot of
ground that was suitable to receive all the tubers, and then at last
I got him away, and to speak about his visit to his brother.

Poor Sal----

At first my old friend would not answer my questions, and only looked
grave, and shook his head. But at last he yielded to my entreaties,
and after calling out to his boys to attend to their business and to
do some "job" in the far distance, he followed me into a secluded
path.

"I would not for ever so much as them boys should hear," he began.
"It might clean scare they, and make 'em feckless about their spring
digging and fettling; but as yer have asked me, I'll make a clean
breast of the business. I looked in at the show, but," Burbidge
declared scornfully, "it warn't nothing better than I've seen scores
of times in my own apple-room; and as to the crocuses, hellebores and
scillas, they wern't nothing but what us has, and better."

My old friend always enjoys speaking disparagingly of shows and
exhibitions, whatever he really thinks, for even gardeners are not
without some particle of envy, I shrewdly suspect.

"Well," continued Burbidge, "after business," and I knew business
meant something connected with the garden, "I went on to Clun, and
there was a deal of getting to get to Clun--stopping, waiting, and
misinforming, but at last the job got done. When yer wants, yer gets,
as Humphrey Kynaston said when he made the leap."

"Yes, Burbidge, but how about your brother?" I said, trying to make
him keep to his point.

"I found him and Sal," answered Burbidge, "strange as bats in
sunlight. They were both overlooked, sure enough. Dazed and dimmy,
same as if they had been bashed and bummelled for a whole live-long
week."

"What did you do?" I inquired.

[Sidenote: I KNOW OF A CHARM]

"I just spoke," was his reply. "But I couldn't get no answer. One and
t'other, they looked like cats as had been fair nicked by a
blacksmith's dog, and they youped and trembled whensoever I
spoke--and wouldn't answer, more than bats in a rick-yard. As to Sal,
I couldn't get nothing out of she, save that a white dove had flown
again her bedroom winder, and had called out, 'Come, spirit, come;'
and as to brother Benjamin, he nodded and spoke Dutch, he war that
mazed and foolish, and while he war taking on like, who should step
inside but his son Frank. And Frank he come in bold as a lion, and
trim as a dandy with a bobbish tie, and he said, 'Here be Malachi,
him as was born under this roof when my missus war took worse all of
a sudden. He be a tall young fellow, hale, hearty, and fresh as a May
sprig. He have joined the volunteers, and has at home his uniform,
which be next best to a general's.' And when brother Ben heard him,
he fair burst out in a rage. 'What matters it,' he saith, 'what
generals, or kings, or thy sons clothe themselves in, or who has beef
or beer when _I_ sits in mortal fear;' and he shivered and quailed
same as a poor body in a Poorhouse as hasn't nought of his own, not
so much as his own pipe or the shirt to his back. And while father
and son were talking, Malachi he comed up, and he said, smiling like
an April day, 'Never you fear, grandad, for all I'm young, I know of
a charm as 'ull free you from all her hanky-panky ways.' And then,
without a word from his grandad, he kind of touched his stick as if
he war touchin' a pretty wench as he war keeping company with, and he
started whistlin' an old tune, and he called out over his shoulder,
'I'll cure ye,' and laughed as one who has a joke all to hisself, and
so out went Malachi.

"Then there was quiet for a bit, and I heard naught but a crying of
the wind outside; but suddenly voices got introduced, and we heard a
crying and a calling and a scuffling in the garden, or thereabouts,
loud as the cry of the Seven Whistlers; and I sat quiet till I could
stand no more, then I peered out, and there, sure enough, war Malachi
and the witch.

"And Malachi, he called out, 'Down on yer knees, yer old hathan, or
I'll beat yer--old witch as yer call yerself--black and blue if yer
don't stir yer old tongue and say arter me, "I hain't got no magic,
nor no charms neither, I be a born fool, and I swear I'll leave
Benjamin Burbidge and his granddaughter for ever more alone."'

"And the witch," continued old Thomas, "her did swear it. 'So help me
God, I will,' her cried out; and her spoke as true as Gospel truth,
for I think her meant it, for as Malachi said, 'tis wonderful, even
with a witch, the magic of a stout ash-plant."

Burbidge's words still rung in my ears when running up the garden
path I saw my little maiden approaching me.

"We shall be late," she cried excitedly, "if you don't come at
once--at once, I say. And think what a terrible thing it would be to
keep Prince Charming waiting."

I nodded to Burbidge and started off with Bess at a brisk trot up the
front drive, mounted the field that led to the station, and waited
panting on the platform for the little dog.

To my surprise Bess had a cloak on her arm.

"You are not cold, child?" I asked.

"No, no, mum; but what if the pug was to catch cold?"

"We must hope not, for that would be a calamity," I answered.

Bess skipped and danced up and down, clinging to my hand, jumping and
swaying backwards and forwards, as if her little body were made of
quicksilver. Then, after a while, she suddenly fell into a reflective
mood, and asked what are the best ways of forgetting that you are
waiting?

"To think of something else, or not to want so badly," I answered.

"I couldn't do that," answered Bess, gravely, "because I shouldn't be
me if I did, and he couldn't be Prince Charming if I didn't want him.
I feel," she gasped, "as if I just want, want till I am dying of
wanting."

I looked at my little girl. "Suppose he didn't come by this train,
what would you do then?"

"I don't know. Go to bed, I think, and cry."

[Sidenote: THE PRINCE ARRIVES]

But happily there was no need of so sad an ending to a bright spring
day, for as I spoke the train rushed in. The porter hurried forward,
and there was a general commotion. Two passengers got out, a couple
of old fowls were removed, and a second later, a little basket also
was taken out of the luggage-van.

"Shall I have this sent to the Abbey?" inquired the station-master.

But Bess would not hear of so slow a manner of getting the pug-puppy
down. In delirious joy the little mantle was flung on the ground and
her arms were tightly clasped round the basket. When one has been
sent a pug-pup there is only one place to go to--home.

So I picked up the mantle, and Bess, bearing her cherished
possession, led the way.

Then there was tea, which, as we have no bells, Bess saw to herself.

I heard her in the passage giving a hundred contradictory orders. It
is to come at once, and then, there's to be broth for the puppy and
cakes, "sponge and the other, and meat," and at last she returned
breathless to me.

"I have ordered everything," she cried, and took the little dog off
my knee. It was a sweet little baby dog with a crinkly-crankly black
phiz and dear little blinking, cloudy blue eyes. The ribbon that was
sent to adorn his neck was much too big to fasten round his throat,
but he looked contented and rested drowsily under Bess's continued
protestations of affection.

After tea we sat on before the chapel hall fire.

"I thought last Christmas," said Bess, "when I had the white bride
doll, that I never should want nothing no more. But now that I have
the pug Prince, I know I shall never want anything again, not if I
live to be a hundred."

"Wait till the next time," I laughed. At that moment I heard a
scratching at the study door, which opens upon the chapel hall. I
opened it and took Mouse gently by the collar.

"Bess," I said, while I held on tightly, "the introduction must be
made, but with tact," and I and Mouse returned together.

I put the puppy on the rug. Mouse looked at it sadly and then walked
severely away.

"Why does she behave like that?" asked Bess. "See, Mouse is whining
and wants to go out."

"She is jealous," I said.

"Why should she mind?"

"Think, Bess," I replied, "what would you say if there came here a
new baby, a new helpless little thing. Might it not be just a little
bit of a trial to you, don't you think, when you saw all the world
running about to welcome it, cake, tea, milk, cream, all ordered for
it at once? We none of us like being put in the shade, not even
Mouse."

Bess looked at me, and then putting the pug down, she cast her arms
effusively round the great hound's neck.

"You must forgive my little pup," she said coaxingly, "and not hate
presents, even if they are for other people," and a shower of kisses
followed.

                   [Illustration: "MOUSE" AT HOME.]

                  [Illustration: "MOUSE" ON A VISIT.
                  _Photos by Miss Gaskell._]

Mouse was mollified; she looked at me gravely. He has not the first
place, she seemed to say, and she came and laid her great head
solemnly on my knees.

"She knows," said Bess, "that not even Prince Charming can put her
nose out of joint."

Mouse watched the little pug out of the corner of her eye, but with
more sadness than malice. Bess fed her with slices of cake, whilst
the pug approached her future gigantic companion.

"All friends now," Bess whispered. "Nobody now to get nice but Nana;
but nurses always take longer to forgive than dogs."

[Sidenote: NANA IS KIND]

In the evening I stole upstairs and found Prince Charming sleeping in
his little basket by Bess's bed. Apparently old Nana had yielded to
his charms, or else was reconciled to his having a nursery existence.

She got up from her sewing and said with a smile on her good old
face, "Bless her little heart, how it do please her, the pup; but
then she must have what she has a mind to."

After this, I had a quiet hour with my books, and I took down for the
last half-hour a volume of Montaigne. What delightful company he is,
always bright and cheery, full of knowledge, and yet always so human.
I came to the passage which Madame de Sévigné always said brought
tears to her eyes. I refer to the "affection of the Mareschal de
Montluc for his son who died in the island of Madeira."

"My poor boy," wrote the Mareschal, "never saw me with other than a
stern and disdainful countenance, and now he is gone in the belief
that I neither knew how to love him, nor esteemed him according to
his deserts," and the remorse and pity of it all. In the silence of
the night it all came home to me. What a touching picture it is, the
reserved old man with no word of love on his tongue, and yet his
heart full of affection. "For whom," cries the grief-stricken old
man, "did I reserve the discovery of that singular affection that I
had for him in my soul?" What a pathetic tale it is, one of
Montaigne's many. What a homely tongue the great essayist has, and
yet what a wise one--possessing, as he does, the art of telling us
all the old tales of Greece and Rome clothed in summer verdure, so
that the leaves of his discourse never grow stale or faded. He makes
the ancient world live again, and gives men and women who lived and
died hundreds of years before he was born new life and beauty.

"Oh, do not let us love in vain. Let us find out our love before the
wave has gone over the dear one's head," is what I seemed to hear.
"Do not let our lips call in the coming time, 'Lord, too late, too
late!'"

I thought of little Bess, the happy owner of her dog, and I said, at
least, Lord, my little maid will look back on her childhood, I hope,
as a happy, happy time, a time of flowers, and joyous play. Bad times
must come, but let me be a happy parent in that I have given my child
no more unhappy time than I could help!

The next morning. I sauntered off into the garden. There were the
gladioli to plant, so that they might blossom well before the autumn
frosts.

[Sidenote: FLOWERS IN A GARDEN]

First of all, come the beautiful early summer sorts such as the
delicate Bride, Leonora, Mathilde, and Colvilli, and then in autumn
the brilliant Brenchleyensis, Gandavensis, and exquisite soft tinted
Lemoinei. Burbidge has a pocket-book in which the date of all
plantings as well as sowings are registered. "Them gladiolouses," as
he calls them, "war put in the 4th of March last year, so they this
year must be put in their places without delay in the red-walled
garden to enliven the borders, and there must be a large patch in the
kitchen garden for pulling" (picking), for Burbidge, in common with
most gardeners, cannot bear picking his blossoms in the real flower
garden. Blows for the garden is the old man's constant adage, and he
will sometimes say sourly, "What for do ladies want their places
littered about with jars and tubs and what not, same as if their
chambers was fresh-blown meads? Let 'em be, say I, where the hand of
the Lord hath put 'em." And he will add, "growing blows is right,
'cause it is in the way of nature, but I don't hold to parlour
bowers. They be unwholesome, not to say a bit retchy." I am inclined
to agree with my old friend in some of his strictures about the
modern drawing-room, for a room laden with scents, and that has
closed windows, is certainly a productive source of headaches.

As I stood by the garden watching Burbidge and his men plant the
gladioli, a little figure dashed up to me. "Mama," cried Bess, in a
state of wild excitement, "they've come, two real princes, I really
do believe."

I was puzzled for a moment, but at last I stammered out, "Where?
Where?"

"At the pond, at the pond," exclaimed Bess, trembling with delight.

I could not get anything more out of Bess, but Burbidge, hearing her
mention the pond, hobbled up.

"Bless her little heart!" he said, "the little lady means the swans."

And in answer to my inquiry, "What swans?" he answered--

"Didn't yer hear, mam, about the great birds? No?" Then he went on to
tell me how, in the early morning, when he and the under-gardeners
"war fettling up on the east side between six and seven, us suddenly
heard a kind of unearthly crying, like some one moaning and sobbing,
and whispering right up aloft. And then," continued my old friend, "I
seed such a sight as I've never seen afore. Fowls as big as chest o'
drawers flyin' round and round. They came on flying in great circles,
as if they couldn't stop, till down they flumped like a couple of
cannon balls, and struck slap into the great Abbey pool.

"I did," pursued Burbidge, "tell Miss Célestine later to let yer
know, seeing as you be interested in all fur and fluff, birds and
insects, and most varmint, but her have no sense, save for frills and
furbelows."

On hearing of the arrival of the swans, I seized hold of Bess's hand,
and off we went together to welcome our new visitors.

They were beautiful white birds of spotless plumage, probably driven
from the lake of Willey, or from further off, by the cruelty of their
parents. For old swans become terribly fierce as the nesting season
comes on, and will not even allow the offspring of a past spring to
remain on their own waters.

"How lovely they are," said Bess, enthusiastically. "It is a real
fairy-story, mamsie, this time."

[Sidenote: MOUSE FEEDS ON BREAD]

Then we returned to the Abbey, and brought out a basket of broken
scraps. Bess threw some pieces into the water, and the swans stooped
down their beautiful graceful necks and fed with avidity. Bess
watched them intently, whilst Mouse, who had followed us too, looked
on superciliously; and then, with great greediness, ate all the bread
that she could reach, so that, as Bess said, "too much food should
not be wasted on mere swans."

"Isn't she greedy?" cried Bess. "At home she hardly eats even cake!"

Poor old Mouse! She is made up of unamiable vices, excepting to us.
Then Nana appeared, and declared crossly that my little girl would
catch her death of cold standing on the damp grass by the water.

Bess fired up at this and retorted, "As if, Nana, people ever catch
cold when they watch swans. Why, my mother watches birds hundreds of
hours, and she never catches cold."

But, in spite of Bess's protestations, my little maid was carried off
by Nan, who, I heard, afterwards went off to the post-office to get a
postal order.

When Bess returned from her short turn, I noticed that she was grave
and silent, and not at all the usual bouncing Bess of Wenlock, as we
are wont to call her. I mentioned that I was going for a longer walk,
in search of white violets, and begged her to come with me, if she
was not too tired, and bring a basket in case we found any.

At first I thought Bess's reluctance sprang from the fact that Prince
Charming would have to be left at the Abbey, although I assured her
that Auguste would fully console the Prince for our absence; but say
what I would, Bess seemed out of spirits. And so, before we started,
I sat down on a bench and asked my little girl, who looked worried,
if she was not feeling well.

"Yes," answered Bess, "only, only----" And then I found out the
truth. "When Nan and I were walking in the town," Bess explained,
"Mr. James, Hals' father's coachman, came into the chemist's shop and
told us that Fräulein was dreadful bad, tumbled down and broke her
leg, he said. He laughed and said it was a judgment for being _that
nasty_ to Master Harry. But oh, mama, could it--could it really be?"

"No, Bess," I answered quickly, "don't think that for a moment. You
were very naughty, and very silly, but then you are only a little
child, and you did not know what you said, or understood what you
meant. Beside," I said rather grandly, to get over the difficulty,
"God has other work than to attend to the idle words of a little
child. So dry your eyes, dear, and be a happy little person again.
Run upstairs and fetch a basket, and we will go off together."

But Bess shook her head. "I will be a happy little girl," she said,
"but I'd rather not go all the same," and she left me.

So I started off alone with Mouse, who, nothing loth, followed me
gladly on my expedition.

We all have favourite flowers, or imagine that we have, probably
owing to some early association or to some tender recollection. Queen
Bess is said to have best loved meadow-sweet, with which her chambers
were strewn. The great Condé, they say, was devoted to pinks; and
Marie Antoinette is said to have loved sweet rocket, bunches of which
were brought her by Madame Richard to the Temple.

I called to mind these favourite blossoms, but my floral love is not
of the garden, it has no place in tended borders. I love it even
better than the choicest rose, or the most brilliant gladiolus, or
the most stately lily. It grows amongst the hedgerows of Shropshire,
and is known as the wild white violet.

[Sidenote: THE FLOWERS OF SPRING]

Its scent is sweet but often elusive, and as evanescent as a
beautiful smile. Our highly cultivated borders and _parterres_ are
beautiful, but our wild carpets in field and wood more beautiful.
Wild flowers come amidst the grass, and blossom at their own sweet
will in their own sweet place, and the moor, meadow, or coppice make
the most enchanting background for their loveliness.

I wandered along the green paths with hedgerows starting into life,
and came to the conclusion that the flowers we each love best are the
homely flowers of childhood that we played by, and plucked as
children. The dog-rose, the violet, or the primrose, whose leaves we
know the inside and the outside of, whose stalks we have handled a
hundred times, and whose scents recall dear faces, and gentle
memories, that go back to long ago.

I walked along, Mouse following dutifully behind me. The hedgerows
were full of green curls and twists, groups of wild arums glittered
on the banks below hazel and quickset hedges. Here and there little
patches of grass had burst into emerald green, and a few daisies were
turning their discs to heaven, whilst in sheltered spots dim
primroses were dawning shyly on the world, filling the atmosphere
with sweet dalliance and dreaminess. Once, as I wandered along, I saw
behind a cottage in a lane a mauve carpet of periwinkles, and once,
beneath a chestnut, I saw the glitter of golden king-cups, that
Wordsworth loved so well. The afternoon was very fair, purple and
golden lights flitted round the hills and rested on the freshly
ploughed hillsides; "longer days and sunshine," the thrushes seemed
to sing, and I heard them piping exultantly in every orchard as I
passed. I went by the Red Marsh Farm, past the old mullion-windowed
barn, which is said to have been a chapel in monkish days, and so
across the close-nipped fields to Sherlot Forest. I walked by a patch
of gorse all ablaze with golden blossoms. Tiny young rabbits dashed
under cover, showing their white scuts. My great hound lumbered after
them like a luggage train in mad career; but nothing happened--they
vanished like lightning, and Mouse joined me panting at the hunting
gate below. As I whistled her into heel, I noticed that the
honeysuckles in the hedgerow were clothing themselves in silvery
green, and that a willow by a pool was bursting into golden glory.
The earth was dry and I could not resist sitting down for a moment. A
squirrel dashed up an oak and scolded and chattered, Mouse, seeing
him, growled angrily; a greenfinch flew from out of a thicket, giving
me a beautiful vision of apple-green wings; whilst in the distance I
heard, far off, the note of a distant blackbird singing a song of
regret and tender longing. How enchantingly lovely all was, and on
all sides no sounds but country ones.

I peeped over the hedge, men were ploughing and sowing the grain, and
away to the west I heard a boy whistling a few notes of a
half-forgotten tune. What was the tune, I wondered.

How few folks whistle or sing now; the time was when everybody "sang
a bit," as Burbidge calls it, to their work--men in the hayfields,
women at the washtub. Was the world, when it sang at its work, a
happier or jollier world? I asked myself.

[Sidenote: "HEAVEN'S HIGH MESSENGER"]

I passed over a stile and walked across a clover field. How
prosperous it looked, how green after the seared and sad appearance
of permanent pasture, which still lay brown and lifeless. Overhead
the bravest of all West-country songsters was singing--the skylark.
What a speck he appeared throbbing in the sky, only a little dot
hardly bigger than a pin's head; but what a voice he had, what a cry
of exultant joy was his, what a melody of passion, what a glory of
triumphant music! I stood and listened like the poet, and wondered
how a bird could sing so; such joy, such passionate melody seemed
superhuman, and how the notes were produced in the tiny throat was
then and will always remain a mystery. He did not seem a living,
breathing bird; only a voice--a voice of incarnate joy and gladness.
Silver hammers seemed to throb within him and to beat out a prayer of
ecstatic joy, which no heart could measure, and no human tongue
pronounce. Then suddenly, as a leaf, he fell, and the exquisite
singer of a moment before became again only the little brown bird, a
dweller amongst green fields, and a familiar of everyday life. Yet
for all that we, too, dwell on earth and toil and spin, it is well to
have heard the music of heaven. I walked along refreshed and
gladdened, for in spite of the shadows that envelope us, "there burns
in each an invisible sun," and amid such scenes it is impossible not
to feel a passing ray.

At last I reached the well-known bank. A few shy violets were in
blossom--the afternoon sun was playing upon the opening blossoms. I
picked two or three tiny flowers, but only a few, for I like to leave
a spot as fair as I found it, and the little petals were still
tightly curled. Growing close to the violet was another charming
woodland flower, the wood-sorrel, or witches' cheeses as village
children often call it here. The little blossoms were of an exquisite
translucent white, with delicate lavender veins, and strange
triangular leaves that folded up at night like the leaves of a
sensitive plant.

Some people say that the wood-sorrel is the true shamrock used by St.
Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. Be this as it may,
it is a delightful little plant, and one of the most charming
inhabitants of our English woods.

Its veined delicate petals recalled to me the form and beauty of the
exquisite grass of Parnassus, which I have often discovered on the
moors of the west coast of Scotland and in a few spots in the wildest
parts of the Shropshire hills. A little further on, I came to a patch
under a hazel tree of bronze leaves. These I recognized to be the
leaves of the ground ivy, and its minute mauve blossoms were just
coming into blossom. This plant used to be called ales-hoof, and was
formerly put into beer as a flavouring, much in the same manner as we
put borage now into claret cup, or introduce into badminton a peach,
or a spray of nettles. From the ground ivy an excellent tea can be
made which possesses purifying qualities for the blood, and which was
formerly much used in Shropshire as a spring tonic. Tea from a
decoction of nettles is also constantly drunk in Shropshire, as is
also a drink made from wild mallows.

[Sidenote: THE BREATH OF SPRING]

As I retraced my steps the light was fast fading, and the gold
turning into lavender. All was dying, the reds and golds turning into
sombre browns and greys. Flowers were falling asleep, and far away I
saw a line of cattle gently driven to some far farm-steading. As I
walked across the meadows, I noted that the little lambs had crept to
their dams' sides, and meant to remain there quiet and snug till the
small hours of the morning. Alone in the dusk I caught here and there
the triumphant song of the throstle; all else was still. In the
gloaming I saw dimly brown figures crossing upland and valley to the
lonely hamlets that nestled amongst a starry mist of damson groves.
The bright March day of work and gaiety was over. Frost might visit
the earth in the night, but to-morrow, judging by the red sunset,
would be another day of gladness and hope and brightness. I told
myself spring had come, and that soon all our dear feathered friends
would return. The nightingales would sing in the south, in every
hazel coppice, and in the dusky groves of twilight, whilst all over
England swallows would fly, near smoky towns and over lonely meres
and rivers alike, carrying the message that sovereign summer was at
hand.

When I returned to the Abbey, I found that Bess was in bed.

"She be asleep," nurse said, "but she seemed wonderful busy about
something, all in a flurry like, and didn't take no notice, not even
of the pug; but her would say her prayers twice over. And when I
asked why for? She answered it war best so, for the Lord somehow
would make her happy, even if she had to pray twice over for a
blessing."

Then old Nana went on to say, "This afternoon, Miss Bess went out
with Liza after you left, and as they comed in they was whispering
together. I don't hold with slyness," and old Nana pursed up her
mouth, and I felt, as the French say, that Liza would have at some
future time a bad quarter of an hour, and that a storm was brewing in
the domestic cup. I didn't, however, ask for an explanation, but
waited for the morrow to reveal the acts of to-day.

I walked downstairs and sat down before my writing-table, and wrote a
long letter to a sister. What a comfortable relationship is that of a
sister, a very armchair of affection, for with a sister no
explanations are necessary. Then there is nothing too small to tell a
sister. Worries, pleasures, little heartaches, all may find their way
on paper, and not appear foolish or ill-placed. So I wrote away
gaily, a little about flowers, books, garden, embroidery, cuisine, a
little domestic worry, and I wound up with a quotation.

As I was folding up my letter, I suddenly heard a knock at the door.
"Come in," I cried, and I saw Liza at the door, candle in hand.

"Miss Bess is all right?"

"Oh yes, mam; but I thought I should like you to know----"

Then Liza went on to say that nurse had taken on terribly, and was
all of a stew because she had let Miss Bess spend her money as she
had wished this afternoon.

"Miss Bess," continued Eliza, "would have it so, and wouldn't take no
refusal; and, as Mrs. Milner was out at tea with Mrs. Burbidge, I had
to let the child do as she had a mind to."

"Well, what happened?"

"Oh, I hardly know," replied Eliza. "We went to ----" mentioning a
shop--"but there Miss Bess wouldn't on no account that I or Mdlle.
Célestine should come in. She called out, 'Stay outside till I have
done.' So Mademoiselle and I we walked outside up and down till we
was fit to drop, and then, I do assure you, mam," added Eliza, "I
knew nothing till I saw Miss Bess come out with a small parcel, which
she held very tight and wouldn't give up to nobody, and then I seed
as it was directed in Mr. Burbidge's handwriting--that is to say,
there was a label; and we sent off the package, and I paid twopence
in stamps for doing so, but Miss Bess wouldn't tell me, ask her as
much as I would, who it was for. Mademoiselle tried hard to make Miss
Bess tell, but she couldn't get nothing out of her, although she
caught hold of her; but Mr. James, the butcher's boy, coming up,
Mademoiselle let Miss Bess be, and so we went home; and I didn't
think much about it till I looked into Miss Bess's purse to-night to
see what she had spent, and then I saw there wasn't one penny left,
and she must, I fear, have spent it all on the packet. It's only
right, mam, as you should know," pursued Liza, flushing crimson,
"lest Mrs. Milner should say that I had taken some, for just now Mrs.
Milner be quite furious, fussing round and saying that Miss Bess has
been fair robbed."

"Never mind," I said, "when I see Miss Bess in the morning I will go
into the matter, and find out how she spent her money."

I wondered, as I sat down and began to embroider after folding up my
letter, what would be the explanation of the mystery. Probably, I
said to myself, a little present to Harry, for Bess is a very
generous little soul, and most of her pocket-money is spent in gifts.

[Sidenote: NANA IS ANGRY]

The next morning my old nurse, holding tightly Bess's hand, came
downstairs just as I had finished breakfast. She looked, as Burbidge
would say, "black as tempest," and I didn't envy Eliza's place in the
nursery.

"Miss Bess will tell you," she said, "and as for Liza, I think it a
most disgraceful affair to have let the poor lamb spend her money as
she and Mademoiselle did, and never so much as to turn their heads
back. Pack of fools talkin' to passers-by whilst the poor child was
bein' robbed. That's what I call 'em."

"I wasn't," cried Bess, stoutly. "It was my own money and my own
fault. I paid it all myself, and I won't tell nobody about it but
mama."

Old Nana took no notice of this outburst, and vowed that she would
get the money back somehow, and let everybody know what she really
thought of 'em. I said nothing, for the fat was in the fire, and the
one thing that I am sure of was, that you couldn't change anybody's
determination of over seventy; and what Nana determines to do, Nana
will do, for all the king's horses and all the king's men. When Bess
and I were alone, I turned to Bess. "Tell me, little girl," I said.

Bess answered, "Oh, mama, I know it is all right. Nana's very old,
but she couldn't get it out of me. I mean to tell nobody but you and
Hals, for a secret is a secret." And she added irrelevantly, "I
couldn't walk with you because I felt I must do it."

"What, dear?"

"_Making it up with God_," replied Bess, but quite reverently. "When
I heard that Fräulein had broken her leg, I knew that something must
be done, for, for all you said, mamsie, I couldn't help feeling that
my curse might have done something; not," explained Bess, "exactly
made Fräulein break her leg, but it might have made it easier for her
to do so."

"Yes, dear, but tell me what you did."

"Oh, you know, mamsie," answered Bess. "I went off for a walk with
Liza and Célestine, but first of all I slipped upstairs when nobody
was looking and got my purse. I didn't quite know what I had, for I
didn't stop to count the money inside, but there were three silver
bits and four copper monies.

"When I got into Mr. ----'s shop," pursued Bess, "I said I wanted
something that would be a comfort to somebody who had broken their
leg. And he said, 'Certainly, Miss, I have just what you want.' And
he gave me a little leather case painted all over with pink and blue
flowers, quite pretty, though not quite like any flowers that I know."

"Yes, Bess," I said, and took little Bess's hand encouragingly.

[Sidenote: A GIFT FROM BESS]

"Well," said Bess, "I don't rightly understand monies, so I told Mr.
---- to take out what he wanted. But he said there wasn't quite
enough; so I said I would bring the rest next Saturday, when I got
paid up for my good-conduct marks, if it wasn't very much. And he
said, 'Don't mention it, miss, only sixpence more.'

"So, then," pursued Bess, "he did up the little packet, and if a
shopman does not know what is good for a person with a broken leg,
who should, I should like to know," and Bess looked round her
triumphantly.

Then my little maid went on to say, "I stuck on the label that
Burbidge wrote for me, and that he did for me in the tool-house when
we two were alone; but he put Miss, not Fräulein, as we neither of us
knew how to spell it. But we wrote governess below, and Roderick,
who, Burbidge says, is a scholar, put in '_her_ with the broken leg,'
so they were sure to understand. And then Mr. ---- stuck it with his
tongue--for it was all gummy--and I and he pressed it down tight, and
then Liza and I carried it off to the post-office, and that is all."

Then Bess added, with a catch in her throat, "I haven't been wicked
this time. Nana says it's wicked to spend my money without telling
you; but I say I must _pay off_ God, for I want to be happy as
princes and princesses are happy in fairy-stories."

Bess's attitude of mind was a little difficult to follow, as is often
the case with children; but as I felt that the whole funny little
business had sprung more from childish kindness than anything else,
all I did was to kiss my little maid and say, "Fräulein will be
pleased."

Bess left me beaming. "My mama," I heard her say later to her old
nurse, "says there is no harm in what I did; and that I may give
cigarette-cases or whatever I like to governesses who break their
legs."

Two days later Miss Weldon received a letter from Fräulein Schlieman,
returning the case, and saying with some asperity--

"I do not smoke, whatever they believe of German women in England."

Bess, on receiving back her gift, was filled with indignation.

"Why cannot governesses smoke?" she asked. "If I was a governess I
should smoke to oblige." And then, in a fit of virtuous fury, she
handed over the case to Burbidge, with the lofty command of "Smoke at
once." Later on, my little daughter told me, "I couldn't help it if
Fräulein didn't smoke." And then added, "Anyway, God knows I spent my
money on her, and Burbidge says that's sure to count."



                              CHAPTER IV

                                 _APRIL_


         "Strowe me the ground with daffodoundilles
         And cowslips and king-cups, and loved lillies,
         The pretie pawnce,
         And the cheveraunce
         Shall match with the fayre flowre Delice."
                             SPENSER, _Shepherd's Calendar_.

A soft sweet day. A gentle rain had fallen all through the night, and
the sense of spring was everywhere. Soft mellow sunshine flooded into
the house. How the chestnut buds glistened in the sunlight, all damp,
and sticky, and a few even had begun to uncurl.

The almonds were out in sheets of rosy pink blossom. Bees were
humming everywhere, and thrushes were piping their jubilant strains
on every gnarled apple tree.

I asked at breakfast for my little maid, but I was told that she was
not yet down, and even our irreproachable butler Fremantle seemed
almost inclined to laugh, if such a sedate and irreproachable person
can descend to such levity, as he told me that Miss Bess, he feared,
would be a little late that morning.

I had, as it happened, many letters to answer, and so forgot to
trouble about Bess, for I had heard her chirp like a bird between six
and seven in the morning, and therefore was not anxious. I remembered
now that Bess had been often up to tea at the Red House of late, and
that when Constance and she had met, they had whispered much, and
that Bess had often caught her hand and held it tightly before
parting, and then bubbled over with happy laughter. Once, when I
asked Bess the cause of all this mystery, she replied, "Only white
secrets, mum," and Constance had laughed too, and repeated the
child's words, "Only white secrets."

Whilst I stuck down my letters, I recalled these little
half-forgotten episodes, when suddenly the door was flung open with a
bang, and Bess stood before me; but not my every-day little Bess in
short petticoats, and white pinafore, and her locks hanging round
her, with a mane like a Church Stretton pony's, but my little Bess
clothed in a fancy-ball costume, in that of a diminutive jester of
the fourteenth century, with cap and bells, in little yellow and pink
tights with satin embroidered vest, and her luxuriant locks confined
in a cap.

She entered shaking her bells merrily, and as I started up in
surprise, she exclaimed, "Don't say anything, mamsie, please don't.
Wait till you have heard my verse, or you will spoil everything.
Constance has learnt it me, and I have said it over and over again.
You see it is All Fools' Day, and I must give you a surprise, for
Nana says, a surprise is next best to a birthday."

And then my little girl faced me, in the middle of the old chamber,
with the great stone altar as a background, and piped aloud in her
gay childish way. The old rhyme somewhat altered--

         "When April her Folly's throne exalts,
         While Dob calls Nell, and laughs because she halts,
         While Nell meets Tom, and says he too must play,
         Then laughs in turn, and laughing runs away,
         Let us my muse thro' Folly's harvest range
         And glean some moral into Wisdom's grange."

[Sidenote: AN APRIL FOOL]

It is an old rhyme, and I am told that Constance had taught it to my
little maid. I stood looking at my dear little fool, all blushes and
sweet smiles. "Constance," continued Bess, "was sure it would make
you laugh." And then, after a pause, she added, "I have not done yet.
Listen; I know all the funny things, pit-pat. Miss Weldon may not
find me clever, but Constance says I learnt at once what she taught
me. You see, mum, it is all fun, and fun with Constance is better
than boxes of sugar-plums;" and here my little lass began to cut a
hundred capers, to jingle her bells, and to dance gaily, calling out,
"There are heaps of funny things to do. I must send Burbidge on a
sleeveless errand, tell Absalom to go for the map of the Undiscovered
Islands, and send Célestine for pigeons' milk, and won't she be
cross! Crabs won't be in it, no, not if they were steeped in vinegar
for a month, Nana says." And away danced my little lass into the
brilliant April sunshine.

                     [Illustration:
                     _Photo by Miss K. Wintour._
                     THE CHAPEL HALL.]

I did not catch what she said to the old gardener outside, but I
heard a deep roar of laughter from Burbidge, and a bass duet of
guffaws, from Absalom and Roderick; and a minute later Burbidge
entered from the garden and told me, his face beaming with honest
pleasure, that "Miss Bess was the gayest little Folly that had ever
come to Wenlock, and would surely make folks laugh like an ecall come
what might."

A few minutes later, and Bess flew off to her old nurse and to
Auguste, and both I heard, by their shrill exclamations, affected to
be overcome with laughter at her approach. Inside and outside, on
this first of April, I heard sounds of merriment, as if a return to
old customs had come back, and as if loud and jocund mirth had not
died out of simple hearts. I thought of all the old games, plays,
quips, and pranks, that the old walls of the Abbey Farmery must have
heard and seen in the Middle Ages, for even the monks allowed times
of folly and revelry, at Yule-tide and Candlemas, I have read; and on
the first of April, All Fools' Day, many must have been the hearty
laugh, and simple joke, that folks made and passed on each other in
Wenlock town, and all over old England.

I popped my letters into the box for post, and stepped out, as my
task for the day was accomplished. The morning was enchantingly
beautiful. "Old Adam" glistened beneath the sundial like a wondrous
jewel, the eyes in his tail seemed of a hundred tints. He appeared,
as Buffon said, "to combine all that delights the eye in the soft,
and delicate tints of the finest flowers, all that dazzles it in the
sparkling lustre of gems, and all that astonishes it, in the grand
display of the rainbow." His tail appeared of a hundred tints, and
the red gold of the featherlets round the eyes flashed as if
illuminated by fire. His grey, subdued wives, walked meekly beside
him, and cast upon him humble glances of admiration, while he
strutted before them with the pride of a Scotch piper, and expanded
his tail with a strange mechanical whirr, that recalled the
winding-up of some rich, elaborate, modern toy.

Down by the Abbey pond I saw the two swans swimming, but, every now
and then, the male bird seemed almost to leap out of the water in the
delight of spring, and beat the water with his great snowy wings as
he drove across the glass-like expanse at a furious rate, making the
little wavelets rise and fall and dance, in a crystal shimmer over
reeds and grass.

Suddenly a little moor-hen dipped and bobbed out of the reeds. With
an angry cry, one of the swans went for her, and I thought, for a
moment, the poor little bird must have fallen a victim to his
murderous beak; but the little black bird, as Burbidge would have
said, "was nimble as ninepence," and doubled, and dived, before her
enemy could reach her. It was very good to be out. Life seemed
enough. The island in the centre of the Abbot's pond had become a
sheet of primroses, and looked as if it had been sown with stars; and
as I stood in the garden, the scent of the crimson ribes reached me.
What a rich perfume it was! and what a distance it carried. In the
full sunshine it was almost like incense, swung before the high altar
of some old-world cathedral. I wandered away into the red-walled
garden. How busy Burbidge was! The fir branches and matting were to
be taken down off the tea-roses, and away from the beautiful purple
and lavender clematises, my autumn splendours.

[Sidenote: WINTER COVERINGS REMOVED]

Beautiful Mrs. George Jackman, that shone like a great full moon in
the dusk on clear summer nights, was now to be allowed "to open out,"
as gardeners say, and the sun and soft winds were once more to play
with her tender leaves, and delicate tendrils.

Then the exquisite tea hybrid roses, such as Augustine Guinoiseau la
France, and that richest of all the noisettes, William Allen
Richardson, were to dispense with their protecting fir branches. The
time had come for them to feel the joy of full sunlight again, and
the tree peonies were no longer to be enveloped in tawny fern
branches, or to lie smothered in litter.

As I stood in the pathway, I heard Burbidge walking up and down the
paths, giving orders in the Shropshire tongue that I love so well.

A mantle of spring splendour had fallen upon all. Lines of yellow
crocuses shone like threads of gold. Crown Imperials were opening
their rich brown, metallic-looking blossoms. Pink and white daphne
bushes perfumed the air, and I noted that a host of hungry bees were
humming greedily round them. Chionodoxas of all shades, were looking
enchantingly fair. The blue Sardensis was opening its petals, of the
same wonderful sapphire-blue shade as the Alpine gentian. Then in
blossom also I noted Chionodoxa Luciliæ, that had the delicacy and
daintiness of a piece of china, and lovely Alleni, that recalled the
beauty of a sunset sky when the gold is dying, and when celestial
amber is dissolving and melting into exquisite tones of mauve and
lavender.

A little later, I found Burbidge hard at work pruning my great bed of
hybrid teas, and hybrid perpetual roses, that I have planted with
alternate rows of old Dutch and Darwin tulips, with English and
Spanish irises, and with lines of grape and Botryoides hyacinths. "Us
must get a bit of the bush off," said my old gardener, as he plied
his pruning scissors. I begged him, however, not to cut my hybrid
teas too hard, as now so many gardeners are inclined to do, for roses
in Shropshire, it seemed to me, did not like too much of the knife,
or of the French drastic treatment. "Let it be a rose _bush_ in
England," I pleaded.

"Right you are, ma'am," replied Burbidge, "for there's many as uses
the knife as a child the whip. Most of the roses here be on their own
roots, and so, healthy and abiding. Manetti stuff have blooms big as
saucers the first year, but go out the next year like candles as the
wind's overmastered. They be like most fandangles--no stay in them."

[Sidenote: THE VERMILLION ROSE]

So saying, my old friend plied his scissors vigorously, and the
click, click, resounded all through the garden. Before I left the
red-walled garden, I had a word with my old gardener about my hedge
of Austrian briars. What a wonderful single rose it is, and the
variety is very ancient. Parkinson mentions it in his "Theatre of
Plants," and calls it "the vermilion rose of Austria." If we prune it
this year, we shall get no flowers, I lamented, and I am always very
loth to let the pruning shears work their will with my pet rose. Then
I turned to my moss roses: pink, white, purple, and the most
beautiful variety of all, the old crested. They were all big bushes
and must be kept in shape, but should not be pruned in the ordinary
sense.

Besides these sorts already named, I grow in my garden the beautiful
roses of Japan--the purple and white, and the semi-duplex kinds, all
of which bear such superb hips in the autumn. I told Burbidge that we
must net some of the bushes in autumn, and that I would try later and
get some German recipes for making them into preserves. In
Elizabethan days, I have read, "Cooks and their ladies did know how
to prepare from hips many fine dishes for their tables." Burbidge
scoffed at this notion. "Let the wild things be, marm," he said to
me; and added, "I never heard of much that was good wild, but nuts."
At this I laughed and replied, "Wait and see--and taste."

Burbidge told me, that he proposed to carry out the bees in their
little wooden houses next week. "Come next Thursday, bee operations
should begin," my old friend assured me. Nine was the hour chosen,
and, if fine, "us will have the masks, so that come a breakage the
little brown folk can't come to us--and the vermin make sore flesh of
us." To-day, as I went into the tool-house I heard the bees buzzing
angrily, as if they could not keep quiet for anger.

"To-morrow," Burbidge then informed me, he and the boys would paint
all the "bees' homes over, save the lips, in different colours."
These must, in his language, remain "simple;" but "come Thursday, us
will take off the zinc stopper on each, and then the little brown uns
can roam as they list."

All last winter, since November, the bees had lived in the
tool-house, and had been artificially fed for the last fortnight, so
that, to use my old friend's words, "they be fair nasty with temper,
and buzzin' like an organ on fire." And now nothing remained but for
Auguste, as he always did, to make them one last meal of burnt sugar,
and solemnly to "inviter ces messieurs à faire leur miel." Their
appointed time of liberty was at hand, and in a few days the little
brown folk would fly into the sunshine with pæans of joy.

I went into the tool-house with Burbidge. Burbidge is a man of order.
Every night he makes "his boys" hang up the tools, after cleaning
them with care. Those not in use shine brightly against the wall.
Every night they are rubbed clean with a rag steeped in oil. Great
strings of onions hung from the massive oak beams. During bad days in
winter, when the snow lay on the ground, Burbidge and his men mended
the fruit nets, painted the water-cans a brilliant red, or green,
made wooden labels, and got ready, as they called it, "for the comin'
of summer."

There, along one side, were the beehives, some eight in all--all to
be painted in different colours. Burbidge holds the view that no two
should be painted the same colour, so that each hive, as he calls it,
"should drop on their own colour sharp." What truth there may be in
this idea I cannot say, but I was delighted to oblige my old friend
in this respect, for I, too, like bright colours in a garden.

Burbidge took out of an oak locker his colour board for the year. "I
know, marm, as yer be tasty with a needle," he said, "and I'll leave
it to you to say what pleases you and the brown folk most." I
suggested shades of blue, and told him of the Scotch belief that bees
of all colours love blue best. But Burbidge would not admit this. "I
never heard _that_ in Shropshire," he said stoutly. "Don't believe
it, nor a letter of it. Orange or purple, I believe, be every bit as
good as blue." Then I asked Burbidge about the old Shropshire bees
that learned folks in bee-lore have told me were descended from the
old wild bees that the British had, and of which there are still
swarms in straw skeps in far-away farmhouses nestling against the
Clee. But about these wild bees Burbidge knew nothing, but only felt
certain that anything "as be Shropshire born be bound to be good."

Then I chose the colours--red, flame, crimson, salmon, mauve, pink,
the delicate shade of the autumn crocus, jonquil yellow, and one or
two shades of blue--and particularly the dear old-fashioned bleu de
Marie that one meets in an Italian sky, as beautiful in its way as
the breast of "old Adam" (the peacock) against a yew hedge on a fine
March morning in full sunlight.

It was a lovely spring morning on that Thursday, the appointed day
for the removal of the bees to summer quarters.

[Sidenote: MOONLIGHTERS AT WORK]

Bess and I had a cup of milk and a slice of bread and butter, the
best of all morning breakfasts, and ran out to see the sport.
Burbidge was there with his boys, looking all of them like marauders,
or moonlighters, for their faces were clothed with masks and their
hands were covered with thick gloves.

Bess grasped tight hold of my hand. "Mamsie, how wicked they look, as
if they meant to kill some one," she whispered.

As to Mouse, she could not contain her displeasure. She gave a series
of low growls, and, for all she knew them, did not like their coming
too near us.

Burbidge propped back the garden gate with a stout staff. Then they
carried the little wooden houses out. What an angry sound of buzzing
went on inside, as the men bore them along. "Steady, steady!" cried
Burbidge, in a tone of command, "or the little brown people will
burst themselves with rage, and then, boys, it will be run for it who
can."

After this note of warning, "the two boys" advanced very gently and
placed the beehives in turn along the side of a path under the shade
of an apple grove, and stood them facing south and east. "That be
your home," said Burbidge, and then gravely proceeded to whisper "a
charm." What that was I have never been able to discover, for
Burbidge declared it to be a secret between him and the little brown
'uns, and if it was known the good would go with "gossamer wings."
There is something about spring and blossom, and sun, and gentle
rain, an old woman once told me, but the exact words old Nelly Fetch
wouldn't tell me, and declared, like Burbidge, "that charms and
rhymes were best kept between bees and bee-keepers, same as words to
the bees when death had visited a family." It is believed in
Shropshire that bees are canny, touchy folk, and that those who wish
to keep them must be civil and knowledgeable, and, "plaize 'em as
little sweethearts," as an old cottager once said to me, "or the bees
wud mak' yer rue it."

"Whispering a death" is still a common custom. I remember once asking
a farmer's wife, who used to be noted for her bees, if she had any
honey to sell, and being gravely told that she was out of bees, for
that they had forgotten when the master died to whisper his death to
them, and in consequence the bees had taken to the woods in
displeasure.

[Sidenote: "PAINTS NEXT BEST TO WATER"]

Bess and I watched the proceedings, and when all the hives were fixed
in their places, we put on old aprons and helped to daub on the
paint. Burbidge had mixed little cans of each colour, pink, yellow
scarlet, and flame, crimson, jonquil, and blue. Bess was delighted
with the little pots and the brushes. "Mamsie, I am certain of one
thing," she said, "paints are next best to water." And in a few
moments the little face, hands, and pinafore, reflected all the
colours of the rainbow.

In ten minutes or so, we had given each hive one coat of colour, and
we never give more. Then we all went and stood at the other end of
the garden to see the effect of our handiwork.

"Fine, very fine," exclaimed Burbidge, admiringly. "A horse in bells
couldn't look smarter." And Bess added, "Mamsie, it's like a bunch of
flowers, only there are no leaves." As we remained there, Auguste
came on the scene. He appeared with a pail of syrup to feed the bees,
for bees will always feed with avidity when put out first into the
air, however dainty or reluctant they have been to eat when kept in
confinement. A large bottle with a broad opening, full of thick
syrup, was filled, and fixed upside down on the top of each hive. We
heard behind the perforated zinc a mighty din. "Messieurs les
abeilles crient pour leur dîner," said Auguste.

Overhead was the sunshine, and the bees scented the breeze. Burbidge
filled each bottle, and then replaced the wooden lid of each hive.
"Stand back, marm!" he cried, "and you, too, Monsieur." Then Burbidge
called his "boys," and they removed the little pieces of zinc that
had kept the bees so long prisoners. Out they flew with exultant hums
and buzzes.

"They wud have liked to cut their way through," cried Absalom, "but
zinc, for all their cunning, be the masters of they."

"They'll be contented now," laughed Burbidge. "Sugar and sunshine,
what more can a bee desire?"

There is a great art in making bee syrup, like there is in doing most
country things. Syrup should be clear and of the right thickness, and
not too liquid; above all, it should not be too thin, so as to pass
too quickly through the muslin, or, in Burbidge's words, "it would
drown the bees like flies in a jar of cream."

After watching the bees come out and fly round in exultant joy, Bess
and I returned to the house, for, as Bess said, the "bee play" was
over for to-day. How busy the little brown people will be gathering
fresh honey, flying amongst the arabis and searching for celandines
and primroses.

We went in, and Bess ran up to her lessons. Alas! study to my little
maid is always a period of sadness. "Real children never like
lessons," is my little girl's dictum. They don't like useless things;
and to Bess, French, geography, history, and music are all useless
and worthless acquisitions. As I sat and embroidered in the Chapel
Hall, I was suddenly told that a boy outside wished to speak to me. I
left a carnation spray, a copy of a design of one of Mary Queen of
Scots', and looked up to welcome Thady Malone, a little Irish lad,
who, with his father and mother, had lately come into the parish.

Thady is the terror of the locality, and the hero of all the
naughty-boy stories of the neighbourhood.

[Sidenote: "MORE DEVIL THAN BOY"]

According to my old gardener, who looks at him with an evil eye,
"Thady be more devil than boy." Burbidge declares that Thady is a
plague, and a sore to the town, and "wull be the death of some 'un,
unless he kills hisself first." The fact is, Thady has done every
naughty thing conceivable. He has fired woods, put strings across
roads, I have been told, to try and trip up his natural enemy, James
Grogan, the reigning policeman, and even put logs across the little
local line, I have been assured; but this he stoutly denies himself.
He has been thrashed by indignant farmers for running their sheep,
and yet, as Bess says, always turns up "naughty and nice," with the
politest of manners, which he gets from "auld Oireland," and the
sweetest and most innocent of baby faces out of which natural
wickedness ever peeped.

A minute later and Thady stood before me, bare-legged and bonny, with
an expectant smile in his eyes. I opened the conversation by asking
him from where he came? "Right from Mrs. Harley." And he added, with
a catch in his throat, "The poor lady is like to die entirely,
judging by what Mrs. Betty said, and so I have come to you to see
what your leddyship can do to stop the disease."

Thady spoke in the most engaging brogue, and he had the sunniest,
pleasantest smile in the world. He stood before me, with his little
bare feet shyly touching the fringe of the carpet.

No other child in the old town goes barefoot. He is known at Wenlock
by the nickname of "Naughty Bare-legs," and has a shock of curly hair
and dancing grey-blue eyes.

"I'll come at once," I said. "But why, Thady, have they sent you?"

Thady scratched his head and looked puzzled, declared he didn't know,
but protested there was nothing he wouldn't do to oblige Mrs. Harley,
for all, he averred, "she's a hathan, and never says a prayer to the
blessed Virgin."

It appeared that once some naughty boys at Homer nearly succeeded in
drowning Mrs. Harley's tortoiseshell kitten, but that Thady, hearing
the poor little beast mew, fearlessly came to its rescue, fought his
way through the thick of the band of miscreants, and told them they
were nothing but base robbers, that they should be the death of
something bigger; and before they had recovered from their surprise,
had dashed through the ring, plunged out of the brook, and carried
off poor pussie victoriously. After this, Mrs. Harley had always been
a friend of his, filled his pockets with damsons in autumn, and
apples, and when the world turned a cold shoulder on him, never
failed to hold out to him the hand of friendship.

"For all I'm bad," Thady would say, with a twinkle in his eye, "Mrs.
Harley never believes the worst of me, and says (God bless her!) the
day will come when the country will be proud of me."

There was no time to be lost, so I followed the little bare-legged
messenger out of the room, ran upstairs, put on my hat and cape, and
whistled my great dog to heel. I said before starting, "Is there
nothing I ought to take to her?"

Whereupon Thady answered impetuously, with the romance of his people,
"There's just nothing at all. It's just your face, my leddy, which
the poor body wants to get a sight of, considerin' it's never the
shadow of the blessed Virgin that she can bless her eyes with."

So without another word, Thady and I passed out of the Abbey, hurried
across the emerald velvet of the Cloister lawn, and let ourselves out
by the little side wicket, and so up the meadow past the station and
away to the top of the hill. "I cannot run any more," at last I cried
to Thady, who had set the pace. "We must walk. See, even Mouse is
panting." Thady stopped, and then we settled down into a walk, and
began after a few minutes to chat.

Thady looked at Mouse. "Proud I'd be, my leddy," he said, "if I owned
such a dog. The constable, I'm thinking, would look a small man
beside me then."

At this sally I had the ill-nature to suggest the constable could
shoot Mouse. Whereupon Thady, with Hibernian readiness, replied, "Now
I'm thinking the dog would bite first."

[Sidenote: "A KITTY WREN, BEGORRA!"]

A little later a bird flew across the path, upon which Thady cried
out, "A Kitty wren, begorra!" and before I could stop him, had picked
up a pebble to throw at a little golden-crested wren that I saw
running up a spray of yew.

"Stop, stop," I cried; "don't throw it."

"Why not?" said Thady. "There's no law in England or Oireland against
killin' a wren, beside"--and he what the Shropshire folks call
"rippled over" with laughter--"'twould be a pretty shot."

But I begged him to desist, and Thady, who is civility itself, or, as
he quaintly expresses it, "born dutiful entirely to a leddy," dropped
his stone and we walked on. After a few minutes' conversation, I
discovered that Thady Malone was a naturalist of no mean repute, that
he could imitate the call and various notes of most of the wild
birds, and that he knew where to find their nests. "And if it's after
such," he added gallantly, "that yer fancy takes yer, I'll lead yer
and show yer the rarest birds that fly. Only wait another fortnight,
pheasants, hawks, magpies, jays, blackcaps, blue-bonnets, Nanny
washtails, heather lenties, red-poles, cutty wrens, corbie crows,
Harry redcaps, and scores of others." Many of Thady's names I did not
know, but Thady was graciously inclined, and assured me that he would
"learn my leddyship the true names." "I don't call them after the
books whatever," he asserted, "but same as the gipsy folks, and by
the names known by the people that lived in London, and elsewhere,
before us settled in Wenlock."

So it was agreed that Thady and I were to spend a day in the woods.

"Let it be Saturday," said Thady, authoritatively, "for then there's
no school to plague the life out of a fellow. I can climb and you can
cap," by which Thady meant that I was to carry the eggs.

"Thady," I said, as we parted at Mrs. Harley's wicket, "you must come
for me some Saturday. We will go into the woods, and I will bring out
luncheon, and you shall climb the trees, whilst I and Bess will
search the ground; but we will take no nests, only look at them and
see the eggs."

"Leave the eggs, and what for will her leddyship do that?" asked
Thady, surprised. "That wud be like catching a hare and not finding
it in the pot the night after."

"Well," I remonstrated, "when you come with me, you must play my game
of bird-nesting. Anyway, I can promise there will be nothing sick, or
sorry, where we have gone."

Thady at this laughed a little contemptuously, and a second later
vanished behind a hedgerow, and I entered Mrs. Harley's cottage.

It was a lovely morning, bright and joyous. The air was full of
spring odours, and in the song of the birds I only heard the echo of
universal joy. Yet I knew, the moment I entered the cottage, that the
hand of Death was about to beckon my old friend away from the good
and useful life, that she had led so well and bravely, to the other
side of the bourn from which no man returns.

Old Bessie met me. "Her's goin' fast," she whispered, and stood a
moment in the sunlight, hot tears almost blinding her poor old eyes.
Then, as I hesitated, she touched me gently on the arm and murmured,
"Come up, come up. Glad her'll be to see you, for all her's done with
Homer, and this world too." So I mounted the stairs and again found
myself in Mrs. Harley's presence.

Outside beyond the Severn and the Wrekin, the sun was shining gaily.
Inside the little chamber, all was spotlessly clean, I noted, as I
entered the bed-chamber. I saw the dying woman wanted something, from
the way in which her face moved.

[Sidenote: "A FAIR DAY TO GO HOME"]

"Light, light," she murmured as I touched her hand; and then, very
low, "A fair day to go Home."

"Her's been talking of nothing but goin' home," said Betsy,
reverently; "and her's goin' sure, same as gospel truth."

"All's at peace," whispered my old friend, and took a long, far look
of the great hill of which all Shropshire men are so proud. So,
smiling tenderly and loving the distant scene, her head sank back,
and she seemed gently to fall asleep.

"How peaceful!" I said, awestruck.

"The Lord have a-called her, and her work be done," said Betty
solemnly, a little later. "'Tis a good thing," she added, "to have
done good work, and I think the Lord loved her for all she was lowly
and never trod in high places."

Then I left Betty, and the triumphant serene face, in the little
whitewashed chamber. As I departed, I was conscious of having touched
the fringe of a very holy garment.

I passed out. And as I met the gladness of the outside world, I knew
that some of my old friend's radiance was still lighting my path.
After all, I know no better or more blessed things than simple faith,
and a noble life, ended by His supreme grace.

Mouse followed at my heels, dutifully walking close behind me. It is
curious, the way in which a dog that is often our companion, reflects
our mood. The great hound knew that I was absorbed, and gave way to
no frolic, chased no rabbit, but kept near, watching me out of her
topaz eyes solemnly and with marked concern.

A great stillness seemed to belong to the afternoon. The sun was
hidden beneath tender lavender clouds. I crossed a stile and walked
amongst the budding grass. Suddenly out of a wood, for the first time
in the year, I heard the mystic voice of the cuckoo, calling, calling
as if out of a dream.

What a delightful eërie sound it is! Not like a real bird, but like
some voice from another world, with its strange power of reiteration,
a voice which we cannot do otherwise than listen to; for, as Sir
Philip Sidney said, "The cuckoo cometh to you with a tale to hold
children from their play, and old men from the chimney corner." From
all time men have loved his cry. In the "Exeter Book" occurs the
passage--

                 "Sweet was the song of birds,
                 The earth was covered with flowers,
                 Cuckoos announced the year."

[Sidenote: THE CRY OF THE CUCKOO]

I did not see the bird, which lent enchantment to his song. I
listened, with budding daisies at my feet, and over Wenlock spire a
magic purple light. He seemed to me no bird, but a spirit calling to
the world with a gladness that we cannot know. Death and winter must
come, but for all that, spring is here, he seemed to say.

Death had come near me, even touched me half an hour ago, but for all
the solemn sadness I felt a brief time ago, the joy of life seized me
afresh.

As I wandered home across the peaceful fields, the Cuckoo's call
seemed spoken and repeated from coppice to hedgerow, and in every
mossy dingle. The old nursery rhyme I used to say in childhood came
back to me--

                      "In April
                      The Cuckoo shows his bill;
                      In May
                      He sings all day;
                      In June
                      He alters his tune;
                      In July
                      Away he'll fly;
                      Come August
                      Fly he must."

Yes, I say, fly he must, with summer which is "the sovereign joy of
all things," as Piers Ploughman wrote long years ago, and then
autumn, and the long chill nights of winter.

There is always a mystery about the cuckoo, as to where he comes
from, and where he goes. Far down in the south of India, I have been
told, is the only place where the cuckoo is to be found summer and
winter alike, calling in the tropics his strange, mystic cry. Be this
as it may, he is never with us in Shropshire till the second week in
April, and vanishes like a ghost early in August.

Some days later, and it was Palm Sunday, one of the great festivals
of old England during the Middle Ages.

There is but little sign left now of the blessing of the boughs, as
the rite was performed in mediæval times, save that nearly all the
boys present had cut sprigs of the wild willow and placed them in
their button-holes, and my little maid, by her old Nana's wish, had a
spray pinned in also, amongst the ribbons of her hat. What a lovely
blossom it is, that of the wild willow. How delicate the soft grey,
and how lovely the brilliant shades of gold. How wonderful is the
mixture of both colours, and how exquisitely gold and grey melt into
each other.

As I sat in our pew on the northern side of the church, I thought of
the old Church Service that once was held there. After the Mass, I
have read, it was usual that there should follow the hallowing of the
branches and flowers by the priest. I thought, as I sat in church in
Protestant England, of how the priest, up to the first half of the
sixteenth century, and for long centuries before, stood forth in
scarlet cope and blessed the sweet branches and the first flowers of
the year. I liked to recall the old rite and custom of entreating the
Almighty to bless and sanctify "his creatures," by which was meant
branch and blossom, which were laid by lay brothers and novices at
the foot of the altar, and then it was nice to think how branch and
blossom were broken up and blest, and a spray given to all the devout
people assembled. It was a pretty and holy usage, and I could not but
feel regret, that so gracious a rite was lost. It must have been a
delightful service for little children to witness, and a sweet memory
for the old who could remember the happy springs of years gone by.

As we came out of church, I told Bess about the old custom. And Bess
said dryly, "Now we have to bless our palm branches ourselves;" and
added with the strange intuition of a child, "I think it was better
when God did part of it, don't you, mamsie?"

[Sidenote: A STROLL IN THE CHURCHYARD]

After the service, we took a stroll into the picturesque old
churchyard, surrounded by old black and white timber, and Georgian
houses of glowing red brick. There was standing by the door by which
we entered the church, the remains of an old stone cross and several
tombs, which, I have been told, were brought from the ruined Abbey
Church. The grass was full of glittering daffodils, which shone like
stars, and the scent from the ribes and Daphne bushes filled God's
acre with sweetness. Bess and I walked round the churchyard.

I told her of the little room over the church-porch with its little
narrow window. Such a holy little room, I said. In such a room, I
think, holy Master George Herbert must have written; and from that I
went on to tell my little girl about Sir Thomas Botelar, the first
priest who lived at Much Wenlock after the expulsion of the monks.

                     [Illustration:
                     _Photo by Mr. W. Golling._
                     SIR THOMAS BOTELAR'S HOUSE.]

"Tell me about him," said Bess, eagerly. "I like to hear about good
monks and priests from you, although Nana says they were all wicked,
and walled up poor girls. But perhaps," added Bess, thoughtfully,
"they were not all as wicked as she thinks; leastways, there may have
been a few good ones just sometimes."

After luncheon I took down the printed sheets in which are preserved
Sir Thomas Botelar's entries, for, alas! his original manuscript
perished in the great fire at Wynnstay in 1859. And I read aloud such
passages as I thought my little girl would follow, at least in places.

As I read aloud, Constance was ushered in. She did not know Sir
Thomas's register and begged me to go on reading, so I continued to
read. The old papers, I told her in a pause, embraced eight years of
Henry VIII.'s reign, went through that of Edward VI.'s, took in the
whole of Queen Mary's, and gave the four opening years of Queen
Elizabeth's reign. All Sir Thomas's sympathies were with the old
order of things, I begged her to remember, and then I went on reading.

"'In February, 1546, on the 5th day of the month, word and knowledge
came to the borough of Much Wenlock that our Sovereign Lord King
Henry VIII. was departed out of this transitory life, whose soul,'"
Sir Thomas added, "'God Almighty pardon.'"

"Sir Thomas Botelar," I told Constance, "was the last Abbot of St.
Peter and St. Paul's Monastery at Shrewsbury. After the Dissolution,
the King turned away all the monks, and Sir Thomas became, after a
short time, Vicar of Much Wenlock, but his heart remained in the
cloisters of his former abbey."

Then I turned to a notice a little further down the page--

"'On the 13th April of the same year three convicts were buried, and
one was a child of eleven.' Poor little girl," I said, "what a
terrible bald statement of misery! What could so young a child have
done to merit death?"

"I cannot think," exclaimed Bess. "Perhaps cursed and swore and
scratched; but, even then, had she no father or mother to forgive
her?"

"Only God," said Constance, softly.

And then I begged them to listen to an account of a funeral of an
excellent priest, and obviously a very learned man.

[Sidenote: THE OLD CHURCH REGISTERS]

"'Sir William Corvehill, priest,'" I read, "'was laid in a tomb of
lime and stone, which he had caused to be made for himself. Sir W.
Corvehill was excellently and singularly expert in divers of the VIJ
liberal sciences, especially in geometry. He was also skilled in the
making of organs and in the carving of masonry, in the weaving of
silk, and in printing. Besides he was,'" adds Sir Thomas, "'a very
patient man and full honest in his conversation and living.'" Then,
after commending his soul to the care of God, Sir Thomas wound up
quaintly by declaring that, "'All this country hath a great loss from
the death of Sir William Corvehill, for he was a good bell-founder
and a maker and framer of bells.'"

Then I found a notice of a marriage. "'Here was married,'" ran the
old register, "'Thomas Munslow Smith and Alice Nycols;'" and added,
"'The bride was wedded in her smock, and barehead.'"

"When I'm married," said Bess, loftily, "I'll have a veil and some
flowers. Nana says it isn't proper to be married without a veil.
'Twould be as silly as papa ploughing, or you, mama, plucking fowls."

I didn't enter into the question of parental ridicule, but I looked
down the vicar's entries and read, "'Poor Sir John Baily Clerke,
otherwise called John Cressage, died. It was about 9 of the clock,'"
wrote Sir Thomas, "'and at the manor place of Madeley.'"

Bess had often heard the story from me of the poor old man who, after
surrendering his monastery, retired broken-hearted to die at Madeley.
When I came to this part of the register, she broke out indignantly
with--

"Why couldn't they leave _our_ abbot alone? I can't abear that old
Henry VIII. He did nothing but wicked things: cut off his wives'
heads and pulled down churches and nice buildings. Yet Nan and
Burbidge call him a good man. I think people ought to be good in a
different way."

Bess was quite excited, and Constance had to take her on her knee to
soothe her, and thus she sat on listening, with a scarlet face.

Then I read how, after the death of King Edward, Sir Thomas and all
the people made great joy over the proclaiming of the Lady Mary Queen
of England. I read also how the people of Bridgnorth "fair cast up
their caps and hats, lauding, thanking, and praising God Almighty,
with ringing of bells and making of bonfires in the streets," and how
the same joy was evinced at Shrewsbury, and at Much Wenlock.

In the first year of Mary's reign on June 16th, I read that the altar
of our blessed Lady within this church (of the Holy Trinity) was
again built up and consecrated afresh, and evidently Sir Thomas
rejoiced.

A month later, the Bishop of Worcester, the Lord President of the
Marches, coming with Justice Townesynde, stopped on their road to
Bridgnorth at Much Wenlock, and were entertained by Richard Lawley at
the Ash, the fine old timber house in Spital Street, where, at a
later date, Charles I. and Prince Rupert both slept on different
occasions.

Then followed a description of the _fête_ held in their honour. We
learnt how the house was gaily decked with cloths of Arras, with the
covering of beds, bancards, carpets and cushions, and how the table
was laden with pears and dishes of apples of the previous year. We
wondered how they could have been kept. Also with cakes, fine wafers,
claret, sack and white wine, and after much pleasant feasting and
pleasant intercourse, how "Mr. Justice rose and gave the Burgesses
great and gentle thanks for their cost and cheer."

"I wish that I, too, mamsie, had been there, for I, too, would like
to have eaten pears in summer, and have seen all their gay carpets,"
exclaimed Bess.

A little later on in the pamphlet I found the announcement of Queen
Elizabeth's being proclaimed Queen after the death of her sister. Sir
Thomas made this entry evidently with rather a heavy heart.

As I closed the little book, Constance took it in her hand and looked
over the pages.

"How many were hanged in those days!" she said sadly. "There are
mentions of executions for sheep stealing, for murder, for robbery;
and what a number of convicts, even children of quite tender years."

Then she alluded to the immense age of many of the parishioners
named. Agnes Pyner was said to be seven score years when she received
the blessed sacrament just before death. John Trussingham declared
that he was seven score years, and that at the age of four-score
years he had witnessed the battle of Blore Heath; whilst John
Francis, chief farmer at Callaughton, Sir Thomas declared, was aged
107 years when he was buried.

[Sidenote: JOAN OF POSENHALL]

Then Constance's fingers flitted back to a past page, and she read
aloud a touching little entry about Joan of Posenhall, a fair maiden
of twenty-two years, who, it was believed, "died of a canker in the
mouth, which disease her father ascribed to the smelling of rose
flowers."

"Could it have been a poisoned rose?" I asked, for in those days many
and subtle were the poisons used to get rid of a fair rival.

But Bess could not understand how a rose by its scent could injure
any one. "In my true fairy-stories," she said, "roses can only do
good. They are only good fairies' gifts, and I know they can only
come out of the mouths of good girls--real good girls," Bess
repeated, "so I don't see how a rose could have hurt poor Joan."

Whereupon I explained matters to my little maid. After a pause Bess
exclaimed--

"Well, I think 'tis best to live now, for anyhow we've only doctors
to kill us."

"To save us," laughed Constance.

But Bess would not allow this. "To kill us is what Mrs. Burbidge
says; and Nana says she won't have a doctor in at no price for
herself."

Then Bess jumped up from her chair, and declared inconsequently that
it was time to feed her puppy, and darted out of the room, and
Constance and I were left alone. Upon which we fell to chatting about
the great quilt. "I have chosen the flowers, as you know," she said.
And she enumerated one after another their old-world musical names.
"And now I want charming words about sleep," she added.

I suggested from Sir Thomas Browne's "Religio Medici": "Make my sleep
a holy trance," or "On my temples sentry keep," again from the same
author "Come as thou wilt, or what thou wilt bequeath," from Drummond
of Hawthornden, or again, "Men like visions are, Time all doth
claim," or "He lives who dies to win a lasting fame."

"You must not also," I said, "forget a beautiful line from Mrs.
Barrett Browning: 'He giveth His beloved sleep.'"

Before leaving me, Constance told me that she and Bess had a little
game in hand--a real May frolic--"but you must not know yet, it must
be a surprise."

[Sidenote: THE QUEEN OF THE MAY]

To this I at once gave my maternal sanction, and then the nature of
the "secret" was revealed to me. Constance told me that she proposed
to have a little May dance for some eight of the little school
maidens, and that she would like Bess to take a part in the
festivities. Eight little maidens are to dance round the maypole,
which is to be decked with ribbons and many flowers, and are to sing
some old songs; and she added, "If you have no objection, Bess is to
say us a verse or two from some old poets in honour of May morning."

I fell in readily with Constance's little plans for a village _fête_,
and offered the old bowling green as a site for it to take place.
"The bowling green," I said, "is very sheltered; it is surrounded on
three sides with yew hedges, and I am delighted at the idea of Bess
appearing as the queen of the revels."

Bess is to be attired all in white with a crown of flaming marsh
marigolds on her head, and to bear in her hand a staff decorated with
primroses, cowslips, and sprays of beech and willow.

Just as Constance was leaving, Bess rushed in and seized my friend's
hand, and called out impetuously, "Have you told mamsie? May I? May
I?"

I nodded "yes," and told my little maid that she was to have a white
muslin, a white wand of office, posies of primroses and shining shoe
buckles. Bess was delighted, she hugged me and Constance rapturously
in turns, and said "it will be the best day of my life."

"All we must hope will be a success," laughed Constance, as she
departed up the pathway to the old gate-house; "and we must pray for
sunshine for the sake of the little expectant maidens and anxious
mothers."

Next morning I confided to Burbidge the plan of our proposed revels,
and informed him that I should like to ask in the villagers. Burbidge
remarked in a lofty way that he had no objection--a Yorkshire
expression which he acquired when a lad from a Yorkshire gardener;
but added severely, that they that come must keep to the paths, not
spoil _his_ lawns, and scatter no lollipop papers, or such-like dirt.

But Burbidge's old wife, Hester, showed a less conciliatory spirit.
In a foolish moment, as I happened to meet her carrying Burbidge's
dinner to the tool-house, I confided our secret. Upon which she told
me sourly that she was sorry to think "as there is to be play-acting,
and even dancing on the property--the monks," she declared, "were bad
enough, but this would beat all."

Hester is descended from old Puritan stock, and disapproves of all
laughter and merriment. Burbidge, who overheard her last words of
censure, exclaimed--

"Tut, tut, my dear, you was young once. I can mind thee fine as a
horse in bells, for all thee's old now and that the rheumatics lay
hold on thee, sharp as scissor points. But the young uns they want
their games and their plays, for all as us is getting miller's bags
on our pates."

"Speak for yourself," replied Hester, with acidity, puckering up her
withered visage. And then she added with severity, "I never knew yet
any good come out, or wisdom, of play-acting. They be devil's works,
and take my word for it," and there she held up a bony emphatic
finger, "that the devil will claim toll, for all as they seem mild
and innocent."

With which ominous remark Hester made over to Burbidge his dinner,
and hobbled up the back drive homeward.

"'Tis a pity," said Burbidge, looking after his old wife, "as good
wine can turn to vinegay like that. The Lord made her, but the old
'un" (the devil) "guides her eyesight sure enough, and most times
directs her tongue. The fact is," and the old man drew himself up
straight, "when yer think too much about hell, yer can never see
heaven. My mother used to say that, and for all she was a Methody
body, it be gospel truth."

[Sidenote: EASTER SUNDAY]

A few days later it was Easter Sunday. The bells rang merrily, but we
hurried off to church almost late; for, according to Shropshire
fashion, Bess had got a new frock on for the occasion.

It consisted of a pale mauve serge of the colour of the autumn crocus
blossoms which flower in the aftermath in this neighbourhood.

For the last fortnight dear old Nanny had been too busy "to draw a
breath," to use her favourite expression, and had sewn morning,
afternoon, and evening, to get my little maid's frock completed by
Easter Sunday. For it is held in Shropshire to be most unlucky not to
be clad in fresh attire on that feast day of the Church. Wherefore,
whatever else was left undone, Bess's frock had to be finished for
the festival.

"The rooks," murmured Bess, as we entered the churchyard, "cannot say
nothing, for all I have is new--shoes, stockings, drawers, chemise,
and frock. And them," alluding to the rooks, "them only spoils old
things, does them, mamsie?"

"Oh, you're safe," I laughed, and we passed up the aisle.

A peal of bells was ringing gaily. "How gay and good it sounds,"
whispered Bess, dreamily, "as if all the world was good and playing."
Then we walked up to our pew, and the mild delicate scent of
primroses greeted us everywhere. "I wish we had flowers every
Sunday," said Bess, as she flumped down in her seat. "It seems to
make God's house like a posy. I think it must be nicer for Him so."
The old columns were festooned with garlands of flowers, and round
the ancient font were placed bunches of flashing marsh marigolds and
great branches of tender half-uncurled beech leaves.

Bess looked round her, and said gravely in an undertone, "I think the
blessing will come this Sunday, for I feel sure that God cannot see
so many flowers about without being pleased." Then I said, "Hush!"
for I feared my little maid was talking over-much.

Immediately after, the morning service began. At the close, as the
last hymn died away, Nana took my little maiden off, whilst I
remained on for the most beautiful, and the most solemn, of all our
Church services.

The sound of retreating footsteps was at last hushed. The children
had all left, and many of the people. Then there was a pause, and
then the opening prayers, and I saw, in the dim light of the chancel
window, the vicar breaking the bread and preparing the wine, and we
were invited to the Lord's Table.

"The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee,
preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." I seemed to hear
the solemn words as in a trance. Outside, through the old
perpendicular window, the sun was shining faintly, and from the glad
world without I heard the birds singing in a joyous chorus. Inside,
the great and solemn rite of Christianity was being administered, and
faith and love of Him who died for the sins of men was visiting each
faithful heart in a rapture of holy delight. A few minutes afterwards
and I regained my seat. The spirit of the old world was with me. How
many pious hearts have offered up prayer and thanksgiving before
those altar rails! How often has the blessed Sacrament come to
faithful hearts, as an elixir of the soul!

[Sidenote: THE HOLY SACRAMENT]

Owing, perhaps, to the joy of the world outside, there was a great
sense of triumph in such an Easter Sunday. "Christ is risen!" seemed
to be shouted everywhere; His body had suffered pain and death, but
now the heavens were opening for the glory in which death and pain
could have no place. The glory of His life was everywhere. For "with
angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven," could
"we laud and magnify our Lord and praise the Most High."

I came out of the church, and some of its mystic radiance seems to
cling like a cloud of splendour around me. As I walked along, I
thought of the founder of the town church, Roger de Montgomery, the
great Earl of Shrewsbury, who founded also that of the Abbey close
by. The former, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, still has its roof,
and pious services are still performed there every Sunday; whereas
the Abbey church of the Clugniac monks is deserted alike by prior and
pilgrim. Alone, my pigeons and the jackdaws fly amidst its aisles,
and only across grass and thyme can the outlines of the high altar be
discerned.

I lingered at the church wicket. A soft shower had just fallen, and
dew-drops glistened on the grass like pearls. A great white cross
shone in splendour, still wet, but of dazzling whiteness, almost like
a pillar of light in the morning sunshine. The birds on every bush
and wall were chanting anthems of delight.

A minute later I passed out of God's acre, and Bess met me in the
avenue. My little maid rushed up with a bound of excitement.

"Thady is ill, mum," she cried. "I heard Burbidge tell Nana so. He
said 'The little varmint be down with a bad leg, and he hoped that
would settle him for a bit.' And Nana said 'she hoped it would, too,
for when boys were wicked they was best in bed.' But I'm sorry,
sorry, for all Thady's naughty, he's never nasty." I sympathized with
Bess, and promised that we would visit Thady during the afternoon.

After luncheon, we cut Thady a slice of plum-pudding, and Bess put
aside for him an Easter-egg. "I had three," she said, "and this one
is sky blue, and Auguste says that is the best colour of all and sure
to bring good luck. So you'll see, mum," she added, "Thady will be
right again and able to climb the trees in no time after he has eaten
my egg."

We prepared to start out, and took Thady the gifts contained in the
basket; but Bess declared that first we must go into the ruins and
pick her little friend a bunch of daffydowndillies.

             "'A bunch of daffs on Easter Day
             Brings luck to the house, and peace in May.'

"Nan says so, and I believe it," cried Bess. "Anyway, Thady will like
to look at 'em while he eats my egg." So we wandered into the rough
grass inside the ruined church to pluck a handful.

How beautiful are spring flowers. All round it was a blaze of
brilliant blossoms. There were early Van Thol tulips, like flames of
fire, large rings of golden daffodils, some of them with almost
orange faces moving in the soft winds, and then there were patches of
beautiful blue scilla sibirica, and in the distance the star-like
forms of the narcissi Stella, and Cynosure.

[Sidenote: A MEAD OF BLOSSOMS]

For several autumns Burbidge and "his boys" had planted for me great
numbers of bulbs, and the result was, as Burbidge said, better "than
a carpet of delight." These bulbs are now grown largely in
Lincolnshire, and in parts of Ireland. When they arrived they looked
small and meagre. They were not at all the splendid, sleek, fat
bulbs, that come from Holland; but, to quote Burbidge, looked "poor
little shy customers;" but they were glad enough to find a home in
the Abbey turf. Before putting them in, we skinned back the grass,
dug up the soil to about six inches, added a little leaf mould, took
out any stones, and popped in tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses,
and, for a later radiance when the hawthorn would be out in snow, the
rich double white narcissus, that gardeners call, on account of its
perfume and appearance, the gardenia narcissus.

We put in three to five bulbs in each little space. After which we
carefully replaced the grass, and beat it well down, so that, after
the first shower, no one could have known that we had even moved the
turf. Just then much of the grass of the ruins was a sheet of glory,
reminding me in its _parterre_-like beauty of the foreground of some
early Italian painter.

Every autumn Burbidge and his workers bring wheelbarrow loads of leaf
mould and decayed lawn grass, and spread them over my "bulb forest;"
and the result is that every year the flower roots strengthen, and
the blossoms multiply.

Bess ran from group to group, until her hands were full of different
daffodils. "There's luck here," she cried, "and see, they glitter
like gold money, mamsie--that must mean something good."

We walked, laden with our gifts, till we reached the Bull Ring. We
paused at the door of an old black and white house, with a broad
pebble causeway before it. On entering the cottage we found Thady in
bed.

"Well, Thady, how did it happen?" I said.

"I was after a rook's nest," replied Thady, "and the twig gave way
entirely, and so I came down dang-swang, as the folks say here."

"Indade," said his mother, Mrs. Malone, "it's afflicted I am in
Thady. When he's good he's ill, and when he's well he keeps company
entirely with the Devil."

"Never fear, mother, whativer. 'Tis a bad boy as can't get good some
day," and Thady, for all his face looked white and worn from pain, he
burst into an irresistible fit of laughter.

Upon this Bess showered upon him yellow daffodils, and I opened my
basket containing the plum-pudding, and Bess's sky-blue egg, and an
orange or two.

"Sure and God bless you," said the good dame, his mother, with
enthusiasm. "They will please him finely, for Wenlock is as dull as
ditch water, for all they boast that in days gone by once there was
gay goings on here. Bull and dog baitings, according to our old
neighbour Timothy Theobalds' tales, and behind the Vicarage, cock
matches fit for a king, and pretty fights between the young men
behind the church. But, whatever there was then, 'tis still now, and
sleepy as Time."

[Sidenote: MASTER THEOBALDS ON POLITICS]

As we left the cottage I met the neighbour of the Malones, old
Timothy Theobalds. He was a shrivelled little old man, had been ount,
or mole-catcher, for many years, had driven cattle to market, and I
have also heard, was once earth-stopper to the Hunt. If what his
neighbours say is true, old Timothy is not now far off a hundred. He
receives annually a small pension collected from three county
families, has, I am told, cakes and beer at Yule-tide from his
neighbours, and in his own words, "a snap of somethin' tasty, when he
has a mind, wherever he goes." The old man is excellent company for
all his years, and has many a good story to tell, of folks long since
dead, and of the wild ways and curious customs of old Shropshire,
before the days of railroads, when folks still believed in witches,
and in the power of divining rods, and danced, and made merry at
wakes and fairs. Like many other old men, "Daddy" Theobalds is not
exempt from grumbling, and can use language, I fear, "fit to blow
your head off" if provoked. According to him, "Life's a poor thing
now. No fun nor luck left. Yer mayn't even get a shillin' nowadays
for a vote if so be as yer has one; though what good a vote can do a
poor man if he can't sell it, I don't know. They Radicals," he told
me once, "were grand at givin'; but their gifts were nought but mugs
wi'out beer, or dishes wi'out beef; they brought nought when yer
speered in, but fandangles, flummery and folly."

Old Timothy I met leaning on his stick before his door, clad in a
long embroidered smock. He pushed open the door. "Come in, marm," he
says, "and sit yer down before the fire."

I entered his house whilst Bess dashed off to fetch the pug-pup,
exclaiming, "We must remember it is his Easter Sunday," and I and old
Timothy were left alone.

I made a remark upon the fine day, and told old Timothy about the
morning service and the lovely flowers. Old Timothy did not respond.
He holds to church on Sunday, but rather as a preparation to a Sunday
dinner, than anything else, I fear; but as to flowers, he "doesn't
think much of they, leastways not in churches."

"When I war a lad," he said, "folks kept they for May Day, and the
lads and lasses then went out and pulled blossoms and danced, for the
fun of the land wasn't all dead then, as it is now. That be the
proper use of blows." Then, after a pause, in a weary voice old
Timothy went on to say, "'Tis a deal decenter now, no doubt, more
paint about and print readen', but the fun and jollity be clean dead.
When I war young, folks often had a tidy bit saved, and when they had
'a do' they spent it at home. The missus would bake Yule-tide cakes
or all souls, or snap-jacks, accordin' to the season, and the maister
brewed a barrel of ale, and then the couple wud call in the
neighbours. Now 'tis hoard up, and go away, as if yer could only
laugh in London or Birmingham, and never a cake or a sup for friends
or neighbours.

"Folks could play well enough when I war a boy," and then old Timothy
began to tell me of the old "plays" as he called them. "This place,
'Old Wenlock,' as us used to call it, war cheery, and jolly, in
grandam's days," he told me. "Every spring there wud come a man with
a bull. Many is the one, I have heard her say, was baited in this
spot, just outside the doors. The farmers and colliers from
Ironbridge would bring their dogs, and have three days' drinking and
amusement. And," continued old Timothy, "he war a mighty fine man as
cud count as his the best bull dog about. Now folks be proud of their
cricket, and of their football matches, but the games can't touch the
old sports." Then after a pause, old Timothy said solemnly, "It war a
terrible undoing of England puttin' down the old plays. I mind," the
old man added, "how mad dad war when they put down the bull-baiting
at Ellesmere. There used, in the old times, to be grand goings on
there. Well, one Wake Monday, Mr. Clarke, 'the captain' as they
called him, put that down. Tom Byollin, I've heard dad say, war
leaden' the bull round pretty nigh smothered in ribbons, as war the
good old custom, when the captain 'e comes up and 'e said, 'What be
goin' to do with that there bull?' 'Bait 'im,' said Tom, 'we allus
bait a bull at Wake's. 'Tis our Christian custom.' But the captain he
wudn't have it. He war allus a meally souled 'un, 'cording to dad,
and one that left a good custom, to take up with a new one, and so he
offered five pounds to Tom, and got round him by biddin' too a new
pair of breeks--and so there war no bull-baiten. Tom was mortal hard
up, I've heard, but to his dyin' day he regretted the job, and used
to cry over his cups, because he had helped to ruin the land by doin'
away with a good old practice."

"Did you ever see a bull baited?" I asked old Timothy.

[Sidenote: "A ROYAL DO"]

"Yes, mam," answered my old friend with pride, "when I war at
Loppington, I have myself seen the sport, as quite a lad," and as he
spoke old Timothy's eyes lighted up with excitement. "It war a royal
do. For they had not only bulls, but bears. I mind me," he continued
after a minute's hesitation, "as it war in 1825. There war great
rejoicin's. Folks druv and came in from all parts, and it war a grand
celebration, and all given because the parson's daughter war marryin'
a squire. They said as the parson paid the costs hisself bang off, he
was that pleased at his daughter's grand marriage. But then parsons
_were_ parsons in those days. They rode, shot, and wrestled, besides
preachin'. 'Tis true as there war a few what objected. Now at Madeley
Wakes they had grand games on too. All the colliers, I've heard
grandam say, used to come down and bet free and easy, like gentlemen
born. Many was the time, I've heard 'em say, folks used to see the
collier folks ranged down to make a lane like for the bull or bear to
pass along. My word! as old Matt Dykes used to say. It war a mighty
question which looked best, beast or dog, for when 'twas a bull, they
only slipt one to a time. 'One dog one bull,' that war what they used
to say to Madeley.

"Oaken-Gates, I've heard say, war the last place where they baited
the bull in Shropshire. And I allus say," said old Timothy, with a
spark of enthusiasm, "that 'tis a mighty fine feather in the cap of
that place, as it war the last as kept up the good old English sport."

Then old Timothy went on to tell me "how the bull in 1833 at Madeley
war a mighty game 'un, and tugged that ferocious at the stake, that
he broke abroad stake and all, and with the chain charged down madly,
and hurted several what war standing by."

After a pause, old Timothy went on to tell me, "how for all the Vicar
of Loppington war reasonable and right minded about the old sports,
there war some even then, as had 'cakey' and queasy stomachs about
such enjoyments." And he went on to say how Mr. Anstice of Madeley,
and one Mortimer, as was vicar then, spoilt, in his own language,
sport cruel. "It war in this way," continued the old man, "the bull,
a proper beast, war baited three times; first, at the Horse Inn, then
at Lincoln Hill, and lastly, on Madeley Wood Green. At the last bout,
Squire Anstice and Parson Mortimer they comed up with a handful of
constables, but there war hundreds of colliers and decent folks
looking on, and I war told that they could have chawed up constables,
squire, and vicar, if they had a mind."

"And what saved 'em?" I asked eagerly.

"Well," answered Maister Theobalds, "for all the vicar war a little
'un deformed, and some called him as dry as a chip, he had a mighty
fine tongue, and though he'd hadn't grit enough to thresh a hen, he'd
hadn't no mortal fear, and he stood up and pleaded and spoke same as
if the bull had been his brother. And the bull war sent away."

[Sidenote: "LAMB-LIKE TO PUPS"]

Then after a little while Timothy added reflectively, "There be
mountains in a tongue. Grandam used to say as Parson Mortimer seemed
to hold God Almighty inside him when he war angry, so terrible war
he, not that he ever war angry unless he waxed white hot about sin,
or cruelty, as he called it. He war a little 'un to look at, but he
had a mighty spirit, though lamb-like to pups, childers, and wild
wounded things. The biggest fellows quailed before him when he took
on in a rampage, and none of them dared sin when he war by."

At that moment I heard my Bess tapping at the door. "Lor, bless her,"
said Timothy, "'tis the little 'un; how them does grow, the
childers," and he got up and hobbled to the door. Then Bess ran in
and bubbled over with excitement about her May _fête_, for she had
met Constance on the road. She told old Master Theobalds that he must
come down and see her May dance. "Sure I will, my pretty," he said;
"I'd like to see a May-stang again, and a mass of lads and lasses
dancing round, as I have heard grandam talk about when she war a
likely wench."

Then the old man began to tell us of the old May Days, and of the
long-handed-down traditions of the Shropshire May festival.

"It war the fashion," he said, "in the old time for all the lads and
lasses to wend their way to the Stanhill Coppice or down to the great
Edge Wood, and a merry time they had. Old Gregson Child as war
shepherd to Farmer Dawson, that lived once at the Marsh Farm, used to
go with the lads, and they used to blow horns, and one or two, if
they had a mind, would tootle on the flute, and others scrape on
fiddles, till wood and field fair swarmed with music, and so, they
say, they got them to the woods an hour or so after dawn. And after a
while, the lads and lasses would twine garlands, and the lads would
buss the lasses. And the lasses would cry out, but let 'em do it
again, and when they had romped and sang, the boys and maids, fair
smothered in May branches, mead marigolds, posies of primroses, and
laxter shoots of beech and hazel, would get them to their homes and
hang up garlands and posies to their lintels over their dad's door,
and take to laughter and bussing again.

"Ay, grandam used to talk of those times--merry times for all they
hung for sheep stealing, sure enough, but the lads laughed 'twixt
times gay as ecalls," and the old man bent before the dying fire, and
seemed in thought to plunge back to the days of the past, which even
he could hardly have seen.

Then Bess and I got up, and Mouse gave a deep bark, and as I said
good-bye, I repeated my invitation for the First of May.

"Lor', mam," replied old Timothy, sadly, as he opened the door, "it
isn't likely as I shall forget it, for a piece of jollity don't often
come my way. 'Tis dull and parson-like as they've made the world now.
Well, it is for the young 'uns to call for the tune now."

We passed into the sunlight, and saw the lads and lasses hastening to
school, and away up the streets I saw older lads and lasses in Sunday
trim, dressed for courting, and the Sunday walk.

[Sidenote: OLD MAY DAYS]

Is the world less merry, I asked myself, since old Timothy's grandam
danced beneath the May-pole? Have we forgotten how to laugh and sing
in village and hamlet, and is merry England steeped in grey mists? I
thought of what I had heard, as I walked along, and tried to picture
to myself that merry England of whom a stranger wrote, "A merrier,
gayer people breathe not on God's earth." I thought of the time when
the May Festival was observed by nobles, and even by kings and
queens. I remembered how Chaucer, in his "Court of Love," tells us
that early on May Day "went forth all the Court, both most and least,
to fetch fresh flowers, and so bring back branch and bloom."

             "O Maye with all thy flowers, and thy green,
             Bright welcome, be thou faire, freshe May,"

exclaims the courtly knight Arcite. I recalled a passage in Malory
where the great prose poet makes beautiful Queen Guinevere go
a-maying with her lords and ladies. In Henry VIII.'s reign the Court
still went a-maying, for Hall tells us how Henry, in his youth,
accompanied by his stately Spanish queen, "rose up early with all
their courtiers" to enjoy the old English custom, and of how the
Court went forth with bows and arrows, shooting through the green
spring woods, and brought back "flowers and branches." Shakespeare,
in his "Midsummer Night's Dream," alluded to the old English holiday,
and declares, through the mouth of one of his characters, that folks
would not lie abed the last day of April, but rose up early to
observe this rite of May, so eager were they for its fun. So keenly
did Queen Bess enjoy these revels that she always longed, it is said,
to lay aside the state of royalty on these occasions, and live the
life of a milkmaid during the month of May.

Towards the close of the Elizabethan era, Stubbs wrote, sourly
attacking all such practices. In an old brown, mouldy book by him,
that I once came across in an old country house library, entitled
"Anatomie of Abuses," I read a jaundiced account of a May festival.

"The Chiefest Jewel that they bring from the woods," he wrote, "is
their May-poole, which they bring home in great veneration in this
wise." And then the old Puritan went on to recount how "tweentie to
fourtie yoke of oxen were harnessed together, and how a sweet posie
of flowers was tied to the typee of their horns, and so the oxen drew
home the May-poole."

Thinking over old-fashioned customs, it was impossible not to lament
there is now left, to quote an old chronicler's quaint expression,
"so little worshipful mirth" in England, and that villages no longer
have their dances and May Day rejoicings, as in years gone by. It
cannot be other than a matter of regret to all reflective minds, that
the one notion of pleasure amongst our working classes, is to sit
long hours in an excursion train, and, be it said, invariably to
leave their own homes.

Hospitality amongst the poor, save for a wedding or a christening,
has become a thing of the past. Love-spinning, soul-caking, and
well-dancing are all gone by. And England is a poorer country, I
think, in that it is no longer Merrie England, as it was in the days
of the Tudors and the Stuarts, but the England of many chimneys--in
others words, the Workshop of the World.

[Sidenote: SUMMER SOUNDS]

Soft days followed Easter Sunday. The weather was exquisite sunshine
and shower making a perfect combination. Burbidge was always busy.
There was continually the summer sound of mowing. No longer, alas!
the rhythmic swish of the scythe, but the twinkling click of the
machine. Yet even this was delightful, for in the sound came the cry
of summer. Everywhere the heads of the herbaceous plants in the
border grew bolder and stronger. The beautiful burning bush, as my
old gardener calls the _Dictamnus Fraxinella_, was then a foot high;
and my white Martagon lilies and _Lilium Auratum_ were all springing
up gaily from their mother earth strong and vigorous; whilst my
Oriental poppies, of various colours, were rearing themselves up for
a June glory. Then my pansies (the seed of which I had brought from
Paris a year ago) were full of promise. How rich they will be, I
said, blotched and mottled in different shades of purple, lavender,
and chocolate brown, and each flower later will have a face of its
own, with an almost human expression. Besides these, there were Hen
and Chicken daisies, or red and pink Bachelor's Buttons, as they call
them in Shropshire, and opening sprays of Bouncing Bess (which is our
local name for the gay Valerian), wherever it could push its way
between the old stone walls.

                          [Illustration:
                          _Photo by Frith_
                          The ABBEY RUINS.]

I wandered round the garden in the Cloisters, with its lavabo and
wrought-iron gates. On the lancet windows of the Leper's Chamber,
white pigeons were cooing and disporting themselves, and running up
and down along the level turf. Jackdaws amidst the ruins were
hurrying to and fro on the wing, with grub or insect in their beaks.
Above the chamber, where men said the service was heard by the sick,
there was a mass of gold which shone like beaten metal against the
cloudless sky. It was the wild wallflower in a sea of blossom. How
busy all nature was--building, growing, blossoming, and budding.
Certainly a fair spring morning is one of the undying joys of the
world.

Later on I found myself in the little kitchen garden. The later pears
were then sheets of snow, and I noticed that an apple flower was
beginning to turn pink on an espalier.

Burbidge I found busily occupied in dividing the roots of the violets.

All through the winter, when frosts bound the ground, he sent me in
fragrant bunches of the double Neapolitan violet, varied by bouquets
of the Czar, the Princess of Wales, and the red purple of Admiral
Avalon.

Now all the roots were being lifted from the frames, and little
runners with minute fibrous roots planted, some eight inches apart,
in shady corners.

During the summer, Burbidge and his boys will cut off every runner or
blossom that may appear on these plants, and keep them, to use his
expression, "round as a nest." "I likes," he said, "to give 'em
hearts like cabbages." The first week in September, the violet roots
will be replaced in the frames "for winter blowing."

In the mean time the frames are to be cleared, the soil renewed, and
then sown with asters, zinnias, and my beautiful golden lettuces,
that come over every year from the Austrian seedsman.

Next to the frames, in little narrow beds, were lines of choice
daffodils, and I stopped to look at them. They were of the largest
and most effective kinds. There was Emperor, and Empress, Horsfieldi,
Sir Watkin Wynn, Golden Spur, Mrs. Langtry, and beautiful Madame de
Graaf, and the brilliant sunset glory of Orange Phoenix.

They made a brave show and found great favour in my old gardener's
eyes. "Nothing mean about they," he said, only the day before,
complacently to me. "Look to the size. They be near the girth of
roses, and fit for any nobleman's garden." The old man seemed to
swell with pride as we looked at them together. I had not the heart
to be disagreeable and to suggest that any should be plucked for
vases, or to deck the altar bowls, and I saw that my old friend was
relieved.

A little later I walked up the trim path empty-handed and peeped into
the gooseberry and currant cages. The cages are made of fine wire
netting, fixed on poles, about twenty feet square, in which were
planted currants and gooseberries, to save their fruit from the wild
birds. Burbidge joined me. "So," he said, "they has nothing inside to
rob them, not a 'nope'" (as he calls the bullfinch), "nor them
mischievous 'poke-puddings'" (by which name some folks here call the
tomtits) "can interfere."

[Sidenote: A BULLFINCH CAN DO NO WRONG]

Hearing my favourites, the bullfinches, attacked, I could not help
saying something in their defence. "The cock 'nope,' as you call him,
is so beautiful," I urged, "that surely he may have a few buds in
spring, and later on get a little fruit? Besides," I added warmly,
"many people now say that he does no damage, and that the buds, that
he attacks, are already diseased, and, anyway, would bear no fruit."

But at this Burbidge waxed wroth. "The nope," he retorted angrily,
"be pure varmint for gardens, same as stoats be for poultry, and
squirrels for trees; and as to his colour, 'tis like looks in lasses,
it hath nought to do with character. I don't see things, marm, as you
does. When yer sweats for a thing, there be no halves in the matter.
What's a friend to my garden, I be a lover to; but what's foreign, I
be a foreigner to," and the old man walked away in a huff.

After "our bullfinch war," as Bess called it when I recounted to her
later the little episode, I walked up the path that is edged by rows
of double primroses. How lovely they were in the neatest of little
clumps, white, yellow, and mauve, with here and there tufts of hen
and chicken daisies, roots of the single blue primroses, brilliant
polyanthuses, and the curious hose-in-hose variety, which an old
South Country nurse of ours used to call "Jack-a-Greeners." A little
further on, I saw some plants of the soft _Primula Cashmeriana_,
which bore leaves which looked as if they had been powdered with milk
of sulphur, and carried umbrella-like mauve heads of blossom.

A little higher up the path I saw some fine plants of _Primula
Japonica_ with its red whorls of blossom; and at the top of the
garden I came across a line of beautiful auriculas. The most
beautiful of all the primulas, I think, is "Les Oreilles d'Ours," as
the French call these flowers, with their sweet distant smell, like
downs covered with cowslips on dewy mornings, or golden apricots
ripening on southern walls. As I passed back to the Abbey, I plucked
a shoot off a black-currant bush. How fragrant the budding shoots
were. They recalled the perfume of the bog myrtle on Scottish moors,
only that the scent had something homely and useful, but none the
less delicious.

Ten minutes later, and I was seated before my embroidery. To-day I
had a blue dragon to work. I tried to see and to reproduce in my
mind's eye Burne Jones' wonderful tints of blue with brown shades and
silver lights, and so the hours passed.

[Sidenote: "A PATIENT HAS VIRTUES"]

In the afternoon Bess visited Thady. "Mama," she cried, "I think
Thady will soon be well, for all he was so lame on Sunday. You see he
wants to get well so badly, and what people want badly they generally
get. I took him some pudding and some cake, and Nana gave him some
ointment. Nana," said Bess, presently, "seems quite kind now. Do you
know, mamsie, since Thady has taken her medicine, and rubbed on her
lily stuff, she seems quite to like Thady."

"Ah, my little girl," I laughed, "you are discovering a very old
truth. Nana has found a patient, and a patient always has virtues."

Bess did not quite understand, but declared it was a good job that
Nana had given up disliking Thady, for in Thady, Bess found a most
delightful and useful friend. He had already made my little maid a
whistle, and was then engaged in making her a crossbow, and he is a
wonderful hand in whittling an ash or hazel stick in elaborate
designs, all of which are delightful and rare accomplishments in
Bess's eyes.

All the week Bess ran up and down to the Red House. Bess repeated her
verses for the _fête_ to Miss Weldon, and gained what her governess
called "word accuracy," but all gestures and action Constance taught
her, I heard. Besides this, I was told about the dance which was
being practised for the great day by eight little town maidens in the
disused room over the stables of the Red House, and of the music
which Constance's nice parlourmaid played. Constance endeavoured to
get eight little boys to dance also; but the little lads were too
shy, what an old woman, speaking of her grandson, calls "too daffish
and keck-handed to learn such aunty-praunty antics," and all that
Constance could get in the way of male support was to induce eight
little lads to look on, bend their knees, and bow at intervals,
whilst the maidens sang and danced.

Bess was full of her verses and of her white costume, and old Nana,
for all that she grumbled much at first, got stage-fever at last in
her veins, and told me "that none would look as well as her blessed
lamb, and seeing what the play was, and who made the dresses, and
where the flowers grew, she held it to be all foolish, overgrown,
mealy-mouthed righteousness on old Hester's part to stick out so
obstinate and audacious again' a harmless bit of childer's play."

When I asked Burbidge if he and his men would get me some primroses
and bunches of marsh marigolds, he was at first very wroth.

"Do yer take me for a loseller, marm?" he said, using the old country
word for an idler. "Do yer think that I have nought to do, but to
stump through wood and field, pulling blows for a May folly?"

But since the first outbreak he softened, and now he has begun to
speak in a more kindly spirit, about fine primroses as grow above
Homer steps, marsh marigolds as can be got near the Marsh Farm pool,
and about cuckoo pint and bits of green fern, and I have little doubt
that on May morning it will be found that my request has been granted.

Burbidge and Nana will always do what we want them, only give them
time, as Bess says, for my little minx, young as she is, has long
discovered that with old friends, and particularly old servants,
there is often a great deal of bark, but happily not much bite.

One day it had been raining all the morning. Everything seemed
growing. I could almost, as I looked out of the window, see the
chestnut buds swelling, and the points of the yews were turning a
reddish gold. Through a window I could hear the canaries singing,
singing and filling the garden with melodious sounds. The sun had
gently pierced the clouds at last, and here and there faint shades of
delicate blue were to be seen.

Suddenly, as I sat by the window plying my needle and admiring the
rain drops glistening like crystals in the grass, I saw my little
friend, Thady, below on the gravel walk. "What, Thady, you here!" I
cried; for Thady, to use his mother's expression, was all himself
again, bare-legged and as merry as a grig.

[Sidenote: "BEGORRA, IT'S ME"]

"Begorra, it's me," replied Thady, "me myself, and I've come to ask
if yer will come a bird-nesting with me, some day?" And he added,
with the courtesy that only can be found in an Irish imp, "'Twill be
an honour and a pleasure to guide yer leddyship to the rarest nests
in the country, and yer remember our talk some weeks ago?"

So, after a little parley, it was agreed that the following day, a
Saturday, if fine, we would take our luncheon into the woods, and
that Thady should climb the trees, as we had previously proposed.

We settled thus, the main point, for Thady, in his own language, "was
the best man whatever at that sport." "Whilst you are climbing," I
said, "we can look for rare flowers and ferns, and find what nests we
can upon the ground."

I asked Thady a minute later what nests he knew of.

"Galore," he answered, grinning. And then proceeded to enumerate
them: "A lintie (a linnet), a green grosbeak (greenfinch), a Harry
redcap (goldfinch), a yellow yeorling by the roadside, a scobby
(chaffinch), a lavrock (skylark), a cushie-doo (a wood pigeon), a
cutty wren (common wren), a nanny washtail (pied wagtail) in the
rocks, and two tom-titers of sorts. Then there be hawks," he called
through the window, "and one by Ippekin's Cave as I don't rightly
know, bluish and bigger than the wind-hover (kestrel) or the
pigeon-hawk, not to make mention of throstles and black ouzels
(blackbirds), which just jostle same as hips and haws in October, but
they're hardly worth the point of raising of a foot to see."

So our plans were made, and I looked forward to spending the morrow
in the budding woods. Thady was to be our guide, but no eggs were to
be taken. This was a matter of mortification to Thady. "Sure," he
said, on another occasion, "I thought I would have made the little
lady, this year, the prettiest necklace that ever was strung, fine
and rare, for the May dance; and," he added, "yer leddyship must not
forget that I have eaten of Miss Bess's blue egg, and so glad I would
be to show her a bit of favour."

However, I succeeded in making Thady give up the project of robbing
the nests, by begging him to make me a whistle, which, as my little
daughter declares, is a thing that might be useful to everybody--"to
a lady, to a bishop, or even to a Member of Parliament."

The next day was a day of glorious sunshine--gay and pure--one of
those rare sweet days in spring, when it does not seem possible for
"rain, or hail, or any evil thing to fall." Little Hals, to our joy,
came over without governess or maid, only what Bess calls "under his
own care," which she declared was best, because there was then no
need to be naughty; and Miss Weldon, to the joy of all, vanished for
the day to Shrewsbury; so, to quote my little girl, "all seemed
happy, and everything just pure fun."

As the old church clock struck eleven we started.

The groom boy, Fred, led Jill, the Stretton pony, bearing a basket
strapped on a saddle, which contained a simple luncheon, and off we
went into the woods.

[Sidenote: AWAY TO THE EDGE WOOD]

We started gaily; there were no trains to catch--always a subject of
congratulation--and we only left word that we should be back for tea.

It was true that old Nana had black prognostications about what "that
villain Thady would do" (for since Thady was cured, her kindly
interest in him had ceased). But I laughed at her fears. "Nan," I
cried out as we left, "we will all take care of ourselves, and even
Jill shall come back safe and sound."

We walked along the town, Bess and Hals running in front,
hand-in-hand, and Thady and I following leisurely behind. In a few
minutes we had left the town behind us and were wandering up a lane,
cut in the lime rock, bordered with yews in places, and between high
hedgerows.

Hals begged that we might begin to bird-nest at once; but Thady, who
was master of the ceremonies, shook his head. "Best wait, begorra,
for the Edge Wood, sir," he exclaimed; "that's the mightiest place in
the county for all that wears feathers."

So we marched on steadily to the great strip of wood which is known
in Shropshire as the Edge Wood. This strip runs for many miles, is
very precipitous in places, and consists of groves of oaks, patches
of yews here and there, hollies--the haunts of woodcocks--and in many
parts a rough tangle of hazel is to be found. It is a sweet wild
place, little visited save by bird and beast. In one place the
woodcutters had cut for some hundred yards, and in the cleared spaces
the ground was covered with primroses, ground ivy, and the uncurled
fronds of the lady fern--still brown and crinkly. Groups of lords and
ladies reared themselves up amongst their sombre leaves, and patches
of dog's mercury nodded and whispered with their cords of green
grain. Overhead, the larch in a few branches was breaking into
emerald splendour, whilst pink tassels at the extremities trembled
here and there. Squirrels leapt into the trees and vanished at our
approach, and once or twice we heard, like a distant curse, the
rancorous guttural cry of the jay, and saw one disappear into the
undergrowth, a jewelled flash of turquoise splendour.

In a ride below, I saw a magpie hopping about, its long green-black
tail bobbing up and down on the grass. At this sight Thady gravely
took off his cap and saluted him, saying aloud--

                         "One for sorrow,
                         Two for mirth,
                         Three for a wedding,
                         Four for a birth."

And then cried out in a tone of excitement, "Look out, yer leddyship,
begorra, look out for another; for it is mirth to-day and no sorrow
whatever that we must have."

Then we plunged into the heart of the wood. Fred and Jill alone kept
to the path. How lush it was, that soft moist turf in April, all
teeming with moisture and freshness--not even the driest summer sun
can parch or dry the soil of the Edge Wood. Here and there I saw
little plantations of self-sown ash amidst beds of downy moss, and
everywhere hundreds and thousands of little infinitesimal plants,
struggling for existence. As I walked along I noted open glades,
which later would be rosy with pink campion, or purple with the
stately splendour of the foxglove. Now and then a bird flew away, and
I saw at intervals the white scut of a frightened rabbit.

[Sidenote: BIRD-NESTING WE GO]

Suddenly Thady stopped before a yew tree. Hals and Bess followed,
panting and crying out eagerly, "Where, where?" for Thady had
discarded his jacket, and in a twinkling had thrown his arms round
the tree. In a second he was aloft. "A lintie's nest," he whispered,
and then peered in. A minute later he called out, "Two eggs."

"Will you bring one down?" we said in chorus. For all answer, Thady
nodded, slipped an egg into his mouth, and then proceeded to descend.
We looked at the little egg that Thady held out on the palm of his
hand. It was of a pale bluish white, speckled and streaked with lines
of purplish brown.

After we had all peered over it, the egg was put back solemnly by
Thady.

A little further on, and Thady again halted. "Here it be, yer
leddyship," he cried, in a high treble; and there, sure enough,
looking upward, we discerned a nest of twigs and roots. It was quite
low down, and I was able easily to lift up the children to get a peep
themselves. The little nest was lined with hair and wool stolen from
the neighbouring fields, but as yet there were no eggs. "A nope's
(bullfinch's) sure enough," said Thady, dogmatically. Then on we
wandered until we paused below a fir tree. Below the bole of the tree
there was no herbage, for the fir leaves had fallen like needles and
had pierced and stabbed the grass to death--so it was quite bare now,
not a leaf, or even a patch of moss; as bare, in fact, as a village
playground.

Suddenly we heard overhead a loud, ringing clap of wings, and as we
looked up, we saw an ill-made nest of sticks, and two eggs, which
last we could see glistening inside, like two button mushrooms. For a
minute I had a vision of a big departing bird of a soft lavender
grey, and as I looked, Thady called out, "Quice," which is the
Shropshire name for the wood-pigeon. Thady was anxious to mount the
tree and bring me down an egg for closer inspection; but I begged him
not to do so, for the Cushat-Doos, as he tells me he has heard them
called in the North Country, are very shy birds in a wild state, and
I have been told will never return to a nest where the hand of man
has trifled with eggs or nest.

I lingered, looking up at the shining round pink eggs with the light
glimmering through the twigs; and then I mounted up the hill, which
was very hard work, for both children were a little weary and hot,
and I went up the incline, pulling both up as best I could. Mouse
kept close to my heels. She had had dark suspicions ever since we
entered the wood, and was convinced of the existence, I felt sure, of
robbers, footpads, wolves, and also of innumerable vague dangers, and
alarms.

We passed a blackbird's nest, but Thady waved his hand in lofty
disdain, and refused to pull back the bough so that we might look at
the eggs. "'Tisn't for dirt like that that I'll trouble yer leddyship
and the young squire to spier round," he exclaimed. "The black ouzel
is just a conny among feathered folk, or what blackberries be 'mongst
the fruit."

Thady seemed to know every inch of the ground. "It isn't in woods or
field that I forget myself," he remarked to me, when I commended him
for his knowledge of the Edge. "Devil a bit," he said, "if I have
ever lost my way along, or missed a mark or forgotten the bend of a
stick; but," he added, in a tone of contrition, "'tis in the book
larning and figures that Thady Malone cannot always discern rightly."

At last, after much puffing and panting, we reached the top of the
hill.

[Sidenote: THE SCOBBY'S NEST]

"Like enough we'll find a scobby's nest in the hedge," said Thady.
Then he went on to say, "They be wonderful builders be scobbys;
'tight and nanty,' as folks say here." And sure enough, a little
further on, fixed in a branch of blackthorn, we saw a little nest of
exquisite beauty. Outside it appeared to be built almost entirely of
lichen, pulled off the bark of trees; whilst inside it was lined with
hair and feathers, woven together with marvellous dexterity. There
were three eggs, all of a reddish pale grey, blotched here and there
with vinous patches.

As we stood watching the nest, the handsome little cock chaffinch
eyed us anxiously. With a quick movement he turned round, and we
caught the flash of his white wings. "A bobsome, joyous little gent,"
said Thady; "a scobby, I have heard folks say, is the last bird to
give over singing in summer."

Then we sat down to luncheon. "We must eat," Bess cried with
conviction; "seeing so many nests has made me feel eggy with hunger."
All round us the birds filled the thicket with the joy of their
carols. "The place fair swarms with them," observed Thady, "but come
a week or two, we shall have all the foreigners over." By which he,
doubtless, meant the arrival of all the delicious warblers that come
from the South in spring, not to mention many of the cock
chaffinches, most of the pipits, the yellow water-wagtails, the
gorgeous redstarts, and the beautiful turtle, or Wrekin doves.

                        [Illustration:
                        NEST OF GREENFINCH.]

                        [Illustration:
                        NEST OF RING-OUZEL.
                        _Photos by Mrs. New._]

Listening to the different notes, we sat down and got our luncheon,
which Bess and Hal, who had acquired the appetite of hunters,
declared was fit for any king, and believed that even Nan, if she had
been there, wouldn't grumble.

"When I'm at home," said Bess, after a pause, "I eat mutton, but here
I call it the flesh of sheep," and as she spoke she put upon Hal's
knees another slice. Hal looked at her and retorted gravely, "Mutton
isn't good, but the flesh of sheep is fit for a general."

Thady, overhearing these remarks, exclaimed, "Begorra, it is a poor
place where Thady Malone cannot eat to your leddyship's health." And
added, "Deed, I'm like Mrs. Langdale's chickens, I could peck a bit
wherever it was." So saying, he fell heartily to work on some huge
beef sandwiches which had been prepared for him and Fred, by Auguste.
A few minutes later, the girths of the saddle were loosened and Jill
was allowed to graze at her own free will, nipping and cropping the
tender grass with avidity.

"Mamsie," said Bess, after the last scrap of chocolate had been
eaten, and the last Blenheim orange apple munched, "have you no
fairy-story to tell us, for you know, this is a real place for
fairy-tales." Then the children crept under my cloak, and I rambled
on aloud about princes and princesses, giants and dragons, enchanted
castles, good and evil fairies, and knights and ladies.

Thady approached our group and listened also. "'Tis better nor a
theatre," he was kind enough to say, as I came to an end at last,
with the happy marriage of the prince and princess, and a description
of the royal festivities on that occasion. "Begorra," he exclaimed,
"I'd like to be a man, and fight dragons and giants. Fightin' is the
life for me."

Then we got up, packed the basket, and prepared to return homeward
across the fields. Jill was caught, but could with difficulty be
girthed, so enlarged had she become by several hours of happy
browsing; but after a struggle the saddle and basket are put on, and
we turned our heads homewards. Hals had been silent for the last few
moments.

"Well," I said, "what is it?"

"I too should like to fight," he answered, "but it must be on a horse
and in armour."

[Sidenote: THE GLORY OF AULD OIRELAND]

"'Tis all one, sir," replied Thady, cheerily, "so long as yer get a
stomach full of blows and can give good knocks back. Fighting," he
explained, "is what makes the difference between boys and girls, and
it is the glory of auld Oireland."

We talked away and walked homeward. There was a nest of a cutty wren
in a juniper bush, which Thady knew of, and a tomtit's in a hollow
tree, beautifully made of a mass of feathers, and in it were many
tiny eggs, almost too small to touch without breaking, and Fred
lifted both children up to see. A little further on, Thady pointed
away to a distant orchard that encircled two lonely cottages nestling
against the opposite hill. "There," he said, "be the nest of a Harry
red-cap." But our energy had died away for bird-nesting. "It shall be
for another day," said Bess. And then added dreamily, "I didn't think
I ever could have seen bird-nests enough, but I think some other play
now would be nice."

So we walked on, Hals leading the way, and Thady bringing up the rear
and whistling, as he went along, the Shan Van Vocht. Thus we returned
home, Bess and Hals riding on Jill in turns. The cry of the cuckoo
pursued us like a voice out of dreamland, while the scents of the
sweet spring day were wafted to us on a hundred eddying breezes.

In the evening I found a note from Constance at the Abbey. She sent
me a full list of the flowers she proposed working on the quilts, and
added, "What do you think of these words about sleep?--

         "'Sweet sleep fell upon his eyelids.'--_The Odyssey._

                   "'Sleep and death.'--_The Iliad._

               "'Death and his brother sleep.'--SHELLEY.

        "'Sleep thy fill, and take thy soft repose.'--QUARLES.

    "'Sleep in peace and wake in joy.'--SCOTT, _Lord of the Isles._

                 "'Never sleep the sun up.
                 Rise to prevent the sun.'--VAUGHAN."

When I had written to Constance, I thought of bed in a happy sleepy
state of mind. As I brushed out my hair, I went over our pleasant
long day in the woods, away from men, and noise, and even home. A day
spent amidst birds and beasts, looking at nests, resting on mossy
banks, and seeing only the sweet, sprouting things of field and lane,
is a delightful thing.

Is there anything better than a day out in the heart of the country?
As I slipped into bed, Bess's last words came back to me as she went
off to her cot. "Is it really very wicked, mamsie, to take nests and
eggs?--for Fred says he has done it scores and scores of times, and
he doesn't see no use in such things if they can't make sport for
young ladies and gentlemen."

"Some day you will understand," I had replied. "One cannot know some
things when one is very young." And I have often noticed with
children, that, up to a certain age, the uneducated view of
everything is the sympathetic and natural one; later, to a few, the
light does come.



                               CHAPTER V

                                  _MAY_


           "Come lasses and lads, take leave of your dads,
           And away to the May-pole hie;
           For every he has got him a she,
           And a minstrel standing by.
           For Willy has gotten his Jill,
           And Johnny has got his Joan
           To jig, to jig it, jig it up and down."
                                       _Old May Song._

All the morning Bess had been beside herself, jumping up and down,
and running round in gusts of wild excitement. At noon the _fête_ was
really to take place, and at that hour Constance and her band were to
come down by a back way through the town. The piano had already been
moved on the bowling green, between the yew hedges. In the distance I
had watched Burbidge superintending, and I am sure grumbling freely
by the ominous shakes of his head. Our old servant had been in a
great state of alarm about his lawns since the dawn, and the passing
of the piano under the great yew arch had been to him a matter of
grave anxiety "They be centuries in growing, be yews," he said to me,
"and the commonest piano as is made, can break 'em."

However, in spite of his hostile tone, Burbidge and "his boys" went
out quite early and brought back an abundance of fiery marsh
marigolds from the marshes, great sprays of budding beech, and a few
branches of opening hawthorn; besides which they gathered bunches of
primroses, the last of the season that were still in flower in damp
woodlands and against northern banks, and also purple heads of meadow
orchises. "She'll be fine," Burbidge told Nan, "but it be a sad waste
of time pulling wild things that come up all by themselves, when we
might have been puttin' taters in or wheelin' on manure." At this old
Nan had waxed wroth and had exclaimed, "There's none too old to idle
sometimes, Burbidge." "Ay," had replied our old gardener in a surly
tone, "but let me idle in my own way."

However, for all his apparent hostility, I had an idea at the back of
my head, that Burbidge would be concerned if the little _fête_ did
not go off well; and I believed, in spite of his angry tones, that he
and his boys would deck the May-stang and order all rightly for me.

I was not deceived, for as I looked out of the drawing-room windows,
I saw a little later the gardeners all at work, putting up the
May-pole. In a little while it was finely decked with gay flowers,
and Célestine and Nana, for once united in a common cause, brought
out many yards of coloured ribbon, which they tied in knots of pink,
red, white, blue, and yellow amongst the flowers. These floated like
a hundred little flags in the breeze, and seemed to fill the air with
gaiety.

[Sidenote: DECKED FOR THE FÊTE]

When this operation was at last completed, the dressing of Bess began
in earnest, and my little maid for once sat quite still, and allowed
mademoiselle to brush and fluff her hair till it stood out like the
mane of a Shetland pony. This done, Nana put her on a little white
bodice and paniers, and sewed on bunches of primroses and white
violets, and then crowned her with a crown of golden marsh marigolds
that the deft fingers of Célestine had twisted together. "Thee'll be
crowned, dear," said the old nurse softly, "with the lucky flower."
Then all the maids from upstairs and downstairs crowded to the
nursery, and Bess received me graciously, looking like a little
fairy. In her hand she held her sceptre as May Queen, round which was
wound a sprig of ivy, and one little bunch of violets.

All the time my little girl had been dressing, her lips had never
ceased to move. I asked her what was the matter? "My verses, my
verses," was her reply. When all was completed, and the bunches
re-sewn in places so that none could fall, Nana looked out of a
passage window. "They be all a-comin' to see my lamb," she cried. And
sure enough there were old men in smocks, old beldames in quaint old
black sun-bonnets, and all the children from the National School. On
they streamed together. Then Constance and her dancers appeared, some
of them running to escape observation, and all attired in
waterproofs, so that nobody might see the splendour of their festive
apparel. The garlands on their heads even were covered with Shetland
shawls. They had slipped down by the churchyard and so into the
ground, to try and gain unseen the back of the great yew hedge and
walnut tree.

"We are all ready," cried Constance, as we made our way out and
gained her group. I looked at her band of children. "Some will be
dancers," she said, "in yellow and green, some in blue, and the rest
in cherry or scarlet. Behind her little lasses stood eight little
lads in smocks, with soft felt hats, looped up with ribbons, and each
gay bachelor had a posy knot, like the bouquets coachmen used to wear
at a drawing-room in Queen Victoria's time.

"They will dance," whispered Constance to me in an aside, and pointed
to her little swains, "another year, and then the little girls will
not have all the fun to themselves."

Then there was a hush, and the Shetland shawls and the cloaks were
all taken off in a jiffey, and at a signal given, Dinah started
playing on the piano. The old tune across the lawn sounded like a
far-off tinkle. Dinah made a pretty picture. She was dressed like a
village maiden of the eighteenth century. On her head she had a
mobcap, across her shoulders was folded a fichu of lawn, and on her
hands were a pair of old black silk mittens that belonged long years
ago to Constance's grandmother.

All the people stood aside as the players and dancers made their way
to the centre of the lawn.

Then the singers stood by the piano and started in unison an old May
song. The sun shone forth brightly, and a throstle joined in from a
damson tree at the top of his voice.

There was a general sense of joy. The young voices sounded sweet and
clear, and all the meadows and distant hills seemed bathed in a blue
mist.

At last the singing died away. Then Bess, with bright eyes, but
somewhat nervous steps, advanced and repeated her verses. She spoke
as clearly as she could. Nana looked at her, as if she could eat her
up with pride, and afterwards declared that Bess had spoken like an
archbishop; and even old Sally Simons, who is believed to be deafer
than any post on the estate, affirmed that she could hear "'most
every word."

Across the budding sward Milton's beautiful verses in praise of May
seemed to ring in my ears. In the far meadows, the rooks were cawing
amongst the poplars, and over the Abbey pool a few swallows were
skimming and catching flies--

[Sidenote: "HAIL! BOUNTEOUS MAY"]

                "Hail! bounteous May that dost inspire
                Mirth and youth and warm desire."

The world seemed young again--old age a myth, and nature exceedingly
fair. At last Bess's lines were ended, and my little maid made her
curtesy and tripped back to me. Then the dancers stepped forward and
the music broke out afresh into a merry jingle. They stood round the
May-pole, advanced solemnly and made profound reverences. A few
seconds later, the tinkling of the piano grew quicker and quicker,
for the eight little maidens had all caught hold of each other's
hands, and round and round they went as fast as youth and gaiety
could take them. The people clapped, and the old folks broke forth
into shrill laughter. Old Timothy beat the gravel with his stick,
till Burbidge glared at him and muttered something disagreeable about
"folks not being able to behave themselves;" whereupon my old guest
hung his head and began to cough asthmatically.

The dance pleased all so well, that Constance and her little _corps
dramatique_ were obliged to go through the whole of it again. "It be
better nor a ballet" said old Timothy. "I seed one once years agone
at Shrewsbury Theatre, after the Crimean war; but this here be
dancing on the green--and not dancing for money, but for pure joy."
So away the little dancers footed it again. Even the little lads, who
hitherto had remained stolid and apparently indifferent, caught
something of the enthusiasm of the spectators, for at intervals they
bowed with eagerness, and pointed and laughed at the little maidens,
and ejaculated aloud, as they had been taught by Constance to do at
the rehearsals, "Good, good, well done, Mistress Betty; excellently,
madam," and so on, till, as a fond mother said, "Anybody might think
as they had been born play-actors, for they took to mumming same as
widdies (young ducks) do to water."

When all was over, and even the tinkling piano was heard no more,
Fremantle and footmen bearing trays of cake, beer, and milk appeared
on the scene. As to the children, we made them stand in long lines on
the paths, and gave them slices of cake and buns, and drinks of milk
in the blue and white mugs of the country; but before they fell to,
they repeated in chorus the old grace which Constance had found in
praise of May merry-making. At last, not even the youngest little boy
could eat any more, and gradually all my guests bowed and curtsied,
and left the lawn, but old Timothy who was seized with a violent fit
of coughing, leant feebly on his stick, and looked at me piteously
out of his rheumy eyes.

"'Tis the rheumatics as has got hold of me," he said, between two
fits of coughing. "They be terrible companions, be rheumatics, worse
than snakes nor wasps, and allus with 'un summer and winter.
Rheumatics," he added wheezily, "be like burrs, they hangs on to yer
all seasons."

"Come in for a bit," I said, "and rest by the fire." Young blood is
warm, but the sun hasn't much warmth yet. So I led old Timothy into
the housekeeper's room, whilst kind Auguste made him on the gas stove
a "bon bouillon" and prepared for him a glass of spiced beer.

"I can't say, marm, why I took on like that," said old Timothy,
humbly. "It cumed like all of a sudden, and I shook like a leaf, and
a kind of a swim-swammy sense mastered me, and dwang-swang, I think I
should have found myself on the turf, if you hadn't taken me in and
comforted me."

As the old man spoke, I saw that some colour was coming back into his
old cheeks. He felt cheered by his drop of broth, and when he had
sipped of the warm ale his tongue began to wag.

"To-day," he said, "put me to mind of the old days when the world ran
merrily at Wenlock, and for the matter of that, all through the
countryside. They had holidays, they had, afore they had invented
trains, trams, and motors. There war the Wakes proper, and the
Wisheng Wells--all sports and jollity after good work."

[Sidenote: "ONCE I GRINNED THROUGH A HORSE-COLLAR"]

Then old Timothy proceeded to tell me how, in the old times, "they
used to clap up booths and have shows, and dances. My grandam used to
tell how they had in her time Morris dancers and play-acting, and I
remember," he continued, "a rare bit of fun. 'Twas to grin through a
horse-collar at Church Stretton. When I war a lad," said old Timothy,
"'twas accounted a fine thing to be able to make the horriblest face
in the town--next best to being the sweetest scraper on a fiddle or a
fine singer in a catch. I was never much of a musician," pursued my
old guest, regretfully, "but for downright, hugeous horror put into a
human face, I war bad to beat."

Then, after a pause, he went on to say, "I mind me there war St.
Milburgha's Wake at Stoke. There used to be pretty sports there. The
lads used to come in smocks and dance. They used to foot it sharp to
old country dances, cheery with lot of jumping, skipping, and
bobbing. Men used to say 'twas in honour of St. Milburgha. I don't
hold to saints, as a rule," explained Timothy; "they be mostly old
bones, nails, and useless rubbish; but I draws a difference between
Shropshire and the rest, and I believes in Shropshire saints proper,
same as in my own parish church and in grandam's grave."

After a few minutes, the old man went on to tell me about the Well
Wakes. "Folks used to flock to 'em," he said. "They used to meet and
have a jolly time. There war the Beach Wake, near against Chirbury.
There they went in great numbers, and the best class of farmers and
their wives. There war a Whirl-stone then, but on Wake Sunday it
turned all by itself, Old Jackson as sold the best ale allus used to
say.

"Then when us could, us went to the Raven's Bowl and to the Cuckoo's
Cup on the Wrekin at the proper times. God Almighty, we war taught to
believe, kept they full of water for his birds, and 'twar there that
we Shropshire lads, seventy years agone and more, used to go and
wish, when we had a mind to wed a wench--seventy years agone," the
old man lingered over the words, repeating them softly. "One summer
mornin' I got up," he continued, "when the dew was lying like jewels
on the turf and wet the grass it war so that yer could wring it out
with a cloth. I war up betimes, and I walked, and walked till I got
to the spot. There warn't many places in Shropshire as I didn't know
then," Timothy exclaimed with pride; and added with enthusiasm, "yer
gets to know the betwixts and betweens of everything, sure enough,
when yer be earth-stopper to the hunt. Dad warn't by trade, but Uncle
Mapp war--Peregine Mapp, as us used to call un--as lived behind
Muckley Cross and war the best ount-catcher as ever I knowed,
rat-catcher, and stoat-trapper, and death to varmint generally. Well,
he took me on from rook scarin' for Farmer Burnell; I lived with he
till I war twelve. They talks now of eddication, but 'tis the
eddication of wood and hill as be the right 'un to make a man of yer."

[Sidenote: THE EDUCATION OF WOOD AND HILL]

"Yes, Timothy," I said; and to bring him back to his first subject, I
added, "but you were telling me about your walk to the Wrekin, and
how you drank from the Raven's and Cuckoo's bowls there."

"Ay, ay, sure I was," replied the old man, and a gleam of light shot
into his lustreless eyes. So saying he rubbed his hands softly before
the blazing logs and went on--

"Well, it war the longest day of the year. That night in June, I've
heard say, when they used to light fires on the hill tops, and when
the men used to sing, and some of 'em used to leap through the fires
and call it Johnnie's Watch; but the squires, when they took to
planting on the hillsides, forbid that sport, and there war somethin'
to be said on that score, for I believe myself it frightened foxes.

"Well, sure enough I walked, as I said, to the Wrekin over the Severn
by Buildwas Bridge, and up beyond near Little Wenlock and through
Wenlock Wood. I war desperate sweet on Susie Langford--I hadn't
hardly opened my mouth to her, but the sight of her remained with me,
night and day, same as the form of a good horse does to a young man
who can't afford to buy him--and I stood on the heights of the great
hill, and I drank out of the bowls and wished and wished, and made
sure as I should get my heart's desire, for grandam had allus said,
'Him as goes to the Wrekin on midsummer morning, gains his wish as
sure as a throstle catches a worm on May morning.' Them, her used to
say, 'as goes to the Wrekin on the May Wakes, gets nought but a jug
of ale and a cake.' Well, I think I got nought but water, and never a
cake that mornin', for little the wish or the bowls did for me."

"Did you mind very much?" I asked, watching the shadow that swept
over his face.

"Did I mind?" replied old Timothy, vehemently. "Some three months
arter, when they told me that Susie war agoin to marry the miller in
the Dingle, I laid me down on the cold ground in the old Abbey
Church, and thought I should have died of the pure howgy misery of
the whole job. Grandam she gave me all she could to comfort me. I got
thin as a lath--she gave me can-doughs and flap-jacks and begged
apples to slip into dumplins, off the neighbours; and her brewed me a
drop of beer from the water from the church roof. But it warn't
nothing to me, yer can't comfort a man by his stomach, when he be in
love.

"Anton Ames war a hugeous fellow and one of the best with fist or
gloves, or I'd have killed 'un," broke out old Timothy, "for he
seemed to poison the whole countryside for me."

"But you got over her loss at last," I ventured to say, "though you
have never married."

"One do," replied the old man grimly. "There be a time for
everything--for women, for posy knots, dancing, and all the
kickshaws. They be all toys, mere toys. 'Tis only sport and beer as
lasts." As he spoke the old man looked gloomily into the fire and
warmed his wrinkled hands afresh.

"And Susie?" I could not refrain from asking; "what happened to her?"

"Her married and reared a pack of childer," answered Timothy, "and
when Anton fell off his cart one dark night from Shrewsbury Market,
they said her cried, but cried fit to wash away her eyes. But her got
comforted in time--they mostly do, does women; and then, after a bit,
her took a chapman. They often do, for number two I've noticed,"
continued Timothy, meditatively; "for chapmans have ready tongues,
and be oily and cheeky in one. And Sue her had a bit of siller, and
they married sharp off, at Munslow Church, I heard, and Sue her used
to go hawking with Gipsy Trevors, as they called 'im, and they used
to pass through Bridgenorth, Stretton, and up by Ludlow, same as if
her had never been born respectable or had rubbed bright an oak
dresser, or swept a parlour carpet."

"What did you do at the Wakes, and how long did they last?" I asked
as old Timothy relapsed into silence.

[Sidenote: OLD SHROPSHIRE PLEASURES]

"Oh, they was most part a week," answered the old man. "There war too
much fun then in folks, to let the fun die out so quick as it does
now. Now, if a squire has a cricket-match, 'tis all over in no time.
Piff-paff like a train through a tunnel. There's nought now but a
smack, and a taste of jollity, and it dies with daylight. When I was
a boy, it was altogether different. Us could work, and us could play,
and us liked to take our fill, same as young bullocks on spring
grass. Us used to dance and sing, run races, and jump for neckties
and hat-bands, and play kiss-in-the-ring, and manage," said old
Timothy, with a twinkle in his eye, "to stand by a pretty lass then,
and to wrestle and box besides. They war merry times." And here his
voice sank almost to a whisper, "And then there was cock-fightin'."

"Cock-fightin'?" I enquired. "Have you ever seen much of that?"

"Lord love yer!" retorted Master Theobalds, with kindly contempt. "Of
course I have, and a prettier, more gentlemanly sport I b'aint
acquainted with. I mind me of the good old time, when every squire
had his own main of cocks, and many war the farmers as had a good
clutch, and great war the pride of the missus in rearin' a good 'un
round the Clee, and over at Bridgenorth. Folks used to say at Ludlow,
as there were some as thought more of their cocks, than of their own
souls. Why, marm, when I war a little un, we should have thought a
town a poor benighted one-horse place as hadn't got its cock-pit.
There used," continued old Timothy, "to be a fine place beyond what
is now the vicarage, where they used to fight 'em regularly on Easter
Monday, and at the May Fair at Much Wenlock. Every serving-man as had
a touch of sport in his blood used to get leave to go 'cocking,' as
they called it then, and a right merry sport it war, sittin' fine
days on the spring grass, and seeing two game uns go tooth and nail
for each other."

"Did they put spurs on them?" I asked the old man.

"Of course they did, and weighed 'em." And then old Timothy added,
"Scores of times I've put on the spurs myself to oblige a squire, or
a kindly farmer as had given me a jog back from the meet, or a lift
on, when I war searchin' after a terrier."

"Was there not a belief that a cock hatched in an owl or magpie's
nest was sure to have luck in the ring?" I asked.

[Sidenote: THE COCKFIGHTS OF THE PAST]

"Sure there war," answered Timothy, with conviction. "I remember
hearin' of one, Owen by the Clee, as had a cock that he allus swore
had been reared by an owl; and Davies, near Munslow, had a famous
green-tailed bird, that he used to say was hatched in a pie's nest. I
cannot say for sure how it war," said the old man, "but sartain I be
that them war the two best birds as ever I seed--let 'em be reared as
they might be. They war two upstanding birds, tall in the leg, long,
lean heads, and born game. No white feather in they. There war many,"
continued the old man, "who tried to get luck in all ways, and
stopped at nothing. Some gave 'em chopped beef afore fightin', and
many beat up an egg in their meal to give 'em courage and strength.
And then"--and here old Timothy paused--"there war other ways."

"What ways?" I asked with curiosity.

"Well," and my old guest sank his voice to a whisper, "there war some
on Easter Sunday as took the Sacrament, as took it at no other time."

"But what had that to do with cock-fighting?" I asked.

"Why, jist this," and Timothy's voice became hardly audible. "They
drank the wine, but saved the bread, for some believed that a cock
that had eaten consecrated bread afore he went into the ring, war
bound to win, as the devil fought for 'im himself."

"What a horrible sacrilege!" I could not refrain from exclaiming.

"That's what folks wud say now," agreed Timothy, complacently; "but
there war many as didn't feel that then. Times be different. It war
wrong, I suppose," he added, "but the sport war that strong in
Shropshire men then, they wud ha' raced angels for pence and fought
with Bibles, if so be folks would have laid on bets."

But after a pause, he added, "They didn't all go that far; some only
bought dust from church chancels that they threw on their bird's
feathers, or chucked a pinch into the bags, and there never came no
harm from that, for it gave the sextons and vergers a lucky penny,
and made use of what otherwise would have been let lie on the midgeon
heap. And even parsons didn't themselves interfere there, 'cause the
practice made sextons and church officials easy to find as nuts in
the Edge Wood."

Then I turned, and asked the old man about old Squire Forester's
hounds.

"Ay, they war grand ones." And my old guest's eyes flashed with
enthusiasm. And then old Timothy went on to ask me if I had ever
heard of Tom Moody, "as great a devil as ever rode a horse. There war
none to beat Tom--Tom war whipper-in, and then huntsman, and bred a
rider. One day he rode, as a little lad, an ugly cob with a
pig-bristled mane. Somehow Tom hung on, jumped with the best, and
never fell, though the leps that day, they said, were hugeous. I
never seed Tom myself," continued Timothy, "but grandam war his own
cousin right enough, and it war a proud moment for any lad to clasp
hands with old Tom. There war many then less proud to know a bishop
or a peer, than to know Tom.

"The old squire, when he seed the lad ride like that, said at the
finish--

"'Will you come back and whip in for me, for yer be the right sort?'

"'Will I, yer honour? Sure I will,' said Tom, and his ugly mug broke
out like May blows in sunshine, a friend standing by told us. Tom and
the squire they never parted till Tom war buried under the sod of
Barrow churchyard.

"Up and down dale, war Moody's way. Nothing lived before him. He
never stopped for hedge or ditch. Often 'tis told of 'im that he used
to take guests of the squire's back to Shifnal, where they met the
coach for London. Then Tom would drive his prime favourite in the
yellow gig. He counted his neck for nothing, and didn't set no store
on theirs, and they did say he would lep pikes and hedges same as if
he war hunting, and never injured tongue of buckle or stitch of a
strap."

      [Illustration:
      RUINS OF WENLOCK ABBEY IN 1778.
      _From an Engraving after a Drawing by Paul Sandby, R.A._]

"Was that possible?" I exclaimed in amazement.

"Lor bless yer, mam, everythin' war possible with Tom. They said here
he war a devil incarnate on a horse, or in his shay, and nothing
could stop him. Folks said he loved his old horse better than his
soul."

"What was the name of his horse?"

[Sidenote: "OLD SOUL" TO RIDE]

"'Old Soul,' right enough," answered Timothy; "a great lean beaste,
sixteen hands and more. Any amount of bone and not a square inch of
flesh, with a docked tail and a wicked wall eye. He kicked and bit,
did Old Soul, as if he war the great Satan himself; and I've heard
'em say at the kennels, that there war none but Tom and one other man
about the place as dared go near him to dress him down, for he would
savage any one when he had a mind. Heels up, and ears back, and his
eye the colour of a yule log at Christmastide, those were his ways.
Yet Tom at covert side thought mountains of him. 'Old Soul and I must
get to heaven together,' he used to say, 'for what the old chap wud
do without me, or I without he, 'twould puzzle me to think. And 'tis
the wickedest, cutest old devil that ever man sat across,' Tom used
to swear, 'but if a man's got a spice of the true hunter in him, he
blesses God to be on such a horse when hounds be running, devil or no
devil.'

"Once," continued Timothy, "I heard as Tom war lost. They hunted for
'un everywhere down beyond Kenley, where they had been in the
morning. In those days the country there war very marshy in the
winter time, for there wasn't a bit of draining. Well, I've heard it
said as Tom went in, and it happened in this way. Tom war leading his
horse, but the horse war wiser than Tom, for feelin' the ground
shaky, he jerked up his head sudden like, and snapped the bridle and
got away. Tom, he tried to leap out of the bog, but he couldn't, for
sure he war sucked in and kept fast prisoner in the clay.

"When the squire and the pack got back to the kennels there war no
Tom. 'Hullo! where be Tom?' cried the squire, and he got anxious, for
never in the born days of man had Tom not turned up. They called and
they sent out riders, and they shouted like scholards out on a
holiday, but nothin' of Tom could they hear. So out the squire and
the faithful hunt they set, with a fresh pack, and fresh horses, and
only a lick down of somethin' to keep the soul in 'em. On they went,
the squire leadin' like a lord on his white-legged chestnut. Only
this time it warn't no fox-hunting, but a man as they war searchin'
after.

"On they rode across Blakeway, beyond Harley, then turning straight
westwards they got to the wild country, and they rode round, I've
heard say, almost to Church Stretton, up to the foot of the Caradoc;
and sure enough, just as the squire war about to give up the job and
creep home to get a bit of supper, and get dogs and men to their
beds, they heard, as I'm a Christian man, somethin' a-croaking and
calling 'Tally-ho! tally-ho!' but so hoarse, and strange, and
misty-like, that it seemed no real voice, but whispers from a ghost.

[Sidenote: THE MIDNIGHT CHASE]

"One of the whipper-ins, a small white-haired little chap as they
used to call 'Soap,' because he looked so clean and peart, and was a
pet-like with the lasses, began to shiver and call out 'Lord 'a
mercy, let's hunt the fox, but leave alone devils and Herne the
Hunter, and such like.' But the squire, he never turned a hair, and
he called out, 'No bed, or rest for me till we've found Tom,' and he
rode on on his chestnut; and then Jack Pendrell, what was a groom, he
called out too, 'Where the squire goes, I go,' and he set spurs into
his grey; and then they followed on, hounds and men, like a covey of
partridges. And all of a sudden, I have heard 'em say (for it war the
talk of the country-side for many days), Old Dancer gave a whimper
and then Regent followed suit, and then Butterfly and Skylark threw
in their bell notes, and away the whole hunt burst like steam. They
barely seemed to touch the ground, but ran like mad, as hounds do in
a killing scent. The squire fairly split the chestnut, Tom Trig and
Bob Buckson followed close behind, and they rode as if the devil was
at their heels. And all the while the voice kept calling, hullooing
like a spirit in a tomb, only fainter and fainter--a kind of
unearthly screech like a raven dooming a Christian across a
churchyard. At last two hounds ran in, and the squire leapt from his
horse, which steamed like a chimney, and there they found Tom sucked
up in the ground fit to die, and the wind pretty nearly out of his
body. He looked like a ghost when they got him out. He must have
perished long before, he told 'em, if it hadn't been that he had
found a stout handful of grass by which he had hung on, and called
for his life.

"Well, the long and the short of it was, when they hauled him
out--which they did by ropes and knotting their handkerchiefs
together--they put him on an old dun pony. But Tom war that silly and
faint, that they had to tie him on to keep him from falling, and so
they got him home.

"When they got back to Willey, the squire had him taken straight to
his own bed, and clapt inside. 'Tom,' he said, 'don't yer die; yer
drink and yer bain't worth much, but fox-hunting in Shropshire can't
live without yer.' And," continued old Timothy, "Tom declared then he
felt fit to die of glory at the thought as he, Tom, and fox-hunting
war one and the same thin' in Shropshire. Well, Tom got round, for
all his chill and lying in the ground six mortal hours, but he never
war the same man again. The squire spared no expense on him, and made
him take the same medicines as he took himself, and gave him foreign
wines, though they do say as Tom would have liked old ale better."

"When did old Tom die at last?" I asked.

"I cannot precisely remember, but I've heard it war in 1796 or
thereabouts. He war no great age, but he had lived fast and went to
bed mellow, as fellows used to do then. Well, ma'am, when the doctor
gave up hope, it wasn't long as Tom was ill, for once out of the
saddle he hadn't much to live for, as I've heard 'em say. The days
seemed mortal long to Tom, lyin', as he said, mute as a log and
nothing to interest 'im but the goin' out and the comin' home of the
hounds. When Tom had made up his mind that he warn't long for this
world, he begged the squire to step down.

"'Squire,' he said, 'I've been a sinner, and God forgive me; not of
much good to nobody save on a horse, but I've hunted to please you
and to please myself.' And they say that the old squire, when he
heard Tom talk like that, spoke very gentle and pitiful, and he said,
taking Tom's hand, 'Tom, my man, yer don't owe me nothin'. You've
been a right good servant, gone like the devil, and loved the hounds
like yer brothers.'

[Sidenote: A HUNTING FUNERAL]

"'Right, squire, right,' answered Tom. And then he told him what war
in his mind about his berrial.

"There's some as like it one way and some another," said old Timothy,
"but Tom he'd set his mind on a hunting funeral. The hounds war to be
in at the death, as he called it, and the good men who rode hard and
straight war to be there too, and give a view holloa after parson had
said the prayers. Would parson mind? Tom had asked. But the squire
told 'im not to vex hisself, for the parson war of the right sort,
and would understand that fox-hunting and the Church war both the
glory of Englishmen. Then he asked, did Tom, that his favourite old
horse, him as he had called Old Soul, was to follow behind ready
saddled as for a day's hunting. And then, when all was settled to
Tom's mind, he and the squire shook hands and said good-bye to each
other. The squire," continued my old guest, "war a right proper man,
masterful but kind, knew his own mind, but war faithful to them as
had been faithful to him, and what he promised Squire George allus
did. He was iron as to promises--said little, but stuck to a promise
as if it had been the last word of his mother, folks said. So in
November, a matter of a few days after poor Tom had died, they buried
him accordin' to his instructions, and all the good fellows that had
followed the hunt, and seen him show them rattling sport fine days
and foul days alike, came from far and near to do him honour. And
when they shouted, after lowering Tom's coffin, there war no
irreverence in the job whatever. People now," continued Timothy,
"don't understand sport. They think 'tis only fit stuff for a daily
paper, and mayn't come nohow to church or touch Church goings on. Oh,
but Lord love yer!"--and my old friend drew himself up straight in
his chair--"they thought different then, and they gave Tom a view
holloa, for all they were worth, did the hunt, and stood there
reverent and pious over his grave bareheaded alongside, till the
woods and hills fair rang with their voices. No harm," said my old
friend, "war meant, and no harm war done, for God Almighty wouldn't
make foxes if he didn't hold to fox-chasing." As he spoke, Master
Theobalds got up. "Good-bye, marm, and thank you kindly," he said.
"It does me good to talk of the old days and of the old goin's on. It
kind of brings back a bit of sun to me."

As he spoke the old man rapped his stick feebly along the old cement
floor of the monks and crept out of the door. My big dog looked after
him and growled, for the tapping of a stick is a thing that few dogs
can stand.

What strong men for good or ill, I argued, they were, those men who
saw the end of the eighteenth and the birth of the nineteenth
century. How brave and undaunted! They fought England's quarrels over
Europe, and they died in Spain, and won on the plains of Waterloo.
How narrow they were, how intolerant, and how brave! Surely
fox-hunting taught them some of their endurance and courage, and the
long days over woodland and moor gave them strong muscles and brave
hearts, and prepared them for the hardships of war.

The morning, with its glory of sunshine had passed, and the afternoon
had grown grey and still. The joy of the morning seemed hushed, a
chill grey sky was overhead, and the lowering clouds promised, a wet
night.

I wandered out and walked amongst the ruins. Outside the grounds I
heard a dog faintly barking, and the faint murmur of children's
voices reached me, but as in a dream; all the laughter and the gaiety
of May morning had fled. I noticed that the thorns were bursting into
blossom, and that a white lilac was covered with snow-like flowers.

I passed into the Chapter House. Alas! in the nineteenth century one
complete set of arches had fallen, but the beautiful interlaced
arches were still there, although every saint had been knocked off
his niche and destroyed by the hooligan of Henry VIII.'s or
Elizabeth's reign. On the northern side, says tradition, reposed the
body of St. Milburgha.

[Sidenote: THE HOLY ONE AND MIRACLES]

I felt in the grey evening as if I was standing on holy ground. It
was here, according to William of Malmesbury, the historian monk,
"that there lived formerly a very ancient house of nuns. The place
(Wenlock)," he tells us, "was wholly deserted on account of the Danes
having destroyed the fabric of the nunnery. After the Norman
conquest, Roger de Montgomery filled the monastery with Clugniac
monks, where now," wrote the pious monk, "the fair branches of virtue
strain up to heaven. The virgin's tomb was unknown to the new-comers,
for all the ancient monuments had been destroyed by the violence of
the foemen and time. But when the fabric of the new church was
commenced, as a boy ran in hot haste over the floor, the grave of the
virgin was broken through, and disclosed her body. At the same time a
fragrant odour of balsam breathed through the church, and her body,
raised high aloft, wrought so many miracles that floods of people
poured in thither. Scarcely could the broad fields contain the
crowds, whilst rich and poor together, fired by a common faith,
hastened on their way. None came to return without the cure or the
mitigation of his malady, and even king's evil, hopeless in the hands
of the leech, departed before the merits of the virgin."

As I stood on the well-shorn turf, the holy scene seemed to come back
to me; then, later, the crowd of devout pilgrims overflowing fields
and common. I seemed almost to see the bands of eager devotees, to
hear their outburst of faith and thanksgiving, and to feel them near.
I imagined cripples cured, the blind returning with their sight, all
relieved and all blessing the Giver of life and health in their
strong belief of the eleventh century.

Miss Arnold Forster, in her admirable work on "Church Dedications,"
declares that the little leaden geese sometimes dug up in London are
the same images that were bought by pilgrims and taken back to their
homes from Wenlock.

In 1501, by order of Henry VII., a splendid shrine was built for the
bones and relics of St. Milburgha, but after the dissolution of the
monasteries, the mob broke in and robbed the tomb of its jewels, and
scattered the saint's bones and ashes to the winds.

I thought of all the old stories connected with the place, of the
many deeds of piety of the Saxon saint and of her tomb, then of the
rough usage of her shrine, and of the demolition of the churches
after the Reformation.

The last twenty years has brought great changes, and none are greater
than the changes in many of our views respecting the Reformation. No
longer a narrow Protestant spirit governs us, or makes us believe
that all done at the Reformation was well done, and for the glory of
God. We mourn over the ruined churches, the deserted altars, and the
loss to the world of so much that was venerable and beautiful.

[Sidenote: SAINTS WERE DRIVEN FORTH]

Bishop Godwin lamented bitterly over the fall of the monasteries.
"Godly men," he wrote, "could not approve of the destruction of so
many grand churches built," as the bishop expressed it, "for the
worship of God by our ancestors. It was deeply to be regretted," he
declared, "the diversion of such an amount of ecclesiastical revenues
to private use, and the abolition of every place where men might lead
a religious life in peace, and retirement from worldly business,
devoting themselves wholly to literary toil and meditation."

Till the reign of Henry VIII. England was studded over with beautiful
church buildings and monuments. They were centres of learning and
culture. Buildwas, the great Cistercian monastery only three miles
away, on the banks of the Severn, was famous in the Middle Ages for
its workshops, and for the many copies of the Scriptures which were
penned there, whilst in many of the monasteries, as even Lord Herbert
said, the brothers behaved so well "that not only were their lives
exempt from notorious faults, but their spare time was bestowed in
writing books, in painting, carving, graving, and the like exercises,
so that even their visitors became intercessors for their
continuance." But Cromwell would not allow the monks any virtues, and
declared brutally that their houses should be thrown down to the
foundations, and continued to fill the king's coffers and his private
purse with their gold.

Camden wrote: "Up to the thirty-sixth year of Henry VIII.'s reign,
there were six hundred and forty-five religious houses erected for
the honour of God, the propagation of Christianity and learning, and
the support of the poor.

"Then," says the historian, "a storm burst upon the English Church,
like a flood, breaking down its banks, which, to the astonishment of
the world and the grief of the nation, bore down the greater part of
the religious houses, and with them their fairest buildings.

"These buildings were almost all shortly after destroyed, their
monastic revenues squandered, and the wealth which the Christian
piety of the English nation had from their first conversion dedicated
to God, was in a moment dispersed."

After doing away with the smaller monasteries, Henry VIII. found
himself and the State but little richer for the confiscations. The
story runs that he complained bitterly to his minister, Cromwell, of
the rapacity of his courtiers, and is said to have exclaimed angrily--

"By our Lady! the cormorants, when they have got the garbage, will
devour the fish."

"There is more to come, your grace," answered the wily vicegerent.

"Tut, tut, man," the king is supposed to have answered, "my whole
realm would not stanch their maws."

Great was the sorrow of the poor at the dissolution. For the monks,
as a rule, had been kind masters. They had nursed the sick, and had
given away many doles at Christmas and welcome charities. They had
fed and had clothed the indigent, and had opened their houses often
as places of rest to travellers and to those in distress.

"It was," wrote Strype, "a pitiful thing to hear the lamentations
that the people of the country made for the monasteries. For in
them," he asserts, "was great hospitality, and by the doing away of
the religious houses, it was thought more than 10,000 persons,
masters and servants, had lost their living."

[Sidenote: LATIMER'S PLEA]

Even Latimer, strong, sturdy Protestant that he was, though he flamed
with righteous wrath at the abuses that went on in many of the
religious houses, prayed that some of the superior and blameless
houses might be spared. It was not wise, he thought, to strike all
with one sweeping blow, and he begged "that some of the monasteries
might continue and be filled with inmates not bound by vows, and
revised by stringent statutes, where men in every shire might
meditate and give themselves up to holy prayer, and acquire the art
of preaching."

"That soul must be low indeed," wrote Cobbett, in his "History of the
Protestant Reformation," "which is insensible to all feelings of
pride in the noble edifices of its country."

"Love of country, that variety of feelings which all together
constitute what we properly call patriotism, consists in part, of the
admiration and of veneration for ancient and magnificent proofs of
skill, and of opulence.

"The monks built, as well as wrote, for posterity. The never-dying
nature of their institutions set aside in all their undertakings
every calculation as to time and age. Whether they built, or whether
they planted, they set the generous example of providing for the
pleasure, the honour, the wealth and greatness, of generations upon
generations, yet unborn. They executed everything in the best
possible manner. Their gardens, their fish-ponds, farms; in all, in
the whole of their economy they set an example tending to make the
country beautiful--to make it an object of pride with the people, and
to make the nation truly, and permanently great."

Full of these different thoughts, I walked beneath arch and column,
and so away from the old world and its belongings, until I stood
before my aviary of canaries. I entered the cage. As I watched my
birds I heard a pitter-patter overhead, and, looking up, I saw,
leaning against a rail, my little friend Thady Malone.

"Well, Thady," I said, "what has brought you here? I missed you this
morning during the May Dance."

"'Deed," said Thady, slowly, "it was sorry I was not to be wid you,
for I hear the little leddy danced like a cat in the moonlight, and
shone like a glow-worm at the point of day."

"Oh, but Bess didn't dance," I answered laughing.

"But, 'deed, if she had," replied Thady, enthusiastically, "there's
not a fairy in auld Oireland that would have kept pace with her, or
looked half the darlint."

"Have it your own way, Thady," I said, for I knew that Thady had long
since kissed the Blarney Stone. "And now tell me why you didn't come.
There were cakes, and singing."

"My mother," answered Thady, solemnly. "It was my mother that was the
prevention of my best intentions. My mother," he continued, "is as
full of pride as an egg is full of meat. And 'Thady,' she said, in a
voice as deep as death, yer leddyship knows her way of speakin',
''yer must never,' she said, 'give the name of your father a
downfall. When yer go to her leddyship's sports it must be clad as
the best of 'em,' and where were my boots to begin with?" And Thady
sighed, and looked down rather piteously at his bare feet.

But a minute later, with the grace of an Irish lad, his face became
wreathed in smiles, and he turned to me saying, "Well, though I
stayed at home I gave yer all the good wishes in the world, and as I
couldn't be here in the morning, 'tis here I am in the evening."

Then I stepped out of the aviary, and, as I mounted the stairs, I
noted that Thady's face had an air of mystery. As I approached him,
he held out something in his hand, and said, in a tone of charming
apology, "Here is something I have for yer, and for yourself alone.
It's never dirt with yer leddyship, whatever it is that a poor lad
brings yer," and as I got near, Thady uncovered one hand, and I saw
through the fingers of the other a little black bird.

[Sidenote: "A JACK SQUEALER, BEGORRA"]

"A jack squealer, begorra," he exclaimed triumphantly, as I reached
the same level that he was on. Then Thady went on to say that he had
picked him up last night. "He's tired with coming," he explained,
"poor bit of a bird, but if yer can keep him safe for a day or two,
he'll live to fly with the best over crypt and arch." So Thady and I
bore away our prize, and mounted to the old chamber, which is known
as the leper's room, and there we deposited our little feathered
friend.

"He'll do here," said Thady, "no cat can get him here. Give him a
dish of water, and he'll catch flies for himself." The little bird
was of a dusty black, with faint green reflections, and with a light
drab tint beneath his beak, but with no white whatever under the
tail. His short face expressed no fear at human contact. His legs I
noted were very short. I put him down on the powdery dust of the
chamber. He did not attempt to fly away, but when I placed him
against my dress, he ran up my shoulder, to quote Thady's words, "as
active as a rabbit in a field of clover."

"He's a late un," said Thady, contemplating his little prize. "'Last
to come, first to go,' I've heard 'em say about swallows, but I don't
know if 'tis true or not; but he's pretty in a way, and doesn't know
what fear is." Then Thady went on to say nobody hurts a squealer, not
even Wenlock boys, even _they_ let him be. He's the Almighty's prime
favourite, after a wren or a cock robin, Thady gave as an
explanation. Then he told me how he found him at the bottom of the
Bull Ring last night.

"Tired he was," continued Thady, "like a tired horse that had taken
three parties to a wedding. So I took him up safe from the cats; and
old Timothy, him as they call Maister Theobalds, he said, leaning on
his stick and his smock floating behind him like a petticoat, 'Let
the lady of the Abbey have 'im. Varmint and such toys be all in her
line. She or the lady Bess wull be sure to like 'im.' So I brought
'im here."

"He is most fascinating," I answered, watching my new pet; "but how
can I catch him flies?"

"Let him be," answered Thady; "feeding birds is mostly killing 'em.
With water he'll freshen up, and go and get his own meat."

I stood a few minutes watching the little bird. He ran about on the
floor, and apparently found what was necessary for his subsistence;
but his wings were so weak that he could not rise. Thady disappeared
for a moment, and then reappeared with an armful of branches. "These
will be a pleasure to him and harbour insects, and such birds like
shade. Now he'll do."

We arranged the boughs, and Thady fetched a saucer of water, which he
put down. The bird, after a moment's hesitation, plunged in, expanded
his wings with a cry of pleasure, and then lay contentedly on the
ground.

"He'll be well now," said Thady, "well as Uncle Pat's pig when it
got into an orchard of cider apples." So we shut the old door of
the leper's chamber carefully behind us, and descended the
steps--overgrown with budding valerian.

[Sidenote: FRESH NESTS TO SEE]

"They be wonderfully dressy, be swallows," piped Thady, "in the
building of their nests. There's nought that comes amiss to them.
Shreds of gauze, scraps of muslin, bits of mud, in fact," he added,
"any iligant thing that they can meet with, they dart off with in a
minute. 'Tis wonderful the fancy and the invention of the craythures.
In August they'll go, this sort; but where they go there's few as
knows."

I was about to return to the Abbey, when Thady stopped me. "I've
somethin' else to show you, somethin' as you'll be pleased wid," he
said.

"What is it?"

"A real pretty bird," was Thady's answer. "None of yer common kinds.
The cock is the bonniest little fellow I have ever seen; fire snaps,
I call 'em,--that's the name that Ben O'Mally called one that we saw
together near Birmingham. He's about the size of a robin, but 'tis a
more spirited tail that he has, a black waistcoat, and a lavender
head. None of your mud-pie midgeon tits, but a real gay hopper. About
the bonniest little fellow that I have ever seen. He's got a flash of
brightness about him, like the foreign flower that Mister Burbidge
declared he would whip the life out of me if I touched. Jump the
flame, the blazer, and kitty brantail, I've heard him called in
different places; but call 'em what they will, they all think a lot
of him."

Then I asked Thady about the plumage of the little hen.

"Oh, the missus," answered Thady. "Well she's purty but not so fine
as her mate. She's a bitter duller, and the fire has gone out of her
tail."

"Where is the nest?" I asked.

Thady did not answer, but walked across the ruined church to a broken
column, and there, sure enough, in a little hole screened from the
winds by a spray of budding eglantine, I found the nest of the
redstart. The eggs, of which there are four, reminded me of those of
the hedge-sparrow; but the blue was fainter, and on one or two I
noticed a few dim brownish specks. Then we retired quickly, for
hovering close by was the brilliant little cock bird himself. How
beautiful he was! Like a vision of the tropics. The redstart is never
found in great numbers in Shropshire, but every year there is a pair
that comes and builds somewhere in our ruined church. Three years ago
they built in a wall, last year in a crevice in the crypt, and this
year in a ruined column.

The redstart visits our shores in April, and always commands
attention by his brilliant plumage. He is a bold bird and not easily
frightened. He dips his tail up and down, with a movement which
recalls that of a water-wagtail, only it is not so fussy, or
continuous; and when he flies, he leaves behind him the vision of a
red-hot coal on the wing, so glorious are the feathers on the top of
the tail.

I begged Thady to show no one the nest. Nests are best kept dead
secrets, and this one, I said, will be a joy and an interest to me
for the next two months.

"I've somethin' more," and Thady hesitated--"and a real beauty," he
added. "I know yer was occupied with play-acting and entertainments
and what not," and Thady waved his hand majestically, as if on May
morning of 1904 ours had been the revels of Kenilworth, and added "it
isn't beasts, and birds, that the gentry care for at such times, so I
waited my time," and Thady beckoned to me to follow.

I crossed the garden, and let myself out by the lily gates while
Thady stepped over the wall, and found myself in a few minutes' time
across the meadows and standing with Thady by the furthest point of
the old Abbey fish-ponds.

[Sidenote: A RING-OUZEL'S NEST]

"'Tisn't often as this sort will come down from the hills and the
wild ground," Thady said. "They are wild folk and belong to the north
moorland. I've never heard of a rock-jack here. Some folks call 'em
burn-dippers." I looked, and saw amongst the branches of an old
willow a nest which was not unlike that of a blackbird, but the eggs
were not quite the same, being splashed with spots of a reddish brown
on a ground of a brighter green.

"What is it?" I asked, for Thady's country names did not convey much
to me. And then I saw, not far off on the grass, a bird not unlike
the familiar blackbird, or black ouzel of the garden, as some country
folks still call him, save that he had a white throat. It was the
first that I ever saw in England, although I believe the ring-ouzel
is not uncommon on the Church Stretton hills; but on cultivated land,
save in a few parts of Scotland, he is always a rare visitor.

I watched him hop about, with the same heavy flop of his cousin, the
blackbird, but I noted that his plumage was not so brilliant as our
garden favourite. He had greener shades in the black, and his plumage
was almost of a rusty brown in places. Underneath his throat he had a
brilliant white tie. He was certainly a handsome fellow. His
movements recalled those of a blackbird, but he had not the "yellow
dagger" that Tennyson praised, and at our approach he did not make
his exit with the angry rattle which is so characteristic of our
garden friend.

"Why, Thady," I said, "I am pleased. The ring-ouzel is a very rare
English bird. At least, so they say in books."

"Begorra, I have never seen one in these parts but once," answered
Thady, "and that was in Sherlot Forest by the lake."

Then we got back over the rails, and I followed Thady to one of the
small plantations where the young trees were about twenty years old.

"What else have you got?" for Thady was beginning to run, so great
evidently was his impatience to show me something that he knew of.

"A nest of the finest singer in Shropshire," replied Thady, "as good,
some say, as the nightingale. I've heard him called the mock
nightingale, and by others the coal tuft, Jack smut, and black the
chimney. Anyway, whatever they like to call him, he's a fine songster
for all his poor dull feathers. He can pipe loud and full right
across a wood, and then warble soft as a nope's bride. He won't stay
here in August, and flies away with the first of the swallows."

Then I recalled the olive woods in Southern France, and remembered
how sweetly I had heard the blackcaps sing in March mornings from the
Hotel Bellevue windows. I looked at the little nest built in the
branches of a budding bramble; it was not unlike that of a robin,
save that it had no moss interwoven in its structure, and that it was
entirely lined with horse hair and the hair off the backs of the red
and white cows of the country. Inside I saw three eggs of a palish,
reddish brown, sprinkled over with spots of purple. I could not help
noticing how different the three eggs were.

"I've never before found eggs like this so early," said Thady.
"Generally the Jack smuts take a deal of time to settle, but this
pair have a-nested and laid as soon as they got to the parish." I
bent over the nest.

[Sidenote: THE BOWER OF THE MOCK NIGHTINGALE]

"Don't touch 'em," cried Thady, excitedly, "since it's yer
leddyship's pleasure to leave them; for the mock warbler, as dad
calls him, he says are as shy as a hawk, and a touch of the nest will
make 'em quit in a twinkling. Some morning, yer leddyship," Thady
continued, "yer must come down and hear him. If yer was to get
outside the fence, yer'd catch him some day singing. For he's got a
strange voice, soft and pretty at one moment as if he was charming,
and the next as if telling the tales of a thousand victories."

Thady and I walked home in the twilight. I love seeing the nests of
God's little wild birds. How wonderfully they are built. What
marvellous architects birds are, how clever and dexterous, with claw
and beak.

In the still light of the dying day, the old spire of the parish
church loomed like a gigantic lance across the rich meadows, and
through the stillness I heard the sound of the chimes. They filled
this old English spot with a sense of rest. No hurry, they seemed to
call, no hurry. Leisure, the best gift of the gods, is yours and
ours. Time to wander, time to see, time to sleep. I stood and gazed
on the quiet scene. All the pleasant things of spring and summer were
before us. White mists were gathering from the beck and running in
long lines of diaphanous obscurity across the fields. There was no
sound but the distant chimes. All was sinking gently to rest.

I entered the eastern gate and called to Mrs. Langdale, the old
housekeeper, and begged her to give me a hunch of cake to bestow on
Thady. The good dame handed it through the mullioned window sourly
enough, for Thady was no favourite with such a barndoor-natured woman
as my old housekeeper. "'Tis little I'd get if yer leddyship wasn't
here," laughed Thady. "'Get out and don't poison the place with yer
breath, yer limb of Satan,'--that's what I'd hear if yer wasn't by,
to stand by me," Thady whispered, as Mrs. Langdale shut the window
with an angry snap.

I passed the hunch of cake to Thady, and quickly, silently he put it
into his voluminous pocket, in which it disappeared as in a well.
Then Thady lifted his cap, and a second later I heard him whistling
softly in the gloaming.

As I went into the chapel hall I was greeted by Constance. I
congratulated her warmly on her successful morning. Nothing could
have been better, I said. It was a real scene of gaiety, and gave, I
am sure, all the young and old, a great deal of enjoyment.

              "There not a budding boy or girl this day
              But is got up and gone to bring in May,"

I quoted laughingly. "The old times will come back to Wenlock, thanks
to you, Constance," I said. "Over each house will be hung bough and
garlands, till each household is given up to laughter and frolic."

"There is much wisdom in wholesome laughter," my friend replied.
"Perhaps the best thing that can be done for the people is to teach
them how to play. They have almost forgotten how, in their desire to
make money."

Then my friend and I parted.

[Sidenote: IN THE RUINED CHURCH]

After dinner I wandered into the garden. It was a lovely night. The
moon was hardly seen, only in faint peeps at intervals, but there was
a mist of stars. I faintly saw the vane of the flying crane pointing
due south, and in the distance I heard the hoot of an owl far away in
the Abbot's Walk. In the pathway I saw dim shadowy creatures, which
turned out to be toads enjoying the cool moisture of the night. Far
away, in a cornfield, I caught the harsh cry of the corncrake,
calling, calling--as he would call, I knew, all through the May
nights. A little later, and over Windmoor Hill on the sheep-nipped
turf would glisten nature's jewel, the glow-worm, but early in May
such gems are rarely to be met with in our cold country. How lovely
it was to wander round the garden and ruined church--to inhale the
scent of the budding lilac, and the poet's narcissus in the grass,
for where pious knees once knelt was then a milky way of floral
stars. They glittered in the grass like faint jewels, and their rich
perfume gave the evening air an intoxicating sweetness.

My great hound walked at my heels. At night she is always watchful,
and is haunted by a persistent sense of danger. But even she, that
still night, could find nothing to be alarmed about, or to hurl
defiance at. All the world seemed bathed in a mystic sapphire bath of
splendour, and round me I knew that mystic process of what we call
life was silently but rapidly taking form. I could almost feel the
budding of the trees, for the wonderful revelation of summer was at
hand. To-night, on an ancient larch, one of the first I have heard
that was planted in Shropshire, a storm-cock, as the country people
call the missel-thrush, piped into the growing night. What a joyous
song his was. He had sung on and off, since January, and his voice
was almost the loudest and clearest of all the feathered songsters.
No cold could daunt him, but soon he would be silent, for the
storm-cock sings little after May.

The world, where not spoilt by smoke and man, was very fair and full
of wonderful things. All was flowering and growing apace. As I stood
in the ruined church, love and joy seemed to be borne upon the soft
winds as they fanned my face and played amongst the tender leaves. I
sat down by the ancient lavabo and looked at the ruined church. How
much the walls might tell me if they could but speak. What stories of
stately processions, for kings and queens were often the guests of
the Prior of Wenlock. Henry I., Henry III., and his queen Eleanor
came, if tradition says true, Charles Stuart, when fate fought
against him, and Impetuous Rupert, at least to Wenlock. Then the
story runs that Arthur and his Spanish bride passed through Wenlock
on their way to Ludlow. And as I sat there and mused, I thought of
all the great ones who had passed through and spent days, happy or
otherwise, at Wenlock--the world's delight and wonder, they were all
gone, and the Abbey too, which was once the pride of Catholicism in
Shropshire, the meeting-place of devout pilgrims, the resort of
royalty, that too had gone. Its walls have served to build cottages.
Its splendour is a thing of the past, and the owl and the wild birds
fly where once abbot and friar paced in solemn devotion.

                      [Illustration:
                      _Photo by Mr. W. Golling._
                      THE LAVABO.]

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the church was used as a
quarry, the old folks have often said. "No need to dig out stone,"
one old wheezy man told me; "when cottages was run up, us used to
know where to go, for pigsties, or even a patch on the road. Have in
a cart, and down went a bit of the Abbey. It was mighty handy, a deal
better than blasting the rock as they do now to rear a wall."

"King Collins," as the old people used to call Sir Watkin's agent,
who lived in the red-brick house which is now the Vicarage, carted
away whatever he had a mind to. "What he set his heart on that he
took," another old man said, "and put it afore his own door."

[Sidenote: A HANDFUL OF EARTH]

I thought of all the changes that Wenlock had seen, beginning with
the foundation of the Saxon nunnery. Then later of Roger de
Montgomery's Clugniac monks--the fame of the great Abbey, the
Dissolution, poor John Cressage, its last Prior, the Civil Wars, and
the breaking up of the Abbey fabric through the nineteenth century.
Life often seems to go so slowly, and yet how many changes
Wenlock--and for that matter, every yard of English soil--has seen,
since the dawn of English history, up to this twentieth century.

Here we were in the year 1904, I mused, and this little plot of
ground on which I sat had seen a Saxon saint go by. It had been
traversed by Roger de Montgomery, Cromwell's soldiers had fired
across it with cannon, and all the while, sun and rain had had their
turns, and soft spring showers had rejoiced daisy and lady's-slipper.
Deep winter snows had enshrined tomb and arch, and all the natural
changes of season and climate had occurred, and will recur to the end
of time. Ah, there are many thoughts to ponder over merely in a
handful of British earth!

As I sat on, lost in thought, my great hound's head resting at my
feet, the silence was broken by the sound of the old church clock. It
struck eleven. I touched the grass at my feet: it was wet with dew.

From behind me as I rose came strongly in a soft breeze all the
perfumes of the sweet things then in flower, and as I passed out of
the cloisters my last vision was the mead of narcissi nodding softly
in the night wind.

Mouse and I turned back out of the lily gate, and so into the
quadrangle. Light flashed from the hanging lamps in the ambulatory,
and I heard in the distance the refrain of an old Brittany song, that
Auguste was singing in his kitchen. Half an hour later not a sound,
and the lights were put out, and all was still. Only the scents of
the honeysuckle and the budding lilac reached me from my open
casement, and the cry of the corncrake, which seemed mysteriously to
record the passing of the hours and the passing of all things--Kings,
Queens, Abbots, Kingdoms and Commonwealths. So musing I fell asleep.

Several weeks later I rose "betimes," as they say here, and whilst
the dew was lying like a mantle of diamonds on the glistening turf. I
stepped off to the old red-walled garden and visited the beds of
tulips.

My late tulips were all out in a blaze of beauty--rose, red, white,
yellow, and gold, whilst some were splashed with sombre purple. On
the walls, the creepers were all clad in green, and the honeysuckles
cast their perfume in all the corners of the garden. But I did not
stop to linger; a wild spirit was on me, and I made my way across the
golden meadows, past the fern-clad hill, and beyond what folks call
here the paddock. I walked on, faithful Mouse following closely,
until I reached the bottom of the hill on which the hamlet of Wyke is
built, and then I turned to the north, and retraced my steps by
Farley Dingle.

What an enchantingly beautiful thing the dew on the opening flowers
of the dog-rose is, and how delicate are the red shades of the
opening fronds of the bracken. Then I saw other treasures, none of
which were more lovely than some pink cheeked oak-apples, encircled
in the golden tassels of the oak blossom.

Why does one not get up every morning? I said to myself. Why miss
daily the enchantments of morning? The dew, the scents, and the
sunshine were all delicious.

I returned through the little town. Life was just beginning. Shops
were opening. A few people drove past in noisy carts. Mothers were
preparing their children to go to school. Men were going to work
after their breakfasts, to the near fields, or in the shops; whilst
whelp, and hound, and pup, were all gaily frolicking in the streets.

[Sidenote: THE ROYAL OAK]

I saw little friends go by. They laughed and bowed to me. Nearly all
the little lads had got, I noticed, a sprig of oak leaves in their
cap, for it was the 29th of May, Royal Oak Apple Day, as the folks
call it; and some of them as they passed called out--

                           "Royal Oak
                           I Whig provoke,"

and pointed to the badge in their caps.

Shropshire is the land of loyalty, and people still cherish there the
memory of the hiding of the King at Boscobel.

The 29th of May is the anniversary of Charles II.'s Restoration, and
the custom since then of wearing oak leaves on that day still lingers
on in many counties.

I read once a terrible story of two soldiers in George I.'s time who
were nearly flogged to death in 1716 for putting oak sprigs in their
hats.

The Royal Oak, wrote Stukeley, "stood a bow shot from the house (of
Boscobel). Into this tree, Colonel Carlos and the King climbed by the
aid of a hen-roost ladder. Members of the family fed them by
fastening the victuals to a nut hook. The tree is now enclosed with a
brick wall in the inside of which are placed laurels. Close to the
oak is a thriving plant reared from one of its acorns."

The story runs that the King, in gratitude, collected some acorns at
a later date from the oak which had afforded him a shelter, had them
planted in St. James's Park, and watered them with his own hands.

Are they still growing? I have often asked myself; or have they
perished like the Stuart line and cause? Be this as it may, the
custom of wearing the oak is still dear to Shropshire lads, and at
Wenlock any lad "who will not mount the green" is considered fair
game for other little lads to pummel and cuff.

As I walked down Sheinton Street I noticed that three little boys
came out of a house together. Suddenly a little lad passed them
without the orthodox "tuft of green." With a wild whoop the little
lads gave chase. "Bash and bummel him," they called. "Have at 'un."

I hardly think they knew what they were making this onslaught on a
comrade for, but they would have vaguely told you, if they could,
that it was not what Etonians would call "good form" to appear at
Wenlock on the 29th of May without a "badge of green."

I stood and watched the chase. My little Roundhead was not caught. He
dodged his pursuers adroitly, and in the midst of the hunt the
school-bell sounded, so for a moment an armistice was declared.

Before I went in I visited my beds of anemone and ranunculi. What is
there of such enchanting brilliancy as the exquisite scarlet anemone,
the well-known wind flower of the Pyrenees, as I have heard it
called, with its dazzling scarlet blossoms? But my few clumps were
over. This lovely variety I have never known "a free grower," as
gardeners call it, in the North, but in Sussex and Hampshire it is
said to do well. The roots that I had out then were the exquisite
double sorts, and some of the large flowering single varieties.
Amongst my most beautiful named sorts I saw by the labels were--Rose
de Nice, a delicate satiny rose, Snowball, and Rose Mignon, which
last is of a splendid deep shade of pink. There were also Chapeau de
Cardinal, Fire King, and la Dame Blanche. How lovely they all were,
and how vividly they brought back to me the florists' shops at Nice,
Cannes, and Mentone. How well I remembered the big bunches in all
colours in their picturesque green jars of native pottery. But more
beautiful still was the recollection of the sheets of anemones as I
saw them in Sir Thomas Hanbury's beautiful garden of La Mortola. They
were principally single, and raised from seed by his gardener, I was
told. What a glory of colour they made with the cypress trees, ilexes
and orange groves as a background, mingling with daffodils and
cyclamen, whilst the air was laden with the scent of orange and
lemon-blossom.

I recalled the glory of these lovely visions. Even here in England a
few patches seemed to add greatly to the beauty and joy of a garden.
Then I stopped and picked a few sprays to copy in my curtain. Whilst
thus engaged, I was conscious that some one was approaching me. I
looked up, and saw my little girl's governess, Miss Weldon. By her
troubled face I knew that she had unpleasant news to communicate; in
fact, I was sure the unpleasant rock of Worry was ahead.

[Sidenote: BESS NAUGHTY]

I listened, and Bess's delinquencies were poured forth into my
unwilling ears. My little maid, it appeared, had bitten the nursery
maid, slapped her nurse, and had ended in a fit of rage by throwing
her lesson-books in her governess' face. She had flatly refused to do
any lessons to-day. In fact, I was told, she had declined "to study"
ever since the excitement of the recitals for the May dance; and Miss
Weldon declared that she did not approve of public performances, and
pursed up her lips severely.

I did not wait to hear any more for, to quote Burbidge, "the less of
a disagreeable you mind, the better for your supper," but I went
straight into the house. I went up the old newel stairs and found
Bess on the floor of the nursery. The whole room resounded with her
angry cries. "Horrid slug, stupid snail," and other words of
opprobrium I heard in quick reiteration. She kicked, screamed, and
vowed she hated everybody and everything, with a furious, scarlet
face. Even old Nana did not escape her abuse. There was nothing to be
done but to put Bess to bed, and tell her that there she must remain
till I could forgive her, and let her get up again.

"I hate you, mother!" she cried in a shower of tears. "When I'm rich
I'll buy a new mother." And as I closed the door an angry little
voice called out, "I'd sell you all for sixpence; you're all horrid,
horrid!"

I tried to seek peace with my crewels and my needle, and bethought
myself of the bunch of anemones which in haste I had thrown upon a
table in the chapel hall. But peace that day might not be mine. War,
black war, seemed to have set in in all parts of my demesne.
Célestine bounced in like a whirlwind of discord and fury.

[Sidenote: VOICES OF DISCORD]

"Cette odieuse femme! Cet animal empesté!" by which civil terms she
alluded to the old housekeeper, who had done something unpardonable;
"mais j'aurai ma place quand même." Then followed a string of
incoherent abuse. A second afterwards, Mrs. Langdale appeared, took
up the tale, and vindicated her honour and position. The two women
glared at each other like wild cats, and set to work to abuse each
other roundly, each in her own mother tongue. Célestine spoke in high
southern French, breathless, scarlet, her eyes burning like live
coals, whilst Mrs. Langdale screamed shrilly in angry Shropshire
tones. Our old housekeeper does not generally speak in her native
dialect, but in moments of excitement she takes to it as to her
native element. Her voice ran up like the women's of the west, and
she trembled with fury as she called forth judgments on foreigners,
"furies, and such like good-for-nothing losellers and vagrants."

So great was their indignation and so near did they approach each
other in passion, that I feared they must come to blows; but at last
they vanished, vowing vengeance, and filling the monks' passage with
cries of discord. The _causa belli_ was difficult to discover, but
there seemed to have been a disagreement over a towel, a bit of soap,
and some key of a cupboard. Anyway, what was wanting in wit, was
fully made up by wrath.

How eloquent, at least how voluble, two furious women of the lower
classes can be, like Shakespeare's women, in their flights of rage.
With us the power of vituperation is a power of the past. We control
ourselves and our anger smoulders in our hearts, but rarely flies
forth in a whirlwind of words.

At last I was left with Mouse, and alone we sat on, hoping only for
peace. How good life would be without its worries and its quarrels.
Mouse and I looked at each other. "My dog," I said, "you have one
great merit: you cannot speak."



                              CHAPTER VI

                                 _JUNE_


                 "Now is the time for mirth,
                   Nor cheek or tongue be dumbe,
                 For the flowrie earth
                   The golden pomp is come."
                                            HERRICK.

Yes, the golden pomp had come. The earth was radiant. Down below the
Abbey extended sheets of golden buttercups, the world was full of
song, and a clear turquoise sky, cloudless and glorious, rose above
us, and all through the joyous days we were bathed in glad sunshine.

Peace had come, inside and outside the house. The storms that ended
May had vanished, and my domestic coach seemed rolling gaily along.
Bess had grown good again, the roughest children sometimes do. The
lessons were learnt without too much grumbling, and Miss Weldon no
longer carried her head low with shame. Mrs. Langdale and Célestine
had settled down into hostile neutrality, and for that I was thankful.

"Ma'zelle's tongue is like a firebrand, but I give her no chance, I
never speak to her," my old friend told me. And as angry silence is
better than open war, I received its advent with thanksgiving; but
all messages were impossible, and I suspected Fremantle had hard work
to steer his boat between the sullen seas of "the room."

[Sidenote: A SUMMER GARDEN]

But a truce to domestic worries, for early in June I gardened; that
is to say, I stood about on the close-shorn turf and Burbidge gave
directions for the summer plants to be put in the beds. This always
is a solemn summer function, and Burbidge had all the importance of a
Prime Minister moving amongst his Cabinet, whilst I stood by and
admired.

On the east side of the Abbey Farmery, as it was once called, we had
already put in round beds of heliotrope (the old cherry-pie of
childhood). Burbidge had planted a bed of scarlet verbenas, and was,
when I went out, putting in one of the delicate pure white variety,
that smells so sweet after a passing shower in the twilight. Besides
these, there were to be spudded in beds of crimson and scarlet
geraniums, near the high southern wall running from the oratory to
the gazebo. We had planted, a few years before, sweet tea-roses of
all colours--pink, orange, and copper, a _Choisya ternata_, the
orange-blossom of Mexico, patches of close-clinging Virginian
creeper, to enjoy their autumn glory, and over the pillars different
varieties of large-flowering clematises. These, as they make their
full growth, will be tied to the stone balls that crown the wall. The
clematises are of the most beautiful modern sorts, mauve, lavender,
and purple, and in August and September, I trust, will repay us amply
for our care during the dark winter months, and in the sharp winds of
March.

Burbidge was solemnly having his plants brought out, and stood
watching that no mishap took place, for, he assured me, "boys were
born careless."

Round the sundial were to be planted four scarlet plots of geraniums,
and all were to be edged with a ribbon of blue lobelia. "How
commonplace!" some of my readers will exclaim; but all the same, very
gay and cheery during the late summer and early autumn, and a
brilliant note of colour when the glory of the herbaceous borders is
over. We must always remember that there are many forms of beauty,
and that even the newest one day will be old-fashioned, and that a
fashion immediately past may have something to commend it, in spite
of the gardening papers of the day, and _learned critics_. When the
beds were planted and the tiny little string of lobelia added, then
the wire netting that encircled each bed was carefully put back, or
otherwise, to quote Burbidge, "Adam and his crew would soon be the
death of the greenhouse stuff, sure enough."

After that, we planted a bed of heliotrope, of a beautiful Jamaica
variety, that was brought back from there by a friend; and then a bed
or two of fuchsias, including a few two- or three-year-old standards
in the centre, for nothing gives a bed greater beauty than that it
should be of different heights. The old flat bed was poor and ugly,
and did not give half the effect of colour that one does of different
heights. Then I saw put out beds of latana, red, yellow, and brown,
and salmon and pink geraniums, and the old stone troughs and tubs
were filled with rich velvety petunias. After all the small beds were
planted, we came to the long border immediately in front of the new
southern wall. There Burbidge put in squares of that dear old plant
known to children as the lemon verbena plant, and great patches of
many different sorts of sweet-scented geraniums. Amongst these
delights were the old peppermint, the rose geranium, the
lemon-scented, the citron-scented, the apple-scented, and the
pennyroyal, and some of the best of the named sorts, such as Little
Gem, Pretty Polly, Lady Plymouth, Shottesham Park, and Lady
Scarborough. Altogether, Burbidge told me with pride, there were not
less than twenty sorts. All these perfumed pelargoniums have a
delicious fragrance of their own, distinct, and exquisitely sweet.
All will bed out well in an English garden, but care should be taken
to plant out in the same bed sorts that grow about the same height,
as some varieties are much more vigorous than others in the open,
and, to quote Burbidge's words, "fair trample down the weaker sorts,
like horses wud childer, if yer put 'em alongside."

In this long border there were also placed round bushes of Paris
Marguerites, and here and there Burbidge slipped in a castor-oil
plant with its overshadowing handsome foliage and horse-chestnut-like
fruit, and at intervals a spike of cannas, and a plant or two of
tasselled maize with variegated leaf, "to bring them tropics home," I
was told. Then in the foreground, "his boys" spudded in African
marigolds, soft mauve violas, asters, and stocks, besides patches of
geraniums, to bring in "a smart snap of colour," as my old gardener
put it.

[Sidenote: "SOME NOSEGAY BLOWS"]

After luncheon I went out on the other side of the old house, to what
is known as the Quadrangle, to witness further garden operations. I
pleaded in favour of putting into some of the tubs what Burbidge
calls "some nosegay blows." Burbidge acceded to my request; "But us
must mind the colours too," he declared. He put in, however, to
please me, a few little brown evening stocks, that smell sweetest at
nights, for I told him that it was delightful to come and sit out
after dinner, and enjoy the scents of night. He put in a few verbenas
also, for the chance of evening showers, some nicotianas, and a few
crimson humeas. Round the old redstone building, he planted three
rows of Jacoby geraniums, "For them will mean brightness," he said.

As I stood and watched the last row of geraniums being put in the
soil, I was joined by Bess and Mouse.

"Oh, mum!" Bess told me, "Mouse has been growling and growling at
something behind the ivy. If it had been at night, I should say she
had met a devil or ogre. Every minute she was with Nana and me, she
got crosser and crosser; and see, her nose is quite red and bleeding,
just like Hals' when he tumbled downstairs. Could it be a real
robber?" and Bess's eyes opened wide.

"No," I answered, "I don't think it could be a robber; but let's go
and see."

So we started off across the gravel. Mouse ran on ahead, as if
anxious to show us something. Suddenly she stopped with a whimper. I
followed on, jumped down the crypt, and, peering behind the ivy
leaves, soon discovered the cause of my dog's excitement and
displeasure. I found half covered up with dead leaves and rolled
tightly into a ball of prickles, a poor little hedgehog.

"For shame, Mouse!" I cried, and called her off. For Mouse, at the
sight of the poor little beast, growled angrily, and wished once more
to go for her antagonist.

"Better to kill un'," said Burbidge, who had arrived on the scene.
"Hedgehogs baint good for naught. They be milk-suckers, and death on
the squire's game."

For like most country-folks, Burbidge's hand was against hedgehogs.
Burbidge had in his hand a rake, and was about to strike the poor
little prickly creature, but I interposed.

[Sidenote: MY SANCTUARY]

"They do no harm. Besides, this is my sanctuary," I said. "In the
Abbey Church no bird or beast may be harmed."

Burbidge walked away growling, "Varmint should be killed anywhere."

Then Bess and I went and inspected the little ball of spikes.

"See, Bess," I said, "how it defends itself. All the winter this
hedgehog has slept amongst a bed of dead ivy leaves, and so has
passed long months. But now that summer has returned it will walk
about, and at nights he will crop the grass, and eat insects."

Mouse looked abashed at my lavishing notice on a hedgehog, and jumped
up on a bank of thyme and watched intently what I was doing. Great
Danes are remarkably sensitive dogs, and the mildest rebuke is often
sufficient to make them miserable for long spells. A friend of mine,
who had a very large one, said, "I never dared do more than whip its
kennel. As a puppy, that was punishment enough." So I spoke gently to
Mouse, and said, "You must never hurt hedgehogs again." At this,
Mouse gravely descended from her heights, sat down by my side, and
inspected the hedgehog, and I felt certain she would never hurt one
again.

Then I said to Bess that perhaps there were some little hedgehogs not
far off, funny little creatures, born with little, almost soft,
prickles; and I told the child how useful they were in a garden. How
they feed on slugs and insects, and how, when introduced in a
kitchen, they would even eat black beetles.

"Once," I told my little maid, "I had read that a poor scullion, in
the Middle Ages, had one that he taught to turn the spit. So you see,
Bess," I said, "hedgehogs can be very useful creatures; not at all
the wicked murderous race that Burbidge would wish you to believe."

Bess looked at me askance. "I cannot like them as much as you, mama,"
she answered in a pained voice; "for Nana said too that they sucked
the cows. And see how this one has pricked poor Mouse's nose."

"Well, let us leave the hedgehog," at last I said, "and wash foolish
Mouse's wounds." So we wandered off to the fountain, and dipped our
handkerchiefs into the clear water, and washed my great hound's fond
and foolish nose.

At first, Mouse objected; but as Bess told her, "One gets used to
washing, same as lessons," so after a minute or two, she sat by us
until we had washed away all traces of the fray.

As we were thus engaged, Auguste, the French cook, went by. I
noticed, as he passed us, that he carried in his hand a basket.

"Voyez, madame," he cried. "Quelle belle trouvaille. Elles sont
superbes." And he showed me a mass of creepy, crawly, slimy brown
snails. Auguste was as proud as if he had found a basketful of
new-laid eggs, and proposed with his aides to have a magnificent
_souper_. "Quelle luxe!" I heard him say to himself, as he made his
way to his kitchen, "et dire dans toute cette valetaille il n'y a que
nous, qui en voudrons."

Auguste will steep them in cold water, and then cook them. I must
honestly confess I have never had the courage to eat one, but I
believe now that there is a growing demand for escargots in London,
and I have been told that in one shop alone, more than a hundred
thousand are sold each season.

"Come on, mamsie," at last cried Bess. "Even Nana couldn't make Mouse
cleaner." So my little maid and I went off hand-in-hand across the
well-tended lawns of the Cloister garth.

[Sidenote: "ONLY YOU AND ME AND MOUSE"]

Bess was full of confidences. "Mamsie," said my little maid, "I never
want to grow any older, 'cause why--I should have to wear long, long
dresses, like grown-ups, and then, how could I climb the trees. But I
should like all days to go on just the same as to-day--no lessons, no
rain, no governesses, nobody but you and me and Mouse."

I caught something of the child's enthusiasm. The glory of the summer
was like an intoxicating draught. "Wouldn't it be lovely, dear," I
said, "to have no commonplaces, no tiresome duties--only summer and
the song of birds; and never to catch cold, or feel ill, or tired, or
worried?"

Bess laughed, and we kissed each other.

We walked on along the path that encircled the ruins. Young, fat,
flopperty thrushes, with large brown eyes and short tails, hopped
about the grass. On the bough of a lime tree, we came across a line
of little tom-tits, nine in a row. There they sat, chirping softly,
or charming, as the people call it here. The poor parent birds, in an
agony of terror, flew backwards and forwards, imploring their
offspring to return to the nest, but the young ones took no notice.
They would not believe in the existence of such monsters as boys or
cats. They, too, like us, were charmed with the sunshine and the
gaiety of the outside world, and utterly declined to go back to what
folks call here, "their hat of feathers." A little further on,
however, our enthusiasms received a chill. In the branches of a dead
laurel, that I had for some time been watching, was a thrush's nest,
and it was deserted. The mother-bird had sat day and night, and I had
watched the tips of her brown tail, or met, at intervals, the gaze of
her round anxious eye. And now the nest was forsaken. How sad! She
had become almost a friend. For days, after breakfast, I had brought
out a saucer full of bread and milk, and placed it at a respectful
distance from the nest. And yet in spite of all my care, behold! an
enemy had come in the night, some horrid boy or evil cat, and the
thrush had forsaken the nest, and we lamented over the eggs--cold as
stones.

I showed Bess the nest. "How wicked!" cried Bess, "to frighten off a
poor bird like that. Well, I am sure," she added, "the wicked
creature that has done that ought to go to prison. Perhaps Barbara,
the housemaid," she continued, after a moment's reflection, "might
tell her policeman. Policemen should be of use, sometimes."

With a sense of regret, I retraced my steps, till I reached the
tourist's wicket, that leads into the public road. Seated close by,
on a mossy bank, I found old Timothy Theobalds.

I told him about the forsaken thrush's nest.

"Lord, love yer, marm!" he answered contemptuously, "they be as
common as blackberries, be thrushes; there's any amount of
they--there be one not a hundred yards off, just on the ground. The
feathered gentry will fly, give 'em a week or so. I don't think
nothin' of they. But I do remember a yellow water wagtail's nest,
when I was a boy. It war down by the pond. I was stayin' with
grandam, and the missus that lived here at the farm had a fine lot of
white ducks then. Well, she seed me one day speerin' round, and her
thought I war arter her ducks. 'What be yer lookin' round here for?'
her cried out, furious. I told her I was arter a yellow dip-tail, but
her wouldn't believe me. 'I'll mak' yer know the taste of the
willow'--for there was a great one then by the pond--'and yer won't
wish to know it twice,' her said. Farmer folk war masterful then"
mused old Timothy; "they held the land from the gentry, and the land
was meat and drink."

After a pause I asked the old man if he was not enjoying the sunshine.

[Sidenote: THE APPLE HOWLERS]

"Pretty fair," he replied. "But how about the apples? 'Tis good," he
acknowledged, "a bit of summer; but yer should have know'd the
summers in the old days," he exclaimed; "they war built up by plenty.
Now," he said, sadly, "there's always somethin' agin' summer, like
there be agin' most things. Summer blows bain't enough to content
poor folks like me. Us old 'uns want our apples bobbin' in beer come
Christmas."

I then remembered hearing a few days before that the apple-blossom
had been sadly nipped by the late spring frosts.

"Them as is rich can buy the foreigners," pursued Master Theobalds,
"but to poor folks, frosts mean the end of pleasure. But there bain't
like to be much fruit now in the orchards," he continued, "since
folks have given up the decent customs of their forefathers."

"What ones?" I asked. "And how did folks in the years gone by prevent
frosts, and blights?"

"You'll hear, you'll hear," and old Timothy, in a high squeaky voice
of ninety years and more, told me of old Wenlock customs long since
forgotten.

"I mind me," he pursued, "when it war different; but in grandam's
time, it was a regular custom for them as had apple trees and plum
orchards to get the young men to go round and catch round the trees
with their arms----"

"What good did that do?" I asked, somewhat surprised.

"What good!" and old Timothy glared at me for this impertinent
interpellation. "Why, mam, it was accounted a deed of piety in those
days 'to march' the orchards, as folks called it. Religion war a
different thing altogether, even when I war a lad," he said sadly.
"The devil we thought a lot of 'im in my time--always raging and
rampaging up and down, it was supposed. Now, from what I hear, he
seems a poor lame kind of played-out devil, broken-winded and
drugged; not the rowdy, handsome chap us used to be afeard of. Years
agone we thought he could get anywhere--in our houses, in our
cupboards, up the chimney, down the wells, anywhere. 'Keep him out,'
parsons used to say; and us thought us had done a good job if us
could keep him out of our gardens, and from our fruit trees. So the
lustiest lads of a parish would come round, call out a benediction,
and tramp round. They would--they that war nimble with their
fists--have a set-to, mostly, at Wenlock, in the churchyard. Many's
the match I've a-seen. Two young fellows fighting, fair and square,
as Christians should, and after they had found the best man, they'd
go and brace the trees. 'Apple Howlers' folks used to call 'em, and
the best man war captain of the lot."

"What did they do?"

"Why, they used to march in smocks, and with garlands and blows, same
as on May Day. Holy Thursday war the great day, I've heard tell, and
'em used to shout till 'em fair broke their lungs, singing such old
songs as 'Blow winter snows across the plain,' 'Fair shines my lady's
garden,' 'Spring voices strong,' and 'Phoebus smiles on groves anew.'
Who Phoebus was I never knowd," remarked old Timothy, "but Salter
Mapps used to sing that finely and mak' the whole place alive when he
roared it out."

"And the maids," I said, "did they have no part in the merry-making?"

[Sidenote: "THE MAIDS HELD THEIR PEACE"]

"The maids," answered Master Theobalds, severely, "held their peace.
If they did anything, they peeped out of the winders, waved hankies,
and kissed their hands. 'Twas enough for the maids in those days."

"Yes; but tell me," I urged, "about the rite. What did the young men
do in the orchards?"

"Why, them rampaged round like young cart colts on spring grass, and
they seized each others' hands and danced aunty-praunty, as if their
arms were made of cart-ropes, round the trees, and they capered like
young deer, as the deer do at Apley Park, up beyond Bridgenorth, and
they kind of hugged a tree, crying out--

                  "'Stand fast root, bear well top,
                  God send us a youngling sop.
                  Every twig big apple,
                  Every bough fruit enough.'

And then wherever they passed they got cakes and ale. There war holy
beer, made from church water caught in a butt from the roof, and that
war supposed to be the best--'the life of the season,' folks called
it then. And if the lads got a touch too merry, folk knew what to
do--they looked the other way. Rough play, rough pleasure; but they
war men then."

As the old man ceased talking, I remembered having read in some old
book on "Strange Customs" an account of "Apple Blow Youling," as it
was called in the West. The rite was probably a survival of an old
heathen custom. It is supposed that it arose from a Roman practice of
giving thanks to Æolus, the god of the winds, and that this pious
invocation was instituted by them soon after their conquest of
Britain. Anyway, the rite became popular, and long survived the
occupation of the Romans; and in some places, apple youling, or
howling, went on through the early part of the nineteenth century.
There was a pause, and then old Timothy began to talk about the
difficulty of inducing village maids to go into domestic service.

"They all thinks themselves born ladies now," he said sourly.
"There's my cousin Polly Makin's granddaughter, a fine strapping lass
to look at, but her went off last week to Birmingham. Dull, 'er said,
it be here. What does her mean," asked the old man, in a tone of
righteous wrath, "by finding it dull in her native town? When folks
found it dull in their native place, when I war a lad, we called 'em
stoopid; now they calls 'em larned and too good. Now 'tis all roar
and express train. But her'll creep back some day, will Polly--young
Polly, and be glad and thankful to find a place to lie her head in.
They be all for pleasurin' now, expeditions and excursions, running
everywhere with no eyes, that's what I call their modern games."

"But in old days, if I had wanted a housemaid or a scullery-maid,
what should I have done?" I asked, bringing back my old friend to his
subject.

[Sidenote: OLD-WORLD SERVANTS]

"In old days," replied Timothy, "there warn't no manner of difficulty
in the matter. The men and the maids used to stand in their native
places on hire, which was a decent, open custom. At Christmas, there
war the Gawby Market in the North; at Whitchurch there war the Rag
Fair, as they called it; and at Shrewsbury, during fair time, all the
farmers and their wives used to go in to engage a maid or a man. At
Much Wenlock, I've heard hirin' day was 12th of May; at Church
Stretton it used to be on the 14th. At Market Drayton, I've often, in
the forties and fifties, seen the carters stand forth, whips in hand,
so that all might know their trade, and cry out, 'A driver, a driver,
good with a team,' and such-like. Then the lasses wud stand with
broom, or milk-pails and make known their callings, and the missuses
and the masters would look round and engage who they had a mind to;
and they cud mostly all scrub and clean, milk and churn, brew and
bake in those days, for they couldn't read nor write, so their hearts
were set on housewifely jobs. But now the maids know nought. It is
all eddication, all readin' and writin', and they mostly can do
nothing with a broom, or a brush. Readin' isn't often much good to
'em what works. Now servant wenches talk of getting engaged; hirin'
war the word in the old time. When they war got in the old time, it
war for a year, and not a penny did most of 'em get till the year had
slipped away."

"Wasn't that rather hard?" I asked.

"The lads and lasses of the old days," answered Timothy, not without
a certain dignity, "took the rough with the smooth. Folks then didn't
all spec' to find roast larks dissolved in their mouths when they
opened them, any more than to pull roses at Yuletide. Hard work and
plenty of it, small pay and long service, that war their lot--the lot
of the lads I knew by name. Times war harder than they be now, but
Shropshire war a better, more manly place than it be now. Now there's
no hirin'. The maids go off to registry offices in back streets.
Palaver, dress, and flummery, that's what service be now. They writes
up, and off they goes to London, Wolverhampton, or Birmingham. Not
much but paper and stamps now in service. A deal of dislikes and not
an honest peck of work in the whole year--that's what folks call
progress now."

Then we passed on to other subjects. "Is the world better, Timothy,"
I asked, "for the abolition of the stocks, and pillory? Surely the
punishments of the old world were very brutal."

But my old friend would not allow this.

"Rough sinners need rough measures," he said. "The stick, when used
properly, be a right good medicine, and when the stick bain't enough,
take the lash. They cannot rule, as be afraid of tears.

"In old Shropshire the law crushed offence. At Newport the stocks
were up till late years, and I mind me 'tisn't more than half a
century ago that they were used at Wenlock. They had made a new one,
it seems the last, and put it on wheels, so that it might run like a
Lord Mayor's coach, they said. But to the last man, Snailey, as they
put in, 'twas no punishment, for his friends they handed him up beer
the whole way, and he came out drunk as a lord. I've never seen 'em
whipped, but grandam did many's the time," continued old Timothy.
"One of the posts of the Guildhall made the whippin'-post in the old
times. And grandam often told me how she seed 'em herself whipped
from the dungeon below the Guildhall to the White Hart Inn, and so
round the town.

                         [Illustration:
                         _Photo by Frith._
                         THE OLD GUILDHALL.]

"When the job was over," pursued old Timothy, "they washed the
stripes with salt and water. Old Sally Shake-the-Pail, as they called
her, wud come round with salt and water, and sponge their backs. They
used, I've heard, some of 'em, to scream fit to leave their skins
behind; whilst others, grandam used to say, would never speak, lay on
the lash as they would, and walk round the town smilin', so braced up
war they, to appear as if they didn't mind a farthin' piece.

[Sidenote: PAINS AND JUDGMENTS]

"The Judgments, as they war called," continued my informant, "took
place on market days. Then it war as they put a bridle on the scolds.

"Lor!" chuckled old Timothy, "'tis a scurvy pity as they can't clap
'em on now. There's many a wench as would be the better for it. There
be Rachel Hodgkis, own cousin to Young Polly, and Mary Ann James, my
great-nevy's wife, as 'twould do pounds of good to. But things are
changed now, and 'tis all the women folks as have got the upper hand,
and any pelrollick may grin, flount, jeer, and abuse as much as it
plaizes her now. But in the old times it war different--different
altogether."

Then old Timothy went on to say, "Many's the time as I've seen Judy
Cookson in a bridle. Her war a terrible sight in one. Her wud scream
and yell till her mouth fair ran with blood. Judy, folks said, cud
abuse against any--in fact," old Timothy said, with local pride, "I
think her cud have given points to many in Shrewsbury. Her war that
free with her tongue, and bountiful of splitters.

"Besides these old judgments," said Timothy, "I've seen many strange
things--sale of wives, and such-like trifles. Did yer ever hear,
marm, the story of how Seth Yates sold his wife?" There was a pause,
then Timothy drew breath and began afresh. "It must have been seventy
years and odd," he declared, "but I mind it all as if war yesterday.
A bit of a showery day, rain on and off, but sunshine between whiles.

"Yates, the husband, he lived at Brocton, and he and his missus
couldn't git on nohow. They fought, they scratched, and scrabbled
like two tom-cats that had met on the roof. Mattie, they said, would
screech and nag, and then Seth wud take up a stick and lay it on
sharp. This went on for weeks, till the neighbours said there was no
peace, and that they cud bear it no longer. The hurly-burly and
rampage war that disgraceful.

"So Mattie thought matters over. She had a Yorkshire cousin at the
hall, came from Barnsley, or some such outlandish place, her said,
and her thought out, by her advice, how her cud carry out a
separation with her man. 'Getting shunt,' Venus, her cousin, named
it; for it appears in Yorkshire yer can sell yer wife, same as yer
dog, if yer've got a mind, and even the bishops there say 'tis a
handy practice. So Mattie said what can be done in Yorkshire can be
done in Shropshire, for 'tis the same king as rules over the land.

"Seth he spoke up for a private sale; but Mattie said, 'I war married
in public, and I'll be sold in public,' for her war fearful of the
law, seeing what back-handers the law can give, when they mightn't
reasonably be expected. And so they settled as all should be done
fair and square, and above board on market day. Then for once folks
said the pair they agreed."

"Was the sale effected?" I asked.

"Simple and straightforward, same as pigs in a pen," replied old
Timothy. "The missus, her came into the market, dressed in her Sunday
best, in a trim cotton, and wearin' a new and stylish tippet, with
fine ends of primrose ribbon, and round her neck her gude man had put
a halter.

[Sidenote: A WIFE FOR SALE]

"When Yates got to Wenlock market, he turned shy and silly. 'Let be,
missus,' he said to his wife, 'I'll treat thee fair, if thee'll keep
a civil tongue.' But her turned round savage like, like a hen when a
terrier pup will meddle with her clutch of chickens, and her flapped
her apurn slap in his face. 'I've come in to be sold,' her said, 'and
I wull be sold if there's justice in England according to civilized
customs.' And them as was standing by roared with laughter, and Tom
Whinnall, a cheap Jack, turned to Seth and he cried out, 'Let her be.
A man never did wisely yet what kept a woman 'gainst her will. A
woman what won't settle, be as mad as a tup in a halter.' So Seth he
got shamed like, and he called out, 'Have it thy own way.' And her
cried out furious, 'I'd rather go down the river like Jimmy Glover's
cat, than bide with thee.' Then she got up in an empty cart, and Tom
Whinnall he put her up for auction. Her fetched half a crown and a
pot of beer."

"And what happened afterwards?"

"Oh, nothing much," replied Master Theobalds. "Anyway, Mattie had
nothing to complain of. David Richards bought her, a great strapping
fellow, that worked for the farmer at the Abbey, afore they turned it
back into a mansion. Folks said that Mattie showed off first night,
but David he just looked at her, and she minded him from the
beginning. The neighbours never heard a sound. He war masterful war
David, and he looked blacker than night when he had a mind, which, I
take it, is the right way with such as Mattie, for sure enough the
two lived happy as Wreken doves in the Bull Ring till Mattie died."

"Were there any penances in your time, Timothy?" I asked.

Timothy scratched his head and looked puzzled, and at last answered,
"I never seed any, but I've heard of 'em. Betty Beaman was the last
as I've heard tell of. She had, it seems, to appear before all the
people in a white sheet. Her felt it war cruel hard, I've heard
grandam say. One day a neighbour told, of how years afterwards, her
stood by the pump and told a friend that her had never got over that
job. Her felt the misery of it even then. And her hoped some good
soul would help the Lord to disremember, if so be she ever got to
paradise."

Old Timothy stopped talking. "I must get back to my cup of tea," he
said simply.

I put in his hand a little coin. "This will fill your pipe," I said.

"There's nought like backy," he answered. "'Tis meat and drink, and
makes yer forget." Then leaning heavily on his stick, the old man got
up.

I saw him walk past the old watch-tower of the monks, and stop at his
old black and white timber house in the Bull Ring. As he pattered
along, the brilliant sunshine struck upon his smock, and lighted up
the elaborately embroidered yoke.

What a changed world it is, I said to myself. How completely one
seems to hear the voice of the Middle Ages in listening to old
Timothy's tales. Scolds, bridles, whipping-posts, penances, and
stocks. As I mused, the sound of all others that belongs essentially
to modern England reached me. Within a few hundred yards away I heard
an engine puffing up and down.

Truly, in this country of ours, the old and the new are very close. I
stood up on the base of a broken column, heard the guard's whistle,
and saw engine and train go off into the far country. Whilst I was
thus engaged, Bess ran up.

"Have you done?" she asked. "When you and old Timothy get together,
he tells you a pack of rubbish, Nan says."

[Sidenote: A TWILIGHT STROLL]

That evening, in the twilight, I walked round the bee garden. Mouse
lay outside by the wrought-iron gates and watched me. How delicious
it is, the first fulfilment of everything in the glory of early June.
My white Martagon lilies were covered with lovely little wax-like
bells. The English crimson peony blossoms were all out, whilst their
Chinese sisters had great knobby buds which would open shortly, and
their bronze-tinted foliage was a beautiful ornament to the garden.
My hybrid perpetual roses were not yet in flower, for Shropshire is a
cold county compared to Sussex or Surrey; but the glory was on the
wing, and would come to us surely, if a little later than in the
south of England. My single rose bushes were all rich with buds. How
lovely Harrisoni would be shortly, I thought. And soon my hedge of
Penzance briars would be a perfect barrier of sweetness, I mused.
Then I looked below, and saw that my beautiful columbines were nearly
all in full perfection. How delicate they were in colouring, in their
soft grey, topaz pinks, and die-away lavenders and ambers. They
recalled shades of opal seen through flame and sunlight, and fading
skies after glorious sunsets. Last summer I got a packet of Veitch's
hybrids, and this year I have been amazed at their beauty.

Then I passed on to my lupines. They were all in bud, white, blue,
and purple, a great joy to the bees. A little further off were great
clumps of Oriental poppies, neatly and fully staked by Burbidge. Tied
so that they could flower to their heart's content and in full
enjoyment of air and sunlight; not tied up in faggots, such as the
ordinary gardener delights in.

I fondly wandered round and round. How good it was to be out in the
opening splendour of June, and to look at everything to one's heart's
content.

There was no sound of voices. Burbidge and his men had left the
garden for the night, only the notes of blackbird and thrush reached
me softly from the bushes beyond. To-night they, too, seemed almost
dazed, with the glory of summer and were singing below their breath,
as if worn out with the beauty of nature.

At last I tore myself away from the red-walled garden, and went and
looked at the tubs full of geraniums and at the beds on the east
side. How cool and happy they looked, and how grateful for the
bountiful moisture they had received from hose and water-can. Drops
glistened faintly on the stems, and the plants seemed to be drinking
in the water with avidity. How good it was, accomplished work, and
how sweet the stillness of a summer evening.

I stole back into the house and looked on the little table for the
letters that had come by the second post. I found one from Mrs.
Stanley. "I think," she wrote "after all, that you and Bess have the
best of it. For poor little Hals ever since he has been here has been
poorly and ailing. Oh! why cannot children be well in London?"

I asked Bess the question, for she stood by me, about to say "good
night" before going off to the little white cot upstairs.

"Why should poor children?" she answered, with a pout. "London is so
dull."

I kissed my little maid and said, "Then we must get Hals down here."

At this Bess clapped her hands. "Of course we must," she cried. "If
people want to be happy, they should live at Wenlock."

I sat down that evening and asked Mrs. Stanley to send her little boy
down to us. "The country just now is so sweet and fresh that it must
do him good," I wrote. "We will take the greatest care of him; and
here he has all the world to play in." The next morning I told Bess
what I had done.

"Yes," repeated Bess, gravely, "all the world to play in, and that is
what a poor boy can never have in London. There is no place there,
excepting for motors and policemen."

[Sidenote: AFTER THE RAIN]

All through the night sweet summer rain fell. How delightful a
morning is after such rain. How happy every plant and leaf looked,
how greedily all seemed to have drunk their fill--trees, shrubs,
grass, and flowers. What an aspect of deep refreshment everything
had, as if an elixir of life had been poured into the veins of every
tree and herb.

Speckled thrushes hopped about and caught earthworms as they peered
up through the lawns. On the stone steps leading up to the red-walled
garden lay the broken remains of many dusky shells of the monks'
snails, or as the children call them here, "snail housen." Beside
these lay also broken fragments of beautiful yellow, and pale pink
ones. A little later I walked into the garden to look at my great bed
of roses. What a wonderful change one night of rain had made! How the
shoots had lengthened, how "the blows," as Burbidge calls them, had
expanded. What a difference in the fat buds! The aphides, which
seemed such a pest a week before, had vanished, while the leaves were
refreshed and glittered with dew-drops.

Henricus Stephanus' old lines came back to me--

          "The rose, is the care and the love of the spring,
          The rose is the pleasure of th' heavenly Pow'rs;
          The boy of fair Venus, Cyther's darling,
          Doth wrap his head round with garlands of rose
          When to the dance of the graces he goes."

Amongst my beautiful modern roses, I noted that La France was opening
two delicious buds. What a beautiful rose it is; and what an
exquisite perfume it possesses! Then I found a gorgeous Fisher
Holmes, a General Jacqueminot, and a Captain Christy. All these had
been born, as Bess calls it, in the night. Besides these modern joys,
I paused to notice my old-world friends. I could not pass by without
casting a glance upon the loves of Gerard and Parkinson. The
pimpernel rose, little Scotch briars of different sorts, the little
single rose without thorns, the damask, the yellow cabbage, and the
splendid vermilion, the musk, the single cinnamon and the great
Holland, all these have their places in different parts of my garden.

Parkinson tells us how at Longleete in his time people said that a
rose tree then bore white roses on one side, and red on the other;
but the old writer looked upon this as a fable, and declared, "This
may be as true as the old story that a white hen visited Livia
Augusta with a sprig of bays, and foretold, Augusta believed, by so
doing empire to Augusta's posterity, and extinction to the race when
the brood of the hen failed." Be this as it may, I have a standard
rose with a Gloire de Dijon and a General Jacqueminot budded on the
same tree. Burbidge was much pleased with the combination of colours
and called it Christian and Heathen--names, I fancy, first bestowed
by his old wife Hester.

[Sidenote: THE GREY MARE AND ROSEMARY]

Before I left the red-walled garden, I stopped before a bush of
rosemary. I pinched a leaf and picked a little spray on which were
some minute blossoms just coming into flower. Farmers' wives of
Shropshire use the leaves for flavouring their lard, and a bush or
two is to be found in every farmhouse border.

I remembered the great bushes of this plant that I saw in the Riviera
above Mentone, and near the Italian frontier on the road to
Bordighera. I recalled Evelyn's affection for this fragrant plant,
and I recollected what he tells us in his delightful diary, after a
night at Loumas in 1644, about this delightful aromatic shrub.

After passing the Durance, he wrote, "We came upon a tract of country
covered with rosemary, lavender, lentiscs and the like sweet shrubs,
for many miles together, which to me was very pleasant."

Yes, I said to myself, the scent is very pleasant, health and
sweetness combined, in which is nothing cloying or sickly. I laughed
for the old Shropshire proverb came back to me of "Where the grey
mare is stalled, rosemary grows apace." I have heard it said that in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was the fashion to put
rosemary on and round the corpses of the old. "Vors for maids,
rosemary and lavender for those as die old in God," an old cottager
once said to me; and the same old body told me that in her mother's
time "'twas thought a mark of respect to put a bunch of
sweet-smelling herbs round a dear dead face, such as the sage tree, a
sprig of thyme, a bunch of lavender, or a branch of rosemary." What a
pretty offering such must have been! One can imagine dim figures in
the gloaming going up to the chamber of death some summer
evening--old friends and gossips in smocks, or with countryside
chintz bonnets, and each guest placing a spray of some sweet herb, as
a tribute of affection, by the dear dead face that would never wake
up, or speak to them again.

A few steps from the rosemary bush is my plant of fraxinella. Its
stalk glistened with sweet stickiness. It was of the white variety,
far more beautiful than the one generally known as the pink.

Years ago in an old Hampshire garden I loved as a child, I was taken
out by my father's old gardener with my sister to see his "Burning
Bush." I recollected, as if it had been only yesterday, that as
little girls we had been allowed to sit up once till nine, to see the
bush set on fire. I thought then this harmless bonfire the most
wonderful and mystic thing that I had ever seen. We went out with our
old nurse and saw it lighted at a distance, our old nurse holding
both our hands. How wonderful it seemed in the stillness of the
summer's evening, with no sound but the distant singing of the birds.
I remember how the old gardener, who had lived with father,
grandfather and great-uncle, told us the story of the burning bush
and bade us read our Bibles, and how we believed for years afterwards
that we two had seen a miracle and had stood on holy ground that
summer night.

For many years I lost sight of the fraxinella as a border plant. The
good old gardener of my old home died, and the burning bush was dug
up, I heard, under an evil successor, and thrown on the midgeon heap,
and alone the memory of the mystic plant and the still summer's
evening remained with me.

But after my marriage, I remembered spending a June in France, and
one day in the first week in June I saw the altar of the cathedral at
Laon decked with great sprays of lovely white fraxinella. The scent
was intense--heavier than the heaviest incense. I am sensitive to the
perfume of flowers, and therefore could not remain long in the
edifice, but the odour brought back the memory of the burning bush of
my childhood, and I went off to a florist in the market-place and
bought two packets of seeds for my Shropshire home. One was a packet
of the pink variety, and the other was of the white. When I returned
to the Abbey the seeds were sown by Burbidge, but, to quote the old
man, "they was as shy of coming up as blows be in snow." We waited
and we waited for any sign of life.

All through the late summer and autumn there was no symptom of
vegetation. The seeds, which were like little black shot, remained
dormant. For many months there was no change.

[Sidenote: "THE FOREIGNERS" CONDEMNED]

At last Burbidge lost all patience. "Put they," and he pointed to the
boxes in which the fraxinella seeds were sown, "put they on the
midgeon heap, and let the foreigners get their deserts."

Happily I stood by when this order was given, and pleaded that they
should be left a little longer. One chilly day in February, when the
only sign of the return of life seemed the gilding of the willows, I
peered into the frame, and I saw, as gardeners say, "my seeds on the
move," and in due time my old gardener reared me some half-dozen
plants. After some abuse, Burbidge has taken kindly to the
"foreigners," and now graciously allows "that yer might do worse than
grow fraxinella in a garden."

I leant over and smelt the long white spikes, and thought of the old
plant in the Hampshire garden. I noticed that the sticky stem was a
perfect fly-trap, and that hundreds of little insects were caught and
drowned in it like in the leaves of the sun-dew on Scotch moors. It
is this sticky fluid, I am told, that burns without injuring the
plant, when set on fire on a summer's night. Every part of the
fraxinella is redolent of fragrance--leaf, stalk, and petals--later,
even the husk of the seed pod. All are exquisitely perfumed; and the
husks, if gathered, will retain their sweetness for long months
together.

A little further off, I stood before my clumps of pinks. I have a
great many sorts, and all are deliciously sweet--the sweetest of all
flowers I have heard them called.

In Chaucer's time it was the fashion, it seems, to talk of the
"parwenke of prowesse;" in Sir Philip Sidney's age, writers spoke of
"the pink of courtesy." We no longer compare a high and noble spirit
to a flower. Do we love flowers less?

I walked up and down before my lines of pinks and wondered. I have
the lovely Amoor pink, the pretty Maiden, the chocolate brown and
white, the delicate little Cheddar, peeping up between stones and
rocks, and a lovely little Norwegian variety that a friend brought me
back from a fishing-lodge. My little Scandinavian friend has a low
habit of growth, in fact, only rears its pink head a few inches from
the soil, but its blossoms are of a radiant rose, and deliciously
sweet.

Later in the day I went down a quiet path in the kitchen garden, that
faces east. There were no bright colours there, only sober-tinted
old-world herbs. Every monastic garden in the days of the
Plantagenets had its herbularis, or physic garden.

[Sidenote: THE HERB GARDEN]

Here there were little square beds of rosemary, of rue, fennel,
linseed, rye, hemp, thyme, woodruff, camomile, mallow, clove, and
basil. Of the clove basil Parkinson wrote, that "it was a restorative
for a weak heart, and was known to cast out melancholy and sadness."

Burbidge still cuts and dries these herbs, and village folks and
cottagers from the neighbourhood come for others.

"Fennel tea," he tells me, "is good to purify the blood, mallow is
excellent for rheumatism, whilst thyme, pounded fine, serves in cases
of colic." Boiled lily bulbs for healing wounds, I am told, are also
good. Then, in the corner against the wall, there is a patch of the
old single violet, which I have heard is very soothing for
inflammation, and now often advocated for curing cancer. Also a clump
of borage, which Gerard declares, "comforteth the heart, purgeth
melancholy, and quieteth the phrantick." A few steps away I saw a
patch of crane's-bill, the old geranium of the Middle Ages, which the
same writer recommended to be prepared with red snails and to be
taken internally.

Besides these, nestling against the wall, I noted a plant of golden
mouse-ear just coming into blossom. Here they call it "grin the
collar." It is a wild plant which the Elizabethan herbalist speaks of
with affection, and which he says he found growing in dame Bridget
Kingsmill's ground, on distant downs, "not far from Newberry."

I saw also bursting into blossom roots of the old single peony. It
was of the sort that I have been told must be gathered in the night,
or else the ill-fated gatherer may be struck blind.

Some years ago, I remembered once asking for a blossom of this sort
in a cottage garden to copy in my embroidery. But the old woman to
whom the plant belonged would not hear of picking a flower.

"Best leave it--best leave it," she had said. I thought her churlish
for the moment, and then thought no more about it; but the same
evening, whilst we were at dinner, a blossom of the single peony was
brought in to me on a salver, and I was told that little Betty, old
widow Hodgkis's granddaughter, had run up from below the Edge "to
pleasure me."

Granny, said the child, had told her that "you're welcome to it, and
that, bein' as it is there, was no ill-luck."

On being pressed to explain, the child had answered, "Us dursn't pick
that blow early, but granny says, picked at night, peonies be as safe
as Job Orton in his shop, but in noontime 'tis only suckin' gulleys
as wud pick 'em." For some moments I could not get the reason out of
the little maid, but at last, when we were alone, she whispered to
me. "'Tis along of the ecalls. If one war to see yer in the day,
madder yer'd be than a tup at Bridgenorth fair, and blind, behappen."

There is also in Shropshire a lingering belief that the seed of the
single peony has magic powers to soothe and quiet women. A young
widow, who had lost her husband in an accident connected with the
blasting of the lime rock, obtained sleep by drinking a tea made from
the seeds, I was assured.

[Sidenote: THE PHYSICIAN OF THE GODS]

"My Jane," her mother said, "couldn't sleep nohow before. It was
rocks, and falls in darkness, and screams all the time with her, let
her do what she would. Her got fair tired of physic, nothing the
doctor gave her seemed to bring peace, or to padlock her tongue. Then
came Jill Shore," I was told, "as lives halfway up the heights of
Tickwood. A witch some counted her, and her made my Jane lie down,
and her charmed her with verses and made her drink a draught of
peonina seed. And Jane her fell asleep, like a lamb beside its dam,
and her slept, and slept, and woke up reasonable and quiet, and for
all she was mortal sad, she was a decent soul again, and gave up
screeching and tearing out her hair, and screaming out things not fit
for a decent body to say."

Then there was, at the end of the garden, a plant of goat's rue, and
a patch of mustard seed. An old writer declared that mustard would
take away the black and blue marks that come from bruises. How that
may be, I know not, but later on we shall take up the crop, root and
blossom, and dig in the plants as manure into the fresh ground where
we hope to grow our tulips for next year. It is the best manure that
can be given to tulips, and an old secret amongst the tulip growers
of past centuries. Just beyond the crop of mustard I saw a root of
wild clary. In some of the old herbals this plant was accounted an
excellent remedy for weak eyes, and Gerard tells us that it was a
common practice in his day to put the seeds into poor folks' eyes, to
cure disease.

Just by the door that led into the paddock, there was a plant of
woodruff. Very delicate and sweet is the scent of this little flower.
It grows in great patches under the hazel trees of the Edge Wood.
Formerly woodruff was used in church decoration, and was deftly woven
into many garlands. In the north of Europe woodruff is still used as
a herb to flavour drinks. I never heard of this being done in
England, but in Shropshire it is often culled in the farmhouses to
put in muslin bags, in the place of lavender. It has a sweet scent,
which remains with letters and kerchiefs like a memory of the past.

Then there was, I saw, a plant of wormwood, the plant from which
absinthe is distilled. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century the
leaves of this plant were chopped up for flavouring, and it was
thought an excellent seasoning to venison. By the wormwood there was
a line of camomile. A little later in the summer the plants will be
covered with little white star-like blossoms. Burbidge will cut
stalks and flowers and his wife will dry them in the sun, and give
them away to the parents of sick children. "My missus," the old man
once said to me, "mostly does her kindnesses by nastiness. Her will,"
he added, "fair poison a body to keep her alive."

But though Burbidge allows himself the privilege of a free tongue as
regards his wife's remedies, he permits no criticism elsewhere. On
one occasion one of "his boys" objected to a gigantic draught of
ales-hoof and mallow, flavoured with camomile. "What dost thee stand
there for, loselling?" was the vigorous rebuke I heard addressed by
my old friend, as the victim hesitated to drink down at a gulp, a
bumper of a frothy brown fluid. "I tell thee, Roderick, if it fair
blows off thy stomach, it will make a new man of thee." "I canna,"
feebly protested Burbidge's man. But he had to; for as my old
gardener said, with a purple face of wrath, "I and my missus don't
make physic for folks to chuck abroad, and a man that works under,
needs must drink under." Whatever the immediate effect of the awful
beverage was, I cannot say, but this I do know, Roderick did not die;
he even looked as usual a week later.

Few gardeners now have their herb plots, but through the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries ladies and their waiting-women made household
medicines, and administered these themselves to the villagers, and to
the members of their households.

Suddenly, whilst I was looking at my herbs and thinking of how they
were used in earlier days, the garden door was thrown abruptly open
and Bess danced in before me.

"What a time you have been away!" she cried. "I can't run about, and
only look at flowers or watch idle birds. Hals is coming, that is
what I have to think of."

I went into the house after luncheon, my chair and table were carried
out, and I sat and embroidered. This time I worked a cherubim's face,
who possessed long locks and had dark-blue eyes.

"I am going to give him chestnut hair," I said; and I looked out six
different shades of reddish-brown to produce the desired effect.

[Sidenote: BESS TALKS OF HEAVEN]

"He ought to be pretty," said Bess, who had seated herself by me.
"Good children should be beautiful."

"Why?" I asked.

"Why?" repeated Bess. "Why, because God could never do with ugly
little squinting things up there. He wouldn't want boys that had
crooked noses and red warty hands, and ugly eyes that didn't look
straight."

"But suppose, Bess, the good children," I urged, to see what Bess
would say, "had crooked noses, red warty hands, and squinting eyes,
what must be done then?"

"Oh, mamsie, you don't understand heaven," said Bess, loftily, "but I
and Prince Charming do," and she hugged her puppy. "We do. We know
that God can't have ugly boys in His garden, or what would the poor
girl angels do? I know what heaven is like--beautiful, beautiful,"
and my little maid stood panting with excitement before me. "All the
flowers all out, and all the fruit quite ripe, and you may pick what
you like, and no cross Nanas ever make you wash, or go to bed until
you're quite, quite tired."

"Have you ever been there?" I asked, smiling at my little girl's
enthusiasm.

"Once," said Bess. "Nana said I was asleep, but I know better. The
snow was on the ground, deep, deep, but I wasn't frightened, for when
I looked out--and I got out of bed all myself, when Nana was at
supper--I saw the stars, and I knew the angels were close to me; and
when I crept back to bed I said, 'God make me good,' and I didn't
sleep, but I went to heaven, and that's better than a picnic on the
Edge, or making toffee with Mrs. Langdale. So you see I know there
are no ugly people in heaven, because, mamsie, I've been there."

"But in your philosophy, Bess," I answered, "what happens to poor
people, sick people, old people, all the people who have worked for
God and done the work of His kingdom here?"

"Oh, God," said Bess, softly, "God gives them all prizes. When you
give children prizes at the school, they don't get nothing more, but
when God gives one prize they get everything."

"Everything?" I asked.

"Yes," said Bess, "dolls, cakes, pups. And then they play, and are
always young, and they never have rheumatics, not even colds or
coughs."

I kissed my little girl and told her to dream of heaven again.

                      [Illustration:
                      _Photo by Mr. W. Golling_.
                      THE ORATORY.]

A minute or two later, and Bess was off chasing a butterfly.

"Mama," she said after a long chase, when she returned to me with a
scarlet face and dripping temples, "do you know that Mrs. Burbidge's
nephew, Frank Crossley, has brought her back a beautiful glass case,
and it's full of butterflies--real butterflies. There's a beautiful
blue one--all blue, and a red one, and a yellow one, like the gorse
you told me not to pick because it was so prickly, and one green,
like the Edge Wood when you look below and can't see a cornfield, and
can only hear flies buzzing. And do you know Frank caught them all
himself, and he stuck a pin into each to keep them tight, and spread
their wings as if they were flying; but they can't really fly for
they've always got to stay in his box." Then, after a gasp, my little
maid put her hand in mine, "Mama, may I have a net and a box, and
some pins, for I should like to have what Burbidge calls a
'collection'?"

"But you won't like to hurt butterflies, Bess?" I said. "Just think
how horrid it would be to run pins through them and to pin down their
beautiful wings in boxes."

[Sidenote: "STUPID LITTLE INSECTS CANNOT FEEL"]

"Well," said Bess, "I suppose I shouldn't like that at first, but
Frank doesn't mind. I'm not an ignorant little insect," said Bess,
loftily, "and you won't make me believe, mamsie, that stupid little
insects can feel like girls or boys."

I did not argue, for I am aware that the best wisdom of the child
comes sometimes from the silence of the parent, rather than from the
speech; but I felt sure my words would come back later to Bess, and
that when she had had time for reflection, her better nature would
make her give up the wish to have a collection of butterflies. Whilst
we thus sat on, Nana swooped down and captured Bess.

"I must wash your face and hands, miss, before going to the station,"
she said tartly, and at the same time informed me that a poor woman
was waiting outside in the monk's passage, who wished to speak to me.
"I can't make head nor tail of what she wants," said Nana, sourly.

"A pack of rubbish and not a grain of sense, that's what we often
feel about our neighbours' sayings and doings," I answered. "But ask
her to come and see me."

Mrs. Milner disappeared, and in a few moments reappeared, followed by
a little brown, undersized woman, with a mahogany skin, and wrinkled
like a walnut. Mrs. Eccles was a little hunchback, and had come from
the Dingle to see me. She walked a bit lamely, and carried a stick.
Mouse gave a growl, and Prince Charming, who had rolled himself up on
the edge of my skirt, tumbled up with a snort, and a gruffle. I
begged the poor woman not to be afraid, told her to sit on a bench
close by, and asked her mission.

"'Tisn't no flannel, no, nor no dinners neither, not even a packet of
tea," she answered. For a moment Nana returned to fetch a ribbon or a
tie--some lost possession of Bess's. On seeing her Mrs. Eccles
remained silent, for, as she whispered, "'twas a private matter."
Then when Nana had disappeared, her courage returned, and she blurted
out, "I knows as yer have one, for all Mr. Burbidge says. There
always was one--one out alongside of the walled garden."

I felt puzzled, but nodded and begged my old friend to tell me what
it was she had come for. But a direct answer is not often to be got
from the poor, you must wait for an answer, as a dear old clergyman
once said to me, "as you must wait for flowers in an English spring."
So I threaded my needle with a brilliant brown, and Mrs. Eccles's
speech bubbled on, like a brook in February.

[Sidenote: MRS. ECCLES'S MISSION]

"It be in this way, for I know this place, same as the inside of my
own kitchen," she said. "Didn't I work here fifty years agone, in the
old days? I knowed this place," she said, looking round, "afore it
war a haunt of the gentry, when it was farmer folk as lived here, and
when I war a servin' wench, when I scrubbed, and cleaned, plucked
geese at Yule-tide, and helped the missus in making mince-meat, and
in making butter for the market. I know'd it then, and I knows it
now."

I tried to stem the old dame's eloquence, for the time I had at her
disposal was limited; but my little old guest was voluble, and I had
to sit quiet to learn her mission. At last light pierced through her
discourse, and I discovered that she had come down for a leaf, or a
sprig, of some plant.

"You must come round and show me what it is you want," I said at
last; and I covered up my embroidery and prepared to take her to the
herb plots in the kitchen garden, as the most likely spot to find out
what she was in need of.

But halfway, Mrs. Eccles stopped dead, shook her head, and called
out, "It never grow'd there, I be sure it never did. I know it does
there," and she pointed back to the Abbey, "for I have a-know it
afore yer was born, and, my dear, it war along top-side of the mound,
at back of the red wall, where the missus used to grow her fever
drinks, and where they put in cabbages for Christians and cows
alike." As she spoke my funny old friend turned her back on the
kitchen garden, and made for the quadrangle as hard as her old legs
would take her. Mouse and I followed hot-foot behind. Suddenly Mrs.
Eccles came to a dead stop at the foot of a green slope, on which the
red wall was built, and pointed with her black stick, at a green
shrub above her.

"There her be," she cried triumphantly, "sure enough, same as a
galenny's nest, snug and safe."

I scrambled up the bank, and Mouse followed with a bound. The old
body was almost breathless for a minute, but went on pointing like a
pointer at the shrub.

"What is it for?" I asked. The shrub in question was a bay tree, and
in a severe winter in the nineties, had almost died, but last spring
it revived somewhat, and sent out a few weakly branches this summer.

"What does I want it for?" repeated Mrs. Eccles. "Why I wants it for
salvation; to save my boy from the Lightning." Then she went on to
tell me, with a burst of eloquence, about the Shropshire belief, to
the effect that a spray of bay-leaf, or a feather of an eagle, if
worn in a cap or hat, can preserve the wearer from lightning.

"The big hawk's feather, there's none as can get now," she said. "The
railways and the holiday-makers have killed they, but they have left
the bay trees."

Then I remembered having heard that Mrs. Eccles's husband, some forty
odd years ago, had been killed whilst haymaking, struck by lightning.
"'Twas the death of Job, his fork," an old man had once told me. "The
lightning came clean down, and struck him by the command of the Lord."

"If my gude man had had but a sprig, he might have been hearty now,"
broke from Mrs. Eccles; and she went on to tell me that her grandson,
Joseph Holroyd, "war goin' to work for Farmer Church, and that she
had come here, for I know'd as you'd provide."

I opened the little knife on my chain, and cut off a sprig and gave
it to my old friend.

[Sidenote: AN OLD PAGAN BELIEF]

She bobbed low, and scuttled away. "Won't you have a cup of tea?" I
called after her. But she shook her head, and cried out, "Nay, nay, I
have my widdies (ducks) to feed;" and as I stood and looked, the
little brown figure disappeared up the drive. When I went back to the
east garden, I thought over my conversation with Mrs. Eccles, and I
recollected having read somewhere, that the Romans believed that a
phoenix's feather, if it could be obtained and worn in the bosom,
would avert disaster; and a learned friend once told me that the
Emperor Tiberius was much alarmed by thunder, and always wore a
wreath of laurel round his neck if the weather was stormy, because he
believed that laurels were never blasted by lightning. So I reflected
that my old friend, bred amidst the wilds of Shropshire, held, after
all, unconsciously an old pagan belief, of which the plume from the
big hawk was only another version of the phoenix's feather, whilst the
laurel and the bays sprang, likely enough, from the same legend.
Whilst revolving the old beliefs of past empires in my mind, I was
called back to the present by Bess rushing up to me, and calling out--

"Where have you been Mum, Mum? We shall be late, I know we shall be
late. And if Hals didn't find some one to meet him, what would he
say?"

"I'm sure I don't know," I said penitently.

"Nor me," retorted Bess, indignantly.

So without more ado, my daughter, Prince Charming and I walked up a
golden field of glittering buttercups to the station. We waited on
the platform. The train was late--when isn't the train late in the
country?--and Bess and I sat down on the long bench that faced the
line.

Bess seemed lost in a brown study. "A penny for your thoughts, miss,"
I said.

"Mum," replied Bess, dreamily, "I am thinking and thinking----"

"Yes, dear?"

"What is the use of London?"

The subject is rather large, I urged. But Bess had the sharp,
incisive intellect of a quick child, and stood firm to her opinion.

"I don't see," she said, "that noise, shows, and smart people make
use. Why should poor children be taken to London? If the grown-ups
want it, they had better go there by themselves."

"My dear little person," I said, "even the youngest of others must
sometimes do disagreeable things, even in the twentieth century."

But this was a hard matter for an only child to understand, and Bess
would have none of it.

At the same moment, we heard the noise and rattle of the approaching
train, and our discussion broke off abruptly. A second later the
train had stopped, and the guard alighted and opened a first-class
compartment, and proceeded to lift out little Hals. Bess dashed up
breathless. The children were too excited to embrace each other. They
only rushed to each other, took each other's hands, and went on
dangling them, and blushing like two rose buds. Whereupon so, Prince
Charming fell with a yelp to the ground. Happily, I was by to pick up
and console the poor little puppy. A quiet, nice-looking young woman
came out, bearing in her arms a host of packages and rugs. In a
minute or two Hals' luggage was collected, and we walked down across
the buttercup field to the old Abbey, whilst swallows flew overhead,
and sunshine chased purple clouds across the sky.

[Sidenote: HALS ARRIVES]

"Fräulein is not here?" I heard Bess say to Hals.

"No," answered Hals.

"Then," whispered Bess, "I shall be able to pray to-night. For all
God lives so far, I think He can understand a girl sometimes."

"That's handy," agreed Hals, shortly.

"Yes," answered Bess; "He knew what I wanted at Christmas all of His
own accord, and now He has left out Fräulein, and He couldn't have
done better, even if He had been papa."

To this, Hals made no answer, but both children danced with glee.
Then followed tea, and two hours afterwards, bed.

When my little girl was in bed, I went up and found her, and said the
last good-night. Her eyes shone like little stars, and she put her
arms round my neck.

"Mum--Mum," she said, so I went quite close. "I thought," said my
little maid, "when I had got Prince Charming, that I never could want
anything else, but I do now want something bad--bad."

"Yes?" I answered.

"Is there nowhere," pursued my little girl, "where one can buy a
brother? I want one so bad."

The children and I passed a happy week--a week of golden sunshine.
Miss Weldon went off and spent the time with a cousin at Hereford,
and I was left alone with lad and lass. We read, and talked, and
played. There were no lessons, but I told them "lovely stories."
Beautiful old legends, pretty tales from history, and I read aloud
from Hans Andersen, and parts of Charles Kingsley's delicious "Water
Babies."

"I think," said Bess one day as I closed the book, "that I love Tom
best of all as a little sweep."

"Yes," said Hals, "for he was so game, running across the moor all by
himself. When I am a man, I hope I shall never be afraid. I am sure
my father never is." Then, after a pause, he added, "Some day I shall
be a soldier, and fight the king's enemies."

"So shall I," said Bess.

But this Hals would not allow. "Girls cannot fight," he assured me,
gravely. "They can only scratch. Besides, boys cannot fight girls, so
it wouldn't be fair."

"Then I must fight girls," said Bess, sadly; "but I'm afraid that
wouldn't be much fun, for girls mostly pinch, and run away."

The weather was beautiful during Hals' stay with us. The Shropshire
fields and woods seemed all under an enchanter's wand. Blue mist lay
on the Wrekin and on the Clee. Sunshine glowed all the day, and in
the evening, glorious sunsets, and tranquil twilights. After tea, we
sometimes took Jill, the little pony, and the children rode one
behind the other along the lanes. All the hedges were redolent with
honeysuckle, and great pink sprays of the most exquisitely lovely of
all flowers, the wild dog-rose, curled over branch and stem; whilst
larks sang over green seas of rippling wheat, which moved in broad
waves over stormless, summer seas.

[Sidenote: WE MEET THADY]

Far away I showed the children one evening the Brown Clee, the land
of witches and romance to Shropshire youth. No rain fell, no tempests
gathered. It was June, and the perfection of June weather. Sheets of
buttercups glistened in the meadows, moon-daisies nodded in the
upland grasses, and over disused lime-kilns blew beds of rosy thyme
and rock-roses, whilst here and there, on the outskirts of forest
lands, we found the sweetest of all wild flowers--pale butterfly
orchises, with their strange sweet perfume, which, as Bess said, made
you long to live, only in afternoons. Thady one day joined us in one
of our expeditions. He got up from a bush suddenly as we were
passing--bare-legged, jovial, courteous, as only an Irish lad can be.

"The 'top of the morning,' mam," he cried, and his face lit up with a
simultaneous smile.

"It is afternoon," I laughed.

"Whatever the hour or the season, 'tis only well I wish yer," he
replied, with the spontaneous politeness of the Celt.

"Have you anything pretty to show us?" I asked.

"Yes," repeated Bess, "show us something pretty."

"Well," said Thady, looking down, "it's getting late, I'm thinking,
for seeing sights; most that's young is getting fledged. But I know a
field where there's a lot of little leverets, soft as down, pretty as
kittens."

So we followed on. I led Jill, with Bess riding on a boy's saddle,
and Hals followed behind. We passed a wild, rough field, with the
steep pitch of the Edge Wood on one side, and the view of a great
stretch of country up to Shrewsbury, and beyond. To the west we
saw Caer Caradoc and the Long-mynd sleeping in purple haze. Then
we passed through a hunting wicket, and went into another
rough-and-tumble field, with rampant thistles, full of old disused
lime-kilns, and sheep-nipt bushes of thorns.

"What lovely places to play in!" cried Bess, enthusiastically.
"Perhaps real gnomes and goblins live there, and if we stayed till
the church-tower clock struck twelve, we might really see them in red
caps. The sort, mamsie, that you and I know. Perhaps," she added,
"then they might bring us gold. You know they do."

"Begorra!" cried Thady, indulgently, "if yer was to come here at
midnight, yer couldn't count them for jostling, the leprechauns and
such like gentry. They be plentiful as faiberries in Muster
Burbidge's garden in August."

At this Hals said gravely, "I should like to come and see them one
night, although I have never heard my father speak of them. I don't
think he knows many goblins at Westminster."

"Westminster," retorted Thady, magnificently, "is a poor place for
meeting anything but common men and women."

Then we walked on in single file, for I had to guide the pony with
care, for the pitches on each side of the path were steep and
slippery. In one part of the field there was a large round clump of
white dog roses, such as are often to be found in waste places, with
brilliant yellow stamens and bronze-coloured stalks and buds.

"I think 'tis here as you'll find, missie, the little yellow fluffs
at home," said Thady.

Evidently in the innermost recesses of the rose bush there was a fine
scent of something very good to the canine mind, for Mouse pricked up
her ears, sniffed boisterously, and began to move her tail like a
fox-hound drawing a covert. Then with a great swirl and pounce, she
darted right into the brake, bending and breaking all by her weight,
and brought out in her mouth a little ball of fluff. The poor little
creature screamed in terror, almost like a child.

I rushed forward. "Mouse, Mouse!" I cried, "drop it, drop it!"

[Sidenote: THE LITTLE HARE]

Mouse looked at me reproachfully out of her topaz eyes, held it, but
allowed me to pass my fingers between her great jaws and to release
the little captive. Great was my delight to find that poor little
puss was quite unhurt, only very wet with my dog's saliva.

I sat down, and Thady lifted off Bess from the pony, and then the
children flocked round to see the long-eared little creature I was
holding in my arms.

"Isn't it pretty?" I said, and held up the little tawny ball of
fluff. "Look what lovely brown eyes it has, and what tender shades of
buff and fawn are in its long ears."

"Let us take him home," cried Bess, enthusiastically.

"But," I asked, "how about Tramp and Tartar? They would not be gentle
like Mouse." And I added, "It was lucky that they did not come with
us this afternoon. They would not only have caught the little
leveret, they would have killed him, too."

Bess agreed. "They are very wicked for all their nice ways." And then
she added dreamily, "I wonder if terriers ever go to heaven."

"Begorra! if it is the holy Mother that has a fancy for the breed,
I'll be bound she gets them past St. Peter. 'Dade," said Thady, "if I
was the saint, I'd never shut the door in a good bitch's face."

"Well," says Bess, after a little pause, "for all terriers kill
things, they love us badly; and, besides, there may be rats in
heaven."

"How about heaven, then, being quite a perfect place?" I asked, for I
must plead guilty to a strong dislike to rats.

"Mum, Mum," answered Bess, impatiently, "you must leave the poor Lord
a few rats, or what would his poor dogs do?"

I laughed and had no answer ready, for a child's wit is generally the
hardest to fight. The best being bred by simplicity and kindness of
heart. A minute later I slipped back my little furry nursling into
the rose-bush, and we threaded our way across the fields.

As we retraced our steps no bird sang, only the faint barking of a
dog in some distant farm reached our ears, and away in the hollow
came the far-off sound of distant church bells. We walked along
grassy fields, down dim lanes, and beside the budding wheat.

Thady was to come down and get a slice of cake and a glass of milk.
"With raisins, real raisins!" exclaimed Bess. The prospect of the
feast opened his heart.

"Begorra, I'll tell you at last," he cried, with a sly chuckle, and
he bubbled over with laughter. "You shall hear all about the job. Yer
leddyship," continued Thady, "has taught me to hate the thieving of a
poor bird's nest, same as the blessed Virgin has taught me to be a
Christian."

I nodded in approbation, but did not quite understand; but then that,
as Bess says, "never matters, if you're not found out." In a minute
Thady went on--whilst I led both children, mounted on old Jill--and
told me of an adventure of his.

"It was this ways," he said. "Two gentlemen last month came over from
Manchester, and they put up at the Raven. I watched them come, out of
the corner of my eye--and 'tis little," Thady added, "that escapes me
at such times. So when they had been round the churchyard, and peered
at the ruins, as is the habits of town-bred folks, I made so bold as
to approach them. Indade, I had kept, ever since they left the hotel,
remarkably near them. My mother watched me up the Bull Ring, for she
knowed that I had a bit of somethin' up my sleeve, and as I passed,
lookin' as dacent as a lad that had just been bishopped, she
whispered, 'Ye spalpeen, what be yer tricks?' But I shook her off, as
a lad of spirit should, for when yer minded to have a bit of fun,
give yer mother a wide berth sure.

"Such is the advice of Thady Malone," and my little friend drew
himself up loftily, and spoke as one who had solved a hard problem.

[Sidenote: THE RUN OF THE SEASON]

"I followed the gentlemen right enough," he continued, "and never
took my eyes off them, but kept on with them, eyeing and peering
round, same as a hawk above a clutch of chickens. And by their talk I
made out it was after specimens that they had come. I crept round by
a bush, and discovered, right enough, it was after birds and eggs
that they had journeyed; and at last one of 'em, the tall, dark, lean
'un, he called out to me, and he said to the fat, sandy-whiskered one
that was standing by, 'Perhaps this lad could help us.' Then he
turned to me. 'My lad,' he said, 'we want to go over a bit of wild
country, and to see a bit of wild life. Take us to a wood that is
known here as the Edge Wood. They say rare birds still nest there.
Hawks, we've heard, some of the scarce tomtits, and one or two of the
rare fly-catchers, and we want to get some eggs.' Said I to myself,
'Thady, yer shall have fine sport.' But one of them, the lean 'un,
had a nasty stick, so I said, 'Thady, my man, be careful;' but
comforted myself after a bit, for 'tis only on louts' backs that
sticks need fall. Then I stood up and answered bold, 'Is it the big
hawk that your honours want, or the fern owl, the sheriff-man, or any
other fowl?' Begorra, and indade yer leddyship, there was no fowl
that I wouldn't have pretended acquaintanceship with. And they
nodded, and I nodded, and they, the fat and the lean, they winked,
and I winked, and they talked of eggs and fine prices, and they
offered me shillin's, beautiful silver shillin's; but I said I'd
serve them for the pleasure, for though silver is good, a bit antic
is better. Besides," added Thady, gallantly, "what her leddyship has
taught me, I canna unlearn," and Thady bowed to me with the instinct
of a born courtier.

"So I started at a trot," pursued Thady, "and I sang out, 'Gentlemen,
I'm yer man,' and I gave a bow and then away, as hard as I could make
the pace, and they followed on, like two mad bullocks, or fox-hounds
in full cry, and away we tore, over the fields, up the lanes, along
the high-road where need be. On, on, I headed 'em like a young
he-goat. I'm allus in training, and they followed. I gave 'em a
splendid lead over field and fallow, and whenever the fat 'un panted
bad, I told 'im to cheer up, for the fern owl and the great hawk's
nests were just ahead.

"At last they began to get a bit rusty. Like enough, by the twinkle
of my eye, they began to fear as their cases would never get filled.
So I shouted out, as if I were leading the king's army. 'Keep up your
peckers, misters, a field more and yer'll see the great hawk
hisself,' and so on up a sharpish pull. I looked back, and saw 'em
fair sick--the lean one coming on, but the fat sandy 'un fit to
burst. I stopped to catch the breeze, and in the pause I shouted out,
'Yer'll find the nest with old Bolas, or where folks says the crows
fly at nights,' and I laughed; and then, begorra, I ran like the best
Jack-hare that ever I set eyes on. And when they guessed I had had a
bit of a spree, they didn't take it kindly, not at all, at all, but
called out no end of bad words--words," said Thady, sanctimoniously,
"that I never could repeat in your leddyship's hearing, and that
shocked even poor me. So I kept at a proper distance, for the stick
that the lean gent had was a right nasty one, and," added Thady, "a
wise man only stops to argue with men of his own size. But I did hear
they went up to the station that evening, those two poor gentlemen
with never an egg or a grub in their cases, and the porter did say
that they made tracks to Manchester like two bears with sore heads.
'Tis wonderful how some folks can never see a joke."

[Sidenote: THE NATURALISTS GO EMPTY AWAY]

"Few of us can do that when the joke goes against us," I answered
laughing. "But I am glad, Thady, that you played them a trick.
Naturalists of that sort are a pest. In the name of science, they rob
our woods, and exterminate all our rare birds and butterflies. Every
honest man's hand should be against them."

At this Thady grinned all over, "Indade," he said, "I'll remember yer
leddyship's words of wisdom to my dying day, and never let go by a
chance of honest amusement."

So speaking we reached the old Abbey Farmery. Hals and Bess, drowsy
from their long expedition, were lifted off the pony half asleep. We
all had a standing meal, which, as Bess said, was much better than
sitting down, because you never eat what you don't want; and then the
young life vanished--Bess and my little guest to bed, and Thady into
the silent fields, and only Mouse was left to keep me company. I
agreed that evening with the children, that it is very nice sometimes
to have no dinner, and to return to simple habits, because the sense
so of wood and field lingers longer with you.



                              CHAPTER VII

                                 _JULY_


              "As late each flower that sweetest blows,
                I plucked the garden's pride;
              Within the petals of a rose,
                A sleeping love I spied."
                                    COLERIDGE.

I wandered round the garden some ten days later. It was July, the
Queen of Summer in the North. I heard the swish of the mowers'
scythes, as wave after wave of blossoming grass fell beneath their
feet. As I looked, I noticed that the trees had taken a darker,
fuller shade of green, and that the apple and emerald tints which
delighted me so much in budding June, had fled before the fierce days
of full summer heat. Although the lawns were still verdant, and such
as you could only see where the summer rainfall is great, all traces
of spring were gone. The polyanthus and cowslips' umbels were crowned
with seeds, and the narcissi in the grass had almost vanished. Birds,
that a few weeks ago were funny little fluffy creatures, with orange,
gaping throats, were now strong on the wing. Tramp and Tartar pursued
one day a thrush across the lawn. I ran out of the house to save him,
but found, to my relief, that he could take good care of himself.
With a triumphant scream he flew to the top of the high yew hedge. In
vain the two little terriers leapt and whimpered below, and besought
him to come down and be killed. For all he was young, he was wise,
and continued to sit on a twig, and to look down on their efforts
with complacent indifference.

[Sidenote: MOSS ROSES IN BLOOM]

When I went into the walled garden, I found the moss roses in full
blossom. They are most beautiful, the most delicate, perhaps, of all
the roses. There was an old-fashioned pink, such as one used to see
at Covent Garden Market years ago.

I had in my row Blanche Moreau, an exquisite paper white, Maître
Soisons, another beautiful white, and the crested and deep purple
Deuil de Paul Fontaine. How delicious they all were! Just a little
sticky, perhaps, but very sweet; especially an old cottage pink
variety that I was given from a garden at Harley, and the name of
which I have never known. The kind donor, an old dame, I remember,
told me, when she gave me a cutting and I pressed for the name, that
it hadn't no name as far as she knew, but that she called it her
"double sweetness," for it was to her nose, she affirmed, "honey and
candy in one."

Then I noted, bursting into bloom on the other side of the path, rows
of Chinese Delphiniums of all colours, that Burbidge had raised from
some seed sent to me from a lovely Scotch garden in the far north.
The blossoms were of all colours. There were some of an exquisite
watery tender turquoise blue, some deep blue de Marie, and others, a
faint and celestial tint, as of the sky on soft February days.
Besides these there were opal twilights, and darkest indigoes.

I paused and looked down the Ercal gravel path, and stood gazing at
my forests of peonies. The English ones were over, but round the
clematises were masses of the Chinese sorts. They were of all
colours--crimson, carmine, white, purple, cream, pink, rose. How
wonderfully beautiful they were, what satiny pinks, what splendid
roses, what creamy whites!

In the borders I noticed a few plants of the beautiful tree or Moutan
peony, the most glorious kind of all, but which had flowered rather
earlier. My plants as yet were small, but "Elisabeth" had had one
blossom of deepest scarlet. And I was led to hope that Athlete, Comte
de Flandres, and Lambertiana would be strong enough next year to be
allowed to flower.

A few steps beyond I paused to look at my Austrian briar hedge, which
was then literally, a line of flame in my garden. It was a glorious
note of colour, and planted next to the hedge were patches of purple
peonies. What a beautiful contrast the two made! one that Sandro
Botticelli loved. Then I made my way to a bed of hybrid teas.

These delightful roses, as has been justly said, combine all that is
best of old and new. Almost all of them are sweet scented, and even
in cold latitudes they flower twice, freely, in each year. Amongst
those that I love best are Augustine Guinoiseau, and Camoens. Beyond
these, on the southern side of the garden, extend my great bed of
hybrid perpetuals, which stand our cold Shropshire climate so bravely
and bloom often into late November. I stopped to admire a beautiful
specimen of the Earl of Dufferin that seemed almost purple in its
sombre magnificence, and felt almost dazzled at the splendour of
Éclair. Then I paused to smell a Fisher Holmes, and gathered an
almost black rose, which Burbidge told me a few days ago was a new
rose to him, and was called the Black Prince. Such a mysterious black
rose as it was, with a faint sweet distant smell, like new-mown grass
after a summer shower.

[Sidenote: IRISES AND ROSES]

Between each row of roses I have planted rows of the beautiful
English and Spanish irises in turns. These bulbs, I find, like the
damp and shade caused by the neighbourhood of the bushes, and the
effect of yellow, purple, blue, and lavender, between the pink, red,
and white of the roses was enchantingly beautiful. Then I looked
upwards and was delighted to see that my Crimson Ramblers and
Ayrshire and Penzance briers were all ramping away to my, and to
their, hearts' content over their pillars, and covering their bowers
and arches with trails and clusters of glory. I call my arches and
bowers my garden in the clouds. Nobody quite knows how beautiful the
Crimson Rambler can be till they have seen it against a background of
summer sky. Just out of the garden stretched the plantation of firs,
Scotch and Austrian, with a border of ribes, laurels, hollies, and
yews. The plantation is very small, but it gives a sense of silence
between the Abbey and the old town.

Before I returned to the house, I made my way to my bed of annuals.
They were on the southern side of the greengages. How gay and
gorgeous they looked with a few orange-tip butterflies flying over
them. There were patches of African marigold, all a blaze of rich
velvety gold, pale Love-in-the-Mist, sea-tinted and mysterious.
Love-in-the-Mist is just such a flower as one can imagine Venus wore
when she appeared for the first time from the depth of the sea foam,
with its curious shadow of green, and its sea-green petals of blue.
Then I had in full flower little square beds of larkspur, raised from
some wonderful seed I bought from Messrs. Smith, of Worcester, that
had blossomed forth in a hundred shades of opalescent beauty. There
were shadowy unreal reds, and purples of many shades and colours in
one flower, and as I looked at them, they recalled the wonderful
draperies of some Burne Jones figures in that great artist's
paintings from the Idylls of the King. A little further off there
were lines of stocks of all colours, warm-tinted buff, like the hue
of Scotch cattle browsing on a moorland, primrose, bluish rose, dusky
red, and spotless white, with creamy hearts. Then flame-coloured
nasturtiums ran along in places, black and brown, and twisted and
twined wherever there was a little space. At the end of the long
border there were patches of the primrose-tinted sweet sultan, with
its exquisite scent, mixed with crimson cockscomb, over which old
Gerard fell into ecstasies, and wrote of the "gentle," as he called
it, that it "far exceeded his skill to describe so beautiful, and
excellent a plant."

Before I returned to the Abbey, I slipped off to the kitchen garden
to ascertain what progress my sweet peas had made. They were only as
yet showing buds and long tendrils, but in another month they would
be a glory of sweetness and brilliancy, I felt certain. As I retraced
my steps to the Abbey, I was greeted by the children. During his
visit to the Abbey little Hals had lost his delicate look, and fine
pink roses bloomed on each cheek. He and Bess came dancing up the
path hand-in-hand, and the little fox-terriers scampered behind them,
joyously.

"I am sure we have found something," cried Bess, excitedly. "Burbidge
wouldn't look because he's been stung by a bee. 'But,' I said, 'you
don't hear all that chattering for nothing. If only Thady were here
we should soon know.' I wanted to run off to the Bull Ring to fetch
him, but Nana said I wasn't to mess myself, as Aunty Constance was
coming down to luncheon to-day. Much she'd care! She knows I can have
as much soap as I like."

[Sidenote: THE GARDEN MYSTERY]

"Much you'd use, miss, if you had your own way," I answered laughing.
And then I turned and begged Bess, pouting and looking rather irate,
to show me where there was this wonderful chattering.

"It is a secret," cried Bess, "I am sure--a real secret."

Then, without another word, we turned in through the wooden door at
the back of the great yew hedge. As we entered I heard such a
twittering and indignant chirping, that I was thoroughly puzzled to
guess the cause. The children and I peered through the branches.

"There must be a cat somewhere," I said. I have read that birds will
chatter round a sick cat or dying fox, but I could discover no beast
about. At our approach, two brilliant greenfinches alone took flight
with a beautiful flash of apple-green wings, and vanished into the
recesses of the great walnut tree.

Still the harsh discordant cries continued. Suddenly I saw a nest.

"A nest!" I cried, "and the noise comes from there. What can it be?"
I tried to touch it, but the nest of moss and twigs was beyond my
reach. "We must get the steps and then we shall know what makes the
noise," I said. "But only Mouse amongst the dogs may see; Tramp and
Tartar must be shut up in the shed, for if the birds fluttered down
or could not fly, they would kill them, before we could save them."

We shut up the terriers and fetched the steps. "I wish," I said,
"that one of the boys"--as Burbidge calls them--"were here to hold
them." For the ground at the back of the hedge was uneven, and it was
difficult to get the steps reared firmly up.

"I'll hold them, dear," said Hals, politely. And added with pride,
"You know I'm very good at doing any man's job."

But as they were heavy and rather clumsy, being an old-fashioned
pair, I declined this and begged Hals to get out of the way, for fear
of an accident happening to him. Then I mounted. I reached the summit
of the ladder and looked down into the nest. As I did so I was
conscious, at the "back of my head," as Nana says, that the children
were watching me intently.

"What is it?" they cried breathlessly.

I saw below me a greenfinch's nest made out of green moss and twigs
and lined with cow's hair, and in it, filling almost the entire
space, was a gigantic grey-barred bird with an enormous mouth, which
he opened at me in great wrath. Nothing daunted, I stretched out my
hand to seize him, and obtained my prize; but in the effort, of doing
so, I overbalanced myself, the steps clattered down with a crash, and
I fell, bird in hand, to the ground.

In my endeavour to save the bird from harm, I came in contact with a
projecting piece of lime rock. I felt a sharp pain in my right knee,
and then a giddy, confused sensation possessed me, and a hundred
lights, red, blue, and white, danced before my eyes. The bird escaped
from my hand and fluttered into the hedge with a guttural cry. Hals
and Bess approached me in terror.

"Mum, Mum, you're not dead?" asked Bess. I saw the little face
twitching above me, and as she spoke, hot tears ran down her cheeks.

"No, no," I whispered dreamily; and then all the trees and the hedge
seemed to mingle in a senseless dance, and everything bobbed up and
down before me. But I did not entirely lose consciousness, for I
heard the children whisper together. At last Bess took Hals' hand and
came quite close to where I was lying.

"They do not always die," Hals said soothingly.

"No, not mothers," Bess answered, with a gulp. But my poor little
maid looked white with fear--she was trembling, and added, "But
mothers _can_ die."

I tried to say something to reassure them, but all my words seemed to
die on my lips, and as I lay there everything seemed to get further
and further off, and to become indistinct and unreal.

At last Hals seemed to remember what to do in the emergency. "Run,
Bess, run, and get some one," I heard him say.

[Sidenote: MOUSE'S ROUGH KIND TONGUE]

As the two children started off to the house, Mouse gave a whimper,
and I felt her rough, kind tongue against my face. Then a mist
gathered round me and I remembered nothing more.

In a little while, however, I heard voices. Kindly Auguste led the
way, talking volubly. "Madame est morte," I heard him call out in
theatrical tones. Then old Mrs. Langdale followed, wringing her
hands; then Célestine, like a whirlwind; and Nana and Burbidge a
second later hobbled up across the lawn.

"Madame, vite," exclaimed Célestine, and then followed a string of
proposed remedies in the most astonishingly quick French. As she
spoke, she tried to raise me, but I could not move without acute
pain; and Mouse, watching my face, growled angrily. At this, Burbidge
forced himself to the front.

"Have done with your gibberish," he cried, in a surly tone. "For an
English blow an English remedy. Yer might have broken my steps,
marm," he said to me, with a catch in his throat. Burbidge is full of
kindness; "but at times his tongue is as rough as pig bristles," as
his old wife, Hester says, and just then he was thoroughly angry with
me for having hurt myself chasing "mere wild birds, like a village
loseller."

Then he called to his boys, and somehow, with their aid, I got back
to the house. The children were both in tears.

"She has broken her leg," cried Bess. "Mothers can, I know it,
besides beggars and princes."

But Hals would not allow this, and said, with dogged steadfastness,
"Mothers don't break like dolls, I know that."

For this remark Burbidge commended him. "Stick to it, young squire,"
he said; and then he bade Roderick run for the doctor, like greased
lightning.

After a minute or two, Nana begged all to go out, and took possession
of the injured knee, and began to bathe it with a decoction of arnica
and boiled lily-root, which last is an excellent remedy, still used
in Shropshire, for cuts or bruises. Gradually the pain diminished,
and as I lay, feeling much shaken and a little foolish, the doctor
made his appearance.

He begged me to remain on the sofa, to rest, and discontinue all
exercise for the present; and before going wrote out the prescription
for another lotion. When he had left, I weakly suggested I would use
both, and hoped for the best. But this "trimming" course did not
pacify Nana, who declared "he might say what he liked, but Dr. Browne
had no call to change her lotion."

After luncheon I felt better, and was carried out on a sofa to the
lawn on the east side of the house, some favourite books were placed
near me, and the letters I had received that morning. Burbidge was by
that time very penitent and full of compunction, now that he was no
longer terrified, and was sure that my leg was not broken. He brought
me a sprig of lavender, "to have summat nice to sniff," and assured
me "that them birds of mine in the aviary should be looked after
proper;" and added, by way of gloomy consolation, "I wouldn't let 'em
nohow suffer, not even if you'd broken both legs."

When Burbidge had left me, I took up my letters sadly, and felt
grieved that I must forego that week the pleasure of calling on
friends and of visiting their lovely gardens, decked in the full
glory of summer; and that I could not see, as I had intended to do,
the stately garden of Cundover, the glowing borders of Burwarton, or
the splendour of the Crimson Rambler at Benthall. All these beautiful
things, as far as I was concerned, must remain unseen, and flower
their sweetness away in the desert air.

Not even my own garden might I visit, for my orders were to lie down
and not to put foot to the ground for some days; so I said sadly to
myself I must only _think_ of gardens. I remained therefore quite
quiet, for the children had both gone off to tea at the Red House,
and Mouse, and I were left alone, to enjoy each other's society.

I lay back amongst the cushions, and thought of all the beautiful
gardens that I had ever seen.

[Sidenote: THE GARDEN OF MY CHILDHOOD]

My mind flew back to the old Hampshire garden, where I had played as
a child, with its glowing anemones in May, its auriculas, and its
golden patches of alyssum, which we called as children, "golden
tuft." Its great hedges of lavender, its masses of fruit trees, and
its big beds of hautbois strawberries all returned to me. How well I
remembered the quinces, medlars, and mulberries, and a hundred other
delights. I recollected also, the groves of filberts and great
coverts of gooseberries and raspberries, where the old gardener used
to allow us to "forage," as he termed it, for ten minutes at a time,
and never more, by his great silver watch, presented to him years ago
"by the earl," in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

Then how beautiful the walls were in summer and autumn, laden with
apricots, peaches, delicious black figs, and later on, with beautiful
pears of brilliant colours and gigantic proportions.

How carefully the fruit trees were trained--some in toasting-forks
and others to make perfect fans. And then what beautiful long alleys
of close-shorn turf there were, and what plantations of beautiful
standard roses he grew for my mother.

[Sidenote: SHIPTON GARDEN]

Then my mind flew back to the beautiful pleasaunces of Highclere,
just seven miles away. How magnificent were the great cedars round
the house, the masses of gorgeous rhododendrons, and the wonderful
beds of azaleas. Then, amidst shady groves with sparkling patches of
sunlight, I remembered, also, beautiful examples of the great tree or
Moutan peony--the highest and biggest bushes that I have ever seen;
and across the park, delicious Milford, with its islands of blossom,
its swans, and its sunlit lake. Gardens are great pleasures. The
state gardens of the world remain with us as beautiful and wonderful
pictures of the tastes and manners of past centuries. They are the
living splendours of past ages. I recalled such examples as Levens,
Hatfield, Longleat, and Littlecote. Then I turned in thought to
homelier, what Bess calls, "more your own kind of places;" and I
thought of the lovely little old manor-house gardens that I had seen.
There is one not far from Wenlock, by name Shipton. A little terraced
garden, with old stone vases of Elizabethan time. The present house
dates mostly from Mary Tudor's reign, and belonged later to Sir
Christopher Hatton, the Maiden Queen's dancing Chancellor, who won
all hearts by his grace and amiability, it is said. On each side of
the little narrow garden run high walls, festooned with roses--and
such old-fashioned roses! Old kinds that I have never seen
elsewhere--such as Waller might have thought of when he penned his
exquisite verses to Saccharissa--dainty, small, and deliciously
fragrant. Then, just outside the garden are big bushes of brilliant
berberries, that turn in autumn, red, like a regiment of English
soldiers in peace-time, and that were so highly esteemed for the
making of "conserves," in the Middle Ages.

How pretty such old-fashioned gardens are--very tiny, very dainty,
and meant to be very formal and trim. They seem little worlds all of
their own; little centres of human care and affection, and outside
all appears a wilderness in comparison.

Then, as I lay idly back, looking into the blue mist and enjoying the
far green of the poplars, my mind turned to all the lovely gardens
that I had read about. I thought of "that railit garden," that James
I. of Scotland--poet, musician, and artist--loved; and where he fell
in love with the Lady Jane, the fair daughter of the Earl of
Somerset. There, he tells us, he passed his deadly life--"full of
peyne and penance." From a grim tower he first saw his lady-love. He
tells us in the "King's Quhair," how he saw her walking in a fair
garden, and how, in seeing her, "it sent the blude of all my body to
my hert;" and how, for ever afterwards, "his heart became her
thrall," although "there was no token of menace in her face."

There, amidst "a garden fair," by towered walls, knit round with
hawthorn hedges, where thick boughs beshaded long alleys, and where
the sweet green juniper gave out its aromatic fragrance, he, poor
poet-king, sang of love, listening all the while to the "little sweet
nightingale that sat on small green twists, and that sang 'now soft,
now lowd,' till all the garden and the walls rung 'right of the
song.'"

Then I thought of that still garden at St. Mary's chapel, at
Westminster, where the great father of English poetry wrote his
treatise on the "Astrolabe" for his little son Lewis. I imagined him
with his wise and tender face, and far-off, deep-set grey eyes
looking out on the world kindly, serious, gentle.

I liked to remember the great man's peaceful deathbed, and thought of
his last sweet verses--

          "Flie fro the prese, and dwell with sothfastnesse;
          Suffise unto thy Goode, though it be small,
          For horde hath hate, and climbing tikelnesse."

It is an old, old story, and yet always a new one; but in Chaucer's
time, failure met with a sharp ending.

I thought also of that fair garden near the Temple, which our
greatest poet has touched with the divine intuition of genius, and
made bloom with roses that no frost can kill, or smoke can soil.
Where Plantagenet plucked the white rose of York, and Somerset the
red one of Lancaster.

Then I thought of unfortunate Richard's queen in the garden at
Langley, and of the old faithful, rugged gardener and of his bitter
cry of pity. "Here did she drop a tear. Here in this place I'll set a
bank of rue, sour herb of grace."

                      [Illustration:
                      _Photo by Frith._
                      CHAPTER HOUSE AT WENLOCK.]

[Sidenote: BACON'S GARDEN]

Then I thought of Lord Bacon's beautiful garden of "prince-like"
proportions. According to him, the ideal garden did not measure less
than thirty acres, and was to be divided into three parts--a garden
proper, a greene, a heath, or desert.

In the garden there was to be a succession of flowers. Germander,
sweet briars, and gilly flowers, were some of those named, and the
garden was always to be gay. He advocated many kinds of fruit,
"cherries, rasps, apples, pears, plummes, grapes, and also peaches."

In the heath or desert, were to be planted thickets of honeysuckle,
and garlands of wild vine; while mole-hills were to be skilfully
covered with wild thyme, with pinks, and in opening glades, sheets of
violets, cowslips, daisies, and beare-foot, were each to have their
place. Then long alleys were to be planted with burnet, wild thyme,
and water-mint, which, when crushed, would, he tells us, "give out
rich perfume."

"Great Princes may add statues and such things for state and
magnificence," wrote Bacon; "but beyond these things is the true
pleasure of a garden." And there the great Chancellor was right, for
we all know little plots and tiny greenhouses, worked and tended by
loving hands, where the owner, and toiler, gets more pleasure out of
a very small enclosure or a single frame, than a ducal proprietor out
of many acres of horticultural magnificence. God is very just in
pleasure, if not in wealth.

It was in his own beautiful garden at Gorhambury, that the great
philosopher and master-mind wrote much that was beautiful. His was a
strange character. He soared to heaven by his intellect, and fell to
hell by his baseness. Ben Johnson wrote, "In his adversity I ever
prayed that God would give him strength, for greatness he could not
want."

Bacon, be it said in sorrow, was one of the last of the bench who
descended to torturing his victims. He wrote of the unfortunate
Peacham, when he refused to answer his questions, "that he had a dumb
devil." Yet this man loved at other moments pure pleasures. His love
of a garden was real, and deep, and no man understood more fully the
heights and depths of the Christian Faith, or the higher flights of
redeemed souls. "Prosperity," he wrote, "is the blessing of the Old
Testament; Adversity, the blessing of the New, which carrieth the
greater benediction, and the clearer evidence of God's favour."
"Prosperity," he declared, "was not without many fears and distastes,
and Adversity not without comforts and hopes. Prosperity doth best
discover vice, but Adversity doth best discover virtue." Nobody has
ever approached Bacon for his beauty of expression. Shelley wrote of
his style, "His language has a sweet, majestic rhythm, which
satisfies the sense no less than the almost superhuman wisdom of his
philosophy satisfies the intellect." Such natures as Lord Verulam's
are difficult for commonplace mortals to understand, for the head is
of a god, and the feet, those of a beast. The young or inexperienced
might call such men humbugs, or hypocrites; but, perhaps, the real
truth is, that such men possess dual natures. In them is a spirit
that knows the light, and seeks it, as the Chancellor swore he would
seek the light; but to whom, also, the ways of darkness are not
repellent, and who cannot resist the favour of man, and the false
glamour of courts.

Then I thought of the fair gardens of history. I imagined the
splendours of Nonsuch, laid out by bluff Harry, of which men said,
"that the palace was encumbered with parks full of deer, and
surrounded with delicious gardens and groves, ornamented with trellis
works and cabinets of verdure, so that it seemed a place pitched upon
by Pleasure herself, to dwell in along with Youth."

It was also good to think of John Evelyn in his plantings, and during
his long rides. I thought of him journeying in the south of France,
along the Mediterranean coast, enjoying the sight there of the
vineyards and olives. In fancy I beheld him scenting the orange and
citron groves, and stopping to gaze "at the myrtle, pomegranates, and
the like sweet plantations," as he passed villa after villa, built,
as he said, of glittering free-stone, which, in that clear
atmosphere, made him think "of snow dropped from the clouds, amongst
the verdure of the ilexes and perennial greens."

[Sidenote: ELIZABETH OF YORK'S BOWER]

Besides these fair gardens, I thought in the dawn of gardening, of
Elizabeth of York's bower, "in the little park of Wyndsor," and I
liked to dream of that arbour in Baynarde's Castle in London put up
for her, by order of the king. I should have liked also to have
walked with Sir Thomas More in that fair garden (probably his) from
which he imagined the one in his "Utopia," where "we went and sat
down on a green bank and entertained one another in discourse."

Then I should have liked to have crept into the great gardens at
Hampton Court laid out by the great cardinal, where "there was a
flower garden to supply the queen's bower with roses, and where John
Chapman, the most famous gardener of his time, grew his herbs for the
king's table."

I should have liked to have had the invisible cap, and to have
stepped past the guard and entered the Privy garden, and have read
the mottoes on the sundials, and to have slyly scented the roses, and
pinched the rosemary, juniper, and lavender.

Had I possessed the magic cap, I should not have forgotten to wander
into the Bird garden and to have seen "the beestes," holding in stone
their vanes; and I should have liked also dearly to have seen all the
strange animals, amongst which there were harts, badgers, hounds,
dragons, antelopes, and one stately lion.

Could I have walked there, perhaps I might have caught a glance of
that "sweetest lady from Spain" whom Shakespeare honoured most of all
women; or perhaps in the joyous hey-day of her youth have met Anne of
the slender neck, for whom Fate had reserved so terrible a fate,
although for a time all seemed to go so smilingly with her.

Then I should have liked to have been a favourite guest at Moor Park,
in the days when the stately Countess of Bedford lived there, and to
have heard the wits talk, and perhaps have followed the countess and
Doctor Donne up the trim gravel walks, and have admired the standard
laurels, and rejoiced in the stately fountains in a garden that, in
the words of the great Minister of the Hague, "was too pleasant ever
to forget." I should have liked also to have walked into Sir William
Temple's own garden at Sheen, had a chat with him about his melons,
of which he was so proud, or have paced with him the trim alleys of
his own Moor Park in Surrey. Later, I should have liked to have seen
his stiff beds, reflections of the _parterres_ of Holland, and have
heard from his own lips the account of the Triple Alliance. And
beyond this garden of men's hands, I should like to have seen the
glorious extent of firs and heather that enclosed his garden, and to
have heard the murmur of the distant rivulet, and to have felt the
charm of the distant view that he gazed upon.

Perhaps even, if fortune had been kind, I might have seen Lady
Gifford in all the splendour of silk or satin, or heard some
brilliant witticism from the lips of young Jonathan, or even have
caught a fleeting glimpse of lovely Stella.

Now all these pretty, all these interesting shades of the past are
gone. Yet Sir William's sundial still stands in his favourite garden,
and below it lies buried his heart, placed there by his own desire,
whilst the rest of his remains lie in Westminster Abbey, beside those
of his charming wife, Dorothy Osborne.

[Sidenote: THE GARDENS OF THE EAST]

No sound anywhere, on this lovely July day, greeted me, but the
trilling jubilation of a thrush in a lilac, so I could dream on at
will about gardens and their delights. After a while my mind wandered
to the gardens of the ancients. I thought of those deep groves where
Epicurus walked and talked, of the rose-laden bowers where Semiramis
feasted and reposed, of the moonlit gardens where Solomon sung his
Oriental rhapsodies, where fountains played day and night, and in
which hundreds of trees flowered and fruited.

Where were the gardens of "the Hesperides?" I asked myself. That spot
of wonderful delight which none ever wished to leave, where flowers
blossomed all the year, and where fair nymphs danced and sang through
all the seasons.

Then where was the garden of Alcinous, where the trees formed a dark
and impenetrable shade, where fountains refreshed the weary and where
fruit followed fruits in endless succession?

With us in England, a garden means a place of joyous sunlight, a
place where flowers glitter in the sunshine, and where throughout the
day feathered songsters sing in joyous chorus. In the Oriental
imagination, a garden means cool alleys, flowing water, marble
basins; a place to wander in beneath the stars, and to hear the
nightingale sing his chant of melody and grief. Even in the matter of
gardens, the aspirations of the West must always be different from
those of the East. Then my mind turned to the gardens of fancy.

"Where sprang the violet and the periwinkle rich of hue"--where "all
the ground was poudred as if it had been peynt, and where every
flower cast up a good savour." Where amongst the trees "birdis sang
with voices like unto the choir of angels, where sported also little
conyes, the dreadful roo, the buck, the hert, and hynde, and
squirrels, and bestes small of gentil kynde." Where sweet musicians
played, and where, as Chaucer wrote, with the _naiveté_ of the early
poets, that God who is Maker and Lord of all good things, he guessed,
never heard sweeter music, "where soft winds blew, making sweet
murmurs in the green trees, whilst scents of every holsom spice, and
grass were wafted in the breeze."

Then in the peace of that exquisite summer day, I saw as in a dream
that blest region which Sir Philip Sidney has painted and called
Arcadia, "where the morning did strew roses and violets in the
heavenly floor against the coming of the sun, where nightingales sung
their wrong-caused sorrow;" where the hills rose, their proud heights
garnished with stately trees, beneath which silver streams murmured
softly amidst meadows enamelled with all sorts of eye-pleasing
flowers. Where pretty lambs with bleating outcry craved their dam's
comfort, and where a shepherd-boy piped as though he never could grow
old, whilst a shepherdess sang and knitted all the while, so that it
seemed "that the voice comforted her hands to work, and the hands
kept time to the voice music."

In that sweet and happy country, where light and sun and blue sky
were constant joys, where the houses were all scattered, "but not
from mutual succour," where the joys of "accompanable solitariness
were to be found combined with the pleasures of civil wildness," I
allowed my fancy to linger.

Then as butterflies flitted past in all the pomp of summer splendour
in my Abbey garden, I thought for a moment of Mistress Tuggy's bowers
of passion-flower at Westminster, of which Gerard wrote, and of which
he told us "there was always good plenty." I thought also of that gay
procession to the Parson of Tittershall, where merry maids went,
bearing with them garlands of red roses, and of that wreath laid
through many centuries, in beautiful Tong Church.

I liked to imagine Theobalds, where it was said a man might wander
two miles and yet never come to the end of the great gardens; or to
think of that great pleasaunce of Frederick, Duke of Würzburg, where
it was said that it was easy for a stranger to lose his way, so vast
was the space of the enclosure.

[Sidenote: ELIZABETHAN GARDENS]

Then I should have liked to have known the great gardens of
Kenilworth, where proud Dudley entertained the Maiden Queen.

There, according to Master Humphrey Martin, every fruit tree had its
place. In the centre of the pleasaunce stood, he wrote, an aviary and
a fountain of white marble, where tench, bream, and carp, eel and
perch "all did play pleasantly," and "beside which delicious fruits,
cherries, strawberries, might be eaten from the stalk."

In the Elizabethan garden men were not content with gay blossoms
alone; sweet odours were necessary to complete their standard of
delight.

Bacon wrote, because the breath of flowers is "farr sweeter in the
air, where it comes, and goes, like the warbling of music, then in
the hand, so there is nothing more fit for delight than to know what
be the flowers and plants that doe best perfume the aire." He
recommended amongst other sweet scents, two specially, that of
violets, and the perfume of dying strawberry leaves, "an excellent
cordial in autumn." He also mentioned the perfume of sweet-briar, and
recommended that wallflowers should be planted under a parlour or
lower chamber window.

Andrew Borde, writing in the same century, declared that it was
deemed necessary for the country house of his time to be surrounded
by orchards well-filled with sundry fruits and commodious, and to
have a fair garden "repleat with herbs aromatic and redolent of
savours."

Markham also talked of the nosegay garden, which was to be planted
with violets, and gilly-flowers, marigolds, lilies, daffodils,
hyacinths, "tulipas," narcissus, and the like. There were to be
knots, or _parterres_ of delightful interlacing patterns, and amongst
the ribbon borders such sweet plants and flowers as thyme, pinks,
gilly-flowers, and thrift, all neatly bordered and edged, with
turrets and arbours to repose in.

Thomas Hill, writing in 1568, also suggested that there should be
_parterres_ filled with hyssop, thyme, and lavender, for the pleasure
of the perfume. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries folks
sought their flowers in their gardens, which it can well be imagined
was a much healthier form of enjoyment than the modern one of masses
of flowers in stuffy rooms and of having tables laden with
strong-smelling blossoms, during hot and crowded banquets.

The delight in the garden was essentially a sixteenth and seventeenth
century pride. Lawson exclaimed, "What can your eye desire to see,
your ear to hear, your mouth to taste, or your nose to smell, that is
not to be had in a garden, with abundance of beauty?"

Lawson also loved the birds, as did the Scotch poet king, and
Chaucer, and, in the early nineteenth century, Shelley and Keats. He
wrote lovingly of a brood of nightingales that turned his orchard
into a paradise. "The voice of the cock bird," he declared, "did bear
him company, both day and night."

Then I should have liked to have visited Gerard in his physic garden
in Holborn, overlooking the Fleet, and how delightful it would have
been to have had a chat with the old man, or to have brought him some
new plant or flower.

Or perhaps, if fortune had smiled upon me, I might another day have
popped in and got a talk with John Tradescant, whose father and
grandfather were both gardeners to Queen Bess, and who himself was
gardener in his time, to ill-fated Charles I. These Tradescants
travelled all over the world in search of plants for the royal
gardens, and one of them even went to Virginia in order to bring back
new specimens.

[Sidenote: WHERE ARE THE GARDENS OF THE PAST?]

Where are the gardens of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? A
few are the delight and joy of our own time, but most of them have
perished, and are gone like the roses that Sir Philip Sidney picked
for Stella, or the anemones that John Evelyn loved. The press of
human feet has displaced nearly all the fair floral sites in London,
and the hare and the partridges rove over many of those famed in
Tudor and Stuart days in the country.

Of Nonsuch, Evelyn wrote, "they cut down the fair elms and defaced
the stateliest seat that his Majesty possessed."

Alone, near High Ercall, at Eyton, where George Herbert's mother was
born and bred, stands the old gazebo or pleasure-house that belonged
to the ancient hall of the Newports. This still remains in red brick,
a lovely sixteenth-century building. The old house has perished, and
the old gardens have gone back into plough, or meadow-land. Alone the
old pleasure-house stands and a gigantic ilex, which is said to have
been planted at the same time.

Did "holy Mr. Herbert" ever pace that old pleasure-house, I have
often asked myself, as a little lad? It is a pleasant thought. All
loved him. Lord Pembroke, his kinsman, told the king, James I., that
he loved him more for his learning and virtues than even for his name
and his family, and all men sought his friendship. Amongst these the
learned Bishop of Winchester and Francis Lord Bacon. Was it of such a
man that the great essayist wrote, "A man having such a friend hath
two lives in his desires"? If so, it was of the immortal side of life
he spoke, for all George's aspirations were for the treasure where
"neither moth nor rust can corrupt, and where no thief can break
through or steal."

Then I let my fancy linger for a moment in the old bowling-green at
Whitehall, all gone too; I thought of the prisoner, Sir Richard
Fanshawe, in the chamber above: and of his devoted wife, standing
morning after morning, whilst the rain fell in torrents, talking and
listening with the desperation of love.

[Sidenote: THE MASQUE OF FLOWERS]

The shadows deepened, the sunlight faded, and the glory of red melted
away into tender lavender and green. After a while I think I got
drowsy, for in my imagination I saw a garden, gorgeous and
resplendent. Loud music resounded within its precincts, and a
pleasaunce extended before me of strange and fantastic beauty. In the
centre I noted a beautiful fountain, reared on four columns of
silver, with four golden masked faces, from whose lips clear water
issued in sparkling streams. There were also curious beasts of gold
and silver, in the shape of lions and unicorns.

The magic garden was hedged in with a sombre hedge of cypress. On the
whole scene fell the brilliant glare of flaming torches. Gorgeous
_parterres_ of tulips, all a blaze of blossom, flashed with a hundred
colours, whilst to me, borne on little eddying breezes, came wafted
back the delicious sweetness of honeysuckle and eglantine. Then, as I
looked, to the sound of lutes and to the tinkle of old stringed
instruments, I saw nymphs clad in rich apparel dance a stately
measure.

My book slipped off my knees, and fell with a flump upon the grass. A
minute later I rubbed my eyes and laughed, and then remembered that I
had not been to fairyland after all, as Bess would have said, but
that I had fallen asleep, and had been dreaming about the Masque of
Flowers, a great _fête_ that was given in honour of the marriage of
the Earl of Somerset and the Lady Frances, daughter of the Earl of
Suffolk, by the gentlemen of Grays Inn, in the long past year of
1613. I laughed, for I really believed, as the children say, it was
all true, and Mouse, suspicious probably by my puzzled look, gave a
long deep growl. My faithful friend had never left my side. Since my
accident she had remained with me, troubled, and annoyed and sullen
to everybody else.

Mouse had a bad opinion of the doctor (most dogs have). She did not
like his carriage, and thought badly of his coachman. Just then the
world for her was full of evil characters, and they taxed narrowly
her powers of observation.

As I leant over the sofa to pick up my book, the oak door of the
chapel hall was flung violently open, and the two children, Bess and
little Hals, danced in together.

"Oh, mamsie!" they cried, for Hals had caught up Bess's manner of
addressing me. "Such fun! such fun! We did all kinds of things. We
played games in the garden--Kiss in the Ring, Stag a Roarning, Bell
Horses, Draw Buckets, and Shrewsbury Blind Man's Buff, Wallflowers,
Garden Jumps, and heaps of others. Aunty Constance called them
'Shropshire games.'"

"Were they good games?" I asked.

The children were too excited to speak, but nodded their heads
furiously, whilst their eyes shone with excitement.

"Can you repeat to me any of the rhymes?" I asked.

"Hals can," answered Bess; "I can't long remember poetry. Things fly
into my head, but they soon fly out again."

I turned to Hals, and begged him to tell me those that he could
remember.

[Illustration: _Photo by Frith._ OLD WENLOCK TOWN.]

"Well," he replied, "I'll try. Anyway it was great fun. Aunty
Constance taught us a lot, but most of the children came from her
class, and, besides, they knew a lot. Shropshire children, I think,
even Fräulein would call 'very learned.'"

"They were all funny," cried Bess; "and we danced on the grass, and
Aunty Constance gave us sugar-plums, and red lolly-pops between the
games, and we drank lemonade and orangeade."

"Yes," said Hals, grandly; "I don't think even the king, or my father
could have amused themselves better. They know how to be happy in
Shropshire."

Then Bess interrupted Hals and called out sharply, "Amuse mama."

[Sidenote: OLD SHROPSHIRE GAMES]

"Do," I said; "and begin by telling me all about the games, and
repeat to me all the rhymes that you can remember."

"Yes, we must," said Bess, moved to pity, "for poor mama, she didn't
even go to Aunty Constance's garden, although she was asked, or see
Aunty Constance's new flower with a long name that I am sure I can
only misremember."

There was a pause. Then Hals stood on the gravel path some five yards
away, and said modestly, "I'll do my best, but I am afraid all the
games won't come back to me. The first time you play at games, they
are almost as hard as sums."

"Oh no," interrupted Bess, contemptuously. "Games can never be as bad
as sums, for you can kick about and swing your feet in games. But in
sums it's always 'keep quiet;' and then," added Bess sadly, with a
note of pathos in her voice, "sums will always keep on changing,
unless they are done by a governess."

Then a hush fell upon us all, for Hals said he must try and think of
the games pat, and we were silent. I saw Hals' lips move, and a
pretty vision rose before me of a little figure clad in green velvet,
with fair flaxen curls clustering round his brow and resting on his
lace collar. After a few minutes the little boy stepped a little
nearer, and in a treble key, began to explain the character of the
old games and to recite some of the old verses that once delighted
lad and lass of the far West country.

"First we played Kiss in the Ring. We ran about," he explained, "and
the boys dropped handkerchiefs on the shoulders of the girls they
liked, and they said in turn--

                    "'I wrote a letter to my love
                    And on the way I lost it;
                    Some one has picked it up,
                      Not you, not you, not you.'

That they said," said Hals, "when the boys didn't like a girl. I
didn't play," he remarked grandly, "because I didn't like being
kissed by strange girls; so I played with the others at Cat and
Mouse, which is better, for the kissing is understood."

"And after that?" I asked.

"Oh, after that we played Bingo."

"Bobby Bingo," corrected Bess, severely. "You should call things by
their proper name, Hals."

"It was a game about a dog, and we came up, and all said together,"
continued Hals unmoved--

                  "'A farmer's dog lay on the floor,
                  And Bingo was his name O.
                  B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O,
                  And Bingo was his name O.'

I cannot exactly say how that was played," said Hals, puzzled, "but
we danced and we sang, and one girl stood straight up in the middle,
as if she had a punishment lesson to say. And when I'm grown up, I
will get my father to buy me a dog, and I will call him Bingo."

"Now I want to talk," cried Bess, impatiently, "because I, too, know
some of the games. We've often played at them, Nana and I and the
maids, on Saturday afternoon when it was wet. There was Bell-horses.
Nobody is so silly, mamsie, unless it's members of parliament or
governesses, as not to know 'Bell-horses.'"

Then my little maid slipped off the wooden bench on which she had
been swinging her feet, and went and stood by little Harry.

"Listen," she cried, and blurted forth at double quick pace--

[Sidenote: BELL-HORSES AND OTHER DELIGHTS]

            "'Bell-horses, bell-horses, what time of day?
            One o'clock, two o'clock, three and away.
            Bell-horses, bell-horses what time of day?
            Two o'clock, three o'clock, four and away.'"

Then we stood up, and cried out--

           "'Five o'clock, six o'clock, no time to stay.'"

At this point Hals came and sat quietly by me on the edge of my sofa,
and Bess went on.

"Besides that we had Green Gravel, Green Gravel, and even Mrs.
Burbidge says that is not a wicked game to play," cried Bess; and
repeated the old lines with a funny little tilt of her head--

         "'Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
         She is the fairest young lady as ever was seen.
         I'll wash her in milk,
         And I'll clothe her in silk,
         And I'll write down her name
         With a gold pen and ink.'"

Then came what Bess called "them that laughed," who said--

           "'O Sally, O Sally, your true love is dead,
           He sent you a letter to turn round your head.'"

"I like that," remarked Bess. "The words are pretty. 'Green gravel,
green gravel,' but I shouldn't like to be washed in milk, soap and
water are bad enough, but I should like letters to be written with a
pen of gold. They sound as if they ought to be letters all about
holidays or Christmas presents; leastways, they never ought to be
rude or disagreeable, or have anything to do with lessons.'"

"Yes," agreed Harry, "written only for fun, and because everybody may
do as they like."

Then we discussed Wallflowers. And as the children stood talking, for
Hals had run to Bess's side, old Nana came out of the Chapel Hall and
joined our group.

"It is time, mam, for them to be in bed," said Nana, sourly; "and I'm
sure it will be a mercy if both childer are not ill to-morrow. By
their own accounts they've eaten as many lolly-pops as they had a
mind to. I did think as Mrs. Legarde had more sense than that. But
them as feasts children, should physic 'em."

"Wallflowers, wallflowers," interrupted Bess, rudely. "Come and amuse
mama, poor mamsie hasn't had tea out, or done anything to please
herself."

So old Nana--whose bark, all the household acknowledges, is far worse
than her bite--came and began to recite the old rhymes of her youth,
and of the old days before that.

"I am just ashamed of the old nonsense," she said, blushing like a
girl, "but since it will amuse your mama," and she turned to Bess,
"I'll try my best." And Nana, in a funny old husky voice, with the
Shropshire accent growing stronger and stronger at every line
repeated--

      "'Wallflowers, wallflowers, wallflowers up so high,
      Us shall all be maidens, and so us will die.
      Excepting Alice Gittens--she is the youngest flower,
      She can hop, and she can skip, and she can play the hour,
      Three and four, and four and five,
      Turn your back to the wall side.'"

And thereupon old Nana, animated by old recollections, turned her
back upon me and stood facing the old bowling-green.

[Sidenote: QUEEN BESS'S GAME]

"Well done!" cried both children simultaneously. And then Bess called
for "Nuts in May." "You know, what we played last Christmas, when we
could'nt go out," she explained, "because the snow was so deep."

For a moment Nana looked puzzled.

"You ought to recollect that," cried Bess, "because it was you that
learnt us it before."

Nana thought for a minute, and then repeated the old Shropshire
version of the ancient game, which, tradition says, was written by
Queen Bess one Christmas time for Lord Burleigh's children. But Nana
first of all explained to us the action of the game.

"You must know, mam," she said, "that there are two parties--one of
lads and the other of lasses." "The first come up and call (the
lads)--

                "'Here we come gathering nuts in May,
                Nuts in May, nuts in May,
                Here we come gathering nuts in May
                On a cold and frosty morning.'

"Then the second lot," as Nana called the lasses, "answer back, and
shout--

                 "'Who have ye come to gather away?'

And the first lot (the lads) reply--

            "'We have come to gather sweet Maude away.'
            'And who will you send to fetch her away?'
            'We'll send Corney Rodgers to fetch her away.'

"Then the two parties pull," she added, "and in the end a lass has to
leave, and to go over to the lads' side."

"Who was sweet Maude, and who was Corney Rodgers?" I asked of Nana.

But she declared she didn't know for certain, "but most-like he was
some bad bold man who lived in the hills, and took off any maid he
had a mind to."

"Go on, go on!" cried the children enthusiastically, and clapped Nana
vociferously.

"You know them all," exclaimed Bess, "although you like pretending;
but nurses always do."

At this Nana, for all her head of snow, fell a laughing. She forgot
all about "bedtime," and stood before us with pink cheeks, whilst she
exclaimed--

"They comes back! They comes back, the old plays." And therewith
begins to repeat "Here comes Three Dukes a Riding." "Us used to play
that--and a right pretty game it was," she explained,--"on the
village green, when the leaves were budding, betwixt the hours of
school."

And she recited aloud in her dear, funny, old cracked voice--

                  "'Here comes three dukes a riding
                  With a ransome, dansome, day.'

"Then the lasses used to answer," she told us, "and cry out--

            "'And what is your intent, sirs, intent, sirs?
            With a ransome, dansome, day.'

"At this the lads used to shout--

                 "'My intent is to marry, to marry.'

"And the maids would reply--

     "'Will you marry one of my daughters, one of my daughters?'

"Then the lads used to look highty-tighty, for all they had in their
bones only the making of ploughmen, ditchers, and shepherds," Nana
declared, "and they would say--

               "'You be as stiff as pokers, as pokers.'

And turn up their noses and strut back.

"Then the maids would answer, mincing like--

            "'We can bend like you, sirs, like you, sirs!'

"Then the lads would scan the lasses up and down, and sing back, as
if every one of 'em had been born a lord, or high sheriff of the
county at least--

          "'You're all too black and too blowsy, too blowsy
              For a dilly-dally officer.'

"Then the maids would sing with a bit of spite--

       "'We're good enough for you, sirs, good enough for you.'

"Then a lad would leave his fellows, and say with a shrug of his
shoulders, and crestfallen like--

                "'If I must have one I will have this,
                So away with you my pretty miss.'"

And then old Nana told us that the maids would laugh and the lads
would jeer, for in turn each lad had to choose a lass, and sometimes
the lass he had a mind to wouldn't go.

[Sidenote: A RING OF ROSES]

Then Nana, after a short pause, said, "Then there be another game as
us used to play. Ring of Roses, some used to call it, and others
Grandfather's Rheum. But I cannot remember but one verse--

                    "'A ring, a ring of roses,
                    A pocket full of posies.
                    One for Jack, and one for Jan
                    And one for little Moses.
                    A-tisha, a-tisha, a-tisha.'

and the fun was who could sneeze loudest. I remember Mike Mallard and
Mary Wilston was wonderful at it. 'Yer'll die in a sneeze,' folk used
to tell them."

"Nana can you think of no more, just one more." For Nana had beckoned
to Bess to say good night and go.

"Yes," I said, "just one more."

So old Nana yielded to our united pleadings, asserted it must be only
_one_, as it was high time for her lad and lass to be in bed, and
ended by reciting aloud a strange old Shropshire rhyme--

                    "'Walking up the green grass,
                    A dust, a frust, a dust.
                    We want a pretty maid
                    To walk along with us.'

"The lads used to say that in a chorus," Nana explained. "Then the
maids would answer--

                   "'Fiddle faddle--fiddle faddle.'

"Then the boys would say--

               "'We'll take a pretty maid,
               We'll catch her by the hand,
               She shall go to Derby,
               For Derby be her land.
               She shall have a duck, my dear,
               She shall have a lamb,
               Hers shall be a nice young man,
               A-fighting for her sake.

               "'Suppose this young man was to die,
               And leave the lass alone,
               Our bells would ring, and we should sing
               And clap our hands together.'

"And the maids said--

                   "'Fiddle faddle--fiddle faddle.'"

"I don't like it," said Bess, impulsively. "Why should they all be
jolly because the poor gentleman died?"

[Sidenote: "THERE'S THINGS AS GIRLS CAN'T UNDERSTAND"]

But Hals did not take that view. "There's things," he said loftily,
"as girls can't understand."

At this Bess turned very red, and in the spirit of the modern woman
declared, "What she couldn't understand, Hals couldn't neither." And
in deep dudgeon she followed Nana into the house.

As the little party passed out of the garden Hals called back to me,
"We've forgotten Stag a Roarning. The best of all the games we've not
told you about. One that I played last year with my papa at a school
feast."

The twilight turned into night. The servants came out, and I was
helped back to the Chapel Hall. After all it had not been a dull
afternoon. One can go many miles in one's room, if one knows how to
ride on the wings of fancy, and many is the garden that I had visited
that day, borne along on the pinions of imagination, for were not the
gardens of all time open to me? No dragons or mailed warriors guarded
the entrance gates, not even a modern policeman.

An hour after dinner I found myself in bed. The window of my chamber
was wide open, an old lancet window of Norman days, one out of which
Roger de Montgomery may have gazed, and, later, many of the Henry's
of England in succession. All was very still outside. In the little
bit of dark sapphire-blue sky that met my eye as I lay in bed, I saw
a mist of silver stars, and the scent of the creepers entered with
entrancing sweetness. I was no longer in pain, but not sleepy, so I
stretched out my hand and took hold of a book. My hand closed upon a
volume of Milton, well worn, and much used; for John Milton has a
solemn, sacred power, and touches you with the solemnity of some
grand chords heard upon a cathedral organ, and the melody of his
verse is often welcome in this holy place. But it was not to his
"Paradise Lost" or "Regained" that I turned, nor to his exquisite
sonnets. I was in a lighter mood; I turned to the most beautiful
masque that ever was written; whilst I thought of the most beautiful
of all ruins, Ludlow Castle, the early home of Sir Philip Sidney,
England's ideal knight, and the mirror of her chivalry.

The plot of the masque arose from a simple little mishap which
happened in the life of the actors. John Milton was then tutor to the
Earl of Bridgewater's sons, Lord Brackley and Thomas Egerton. On
their way to Ludlow, the young party went through Haywood Forest in
Herefordshire. Travelling with her brothers was the Lady Alice
Egerton. Somehow, in the depth of the wilderness, the young lady was
lost for a short time.

Out of this slender plot Milton constructed his masque of "Comus."
His friend, Henry Lawes, set his songs to music, and the fair Alice
and her two brothers all appeared in the play on Michaelmas night and
acted at Ludlow Castle before their parents and assembled guests. As
I lay in bed the grace and the charm of the masque returned to me. I
thought in the tranquillity of the summer evening I heard the lady
calling--

        "Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that lives unseen
                Within thy airy shell,
              By slow meander's margent green,
        And in the violet-embroidered vale
                Where the love-lorn nightingale
        Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well:
        Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
              That likest thy narcissus are?
              O, if thou have
            Hid them in some flowery cave
              Tell me where?
            Sweet queen of parley, daughter of the sphere,
            So mayest thou be translated to the skies
        And give resounding grace to all heaven's harmonies."

[Sidenote: THE MASQUE OF "COMUS"]

How prettily the lines must have sounded, not through wood and glade,
but through the stately presence chamber of Ludlow Castle to the
graceful tinkling music Lawes had written for them. The earl and
countess sat, I have read, in all the state of the Marches Court in
the front row, and were surrounded by neighbours and dependents.
There is the grace of great things in "Comus," and a grace and
finished purity of soul that have seldom belonged to youth.

The elder brother's speech is worthy of Shakespeare--

          "He that has light within his own clear breast,
          May sit in the centre and enjoy bright day.
          But he, that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,
          Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
          Himself is his own dungeon."

What happened to fair Alice, I have often asked myself, in the time
of trouble that was soon to come? I have never been able to find out
much, save that she married Lord Carberry, and lived with him at his
seat of Golden Grove.

In the unbroken calm, the old world seemed very near me. Ghosts, once
dear to Ludlow, seemed to breathe around me. The little princes, with
their fair curls, smiled upon me from the threshold of life; Prince
Arthur, Sir Philip Sidney, Alice and her brothers, and Milton in the
dawn of his poet's career; ill-fated Charles; and brilliant, but
broken-hearted, Butler. I thought of all of them, whilst the wind
stirred faintly the summer leaves. At last I sank into repose. Sweet
dreams are those suggested by old-world ghosts, and when the spirit
is lulled by the graces of another age. I lay half-dreaming,
half-awake, and thought of John Milton, young and beautiful, with the
fire of inspiration in his deep grey-blue eyes. A man of wonderful
learning and grace. A master swordsman, inasmuch as it was true of
him "that he was not afraid of resenting an affront from any man." Of
deep erudition, for Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac were all known to
him, besides being well versed in Italian, French, and Spanish. He
could repeat aloud, I have heard, many portions of Homer. I thought
of him later giving himself up to the delights of music, of which he
was a master, as was his father; playing, it is said, both on the
organ and on other instruments. He was also a composer, like his
friend Henry Lawes, though none of his compositions have reached us.
Certainly, as Bishop Newton wrote of him, "he was a man of great
parts, for his was a quick apprehension, a sublime imagination, a
strong memory, a piercing judgment, and a wit always ready."

The next day I sat out after breakfast. It was delicious weather.
Soft rain had fallen during the night towards dawn, and refreshed the
earth. I had begun to answer letters on a little bed-table, when my
solitude was interrupted by the appearance of Auguste. He approached
my couch with a profound bow. Under his arm was a book bound in
vellum, and bearing on the side an inscription in manuscript. He
advanced, placed both heels together, and then bowed profoundly.

"Madame se porte mieux?" he inquired.

I replied in the affirmative, and thanked him for his kind enquiries.

[Sidenote: L'OEUVRE DE GRAND-PAPA]

There was a pause; then Auguste bowed again, and after a long string
of courteous words, in which our cook trusted that "le bon Dieu
ferait vite son métier," and in which he assured me that he prayed
that I should be soon restored to health, he put beside me "le cahier
blanc" that he had been holding. "C'est l'oeuvre de mon grand-père,"
he explained with pride. "Il était cuisinier dans la famille d'un
maréchal de l'Empire," and added, "madame peut copier ce dont elle a
besoin."

I felt overwhelmed at this proposal, for I realized that poor Auguste
was giving me what he prized most in the world. Perhaps the great
Napoleon had supped off grandpapa's _entrées_, or Josephine had
tasted an ice or some _brioche_ made by grandpapa's hands. These
recipes have for Auguste the mysticism of the lore of Merlin. They
are, in his words, _magnifiques_, _superbes_, and the last words of
culinary art. "Mes secrets," he generally calls them. Grand'maman
bound them in white vellum, and the book has been handed down as a
priceless heirloom in Auguste's family.

I felt I could hardly thank my cook sufficiently for his kind
thought. There Auguste stood in irreproachable white linen cap and
coat. No prince could have believed that he could offer a more
splendid gift, as he repeated, with a theatrical wave of his hand,
"Madame peut tout copier." And then added, with an indulgent smile,
"Madame est malade, cela lui fera un plaisir énorme."

I rose to the occasion and said, as "bonne ménagère." I found it
difficult to express my gratitude.

At this Auguste retired a step, and then, with a courtly bow,
exclaimed grandly, his eye upon my embroidery which lay near on a
chair, "Il faut que les artistes se consolent dans les jours de
tristesse," and so saying, vanished to reign over his own kingdom.

A little later Burbidge came in to see me. In his hand he held a
bunch of roses, neatly tied with green matting, a new fad of mine.
Amongst the roses that he had brought me, I found a lovely Caroline
Testout, of great size and beauty, of a delicate pink with a glow of
richer colour in the centre. Then there was an open bud of charming
Thérèse Levet, and a full blown splendour of Archiduchesse Marie
Immaculata, with its curious red-brick tints; and two or three
blossoms of the dear old-fashioned Prince Camille de Rohan of a deep,
brownish crimson hue.

"Here's a few on 'em, just a sprinklin'," said Burbidge. "But oh,
'tis a pity as yer can't see 'em growin'! The sop of rain has brought
'em out, like the sunshine brings out chickens from under a hen's
wing. They be popping and peering in the garden, as if they had the
Lord Almighty to look at 'em Hisself."

"Perhaps He is," I said with a smile.

To this Burbidge didn't give direct assent, but like a true
Shropshire man, he declared that it was his belief, if the Lord was
on earth, it might pleasure Him to see the place, for the whole of
the red-walled garden was a garland of flowers. "There be irises, and
roses, and peonies; and it be hard to tell the colours. There be all
sorts and all shades, most like a glass window in the Abbey Church at
Shrewsbury." And Burbidge added, with that true sense of poetry that
belongs to the peasant, that "the Wrekin doves they be cooing and
fluttering round the firs, same as in a real poem."

[Sidenote: A POSY OF ROSES]

Burbidge laid the bunch of roses close beside me, for they had
slipped off the sofa whilst he was talking. Before going, he
vouchsafed the information that there be a Reine d'Angleterre three
parts in blow. He pronounced the French words strangely, but I
understood from many talks what was meant in Gallic, and that he
would bring it to me. "And 'tis a great deal, I think, the sight of a
new rose--leastways, 'tis to me; for it allus pleases, and it never
can be uncivil like many Christians," he said. After which profound
dictum, my good old gardener hobbled off. These kind gifts and little
attentions touched me. I appreciated much Auguste's thoughtful
kindness, and Burbidge's pity for my misfortune, for it was his
invariable rule that a "first blow," must show itself first in a
garden. "Don't 'e interfere with the Lord's system," he once said to
me, when I wanted to gather a new tree peony. "Let it pleasure itself
first time in the garden, and arter yer may please yerself."

I smelt my bunch of roses, the fragrance was delicious, soft and
sweet, and only to be fully appreciated by dipping one's nose well
into the centre of the sweetest.

Certainly a rose is a lovely flower, and it is wonderful what
gardeners have done to tend, improve, and develop it, and it was hard
to imagine that any of the great double complex blossoms that I held
in my hand, were first cousin, and lineally descended from the wild
rose of the hedges. Yet delicious as roses are, and beloved by most
men, and women, there have been, and may be, for aught I know, some
who still cordially hate them, as cordially as Lord Roberts is said
to dislike the presence of a cat, or a certain Duchess that I have
been told of, the approach of horses.

Marguerite of Navarre, the wife of Henry IV. of France, is said to
have found the perfume of roses so repellent, that she fainted if one
was brought her; and I remember in Evelyn's Diary of 1670, an account
of a dinner-party at Goring House, in which he tells us that, "Lord
Stafford rose from table in some disorder, because there were roses
stuck about the fruit at dessert."

Sir Kenelm Digby also told a story of the same kind of Lady Selenger
(St. Leger). Her antipathy to this flower he declared to have been so
great, that some one laying a rose beside her cheek when asleep,
thereby caused a blister to rise. Whether the story was true it is
too long ago to tell; but by all accounts Sir Kenelm "was a teller of
strange things."

Whilst I was thinking over these old-world stories, I was suddenly
interrupted by the entrance of my little girl.

"Oh, mamma," cried Bess, with tears in her eyes, "only to think
he--Hals--has to go, to go in two days."

"Do not cry, little one," I replied. "Papa and I have settled that I
am to go off for a week to the seaside, and you shall come too; and
even Mouse shall have her ticket."

At this Bess was comforted, for the prospect of the sea, the sands,
and a spade of her very own, were very consolatory. But the day that
little Hals left us, she came to me just before going off to bed.

"Mum," she said, "I've been thinking."

"Yes, dear," I replied.

"I've been thinking," pursued Bess, "that somehow there ought to
be--a way to keep a boy. Grown-up girls have husbands, I know," she
said. Then, after a momentary pause, "You have a great, great book of
Harrod's. Surely, somewhere, mamsie, they have a boy stall."

I laughed and kissed my little girl. "We are poor creatures," I said,
"we girls and women. We have all for centuries wanted to buy some
boy, and haven't yet found out where or how to do it."

[Sidenote: "GOOD-BYE! GOOD-BYE!"]

A few days later, Bess and I found ourselves on the Wenlock station
platform. Masses of boxes surrounded us, and Mouse, with a label tied
to her collar, sat watching us intently.

"Why aren't you glad to go--glad as I am, mamsie?" cried Bess,
impetuously. "You know the doctor said that it would make you quite
better, and we can bathe together in the sea. Besides," added my
little maid, with wisdom beyond her years, "if you only go, you are
always much gladder to come back."

We jumped into a carriage, and Mouse looked out of the window.
Burbidge took my last injunctions. Then the train moved off, and the
ruins and old town of Wenlock faded before my eyes. "Good-bye, dear
old place!" I murmured. And as we dashed on, faintly sounding on the
breeze, I caught the last notes of the distant chimes--"Good-bye!
Good-bye!"



                                 INDEX


      A

    Abbey Farmery, 233, 279

    Ales-hoof, 262

    All Fools' Day, 132

    Almonds, 131

    Amiel, 2

    Anemones, 16, 228
      varieties, 289

    Annuals, 283

    Anstice, Squire, 168

    Apple Howlers, 242

    Arabis, 98

    Ashfield Hall, 53

    Austrian briar, 137

    Ayrshire briars, 283


      B

    Bachelors' Buttons, 173

    Bacon, Lord, 300

    Bacon's garden, 293

    Baily Clerke, Sir John, _alias_ John Cressage, 153

    Banister or Banaistre, 83

    Banister's Coppice, 83

    Beans, Mont d'Or, 50

    Bee charms, 140, 141

    Bee hives, 139

    Bees, 137, 138

    Berners, Dame Juliana, 100

    Birds' country names, 179

    Blackbird, 94

    Blackcap, 16, 220

    Black ouzel (blackbird), 184

    Blore Heath, 155

    Bog myrtle, 176

    Borde, Andrew, 300

    Boscobel, 227

    Botelar, Sir Thomas, 151, 152, 153

    Botryoides hyacinths, 136

    Bouncing Bess (Valerian), 173

    Bridle, the scold's, 247

    Browne, Sir Thomas, 156

    Buckingham, Duke of, 83

    Bull-baiting, 166

    Bull-ring, 163, 250


      C

    Caer Caradoc, 273

    Camden, 211

    Canaries, 36

    Cap St. Martin, 11

    Carrion crow, 104, 105

    Chaffinch, 8, 65, 185

    Chapter House, 209

    Charité, La, 95

    Charles I., 53

    Charles II., 227

    Chartres, 42

    Chaucer, 171

    Chaucer's garden, 298

    Chimes, 12, 321

    Chionodoxa, 64, 136

    _Choisya ternata_, 233

    Clee Hill, 79

    Clematis Flammula, 40

    Clematis Jackmanni, 40

    Clematis Montana, 40

    Cloisters, 173

    Clugniac monks, 161

    Clun, 77, 109

    Cobbett, 213

    Cock-fighting, 199, 200, 201

    Columbines, 251

    Comus, 314

    Convolvulus, 51

    Corncrake, 226

    Corsica, 12

    Corvehill, Sir William, 153

    Craven Arms, 81

    Cressage, John, _alias_ Sir John Baily Clerke, 153

    Crimson Rambler, 40

    Crocuses, 96, 97, 135

    Cromwell, Oliver, 5

    Cromwell, Thomas, 211

    Crown Imperials, 136

    Cuckoo, 148, 149, 185, 285

    Cuckoo's Cup, 196


      D

    Daffodils, garden varieties, 174

    Dahlias, 109

    Daphne, 9, 17

    Darwin Tulips, 136

    Delphiniums, 281

    Devil, Timothy Theobald's views on the, 242

    Digby, Sir Kenelm, 320

    Dog-rose, 226


      E

    Ecall (woodpecker), 260

    Eckford's sweet peas, 51

    Edge Wood, 181, 182

    Elizabeth of York's bower, 295

    Ellesmere, 166

    Escargots, 95, 96, 238

    Evelyn, John, 295

    Exeter book, 148


      F

    Fanshawe, Sir Richard, 302

    Farley Dingle, 83, 226

    Favourite flowers, 120

    Forester, Squire, 206, 207

    _Fraxinella Dictamnus_ (Burning Bush), 173, 256, 257


      G

    Games in Shropshire, 304-12

    Gardens, 290
      at La Mortola, 11

    Geraniums, sweet-scented, 234, 235

    "Gerard's Herbal," 43, 74, 301

    Ghosts of Ludlow Castle, 315

    Gladioli, varieties, 116

    Godwin, Bishop, 211

    Grass, bulbs in, 163

    Grass of Parnassus, 124

    Greenfinch, 122


      H

    Hampton Court, 295

    Hanbury, Sir Thomas
      his garden at La Mortola, 11

    Hedgehog, 236, 237

    Heliotrope, 234

    Hellebores, 97

    Henricus Stephanus, 254

    Henry VIII., 212

    Herbert, George, 302

    Herbs, 258

    Hesperides, 297

    Highclere, 290

    High Ercall, 302

    Hill, Thomas, 300

    Homer, 144

    Honeysuckle, 226

    Hotel Bellevue, 11


      I

    Irises, Spanish, 136


      J

    Jackdaws, 9, 173

    Jack squealer, 215

    Jay, 182

    Johnnie's watch, 197

    Judy Cookson, 247


      K

    Kenilworth, 299

    King, Collins, 224

    King-cups, 121

    Kiss-in-the-ring, 199

    Kitty wren, 145

    Kynaston, Humphrey, 110


      L

    Langley, 292

    Laon, 256

    Latimer, 213

    Lawson, 301

    Leper's chamber, 173

    Leveret, the, and "Mouse," 273

    _Lilium Auratum_, 173

    _Lilium Martagon_, 173

    Longleat, 254

    Longmynd, 273

    Loppington, 167

    Love in the Mist, 51

    Lucky flower, marsh marigold, 191

    Ludlow Castle, 314, 315


      M

    Macaws' colours, 14

    Madeley manor, 153

    Madeley wakes, 167

    Magpie, 182

    Malope, 51

    Malory, 2

    Manetti, stock for roses, 136

    Markham, 300

    Marsh marigold, a lucky flower, 191

    Martagon lilies, 173

    Mary proclaimed queen, 154

    Masque of flowers, 303

    May Day, 166, 171, 172

    Mediterranean, 12

    Mentone, 11

    "Mezeron tree," 62

    Milburgha, Saint, 30, 32, 59, 60

    Milton, John, 6, 313

    Mistress Tuggy's bower, 299

    Montaigne, 3, 115

    Moody, Tom, 202, 203, 204

    Moor-hen, 134

    Moor Park (Herefordshire), 296

    Moor Park (Surrey), 296, 297

    More, Sir Thomas, 84

    Morris dancers, 195

    Mortola (La), gardens at, 11, 12

    Moss roses, 281

    Mouse-ear, 259

    Mytton, Sheriff, 83


      N

    Nanny Morgan, 89, 90

    Napoleon, 12

    Narcissus, Stella and Cynosure, 162

    Nest, a forsaken, 240

    Nonsuch, 294, 301


      O

    Oak-apples, 226, 227

    Oaken gates, 168

    Old Soul, 203, 204

    Oreilles d'Ours, 176

    Osborne, Dorothy, 297

    Ounts, 101


      P

    Palm Sunday, 150

    Parson Mortimer, 168

    Patrick's (Saint) shamrock, 123

    Peacock, 9

    Pear varieties, 108

    Penance, 250

    Penzance briars, 283

    Peonies, 251, 259

    Peonies (tree), 282

    Periwinkles, 121

    Piers Ploughman, 149

    Pigeons, 9

    Pinks, 258

    Pittosporum, 11

    Poke-puddings (tomtits), 8, 239

    Poppies, Oriental, 251

    Poppies, Shirley, 52

    Posenhall, 155

    Primroses, 121, 159

    _Primula_, _Cashmeriana_ and _Japonica_, 176

    Punishments, ancient, 246


      Q

    Quice (wood-pigeons), 94, 184


      R

    Ranunculi, 108, 109, 228

    Raven's bowl, the, 196

    Redstart, 217, 218

    Ribes, 135

    Ring-ouzel, 219

    Robin, 29, 99

    Roger de Montgomery, 33, 161, 313

    Rooks, 9, 101, 102, 103, 159

    Rose haters, 319, 320

    Rose, Japanese, 137

    Roses, hybrid tea, 135

    Roses, old, 43

    Roses, red, 299

    Roses, tea, 40

    Roses, varieties, 108, 282, 318

    Rosemary, 255

    Royal oak, 227

    Rue, 292

    Rupert, Prince, 53


      S

    Scilla Sibirica, 162

    Servant hiring, 244

    Severn, 147

    Sheinton Street, 56

    Sherlot Forest, 121

    Shinewood, 83, 84

    Shipton, 84, 291

    Shropshire games, 304-12

    Silverton, 79

    "Sister Helen," 66, 71

    Skylark, 122, 123

    Spital Street, 154

    Stafford, Lord, 320

    Starlings, 8, 63

    Stocks, 246

    Stonhill coppice, 168

    Storm-cock, 94, 233

    Swans, 134, 135


      T

    Temple Garden, 292

    Temple, Sir William, 297

    Theobalds, 299

    Thomas à Kempis, 48

    Thrush, 95, 239, 253

    Tiberius, the Emperor, 269

    Tomtits, 8, 239

    Tong Church, 299

    Tradescant, John, 301


      V

    Violas, 235

    Violets, 94
      garden varieties, 174
      white, 120


      W

    Wagtail, yellow, 240

    Wake Sunday, 196

    Watch-tower, 9

    Well, St. Milburgha's, 61

    Wenlock station, 321

    Wife, sale of a, 247

    Wormwood, 261

    Wrekin, 147, 197

    Wrekin doves, 249

    Wrens, 8, 98

                               THE END

   PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.

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                      THE HAWORTH EDITION OF THE
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                        DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL
                     BIOGRAPHY INDEX and EPITOME
                        Edited by SIDNEY LEE.

                         ---------------------

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                         ---------------------

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Transcriber's note:

Some presumed printer's errors have been corrected, including
punctuation.

The spelling of words was changed so that spelling in the Index
matched the spelling in the main text.

Two occurrences of the proper name Celestine were altered to
Célestine for consistency.

Further corrections are listed below with the printed text (top) and
corrected text (bottom):

thrushs'
thrushes' (p. viii)

round the old Abbey precints.
round the old Abbey precincts. (p. 41)

ABBY
ABBEY (Illustration to face p. 94)

as we are won't to call her.
as we are wont to call her. (p. 119)

bird-nest at at once
bird-nest at once (p. 181)

ring ouzel
ring-ouzel (p. 219-220)

It faut que
Il faut que (p. 319)





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