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Title: Our Sentimental Garden
Author: Castle, Agnes Sweetman, Castle, Egerton
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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                          Transcriber’s Notes

 Obvious spelling and punctuation errors corrected. On page 296, “raste”
   could be meant to be “haste” or “taste” - it has been left as in the
   original. Inconsistencies in hyphenation in the original have been
   retained.

 The original text used ‹ › as parenthesis instead of ( ), this style
   has been retained.

 One of the color illustrations is referred to as “THE MOOR” in the List
   of Illustrations and as “THE MOORS” in the original caption. The
   caption has been changed to “THE MOOR” for consistency.

 Page headers from right hand pages have been retained as sidenotes and
   placed by relevant text.

 There were two chapters named XXXII in the original. The second XXXII
   has been renumbered XXXIII in this text, and subsequent chapters also
   renumbered.

 Italics have been represented as underscores surrounding the _italic
   text_.

 Small capitals in the original text have been converted to ALL CAPS in
   the text.

 Descriptions of illustrations have been added to the text.

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

[Illustration:

  OUR
  SENTIMENTAL
  GARDEN
]

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

[Illustration: THE HEMICYCLE]

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



        [Illustration: View of Garden is background behind text]

                            OUR SENTIMENTAL
                                 GARDEN

                              BY AGNES AND
                                EGERTON
                                 CASTLE

                            _Illustrated by
                           Charles Robinson_

                   PHILADELPHIA: J. B. LIPPINCOTT CO
                       LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                                 MCMXIV

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



                          _Printed in England_

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



                  _To our Kind Neighbours, of Rogate_,

                        SIR HUGH & LADY WYNDHAM

                   _who viewed the “Villino” garden,
                even from the beginning, with indulgent
                   eyes; and, with friendliest tact,
                persisted in descrying possibilities of
                   grace in the wildest tangle, this
                 chronicle is affectionately inscribed
                        in pleasant remembrance
                          of too rare visits._

                               _September
                                 1914_

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

[Illustration: flowering plant]

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



                              Villino Loki


                Over the hills and far away,
                A place of flowers crowns a rise;
                And there our year, from May to May,
                Comes with a breath of Paradise;
                There the small helpless soul that lies
                So sweetly, innocently gay,
                In little furry things at play,
                With perfect trust can meet our eyes;
                Over the hills and far away,
                Over the hills.

                Over the hills and far away,
                In every rose a dream we prize,
                While thousand tender memories
                Flutter about the lilac-spray;
                To-day, to-morrow, yesterday—
                Each unto each make glad replies;
                Over the hills and far away,
                Over the hills.

                                                 ELINOR SWEETMAN

_Never was trifling chronicle begun so light-heartedly as this chatty,
idly reminiscent book of ours—and now it is under the great shadow of
war, of death and suffering, that we see it pass into its final shape!_

_The “little paradise on the hill,” with all its innocent pleasures, its
everyday joys and cares; with the antics of the “little furry things at
play,” the sayings and doings of the “famiglia”; the roses, the bulbs
and seedlings; our alluring garden plans, our small despairs and
unexpected blisses—our earthly paradise, as we have said, seems like an
unreal place. We wander through it with spirit ill at ease; oppressed,
as by a curse, through no fault of ours. The sight of an Autumn
Catalogue (hitherto so tempting, so full of promised joys) evokes only a
sigh. The offer, from the familiar Dutchman, of bulbs which “it will
help Belgium if we buy,” turns the heart sick. We know we must not buy
bulbs, this year, because we shall have to buy bread—bread for those who
will surely lack it—and yet, if we do not buy, others in their turn must
needs go wanting. And here is but the merest drop in the monstrous tide
of evils wantonly let loose upon humanity by the self-styled Attila!
There are times when, looking out upon our place of peace, we feel as
though, surely, we must all be lost in some fantastic nightmare. It is a
September full of golden sunshine; as this night falls, a benign, placid
moon rises over the silent moors into a sky the colour of spun-glass.
The breeze choirs softly through the boughs of scented Larch and Birch.
All is beauty, harmony—while in those fields yonder, south of the sea,
the Huns.... Pray God, by the time the Spring begins to stir shyly once
more in our copses; what time the Crocus pushes forth its little tender
flame, and the Snowdrop (with us fugitive and reluctant) bends its
timorous head under our hill-top winds, we may indeed look back upon
these days as upon some dreadful dream!_

_Meanwhile—even as the Villino itself is now to become a home of
convalescence for some of our wounded, still unknown, but to be welcomed
soon; even as the Cottage is to be a refuge for women and babes fled
from burning Belgian hamlets—the following pages, breathing content and
all the harmless ways of life, may perchance help to beguile thoughts
surfeited with tales and pictures of mortal strife. We hope that, as a
sprig of Lavender, or a Cowslip, by his pillow might for a moment
relieve the blood-tinted vision of a stricken soldier, so, perhaps, some
unquiet heart labouring under the strain of long-drawn suspense, will
find a passing relaxation, a forgotten smile, in the company of Loki and
his companions._

    _Sept. 1914_

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



[Illustration: landscape with trees]

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
                               IN COLOUR

               THE HEMICYCLE          _Frontispiece_
               THE DUTCH GARDEN       _To face page_   16
               THE BEECH                ”         ”   142
               SUMMER                   ”         ”   150
               THE MOOR                 ”         ”   208
               AUTUMN                   ”         ”   234
               THE HOLLY TREE           ”         ”   272
               WINTER                   ”         ”   292

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

[Illustration: small landscape]

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



    OUR SENTIMENTAL
    GARDEN



I


It is easier to begin with our beasts.—First, they are much the most
important, and secondly, there are only six of them. Our bulbs lie in
their thousands with just a green nose showing here and there now in
January and are nameless things: only collectively dear, if
extraordinarily so.

It will instantly be perceived what kind of gardeners we are, and what
kind of garden we keep. We have scarcely a single plant of
“individuality.” We do not spend ten guineas on a jonquil bulb, nor
fifteen on a peony. To our mind no flower can be common: therefore we
lavish our resources on quantity. I was going to say: not quality, but
that is where, in our opinion, the modern kind of garden-maker goes
wrong. What is in a name? Where flowers are concerned, nothing! But how
much, what treasures of joy and colour, of shade and exquisite texture,
of general blessedness in fact, lurk in the beloved crowd of the
nameless things, that come to us designated only thus: “Best mixed
Darwin Tulips”; “Blue bedding Hyacinths”; “Single Jonquils, best mixed,”
and so on! We once descended so far as to order “a hundred mixed
Delphiniums at 10s.,” and when, last June, we looked down on a certain
bed in the Reserve Garden from the seat under The Beech Tree ‹which
commands that enthralling spot› and saw the blue battalion glowing with
enamel colours draw up against the moor beyond, we felt not at all
ashamed of ourselves—yea, we felt conceitedly pleased.

[Illustration: woman looking out at garden]

                  *       *       *       *       *

But our beasts are individual indeed; and, as it was said, there are
only six of them.

[Sidenote: CONCERNING THE PEKINESE]

The first in order of importance is the Pekinese, who, purchased at a
moment when we were much under the enchantment of the “Ring,” we
ineptly—yet, from the ethnological standpoint, not altogether
inappropriately—called Loki: his coat is fiery red, and he is an adept
at deceit. When we want to impress strangers we hastily explain that he
is Mo-Loki, son of the great Mo-Choki, the celebrated champion. Loki
‹who frequently assures us that he was a Lion, in Pekin› was born on the
roof of the Imperial Palace in High Street, Kensington. His appearance
and behaviour are such as bear testimony to his princely lineage. We let
him run a great deal when he was a puppy, with the result that his legs
are a little longer than is usual with members of the Imperial Dynasty,
but “Grandpa”—Stop! It is as well to explain from the outset that, since
the advent of Loki in the family, Grandpa is the name that has devolved,
automatically, upon the Master of the House: the infant Loki’s mistress
having assumed, from the very necessity of things, the post and
responsibility of mother ‹in Pekinese ma-ma›, it must follow as the
night the day that her father “illico” became Grandpa.—To resume: though
his legs are a trifle longer than is usual, the Master of the House says
he is much more beautiful by reason of this distinction. And we all
agree with him.

[Illustration: dog resting]

Loki will not believe that the Manchu masters have fallen in China ‹of
course it is not from us that he has heard these distressing rumours›,
so he still demands as his right the best silk eiderdowns to lie upon,
satin for his cushions, grilled kidney for his breakfast, freshly poured
water in his bowl every time he wants to drink; and expects immediate
attention at lunch and dinner-time, play-time, “bye-bye” time, and all
the other times when he thinks he would like his chest rubbed. He sits
up and waves his paws with imperious gesture; or else rolls over on his
back and puts them together in an attitude of prayer. He had not at
first much oriental calm about him. Indeed, when he first came to us his
one desire was to play with every living thing he saw, from a cow to a
chicken; but the cow misunderstood and ran at him, and the chicken
misunderstood and ran away. The poor puppy was perplexed and wounded. He
always believed every new Teddy bear toy to be alive at first, and would
receive it in a rapture of tail-wagging and nuzzling kisses, until what
time, it dawning upon him that Teddy was a senseless fraud, he set
himself to shake and worry it like a little fury. Now he is older and
wiser. He pretends not to see cows, and condemns chickens; he will growl
at a strange dog, and bite and shake a new toy the very first day. Thus,
alas, do years make a cynic of the young idealist!

[Sidenote: LOKI’S OWN ANIMALS]

He only plays with his own animals. These are: Susan, the Butler’s dog,
and Arabella, the Lavroch setter, a long, lovely, lithe, foolish
creature, whose surname is Stewart, having come to Villino Loki out of
far Scotland from a distinguished member of that Royal clan. Arabella,
who is ten times the size of Loki, turns him over and over, tramples on
him, nibbles and licks him till he is unspeakable. He will leap at her
nose, hang on to one of her long flapping ears, race up and down the
slopes and round and round the green terraces, till they both collapse,
and their tongues hang out of their laughing mouths, seeming to flicker
with their panting breath, and become as long as the tongues of dragons
on old manuscripts.

[Illustration: dogs playing outdoors]

A matter to be noticed is that they never play in their walks with us
across the moors—apparently that is against dog etiquette—but they will
lie in wait for each other at the garden gate on the way home, and the
fun and the pouncing and growling jocosities begin the instant they are
inside.

Susan doesn’t play with the other animals, though she exercises an
irresistible fascination upon every dog that comes within a mile of her.
She has a kind of Jane Eyre charm, we suppose, for it is not at first
visible to the naked eye. She always does remind us of a small elderly
German governess, for she is squat, undemonstrative, and eminently—oh,
eminently!—respectable. She is a fox-terrier. She has, however, one
terrible weakness. Her only joy is to have stones thrown for her. She is
not, therefore, an agreeable person to take out for a walk, for she will
get right under your feet, dig up a stone, point at it, and bark,
“Throw, throw!” with a shrill persistence that goes through your head.
And if you are weak-minded enough to yield, then indeed you are undone.
You will be kept throwing till you wish her in the Dog Star. She will
scratch up stones till her paws are raw. This we think a great defect,
but Loki sees no flaw in her.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: CELLARERS YOUNG, CELLARERS OLD]

When Susan’s Butler first came to us, we had suffered acutely from
butlers young and butlers old, butlers bashful and butlers bold—all of
whom drank steadily. One nearly murdered his Buttons. Another, engaged
by correspondence, vouched for by the agency, announcing his years as
forty-five, arrived huge, decrepit, asthmatic; almost, if not quite,
qualified for an old-age pension. The eight o’clock dinner he found it
impossible to serve before nine; and then that ceremony became a perfect
torture of dazed crawling, enlivened by stertorous breathing, for which
asthma and chronic alcoholism disputed responsibility. When the Master
of the House, who is very tender-hearted, intimated that he thought
that, for the good of the newcomer’s health, they had better part with
the utmost celerity, the veteran assented resignedly with the husky gasp
peculiar to him.

[Illustration: man with serving tray]

“You know,” said the Master of the House, mildly, “you are not quite
what you represented yourself to be. You said you were forty-five!”

“I think,” wheezed the Ancient Cellarer; “I think I said forty-seven,
sir.”

“Oh, forty-seven!” The Master of the House was a little satiric. “Even
if you had said forty-seven, you are a great, great deal more than
that!”

“Sir,” said the delinquent, with a beery twinkle, “no butler can ever be
more than forty-seven.”

This, we understand, is a maxim of life in the profession.

A third—he was young and beautiful—had a fondness for a brew called
gin-and-ginger, which had so cheering and immediate effect upon him
that, having left the drawing-room after tea the very pink and
perfection of propriety, he would announce dinner in an advanced
condition of jocular elevation, and when the plates slid out of his
hands he would survey them with a waggish smile, as one who would say:
“Bless their little hearts, see how playful they are!” We became anxious
to secure a servant who would have more than a few streaks of sobriety,
and when Susan’s owner came, we felt we had secured that pearl. He came
in a great hurry ‹without Susan› because of the equally hurried
departure of the beautiful hilarious one. After a week or so, we asked
him if he would consider us as a permanency. He said he would have to
consider us a little longer. After another ten days he informed us of
Susan’s existence, and announced his intention of going to fetch her. We
breathed again.

[Sidenote: IN THE MATTER OF O’REILLY]

[Illustration: dog looking away]

[Illustration: dog sitting in front of plant]

Juvenal—that is his name—is very fond of animals. A little too fond, we
thought, when he invited a military friend’s dog to stay, during the
owner’s absence at manœuvres. This animal, by name O’Reilly, arrived in
dilapidated, devil-may-care, barrack-yard condition, which was a great
shock to our Manchu prince. He also had pink bald elbows and knees. His
hind legs were longer than his front ones, which gave him an
ourang-outang gait. As became his Milesian name, he fought every one he
met on his walks. Why he did not fight Loki, we do not know, for Loki
loathed him and, we believe, suffered acutely in his poor little Chinese
soul all during his stay. Yet unwelcome as he was, scald, ungainly,
tiresome, there was something pathetic about the creature. He had a way
of looking at one, deprecating and pleading at once; and he would
display such rapture at the smallest token of toleration, that, despite
our satisfaction at his departure, we had an ache in our hearts too. We
have a shrewd suspicion that the corporal-major who owned him was a
rough customer, and that poor O’Reilly’s life was not that happy one
which every “owned” dog’s ought to be. A dog should not be treated as a
dog.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As for cats, once they have passed the giddy days of youth, in which
they are imps, sprites, goblins, pucks, furry, fairy, freakish
things—anything but mere animals—one cannot help feeling a certain awe
with regard to them. Despite the many cycles of years that have elapsed
since their ancestors took habitation with us, they have remained true
Easterns. From father to son, from mother to daughter they have handed
down secret stores of occult knowledge which they keep jealously to
themselves, a sacred inheritance of race. Those eyes that fix you with
pupil contracted to a slit, and look through and beyond you into
mysteries undreamt of by you: that lofty detachment, that ineradicable
independence, that relentless indifference: have we not all felt by
these signs and tokens how completely the cat puts us outside the sphere
of his real thoughts and feelings? Priests or priestesses they seem to
be, of some alien creed, soul satisfying, contemplative, with sudden
savage rites. Have you ever watched a cat with regard turned inwards,
meditating? Its body sways, but the spirit bubbles softly as if it were
seething in content over a mystic fire. It does not want you to join it
in its rapture, like your dog. It has no desire to admit you into its
comradeship. It is as self-contained and self-absorbed as the highest
grade Mahatma.

[Illustration: cat in garden]

[Sidenote: KITTY-WEE THE LOVELY]

Kitty-Wee, the Lovely, is chief of our three cats. She is a Persian lady
with a wonderful robe of silver grey, faintly blue, and orange eyes
inherited from that most beautiful, most evil monster, Tittums the
Bold-and-Bad, her father, who spent his adorable kittenhood and his
stormy youth under our London roof, until his habit of lying in wait for
the servants at odd corners and jumping at their elbows, made it
imperative for us to part with him. He was then adopted by a gentle
parson’s daughter, in the freedom of whose country dwelling it was hoped
that he might sow his wild oats and settle down into respectability. But
alas! the day dawned, when lying on the rector’s cassock in the
dining-room, he was so incensed at the reverend gentleman’s polite
request to move, that he chased him round and round the room, ran him
down in the hall and bit him. The churchman was not an unreasonable
being and had made many allowances for the frailty of degenerate
creation; but he drew the line at the violation of his reverend elbows.
Tittums was once again, with many tears and heart-rendings, passed on.
This time to a lady who keeps a cattery. We hear that he has become a
model of every virtue, and that she only wears a fencing mask and boxing
gloves when she combs him, because on the day when she left them off,
Tittums, in a fit of absence of mind, bit her through the thumb. Anyone
who takes a cat paper can hear more of this most distinguished beast,
under the name of “Saracinesca.”

Kitty-Wee is supposed to have inherited her father’s superlative
looks—only he was “smoke”—and her mother’s angelic disposition. If
occasionally a spark of the paternal temper flashes out, the gardener’s
wife ‹with whom she prefers to dwell› says “Kitty is a bit nervous
to-day.”

[Sidenote: KITTY-WEE’S MESALLIANCES]

It was after Kitty-Wee’s first _mésalliance_ that she took up her abode
with the worthy pair in the “little cot,” as Mrs. Adam calls it, at the
bottom of the garden. Persian princesses, from the time of “A Thousand
and One Nights” onwards, are proverbially capricious. But what perverse
freak of youthful fancy induced our delicate silver-pawed highborn
damsel to fix her young affections upon Mr. Hopkinson was and is, a
painful mystery.

Mr. Hopkinson, a very hooligan among cats, so degenerate indeed as to
have lost all his eastern characteristics, and to have assumed a
positively “Arry-like, bank-’oliday, disreputable, Hampstead-Heath kind
of vulgarity,” was a lean, mangy creature with a denuded tail. He had a
black spot over one eye; the other eye was conspicuous by its absence.
We could hear his raucous voice uplifted in serenade, suggestive of
accordeons, night after night, and his guttural whisper of “Me
’Oighness” behind the bushes when we went on our walks. Every effort was
made to discourage the preposterous suitor. But, alas! Kitty smiled. The
infatuated Princess escaped the vigilance of her distracted family.
Perhaps it is best to draw a veil over the consequences of this rash
alliance. Kitty indeed did her best to obliterate them, refusing to do
anything but sit heavily on three black and white kittens with ropy
tails. She only purred again the day the last one died; “Oh! she was
pleased, Mam,” said the gardener’s wife; “quite took up again, she did.”

[Illustration: animals watching each other]

Kitty-Wee’s next matrimonial venture, though likewise, we grieve to say,
morganatic, was very much more successful. In fact it is to it that we
owe—Bunny! The name, the lineage, the very personality of Bunny’s father
is wrapt in mystery; but judging by the splendour of Bunny’s black fur,
it is to be conjectured that Kitty-Wee’s choice was of a dark
complexion, and if not royal, at any rate of noble blood.

Two brave brothers Bunny had, but he is the sole survivor; all the more
cherished. And really, even if he lacks his mother’s supreme
distinction, we cannot but feel proud of him. Waggish, gentle, humorous
creature that he is, he will hang round the neck of Adam, the gardener,
like a boa, for a whole morning together; or stalk the dogs from tree to
tree, pounce on them at unexpected moments to deliver a swinging
friendly slap on Susan’s fat back, or to waltz with Arabella, or to
inveigle Loki, with odd freakish sidelong gambols, into a mysterious
game of his own, which, as our little Chinaman has something of the cat
in him, he seems to understand.

[Illustration: cat in garden]

We are very glad that Adam had Bunny to console him, for Kitty-Wee’s
offspring has an odd resemblance in size and appearance to Cæsar, the
late Garden Cat, much beloved, who alas! went the way of all fur ‹with a
melancholy little assistance from the chemist› shortly before Bunny’s
appearance in this plane.

“Oh, Miss,” said Mrs. Adam, on the Sunday that followed that Socratic
tragedy, “last night was the most dreadful night we ever spent! It was
the first time for thirteen years we hadn’t had a cat in the house! Oh!
Miss, I thought Daddy would have broken his heart. He just sat with his
head on his hand, and sighed. Really Miss Marie, I don’t know when we’ve
felt so bad.”

[Illustration: cat and dog]

It will be seen that Mr. and Mrs. Adam have the right feeling towards
“little sister cat and little brother dog,” as St. Francis of Assisi
would have called them. This suits us very well, and oddly enough,
Villino Loki is a kind of paradise for things of fur and feather. Cat
and dog live in a strange harmony. To see Loki kiss Bunny, or Bunny
clasp Arabella round the neck, is as pleasing a sight as you could
imagine. And if Kitty-Wee occasionally boxes Loki with a kind of
delicate compactness, it is with her claws in. As for Juvenal, the
butler, whose pantry is full of singing birds, no sense of etiquette
will restrain him from public blandishments when Loki is on the scene.
George, the footman, can be heard addressing him—Loki—in back passages,
as “My loved one!” And Tom, the old long-haired English cat, rules the
kitchen.

[Sidenote: THE VICISSITUDES OF TOM]

Tom has reached the patriarchal age of eighteen years, and is cherished
by the master of the Villino. He has had many vicissitudes. He was stung
by an adder during our very first summer, years ago, on these moors, and
lay for a day in a coma with one paw swollen the size of a child’s arm,
to be saved by doses of brandy and milk. A few years later he was caught
in a trap. How he got free no one knows, but we found him crawling,
piteously complaining, with a shattered leg. With the help of the cook,
who followed the tradition of the establishment and was Tom’s slave, the
leg was set with strips of firewood, the bone being very successfully
mended. It so happened that the Master of the House had, about the same
time, snapped his _tendo-plantaris_ at tennis; and it was a sight to see
them both when they stumped down the wooden passages—the master
dot-and-go-one on his crutches, Thomas following in his splints,
dot-and-go-three.

[Illustration: _Tom_]

The amateur surgery, however, was not completely successful. Though
Thomas’ bone knit, the poor mangled flesh remained unhealed, and at last
the cook conveyed her darling in a basket to the most celebrated London
animal doctor. Thereafter ensued a time of horrible suspense. Telegrams
went briskly backwards and forwards. Dr. Jewell “doubted if he could
save the limb.” Tom’s adoring family could not contemplate the tragedy
therein implied. “Better euthanasia!” we wired. “Will do my best for
little cat,” the sympathetic Æsculapius of God’s humble creatures
replied. Hope and devotion triumphed. Tommy returned to us with three
legs in large fur trousers, the fourth as close as a mouse. The fur
thereon has never grown to full length again. We fear it will never grow
now.

Dear old Tom is toothless, and he is getting a little bald on the top of
his head; but he is a beautiful creature still, and a dandy. His four
spats are always of an almost startling snowiness; his shirt-front
ditto. He is not very fond of any of the other animals, and was so
revolted by Kitty-Wee’s _mésalliance_ that she could not show her face
in the kitchen without his instantly using as severe language as ever
John Knox to Queen Mary. “Hussy!” was the mildest of his terms.

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

[Illustration: THE DUTCH GARDEN]

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



[Illustration: house on hill]



II


Where we live, high on the southern moorlands of Surrey, the desolation
of winter never seems to reach us; unless, indeed, upon certain days of
streaming rains, or weeping mists that rush rapid and ghost-like up the
valley, and blot out the world from view. But those days would be dreary
anywhere and in any season.

Our funny little house, more like an Italian “Villino,” perhaps, than
anything English, stands high, midway between the rolling shoulders of
moor and the green-wooded dip of the valley. And the moor has always
colour in it. There are some sunset days when it seems not so much to
reflect as to give out rose and purple and carmine. And now in January
it is a wonderful copper-brown, with the tawny of dying Bracken and the
yellow of young Gorse. And opposite to us a belt of birchwood is purple
against solemn green of pine. And the purple and solemn green run right
down together to the bright verdure of fields and dells; then up again
to moorland, where the fir trees march up once more against the sky.

There are Larches in these woods, and Oaks, so that the spring tints are
almost as wonderful as the autumn. When the Furze and Broom are all
guinea-gold on the moor, the young Bracken begins to creep in green
patches that are pure joy. Later on the Bell-heather breaks into a deep
rose which, with the sun on it, holds such a glory of colour that you
could scarce find its match in an old Cathedral window. And when this
splendour begins to turn to russet, then comes the tender silvery
amethyst of the Ling, and spreads a mantle all over those great
shoulders of wild land that is of the exact hue most beautiful to
contrast with the full summer woods and the blue of an August sky; a
combination so matchless for colour-loving eyes that it seems as if
one’s soul were not big enough to hold the complete impression. And when
our Delphiniums rear themselves against this background, we feel,
looking on it all, as if we could sing for the mere rapture of it;
or—having no voice—roll in the grass like Loki or like Bunny.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: A LITTLE PLACE OF ONE’S OWN]

For a long time we—Loki’s Grandfather and Grandmother—had said to each
other that we must have a week-end cottage. We were so tired of hiring
other people’s houses, summer after summer, and of the labour ‹not
unattended by some pleasurable excitement on Loki’s Grandmother’s part›
of pulling their furniture about, and hiding away all the family
portraits and the choicest works of art, to make the alien spaces
tolerable to one’s own individuality. So tired, too, of the boredom and
worry of having to restore everything to its pristine ugliness and hang
up the enlarged photographs and the dreadful oil paintings on the walls
once more—a tedious task, albeit enlivened on one occasion by the
thrilling discovery that, having consigned these treasures to an oak
chest in the hall, most of them had grown fur; and that on another the
oil painting of your detested landlady, in middle Victorian chignon and
the hump of the period, has received a scratch on the nose which no
copious application of linseed oil will disguise. We always detest our
landlady ... though not as much as we loathe the tenants who may happen
to hire a house of ours.

[Illustration: street view of house]

At the end of each summer, therefore, we would make elaborate
calculations to prove what a great economy it would be to have a little
place of our own. Finally these plans and desires crystallized into
action. When Loki’s Grandfather returned from a round of inspection to
the hotel where we were staying in the district we fancied, and told
Loki’s Grandmother that he had visited a funny little house with a
terrace upon which he “saw her”—in his own phraseology—she was extremely
sceptical. And when we drove down the hill to view his discovery, and
were literally dropped from the side road through a perfunctory gate
into the steepest little courtyard it is possible to imagine, and she
beheld green stains on the rough-cast wall of the white small house, her
scepticism increased to scoffing point. She was blind to the charms of
the pretty pillared porch. The narrowness of the entrance passage filled
her with disdain. Though she grudgingly admitted a possibility in the
drawing-room, it was not until we emerged upon the terrace that her
preventions vanished.—That rise and fall of moorland in such startling
proximity, and the way in which the house and its terraces seemed to
cling to the hillside and be perched in space between the giant curves
and the dip of the valley beyond, fairly took her breath away. An artist
friend described the first impression of the view in these words: “It is
so sudden!” For a long time, even after the queer, fascinating spot had
become our own, this wonder of “suddenness” always seized us.

It still seems incomprehensible to us that anyone could have desired to
dispossess himself of so attractive a place—an Italian “Villino” on the
Surrey Highlands is not to be found every day.

But, after all, it only became a Villino after our ownership. It was
just a small white house on the hillside before that. Heather and Gorse,
Bramble and Bracken pressed hard upon the small area of the property
which was at all cultivated, between densely growing clumps of pine and
holly.

[Sidenote: THE FIRST TRANSFORMATIONS]

The courtyard is no longer dank: it is widened, levelled, and walled in
against its high fir-grown strip of bank. It is guarded by bright green
wooden gates, and three sentinel Cypresses that begin to mark the
Italian note.

As for the lower reach—the Reserve Garden now—which in former days was a
dumping-ground for horrors of broken glass, potsherds and tin cans ‹a
dreary patch of weeds and couch grass withal›, it is unrecognizable.
Especially this year, when, to the herbaceous border, to the espaliered
apple-trees, and to the neat little turfed walks, we have added a
Rose-Garden between screens of rustic woodwork which are to blaze in the
full luxuriance of the adorable Wichuriana tribe.

Where the jungle waxed thickest, fair paths have been cleared. An avenue
bordered by a double row of tall slender Pines runs from top to bottom
of the hill, with a view of our neighbour’s buttercup field on the one
hand, and of our own Bluebell and May-tree glade on the other. It
requires a positive effort of imagination to recall that this was a
literally impenetrable thicket when we first came.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: entrance to house off street]

[Sidenote: A VILLINO ON SURREY HILLS]

Nor is the house less altered. As it was hinted before, a small white
Surrey house has, by some singular, scarcely intentional process, become
enchanted into an Italian Villino. Of course, some structural
alterations were necessary.

[Illustration: house interior with plants]

On entering the red-tiled hall ‹once the pantry!›, at the end of which
the glass door giving on the terrace frames Verrochio’s little naked
boy, struggling with his big fish, flanked on each side by Cypresses,
you might easily fancy yourself at Fiesole or Bello Sguardo, but for the
unmistakable northern stamp of the moorland beyond. Passing through the
other glass doors into the inner hall, the first object to meet the eye
is the big della Robbia over the gracious figure of the Madonna kneeling
against a blue sky with dear little green clouds upon it. Through the
open dining-room door you have a vision, all golden orange, of different
deep shades. The Scotch builder we employed for the construction of the
two new wings opined that “the scheme was verra’ daring.” Personally,
every time we go in, it warms the cockles of our hearts. We had the
golden-hued carpet especially dyed. We chose the tangerine distemper for
the walls. We had, indeed, considerable difficulty in obtaining the
higher note for the curtains. Antique chairs, with seats and backs of
brown leather tooled like old bindings, we brought from Rome; from
whence also came the yellow marble sideboard table on its gilt-carved
legs, above which a bronzed cast of Gian di Bologna’s Mercury springs
out from that orange wall on a flamboyant gilt bracket, with a grace we
have never seen that adorable conception display anywhere else. We found
a handsome, but anæmic, oak fitment in this room, filling the whole
right wall with cupboards, panelled overmantel, and bookshelves. It is
no longer anæmic, but polished by our industry to a pleasing depth of
amber gloss.

[Sidenote: THE DORATORE’S ANTIQUES]

[Illustration: house interior with window view]

So Italy walked into the little white Surrey house almost as soon as the
doors were open to us. But it is in the drawing-room that she has mostly
established her self. It is so filled with dear Roman things that we can
think ourselves back again in that haunt of all joy, when we cross its
threshold. It is full of associations of delightful days, of quaint
beings. There is the rococo _paravent_, gilt and carved in most delicate
extravagance, which we bought of the _doratore_ in the Piazza Nicosia.
That fire-screen—a real Bernini, once the frame of an altar-piece—now
holds in its strong bold oval a pane of glass where perhaps some wan
Madonna shewed her seven-pierced heart. The _doratore_ picked up these
things in old villas and disused churches. His booth was indeed a sight
to see.—Having recently been on a visit to Rome, Loki’s “great-aunt” was
naturally charged with many commissions in that quarter. Armed with a
letter of directions from the Italian scholar of the family, she and a
Lancashire maid wandered down there one misty afternoon in November, at
an hour when all the crazy little houses of the ancient Piazza seem to
fold up and huddle together in the purple Roman dusk.

The _doratore’s_ wares winked through the dimness; and having duly
knocked their heads against wreaths of dangling frames in his doorway,
the pilgrims proceeded to steer a perilous path among the heaps of
gilded _débris_ within.

The _doratore_, made visible only by his paper cap, was seated in a nest
of angels, tinkering at a fat cherub and whistling gaily. Hearing steps
he poked his head through the large oval of an empty mirror, and stared
unconcernedly at the visitors, whose advance was punctuated by
cataclysms of falling frames, church candlesticks, and other “_oggetti
religiosi_.”

At the fifth or sixth tumble, he rolled away from his angels with
unimpaired cheerfulness, and apologized.

“_Scusi, scusi!_” Smilingly he picked up a broken wing and a bit of
acanthus leaf. “_Scusi!_” again. “Aha! a letter!”

Here the fat laugh merged into a bellow which made the walls ring, and
brought a dirty little urchin tumbling down a ladder from some loft
overhead. The urchin diving under a heap of prostrate apostles, produced
a stick with an iron spike, which he held respectfully under his
patron’s chin. The doratore stuck a candle on the spike, lit it, and
with the flame in fearful proximity to his bearded face, proceeded to
open the letter.

“Aha! from the noble family at Villino Loki!” Here he took off his cap
with a flourish and did not replace it. “The _signor Inglese_, is he
well?—_Mi piace._ And the _gentilissima signorina_ who does me the
honour to write?—_Mi piace, mi piace._ And Mama?—Better?—_Bonissimo!_
Please the good God to bring her again to Rome. But not this month,”
waving a warning finger before his nose. “In April. In the _primavera_,
Rome is as salubrious as she is beautiful. Now what does Mama want?
Brackets? Angels?—_Ecco._”

He pointed to a pair of fantastic creatures that jutted out like
gargoyles under the ceiling. “What? Not pretty? _Ma! Scusi!_ they are
_antichi bellissimi_—they come from a castle in the Abruzzi; there is
not their match in Rome.” Snapping the candle from the imp, on whose
locks it was unheededly guttering, he waved it round his own head,
waking up unexpected companies of saints on the walls and making pools
of light and darkness among the golden hillocks.

“They are exactly the noble family’s taste,” said the _doratore_,
replacing his cap with an air of finality. “She said _cinquanta
lire_—she shall have them for _quaranta_!”

Recognizing that this incident was closed, Loki’s aunt thought she would
do a deal on her own account, and picking up a little antique frame,
fell back on the only Italian word she knew:

“_Quanto?_”

The _doratore_ unexpectedly priced the frame at twenty-five lire, and
cheap at that, and all of a sudden the little shop was filled with
confusion. The would-be purchaser wished to take away her prize, the
_doratore_, misunderstanding, vociferated that nothing would be broken
on the sea-journey; the Lancashire maid struck in with English addresses
for the other wares; finally, the candle-bearer was sent flying round
the corner to fetch a friend who, by the grace of God, had the gift of
tongues.

Breathless, he returned, with a bundle of rags hobbling along on a
crutch, by his side.

“_Benissimo!_” exclaimed the _doratore_, with a sigh of relief. “This
gentleman, _signora_, is a friend of all the artists in Rome! He knows
English, French, German—everything!”

He then performed the ceremonious rites of introduction! “Signor
Guiseppi Renzo, a person of great worth and learning.—The noble lady
belonging to the family of my cherished patrons, i Castelli.”

The bundle of rags swept off its battered hat with a flourish,
disclosing a wall-eye and a three-weeks-old beard, and remarked, in
Italian, that the weather was beautiful for the time of the year.

“But not so beautiful as in spring,” said the _doratore_ encouragingly.
Upon which Loki’s aunt bowed too, and smiled and murmured, “Oh! _si_,
_si_—I mean no.” And then feeling dreadfully uncouth and ill-mannered in
presence of so much courtesy, picked up her frame again and looked
helpless. Instantly the interpreter warmed to his office. In fluent if
curious English, he ascertained her wishes, and then communicated them
with much gesticulation to the _doratore_, who slapped a fat forehead,
exclaiming in a contrite manner, “_Va bene, va bene!_” Finally, the imp
was dispatched on a last errand in search of a little open carriage, and
having carefully wrapped the frame in a copy of the “_Corriere_”
produced from his own pocket, the bundle of rags hobbled out into the
Piazza, where he and the _doratore_ stood bareheaded to wish the ladies
a safe journey to England, and a speedy return to Rome.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: fancy glass]

[Sidenote: MORE BRIC-A-BRAC]

It is little wonder that the _doratore_ should cherish us. The
drawing-room of the Villino on the Surrey hill is chiefly furnished out
of his store. Therefrom come the Venetian chairs, the huge _Goldoni_
armchair, the two cabinets of rusty gold. The hanging cabinet is full of
Venetian glass, picked up—of all places—at that roaring cheap emporium,
Finocchi’s, in the hideous modern corso fitly dedicated to _Vittorio
Emanuele_. ‹To think these bubbles of ethereal loveliness, these liquid
curves, these foam-frail phantasies, should have been discovered,
unshattered, in such a spot!› There from the walls a wistful
_Giovannino_, with pious, sentimental, guileless head inclined, looks
down from his golden background, a true bit of early Siennese simplicity
and faith. He came to us from the talons of a voluble Jew in the _Via
due Macelli_, from which unclean grasp were likewise rescued those meek
companions, “St. Bernardino of Siena” and “St. Antoninus,” on the
opposite wall. St. Bernardino’s face is quite out of drawing, but,
nevertheless, rarely has any presentment been more impregnated with holy
benignity. The gentle pair hang just above a statue of Polyhymnia....
Oh! that “_Manifattura di Signa_,” in the dark purlieus of the Via
Babuino! It is a blessing that we only discovered it the last week of
our four months’ stay in Rome, and that our resources were then at a low
ebb; else, indeed, the exiguous limits of our new country home never
would have held our purchases. Another “Madonna” between the
rose-coloured curtains in the narrow window.

Yes, indeed, there are a great many “Madonnas” about the place. There is
an undeniably papistical atmosphere.—An old gentleman, of developed
intellectuality, who stumbled in upon us shortly after our
establishment, could not conceal the horrible impression it made upon
him. His thoughts would have been easy to read even if the hurry of his
adieux had not so plainly proclaimed his disgust. Seeing his eyes fixed
upon the majolica statuette in question, we ‹perhaps with a little
malice› informed him that it was known as the “_Madonna del Bacio_.” It
was then he rose, not quite swallowing down his “Faugh!”

[Sidenote: AN OLD-TIME NOTE]

“You had not expected to find such superstition abroad in an enlightened
age,” we murmured politely. We cling to these old-world symbols—some of
us by conviction, others for mere love of the beautiful past.—A little
mistake? The wrong house, say you? How could we have been so stupid as
not to guess!—Of course, you wanted the bungalow at the other end of the
village. Yes, Mrs. Ludwigsohn is everything that you can desire to meet.
Up-to-date cap-a-pie. Socialism, rationalism, suffragism. You can begin
on the suffrage: she will saw the air with her right hand in a
convincing platform manner. A delightful, capable woman! She feeds her
infants scientifically on proteids. And there are Röntgen
pictures—anatomical, you know—in the hall, that you will find more
inspiring than della Robbia. Oh, you will get on with her splendidly. We
know her ... slightly. Indeed, we blush when we think of our one and
only meeting: it was so inharmonious on our part. She began to argue—and
instantly had us in a cleft stick: “Soul?” she exclaimed, fiercely
interrupting an incautious remark. “Soul? there is no such thing. I deny
it.—Prove,” she cried, “prove I have a soul!”

Poor lady, how could we? No—the Villino is certainly no place for the
higher critic; for the lady of ’isms. We are not rationalistic in our
tastes; we love old and simple things; prefer to take much for granted
in life and enjoy the good peace that is vouchsafed.

[Illustration: decorative oval]

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



III


[Sidenote: SIX GARDENING VIRTUES]

When we first began to own a garden we could not bring ourselves to wait
in patience for developments. We expected our beds to bloom as by magic.
We vehemently ordered pot-plants because no seedlings could be expected
to “do anything” in June; and the disproportion between our bills and
the result filled us with dismay. But a garden is at once the most
delightful and cunning of teachers. How kindly are the virtues it
inculcates!—Patience, faith, hope, tenderness, gratitude, resignation,
things in themselves as fragrant and beautiful as the flowers, or like
the herbs, a little repellent of aspect, but sweet in their bruised
savour.

[Illustration: garden view - two pages wide]

Now we have even been taught to take pleasure and comfort from the
vision of the beds in their winter preparation, where with the
believer’s eye, we anticipate the fulfilment of the spring. In the
little Dutch Garden under the new wing, the two long beds between the
clipped Bilberry hedges are full of compact cushions of Forget-me-not.
Through these the green noses of the china-blue Hyacinths, that are to
make lakes of colour and scent at the end of March, are beginning to
push upwards.

The winter has been very mild.—Another garden lesson: too much spoiling
in infancy is bound to produce forwardness in the young, and the
inevitable result of withering snubs!

When the Hyacinths have faded, the Forget-me-nots will have spread a
sheet of tender beauty over the unsightliness. ‹Did we mention that a
garden teaches charity?› And between this flying scud of blue foam the
Darwin Tulips will have already reared bold green snake heads which will
gradually become invaded by tints of mauve, rose, dark purple, until the
day when their glorious chalices will open, as if cut out of living
jewels, translucent to the light.

[Sidenote: DUTCH BULBS AND ROSES]

The Dutch Garden is bounded by a clipped yew hedge on two sides, divided
by a rustic archway where Pink Dorothy rambles in June and onwards.
Against this hedge there are two long beds lying to the south, filled
with crimson and red roses: in spring edged with Darwins and Arabis,
before Mme. Normand Levavasseur spreads her disappointing maroon
clusters. On the north side the brick wall of the terrace, divided in
its turn opposite the archway by brick steps, is flanked by Darwin tulip
beds. The beds under the side of the house to the west have also Darwins
with a carpet of Forget-me-nots and a fringe of Arabis. The space that
runs back to the outer wall under the study windows is planted with
Gloire de Versailles, Pyrus Japonica and the ubiquitous Tulips and
Forget-me-nots.

There is one thing we have succeeded in impressing on the patient and
kindly Adam, and that is that we “cannot bear bald spaces.” Our bulbs
lie as close as they can without injuring each other. Our Wallflowers,
even now, in January, jostle!

In the bed that runs right along the bricked upper terrace, there lie,
awaiting the call of the different months ‹please add docility and
punctuality to the moral list›, behind a deep border of Mrs. Sinkins, a
double row of Crocuses, a row of Thomas More Tulips, a little hedge of
white and red “Polyantha” Roses, and groups of “Candidum” Lilies. At
intervals, on the top of the terrace wall, are large Compton vases which
will foam with Forget-me-Nots, and thrust clusters of Hyacinths up
against the Moor by and by. Just now they carry little yellow torches of
Retinospora Aurea, which Adam said, when he first planted them, looked,
he thought, “very lonely,” but which, each rising from a field of green
moss, stand out, we think, with a classic dignity against the sombre
magnificence of those rolling winter hills.

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



IV


[Illustration: dog looking at grave]

And did we say that one could ever in any circumstances wish Susan into
the dogstar? Alas! poor dear little Susan, she reposes in a raw,
ostentatious grave in the Oak Tree Glade with six bulb spikes at the top
of the mound. We should like to put a granite stone there with the
words: “Here lies Susan, a good dog.” All that was possible was done to
save her, and she was the most pathetic, gentle, patient creature; at
the very end, seeking blindly with one small paw for her master.

[Sidenote: FORBIDDEN TERRITORY]

Poor Juvenal was so disconsolate that we did not know what to do. We
hit, however, on the happy thought of purchasing a small white Highland
Terrier puppy from a litter on sale in the neighbourhood. Bettine ‹thus
she has been christened with a fine disregard of local colour› arrived,
a dirty, cringing, abject little wretch; but the atmosphere of Villino
Loki has wrought so great a change that she is now a perfect imp of
mischief and general cheekiness. The Master of the House says she is
like a Paris gamin, and that Gavroche is the only name that befits her.
The days of cringing are certainly over. Her long ears cocked, her wide
mouth derisively open, she defies authority, with attitudes and
expressions that can only be transcribed by such remarks as “Pip, Pip,”
or the gesture which the French know as _Pied-de-nez_.

[Illustration: dog walking down stairs]

The other dogs at first protested fiercely against this substitute for
their beloved Susan even Arabella curling a ferocious lip, and striking
out with her fringed paw. But now they have accepted the new comrade
with all the generosity of their fine characters. Loki himself makes no
objection, except when she ventures upon territory which he regards as
peculiarly his own; such as the grand-maternal bedroom.

The month that has taken away the harmless humble life of Juvenal’s
fox-terrier, has also brought the news of England’s loss in one of her
most gallant sons. He was a friend of the household, and Loki, I am
sure, does not forget—for a long memory is one of the Pekinese
characteristics—how the South Pole hero played hide-and-seek with him in
his puppyhood for a whole hour, one summer’s day, like a very child
himself. The family of Villino Loki have memories, too, of that
friendship which they valued so highly; and they will always carry the
vivid picture of the strong brown face, with the blue eyes that were at
once as guileless as a child’s and full of a far-away vision, as if they
never ceased to contemplate their high and distant goal. The world is
crowded with bumptious people who do nothing at all that is useful, if
they do not do harm. Here was a man who had already accomplished mighty
achievement and was set on mightier still, and there never was anyone so
modest, so anxious to push others forward and keep himself in the
background. He was asked by one of us to write a line in an autograph
book, and he set down characteristically a tribute to another:

           “The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
           Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel....”

We laughed ‹after that futile fashion that becomes a kind of habit
nowadays› and said, “We always think that sounds so uncomfortable!”

He raised those blue eyes, half humorously, half deprecatingly. “You
make me feel ashamed of being incorrigibly romantic.”

It was we who felt ashamed.

“We are sure,” we answered, “you have a good friend somewhere.”

“Yes,” he said, “the best ever a man had.”

We are glad to think that friendship was with him all through and at the
end. In one of the last letters ever received from the doomed Antarctic
Expedition the tribute is paid again: “No words of mine,” writes he,
“can describe what he is.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: bird on branch]

[Sidenote: TOM’S GRAND MANNERS]

The birds have eaten every single bud on our baby almond trees—the first
year that they have had any flower buds at all. Ungrateful little
wretches! the Master of the Villino sees personally to the replenishing
of the numerous bird-baths and drinking-pans; and Juvenal provides them
with cocoa-nuts filled with lard and baskets full of crumbs—aided by
Gold-Else, the cook, who loves little creatures in fur and feather as
much as the rest of the household. Tom, the old cat, is very happy under
this lady’s kind rule, and, to show his appreciation, accompanies her in
stately fashion every night up the kitchen stairs to her bedroom door.
The act of courtesy accomplished, she as solemnly reconducts him
downstairs again to spread his couch for him—a sheet of brown paper, by
his request.

The Hyacinths are breaking out of their green hoods, shaking blue bells;
but our Scillas seem to be going to disappoint us. This sandy soil on
our Surrey heights is not at all appreciated by bulbs. Snowdrops will
have nothing to say to us, unless in a prepared bed. Narcissus Poeticus
disappeared altogether after one year’s blooming. We are trying to
naturalize Bluebells in a glade which we have cleared—and in which this
year has been planted an avenue of pink May trees, to end at the bottom
of the dell in a group of white Azaleas—but we are not at all sure that
we shall succeed. However, we have our compensations: Azaleas thrive,
and so do Rhododendrons. We are year by year adding more of the former
to the wild slopes.

Below the terrace, yclept the “Hemicycle,” a path bordered with Azalea
Mollis was a perfect glory last May, although it had only been planted
the preceding autumn. The “Hemicycle” was a little fairy glade of Crocus
a week ago, the second in February; and we have still hope of the
Scillas which surround our bereft almond trees. A rough wall rises from
it to the Upper Terrace, over which Dorothy Rambler will fling its
lovely blooms in immense trails by and by; and its stones themselves
hold a never-ending succession of delight in the shape of Arabis,
Aubretia, Cerastium, Thrift, and the like. Yellow roses climb up to meet
the Dorothy, and the dear little pink China Rose grows in bushes all
along the front between the Lavender plants which we are trying to
acclimatise, but which, year after year, are blighted by the frost
before they have had time to grow strong.

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

[Illustration: garden path]

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

[Illustration: two ladies working in garden]

Satisfactory as our wall-garden is, there is a wall-garden at a cottage
in a neighbouring village which never fails to fill us with envy every
time we see it. It belongs to two maiden ladies, whom we have christened
Tweedle-Ann and Tweedle-Liza. They are so extraordinarily like each
other that even they themselves ‹we have heard› hardly know which is
which. They have the same rotundity of figure, the same uncertain
obliquity in one eye, the same cheerful rosy visage, the same sleek
bands of grey hair.

When the Master of the House was a young man, an Irish servant was heard
to observe to him, gazing rapturously at him as he walked away from her
vision, all unconsciously, in his shooting-garb: “And indeed he’s a
lovely gentleman. Them jars of legs!” ‹As a matter of fact, Loki’s
Grandfather has very nice legs.› But Tweedle-Ann and Tweedle-Liza, in
short, sensible grey tweed skirts, bending their portly forms over their
wall garden, have more than often presented to the passer-by a
vision....

The Japanese say that reticence is the very soul of art. Our aspirations
are always towards the artistic, but there is something touching in four
... exactly similar ... side by side...!

[Sidenote: A TERRIFYING GOOD WISH]

To digress once more: Loki’s Grandfather is no doubt a man of fine
proportions; though he is not at all plump, he has all the athlete’s
dread of becoming so. Once when we were stranded at a small wayside
station in Ireland, without even a bench to sit upon, he began to while
away the time by testing his weight on the automatic machine. The
indicating needle travelled considerably further than he expected! He
was standing, transfixed, staring at the pointing finger, when a very
old woman with a shawl over her head, holding a very small boy by the
hand, suddenly broke into loud paeans beside him:

“God bless your honour!—Isn’t it the grand gentleman you are! Glory be
to God, may you grow larger, and larger, and larger!”

“For heaven’s sake,” cried Loki’s Grandfather, wheeling round in horror,
“don’t say such a thing!”

“And indeed I do, yer honour.—Look at him now,” she went on, shaking the
little creature she held by the hand, “you’ll never see a finer
gentleman. Don’t you wish you had a Dada like that?”

Then she burst out again and continued to wish him increase in Sybilline
tones. They were both so extraordinarily serious, she in her benisons,
he in his terror of the curse, that as Loki’s Grandmother sat on her
trunk she was weak with laughter.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: A LOCAL POET]

The Master of the Villino had a charming little experience last spring.
Some time before, in the winter, he fell into conversation with an old
sweep, who was tramping up the hill, the evidence of his life-work thick
upon him. They discoursed of many things, for the sweep had a wide range
of interests. They spoke of the moorland place as it was in bygone days;
and of the learned Professor whose eulogies first put it into fashion;
of the lectures on Science delivered by this latter; and of the way in
which the spring first shows itself in the lower copses while it is
still winter on our heights. The sweep knew a dell where the primroses
were always a month in advance of any other spot. He had a soul for
primroses, unlike Wordsworth’s horrible Peter—which reminds me of the
delicious remark made to Loki’s young mistress by an old pensioner in
Chelsea Gardens. He led her to the plot he cultivated for himself, with
all the childish eagerness of the aged, and pointed to a single yellow
crocus, blown this way and that by the wind, for it was a shrewish day.
“Look at it, Missie!” he cried. “It’s as playful as a kitten.”

[Illustration: house exterior]

We do not know at what hour in the bleak late February morning the
little box was left in the porch. It was found there by the earliest
maid, and brought to the Master of the House with his letters in due
course; a box that obviously had lately contained carbolic soap. Inside
in a nest of moss, carefully covered with red bramble leaves, was a
bunch of primroses tied with red wool, and the following “verses”:

               “Beneath the moss and the mast,
               Though the weather has been wet and cold,
               I manage to raise my head
               Down in the Sussex wold.”

Thus it began, speaking in the name of the Primrose, to enter, rapidly
and boldly into the sweep’s personality:

                   “To-day I passed by the way,
                   So I stayed and picked you a few,
                   To show I do not forget
                   The chat I had with you.”

Here the muse got a little tired; but it ended up with unimpaired
cheerfulness:

                    “I hope you are hale and well
                    And now I must say Addue,
                                Yours respectfully,
                                              STAR.”

Over the page there was a charming P.S.:

                     “Perhaps you have younger fingers
                     The flowers to unfold,
                     Mine are rather clumsy
                     Being big and old.

                 Pleasant Hours,
                 Live long.”

It is the kind of little incident that seems to happen at Villino Loki,
where animals and human beings are queer and unexpected, and live
together in simplicity and cheerfulness.

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



V


Travelling along the pleasant path of life, on the reverse side of the
hill, the downward course ‹how graphic is the French of it for the later
and “smaller half” of our allotted span: _sur le retour_›, there is a
tendency to dwell more upon memories and proportionately less on
ambitions. The prospect now ahead, placid and mellowed as it may be,
naturally dwindles to narrower margins. Its interest is more of the
immediate order; deals mostly with hopes and doings of the coming
season. And, the circle of recollection widening, things distant in the
past appeal with proportionate insistency to the mind’s eye.

[Sidenote: “DREAMING BACKWARDS”]

I believe this is the case with all thinking creatures ‹says Loki’s
Grandpa—who has fallen into a reminiscent mood›. With one whose lazy and
musing propensities, whose delight in day-dreams has proved his
paramount weakness, the habit of “dreaming backwards” and hunting for
old impressions has become as haunting, in these years of the sixth
decade, as was, in salad days, the “dreaming forward” and the straining
for a sight of things still below the horizon.

For instance: in a life which has always been one of constant
book-companionship, the printed passages which most delight me are those
which, having been first read in another age and re-discovered in this
one, bring back a pulse of some long forgotten impression. The
impression may be one that sober and critical memory does not record as
having been so particularly enthralling at the time—yet it now comes
back with a subtle fragrance all its own.

The long darkness of winter provides the richest reading hours. And if
the page-turning is by the side of a wood fire—as happens on this, the
coldest day of the year—if it is in a deep armchair with the lamp
throwing its quiet rays over one’s shoulder, why, it is apt to become
interspersed with long spells of wide-eyed dreaming. The fire burns with
that special clearness, that kind of conscious eagerness which one
observes inside the hearth upon a keen frosty night. In the town a
frosty night is but a cold night. But here, on our country hill-side,
when winter, albeit officially over, is in reality still with us, a
frosty night inevitably turns our thoughts to the threatened hopes of
the garden.

[Illustration: view of garden]

Now, as one who knows practically nought of the gardener’s “Arte and
Mysterie,” my interest in the matter is of the irresponsible kind. I
look forward, of course, and keenly, to the satisfying display, first of
our sappy, turgid fragrant Hyacinth beds in the Dutch Garden ‹somehow,
the Dutch Garden seems to belong more particularly to my own side of the
Villino—to be a precinct of my study in fact› than to the proud-pied
array of the subsequent Tulips, nodding in the breeze over their bed of
close clustering Forget-me-Nots. This is the annual treat provided in
the spring—for Grandpa’s especial behoof at Villino Loki—by the
industrious care of the knowledgeable ladies. Nevertheless, as I say, my
interest is of the general order; not of details; not of ways and means.
I expect, in the maturity of every season, delightful achievements, and
find them; but I take little part in their planning. I am of no use for
device and not called upon in council. I thankfully enjoy the results;
and this is perhaps not the worst part the Master of the House could
play in the year’s transaction.

Only on two occasions have I volunteered a suggestion with regard to
planting—and both are related to early, very early, reminiscences.

Creepers of all sorts we have in profusion. Ivy, of course, and
Jessamine and Honeysuckle, and the gorgeous, if short-lived,
Virginia-Ampilopsis its name, I believe. But there is one thing, I
pointed out, I must have also, and that is the blue clustering, the
incomparably fragrant _Glycine_ of my early childhood’s days. Wisteria
is its proper English name.

Odoriferous bushes, again, we have, of every description. Ribes, Cassia,
Gummy Cistus, what not?—lurk in ambuscade at the turning of paths to
waylay you with their gush of essence, not to speak of the Azaleas in
their banks; but all these perfumes, in their subtleness, belong to the
middle years. No memories of the complete freshness of time cleave to
them such as belong to the simple Sweet Briar.

[Illustration: outside entrance to house]

So, now, the two rooted creatures of the Villino, which may be said to
exist there more specially for the behoof of Loki’s Grandpa, are the
Briar bushes at the end of the Lily Walk and by the _Schöne Aussicht_,
and the still tender but promising Wisteria climbers in the re-entering
and most sheltered corner of his study walls.

[Sidenote: FLOWER LOVES OF CHILDHOOD]

And it is for those young hopeful Wisterias that on this frosty night I
feel a concern. Last year we had a score or so of purple clusters; we
look to a goodly increase during the coming _Renouveau_.—‹You perceive
the old, obsolete French word for Spring comes back of itself!› The
anticipation of the near future, within the shrinking vista of coming
pleasures, elicits as usual a return to the widening past. In this case
the past that is recalled is that of a childhood spent in France.

The book lies forgotten on my knee. The brown Meerschaum grows cold in
my hand. My eyes, lost in musings among the flame-fringed logs, now peer
beyond the past half-century—at a time which seems verily as far distant
and as little related to the present as that year 1636 stamped and still
faintly discernible on the antique cast-iron backplate of the
fireplace.... I see a farm-house in a village of that province which in
ancient days was known as Ile-de-France ‹I hate your modern régime
_départements_›, by name Mesnil-le-Roy; not far distant from Mantes, the
natty little town on the upper and green-watered Seine, generally
adverted to as _Mantes-la-Jolie_.

[Sidenote: GLYCINE!]

Therein, during nearly a whole year, for reasons of delicate health,
resided a certain very small English boy—French enough in those tender
years. In this delectable old place, so full of good-smelling things in
their seasons: hay, and grain, and fruit, and at all times the
health-restoring cow, the house was in the spring-time covered with
Glycine. And with the adorable Glycine the small boy, who loved flowers
as much as milk and fruits and beasts, fell forthwith in love.

How that coquettish Jappy plant came originally to find a footing in so
rustic a corner as Mesnil-le-Roy is more than I can account for. Your
French peasant is not, as a rule, addicted to the delights of flower
raising; and, in those distant days, Wisteria was still something of a
rarity anywhere. But there it was, already in the sturdiest strength of
its age, embracing the old walls, forcing its fibrous wood into every
cranny of the greystone, framing every window, striving up the chimney
stacks—and filling the air with honey sweetness. It must have taken at
least two score years to reach such a size.

With the English boy, then barely four, it was a first love. He feasted
on it with his every sense. From morning till eve he would be sucking
the base of some blue corolla plucked from its calyx, for the sake of
that intense sweetness to which the thing owes its Gallic name of
_Glycine_; he would, whenever he could, run round and rejoice his eyes
with the delicacies of pale green and purple, drink in the scent, and
listen hypnotized to the never-ceasing buzz of honey-seekers in the
sunshine. And, in the morning, his first thought, as he crept out of his
small truckle-bed, was to go and plunge his hands into the dew that
glittered upon these Glycine branches nodding in from every side at the
mansarde window.

Like all first loves it was, as you see, violent. Well do I remember
how, for months after he was removed back into the Paris house, the
small boy would ply his mother with the yearning question, infantilely
incorrect but vernacular: “_Quand que nous retournerons aux Glycines,
Maman?_” always to receive the non-committal but consoling:

“_Tantôt ... tantôt._”

This “tantôt” is the wonderful “by-and-by” which never comes to be!

And like all first loves this one was utterly forgotten in later
years—to reappear, however, in the sere and yellow of age. For years a
many, a purple Wisteria spreading about the eaves of a south-country
house, was to me only a purple Wisteria. It was a creeper, and it was
nothing more. It was not a “_Glycine_” until I had a creepered wall of
my own. Then it surged before imagination’s eye with all the glamour of
_les premières amours_, to which, in accordance with the old French saw,
“_on en revient toujours_.”

Now, therefore, at Villino Loki, nothing will serve but a _Glycine_ to
creep along those walls which are more especially my own; to embrace my
south windows and nod in at the casement. And the suave-breathed Eastern
beauty, first brought over to the West and god-fathered by Professor
Wister, will privily remain Glycine for me; although I may draw the
indulgent visitor’s attention to her under the better-known name of
Wisteria Sinensis.—I have, by the way, an ever-ready pretext; for I
learn from “The Language of Flowers” that the special significance of
this blossom is “Welcome, fair stranger!” I mean to have a profusion of
it, for old sake’s sake. Besides, is it not meet that Loki should not be
deprived, during his villeggiatura, of the company of some Chinese
living thing?

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



VI


[Illustration: view of house from distance]

Strange how sharp and detailed will some of our very early memories
remain in after life, when even important scenes of our later years are
so easily forgotten! That old farm of Mesnil-le-Roy is still a clear
picture, vignetted, so to speak, upon grey pages of oblivion.... I can
yet see the orchard, strewn with myriad fallen apples—the byres, whereto
at sundown returned the slow-pacing, dreamy, placid-eyed milch cows; the
giant walnut-tree, with one of its main branches blasted by
lightning—blasted on the stormy night, during which “thunder had fallen”
freely ‹as the little boy heard the labourers say, awe-struck, in the
morning; but during which he had slept under the brown-tiled roof
without the slightest disturbance›.... I can see the _Four Banal_, that
co-operative bread-oven, a relic of mediæval institutions, which was
still common enough in those days; where you could have such an
entrancing view of lambent blue flames lined with yellow when the door
stood open to receive the unbaked loaves; and where the air smelt so
divinely of hot wheaten crust when they were removed on completion....

[Illustration: little boy with two adults]

It was, by the way, on that alluring spot—the boy used to find his way
there regularly on the days when _on cuisait_—that he heard a certain
remark, which to his child ears had no special meaning, but which
remained on memory’s tablets to assume later an interesting
significance. The country folk were very kind. The little English boy,
left for the good of his health at the farm of _père Pelletier_, was
known to everybody; was accepted and treated as one of the community.
Rarely did he stroll, as might any roaming puppy dog, into an open door
of the village without being supplied with a generous sup of milk, or a
_tartine de raisiné_; or again, in season, with a _pomme cuite_. The
roasted apple, be it said, browning and lusciously oozing caramel, was a
standing affair in that old-world village. There was, however, on that
day, a benighted wayfarer who obviously could not reconcile with these
rustic surroundings the yellow-haired, barelegged little boy gravely
gazing at the glowing oven.

“_D’ousqui sort, ce gosse-là?_” ‹for which barbarous lingo I take leave
to give as an equivalent: Who’s the kid?› asked the man. And the answer
came: “_Ça?—ca, mais le p’tit godem, donc_.” ‹That—why, that’s the
little “goddam.”›

[Sidenote: THE LITTLE GODEM]

_Le petit godem!..._ Such was the name under which that young innocent
was known at Mesnil-le-Roy, and, be it understood, in all cordiality and
benevolence! Of a certainty not one of those excellent people had the
remotest idea of the meaning of their “godem:” with them it was only the
established equivalent for English.

The term is a noun, not an expletive, which has come down through five
centuries—from the days, in fact, of the English occupation of France.
Among the written records of those stirring times we come across many a
passage in which a Duguesclin, a Maid of Orleans, or a Dunois is heard
to mention hatefully “_les godems_,” or “_les godons d’Angleterre_.”
Now, all that fertile country of the Vexin, the Ile-de-France and the
Beauce, of which the fat farm land of my old _père Pelletier_ was so
fair a sample, was obstinately fought for by the English for the best
part of a century. Mantes-la-Jolie—now mainly famed for its river
terraces, its sweet water grapes and its savoury _matelottes_ or eel
stews—was once a fortified place of note, taken and retaken by French
and English more than once; but finally captured ‹in 1418› by the noble
Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, the Achilles of England, as the French
themselves dubbed him, and firmly held by the “godems” for more than
thirty years. To have heard that mispleasing word used dispassionately,
merely as a substantive, is indeed a link with the past.

Strange paths of the musing thought, winding from Wisteria Sinensis to
the days of our conquering English archer!

                  *       *       *       *       *

I spoke of these childhood memories as of oddly clear pictures emerging
here and there out of grey mists of oblivion. Another now detaches
itself in the same way from the clouds of the very distant past.

It belongs to the following summer. A perfume of Glycine still lingers
about it, no doubt; for there again, upon the stone and through the
curvetting iron-work balconies of the fair Louis XV house overlooking
the park of St. Cloud, pale silvery green leafage, with here and there a
cluster of faint blue, spreads in a well-regulated display—widely
different, though, from the foaming profusion of the Mesnil. But the
impression more specially associated with those happy St. Cloud days is
the incense of the Sweet Briar.

[Sidenote: SWEET EGLANTINE]

[Illustration: outside of window with small balcony]

What has happened—I pause and ask indignantly—to the Sweet-Briar of the
world? Whither has the celestial, the entrancing scent of the true
Eglantine vanished? Our twentieth century Briar is still—there is no
gainsaying it—a delicious being, in its ephemeral exquisiteness of
flower and its pleasant, if but slightly more lasting, leafy odour. But
never, in subsequent life, have I captured again the sudden delight
first brought to my childish nostrils by a puff of breeze that had
passed over some hidden clump of sweet Eglantine. This first impression
is connected with certain grassy alleys piercing deep the grand
old-world park, or rather forest, of St. Cloud, which were my favourite
playgrounds in the early sixties of the last century. ‹There is
something distinctly suitable to the status of Grandpa, albeit merely
“brevet” rank as in my case, in memorising thus about a past century!›

[Illustration: flowers on stem]

I can see the five-year-old arrested short upon the turf, in the midst
of the hot pursuit of a blue butterfly, by his first whiff in life of
Rosa Rubiginosa: so might a setter halt and stiffen, having got the wind
of a grouse.—The source of the fitful stream of fragrance was hidden
among clumps of forbidding brambles. Besides, there was no following the
trail: it seemed ubiquitous. Like some Puck in his most tantalising
mood, it would lead up and down, up and down—luring now to right, now to
left, now straight ahead, anon seemed to whisk past from behind, until,
in a kind of “dwam,” the child would give up the baffled purpose and
pensively trot home by the nurse’s side.

For days the ambrosial fragrance dwelt in his little turned-up nose. It
haunted the sensitive child-mind much as, later, in budding manhood, the
remembrance of some enchanting face seen for an instant and then lost to
sight. He had at last to confide his hopeless passion to his mother. It
smelt ‹he explained› like the _Pomme Reinette_ of the dessert plates,
but oh, so much, so much better! The reference to the well-known and
excellent variety of apple left no doubt about the nature of the plant
which had exhaled the elusive trails of perfume. “Reinette” became the
accepted name of the woodland charmer and the hunt for Reinette bushes
in the more devious paths of the wood a daily occupation.

                  *       *       *       *       *

With these expeditions is associated another first acquaintance that
made a singularly strong impression.

There was, at the end of one of those heavenly grassed alleys, a group
of brushwood greenery from which the unmistakable fragrance flowed
deliciously across the path when the wind blew from a certain
direction—I should say, now, from the west; for the path led to Garches,
a place which, some eight years later, during the siege of Paris, became
notorious as the scene of some very ferocious bayonet fighting.
Undoubtedly there was a wealth of the desirable “Reinette” amid that
underwood. But, to the mild surprise of nurse or mother, or whoever it
might be who escorted the child upon his daily constitutional in the
wood, nothing could induce him to draw that particular cover. He
developed an ingenuity ‹or rather should it be called a
disingenuousness› for pushing investigations or carrying on a game in
paths that gave this spot a wide berth. Whenever possible, even, he
found some specious argument for avoiding the Garches-ward alley
altogether. No one, I believe, ever knew the reason.

[Sidenote: THE BLANCHING, LAUGHING ASPEN]

The fact is that, hard thereby, as if standing sentinel, rose a company
of tall, slender Aspens—trees that, in a small boy’s estimation, did not
behave as mere trees should. He had realised this, with a suddenness
that first made his heart jump, and then rooted him on the spot, one day
when, having caught up his scent, he was rushing with a whoop to the
capture of his bush. The Aspens, up to that instant quite placid, palely
green, grew all at once white with excitement and nodded their heads to
each other; after which came the noise of their leaves; not the honest
rustle of green trees, but derisive laughter; sounds, too, weirdly
human, ringing as though in mockery of the discomfited invader.

Mark you, there is something decidedly uncanny in the deportment of the
Aspen and its gracile, long-stalked trembling leaves, the white
undersides of which any puff of wind exposes simultaneously to
view—turning, on the instant, the whole of the green to foaming silver.
There was no doubt about the matter then. These paling and odd rustling
trees completely overawed Master Louis ‹Louis is Loki’s grandpa’s
baptismal name, now sunk into disuse›, though, in his budding masculine
pride, he kept the secret of his abhorrence very close within his own
little bosom.

[Illustration: child in front of trees]

On one occasion, however, when he had had to make up his mind to walk
past the blanching, murmuring group unless he were prepared ‹which he
was not› to explain the nature of his objection, he asked, with a fair
show of indifference, what manner of tree it was which “made that funny
noise: he-he-he-he.” “One would say,” he added with elaborate airiness,
“that they make a mock of one!”

When informed that “_Tremble_” was the name thereof, he became sunk in
fresh unpleasant musings, and was fain to look back, fascinated, over
his shoulder, each time the chuckling called after him.

The sound of the breeze, as it ruffles through the leaves of “Populus
tremula,” is like nothing else in the woods. I have always retained my
interest in the “Tremble” of my young days; and in the course of time it
became one of delight instead of terror. I would give a good deal to
have one of my own: one living not far from my bedroom window. It would
be good to hear it laughing gently outside, when one first woke, and to
know that it was powdering itself, so to speak, under the rays of the
rising sun. But there are no Aspens in our part of the world. And, as
for planting a council of these in the hope of silvery rustle and light
effects, why, it is perhaps somewhat too late in the day! But I still
seem to hear and see them with the ears and eyes of that dawning spring
of life in the St. Cloud days.

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



VII


Poor little old town of St. Clodoald! In later years I spent an
afternoon hunting up its distant remembrances. Alas, but it was like
looking at some worn-out engraving, some faded dun picture once known in
all its brilliancy.

[Illustration: stone feature in garden]

Obliterated was the dainty white stone Palace; scene of the revelries
and the bright-coloured elegancies of the Regent; favourite retreat of
Marie Antoinette; theatre of the “_Dix-huit Brumaire_” drama; early home
of _l’Aiglon_! The Château de St. Cloud, the summer residence of the
last Napoleon, had been burned by the Prussians—even as they burned the
bulk of the town—in 1870.[1]

Footnote 1:

  _This was written long before anyone here dreamed of the near
  possibility of another German war._

Many a time, when, not so many years ago, we could read daily the
shameless slander, the wilful calumnies, of the German press on the
subject of the “barbarity” of our soldiers during the South African
wars, has my mind flown back to the picture of charred and jagged ruins
standing against the rise of the hill which once met my eyes when I
looked for the quiet, happy prospect I had known.

[Sidenote: THE OLD PARK OF ST. CLOUD]

The town, when I last saw it, and its ancient church had been rebuilt;
but the Palace was a dismal ruin; and the park seemed scald and
deserted. Gone also, worst luck of all, the _Lanterne de Diogène_—the
quaint tower at the river-side opening of the main alley, built in the
pleasure-loving days of _Louis-le-Bien-Aimé_. ‹It was called a
_mirador_: I believe a structure of that kind is now known as
“gazebo”—deplorable word!› From the top of it a magnificent panorama of
distant Paris could be descried.

The neighbourhood of _la Lanterne_ was the great trysting place of
nurses and guardsmen, and the playing ground of children. On that day of
back-dreaming exploration, I had been looking forward, with a kind of
tenderness, to gazing once more on its bizarre shape. There is a
well-known _ronde_, dating it would seem from the Middle Ages:

                        “_La Tour, prends garde—
                        La Tour, prends garde—
                        De te laisser abattre!_”

which is sung by the Gallic infant, in a game somewhat cognate to our:
“Here we go round the Mulberry Bush!” It used to be danced under the
shadow of this tower; and, in a child’s way, I had always instinctively
associated the unnamed stronghold of the ballad with this peaceful
erection.

Alas for the dear old _Tour_, it was destined to be laid low, after all,
in spite of our eager warning! The terrace on which it was built was
seized as the emplacement of a battery of heavy Krupps, for the
bombardment of the obstinate capital yonder away. The _Lanterne de
Diogène_, in its white stone and clear outline against the trees,
offered too distinct a mark to the answering gunners to be tolerated. It
had to be levelled. It was never rebuilt. I could find nothing
appertaining to it but the grass bordered slabs of its foundations....

[Illustration: tower rising from trees]

Lost, too, to me was the particular alley redolent of the memory of both
_Reinette_ and _Tremble_; no doubt absorbed in some of the metalled
motor roads that now traverse the park.

The _Grande Cascade_, however, which Lepautre, by order of Louis XIV,
devised for the glorification of the Duke of Orleans’ future home, was
still there. Its tiers of white stone steps over which the water, on
_Grandes Eaux_ days, used to pour down, foaming yet disciplined, in
symmetric balustered channels, between ranks of allegoric statues
standing like guards and lacqueys upon a royal stairway—still descend,
framed by huge umbrageous elms, from the middle height of the hill to
the wide marble _bassin_ on the river level. How fully the great garden
designers of the _Roy Soleil_ understood the life-giving virtue of
moving waters in their grandiose if freezing conception of the formal
landscape! Here, in the midst of the nature-made beauty of the old
Park—where there had been forests, more or less wild, ever since Gaulish
days—these architectural waters have a startling effect; incongruous no
doubt, but the artificiality of the stone-work has been mellowed by two
centuries and more of summer suns and winter frosts. And these
monumental streams are beyond compare more beautiful than their
prototypes of Versailles and the copies erected in other Continental
residences in imitation of the _Grand Règne_ manner. This Lepautre was a
man of fine power, in the style of his age. But he had also the servile
fawning mind of that age. Soon after the triumph of the St. Cloud Park,
he could find it in him to die in three days of jaundiced envy because
some other design of his had been passed over by the King’s eye in
favour of one by Mansard! Yea, to die of heart-burning, even as that
greater man, Jean Racine, who, some years later, gave up the ghost in
despair over a harsh remark passed by his royal master in a fit of
temper; even as Vatel, the _maître d’hotel_, who fell upon his sword,
and put an end to a life dishonoured by the failure of the fish at the
celebrated Chantilly banquet!

Yes, the old cascade, at least, was still there, that once had filled
the five-year-old’s imagination with a sense of the supreme in earthly
grandeur. The _Jet Géant_, also; that spouting jet that reaches a height
of ... but no, why cramp the stupendous into figures? Figures are finite
things. The shaft of hissing water, in those days of confident
wondering, reached the limit of the conceivable before it fell down
again, in its thundering showers, through the iridescent bow, the
_arc-en-ciel_, that could always be looked for when the sun shone on it
at the sinking hour. But, alas, for the middle-aged visitor who sought
for a taste again, however transient, of the noisy joyousness, the
brilliance, the colour, locked up in memory’s casket!... The _cidevant_
royal park—now _Propriété Nationale_, and duly stamped, wherever room
can be found for it, with the priggish and lying motto: _Liberté,
Egalité, Fraternité_ was dull and drab and neglected: silent and morose.
The _Grand Monarque’s_ extravagances in stone seemed positively
shamefaced. The whole place—this artificial park within the ancient
woods—had the melancholy of things outworn and disowned.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: FIRELIGHT PICTURES]

Yet here, in my armchair by the firelight, up on the side of our dear
Surrey hill, I can still picture sharply to myself the summer life of
St. Cloud as it was in the careless precarious days of the Second
Empire.

[Illustration: children outdoors]

The Empress Eugénie, then a young wife, and one of the most beautiful
women of Europe, lived at the _Château_. And the Park, though thrown
open to the people, was kept trim with jealous care. Roads generously
sanded, lawns watered and mown with systematic care, parterres ever
bright with flowers, all was marvellously different then from the
present day shabbiness.

I seem to see again, even with almost a lifetime’s experience
intervening, the vivid scene impressed on the observant and eager eyes
of the child. The gay-hued crowds of ladies in all the then elegance of
scuttle bonnets and crinolines; the bevies of children, of every class,
but all joyous and noisy; the bands of marching youths, buzzing the
popular airs of the year on the euphonious _Mirliton_; the siege of
every “kiosk” where the wafers hot from the mould, or the cool lemonade,
were dispensed; the swans, stately but voracious, being fed upon the
great pond; the bright coloured beribboned _nourrices_ squatting with
the nurslings on the circular benches within sound of the _musique
militaire_, and the inevitable giant bearded _sapeur_ in flirtatious
attendance; the quite too beautiful officers with tight waists, waxed
moustaches and swaying gold epaulets—what not?

Before the great gates, solemnly walking to and fro, or standing
picturesquely sentinel, there never wanted a party of veteran grenadiers
in their towering brass-fronted bearskins and white cross-belts to
produce the desired “Old Guard” effect. Or it might be heavy-moustached
troopers, _Guides_, with sweeping plumes over the huge _colback_; with
pelisses of fur and eagle-embroidered sabretaches, copying, on their
side, the grim appearance of Napoleon’s ‹the real one’s› body guard.

The whole place, indeed, was pervaded with the “immense” uniforms of
those pretorians: those long service professional soldiers for whose
showy maintenance the Imperial Government stinted an otherwise dwindling
national army—disastrous army, destined, despite its gallantry, to be so
soon decimated, swept away, by the legions of _das Volk in Waffen_
wielded with the ruthless mastery of German generalship!

[Sidenote: FORGOTTEN BRILLIANCIES]

For such as have only known France since the strictly utilitarian days
that followed the great _débâcle_; days when the notion that any kind of
smartness is incompatible with “republican efficiency seems to have
become an obsession” it is difficult to realize the gilded magnificence
of the _Garde Impériale_. Still less, perhaps, in these anti-militarist
times, the idolatry of the people for its _beaux militaires_. Of a
truth, on a sunny day, they brightened the park walks almost as much as
the Geraniums in the great stone urns, or the forbidden golden fruit in
the orange tubs!

The authorities were sedulous, especially in such places as St. Cloud,
to keep the pleasant side—the pride, the pomp and circumstance—of
soldiering in evidence. The happy little town was awakened in the
morning, was apprised of noon and again of sundown, by the incredibly
joyous “sonneries” of the _Lanciers de l’Impératrice_, whose trumpeters
specially gathered from far and wide, could sound all tuckets and points
of war in an admirable harmony of high overtones blended with the noble,
grave sounds of the ordinary calls.... Entrancing music to the little
boy, in the glycine-clad house of the _rue du Château_, who would start
awake, hearken, and then turn round and go to sleep again in great
content. The drums of the _garde montante_, headed by the olympian
_tambour-major_, sedulously tossing and twirling his cane, daily rattled
the window panes as in great pomp it ascended the hill, palace-wards. It
never failed to draw the same crowd to the same doorsteps. Estaffettes
clattered hourly along the narrow paved streets, on their way to and
from Paris; glittering, clinking, full of official importance, and with
an eagerness no doubt wholly uncalled for by any existing necessity.

All that colour and bustle and pleasant make-believe of strength and
“tradition,” was typical of all one has since learned to associate with
that Empire on the high road to ruin. But it had its attractive side for
those who had not found it out; and, seen through the prism of distance,
a picturesqueness that modern France, so systematically democratized, is
scarce like to know again.

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



VIII


The ways of our musings are as devious, as unexpected, as those of a
general conversation: there is no presiding spirit to keep us to a
standing topic! This topic, with us, should be “Our Sentimental Garden.”
And our tattle should, really, be connected, even if but distantly; with
plants or scenery; with country life and friends ‹or foes›; with
emotions or reminiscences plausibly evoked by the flower side of life.
Happily it is pleasant enough to be brought back to the right theme; as
I am just now by a thought of the head-line.

[Illustration: two people by tall tree]

[Sidenote: REDISCOVERED DELIGHTS]

To one who has taken somewhat late in the day to a life in the country,
most of its interests seem to be a rediscovery of early, simple, and
intimate delights; to be connected with impressions long forgotten.

There is an episode in the biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau which, if
I remember aright, bears upon this point. I have not got the
_Confessions_ by me—it is, no doubt, in that cynical autobiography that
the anecdote is recorded—nor, indeed, any other work of that exceedingly
antipathetic writer. ‹This is the usual course: the books I require for
reference when in the country happen oftener than not to be on my London
bookshelves; and _mutatis mutandis, vice versa_!› The precise wording
cannot in consequence be given here. But it is a small matter; the story
is to this effect:

In his young and singularly impressionable days, Jean-Jacques was taking
a country walk with one very near to his heart. At a certain spot of the
garden, or the wood, in which he was tasting the subtle joys of
_solitude à deux_, the lady suddenly exclaimed:

“See, yonder is a _pervenche_!”

“Indeed,” returned the youth, little intent then, upon the beauties of
the outer world, and gazed absently upon the tender blue peeping out of
the tender green. “So, that is a periwinkle?” And he resumed the thread
of his interrupted discourse.

But, later—much later on, in twilight days of his life—some one happened
again to say in his hearing:

“See—a Periwinkle!”

And Rousseau, now old Jean-Jacques, amazed the company by an almost
incredible exhibition of sensibility.

“_Une pervenche!_ Where—where?” he called out, throwing himself down on
his knees to look for the flower, with eyes bathed in tears.

If this is not quite the exact tale, it matters, as I said above, very
little. It is the story, in its essence. The age of sensibility ‹praise
be to our fate!› is no longer with us; but there is something
permanently true in the picture it sets forth. To the _philosophe_ of
mature years the mere word _pervenche_ suddenly recalled, in a
poignantly intimate manner, the first love of his spring-time. _Veteris
vestigia flammae!_

And we are not to wonder that the echo from a world irremediably lost
should have affected the morose, self-centred reprobate in an
uncontrollable manner. I venture to think that, with the least
sentimental of us, the sudden rediscovery, of some long forgotten
youthful impression can hardly fail to evoke, however transiently, a
certain dreamy emotion: half pleasure, half melancholy.

[Illustration: child outside with hoop]

Now, in the case of the Master of the House—and he is thankful to
realize it—early memories of delight in flowers and such things are
associated, not with the troublous times of young manhood’s protean
heart affairs, not with the _Sturm und Drang_ days of the dawning
moustache, but rather with the quaintly fanciful inner life of boyhood.
They come back borne upon the colours and odours of such early friends
as Lilac and Acacia; common Wallflower—_Giroflée_, our Gillyflower; wild
Violet and Primrose—_gallicé “Coucou”_; Hollyhock or rather
_Rose-trémière_; Lily-of-the-Valley; _Muguet_.... It is the old French
name that most readily slips from my pen.

Owing perhaps to a childhood spent almost wholly in France, and to the
completeness of the break that necessarily ensued when the English born
but French nurtured boy was at last allowed back to his own and proper
land, all these memories seem to belong to a world utterly apart—to
something rather fantastic, unconnected with later life and interests.
Moreover, being of childhood and of a time when the world seemed
uniformly kind, they retain an allurement all their own. One pleasant
recollection of those far-off days does not hook on to others, bitter,
regretful, or let it be even merely ruffling ... inevitable chain of
responsible experiences!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Our early memories are like works of art: they have a way of
perpetuating in beauty things that perhaps were not really beautiful in
themselves. About them there is an unconscious selection which, having
been made by a mind still essentially serene, has contrived a subtle
harmony of all the elements. Upon the pictures of its store, a child’s
memory lays an emphasis strangely different to that which the critical
powers of later growth would set. And it is this quaint insistence on
certain “odd corners of things” which ‹among other reasons› makes them
so dearly personal and private to the older mind.

In my own case, as I have said, they belong to a world still more remote
than the childhood of most men of “Grandpa” status—a world which has not
even the link of language to connect it with the present!

Paradoxically, this is perhaps the reason why I take so much pleasure in
finding these happy-hued and odorous things now rising, and living under
their right English names, in a garden of my own. To the other denizens
of Villino Loki they are part of the excellent general company
foregathering in our garden: but to me they are in many ways my
intimates. We seem “to have known things together”; things doubtless of
no importance, but pleasant to recall in casual intercourse.

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



IX


[Illustration: flowers on branch]

The Lilac and Acacia, for instance, were the flower-bearers of the
tree-planted playground of that jocund old school where I received the
first rudiments of education: the _Institution Delescluze_, then situate
in a kind of backwater of the faubourg St. Honoré at the angle facing
the _Palais de l’Elysée_. It has, alas long since been swept away to
make room for modern mansions. This ancient _Institution_, or
preparatory school, would seem to have dated from the distant days,
early Louis XV probably, when the north side of the then lengthening
noble _faubourg_ must still have been occupied by meadows and orchards.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: branches with leaves]

By the way, it has never occurred to me before to look up that little
topographical matter authoritatively. I do so now. I have here a copy of
a wonderful work, the “perspective” map of Paris as it stood in the
’thirties, of the eighteenth century. It is called the _Plan de Turgot_,
having been surveyed, and engraved, in lavishly decorative style, by
order of _Louis-le-Bien-Aimé_, under the care of the celebrated _Prévost
des Marchands_. The book is quite the most fascinating of its kind I
know—and I think I have handled as goodly a number of such works as any
man alive. ‹The nearest approach to it, in point of what one may call
picturesque perspicuity, is the wonderful bird’s-eye view of Edinburgh
set down by James Gordon of Rothiemay, and engraved at Amsterdam by F.
de Wit, about a century earlier.› This plan of Turgot is an elaborate
affair indeed—an atlas of twenty large sheets, showing practically every
individual house of any importance. Would we had such a work in
existence dealing with Georgian London!

Well, to investigate.... Aye, here are the orchards and market gardens,
beginning at the very back of a narrow line of houses, covering all the
ground of what nowadays is a close network of stone-fronted streets!
Here stands the Hôtel d’Evreux, the last, moving westward, of that array
of lordly mansions: the Hôtels de Montbazon, de Guébrian, de Charost, de
Duras.... A few of these patrician dwellings, each with their own formal
gardens stretching southwards to the Champs Elysées, have retained to
our own times their dignity unimpaired. But where are now scattered most
of these grand French family names, since the tornado of the great
Revolution? But, to our map.... Yes, this Hôtel d’Evreux—whilom appanage
of Madame de Pompadour, now the aforesaid Palais de l’Elysée; residence,
in due rotation, of the swift-changing presidents of the Republic—is
here under my finger. And its position unquestionably fixes, some two
hundred yards westward, that of the now vanished _Institution
Delescluze_, so interesting to me. And here spread themselves the
orchards, of which the existence a moment ago was, after all, only a
matter of surmise!

[Sidenote: PLUM-TREE GUM]

My discovery adds particularity now to the remembrance of that mellow
place.... A goodly number of antiquated fruit trees were scattered about
the _cour de récréation_. I can now carve it, in fancy, out of the
cultivated land shown by the engraver in the most engaging conventional
manner, at the back of the northern street front—an acre or so. Perhaps
a little more; likelier still, a little less: recollections of this kind
have a knack of magnifying affairs. It is bounded by grey walls, tall
and thick, but distinctly decrepit. The trees were, of course, long past
bearing, through age and neglect; but they were pleasant company,
whether snow-laden, or in summer affording their scanty shade. Plum
trees they were, I should say. At any rate the rough bark of their boles
distilled a kind of brown gum which was in great demand among us small
boys for immediate consumption; and sedulously scooped out, as soon as
discovered, with the help of the stump end of a steel-pen nib.

Interspersed among these remnants of the forgotten orchard were the odd
groups of Lilacs and Acacias previously mentioned. The latter, the
Acacias, were tall and above interference. But strict were the standing
orders touching the bloom of the Lilac, and dire the prospect of
_pensum_ or _piquet_ to the youthful scholar who should dare to pluck
the fragrant bunches!

Thus came the Lilac to assume a character at once sacred—or, at least,
“taboo”—and at the same time perennially tantalizing. It was long before
the realization dawned that _Lilas_ were not the rare and precious
blossoms that so uncompromising a prohibition appeared to proclaim. As a
matter of fact, the _Lilas_, _Blanc ou Rose_, is one of the commonest of
spring objects in France. Almost might it in its popularity be regarded
as the national emblem of the _renouveau_, much as with us the pallid,
delicate Primrose is held to herald the last of wintry days.

The old French name for the latter is _Primerole_, suggestive by its
etymological connection with “prime,” of the youth of the year. We have
made of it Prim_rose_, through the usual process of popular phonetic
adaptation, which ever tends to make a word sound like something already
familiar. So that the old _Primerole_—meaning simply an early floweret,
_primula_—has become with us “the early rose”! The French dubbed it
_Primevère_ a learned equivalent for the _Coucou_ of the rustic tongue,
to symbolize the advent of vernal days.

The name brings at once to mind the well-known yearning lines:

                  “_O Primavera, gioventù dell’ anno!_

                  *       *       *       *       *

                  _O gioventù, primavera della vita!_”

In France, however, the accepted harbinger of _les beaux jours_, is not
the

              “Pale cowslip, fit for maiden’s early bier,”

not the faint Primula but emphatically the Lilac—the Syringa Vulgaris;
the joyous _fleur des humbles_, as contrasted to the noble Rose.

                      “_Oh, gai! vive la rose,
                      La rose ... et les lilas!_”

runs the refrain of olden days.

During the last century or two it has grown as common, almost, around
villages as the hawthorn, the _Aubépine_ itself. But it is perhaps best
appreciated in the towns. While the tender purple bloom lasts, there is
scarce too modest a working home’s window-sill or mantelpiece for the
display of a _branche de Lilas_ stuck in the gullet of a water-bottle.
And your gay-hearted _grisette_ or _midinette_, early afoot in the
streets, will always spend her first _sou_ of the day on a sprig of the
sweet-breathing rosy cluster.

[Sidenote: LAYLOCKS—LILAS BLANC]

One may learn, whilst intent upon other matters, many unsuspected things
about objects even as familiar as the common “Laylock.” ‹A collection of
old letters of Georgian and very early Victorian days, with which we
have had much to do at one time, show a preference for this phonetic
rendering of the name.› Thus it appears that a valuable febrifuge
“principle” is obtainable from its fruit; that its wood, veined in
pleasing colours and very fine-grained, is in high request for delicate
articles of turnery and in particular for inlaying; that a perfumed
essence is sometimes distilled from it that is almost indistinguishable
from Rhodes Balsam—and so forth.

Those, however, are not the points of interest which have made it
imperative to have a plant or two of “Laylocks” in our Sentimental
Garden. ‹They do fairly well, be it said, in their own specially
sheltered, suntrap corner of the ground.› No, there is in life an
ever-growing motive—old sake’s sake. Syringa Persica may mean much to
the operative gardener, but it can never mean _Lilas blanc_ ... _Lilas
rose_!

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



X


As for the Acacias, in that queer old courtyard—distinctly exotic
creatures, aristocrats in the company of those palpable sons of the
soil, the caducous orchard trees—I still wonder how they ever came
there. Their rôle in the life of the small-boy school seems to have
been that of a butt for cockshies, and thus passively to foster a
notable precision in the use of those small river pebbles with which
the playground was covered. A game, deeply favoured by the young
scholars ‹but not recognized by the authorities› when Acacias were
“in,” consisted in the bringing down of some selected bunch of
fragrant, creamy flowers from its lofty station with the minimum
number of pebbles. The feat was the subject of wager, the stakes
stated and paid in steel nibs. Nibs—in the tongue of the aborigines,
_becs-de-plume_—were accepted as currency and legal tender. It would
be truly interesting to find out how this particular token of exchange
came to be established among the youthful communities of French
elementary schools. Be it as it may, the convention was hallowed by
tradition “whereof the memory of boy ran not to the contrary.”

[Sidenote: GARLANDS AND ACACIAS]

When, however, the pale yellow, incense-smelling, honey-tasting racemes
were “out,” the devoted Acacia became the object of other, slightly
different, balistic attentions. The boys, be it stated, were regularly
released from the durance of bench and desk every hour for some ten
minutes ‹a commendable system with seven to ten year-olds› during which
the courtyard became clamorous as any aviary. During these short
intervals of recreation, too short to allow of any settled games, a
favourite occupation was the adorning of the inaccessible branches with
long streamers of coloured paper, previously manufactured at
home—_guirlandes_ by name. These _guirlandes_, some twenty or thirty
feet long, were wound with sedulous care round a suitable stone, leaving
a small length as trailer; the apparatus was then cast up in a parabola
over the tree-top. If the indirect fire was successful the trailer
caught in the leafage, unrolling the remainder and releasing the
ballasting stone. The most successful shot was, of course, that which
left the streamer properly entangled on the topmost boughs. Each boy had
his chosen and declared colour, or mixture of colours; and the trophy
remained, flaunting his achievement “in its own tincts” as long as wind
or rain permitted. It afforded the small breast a distinct satisfaction
when, reaching the school of a morning, the boy could see his pennant
still flying in the breeze....

Such is the strength of the association of ideas that I never could come
upon a roadside plantation of Acacias in the hot plains of Hungary—where
the tree is used as commonly as in France the Poplar, that inevitable
feature of the great highways—without adorning it in imagination with
the multi-coloured _guirlandes_ of my first school.

                  *       *       *       *       *

If there was no reasonable accounting for the presence of Acacias at the
_Institution Delescluze_, the great Poplar, on the other hand, that
raised its height in the very centre of the _cour_, had a
well-authenticated history. A relic of Revolution days, it was then in
its eighth decade, in the strength of its age; having been planted, at
the same time as hundreds of others, as a Tree of Liberty—Populus,
emblematic of _sans-culotte_ ascendancy—at the time when the royal
Bastille, emblem of another form of tyranny, was laid low.

For some cryptic reason, by the way, the democratic Poplar, which had
subsisted through many changes of régime, and had become undoubtedly too
ornamental a mark of antiquity to be destroyed, was never honoured by
the flights of our banderoles. Perhaps it was a result of political
prejudice, which in France characteristically affects the views even of
scholars at the hornbook stage of life. Or perhaps it was that the old
_Peuplier_ was the site of the disciplinary punishment known as
_piquet_—the playground equivalent of our nursery “corner.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: GLAMOUR OF YORE]

Poplar and gummy Plum-trees, Lilac and Acacias, courtyard and indeed the
whole _Institution_, had already disappeared when I bethought myself,
for the first time after so many years of oblivion, to go and gaze upon
the scene once more. It was quite in middle life. I had lately been
reading that sad and strangely affecting work, “Peter Ibbetson,” the
first, and to my mind by far the best, of the three novels written by
Georges du Maurier in the late autumn of his days. By the thousands who
for so many years had, week after week, enjoyed the delicate humour and
pencilling of the great Punch artist, the book was received with a
favour that paved the way for the greater popular success of “Trilby.”
But I doubt whether it ever appealed to any denizen of our planet as
intimately as to the Master of the House.

Those who have read the curiously original novel which, like so many
first attempts at fiction, is autobiographical—autobiographical as to
feelings, if not necessarily as to facts—may remember his description of
the English boy’s early “French days;” and, later on, of the mature
man’s poignant impressions on revisiting the old playground of his life.
Now, there were so many points of resemblance between the surroundings
of Du Maurier’s hero’s childhood and my own; so many allusions to the
kind of things and the kind of people I had once been familiar with but,
as time flowed on, had dismissed from mind as removed from real
existence and new workaday points of view; they were presented,
moreover, in so sympathetic a manner, that one need hardly wonder at the
sudden resolve that rose within me, to go and look up the old place
again.

Such a desire, when it comes, has something of the twist of hunger about
it—it is _une fringale_, to use a word for which, oddly enough, we have
no counterpart. But, alas! delight in scenes of the _beau temps jadis_
is not to be recaptured! It may but be espied in fitful, elusive
glimpses. The world has moved on and the _genius loci_ has fled. Have
you ever found out that the return, after many years, to a place oft
dreamed of until then and with never-failing tenderness, besides leaving
you blankly unsatisfied, seems to have killed the glamour, to have
broken the magic spell of memory? The dream is dispelled. It will
henceforth nevermore haunt your pillow. You have seen the phantom of the
past with the eyes of nowadays; the new picture has replaced that of the
dream—for ever.

Well, _la boite Delescluze_—as we irreverent youngsters called that
respectable institution—unlike those other places, St. Cloud, for
instance, which were fated to evoke but a melancholy disappointment,
could not be beheld again with the carnal eye—not the least vestige of
it. And it is, no doubt, for that reason that so many memories still
come flitting back, smiling and clear, of that forgotten cradle of
scholarship.

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



XI


A glowing log rolls down from its allotted place on the hearth, sending
into the room a jet of wood smoke, blue at the stem, white feathering as
it spreads out; and the pungent smell immediately revives a fresh set of
scenes from the past.

[Sidenote: NOSTRIL MEMORIES]

[Illustration: man on path in town]

That nothing brings back old memories so suddenly and so vividly as
perfume is a commonplace remark. But I wonder whether the extraordinary
persistency of a first impression, in the case of odours constantly met
with, has been so generally noticed. Perhaps I am peculiar in this
sensitiveness. Smells, pleasant, indifferent, or otherwise, which one is
liable to encounter in the most varied circumstances, should, one would
think, cease in time to recall any particular period of existence.

For example, the delicious smell of roasting coffee—an aroma not common
in England—may well bring you back, at a jump, to some foreign,
unfamiliar experience of your youth—to that early morning walk in the
little Flemish town of which you have forgotten the name; where, as you
sauntered down the street, you were greeted at nearly every doorstep by
this pungent savour. The black cylindrical family roaster, its berries
rattling musically within, was being carefully revolved over its bed of
live charcoal by the boy of the house, or perhaps by the housewife
herself. The delicate, diaphanous sky-blue smoke of the beans, as they
reached the perfecting point of their charring, struck your eye as
gratefully as the fragrance it conveyed to your nostrils. No wonder
that, after a long spell, even a distant whiff of that odour of promise
should bring back a definite picture. But that essences of such everyday
character, say, as petrol; or that which accompanies the peeling of an
orange, should still have the power of bringing me back, instantly, to
the hours of my early schooling, is in truth a curious matter.

In the case of petrol, perhaps, the connexion is less extraordinary.
Until the age of the motor was ushered in—and that is barely a score of
years ago—the smell of “petroleum,” as it was still called, could come
upon the sense as an odour out of the usual run.

Whenever I come across it now, it never fails to waft me back to the old
class-room of the _Institution_, the _Etude No. 3_, where I first made
acquaintance with the possibly wholesome but not otherwise attractive
redolence of the _lampes à petrole_. That was during the short days of
the year, when these luminaries were brought in soon after four o’clock,
and suspended over our young heads—a ceremony coinciding with the last
hour of _classe_—at the end of which the assembly would be dispersed for
the day: the bigger boys walking back to their neighbouring homes, the
smaller being fetched by their _bonnes_, or it might be the footman; or
yet, in unpropitious weather, by anxious parents in carriage or
_fiacre_.

[Illustration: back of child sitting on bench]

Quaint place, that _Institution_—when one looks back on it from this far
end of the road! I think I can breathe its peculiar atmosphere this
instant—and see the queer, long, low room, with the beams across the
ceiling; the whitewashed walls, covered with highly coloured elementary
maps and graphic pictures of the metrical system applied to measures
lineal and cubical, solid and liquid, and to the national coinage....
There they are: the six rows of benches and desks, each with its
half-dozen youngsters, some elaborately drawing a steel nib, in strokes
alternately swelling and slender, over a copybook of bafflingly soft
paper, productive of periodical splutters; others reading ‹in earnest or
in pretence› a chapter of _Epitome_; others, again, committing, with
dumb mouthing, a fable of La Fontaine to memory for to-morrow’s
recitation, until such moment as the cracked voice of the courtyard
clock striking five should proclaim the hour of release. The usher,
ensconced _in cathedra_, at his high desk; a smaller lamp for his
especial benefit burning ‹and smelling› by his side; a book before
him.—In his own walk he must have passed, methinks now, for something of
a dandy, in the cheap line; for he remains associated more with sedulous
trimming of nails, with pulling out of curly brown whiskers; with a
nervous, tricky settling of collar, tie and cuffs ‹obviously false›,
than with anything else.... He yawns amain. He consults his watch, and
closes it with a click in the midst of the great silence of the room—the
silence made more sensible, rather than disturbed, by the recurrent
splutter of a pen-nib, or the turning of a leaf of _Epitome_.

That _Epitome Historiae Sacrae_ was a primer adapted to first year
boys—a small buckram-bound book compendized, poetically expurgated, and
made in truth singularly attractive to the young imagination—more
attractive even, I fancy, than those Fables of La Fontaine and of
Florian that, read in the light of “short stories,” were such
favourites. It was, by the way, called _Epitome Sacrae_ or even _Sacrae_
pure and simple, in the same manner as the volumes allotted to the two
subsequent years were known respectively as _Latinae_ and _Graecae_.

I would give a fairly large coin of our present money for a copy now,
could I come across one in some old bookstall on the quays. But, from
their very nature, the cheapest books are among the rarest things to
recover at second hand.

[Sidenote: SCRIPTURE STORIES]

It was within the pale green covers of that queer little tome that I
tasted for the first time the literary savour of the various _genres_ in
tale-telling; of pastoral and romance, of idyll and tragedy. One could
not truly say that any very strong impression of a sacred character was
conveyed through the collection of Holy Scripture stories. But it is
doubtful whether anything read in after-life was stamped so clearly on
the imagination as the poetry of Ruth amid the ears of barley, of
Rebecca and the pitcher of water, of Rachel; as the romance of Joseph
and his brethren; as the tragedy of Samson and Delilah; as the war
pictures of Jericho and Jerusalem. It may have been a jumble of
disconnected tales—and, for the boys, nothing more than tales—but each
remains cut out in clean outline and brightest colours that are never
likely to fade. To this day a field of golden corn, newly reaped, in
pastoral Dorset, under a hot harvest sun, will raise the bright phantom
of Boaz and the gentle gleaner. A country lass at the fountain, or even
merely the rim of some disused and filled-up well, aye even such cryptic
names as Jakin and Boaz, the pillars, will conjure up again some picture
first raised from the pages of that _Epitome Sacrae_, read under the
light of the brown lamp gently swaying in the draught of the school-room
above our ruffled heads ... and steadily smelling of petrol!

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



XII


Connected with those enthralling first tales, now that I come to think
of it, is the development of certain simple tastes in food which have
endured through a life not altogether devoid of gastronomic
discrimination. Among these may be mentioned a special delight in
lentils—later on extended to other members of the pulse tribe, but in
its origin especially concerned with lentils. It is to be noted that the
_Epitome_ rendering of what in the Authorised Version appears as red
pottage is _un plat de lentilles_. Now lentils, stewed in some toothsome
reddish sauce ‹not innocent of the savoury onion› was a standing Friday
dish in the refectory at Delescluzes ‹together, be it said, with a
_Saint Jean_ fish-pie—Saint Jean being the equivalent of our own
mediæval “Poor John,” otherwise salt cod›. The small boy, however, who
was destined, at the maturity of time, to become the Master of the House
at the Villino Loki, was allowed a fair mutton chop of his own by
special compact with M. Delescluze, as a concession to his Protestant
heresy.

[Illustration: children eating at table]

[Sidenote: THE DELECTABLE LENTIL]

The arrangement had been made when the dietary of the _jours maigres_
came, quite accidentally, to the knowledge of his anxious parents. Such
a concession might have bidden fair to scandalize the youthful republic
at dinner time—if not perhaps on purely dogmatic ground, at least upon a
question of invidious privilege. But it happened that the intended
beneficiary of the bi-weekly _côtelette_ had been struck by that
puzzling tale of Esau’s birthright so readily exchanged for a _plat de
lentilles_.—Red pottage had become invested with an almost mystical
quality.

There is often a good deal of auto-suggestion connected with matters of
food pleasure. At any rate the Friday _plat de lentilles_ ranked among
the most desirable of eatable things, in his young opinion. The answer
to the jeer that greeted him from the neighbour on his right, as the
appetizing grill was laid by the grinning attendant for the first time
upon the wooden board before him, was a prompt offer of half the flesh
portion for the whole of his allowance of pulse—and a similar disposal
of the remainder on the left-hand side. One chop for two plates of the
savoury mess: the barter, as far as the pleasures of the table were
concerned, was one of gain, for all parties. It had the further
advantage of cutting at the root of conversational unpleasantness. The
exchange of a single fat, heretical chop for two helpings of orthodox
meagre fare became an established compact—one, it must be said, which
demanded not only secrecy but adroitness for its fulfilment.

The redistribution of the courses was usually carried out under the
shelter of an enormous _broc_ ‹a relic of conventual furniture›, the
French representative of our old English Black Jack; an obese, jug-like,
wooden contrivance with iron hoops, containing something better than a
gallon of the anodyne mixture called _abondance_—one part thin red wine
to four of water. It was a supply which could, without danger to
sobriety, be drawn upon, as the regulation had it, _à discretion_.

The parties to this lentil transaction, which took place at the end of
the long table farthest from the eyes of the presiding usher, had to bid
for turns.... Where are you this day, you the only two whilom reprobate
amateurs of chops on fast days whose names I can yet recall? You, Victor
de Mussy, with the notable store of infantile catches and conundrums?
And you, Guilleaume Moreau, of more plebeian stamp, who used to look up
words for me in the dictionary—a task I truly loathed—at the rate of
three words for one _bec-de-plume_? If you are still in the land of the
living, I would take a fair bet that it never occurs to you now to
order, of your own accord, a dish of lentils!

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE INCOMPARABLE ORANGE]

Another persistent “nostril memory,” as I have said, is that of the
orange. It is a curious one. Of a certainty I must have eaten of the
golden apple many a time before that notable night when I was first
taken to a theatre. And yet it is invariably that delirious occasion
which is recalled, for however fleeting a moment, when the bursting of
the essential oil cells of an orange peel sends forth its fragrance.

[Illustration: child leaning over]

The drama was “_Bas-de-Cuir_”—an adaptation of Fenimore Cooper’s Red
Indian tale “Leather Stocking.” When I say that the part of “Leather
Stocking” was taken by Frederic Lemaitre—personified genius of the old
Romantic Melodrama!—that the playhouse was _Les Folies Dramatiques_—it
will be patent to anyone familiar with the annals of the Paris stage
that I refer to a very distant period. I could not have been more than
eight years old. In those days, apparently, the custom, delectable to
the boys if less so to their elders, of consuming oranges between the
acts had not yet fallen into desuetude.

It is very odd. There are as we know a large number of recognized
methods of eating an orange: from the elaborate and super-epicurean
Japanese dissection within the skin, which removes every pellicule and
every pip out of the fruit, preparatory to “spooning” the pure pulp,
with or without sugar, down to the simple suction known as “Mattie’s
way.” Whatever be the process, the effect never fails if I stand by: as
sure as the first puff of fresh orange peel meets me, so is my mind
instantly brought back to some scene connected with “Leather Stocking”;
to some sense of the very first dramatic emotion ever known—the silent
laughter of the trapper; the faint, distant war yell of the Huron; the
darting of the bark canoe down the rapid; the crack of a gun: the flare
of the camp fire—what not? It is, of course, but a transient flash now,
but there it always starts, harking, for a second or so, back half a
century in the middle of completely unrelated thoughts and in
surroundings the least likely to evoke the past—in the silence of a sick
bedside, or amid the hot dustiness of a holiday crowd; or even, at
dessert time, in the company of some fair neighbour whose young, healthy
powers of table enjoyment enable her to conclude a regular dinner with a
whole orange eaten in the appreciative and fragrant manner known as _à
la Maltaise_.

Scent alone, and that only for a second at a time, possesses this
fantastic power. The taste of marmalade, for instance, is fraught with
no special memories. As for the pleasure of sight in connexion with the
orange, it is now concentrated upon the half-dozen trees—in pots, but
bravely bearing year by year their little burden of fruit destined to
grow for purely ornamental and “Italian” effect within doors at the
Villino.

What a marvel would an orange be considered, had it not become an object
of our everyday life! We take it as a matter of course; but how much
poorer would the world suddenly seem if oranges became henceforth
unobtainable! And the lemon! If lemons cost a guinea apiece, I once
heard a physician say who had a special experience of its wide-reaching
healing powers, then would mankind appreciate the treasure it has at
hand! One-half of its being, and by no means the less important, the
rind, is deplorably neglected. We deal with it as with a practically
worthless husk. If we more generally understood the value of its
ethereal oil, we might save ourselves many a spell of unaccountable
physical depression. I can personally testify to numerous instances of
feverish bouts cured solely by a hot decoction of lemon zest.

A similar virtue, by the way, seems to reside in the leaves of the
Citrus Limonum. In southern countries—especially, I am told, in Spanish
America—these leaves are obtainable in the dry state, and used as a
febrifuge and alternative “tea,” or rather tisane, with marked results.

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



XIII


[Sidenote: THE INVALUABLE ONION]

Talking of the proper need of appreciation that might be rendered to
some of nature’s goodly gifts, if only they were presented to us as
something rare and novel—what of the humble but invaluable onion? “The
onion,” as Stevenson says in his masterpiece, Prince Otto ‹and great was
my satisfaction when I first read the pronouncement›, “which ranks with
the truffle and the nectarine in the chief place of honour of earth’s
fruit.”

Truffle and nectarine are doubtless honourable terms of comparison, but
I make bold to believe that any well-constituted jury of epicures would
not hesitate to award the humble onion the place paramount among all the
savours of civilized cookery. There are a certain number of curiously
constituted people who absolutely refuse to countenance the onion in any
connexion, however subdued and distant; who profess, whether in æsthetic
affectation or through some innate queasiness, to look upon it as pure
abomination. There are also those who assume a similar intolerant
attitude towards tobacco. But who shall deny that, even as tobacco to
the meditative and restful moments, the savoury onion has not added
through the ages an incalculable zest to the hour of physical
restoration? There could be no cuisine, on any varied scale, without it.

“If the onion did not exist,” said a great _cordon-bleu_, paraphrasing a
well-known philosophical pronouncement, “it would have to be invented.”

Discreetly introduced, and subdued by happy blendings, it holds the
finest of _fumets_ for your gastronomist’s palate: and, in all its own
undisguised vigour, it will invest the coarsest or most tasteless food
with never-failing allurement for robust appetites, whatever changes be
rung upon the raw or pickled, the white-boiled, the golden-fried, or the
brown-stewed.

[Illustration: man at outside table]

It must have been that russet background of onion which justified my
youthful preconceived notion of the pricelessness of “Red Pottage” as an
article of food. It no doubt fixed the taste for life. Of course, in all
matters of earthly enjoyment, the “psychological” moment ‹which, by the
way, is so often purely physiological› plays an important part. Certain
tastes reveal themselves only as pleasurable in certain surroundings. A
draught of coarse, dark wine of la Mancha, sucked out of the goat-skin
sack, with its obtrusive, pitchy twang, will be a pure delight on the
side of some dusty, stony Castillian road. And no one who has not had,
in some wild out-of-the-way mountain village, to break his fast at
peep-o’-day upon a chunk of grey bread, stone-ground and tasting of the
wheat-fields, a handful of salt and a couple of Spanish onions, will
ever know all the excellences of that juicy bulb.

It is reported that, like his furiously assertive relation, garlic, the
onion has very definite medical virtues. Some claim for it a power to
cure sleeplessness—dreaded distemper—and also various antiseptic
properties. This is as may be. The province of the precious plant, the
duty which it fulfils well and simply, is that of supplying savour to
things that may be nutritious but lack appetizing virtue. Many are the
instances that might be adduced in support of this economic plea, but
none more directly to the point than that of the _soupe à l’oignon_,
which your thrifty French housewife contrives at shortest notice—the
traditional “soup meagre,” object of such bitter contempt in our
beef-gorging Hogarthian days.

                  *       *       *       *       *

This new culinary topic sets me once more back in the streets of old
Paris, on the occasion when I made personal acquaintance with the
possibilities of a penny meal—the best appreciated breakfast I have ever
known.

It was in the very last of my French days. Paris had then recovered from
the miseries of the German siege and the nightmare of Commune anarchy,
three years past. Within the next few months a new life was to be opened
to me in England. The prospect of the great change, albeit fraught with
some features of gravity, was exhilarating.

The _Lycée_, for all its admirable scheme of studies, had lately been
abandoned in favour of a quaint old British scholar, very poor, very
learned, who lived on the heights of Montmartre, in the oddest little
house—so filled with books that almost everywhere one had to move
literally edge-ways. The very stairs, for lack of shelves, were piled on
both sides with volumes, old and modern, tattered or nobly bound, stored
regardless of subjects, merely in sizes for the sake of room.

Long could I talk about you, O my dear Mr. Gilchrist—you with the keen
eyes and the vigorous hook nose ‹always half-filled with snuff›; with
the flowing beard of venerable threescore and ten, who taught me to read
“the classics” after the English manner, _i.e._ with a regard to
quantities; who, for the modest and evidently much wanted fee agreed
upon, gave me daily at least five hours tuition ‹sometimes more› instead
of the stipulated three! Hours, be it said, that went by lightly enough
in that queer, snuffy room, where we sat facing each other on two
straight-backed chairs—eager boy and no less eager old man. For, the
Latin and Greek tasks over, there always followed excursions, one more
fascinating than the other, into the deep and still unknown forest of
English letters. And such was the variety and the happy choice of
excerpts that, incredible as it may seem, the scholar of fourteen was
oftener sorry than elated to leave the garrulous and enthusiastic mentor
on his hill-top and return to the paternal house in the lower planes of
the Champs Elysées.

[Illustration: child and old man]

An odd way of life for a youth, during those last few months of spring
and early summer in Paris! It was full of glad aspirations towards the
future, it is true, but at the same time not without an almost regretful
enjoyment of the present. The distribution of time was peculiar. There
was in it a kind of unconscious anticipation of that light-saving Bill
of Mr. Willet ‹which has so little chance of being embodied in an Act›.
The queer boy, in his transition stage, had taken a cranky turn on the
subject of hours. Having made up his mind, on the one hand, that he had
an enormous amount of new things to read and assimilate before his fresh
start in England; and, on the other, having heard that one hour of
morning study was worth ‹on what authority it matters little now› two
after noon, he had invested in a specially ferocious alarum clock. The
merciless clamour of this machine drove him out of dreamland daily at a
quarter to five _ante meridiem_; and, strange as it undoubtedly was, it
is not on record that he ever failed during that period to obey the
summons.

[Sidenote: A SEDULOUS SCHOLAR]

There must have been somewhere at the back of so unnatural a submission,
of such a persistency in a purely self-imposed and unnecessary
discipline, a sort of romantic smack of mediævalism.... The “sedulous
_escholier_” ‹so warmly commended by Saint Louis› was found awake and
already absorbed in his search for lore as returning day began to whiten
his window.

The net result was a couple of hours of really earnest work before it
was time to dispatch the morning bowl of _café au lait_ and the _pain de
gruau_ and hasten to the ascent of Mons Martis, where impatient Mr.
Gilchrist looked for his scholar’s appearance at eight sharp. It was
very special reading—English History—a subject with which the _cours
d’histoire_ at the Lycée could only deal in a sketchy manner; but the
early-rising _escholier_, greedy of new knowledge, was fortunately
helped by the appearance in that year of Green’s “Short History of the
English People,” and fell under the charm of the captivating work.

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



XIV


[Sidenote: PLAYING TRUANT]

I have said that it is not on memory’s record that the whilom schoolboy,
now in his mediæval student mood, failed to rise at the appointed clock
crow. Of a truth he rarely had less than his eight hours good sleep,
glad enough as he was to retire to rest at nine—“curfew time.” But it
must be admitted that on one occasion or two he succumbed to the
weakness of compounding with his studious resolutions. The French
equivalent of playing truant is _faire l’école buissonière_—a taking
term, redolent of the allurement of hedgerows and free green fields. And
it is the memory of one of these _écoles buissonières_—or rather, in
this case, _écoles riveraines_—that, through the usual devious paths,
brings me back to the forgotten question of _soupe à l’oignon_.

It must have been a very early day in May, for at a quarter before five,
when the imperative rattle was sprung, sun-rays were just beginning to
dart between the curtains. The birds in the Champs Elysées kept up their
concert through the morning silence of the gardens with more persistent
enthusiasm than usual. And on looking out of window, under such a pure
sky, the out-of-door world looked quite extraordinarily inviting. It
would have been folly to decline such an invitation!

The “Short History,” opened at a chapter of the Hundred Years War, was
left for the nonce undisturbed: the scholar sallied forth to roam under
the tall trees of the _Cours la Reine_, intent, no doubt, on returning
after a short stroll. But there is in the early morning hours,
especially on such a morning, the spell of the “invitation to the road.”
The river-side, so fresh and green, and the unending line of giant plane
trees on the quays, as he swung along to meet the sun, still low behind
the Isle of Notre Dame, drew him on and on. He decided only to return
for breakfast and Gilchrist. Then he bethought himself there would be
time to stroll through those populous quarters which, unlike the
residential districts, were still in many ways the Paris of the Middle
Ages. That was the Paris which held for him then so potent an
interest—the Paris within the walls of Charles VI; the town of Armagnacs
and Burgundians, which had been governed by Bedford for his infant
English King; the crowded space, in short, between the old Louvres and
the new Bastille, which had been kept in order by the tramping of
English men-at-arms. One inquisitive excursion led to another—nearly two
hours had been spent in delightful ferreting; there was no time to
return home for breakfast before the Gilchrist-ward ascent. Meanwhile a
positively wolfish hunger had begun to assert itself. The scholar
“searched his pouch.” This was quite in mediæval style; and what was
decidedly in the same style was the discovery of but two poor deniers
for all asset! His usual pocket-money allowance was then reposing on the
bed-side table, far away, save for these two pennies luckily forgotten
in a waistcoat pocket.

This discovery was made, ruefully enough, as he was looking about in the
vicinity of Saint Eustache for some respectable _restaurateur_ wherein
to obtain the matutinal coffee. But two deniers—twopence, _vingt
centimes_—would never purchase breakfast at any table under a roof. What
the devil...! Well, twopence in this workmen’s district would buy bread
enough, anyhow, to appease the sharpest-set morning appetite. Saint
Eustache, as every one knows, is close to the Halles Centrales, the
great food emporium of Paris—a kind of combined Smithfield,
Billingsgate, Covent Garden, and Leadenhall Market. The now frantic
owner of the two pence was darting about the galleries in search of the
first bread-stall, when he was arrested by a floating savour, truly
ambrosial. As he stopped and involuntarily, if quite obviously, sniffed,
a tempting voice rose beside him, engagingly familiar: “_Oui, elle est
bonne, ce matin. Tu en veux, beau garçon?_” And so saying, a fat smiling
_dame de la Halle_, with an alert eye to business, plunged a ladle into
a deep iron _marmite_ and filled a generous-sized white bowl, something
a trifle under a pint in capacity, with a steaming brown pottage, that
in the circumstances was positively irresistible: “_Combien, la mère?_”
asked the truant scholar, falling into the speech suitable to the place,
and fingering the two modest coins with doubt and anxiety, even as might
a ravening Villon, a destitute Gringoire.

[Illustration: woman holding steaming bowl]

“_Combien, mon p’tit gros? Mais un sou, toujours!—Et au fromage_,”
changing her tone to mock deference as one addressing a client of
importance, “_au fromage, dix centimes_, _mon prince!—Mais, bernique!
n’y en a plus!_”—she added, laughing complacently and tossing her head
in the direction of a second cauldron that lay empty on her left.

The more luxurious cheese pottage being “off,” and time of importance
‹it would, volunteered the culinary Madame Angot, take ten minutes to
prepare the next potful› the famished wanderer proffered his penny and
received his grateful bowl together with some eight inches of “long
bread” in lieu of his half-denier change. And, leaning against a pillar,
he set himself to the enjoyment of what, as I have remarked before, was
the best breakfast of his life.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: SAVOURY POTTAGE]

Hunger is the finest of all possible sauces—a truism even more than a
proverb. The snatched crust, the draught of clear water in the palm of
the hand, at some dire moment of want, is more welcome than the most
cunning dish, the rarest cup in the easy tenor of life. But the plain
bread and the clear water, however eagerly seized, must ever savour of
hardship. Now this halfpenny worth of _soupe à l’oignon_ bore none of
that character, for all that, as far as nutriment went, it consisted of
naught but bread and water. It had all the attributes of a civilized
meal: it was hot, savoury, immediately comforting.

As I disposed of it at leisure—for it was scalding, and had, besides, in
an Epicurean way, to be husbanded as a relish to my portion of simple
loaf—I watched the rotund but brisk dame prepare another instalment of
the superior, or penny, brew against the next influx of customers. The
first _clientèle_ ‹it appeared in course of friendly if fitful
conversation› came about six o’clock—journeymen without a _ménagère_ at
home, on their way to their day’s task; or night-workers in the Halles,
on their way to morning sleep. The next one would begin soon—clerks,
workgirls, and small employés who have to be at their post about eight.
Then the demand for the penny bowl would rise afresh about noon.

To one who was even then tasting the full value of the finished product
the method of production had the interest of actuality, and was
otherwise enlightening. And, _pardi!_ it is worth recording, as an
instance of what could be done with raw material to the value of twelve
sous—less than sixpence—to provide twenty people with a savoury dishful
of broth and leave a distinct turnover of profit.

These—as far as I could judge—were about a score of medium-sized onions
of the more pungent kind ‹twopence, four sous or four cents›; half a
pound or thereabouts of butter, salt butter it is true, but your
Parisian insists wherever he can upon _cuisine au beurre_ ‹six sous›; a
ladle-full of flour ‹say one farthing, half a cent›; something like two
sous’ worth of stale bread, baker’s shop remnants. Leaving the cost of
firing out of consideration—and in thrifty ingenious French hands it
would be small—the return would be like thirty per cent. on the outlay.

As for the technique of the brewing, it was simple but elegant. The
sliced onions, fried in the butter at the bottom of the iron pot to a
pleasing sunset colour under the watchful eye of the matron, were at the
right moment powdered with the allowance of flour and stirred until the
suitable appetizing brown was achieved—“The flour is just to thicken the
_bouillon_, you understand, my lad,” the benevolent operator was pleased
to comment, noticing inquisitiveness.—Then, at the precise moment of
alchemic projection, the sliced shreds of bread were precipitated in the
caldron, and gently turned round with a wooden spoon to let them take
unto themselves all the unction of the butter, all the essence of the
succulent bulbs. And presently the whole thing was drowned under a
cataract of scalding hot water ‹some two gallons›. After a bubble or two
of boiling the combination was completed and the savoury caldron was set
aside upon a nest of smouldering ashes, ready against the next breakfast
seeker.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And the _escholier_, having absorbed the last crumb and the last
spoonful, hastened, greatly refreshed, by every conceivable short cut to
his heights of Montmartre—_Mons Martyrum_, by the way, some etymologists
insist on dubbing, in opposition to the _Mons Martis_ theory, in regard
that it was the site of the martyrdom of St. Denis, the French “Champion
of Christendom.”

[Sidenote: VIRGIL ON “DOGGIES”]

He was a trifle late—no doubt as a result of short cuts—and Mr.
Gilchrist proportionately stern, just at first. But the dear
enthusiastic teacher gradually mellowed under the influence of that
morning’s reading—the “Georgics,” most enchanting of all Garden Talk
volumes. The old scholar’s geniality had completely returned by the time
we reached that “doggy” passage of the Third Book beginning with “_Nec
tibi cura canum fuerit postrema_.”

I can still see him smiling confidently at me over the line, “Let not
thy dogs be the last of thy cares....” There was something prophetic
about it!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Here, two score of years later, as I dream of the past, lies Arabella
stretched by the fire, now and again heaving her great sighs of comfort.
Bettina, curled at my feet, looks up adoringly at the master and wags
her stump of tail whenever she meets his eye. As for Prince Loki, he has
commandeered the best deep armchair, where he lies flat on his back,
with front paws folded upon his bosom, and hind legs stretched out in
abandoned beatific fashion, snoring melodiously.... _Cura canum
postrema_, indeed!

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



XV


The Hyacinths are all out in the Dutch Garden. But alas, the winds of
March!—they grew and gathered and became a gale and laid some twenty of
our silver-blue soldiers prostrate. Their fat juicy stalks snap all too
easily. In the pots on the terrace wall, half have been swept away.
However, thanks to our close planting, only the eye of the initiate
could perceive the gaps. Right under the study windows there are still
twin lakes of exquisite pale sapphire, breathing fragrance.

[Illustration: outside in garden]

In the bank below the Dutch Garden, the Narcissus, which have been set
to the tune of two thousand, are swaying long lemon-coloured buds out of
a field of green spikes. There are, in that tongue of land, two Buddleia
trees which have grown to unusual height and girth and are a mass of
orange balls in due season. And there is a band of Iris to which we are
perpetually adding, but which, mysteriously, never seems to increase.
There is also a shrubby bit where you will behold a wild rose tree; two
nondescript flowering evergreens; a darling little Scotch Briar, one
mass of yellow Pompons, entrancing by their wild scent; those
disappointing bushes known as Altheas, so eulogized by garden
chroniclers; and a Rheum.

We planted the Rheum last year. This March it astonishes us by the leaf
buds it has produced. They are like stormy, sinister, crimson blossoms
with gaping yellow mouths, and look poisonous and tropical: altogether
out of place in a Surrey moorland—especially with the innocence of the
grey Lavender plant that grows beside them. What a thrilling thing a
garden is and how full of surprises!—do Rheums always do this, we
wonder?

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: CARPETS OF BLUE]

[Illustration: flower pot]

All the Compton pots along the terrace are filled with blue Hyacinths
and Forget-me-nots; all the beds about the house are stuffed with Tulips
and again Forget-me-nots. Now, some people ‹we read in a garden-book the
other day› eschew this plant, _Myosotis silvestris_, because “it spreads
so rapidly that it may almost be regarded as a weed.” We are the kind of
people who like our flowers to spread like weeds; especially when, as in
the case of this attractive sinner, every bed becomes a delicate cloud
of blue from which on long stems the Darwins rear their cups of
wonderful colour.

[Illustration: small flower]

A little later on, we mean to make the same use of Nemophila, which last
year, in spite of ceaseless rain, kept bravely blue in the patch where
it had been sown until quite the end of autumn.

Every one tells us that Madonna Lilies will not succeed in our soil. We
are making another effort with giant bulbs, which, so far, promise
splendidly.

[Illustration: flower]

Fate, in its unexpected way, has provided us with a double row of red
Duc van Thol Tulips on each side of the two little rose beds that run
down the grass slope under the bench yclept “_Schöne Aussicht_.” That
particular slope, by the way, in the pristine days of jungle, was the
worst bit of wilderness. Heather, Gorse, Bramble, Bracken and underwood
made it simply impenetrable. Now, cleared and turfed, it leads the eye
gently on to the Pine Tree Avenue; to the green of the fields beyond; to
the valley and the distant hills. In a triangular bed at the top a clump
of Lilac has been planted and carpeted beneath with “Bachelor’s
Buttons.” Already it is very gay, although the Lilacs are only in bud.
We believe these double Daisies go by another title in gardening
circles, but this is a name associated with youthful memories. They
ought to flourish the whole year round, since bachelors will always be
in season. We shall see.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There is nothing that gives one a more intimate sense of the joy of
spring than the renewed song of the birds. It is good to wake at early
dawn and hear the soft sleepy calls and cries with which they first
rouse each other, then the exquisite voice of thrush or blackbird,
singing as it were under its breath the morning hymn which is one of the
most touching things in Nature.

Just now a small bird was spinning out a monody as delicate and
continuous and attenuated as a spider’s gossamer—some feathered mother,
we fancy, cradling her eggs. We never heard any song quite like it
before. Adam shakes his head and says we are bringing the birds about
the house with our winter largesses; but one might as well be told that
if you want to keep your house tidy you should banish the children!

Says Victor Hugo:

       “_Préservez moi, Seigneur, préservez ceux que j’aime,
       Frères, parents, amis, et mes ennemis mêmes,
       Dans le mal triomphants,
       De jamais voir, Seigneur, la ruche sans abeilles
       La printemps sans oiseau, l’été sans fleurs vermeilles ...
       La maison sans enfants!_”

Substitute “_jardin_” for “_printemps_” and you have our views. We have
no children in this house, worse luck ... except the fur ones.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: CONCERNING CALIBAN]

Caliban, the garden man, has again broken his “pledge,” a little quicker
than usual this time, and we fear we must be firm and keep to our last
ultimatum—that unless he takes it afresh he will have to go. Caliban
always reminds us of a prehistoric man. Whenever one meets him he looks
exactly as if he had just reared himself upright from running on all
fours, and would drop down again immediately as soon as we are out of
sight. He has an excellent hard-working wife, and works very well
himself—until the last pledge has quite worn away. We are sorry for Mrs.
Caliban, the mother of three prehistoric babies: for we hear that
Caliban, in the philosophic language of the district, “knocks her about
a bit,” when he has had what he calls “his glass of beer.”—“You couldn’t
wish for a nicer husband, when he’s sober,” she vows, poor woman, and is
pathetically hopeful every time the oath of abstinence is administered!
It is dreadful how many bad husbands there are in this small district.
In another family the father is so well known that the mere mention of
his name is enough to stiffen the employer of labour.

    “_Dere Miss, my husband as been very unlucky and strained
    hisself again and ad to give up his work._”

Thus the poor wife starts the usual appeal when the inevitable has
occurred and there is no more bread in the house. We are quite
accustomed to these missives, which indeed might be stereotyped with
space left for the date. Although the brother of a local policeman, this
black sheep is altogether so hopeless, that, in order to keep his poor
little progeny from growing sable in their turn, we have placed a lamb
out here and there in divers charitable folds. Alfie, the last rescued,
is a more original letter-writer than his mother. This was the document
that he sent her from that happy Home for Little Boys where we trust he
will grow up with an unimpeachable fleece.

    “_Dere Mother,—I hope this finds you well. I hope James and
    Vilet and Alice are well and nice and good. This is a very nice
    place. I hope you will tell me when you are going to call that I
    may be in. God bless you._

                                            _“Yours trewly_,

                                                         “_ALFRED_.”

In yet another family, the head of which was in the habit of spending
ten or twelve shillings a week regularly on cigarettes and tipple, until
Nemesis overtook him in the shape of consumption, the pretty,
hard-working, fiery-haired Irish wife declares without a thought of
unkindness, that if she could only get him “out of the way for good” she
could “do all right” for herself and her three small children.

[Sidenote: THE VILLAGE CURSE]

If ever woman has a voice in social reform, though with a few glaring
exceptions legal interference with the liberty of the subject is
abhorrent to Loki’s Grandmother, and she has little wish herself for
suffrage or any other rage, she vows that she will vote and vote and
vote for any measure that may tend to eliminate the Public House from
the countryside—curse of the small home that it is! In every one of
these cases there would be comfort and happiness in the family were it
not for the perpetual temptation to the breadwinner.

The blacker the sheep, sad to say, the larger as a rule the family of
doubtfully hued lambs. Mrs. Mutton—the letter-writer—is “not so well
just now.” She is pathetically anxious that the new babe may be born
alive, having lost the last one. Loki’s Ma-Ma went to see her the other
day, and found her with a knowledgeable neighbour who has promised to
“see her through,” and in a state of profound gloom, not unmixed,
however, with a faint, pleasurable importance.

“Oh, Miss, we have just heard of such a sad thing in the village. The
nurse, she’s just been up to tell me—a pore young woman, Miss, gone with
her first!”

“Oh, dear!”—Loki’s Mother is duly impressed, but anxious to distract
Mrs. Mutton’s mind—“That is very sad. I hope you’re feeling pretty well
to-day, Mrs. Mutton?”

“No, Miss, I’m very poorly these days. Mrs. Tosher here says she’s never
seen any one like me. ‘What can it be,’ she says, ‘that makes you like
this?’ Don’t you, Mrs. Tosher?”

“Yes, my dear.”

“I fell agin the water-butt this morning,” goes on Mrs. Mutton, in the
melancholy drone that is habitual to her. “A kind of weakness it was
come over me. I hit my eye—something awful, Miss, as you can see!”

The signorina had been tactfully averting her gaze from that black orb;
she now blesses the superior tact which enables her to contemplate it
calmly.

Mrs. Tosher—a large, jovial, untidy female with a shrunken “blue cotton”
inadequately fastened by two safety pins across her capacious
bosom—gives a heavy but non-committal groan. Mr. Mutton’s name is not
mentioned. The water-butt explanation is accepted without demur.

“Of course, she’s ’ad a shock to-day, Miss, you see,” says the village
matron, and brings the conversation back to the original topic, which is
one of great attraction.

“Yes, Miss, it ’aving been just as it might be me, Miss.” Mrs. Mutton
sighs, and looks in a detached, if one-sided manner, out of the grimy
window. The visitor perceives there is nothing for it: she must hear the
details. Wisely she resigns herself.

“What happened?”

“Well, it was all along of two suet dumplings and some chops, Miss,
which wasn’t as they ought to have been, having been kept in the ’ouse
too long, you see. Wasn’t that it, Mrs. Tosher, my dear?”

“Yes, my dear, and some ’ard bits of parsnip.”

“But it was mostly the chops, Miss, they’d been kept, you see. The
doctors, they couldn’t do nothing for her.” Mrs. Mutton sighs and lifts
the fringe of her shawl to the damaged eye. Tragic as the tale is,
Loki’s Mother visibly brightens:

“But then the poor thing was poisoned,” she cries cheerfully.

“Yes, Miss, potomaine poison along of her condition, being the same as
mine, Miss.”

“But, Mrs. Mutton, anyone—”

“No, Miss.” Mrs. Tosher intervenes: she cannot allow this foolish
attempt at consolation to proceed. “The doctor said it was along of her
condition.”

“Yes, Miss, it’s the condition as done it—all along of a bit of
chop—kept like—and ’ard parsnips.”

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



XVI


A friend of ours once told us that a doubtful sister-in-law had written
describing the weather as “boysterious.” The word pleases us. It looks
so much more graphic, spelt thus, than in the ordinary way. Well, we are
having a “boysterious” time with shifting winds, this end of March. All
the poor Pheasant-eye’s leaves are bruised and drooping, and the little
field of Narcissus under the Buddleia trees is bent and tangled. To-day
Adam has rolled away six tubs filled with last year’s Hyacinths and put
them in the border before the rough wall in the front courtyard, against
which we have last autumn planted Wichuriana Roses in divers shades of
yellow and tawny, chiefly “Jersey Beauties.” A row of Polyanthuses,
“Munstead Strain,” are blooming in front. The Hyacinths are blue. The
effect ought to be pretty in a week or so. When the Hyacinths are over
we shall go back to the old pink climbing Geraniums for the tubs, and
they will, please Heaven, flourish from June onwards between our yellow
roses. We think we will plant pink Geraniums, but we are not quite sure,
for last year we had red “Jacobys” in those tubs, and very well they
looked. We should not at all object to them in contrast to the roses.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: HONEYSUCKLE AND BITTER APPLE]

Last night Loki’s Grandmother began to plan a new garden extravagance.
She finds it very soothing when sleep abandons her pillow. We have not
half enough Honeysuckle—that’s a fact. She thinks she will order a dozen
pots. She has also a desire to get a dozen Clematis, chiefly Jackmanni,
in the mauve and purple sorts, and plant them in their pots—the only
way, she believes, in which even the commonest sorts will grow in this
ungrateful soil. Honeysuckle, we know, thrives here. One summer we took
a house on a hill near this, a little house buried in a wood, and the
whole place was exquisite with the scent of Honeysuckle. It was grown
all about the house, and over archways in the garden. Horrid archways
made of wire they were: but it didn’t matter, the Honeysuckle was the
thing. We wanted all we could get of it, for there were other odours,
not at all so nice, that lurked about. The owner of the house, thrifty
soul ‹at least we suppose it goes with a thrifty soul›, waged war
against moths with _naphthalene_ and Bitter Apple, which are _anathema
maranatha_ to us. We have had our nights poisoned in a house in Scotland
with the reek of Bitter Apple in the blankets. We don’t know what
people’s noses are made of that they can voluntarily surround themselves
with such a pestilential atmosphere. The owner of the awful blankets
also keeps her furs with the same evil-smelling precaution; and we can
trace her entrance into the most crowded winter tea-party in London if
she has as much as passed up the stairs.

Besides Bitter Apple inside the honeysuckle-covered house, there was a
pig outside—not on the premises hired by us, but in the adjoining place,
where there was a school for little boys. When the wind blew from the
direction of that school, the garden was odious, Honeysuckle and all.
The first day we hoped it might be accidental. Then Saturday came, and
we suppose the odd man did a turn at the sty, for there was peace till
the next Tuesday, when the wind blew from the south again. Then Loki’s
Grandmother marched into the room of Loki’s Grandfather ‹there was no
Loki then, so he wasn’t a grandfather, but that is immaterial› and
dictated a letter to the schoolmaster. Loki’s Future Grandfather
protested. It is the kind of thing he hates doing. She drove him into
the garden to smell. He tried to say he couldn’t smell it. Then she
changed her tactics and hinted at insalubrity—a case of diphtheria in
the village, and the danger to Loki’s Future Mother. That had him. He
went in and sat down like a lamb. She dictated, as has been said. If
anyone wants to know the kind of letter in which to remonstrate upon a
neighbouring schoolmaster’s pigsty, he cannot do better than copy this
model:

[Illustration: pigsty]

    “_Dear Sir,—I must apologize for troubling you but I feel sure
    that you are unaware of the offensive condition of the pigsty
    which adjoins our garden—_”

“Offensive?” said Loki’s Grandpa doubtfully.

“Offensive,” said she firmly. “Offensive, you can’t put anything milder.
It’s disgusting, pestilential, a public nuisance.” “_There is so much
sickness in the district_—” she dictated on.

“Oh, I don’t think I need put that.” Loki’s Grandfather was getting
bored.

“You must,” said she; “that will fetch him more than anything. Isn’t he
a schoolmaster? If it gets about that he’s got an insanitary pig—”

Well, the letter was finished with this artful twist. It had the most
brilliant and unexpected results. Not only was the schoolmaster
profoundly grateful for having his attention drawn to the matter—and the
pigsty really was better ever after—but he expressed his gratitude in
the most effusive terms. And he and his whole family called, and we went
to tea in a thunderstorm at the school-house, which apparently had been
built the day before yesterday, for the plaster was so wet the whole
place steamed, and Loki’s Grandmother caught the cold of her life.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: RUMOURS OF THE PIG-FARM]

It is a very singular thing that in Ireland, the Padrona’s native land,
supposed, and with reason, to be very inferior in the matter of
cleanliness, the pig should be so much better cared for. Never have we
found the sweet airs of that beloved country impregnated with “_bouquet
de pigsty_” as they are in every farm here. Of course most of the pigs
in Ireland—nice, clean, intelligent, active creatures—roam cheerfully
about the roads all day, and share the family domicile by night. But
even on properties which own a separate habitation for the “gintleman
that pays the rint” it is swept and garnished for him in a manner seldom
seen over here.

In the particular region of Dorsetshire where Loki’s Great Aunt dwells
there is quite a pretty house and grounds nearly always tenantless by
reason of the pig-farm at the back. The farmer who kept the farm was
amazed and indignant when one of the passenger tenants remonstrated with
him and threatened him with the Sanitary Inspector. What if his pigs
were noticeable? “Pigs ain’t pizen,” he said. I dare say, to him, by
reason of associations with his bank account, they were sweeter than
violets.

Personally we should never keep pigs for choice, no matter how
interested we might be in farming. However we might insist on the
spotless condition of their dwelling-place, however affectionately we
might invite them to the frequent bath and rejoice at the clean pink of
their skins, the horror of the moment of inevitable parting would always
be before us.

A near relation of ours was the centre of a certain horrid little
anecdote, likewise connected with pigs, that is nevertheless humorous
enough. It happened in Dorset, in a picturesque manor-house, the walled
gardens of which abut on a comely, prosperous farm. One April morning
the air was rent with the agonizing clamours of protesting pigs; and
she, whose tender heart suffered with the pain of every animal, was rent
too with compassion.

“Oh, what,” she cried to her hostess, who was also her daughter, “what
can Mr. Boyt be doing to the poor, poor pigs? Oh! Polly, I’m afraid he’s
killing them!”

Polly was not at all sure in her own mind that this was not the case,
but she was stout in asseverations to the contrary.

“Oh, dear no, darling; nobody ever kills pigs this time of year. They’re
just cleaning out the sties, that’s all. You know what pigs are,
darling.”

In spite of a fresh and most dismal explosion, her mendacity rose equal
to the occasion; and her final statement, that she knew for a fact that
pigs weren’t half fattened yet, produced the intended effect, and the
dear visitor was convinced.

[Illustration: woman standing at entrance in wall]

[Sidenote: TIRING WORK]

Later in the day when all was stilled once more, and the lovely April
afternoon as full of country peace as it should be, the two went out and
down the lane; the guest in a donkey-chair and her daughter by her side.
To the latter’s discomfiture on their return they met the portly form of
Mrs. Boyt, emerging from the walled garden with an empty egg-basket.
Mrs. Polly was very anxious to skirmish the donkey-chair past with an
ingratiating and nervous giggle; but neither the donkey nor the lady in
the chair would fall in with her strategy. The lady in the chair had a
liking for Mrs. Boyt, and was amused at the thought of a little chat
with her; and the donkey, like all self-respecting donkeys, was bound in
honour to stop dead when it was most wanted to advance. Perhaps, too,
Mrs. Polly’s artfulness had aroused lingering suspicions, for the lady
in the chair was very firm:

“Good evening, Mrs. Boyt. ‹No, Polly, it’s not cold at all. No, I’m not
going in yet.› How is Mr. Boyt?”

“Mr. Boyt he be fairly, thanking you kindly, ’m. Of course he be a bit
tired this evening.”

Mrs. Polly, with a wild eye, intervened.

“I’m afraid it’s tea-time, darling. H’m—H’m—A beautiful evening—Mrs.
Boyt, my Mother was admiring the little calves—Come on, Bathsheba!”

In vain she clucked, in vain she pulled the reins; Bathsheba merely
twitched an ear. The clear voice from the bath-chair put all efforts to
turn the conversation on one side with a decision which swept her into
silence.

“Tired? Did you say your husband was tired, Mrs. Boyt?”

“Yes’m. Pigs be very tiring.”

“Pigs, Mrs. Boyt?—Oh! what was he doing with the poor pigs this morning?
He wasn’t—he wasn’t killing them?”

“Oh, ’ess ’m.” And, blind to the horror and disgust on her listener’s
face, Mrs. Boyt proceeded with unction:

“Beautiful pigs they was, six of them.”

“Oh, but he didn’t do it himself?”

“Oh, ’ess ’m.” Mrs. Boyt was much shocked. “We allus do it ourselves, I
do hold en, and Boyt he do stick en—very tiring it do be for us both!”

It was only Mrs. Polly who saw the humour of the situation in after
days. The beloved lady in the bath-chair remained overwhelmed with the
tragedy. It was not a subject that could be referred to again in her
presence.

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



XVII


[Illustration: house with smoke coming out of chimney]

How delightful it is to come back to our moors after London! Loki’s
Grandmother’s heart always sinks when the bricks and mortar begin to
spring up about the road, and the houses close in around her. Sometimes
she thinks that what weighs upon it is the sense of all those miles of
squalor; of all those hives of human misery; of all the sin and
suffering. Perhaps, however, she is influenced by mere distaste of the
crowd; displeasure in living one of a herd in a jostle of houses; the
ignominy of being a number in a row with undesired neighbours on either
side! Who would prefer to look on pavements, area railings and
lamp-posts; to listen to the roar and turmoil of a life one has no
ambition to share—a life vexing the peace of night and day, rather than
feast the eyes on cool green loveliness, on rolling moorland; the ear on
vast delicious silence or the choiring of windswept woods? How, in fact,
can anyone who has the choice live in town, instead of in the fair,
quiet, spacious country? One cannot feel one’s soul one’s own in London:
bits of it are perpetually escaping to join the giddy midge dance. The
individuality evaporates. But then—there are concerts, and Wagner’s
operas; and one’s own select friends and the interest of the great
intellectual movements! The splendid activities of life seem to pass one
by in the country. Well, we suppose, like everything else in existence,
one must take the see-saw as it comes, and accept the bumps for the sake
of the soaring. But we are always glad to come back to Villino Loki.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: A SCHEME OF AZURE AND TAWNY]

The discoveries one makes in the garden after ten days’ absence are
thrilling. The three rows of Thomas More Tulips under the dining-room
window are colouring to a glorious orange, and the Forget-me-nots
planted between them are showing little sparks of blue. The tawny
Wallflowers at the back are not all we could wish; but, even pinched as
they are, the effect of their many velvet hues is satisfactory. There is
a single row of double Tulips ‹Prince of Orange› at the edge of the bed,
between the Forget-me-nots. In a week or so, looking up the terrace,
there will be five lines of flame running gloriously out of the blue; a
sight to delight the eye, against the curious bronze purple the moor
wears just now.

The Scillas, which we thought were going to fail us, have been a
tremendous success, and still form pools of glowing blue round the
almond trees. Next year we intend to make a feature of Scillas. They are
such tiny bulbs that they can scarcely interfere with anything; and we
shall slip them in among the perennials in every corner, besides putting
more in the grass terraces. We are also going to run riot with
“Steeple-Jacks,” especially the light turquoise kind. They last an
immense time and are of a delicious tint. The long border of Campanelle
Jonquils that we have planted in what we call the “Bowling Green” are
drawn up as for a review, stiff and straight like little soldiers in
bright gold helmets. Next year we shall invest in three or four thousand
Daffodils for the rough places under the trees, and we mean to star the
banks with Primroses and Wild Violets.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We have made a vast improvement these days by turfing most of the walks,
and we now look out on a delicious sweep of green. The Lily Border and
its opposite neighbour, the tongue of land with the Buddleia trees and
shrubs, look infinitely more attractive thus set into the verdure. Great
clumps of yellow Polyanthuses and self-sown Forget-me-nots make it gay
while we are waiting for the Narcissus Poeticus, the Poppies, the Lilies
and other joys to break upon us. The field of mixed Narcissus under the
trees is going to be one sheet of blossom in a few days, blown about,
though they be, poor darlings, by these fierce and cruel winds. The
papers are full of exclamations over “winter in April”: so far our
high-pitched garden has stood it well. This is the advantage, we
suppose, of its natural backwardness.

We are now fired with the desire to turf the Dutch Garden; the path
under the second terrace, _i.e._ Blue Border, and also the path leading
from the Bowling Green, so that we shall look down on a succession of
green levels, each with its wealth of flowers. We want to make the whole
little place shine like a jewel out of the rough setting of the moor.

[Sidenote: TEMPTATION]

Talk of the zest of gambling! ’Tis impossible that it could more possess
the soul in defiance of purse and prudence than the garden mania. If
Loki’s Grandmother had hold of a cheque book ‹which she hasn’t› she is
afraid the family substance would flow away from month to month into
bulbs and blossoms, tubers and saxifrages, clumps and climbers; not to
speak of such prosaic but necessary accompaniments as loam, manures,
lawn-mixtures and “vaporisers.” She would build at least two new
greenhouses and double her garden staff. And perhaps after all she
wouldn’t be half as happy as she is. For she might be led into “named
novelties,” and garden rivalries, and splendours of artificial rockeries
where in the centre of vast beds of slag some microscopic curiosity no
larger than a spider would spread a fairy claw in the shadow of a
monstrous label. Perhaps she might be bitten with an unwholesome passion
for Orchids, and spend the portion of her only child, and all the fur
grandchildren, on the devilish attractions of those plants which are, we
are convinced, flowers of evil.

Just now her last extravagance has been to order three and six worth of
White Honesty at ninepence a dozen, to plant in among the new
Rhododendrons; and she is suffused with satisfaction at the prospect of
anything so cheap and charming. We recommend the effect, discovered
quite accidentally.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We have really abominable weather. It is very unusual.

                        “Oh, to be in England,
                        Now that April’s there!”

is an aspiration justified as a rule by a tender interlude between the
tantrums of March and the asperities of May. Last year April came in
skipping like a kid on the Campagna, even its freakishness full of
attraction. Is anything more charming than to see the kids playing among
the flocks, as one drives along those roads of haunting and mysterious
beauty—under that sky incomparable in its gem-like purity; to see the
shepherd in his sheepskin seated on a fence with his legs
cross-bandaged, the shrill pipe to his lips; to hear his wild strain and
know that it was all just the same a thousand years ago and more? The
kids, as they leap out of the scattered flocks, are cut against the blue
as on some classic frieze; the tawny, melancholy plain falls and rises
and falls again till the hills amethystine, snow-capped, close the field
of vision in the far distance! The broken line of an aqueduct gleams as
if golden.

                        “To be in Italy,
                        Now that April’s there!”

Loki’s Grandmother believes she would give up her country and Villino
Loki, and expatriate herself for ever gladly. But Italy is not
expatriation, it is the home of the soul. ‹Loki’s Grandpa says he quite
admits all that—but that for a permanency he prefers his Surrey hills.›

The fires on the Campagna are rose-carmine as the pointed flames pulsate
upwards. Our fires here are only just the usual yellows. Where is it
that Italy holds the secret? Is it in the translucence of the
atmosphere? How the sunlight there lies on a common plaster wall! How
the stone flushes! Just a little white Villino on a hill-side stands in
a radiance of its own, and is not white at all but topaz coloured!

                  *       *       *       *       *

To-day, the fifteenth of April, has been as grey and bleaching a day
here as we never wish to meet again. Even the spears of the Narcissus
are bruised and drooping.

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



XVIII


Mrs. Mutton, poor soul, has had a dead infant. It is perhaps scarcely to
be wondered at, as she had another encounter with the water-butt shortly
before the event; but she is as much “taken-to” as if she had been
hoping to bring an heir-apparent into a realm of splendour. The doctor,
to console her, asked her hadn’t she plenty already.

“I did think it unkind of him, Miss! It does seem ’ard! I did so seem to
long for this one to live!”

We had a confidential conversation with the experienced matron who was
ministering to her, and we mentioned the water-butt with some severity.
But Mrs. Tosher would have none of this. Hers is a large mind
philosophy:

“Ho! well, you see, Miss, it’s just as it takes them. I don’t say as
Mutton isn’t a bit fond of his glass; but after all, Miss,” she smiled
indulgently, “you must remember he was a bit upset-like. It isn’t as if
there ’adn’t been a reason. When ’e ’eard there was going to be another,
it turned ’im against ’er. Of course, poor feller! That was only to be
expected like—”

“Good Heavens!”

Mrs. Tosher smiled more broadly than ever at our innocence.

“Some men do take it very ’ard!”

Words failed us. We could not reason upon such a point of view.

At the bottom of the garden the “little cot,” as Mrs. Adam calls it,
which she and her husband have made so pretty, has been the scene of a
similar domestic event which makes the contrast still more poignant. A
little Eve, in fact, has been born into our small garden of Eden. She
has received a joyful welcome. That most attractive child, black-eyed
Adam Junior, with the mysterious intuition of childhood had recently
been bombarding heaven for a little sister. He is now thrilled and
triumphant at the success of his prayers. We personally are quite
pleased with the addition to the _famiglia_.

[Illustration: view of house from garden]

We wonder whether it is because of the Italian atmosphere that has so
unaccountably descended on Villino Loki that we and our establishment
are really falling into relations not unlike those which so happily
subsist between master and servant in Italy. The Master is not master,
but Father-in-chief; the servant are not servants, but members of his
family—the _famiglia_.

We were afraid our last winter in Rome had spoilt us for English ways.
We had a delightful famiglia there. Fioravanti di Rienzo, the pearl of
cooks; Camillo Lanti, the clever, busy, and quite reasonably peculating
butler; and Aristide ‹surname unknown›, the superb coachman, all begged
with tears to come back to England with us.

“Take but a postcard,” cried Camillo, “and write upon it ‘Camillo,
come,’ and instantly I start.”

[Illustration: man in trees]

“Will ever anyone drive the Excellencies as I drive them?” Aristide
demanded. “I would learn the ways of Londra in a day—two days. To learn
the ways of Londra, that would be nothing; but to drive another family,
that I feel I cannot ever again!”

[Sidenote: A FEARFUL DREAM]

It was Fioravanti whom we loved the most, and whom we did really try to
get over to us later. But it was a case of binding engagements on one
side and the other. He had given his word, as a man of honour, to remain
a year with his new family, and we were pledged to some new cook at the
moment when he was free. So it all came to nothing—which was perhaps
just as well. He was a choleric little man. Loki’s Mamma dreamt he
stabbed the kitchen-maid and buried her in the garden, which was not at
all an unlikely thing to happen, for, like Vatel, his dishes were his
glory, his honour was bound up in them, and the race of Cinderellas in
this land would inflame the blood of such an enthusiast.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: ROMAN MEMORIES]

This is not to say that all Italian servants are like those three. We
had some very thrilling experiences in the shape of Roman rascality
during our first weeks of housekeeping there. After the odd custom we
had one woman servant to three men; and, as the genus housemaid does not
exist at all in many parts of the Continent, we had extreme difficulty
in procuring a _donna di faccenda_. We had a whole large house in the
Via Gregoriana, and it was imperative we should have something female to
scrub its bedrooms and bathrooms.—Scrub? It is not a word you could get
any Roman to understand the meaning of, much less put into application;
but still we had to get somebody to sweep the dust into the corner or
under the rug, and pass an occasional wet rag languidly round the rim of
a bath. Loki’s Ma-Ma, being the Italian scholar of the family, engaged
the staff. She was enchanted with the appearance of a splendid young
girl from the Campagna, with cheeks like ripe nectarines, and a
coroneted black head. Alert and brisk as a mountain kid, she seemed to
us. Alas! who could have thought it? The creature was a bacchante! She
ordered in a cask of wine all for herself, and then ran out the second
evening and never came in till the next morning. Having danced with
Bacchus all night, she was altogether unfit for any Christian habitation
in the morning. It may be all very well to sleep off the red fumes on a
thymy bank in a pagan world; but it’s not at all poetical or attractive
at close quarters within four walls! A sordid, pitiful, revolting
business! And the happy mountain kid, who proved after all to be only a
bad little gutter goat, had to be driven forth when the legs that had
caracoled so much were able to crawl again.

Aristide had a profile like the head of a philosopher on a Roman coin.
He was a magnificent driver. We had a pair of powerful, fiery Russian
horses, and they wanted all his skill. Whenever they took to
plunging—and when they did so they struck sparks out of the stones and
filled the street with the thunder of their hoofs—Aristide’s method of
reassuring “his family” was invariably to gather the reins in one hand
and blow his nose with great _désinvolture_ with the other. He always
turned sideways to do this, flourishing an immense pocket-handkerchief,
as one who would say: “Behold! how calm I am!... Have no fear!”

Only on the occasions when we discarded our carriage for the use of a
motor was the harmony disturbed between Aristide and ourselves. He would
droop on his box for days afterwards and take the characteristic Roman
revenge of declining to shave.

Loki’s Grandmother developed a sudden and violent attack of influenza on
one of these motor expeditions, and had to be conveyed home in a
collapsed condition.

“Ah,” said Aristide, “if Mamma had been with me, this would not have
happened! Autos are nasty feverish things.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

We were very sorry to leave our Roman house, with its delicious
proximity to the Pincio. It was a very old house, with a round marble
staircase, deep-grilled windows, and a delightful tiled inner courtyard
filled with green, where a fountain splashed day and night—a courtyard
into which the sunshine literally poured. A great many of the objects
which now give us pleasure at Villino Loki we placed originally in that
double drawing-room which the owners of the house had left in somewhat
denuded condition.

[Sidenote: ORANGES AND ALMOND BLOSSOM]

[Illustration: orange tree in pot]

The gardener of the Barberini Palace kept us supplied with hired plants.
Never have we seen Azaleas or Orange trees grown like those, with such
exquisite artistic freedom. We had a Tangerine tree that was a complete
joy. This arrangement worked beautifully for the first month. But
unfortunately the gardeners, father and son, were professed anarchists
and, when they were in their cups, their ethical principles overcame
their business sense. Loki’s Grandmother had one day to stand by
helplessly while Loki’s Ma-Ma was cursed and vituperated in a foam of
vulgar Italian for innocently requesting to have a faded Azalea
replaced. Not being able to speak Italian herself, she could not come to
the assistance of her more talented daughter.... And both felt
ignominiously inclined to cry!... Alas! that any spot so beauty-haunted
should have been desecrated by such coarse and stupid passions! Those
gardens of the Barberini, with their Lemon groves and Orange groves; the
lush grass filled with Narcissus and Violets, and, in the Roman way,
with water dripping from every corner; with the bits of columned wall
and the statues and the three great stone pines against the blue sky! It
is all Italy in one small enclosure.

We moved from the Pincian Hill to much less interesting quarters; but,
with the luck that followed us all through that happy time, quite close
to the Borghese gardens. There we had a black-and-white tiled
dining-room and a long drawing-room all hung with pearl grey satin and a
wonderful Aubusson carpet. And when the room was filled with almond
blossom there were compensations for the exiguity of our accommodation.
The lady who was obliging enough to accept us as her tenants ‹for a rent
that filled our Roman friends with horror at our profligate
extravagance›, although bearing a noble Austrian name, it was darkly
whispered, had a commercial origin. Her businesslike spirit certainly
showed itself in her transactions with us; for neither blankets, nor
cooking utensils, nor the necessary glass and china were forthcoming, in
spite of magnificent assurances.

“What will you?” said Fiori, our beloved little chef, shrugging his
shoulders, “_Sono Polacchi!_” “The Countess,” he informed the young
housekeeper, “sent in her maid, and I showed her the few poor pans, the
miserable couple of pots she expected me to do with. ‘Is it not enough?’
she cried. ‘Enough?’ I answered. ‘Enough perhaps for your lady, for a
service that is content with an egg on a plate, or one solitary cutlet!
But my noble family must be nobly served.’”

[Illustration: man with apron]

Excellent Fiori, he used to trot upstairs every night to receive his
orders, clad in the most spotless white garments and a new white paper
cap, which he doffed with a superb gesture on entering the room. Upon
receiving a well-deserved compliment, he would spread out his small fat
hands and bow profoundly, exclaiming, “My duty, Excellency, only my
duty!”

In one single instance was his entire content in our establishment
clouded; that was when, in a moment of abstraction, he forgot to send up
a dish of young peas—the first in the market—which he had prepared with
his own superlative skill, and adorned with a pat of fresh butter
whipped to a cream at the top: “_All’Inglese_,” he called it. We believe
he spent the evening in tears, and he could not speak of it next day
without emotion.

“Useless, useless, to try and console me, Excellency,” he exclaimed. “I
am profoundly humiliated, I shall never get over it!”

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



XIX


[Illustration: _The Blue Border._]

The warm weather has come with a burst in this last week of April. We
have torn ourselves away from Villino Loki to London pavements. The
Floribunda trees are covered with red buds. We expect a glory when we
return. Loki’s Great Aunt has presented his family with twenty-five
shillings worth of purple Aubretia, with which ‹much to Adam’s
annoyance› we have decided to carpet the blue border. The Blue Border,
we think, is under some evil bewitchment. Our late gardener assured us
that no “human gardener” could find room for another plant. Yet it was
the only border in the garden that “came up bald,” if one can use such
an expression. Perhaps we had too much initiative and he too little; a
combination bound to result in failure sometimes, if it is accompanied
on one side by plunging ignorance, and on the other by “slowness of
intellect, Birdie, my dear.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

To come back to one’s garden in April after ten days of strenuous London
is a wonderful little experience for people who care for the pure joys
of the young green and the spring flowers.—There is an indescribable
panorama of woodland beauty on the hills opposite Villino Loki. A great
marching regiment of pines, straggling upwards, emphasize the tints of
birch and larch—tints which no pen, hardly any brush, could portray. The
very sunlight seems caught and sent forth again from the pale yet vivid
sheen. The White Broom is pearled with bud; in a few days it will burst
into bloom and toss plumes as of some fantastic, fairy knighthood above
the yew hedges that enclose the Dutch Garden.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The dogs’ welcome to their lost masters and to Loki ‹who, of course,
always accompanies his family wherever it goes› is very genuine, and
rather obstreperous. Bettine runs in and out of the room, up and down
the furniture, as if in joyful pursuit of imaginary rats. Arabella, fond
and foolish as ever, tries to crawl into everybody’s lap. Being about
the size of a young calf, these blandishments are not encouraged. Loki,
little Fur-man, as we call him, has a different way of expressing his
feelings. True, he runs about and yelps rapture to the other dogs; but
he sobs and cries like a child on reunion with any of his own, and half
swoons with rapture in our arms. Sometimes it seems as if the love in
his heart were too big for his little flame-coloured body, and must
burst it in the endeavour to express his joy!

[Sidenote: MISUNDERSTOOD CANDOUR]

Loki is always very bumptious and pleased with himself in London—being
Only-dog there—but he cannot bear visitors beyond a certain limit.
Friends who come to tea are very much touched and charmed at the sight
of the “dear little dog” going from one to the other, sitting up and
waving his paws with frantically imploring gesture.

[Illustration: dog waving paws at seated visitor]

“Sweet little fellow—what can he want?” they say, and vainly offer
tit-bits from the tea-table. Loki’s Grandparents of course cannot
answer, “He begs you to go away”—but such unfortunately is the true
explanation. He sneezes with rapture when the door is closed on the last
departing guest: he then is able to lead his Grandmother upstairs for
the evening romp. His Grandmamma has weak health, which is no doubt the
reason why he has fixed on her as the only person who understands the
true inwardness of his games. They are very exhausting to mere humans,
and he has a great deal of cat perversity in his composition. He spent
the whole time of a recent dinner-party sitting upon a chair in full
view of the company, ceaselessly begging with prayerful paws; “Oh do, do
go away!” As usual he evoked a great deal of undeserved
sympathy—meanwhile his tactful family held their peace.

Bettine is growing into the hobbledehoy stage. A few weeks ago it was an
entrancing spectacle to see her playing with a butterfly on the moor. It
was a yellow butterfly, and we think it must have understood the rules
of catch-who-catch-can, for it fluttered along just ahead of the white
puppy’s nose. It was a little vision of youth and spring to snapshot for
the gallery of mental memories. Loki’s female relations, who are given
to transcendental discussions, sometimes wonder whether in the next
world they will be vouchsafed these dear small pleasures which make up
the best of life down here. Unless we find our animals there, there will
certainly be something missing. Surely there are flowers in Heaven, and
birds—why not those faithful creatures in which a soul seems so often
struggling into birth?

[Sidenote: HEAVEN, AND OUR BEASTS]

“My little god, my little god!” Maeterlinck makes the dog say to his
master. It is certain that man, in making the dog his companion, has in
some sort endowed him with spiritual faculties. And it is this piteously
loving, confiding, blindly adoring, dumb creature that has been selected
by the “master minds” of the day as the chief victim for the horrors of
scientific research!

Indeed, that humanity should thus use its God-given dominion over the
helpless lower order of creation is an idea so hideous that it can only
have emanated from the Powers of Darkness. All the glib arguments that
this animal torture benefits suffering man seem to us as much beside the
mark as they are immoral. Almost every crime can be justified by some
such theory, from the century-old customs of child exposure in China to
the modern Suffragette outrages. And already the boundaries on this
speculative field have been extended so as to include members of the
community whose defencelessness or unimportance preclude unpleasant
reprisals. How many unfortunate patients, for instance, are quite
unnecessarily operated upon in our great hospitals? Within our narrow
personal experience we have known cases where life has been absolutely
sacrificed to the “knife mania.”

Loki’s Grandmother, who feels very strongly on this subject, has always
wanted to write an article giving chapter and verse of the facts. She
would have headed her instructive pages with the title “Killing no
Murder;” but she knows no magazine would publish them because of the
storm it would raise.

During a recent severe illness of hers, one of her nurses, whom she used
to call her “ministering devil,” was very fond of entertaining her—at
moments when the patient was too weak for speech—with the hopes which
many eminent men of science now entertain of being able, some day, to
get a bill passed permitting vivisection on the condemned criminal!

Why speak of such abominations in these pages dedicated to kind, happy
days and sweet garden thoughts? Only for this reason—that it is the
policy of ignoring, of cowardly turning away from unpleasant subjects,
on the part of the great majority of the world that makes the thing
possible at all.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: bird flying outside house]

One of the first orders we give a new gardener is that nothing is to be
slain at Villino Loki except the Green Fly and the Rose-Beetle. The
birds may devour all our buds, strip up our crocuses, and denude our
raspberry canes ‹if they get a chance›. The mole may tunnel and burrow
and raise his convulsive mounds in our most cherished lawn—and that is
certainly a test of garden endurance—we will have no traps! As for the
squirrels, we are afraid we have cleared too much in our wilderness to
tempt them now. But one of the family actually bought little green
tables in order to spread repasts for them near their favourite haunt.

In certain wild corners of Dorsetshire squirrels become almost familiars
in such households as are kindly enough to set forth a dainty, now and
again, for the frolicsome company. One understanding person of our
acquaintance was given to spreading nuts on a certain window-sill, where
every day the squirrels used to come and fetch them. One morning she was
a little later than usual in this attention; on coming into the room,
she was startled by a knocking on the window, and there on the sill sat
a thing, all fur and bright eyes, knocking with its fairy paw! We think
Loki has a good deal of the squirrel in him. There are no end of nice
little beasts that Loki resembles. Sometimes we declare that he is least
of all dog.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE WILD PATCH]

[Illustration: flowering plant]

It is a wonder that people do not make more use of Broom in their Wild
Gardens. We have seen a woodland path where great bushes of alternate
white and yellow Plantagenista made riot in the sunshine; but it was too
regular an arrangement to harmonize with scene. A wild garden, however
cultivated secret, should grow as naturally as possible. It is a rather
interesting experiment to fling the contents of a packet of wild flower
seeds about one’s banks and unkept spaces. One forgets all about it;
and, behold! after the second year, there are all kinds of engaging
discoveries to be made: patches of grey-blue Campanulas, bold Foxgloves,
Loose-strife, white Campions, all the more delightful because forgotten
and unexpected and fitting into their surroundings as no amount of
planting in can make them do. A giant Mullein has just made itself a
home under the fir-trees and stands as if it had always been there,
boldly and defiantly established in its proper place and determined to
maintain it.

We caress the project of planting tall Ericas and Mediterranean Heaths
on the borders of a certain rough path; and in between the Heather we
shall make drifts of Colchicum, so that it may look lovely in all
seasons. We do not consider that Colchicum is properly placed in the
garden. Its summer leaf is too coarse, and it is hideous when it dies
off. Mrs. Earle has made the same remark in one of her delightful books.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: VISCOUNTESS, AND OTHERS]

It will be very interesting to see how the new Roses turn out. A good
many were ordered on the strength of the catalogue description, from
three different rose growers. Hybrid Perpetuals do not do with us;
neither do pure Teas stand our cold, otherwise we should riot in “Lady
Hillingdon.”

“You never can go wrong with a Viscountess,” said his gardener to a
friend of ours.

He was a man of lightning wit—as all lovers of “Savoy” operas know.

“That is a very interesting statement of yours,” he said in that brief,
unsmiling manner that added zest to his quaintness. “I have been given
to understand the contrary.”

We can go wrong with a Viscountess, unfortunately, and do. As we have
said, Hybrid Perpetuals do not behave well with us, except, perhaps,
that model of excellence, Ulrich Brunner.—Morals are a question of
climate even with roses.

Loki’s Ma-Ma ‹to be discursive—and we are afraid that this chronicle is
nothing if not discursive› was a great favourite with this genius of
mirth above mentioned, who made the world ring with honest laughter and
whose heroic death brought many tears, at least to Villino Loki. He used
to call her “his little Lemur” because she had a way of clinging to her
mother, in her first debutante days.

Never was there a man so tender-hearted. On his estate no wild thing was
to be robbed of its life: not even a rabbit. Loki’s Grandmother used to
be a little timid in his company, because of this gift of swift humour.
She never felt able to meet him on his own ground—except once when in a
windy June he told her that he had begun to take his daily swim in the
lake, and she shuddered at the thought.

“Cold!” he cried, “not a bit of it! Delightful! You shall take a dip
with me when next you come to us.”

“No,” she retorted—and it was the only time in all their pleasant
intercourse that she was ever brave enough to make a pass with him—“No,
I had rather get into hot water with you.”

Alas, alas! That lake! We felt the menace of it even then. It was there,
trying to save another, he found his death.

It has often been said that real wit is a thing of the past. Certainly
the younger generation’s idea of pleasantry is a kind of
rough-and-tumble fight as compared to the neat, delicate thrust-play of
an older world. But this friend of ours had a gift quite apart, a
mixture of humour, wit and satire, something dry, comic, quaint,
peculiarly his own.

“It reminds me,” said a clever relation of his once in our hearing, “of
an old wood carving.”

We understood what he meant; the odd angles, the sharp turns, the
simplicity, the brusque sincerity—and withal how richly genial!

In a single instance one of us beheld him almost meet his match, and
that in a most unexpected manner. The pretty fairy lady, his wife,
happened to comment with surprise upon the fact that a woman who had
been very rude to her should have attempted to greet her upon a recent
occasion as if nothing had happened.

“She actually held out her hand!” she concluded.

“Well, my dear,” observed her lord, in his serious way, “that is the
member most usually extended.”

To the surprise of the whole table, a shy lady on his left, who had not
yet uttered a word, said in a small meek voice: “She might have put out
her tongue!”

We never met that shy woman again. We should like to. “Please will you
keep your Pickle out of my preserves,” he wrote to a neighbour whose dog
was given to roving. The neighbour bore a name well known in grocers’
lists.

                  *       *       *       *       *

For two days the wind has been blowing over the moors from the east. The
sound of it through the trees on the hill-side is like the roar of a
torrent; and now and again it is like the wash of waves upon the beach.
A very unseasonable wind, but it makes a grave and beautiful music.
Fortunately the Dutch Garden with its wealth of Tulips is sheltered, or
there would scarce be left an unbruised petal.

People are very much struck by our beds of Myosotis, surmounted by the
swaying chalices of the Darwins. The simple plan of the blue carpet for
these slender May Queens seems to them very wonderful and new.

[Sidenote: OAKS AND BLUE GLADES]

“Oh, look! What’s happened? Is it real? It’s like fairyland!” cried a
visitor yesterday to a sympathetic sister.—Such kind people to walk
about the garden with! They have themselves a mysterious Oak wood,
falling away beneath their lawns, that is now carpeted with Bluebells: a
place to sit and dream in. Oaks are trees full of romance, we think.
They tell long stories out of the past, and speak of Shakespeare and the
glories of England, and their glades are for ever peopled with brave
figures of history or fiction.

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

[Illustration: THE BEECH]

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



XX


Beeches, on the other hand, have a kind of fairy glory about them that
does not seem to belong to our land. We drove through a beech forest the
other day; the road went up zigzagging to the top of a steep hill, and
one looked down upon the Beech glades, all golden green in a fierce
sunburst between two showers. And they were still dripping with the
rain. It was wonderful, but not English, distinctively English, like
that Oak wood. It was a _Märchen-Wald_. Siegfried might have strode
through it, blowing his horn: youth incarnate, leaping out of Mime’s
cave to conquer the world. On the inspiration of such a haunt was the
_Wald-Musick_ conceived.

[Sidenote: MAY AND SEPTEMBER MOODS]

If we had a dwelling for every different mood, a log-house at the top of
that Beech ravine would suit us very well in a sunny month of May.
Between the great smooth boles of the trees we would want to peep out at
the flat wide land, with the rich far woods below, misty in the
sunshine; and the distant moors as with the bloom of the grape upon
them. We would not want flowers; nothing but that heavenly green of the
young leaves against the blue; and the whispering and the swaying of the
boughs to cradle our souls; and the thrushes and blackbirds to sing the
dawn in and the twilight out! How holy and innocent and loving would
one’s mind become after a week in that log hut—a week alone, or with
one’s best beloved!

[Illustration: landscape with clouds]

After we came out from that Beech wood we took a wrong turning, and
landed ourselves far out on the downs instead of back to our moors. Now,
for another mood—say, a warm, still, serene September mood—why not a
small stone house in a high hollow of those downs, miles removed from
any other human habitation? Just a stone house dumped in the hollow—pale
grey, so as not to offend the eye in that stretch of bleached vastness,
with a group of Thorns at the back and nothing else, not even a path;
only a long way off, the vision of a white ribbon of road, looping and
twisting, running to the sea. No flowers but the little wild, stiff,
aromatic things that push up through the short turf. Overhead, one or
two quite round, white clouds, sailing along the blue, caught by some
high current that hardly touches us below—the kind of cloud that you see
in an old German print. And all about, as far as the gaze can encompass,
nothing but the dip and rise, the scoop and billow of the downs; and the
hollows, blue on that wonderful sun-steeped, warm, yet bleached expanse.
And the shadows of the clouds, running along across it; and perhaps a
lark’s song, somewhere not too close, beaten back to earth from an
unseen height of joy; and far, far away, the tinkle of a sheep-bell!
Would not one’s soul expand with the grand silence and the glorious wide
spaces? One would not want to hear or behold the sea, only to taste the
salt of it in every breath. Now does it not seem that up there, sitting
outside that stone house, you would touch the prehistoric past? Or,
rather, that the great eternity, the never-dying essences of things,
would sink into your little passing bit of humanity? Your soul would
mirror all infinity.—A place to turn Buddhist in!

[Sidenote: A TUSCAN VILLINO]

[Illustration: house on hill]

There was a pink Villino on the unusual side of Rome. You looked in upon
it through high gates into a tangle of garden, where everything seemed
to riot. It had an odd, incongruous tower from which you could surely
have a vast prospect of the plains of the Campagna and the Alban
mountains beyond. There was an archway in one side of it through which
one certainly drove into some inner courtyard of delight. That little
habitation you might covet with a covetousness that gave you a pain in
your heart. We did.

And outside Florence, too, there was another small house. It had been
once a farm. A certain great lady had her spring quarters there, liking
the contrast, we suppose, between that and the old Scotch castle where
Fate had planted her. We drove to tea with her there ‹early May it was›
through the hot, wind-swept, noisy Florentine streets. It was just the
time of year when the Iris was flooding the land with its penetrating
and yet not sickly sweetness. There never was any scent so perfect. And
the small pink roses were flinging themselves over the tops of tall
garden walls, as if the prodigal Italian springtide had been at its full
and left a foam of bloom behind it. Up, up the mountain road, between
uncompromising walls and out into the freer country—and there was the
farmhouse! Its garden has left an odd blurred impression on our minds:
vaguely—a path bordered by lush grass and gay with Apple trees—there was
a storm brewing, and all was black overhead; under the weird sky the
delicate blossoms took a curious vividness like minute paintings.

One had to go across a red-brick kitchen to get to the stairs that led
to the two long, quaint, cool rooms, in the farther of which the hostess
sat.

[Sidenote: LANDSCAPE ECSTASY]

She had kept the charm of simplicity there. Plain white walls and rather
empty spaces, with bits of Italian black oak, and a painting or two; a
vase of lilac, a dim missal warmth of colour in the Persian carpets that
lay on the bricks—that was the picture. A very pleasant impression those
rooms made, with the old great lady in her high-backed chair, clad in
flowing black satin and with a white lace that framed a face as fresh as
the apple blossom without. The storm broke as we sat there. She was
nervous, and so were some of her visitors; therefore she had the wooden
shutters closed. Perhaps she was not really frightened, for she was as
sturdy a Scotchwoman as ever we beheld, and her bright blue eye was
stern in spite of her affability. Perhaps she only compassionated the
nerves of her guests. Be it as it may, we sat an hour while the thunder
rolled bars of sound over our heads and the wind whistled and the rain
hissed and roared down the valley, and the lightning kept a perpetual
play between the chinks of the shutters. And though Loki’s Grandma
generally gibbers during a thunderstorm, she never enjoyed an hour more,
so delightful was her hostess and so fascinating the sense of isolation
and strangeness, being thus shut away amid the fury of the elements in a
little Italian farmhouse! And when the tempest was grumbling itself off
in the distance, the shutters were all thrown back and the doors on the
square wooden balcony opened. The air rushed in, vivifying, full of the
scent of the earth and charged with ozone and perfumes. We went out on
the dripping balcony, and never, oh! never can any of us forget the
vision! For below the _casa_ the land dropped away, and it was all
vineyards; and they rose and dipped and rose again, a sight no one has
ever beheld out of Italy. And beyond were the mountains; and the whole
wide valley was filled with mist and all of it was stained rose and
crimson from the sunset.

You may not believe it, you who read it, but it is a fact that the
valley was carmine up to the balcony, indescribably shot with the fires
of the West—a steaming cauldron of glory! That is the kind of vision one
carries gratefully to one’s grave.

For a long time we vowed that our old age would see us, like the Scotch
Dowager, steeping our being in the joys of Spring in a farmhouse outside
Florence.—But now we don’t know. Villino Loki has laid hold of us; it is
our real home, the rest are but dreams.

The Master of the House saw this morning a tiny Golden-crested Wren
fluttering from stem to stem of the tall Darwin Tulips to pick at the
Forget-me-nots below; and every time it pecked it twittered with joy, so
light a thing that it scarcely swayed the slender stalks—a fairy vision.

[Illustration: path through garden to house]

                  *       *       *       *       *

The Hemicycle, where the grass must be allowed to grow lush, because of
the bulbs, until the leaves “ripen off,” is none the less attractive on
that account. There are eight little square beds, each containing a
weeping standard—“Dorothy Perkins” or “Stella”—thickly planted below
with Forget-me-nots and Bybloemen Tulips. Between the beds there is a
large red pot also filled with Forget-me-nots and Bybloemen. The Tulips
have a kind of wild grace, coming out of the long grass; and Myosotis,
darling little creature, accommodates herself in every surrounding.
There is a pretty, stemmed fountain, or rather bird-bath; in its centre,
where, in a basin shaped like a spreading lotus flower, a sturdy _putto_
astride a dolphin blows soundless blasts. This half-circle of vivid
beauty, with the young green grass, the swaying Tulips, the blue of the
Forget-me-nots against the moor is good to look upon.

Beyond the Hemicycle, the Azalea Glade runs down now in lines of
orange-rose and creamy-salmon, bordered too with Forget-me-nots. Up
against it the cool silver of a great Service-tree comes just where it
makes a perfect background; and beyond that again the rivulets of blue
in the Reserve Garden lie deep below.

[Sidenote: TRANSIENT COLOUR GLORIES]

This is the hour of our garden’s glory. No Delphinium muster, no
spreading garlands of Roses, can equal the exquisite freshness, the
fulness of life of this May world. With the Brooms, white and yellow;
with the pink foam of the Floribunda trees, the incomparable gold and
green of the Beech and Birch, one wants to put one’s arms round the
little place and kiss it.

“So much work, so long and great a travail of nature,” said a friend to
us to-day; “ever since November, preparing for this wonderful revelation
of bloom ... and all for so short a span! All this beauty scarce reaches
its climax but it is already on the wane!”

Perhaps it is to give us an idea of the permanence of what “eye hath not
seen” beyond, that its glories are described in terms of jewels; and yet
so perversely is one made that it is the very fragility that endears
here below—a sense of the fleeting moment that gives ecstasy its finest
edge. No, this limited humanity of ours cannot conceive the infinitude.
It is only with those perceptions which transcend the senses that one
gets a gleam, a hint, a possibility of once understanding. The restless
mind of man for ever demands and creates change, but the soul aspires to
immutability.

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

[Illustration: SUMMER]

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



XXI


[Sidenote: END OF SPRING, SUMMER PLANS]

The last day of May. After the usual “contrariness” of life we have
spent the hot span in London, and returned here to find that ungenial
nor’west wind blowing in upon us apparently over the same icebergs as a
month ago. We think with wails of regret of the long, golden, balmy
garden-days we missed; of the full glory of the Azaleas; of those
splendours of Rose Tulips which we should have enjoyed, radiant in the
sunshine, instead of seeing them yawn their lives away in a hot town
drawing-room. And the Florentina Alba Irises, those delicate, fragrant,
stately things that look as if they were compounded of cobweb and spun
crystal and moonlit snow—it takes but a day to show them in their beauty
and another to wilt them—we have missed their lovely hour too, of
course. On long, long stems, the Iris Siberica are congregating a little
grove of buds in the Blue Border; only two curving purple darlings
having outrun the rest. We shall miss them, for the fates have decreed
that we are to leave the Earthly Paradise in a day or two once more, and
that for the flat horizons of Lancashire. Well, the best of the Spring,
early and late, is over, and we do not grudge these intermediary days so
much, though we wonder how the bedding out will get on without our
stimulating presence. We shall not even have a finger in the
“Cherry-Pie.” Lengthy plans will have to be made. The “Miss Wilmott”
Verbena must replace, by their delicate rose, the blue of the Myosotis
carpet as well as the wonders of the many-hued Darwins, in the two
centre beds of the Dutch Garden. And in the border beds we project a
fine gathering of Antirrhinums shading from crimson, through Firefly and
Rose-Dorée, to palest pink.

The terrace immediately under the house runs, according to our
invariable summer programme, to cool colours and sweet scents. Under the
dining-room and drawing-room windows, besides the transient prospect of
the White Lilies, there are to bloom ‹until the frost lays waste›
Heliotrope and Nicotiana, with pale pink Ivy-leaf Geranium to contrast
with the mauve and purple, and blue Lobelia to rim the outer border of
White Pinks. Against the terrace wall, between the tall Madonna Lilies,
which show good promise, and the Polyantha Roses, red and white, with
the thick edging of “Mrs. Sinkins,” Lobelia and Petunia shall spread.
The pots will bear their customary summer burthen of rose Ivy-leaf
Geraniums, with Lobelia too, and the Zonals. We like them to flaunt
against the moor.

Below, in the Blue Border, the Delphiniums and the Anchusas, the great
old-established White Rose bushes, the steel blue Thistle, must make
what show they can over the annuals—Nigella, Gypsophila and
Nemophila—not forgetting the kind Campanulas, so dear, so faithful, so
hardy! In fine contrast, on the other side of the grass walk, the
Dorothy Perkins hedge will spread its vivid masses, and fling out its
irrepressible garlands over the border of bright blue Nemophila we have
had the audacity to sow.

[Illustration: trees]

And below, in the Hemicycle, the colours are to grow cool again, with
Heliotrope between the Lilies, the Lavenders, and the Monthly Roses, and
Fortune’s Yellow and Rêve d’Or running up the supporting wall.

The beauty of the ancient woods in that Lancashire home from which we
have just returned lingers in our memory. Outside the park walls, the
flat fields lie that would have a charm of their own if the encroachment
of the peculiarly unlovely brick and mortar prosperity of the district
did not catch the eye on almost every side; but within there is a sense
of wonderful peace and mystery, in the old, old woods with their
Rhododendron glades. The astonishing height of the trees seems to keep
modernity at bay, and tells stories still of the simple, proud,
God-fearing race which has become so associated with the very spot of
earth that has borne and nurtured them for many centuries, that, like
one or two other families in England, their name in absolute legality is
not complete without the territorial appendage.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE DISAPPEARING SQUIRE]

We hear every day that “the Squire” is a being of the past. We know that
every effort of present-day legislation is to abolish what was once the
strength of England; what might still be its strength, if the restless
and destructive spirit of the age would permit it.

The young owner of those old lands ‹who has just been our host› is one
who will, we hope, keep up the traditions—so fast dying out, or being
stamped out—a little longer. He is, as his grandfather was, the centre
of his own people, the shepherd of his flock. Not quite to the same
extent, perhaps: we do not suppose, for instance, that he is both maker
and depository of their wills, or that he is summoned to every tenant’s
deathbed as was that kindly, sturdy old Lancastrian his grandsire.

“Hurry, Jimmy, hurry!” the afflicted wife and mother would say. “Run oop
to the Hall and tell Squoire to coom along quick, for feyther’s at his
last!”

Neither would he undertake to mend the broken leg; or patch up the
conjugal quarrel. But the young Squire will still hear such a phrase as
this at election time: “What _we_ wants to know is which way Squoire’s
voting? Squoire’s man is the man for we!”

He will let his cottages at eighteen pence a week; and the larger the
family is the smaller will be the rent. And the claims of the tenant
will be attended to before his own. He seems as much part of them as
they are part of him. Has anyone ever heard of a labourer on a large
estate being in destitution? We never have. Our great landowners do more
to provide for their own dependents and keep down pauperism than any
frantic legislator or wholesale philanthropist. But the system is to go;
we have the best authority for it, the authority of those in power. God
help England and England’s poor peasants, say we, when they have their
way!

[Illustration: woman in front of landscape]

We can speak with examples under our eyes. Every time a bit of an estate
is sold, hereabouts, the cottages thereon are purchased by the local
grocer or butcher: and up goes the rent that had been three and six or
four shillings a week to seven and six and ten shillings. Here, where we
live, there are practically no important landowners, and what is the
result? Not the most miserable cottage to be had under seven and six a
week, a rent liable to be raised at a moment’s notice. The butcher, the
baker, these are the “landlords,” and the rent they exact is exactly
what they know they can extract out of the unfortunate tenant, in the
present state of cottage scarcity. We ourselves have spent weeks in
striving to secure a roof for a wretched woman with three little
children, whose husband had attempted to murder her and after her escape
had danced upon all her furniture, and burnt the remnants. We had to
engage a cottage three months in advance, and then the rent was eight
and six a week! She was a stupid poor goose of a woman, who couldn’t do
anything for her living except an occasional day’s charing or rough
washing. Of course we ought to have let her go to the workhouse; but we
didn’t. We guaranteed the rent instead and took in the eldest boy as an
unneeded garden assistant. ‹He is rather like a garden slug, so we
thought he ought to be at home in the borders›! The other day a local
tradesman raised the rent of a cottage sixpence a week upon the
hard-working mother of a large family, who occasionally comes in “to
oblige” at Villino Loki; and when she remonstrated he humorously
remarked that Mr. Lloyd George was “driving him to it!”

[Sidenote: THE REFRESHING FRUIT]

There is a proverb that “good wine needs no bush.” The Chancellor’s
efforts to convince his victims of the comfort of the plaster which is
blistering them are almost pathetic. But surely it is another proof, if
one were needed, of the weakness of his cause. A local laundry owner has
been receiving six pounds a week, lecturing, in Devonshire of all
places, on the blessedness of the Act as experienced by himself and
staff. One of our district nurses, a delightful sturdy North Country
woman, was “approached” as to whether she would undertake, for a
consideration, to use her persuasiveness with her patients and make them
see how much they were benefited by the stamp tax. She declined with a
heat that may have astonished the emissary.

It must indeed be a little difficult to make, say, a struggling
greengrocer understand the debt of gratitude he owes to the law which
constrains him to pay fourpence a week for the assistant he can so ill
afford as it is and mulct that discontented youth of threepence! More
especially when baker and grocer charge him more to cover their own
losses.

The obvious remedy, says Mr. Lloyd George, is for the greengrocer to
raise the prices in his town! He does; and somehow it doesn’t work.
Being in a poor district and all his patrons being poor, they buy less
from him, and he buys less from them.

“But look at the comfort in sickness!” It is tiresome, it almost seems
like putting bad will into it, that the greengrocer’s wife should
develop consumption before the first stone of any sanatorium is ready!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Now, that prosperous, contented class, the labourer on the great estate,
a man who lives on his lord’s lands, if not rent free, very nearly so,
with wood and garden produce, potatoes, milk and what not, and steady
employment all the year round, he is to be benefited—save the mark! A
“minimum wage,” cheap housing, the fixed hours, the sacred half-holiday,
it sounds so plausible! The propagandist is volubly at work. “No
wonder,” as the young Squire we have recently visited once ruefully said
to us, “my decent, contented, God-fearing villagers were turned in a
couple of hours into shrieking, blaspheming lunatics by such a gospel,
preached with forcible arguments in the public-house.”

Of course they will get their demands. Striking, with “peaceful
picketing,” generally gets its way, even if not backed up by Government
emissaries and the glorious visions flash-lighted by the Chancellor of
the Exchequer. But what will be the result? Half the amount of
employment on the estates of those who can still afford to keep them,
and no all-the-year-round engagements. When the work is slack the
over-paid and inimical labourer will naturally be discharged. We say
inimical, for how can friendly relations be maintained if the old
solidarity is destroyed? This, of course, is what is aimed at; and the
quack remedy, the patent pill alluringly held aloft, is—State ownership
of land! The land is to be managed like the Workhouse, the Prison, and
the Reformatory, of which, we are all aware, the British State makes
such a brilliant success. We know how the poor love the Workhouse, and
how happy they are in it; yet one can scarcely take up a police report
without finding some desperate pauper sentenced for revolt. Oh, no doubt
it will be a Merry England when these disinterested and dashing tinkers
get their way.

[Sidenote: A HAVEN OF REST]

We have known, in parenthesis, a pauper establishment, run by voluntary
effort, in which a hundred and fifty old men and ninety old women were
kept happy and contented by a handful of soft-voiced nuns. No need to
call in the policeman, in Portobello Road; for there old age is
reverenced at once and pitied, and the double aspect of the most natural
of all the commandments is put into every-day practice, so unobtrusively
and simply that no one can guess how heroically.

But the religious question will soon be treated in the same way as the
land question; so no invidious comparisons need be drawn. Little boys
and little girls are to be taught that the State is henceforth to take
the place of God in their infant minds. How comfortable and warm a
creed! How it will strengthen their character for living, and ease the
thoughts of the dying. There is no God: but there is a Chancellor of the
Exchequer and a dashing gentleman at the Home Office. You have not been
created or redeemed, little boy! We have no prayers to teach you. There
are no divine commandments which you need obey—naturally, since there is
no Divine Father. There are no sacraments to sustain and elevate your
soul—for little boys and girls have no souls! But cheer ye: you were
evolved by a natural process, and the State is here to cradle and
instruct you and to make life beautiful for you. Behold, dear children,
the Book of the Laws. These laws which you are bound to keep—unless, of
course, you go on strike, become a Suffragette, or organize political
vote catching. And this is a picture of a Jail for people who are so
blind as to refuse Insurance blessings; behold that inspired
countenance. That is the head of the Government! And for Sunday
amusements there is the Cinema—the Crippen case, dear children; the
Houndsditch Burglary and the Train Smash.... And when the new theories
have developed and matured, there will be no such thing as private
property in anything to constrain the free mind of emancipated man—A
house of your own, a wife to yourself!—fie!

“Surely, surely,” said a young Liberal M.P., “no sanely thinking person
would continue to advise religious education in the schools. What is the
inevitable result—see the case in your own Church” ‹he was speaking to a
Catholic› “the law commands one thing, and the Church another! Take
divorce, for instance. Surely, surely—”

“Dear me,” said the Catholic. “We had not looked at it in that light.
The laws man made are, then, above the laws God made?”

“Surely, surely you would not teach little children to disobey a law of
the land made for their benefit?”

We ventured to say that the ten commandments had forestalled—

His pitying smile arrested us; so infinitely was he above the ten
commandments.

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



XXII


Yesterday Loki’s family motored energetically some fifty miles and back
to a garden party near London.

A wonderful house with wonderful lawns and gardens—one feels that the
hideous tide of brick and mortar must inevitably sweep over and destroy
it before another generation comes and goes, so that there is a kind of
pathos in its very beauty.

[Illustration: flower]

Out of the unlovely mean streets along which the tram-line runs its
abominable way, one turns off into the cool country road. The long
avenue is bordered by wide fields where, as we passed yesterday, the
new-mown grass was lying in silver furrows. The country is quite flat;
but the richness of the green, the incidents of lake and timber, give it
a placid English fairness of its own.

The Lady of Villino Loki went with a keen eye to garden hints, and her
first thrill was a Honeysuckle screen in the little garden of the second
lodge. Such a Honeysuckle screen! It had once, she supposes, been an
arch, for it rose to a kind of gable peak in the centre, but it was
filled in either by design or natural luxuriance till it was a complete
mass of bloom, a solid wall of blossom. Never had she beheld such a
thing before. She wants Honeysuckle at the Villino, as she said already,
and she is fired with fresh enthusiasm. Why should she not have a hedge
of Honeysuckle, not too far from the house itself? It is settled. She
will buy fifty in November and try.

The weather, which had been misty, thundery and unpromising, cleared
just upon our arrival at the great “Adam” house. The lawns were in their
perfection, the shade of the Cedars was cut out on the sun-golden turf,
the massed flowers were vivid against their cunningly devised
backgrounds. Naturally Villino Loki, even in its wildest dreams, cannot
emulate this great and carefully cherished place; but one can find
practical suggestions here and there. We cannot mass rare and
golden-hued Maples over a broad band of yellow Calceolarias anywhere on
our terraced lawns; but it is very instructive to see the management of
certain herbaceous borders, where three or four large pillars of Rambler
Roses alternate with mauve and silver-leaved Japanese Maples at the
back; the foreground being of the usual herbaceous order.

We had no idea that the dwarf bright yellow Evening Primroses would look
so well grouped together. And Nemesia, “Heavenly Blue,” has become the
one annual our souls long for: blue flowers are all too rare.

Everything was most kindly labelled. We do not know if it is possible to
obtain any seedlings this time of year; but certainly, next year, this
adorable little plant, Nemesia, with its most exquisite turquoise blue
colourings and its splendid efflorescence, shall enter largely into our
schemes. In between the Nemesia, bushes of Campanula Persicifolia rose
with cool restrained tones; the contrast was one to be copied also.

Another not impossible example was a Rose screen, starting with a
background of close growing Ramblers, some ten or twelve feet high,
supplemented midway by some of the larger Bush Roses and running down to
the edge of the turf in front with pegged-down Teas; so that, to the
very top, it was one mass of varied bloom. We do not see any reason why
such an effect should not be copied, even in a small garden.

The _standard_ Scarlet Geraniums we must admire from a respectful
distance. They are as much beyond our humble resources as the _standard_
Heliotrope we so much admired a year ago in a millionaire’s huge grounds
not very far from us. These last rose out of a bed of mauve Violas. The
ambitious soul of the mistress of the Villino hungered to copy it; but
she knew that hunger would never be assuaged.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: PICKING UP WRINKLES]

We have had a frightful disappointment in the “Miss Wilmott” Verbenas.
For two summers it has been the same story. Last year they came up “all
colours,” though purchased from a well-known firm! This year, to make
quite sure, we ordered seedlings to be specially grown for us from a
local nursery. The wretch has sent a collection of measly little
starveling things which cannot be expected to do anything for weeks and
weeks. Of course they should not have been accepted; but the deed was
done in our absence. We are much inclined to have the beds cleared, and
Heliotrope or rose-coloured Ivy-leaf Geraniums put in instead. It is too
late for anything else. Gardeners are so tiresome! They are as bad as
cooks, who will accept with perfect equanimity, fish ready to illustrate
the proverb and game prepared to walk to its own funeral, and then say
that “they thought it was ‘a bit high’ perhaps, but they weren’t quite
sure!”

[Illustration: flowers]

We have forced for the house several plants of Canterbury Bells,
glorious purple and white, which have grown to an extraordinary size and
fill the Compton pots on the landing in very decorative fashion.

The front landing and stairs are wondrous pretty in the Villino: and the
colour scheme—Tangerine yellow for the curtains and grey for the
carpet—somehow suits the little place, with its Roman air. In the round
bow window there is a large copy of the Samothraki Nike on a white
stand; and in front of her we place flower-pots all the year
round—generally Orange trees in the winter, with which we are
successful.

Alas! we leave the little Paradise to-morrow! However, we are still in
such an intermediary stage that we mind less than when we lost all the
glories of the Azaleas. For anyone of an impatient disposition, this
time of the first setting out of the bedding plants is a trying ordeal.
We are going this afternoon on a surreptitious round with “plantoids” to
which Adam objects, but in the virtues of which we are believers.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: PITFALLS OF AMBITION]

The longer we labour at garden experiences, the more it is borne in upon
us that ambitiousness is to be avoided. No amateurs—however splendid
their visions may be—should attempt “Wild Gardens,” or “Bog Gardens” on
their own unaided efforts. This does not refer to the flinging of
wild-flower seeds in woodland glades, but to the digging up of harmless
and unobtrusive patches of field and bank for the insertion of
seedlings, which apparently will never be at home in that particular
aspect and soil. The worst of it is that the energetic workers are so
ensnared by the mental vision that they very often fail to perceive the
paltriness of the material result.

“We had to have the meadow mown and to dig it up, just along there,”
said an energetic gardening neighbour to us the other day, pointing out
with pride a dreadful stretch of raw and muddy earth that lay
meaninglessly along the lush field. “And we _think_ the things will do
now.”

The things—poor little sprigs of white Violas, and other most
unadaptable garden children—were looking very ill and faint at long
distances from each other. And in any case, even if they were eventually
to flourish, the meadow was quite beautiful enough in itself and needed
no such adornment. But we had not the heart to tell her so. We said,
“How nice that will be,” but took the lesson to ourselves.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: TANTALISING NOVELTIES]

A visit to the Horticultural Show at Holland House—even the humblest
gardener can take away lessons from these displays of lavish beauty. We
wonder whether it would be possible for us to have a pool anywhere upon
our sandy height. And, if so, why should we not build rough rock-work
round it on one side; fill it with the cool misty mauve of the Nipeta,
the cool pale yellow spires of the Dwarf Mulleins, and the faint pinks
of Spiræa; and against this background, walled about by a bank of the
mysterious Iris “Morning Mist,” let a little slender lead statue rise
out of the water? Coolness and mystery! Shall we ever encompass that
delightful effect?... The flat flagged paths on the other side of the
water should be bordered by Iris; and they should dip down into the pool
itself, where just two or three Water Lilies should rock their
gold-centred cups. Oh, dear! If we had sufficient money how beautiful we
could make our corner of the earth!

Oh, and the Clematis!—It was a shock to find that we had to pay seven
and sixpence each to go in, but it was worth it, for we have plunged to
the extent of a dozen adorable Clematis from the very fountain head—if
one can so strain the poor English language—of Clematis culture itself.

And the Roses! “Coronation,” a new bright scarlet climbing Wichuriana;
Tausendschön and Blush Rambler, old favourites, but so beautiful! There
were two or three pillars of unnamed seedlings, exquisite apple-blossom
beauties, which we longed to purchase, but which were not yet in the
market. A firmer, richer apple-blossom best describes the bloom of the
new discovery.

Quite beyond our pockets, but most attractive, were the standard Ivies,
golden and variegated, fifteen years old ... at the modest charge of six
guineas each! Could we ever wait fifteen years to see such developments?
After all, why not? The grower assured us they were perfectly hardy, and
more they were cut the better. They would look charming on the terrace.
Such balls of gold!

Lilies at the top of a rock-garden or at the top of a rough wall have a
most charming effect.

We have invested in three and sixpence worth of new fertiliser
guaranteed to “produce an appearance like dark green Utrecht velvet in
ten days on the roughest lawn.”

“Would you like your lawn to look like that, Madam?” asked the red
headed youth in charge of squares that didn’t look in the least like
real grass, but a kind of artificial compound as above mentioned.

“Very much!” said one of us, who was struck by the unnatural hue and
smoothness of the exhibit.—“Do mind the sun on your head!” she added
parenthetically to the delicate member of our party, who is always on
her mind. “Oh, pray Madam, do not trouble to shade me,” said the
red-haired youth modestly. “I am quite all right, I assure you.”

We had a vision of Loki’s Ma-Ma in her quaint Directoire dress, all
striped black-and-cream chiffon and dim orange, with her absurd little
Directoire tulle hat and its one coquettish rose ‹absurd but not
unbecoming› spending the rest of the afternoon in sudden philanthropic
frenzy, shading the red-haired youth from the July sunshine, while he
volubly touted for orders for patent fertilisers! Innately polite, we
explained. He was not in the least abashed.

“I do feel it very hot,” he remarked simply.

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



XXIII


Loki is once more Only-dog in London. He is unspeakably grimy, as none
of the _famiglia_ except Juvenal are ever able or willing to tub him
when he most wants it. Juvenal, his special friend, has been away on his
holiday—poor little Loki could not understand his absence. He was
perpetually rushing out of the rooms and downstairs to see if he had
arrived. At last, worn out with suspense, he dashed up to his butler’s
bedroom and would not be satisfied till he was admitted; when, jumping
on the bed, he began to tear up the clothes, believing, we suppose, that
Juvenal shared his propensity for curling under the quilt. Odd little
dog! He has as many moods as a fine lady, and when really annoyed lies
in a strained attitude with his hind paws stuck outward like the embryo
legs of a little crocodile. This is the sign that he wants “a powder”:
what we call in our playful dog-language, “a pow-pow.”

[Sidenote: FREEMASONRY OF DOG-LOVERS]

What a freemasonry the love of dogs creates! Loki’s Grandfather,
travelling up from our moors the other day, met a family likewise going
to London; and these had with them a small Pekinese, who sat very sadly
with drooping head and tail. The owner of Loki watched him
sympathetically for some time in silence, then unable to repress his
feelings, he leant forward and said very solemnly to the Pekinese’s
lady:

“This little dog wants a pow-wow!”

“Oh! we know,” eagerly cried the lady in charge, “we know he does! He
should have had it this morning, only we were travelling.”

We were pleased with the anecdote when Loki’s Grandfather told us. No
introductions, no explanations needed: even our own special doggy
dialect instantly apprehended! One touch of Peky makes the whole world
kin.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A divine discontent seems an unavoidable accompaniment of garden
ambition. The Lady of Villino Loki is always furiously disappointed
every time she returns home—except in the Spring. She had, this time,
wonderful visions of her Madonna Lilies, proudly straight against the
upper terrace wall; of her Blue Border foaming blue; of her new turf
settling down into greenness. And, behold, the Lilies have got the lily
disease, drat them! the Blue Border never will be blue, whatever she
does; the Anchusas have gone back to the wild; and not one drop of water
has the infant turf received through three weeks of drought since her
departure—with the results that can be imagined!

[Illustration: man working in garden]

Not one of our precious packets of seed have come up! We once knew a
pretty American whose daughter married a rather impoverished young
Englishman of very good connexions. He was, however, scarcely important
enough himself to attract much attention: and the day before the wedding
he was nonplussed by his future mother-in-law, hitherto the most silky
and smiling of beings, taking him by the arm and marching him round the
displayed wedding presents, pausing at every step to remark: “I do not
see the present of your uncle, Lord A.! I do not see the present of your
cousin, Lady B.! I do not see the present of your great aunt, the
Duchess of C.!”...

We want to take the seedsman in similar fashion round the greenhouse
shelves:

“Where are the pots of Mignonette?” we will say. “Where the serried
ranks of Scarlet Verbena? Where are the potted Nicotianas?”...

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



XXIV


The Master of the House—he has admitted it himself somewhere in these
pages—understands little if anything of gardener’s art: that is, of the
art of rearing flowers in their proper seasons, in suitable ground and
so forth. But he complacently believes that he has an aptitude for what,
on a larger theatre of operations than the few acres of Villino Loki,
would be called Landscape Gardening! He imagines that, had fate provided
him with an “estate,” he would have been great at devising vistas,
grouping trees, laying out pleasing curves of approach, and all that
sort of thing.

[Illustration: men in garden]

At the Villino this imaginary special competency could only find an
opening in clearance work. And when we first bought this strip of
hill-side, clearance was indeed no small matter.

With the exception of the terraces immediately round the House and of
the kitchen yards about the Cottage, the whole place was a congeries of
almost impenetrable thickets, interspersed with patches of heather and
furze. There were but two paths, running down, in purely utilitarian
lines, from the higher level to that of the cottage _potager_.

‹What has been achieved since then in the matter of path-cutting can be
made patent by a glance at Mr. Robinson’s perspective map of the Villino
grounds.›

So thick and strenuous was the growth of underwood—self-sown infant
Hollies, adolescent Larches and Pines, young Ashes, Oaks and Chestnuts
in their nonage, all interlocked, entwined in Brambles and Honeysuckle,
that hardly anywhere could the trunks of the full-grown trees be
distinguished.

Now it is obvious that the beauty of wooded grounds depends essentially
upon light effects under the foliage and between the boles; upon distant
peeps. In no direction ought the view ever to be solidly stopped—unless,
of course, where it is desired to hide some unpleasing prospect. It may
therefore be erected into a maxim that, if trees are to be enjoyed,
underwoods must be sacrificed wholesale.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At first, with that reverence for things which, if they may be laid low
at one blow or two of the billhook, require many years for their growth,
one feels inclined to hesitate. One’s heart rebels at the thought of
cutting off in the flower of its youth the sapling that in the spring is
of so tender green, the bush of name unknown but engaging enough—if
there were not “so many of him.” But it soon becomes evident that you
must harden your heart and ruthlessly slash away the bulk of
undergrowths, for good and all.

And this has been the province of the _padrone_. And although on many an
occasion at first the _padrona_ bewailed bitterly, almost tearfully,
that he was making the place “simply scald,” it is now generally
admitted that the result has proved a matter for congratulation.

[Illustration: man working in garden]

[Sidenote: THE PROBLEM OF HOLLY]

There have been a few mistakes, no doubt. It was not easy, for instance,
in the case of Holly, and perhaps also of Rowan, for the beginner to
distinguish which clump was likely to bear the decorative winter coral
and which not. Seeing what some of our Hollies in a good season can be
‹that which closes the prospect at the north end of our Hemicycle, for
example, what a glory of pure scarlet it displays when all bright
colours have disappeared from the garden!› we regret not to have spared
a few more. Nevertheless, it is a wise decision, in grounds overgrown by
underwood, that _delendum est Ilex Aquifolium_—that Common Holly must
go.

In the first place, nothing will grow under the shade of its dark
leathery, spinous leaves, which, even when shed, are more indestructible
and noxious to grass than pine needles themselves. And, secondly, Holly
is a very bully and brigand among growing trees. Its vitality and
pushfulness over-masters everything. Your young Holly will thrust aside
the sturdiest neighbouring branches; will conquer its “place under the
sun” to the detriment of the equally fair claims of Oak, or Ash, or
anything that strives upward.

No—the right place of Holly is in the close-set hedge, for which its
forbidding, never-failing foliage and its vigorous growth pre-eminently
fit it. Or, again, in a dignified isolation where it can, without
truculent self-assertion, develop on all sides its regular, shapely
growth, look beautiful at all times in its evergreen sheen; and, if of
the fruit-bearing sex, relieve with its scarlet the browns of autumn and
the white of a winter landscape.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The first spot to be assailed was the area now called the Blue-bell
Glade, the interior of which was then _terra incognita_. It had to be
tackled like a fortress—by regular sap. Nothing was spared but the
full-grown trees. Terrible was the destruction, and gigantic the
accumulation of small firewood for future use. But great was the
landscape result: it gave us our first far-reaching perspective along
our own ground. We had, of course, fine and wide views over the
tree-tops from the highest terrace. But now we obtained, in one
direction at least, a middle-distance prospect of green fields between
the boles under overhanging branches. And the effect was singularly
satisfying.

And so the war on undergrowth was carried-on, with system, until the
present pleasing condition was reached, when in every direction the eye
is able to find, up hill or down, either some far view of moor or
valley, or some corner of the grounds themselves, now grass-grown or
bright with flower-beds.

Grass—that was what Villino Loki most wanted! And the extirpation of the
greatest enemies to grass—Brushwood, Heather, Gorse, and Bracken—has
been the hardest achievement of all: one which Grandpa is fond of
letting every one know is more especially his own.

[Sidenote: THE GREAT CLEARANCE]

The Great Clearance took place in what may be called the pre-Adamite age
of this little Earthly Paradise. Adam ‹in a kind of fateful way› only
appeared upon the scene after the rougher work had been dealt with of
letting in the air and light of heaven wherever it had hitherto failed.
He arrived, of his own initiative, to offer his services in the matter
of _gardening_, on the very day when his predecessor—one Grinder, whom
on benevolence intent we had allowed to assume the duties of “gardener,”
save the mark!—had had at last to be dismissed.

The late Grinder, whatever his disqualifications for the honourable
title thrust upon him may have been, was undoubtedly a lusty worker. But
the Great Clearance was too great a task for one man. It was thus, by
the way, that Caliban ‹likewise now “the late”› was introduced as
labouring assistant, and, from the nature of his labours, known as the
Woodman.

The elimination of underwoods, however, was by no means the most arduous
task. Let once the good light of day and the free airs penetrate to the
ground hitherto obscured and choked, and in a given time grass will make
its appearance. And it will spread healthily if the lower branches of
all standing trees are lopped, up to a suitable height. But we wanted
grass not only in the glades, but, if possible, upon every stretch of
soil not devoted to flowering beds or ornamental bush. And, to that end,
the Heather and the Gorse had likewise to be banished in perpetuity.
With miles of Heather and Gorse-clad moors about one, Ericas of any
kind, and certainly Ulex, however delightful in themselves and in their
native habitat, are distinctly _de trop_ in the garden.

[Illustration: leafy branches]

Seen in wide masses, and whether in the brown, green, or purple stage,
Heather, as we know, is an ever beautiful cloak to the earth. But except
at the height of its flowering richness, when it occurs in scattered
patches, its effect is apt to be rusty and unkempt. As for the
Gorse—gorgeous as it undoubtedly be at its full golden time when seen in
clumps on down or roadside—it has, at close quarters, a ragged, dusty,
almost leprous appearance which quite unfits it for cultivation. It
would seem as though all its vital beauty were driven out to the
flowering tops: its inner and lower portions are always dried up, and
scabby as from some withering sickness. Such, at least, is always the
case with the full-grown plant; though, when very young, or when
springing anew from a shorn stump, it remains for some time pleasingly
green all over.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE PROBLEM OF GRASS]

To the uninitiated it may appear simple enough to pluck up the Heather;
but how soon will he be brought face to face with the dismal fact that,
for grass-growing purposes, this superficial treatment is of no avail
whatsoever! The peaty soil, product of untold generations of Heather,
spongy to a depth of many inches, matted with the fibrils of roots, is
absolutely antagonistic to grass of any description. The roots of the
Furze, on their side, deep-reaching, far-spreading and tenacious, are
simply rejuvenated and rejoiced by the lopping of the plant above
ground. You may think you have done with it: behold! within a very few
weeks saucy spriglets of brightest green Gorse will merrily make their
appearance and claim the land again as their own!

[Illustration: men working in field]

Any seed sown on such a bed is merely so much food offered to the fowls
of the air. The Master of the House had to learn that lesson
practically, and lost a couple of seasons in so doing. ‹As may plainly
be seen, he was a thoroughgoing ignoramus in that quarter; and he was
not likely to be set right by Mr. Grinder!› It was only when Adam
supervened and pointed out the necessity of trenching the ground,
ridding it of its centuries-old tangle of fibre, overturning and
pressing it, that the desired green result could at length be obtained.
But the overturning demanded the combined work of pickaxe, fork, and
cutting spade. It produced an incredible amount of underground wood,
tough, sappy, and seemingly incombustible; and it kept Caliban occupied
for many a long week.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We have now many promising verdant roods, destined in time to be
improved into lawns, where hitherto Heath and Whin held their sway. But
the spaces lately freed from underwoods, which we so fondly hoped would
turn of themselves into grassy glades and dells, provided us with new
Heraclean labours.

[Sidenote: WAR ON BRACKEN]

Have I named Bracken?—Bracken! an everlasting problem on such a piece of
land as ours, which less than a century back was undoubtedly part of the
wild moorland itself. Nothing, it seems, but thorough overturning will
really and finally rid the soil of the unconscionable Bracken—the
ubiquitous, the imperishable, the exasperating Pteris Aquilina!

                  *       *       *       *       *

This knowledge has been impressed on us by the experience of successive
years. Our first inkling of it was when, returning to the Villino after
a few months’ absence and fondly anticipating to find our precious
glades ‹which, after the Great Clearance, had been generously sown with
grass› covered with a tender-green, thickly-piled carpet, we were
confronted with waving fields of lusty Brake already breast high.

In itself the sight was not displeasing; the young verdure was cool to
the eye and did not greatly impede the view. But what we wanted was
Grass. Grass which, in course of time and at their proper seasons,
Crocus Vernus, Primrose, Blue-bell and Daffodil, Foxglove, and Colchicum
Autumnale would star and illumine with colour.

Now, where the Brake thrives, it takes unto itself the whole bounty of
the sun, and stifles all plant-life of lesser height than itself.

We disconsolately took advice from presumably competent persons.

“Oh,” said Everybody, with confidence, “you can get rid of Bracken if
you cut it twice in the same year.”

“Can you?”—and here the Master of Villino Loki, in a state of inveteracy
and resentment foreign to his usually placid character, feels he must
again speak in the first person—“Can you?” ‹this is sarcastic› “I tell
you, sir, that for the last three years I have cut that infernal
Bracken, not twice in the twelvemonth, but four times and more—and look
at it!”

You may imagine me pointing, with an indignation difficult to repress,
to some corner of the cleared ground that does not happen to have been
visited _quite_ lately by the spud or the furze-cutter.

“This,” I say with emphasis, “I myself purged of all visible Bracken
only last month!”

Now, as a matter of fact, the space in question, if not actually covered
with the pertinacious fronds, is dotted with scores, nay hundreds, of
forceful shoots; some still cosily curled up in their “crosier” stage,
others impudently stretching themselves under the sun and persisting, in
spite of all edicts, in screening its rays from the hard-struggling
grass. What chance has humble grass against a thing that will sprout
three inches in one night? And, if you look closer, you perceive a host
of baby offshoots cheerfully pushing from some deep-burrowing ancient
subterranean body, its innumerable little bald heads between the sorely
tried, recently established grass settlements.

Twice cut, forsooth!—Why, to this day, in the very middle of paths made
three years ago ‹“Three—years-ago—sir!”›, you will discover here, there,
and there again, a healthy shoot, sappy and erect, balancing its bright
green plume right in the way, as if in defiance of all extermination.

No—the most that can be claimed as a result of the war which is still
being waged upon the Brake is that, perhaps, this pertinacious growth is
beginning to betray some signs of discouragement. The ranks of the
legions, as they make their periodical reappearance with an obstinacy
worthy of a better cause, grow a trifle thinner year by year.

“If you only cut them young,” says Adam, consolingly but with cruel
imagery, “they say the roots will bleed to death.”

This—Corporal Nym would hint—is as may be. As in the case of our
wonderful forbears, bloodletting in the Spring, if not really conducive
to better health, seems to interfere little with their thriving.
Meanwhile, happily, as no scion of Pteris Aquilina ‹if it cannot really
be prevented from cropping up where it chooses› is now allowed ever to
reach its baleful maturity, the desired and much-petted grass is
gradually establishing itself. And, with that eager optimism in
gardening matters which is a characteristic of the family at Villino
Loki, we look forward, in a few years, to the prospect of a succession
of grassy carpets from crest to foot on our hillside.

But this consummation, much desired, can, we are aware, only be secured
by unremitting labour. Sometimes the Master of the House ‹who, having
rashly vowed to achieve the task, considers himself bound to see it
through himself› is assailed by something very like misdoubt as he rests
awhile upon his spud, blunted by some two hours’ punching at sporadic
croziers, and computes the remaining roods, nay, the acres, still to be
dealt with ...

                    If seven men, with seven spuds
                    Should punch for half a year ...
                    ...?

Rock of Sisyphus!—Cask of the Danaides!—Hydra of Argolis, with the
unquenchable heads!—these and others are similes that fatally drift into
his meditations.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: HAUNTING RHYMES]

When engaged upon work of protracted and futile iteration—such as
“Bracken-chivvying”—tags of inane rhymes are apt to invade the
hypnotized brain: of the kind that sometimes rise in accompaniment to
the steady bumping of railway wheels on certain slow journeys. A
particularly haunting one—to be conjured off if possible—is the
“Nightmare” jingle, Mark Twain’s, I believe:

                Punch/, conduc/tor, punch/with care,
                A green/trip-slip/for a two/cent fare,
                A pink/trip-slip/for a three/cent fare,
                Punch/, punch/, punch with care ...

and so on relentlessly.

If these are not the exact horrid words, this is the way they come back
to me, giving a lilt to vindictive spud work.

At another time, the apparent futility of all efforts to come even with
the task at hand will evoke some such iterative lines as Cyrano’s dying
vision of eternally resurging enemies:

           _Je sais/bien qu’à/la fin/vous me/mettrez/à bas
           N’impor/te, je/me bats/, je me/bats, je/me bats!_

[Illustration: stairs in garden]

This sort of absolutely incongruous haunting is an instance of what
Hoffmann would have fondly called the _Zusammeverhängniss der Dinge_ or
“fatally-concatenated-mutual-interdependency” of things! Mythological
images rising vaguely from the clouds of school memories; the lilt of
that Walrus and Carpenter verse parodied a thousand times; an American
jingle never recalled since it was first casually read and dismissed on
a railway journey; and the magniloquent _panache_ lines of Rostand—all
dropping in irrelevantly from some distant and forgotten corner of the
past into this garden, all à propos of spud work and linking itself with
it!

For instance, to-day ‹one of the three longest in the year, for, in the
coming morn, about five o’clock, our summer solstice will have taken
place›, as I spudded away at the fern, thirstily and perspiringly, my
haunting iteration was alternately of images wide as the poles asunder.
One was of those puzzling lines, in Boileau’s heroicomic poem _Le
Lutrin_, anent the barber who

                                ... _d’une main legère
            Tient un verre de vin qui rit dans la fougère._

[Sidenote: FERN SEED]

The other was of Gadshill boast: “We steal as in a castle, cock-sure: we
have the receipt of fern-seed”—which irresistibly, by concatenation,
brought in the image of my dear if disreputable old friend Falstaff and
how he would have “larded the lean earth” as he spudded along. Now it
occurs to me that if the receipt of fern-seed as handed down by
tradition is in any way correct, this is the last day when this fern
massacre can be of any use, as far as Villino Loki is concerned, to
prevent its propagation for this year. Is not to-morrow St. John’s Eve;
and is not that the date upon which the invisible seed—which once
successfully gathered will confer upon the gatherer the power of
invisibility—drops upon the soil?

The harvest, it seems, must be made “in the dark of the moon,” at the
exact turning of midnight, and received in a pewter plate; without
regard to the beguiling pranks of fairy or goblin, who, naturally
enough, are jealous of the acquisition by mere mortals of this essential
attribute of their order. The receipt does not state how the
pewter-harvested seed, being invisible, is to be bottled up or otherwise
preserved for use when required.

This, by the way, is a fairly typical instance of the manner in which
our mediæval superstitions were shrouded in cryptic conditions, the
failure of any one of which in the smallest particular would plausibly
explain away the failure of the whole charm.—We can easily understand
the paucity of invisible mortals at all times.

Well, I for one have no desire for such a charm. The temptation to use
it would be distracting. And conceive the endless trouble, picture to
yourself the misconceptions, you would raise into your own mind if you
possessed the power at any moment of prying, invisible, into the
innermost life of your best friends, or your enemies ... and of hearing
what they might happen to say about you!

No. Yet I would some power gave me the gift to gather all the invisible
seed at Villino Loki: I would burn it once and for all.

[Sidenote: _CROSSES DE FOUGERE, A LA JAPONAISE_]

One cannot help wondering that so little use should be made of all this
vegetable wealth. There it is, covering square leagues of common land,
to be harvested by whosoever list. In former days, indeed, it was
gathered in and burnt for “potashes”—chiefly for glass-making. And
therein lies the explanation of the wine “laughing in the _fougère_”;
ash of _fougère_, or Bracken, had in the “grand Roy’s” days become
synonymous with glass itself. Again, in its dry condition, Brake was
once extensively used for thatching and for litter; in some parts of the
country the young plant was given as fodder to cattle and horses. Now,
however, county councils forbid the building of thatch, our up-to-date
cattle and horses are too fastidious as to litter and fodder, and we
import our potashes. Meanwhile, Bracken threatens everywhere to stifle
the Heather on our moors.

If I remember right, in some parts of France the poorer people make use
of young Brake as food. And this reminds me that, some years ago, I
heard the last Japanese Ambassador remark at dinner—à propos of the
Asparagus that was just going round—that he wondered we should not make
use in the kitchen of the Bracken he had noticed growing in such
enormous and neglected quantities in England. In his country, he assured
us, they eat the young shoots, when still in their folded “crozier”
stage, precisely as we over here eat Asparagus, and consider them not
only as delicacies, but as particularly wholesome and nutritious.

The recipe for cooking them is simple. The croziers, cut just short of
the roots, are to be parboiled in strongly salted water; the first
water, which extracts some unpleasantly bitter principle, is to be
quickly poured off; then the shoots, thoroughly drained of this first
water, are boiled in a large quantity of fresh water, drained again
carefully and served with oil or butter, very much like our Sprue.

I must some day make the experiment. I wonder if the joy, now, of eating
tender young Bracken would be like that of the savage devouring his
declared enemy?

Meanwhile, for the sake of the desired grass, the hecatomb must be
repeated daily.

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



XXV


[Illustration: dog looking outside at rain]

[Sidenote: MORE BLACK SHEEP]

This July, not remarkable for anything but rain and dark skies, has
produced a perfect outbreak of wickedness in the village. Our black
sheep have turned into tigers without even the excuse of torrid weather
to inflame their passions. But, indeed, the public house is always ready
to supply the stimulant necessary for driving average humanity into
brutal and insane crime.

Caliban, whom the reader may remember as having once worked in our
Fortunate Island, and always looking as if he had just risen from
all-fours, has, in our recent absence, thrown away all pretence at
humanity once and for all. Though, indeed, why should the poor beasts,
who generally make excellent fathers and husbands, be compared to the
type of man that deliberately ruins his home? To batter your wife,
terrorize your children, to squander your substance for an indulgence
which ultimately destroys your health, is a mystery of perversity
reserved for the superior being.

Anyway, Caliban, having drifted from place to place, and lost his last
chance of employment in this district by killing a whole hot-house full
of Tomatoes through drunken neglect “on” the local market gardener, as
we should say in Ireland, finally locked his wife and children out of
the little cottage, and shut himself in with his drunkenness in company
with his aged but not less drunken parent. The power of thought having
returned in the morning, the precious pair put their boosy heads
together and sold the furniture, possessed themselves of every available
valuable, even of Mrs. Caliban’s solitary trinket, and decamped together
from the district!

Mrs. Caliban, with an infant in arms and two little girls at her skirts,
has now set to work to earn enough for all. She is a valiant woman; and
no doubt when she has succeeded fairly well, Caliban will return to
repeat the process. She is very anxious for a separation, but cannot
accomplish this, as the whereabouts of her lord and master are unknown.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She is less fortunate than the wife of Black Sheep No. 2. Last Saturday
we were peacefully entertaining a couple of week-end visitors, when poor
Mrs. Mutton crawled into our garden to “see the young lady.” The
water-butt myth was cast to the winds. She had a black eye and a
dislocated thumb, and informed us that Mutton had threatened to “do for
her,” and that she was going in fear of her life. “When not drunk,” she
remarked with the apathy of despair, “I think he’s mad!”

Mutton is well known in the district for his playful ways, and no one
would consent to house his wife but an enterprising barber: on the
condition, however, that Mutton did not come after her. The poor thing
shivered and shook, and avowed that she could not return and pass
another hour in such terrors. When she heard his step, she told us, a
trembling would seize her.

“You ladies,” she said, rolling her hopeless eyes from one sympathetic
listener to another, “can have no idea of the kind of life poor women
like us lead!”

[Sidenote: COUNTY POLICE METHODS]

Little Jimmy Mutton and she had spent the previous night out under fear
of a gun, which Black Sheep _père_ had taken to bed with him, with
threats of instant use. The first idea of the owners of Villino Loki was
that the woman should have protection; and here the drama took a
Gilbertian form with a dash of nightmare. Her cottage being on the
borders of another county, no policeman nearer than nine miles off had
the right to intervene. In vain did “the young lady,” attended by the
two week-end visitors, start off for the nearest magistrate and lay the
case before him. Mrs. Mutton must betake herself to that far county
town, by what means she best might; and if she and her poor lambs were
“done for” between this and then, it would all be within the strict
limits of the law as far as the magistrate was concerned. With fruitless
eloquence were the perils of the situation painted in their blackest
colours. Mutton, as we have said, was famous, and like Habacuc in
Voltaire’s estimation, might be _capable de tout_.

Could not the local policeman take possession of the gun?

Impossible. No policeman nearer than Paddockstown could lay a finger on
it.

Could not at least the village Bobby keep an eye on the house where the
enterprising barber had taken in the refugees?

The Magistrate smiled at such ignorance of the law. All orders must come
from Paddockstown.

“That,” remarked one of the week-end visitors as the discomfited party
shook the Magistrate’s dust off their feet, “that seems a futile old
gentleman!”

This week-end visitor had an emphatic manner of speech, which afforded
the only relief in the exasperation of the atmosphere.

However, the affair managed to straighten itself out on, again, true
Gilbertian lines. Mrs. Mutton duly found a motor-bus to convey her to
Paddockstown; and there, with all the proper formality, interviewed the
Magistrate and a lawyer, with the help of whom she was separated from
her obstreperous Mutton. Little Jimmy gave evidence, Mutton was advised
by his lawyer not to defend the case. She has now appropriately joined
forces with Mrs. Caliban and is enjoying a time of peace which we trust
may not be merely an interlude.

“Oh, Miss!” she cried, describing these unwonted sensations, “I’m that
overjoiced, I’m afraid it’s hardly right!”

As the husband is hovering about the roads, waylaying all concerned with
alarming politeness, we are a little anxious. We know that he is still
_mouton enragé_ at heart; and we do not know if in spite of the mandate
from Paddockstown the local police would be allowed to interfere were
gun or table knife to be put into requisition.

The Dorothy Perkins are coming out, showing a most glorious kind of fire
rose, which hitherto they only displayed in the autumn after a touch of
frost. Combined with the delicate sprays of the Ceanothus Gloire de
Versailles, they make in a tall glass vase as pretty a harmony as we
know.

[Illustration: rose garden]

[Sidenote: THE NEW ROSARY]

The new Rose Garden promises complete success. Caroline Testout is
coming out, fat and pink and smiling in her usual good-humoured
profusion. We have a great bed in the shape of a Maltese cross in the
middle of a stretch of turf in this new Rose Garden, and the other three
beds are filled respectively with Madame Abel Châtenay; mixed yellow
roses, among which are Betty, Lady Hillingdon, and Juliet, are specially
successful; and another deep pink charmer named Madame Jules Groles. She
has not yet come out. The centre bed is devoted to General MacArthur,
with a Crimson Rambler pillar.

The Climbing Roses against the arches that bound this rose-lawn north
and south are growing bravely; and we have lost our hearts to May Queen
with its mass of bright pink flowers, which, combined with the fainter,
creamier pinks of Paul Transon, make such a delicious bouquet of bloom,
all on the same pillar.

The hedge of Penzance Briars, though only a couple of feet above the
ground as yet, has thrown out long lines of starry blossoms, shading
from faint primrose to deepest crimson, with intermediate constellations
of pinks and carmines that out-do both Dorothy Perkins and Zephyrine
Drouhin.

The new Rose Garden is shut off on the west by a fir-tree avenue, and we
are trying to coax white and red Wichurianas up the stems, in spite of
all expert pessimism. Marquise de Sinety is a delicate, warmly tinted,
pinky cream Rose. Catalogues, no doubt, would call her “salmon”; but it
is such a horrid word that we prefer to present the picture under
another aspect.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Do not let anyone subject to the watery caprices of an English climate
place their trust in Maman Cochet! Her heavy bud becomes hopelessly
sodden after anything like a shower. One can conceive that this dowager
would be a handsome enough object in a southern garden, or that she
would be a good greenhouse rose; but, like many another, she does not
bear adversity.

Handsome, bland Caroline Testout keeps up her self-contained smile
unimpaired in fair and foul weather; “fat-faced Puss” that she is, a
very Gioconda among roses, even to the close folding of her plump
leaves, which remind one of that overrated charmer’s compact hands. It
would take a good deal to shake her equanimity; scentless, soulless
beauty!

The Lyons Rose has burst on us this year in all its splendour, a most
successful combination of pink and gold. The sunset glow seems to shine
through the petals.

These efforts at producing new effects are not always successful, some
having a very patchy appearance, to our mind. As for the Austrian Briar,
Soleil d’Or, it is more like a blood-orange cut in two than anything
else, in colour, shape, and pulpy texture. From a distance the bright
circles look attractive, but we should recommend it to no one who values
delicacy in their blooms.

A great success are the Weeping Standards Stella. Though it is their
first year, the branches are covered with lovely tinted blossoms; and
what is more, these are lasting. Single carmine stars are they, with
golden centres and a scent of musk.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: FLOWERING TIMES AND PLANS]

The mistress of the Villino, a foolish and impetuous person, has three
times made the same mistake and omitted to ascertain the blooming season
of plants which she wished to be in beauty together. So the four Weeping
Standards Stella, are considerably in advance of the four Dorothys which
alternate with them; and the standards Soleil d’Or were quite over
before the Conrad Meyers appeared in the Lily Walk; and the contrast of
pink and yellow was what had been aimed at!

In the same manner she had intended the Garland Roses to foam up in two
splendid white pillars at each end of the long length of Dorothy Perkins
at the opposite side of the Blue Border terrace. Of course the Garland
is becoming unsightly before the fire-pink of the Dorothy begins to show
in any profusion.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The garden—except on the upper terrace, which with Heliotrope, Lobelia,
and the climbing Ceanothus keeps to the faint cool blues, untroubled by
the efflorescence of the White Pet ‹which, by the way, has completely
eaten out Perle des Rouges› and the very faint pink of the Ivy-Leaf
Geraniums—except for the upper terrace, the garden, we say, is growing
pink. What with the Verbenas and the Red Roses and the cheery coloured
Ivy-Leaf Geranium called Jersey Beauty, in the Dutch garden, and the
general ramp of Dorothy everywhere, it is a mass of pink.

Another year we must have more Penstemons. They are charming things, and
as good as they are beautiful. In a garden nothing is beautiful that is
not good, which is another facet of its likeness to Paradise.

We caress the idea of a border where perennial Gypsophila, large bushes
of Monarda, Penstemons and Lavender should group and contrast and
delight and rest the eye.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There is a walk in a wonderful garden not far from here—a garden which
brings a kind of fainting, despairing envy to the soul of Loki’s
Grandmother—where Lavender and Penstemons make the happiest possible
effect. The walk itself is a thing of beauty; through woodland on one
side, the border in question runs quite a long way against a low parapet
on the other. Below this parapet the ground slopes down, and at the end
of the walk there is so abrupt a fall that it seems almost to end in
mid-air with a vast panorama far beneath. And on the side of the flowery
border a shelving precipice falls away out of which giant stone pines
hang against the distant horizon. The Lavender has grown to a hedge, and
the varying soft pinks of the Penstemons run vividly against its
mistiness.

Would that walk, and that border, and that view, were ours!

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



XXVI


We nearly had a garden tragedy yesterday afternoon. The sounds of a
little dog in great distress broke the peace of the drowsy day. Loki’s
Ma-Ma dashed out of the house thinking it was Loki—caught in a trap!
Certainly the little dog—whichever it was—was in desperate straits.

“That’s the voice of my Betty,” cried Juvenal, galloping to the rescue
in his shirt-sleeves. “My treasure, my little girl! I’m coming!”

It was well indeed that he did hurry, for Betty had fallen into the deep
water-butt in the Rose Garden; and if she had not had the sense to
scream for help, and to hold on to the rim of the barrel with all her
little claws, she would have been a drowned Betty, and nobody the wiser,
perhaps, for days and days.

We think it would have broken Juvenal’s heart.

Both Arabella and Loki were standing staring stiffly instead of doing
what was expected of dogs of such intellect: which was running to fetch
human help.

[Sidenote: PERSIANS AND A WICKED WORLD]

On a former occasion however, when Kitty-Wee had a fit, poor little
darling, Loki acted up to our opinion of him. We had gone for a walk on
the moor, and the Persian Princess, still half in her kittenhood, had
accompanied us, with that touching display of pleasure at being in our
company which makes the Fur Children so endearing. She had to roll on
the grass in front of us, sharpen her claws on every tree, and rub her
pretty head against our skirts in the endeavour to show her feelings. We
suppose these feelings were too much for her. We had halted in the
greenhouse when Loki dashed in upon us, whimpering in a frightful state
of agitation. He drew his Grandmother out of the greenhouse, and rushed
up to stand over his little fur sister, crying out loud in sympathy and
distress.

She was a small convulsed heap upon the ground. Fortunately the tap,
which ran into one of those delectable barrels of odoriferous water so
precious to the garden, was quite close, and we were able to administer
first aid with promptitude.

For all who do not know it: cold water to the head gives immediate
relief to any little creature in such a seizure.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She quite grew out of them. But, alas! our thistledown Princess, our
dear pretty silver lady! We have delayed to write her sad fate into the
pages of the chronicle of the happy Fur Family. She was stolen! We often
lie awake thinking of her. Pampered as she was; so accustomed to be
thought of, and cherished, and made much of; to have her pearly robe
brushed and combed to the last point of perfection, her dainty appetite
catered for; to find a caress and a cuddle whenever she was in the mood
for it! A lurid mystery ‹accompanied by a great deal of hard swearing›
envelops her loss. She was lost on a half-hour’s motor-trip which her
family, struck with momentary idiocy, was allowing her to undertake
alone. She was, in fact, about to contract another matrimonial alliance
with a prince of her own race, and was so securely packed in her
luxurious travelling basket, so unmistakably labelled, so solemnly
handed over to the care of the conductor of the motor ’bus, that it did
not seem as if she could come to harm.

But Blue Persians, as well as pink pearls, are over-precious chattels to
confide to a dishonest world! The conductor of the next ’bus to that by
which she was expected, handed an empty basket to the envoy from the
other side; and when this was refused, declared the cat had escaped on
the way. As the basket was hermetically closed, this lie had not even
the merit of being plausible. But puzzle succeeded puzzle when the
waiter from the Golf Club House, a reliable witness, deposed having
picked up the same basket still securely fastened at every corner—but
minus the cat—on the first round of the ’bus. “It could have gone to
Siberia in that basket,” he declared, “it was that strong and solid!”

The local police, a most intelligent and valuable body of men, declared
that nothing could be done, “as no man could be taken up for telling a
lie.” And the railway company, after punching a large hole in the
basket, announced that as the cat was not insured, we might sue them for
five shillings! We advertised and beat the countryside in vain—Kitty-Wee
has gone out of our lives. If we only knew that she was happy, the ache
at our hearts would be less.

We must fill the gap, and are deliberating whether a pair of Blue
Persians, or an orange couple, would afford us the greater joy. We think
to decide on the latter would be less callous to the memory of
Kitty-Wee, and provide perhaps a better match in the little Villino that
runs so much to orange and yellow.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Never could there be anything more beautiful than the St. John’s Wort
along the moorland roads. It has been a day of golden heat, the distant
woods have shimmering purple vapours in their hollows, and the hills are
misty blue. There had been a fire last year in a great flat stretch of
pinewood that runs into heather and moor, high above where the road
begins to fall into the first of the little country towns between us and
London. The wood had been cleared of the dead trees and we suppose it is
this which has given encouragement to the great yellow weed. However it
may be, it is a field of cloth of gold now. Pines rise up at intervals
in their dark solemnity. Royal purple of the heather runs into the gold.
It is a meeting of colour that ought to be immortalized.

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



XXVII


[Illustration: path down garden]

Time has run away with us, and the garden chronicle has been silent. The
Ramblers have blazed in the garden, more especially the indefatigable
“Dorothy,” till one has grown almost tired of such a repetition of vivid
pink.

The Mistress of the Villino has been planning “toning-down effects” for
next year and means to run a border of Catmint or Dwarf Lavender against
the “Dorothy” hedge.

The Lily Walk, which we shall have to call by another name, since, with
a few exceptions, the Lilies decline to have anything to say to it, is,
should the scheme contemplated be successful, to show a cool vista of
greys, lavender blues, and “rose mourante” behind the arch where the
same irrepressible Perkins flaunts herself in such splendour. The
Delphiniums, which have done so well there, will have spent their hour
of glorious life before the arch enters upon its triumph.

What a mausoleum that Lily Walk has proved itself! It has been one of
our tragedies! Adam is quite dispassionate, and says “it’s the Lily
disease; and there’s a deal of it about.”

By one of those freakish accidents that will occur in the best regulated
gardens, a batch of Fairy Lilies was planted _behind_ the ramping
Alstrumerias. This was discovered too late, when these bold Peruvians
were succumbing.

[Illustration: landscape by path - two pages wide]

[Sidenote: TONING DOWN EFFECTS]

But besides the amount of sickly, straggling “Candidums,” “Auratums,”
and “Tigers” that have disgraced the border, there is the unaccountable
number of bulbs that have been swallowed up in it! The whole thing must
be dug out this autumn. And the scheme is now to grow Ceanothus “Gloire
de Versailles” up the wooden trellis at the back between the Roses the
foliage of which is always blighted, and to have a pillar of Blush
Rambler at the end, by the side of the Wellingtonia which closes the
border. Bushes of Ceanothus Azureas, as well as the successful “Gloire
de Versailles”; a drift of Achillea, shading from the palest pink to
deep carmine; bushes of Catmint; the new pale pink Spirea, perennial
Gypsophila; mauve Galiga ‹Salvia, Miss Jekyll recommends›; Sea Lavender
and a couple of clumps of Eringium will complete the effect. Perhaps
there shall be Moon Daisies, pale pink and mauve Penstemons, and one or
two groups of “Cottage Maid” Antirrhinums to fill up the gaps. But what
we feel is needed is the grey, mauve, silver, and lavender-blue tinting
against which Dorothy Perkins may be as flaming as she likes.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It is rare to find Rose Achilleas anywhere. Yet they are as pretty a
thing as we have ever seen in a border; the blossoms seeming to drift on
their slender stems, one above the other like little sunset clouds.

What has been for once a complete pleasure is the wide bed under the
drawing-room window. The Ceanothus—which loves us—has been a treasure of
delicate bloom; and, against it, the great old bushes of lavender have
thrust their spikes in profusion. Just the right tone to harmonize. Then
the Longiflorum Lilies—excellent, sturdy, conscientious darlings!—have
lifted their satin shining trumpets above the Heliotrope that loves us
too; and Lobelia, the one vivid line of colour, has rimmed the thick
cushion of “Mrs. Sinkins’” foliage most artistically. The grey-green
gives the finishing touch to a really reposeful combination. There are
also two or three clumps of Nicotiana Affinis, softly mauve, and faded
purple crimson. To gaze at that corner against the amethyst of the moor
is a never-ending delight.

[Sidenote: A CHAPTER OF DISASTERS]

But another garden disaster has been the annihilation of all the
seedlings which we sowed in the open border! It is laughable now, but
sad too, to turn back the pages and read the vainglorious project of
running a dazzling ribbon of Nemophila against the Dorothy Perkins
hedge. ‹It might have been frightful; so perhaps Providence kindly
intervened!› But that Nigella “Miss Jekyll” should have refused her
mysterious and pretty presence in the Blue Border is a deep
disappointment.

We are again gnashing our teeth over the Blue Border. The fact is, we
suppose, it is too much to expect beauty all the year round, no matter
how boastfully garden writers inform you of their artifices in that
direction: how cleverly, for instance, the annual Gypsophila will bury
the unsightly decay of the Iris leaves, or how you can pull branches of
“Miss Mellish” down over the Delphiniums.

Why do not our Delphiniums bloom twice? Every garden book and every
catalogue cheers your heart by promising a handsome second bloom to the
industrious clipper-off of seed-pods. But never a Delphinium has
responded to our kind attentions in that direction. Perhaps our soil
does not give them strength enough for such exertion. But it is idle
speculating. One must learn what one’s garden will do and what it won’t
do—and make the best of it.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The greatest of all the tragedies that have befallen us lately is
indubitably the passing away of poor old Tom. We are now catless!

Poor little friend! Where has that quaint, faithful, dutiful identity
gone to? Juvenal says Heaven would not be Heaven to him if he were not
to meet his own dogs there—a sentiment which we have, we believe,
ourselves set down elsewhere. St. Francis the Poverello saw God in all
His lesser creatures. It is not possible to think that we shall lose
anything in a completer world.

Tom was the most conscientious of cats. He now lies beside Susan. We are
going to get two little tombstones made for us by the Watts Settlement
at Compton. Susan’s epitaph has already been mentioned. Nothing more to
the point could be imagined:

“Here lies Susan, a good dog.” “Here lies Thomas, for eighteen years our
faithful cat-comrade.”

So shall it stand recorded over the new grave.

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



XXVIII


Mid-August and the lists beginning to come in! Mr. Eden Phillpotts, in
his delightful garden book, says that no one is a true garden lover who
is not instantly lost in every nurseryman’s list, who does not
immediately draw out orders far beyond his means, and spend his time in
plans and combinations that shall transcend Kew as well as Babylon. What
garden lovers are we in this respect! It is only when the orders are
written out and the prices totted up that sober reason obtrudes its
forbidding countenance—and then the painful process of “knocking off”
begins. Nevertheless we are becoming adepts in combining lavishness with
economy. There are delightful firms whose plants are literally to be had
at a quarter of the price of others, with results quite as happy.

There is the Dutchman who sends us our bulbs. He has grown to be a
friend, and his English letters are charming, “Dear Mrs.,” he wrote when
Gladioli, “The Bride,” arrived in a state no Bride should be in, really
without a wedding garment—“Dear Mrs., She is a flower the most agreeable
in the garden, but she is very unpleasant to travel.”

His catalogue makes equally fascinating reading. The quaint spelling and
phraseology are more than attractive. Who, for instance, would not wish
to invest in Narcissus, thus described:

“Astrardente, white and apricot orange, edged fiery scarlet magnificent
and nice flowers.”

“Nothing,” says another grower, “can equal, much less excel, early
single Tulips.”

“Pottebakke White,” cries a third, “is a very large pure white flower,
and not to surpass better.”

“Of snow-like variety and delicious fragrance a most beloved flower,”
thus our special Hollander labels Lilium Longiflorum Takesima, in words
that have a certain charm of poetic simplicity which would not have
misbecome the artistic Japanese himself.

[Sidenote: DUTCH BULBS]

However tempted by other nationalities, we choose to be Dutch in our
bulbs. This is the list we have just dispatched to Haarlem:

       “600 China blue single Hyacinths.
       1 dozen Cavaignac pink Hyacinths.
       1 dozen Fabiola blush Hyacinths.
       50 Roman Hyacinths.
       100 Scarlet Duc van Thol Tulips.
       50 Rose Duc van Thol Tulips.
       300 Thomas Moore Tulips.
       1000 Darwin Tulips, best mixed.
       500 Parrot Tulips, in the finest mixture, bright colours.
       100 Gladiolus Brenchlyensis.
       100 Gladiolus Hollandia.
       1000 mixed striped Crocus.
       1000 Scilla Siberica praecox.
       1000 blue Grape Hyacinths.
       1000 Snowdrops Elweseii.
       1000 Poeticus recurvus Narcissus.
       100 Hyacinthus Candicans.
       1000 Single Trumpet Daffodils mixed.
       500 Double Daffodils mixed.”

Of these some of the scarlet and rose “Duc van Thol” Tulips, and all the
“Cavaignac” and “Fabiola” Hyacinths are for forcing; and, of course, the
Roman Hyacinths also. The other bulbs are destined for the open ground.

Gladiolus Hollandia is described as the “Pink Brenchlyensis,” and is
much recommended. We have never grown her yet, but her scarlet cousin is
a great success in our garden. We find our Gladioli do so much better
when planted in the spring, that we are asking the firm not to send them
to us for another seven months. But they are included in the autumn list
so that he may reserve us good sound tubers.

It is evidently against garden decorum to mention the name of a
horticulturist, for some garden writers make a point of assuring the
reader that they will never be guilty of such an indiscretion; but we
see no harm at all in paying, by the way of this discursive pen, a
tribute to the perfect satisfaction hitherto afforded us by our chosen
bulb grower, Mr. Thoolen, of Haarlem. His Tulips, Hyacinths, and
Narcissi have stood the test for three years. Of course, in our soil we
cannot expect more than one good season out of anything except Crocus,
Scilla, and Narcissi.

Daffodils, which up till now have been unaccountably absent from our
garden plans, are to be heavily indulged in this year. Besides what
appears in the above list we are venturing on another thousand from a
certain Mr. Telkamp, likewise in the land of windmills.

[Sidenote: MORE DUTCH BULBS]

The following is the order which we have just dispatched to him:

            “1000 Daffodils for naturalization.
             100 Retroflexa Tulips, soft yellow.
             100 Bouton d’Or Tulips, deep golden yellow.
             100 Caledonia Tulips, orange, dark stems.
             100 Golden Eagle Tulips, fine yellow.
             200 Count of Leicester, yellow orange tinted.”

He advertises a thousand Daffodils for ten shillings—two and a half
dollars! Miraculous, if true! It is worth the plunge.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We have decided to take a slice off the kitchen garden to be kept
entirely for bulbs and tubers for cutting. There a hundred “Madonna”
Lilies, three dozen Auratum, a hundred Tigrinum, and a few hundreds of
other kinds shall be given all the chances that completely fresh soil
and good exposure can afford. Five hundred Parrot Tulips, three hundred
“Thomas Moore,” and a hundred “Bizarres” are to make a field of glory
for the harvest. The hundred Gladiolus Brenchlyensis and the hundred
Hollandia will rear their scarlet and pink spears; and Iris shall stand
in ranks.

The Mistress of the Villino has still an hour of bliss before her in
picking out Iris for her list. The “Florentina” shall certainly be
largely of the company, and preference is to be given generally to the
misty blue and purple kinds. Then the speculation in cheap bulbs
provides a thousand mixed May flowering Tulips.... Adam’s face will be a
study when he finds how much of his cherished potato and cabbage land
will be required. But what a span of beauty it will make; and what
sheaves of delight for ourselves and our friends!

[Sidenote: FOND DREAMS, AND MISDOUBTS]

Every year the extravagant woman above mentioned, who has got the vice
of garden-gambling into her very system, extends her ambitions. But how
much is there not still to be accomplished before she is satisfied, if
ever a garden-lover is satisfied!

For a long time she has dreamt of a shady pool—somewhere. And, after
beholding the adorable vision before described in Messrs. Wallace’s
exhibit at Holland House this summer, she had been quite sure that it
would be difficult to exist another year without a nook with Irises
about it and a sunk basin, and a little statue mysteriously contrived in
the green. Coming across an advertisement in _Country Life_, where an
artistic firm of garden-decorators offers just what she wants, a small
round stone pond with a Faun sitting cross-legged on the brim of it, it
becomes quite clear to her that there are cravings which must be
satisfied. She is willing to give up the vision of a new Azalea dell
‹for this year only, of course› and of a paved walk with Cypresses on
each side, ending in a _rondpoint_ hedged about with more Cypresses,
with a stone bench in the middle, for the more immediately alluring
claim. But, O, ye gods and little fishes, how insatiable are still the
needs of the Villino on the hill!

There is the orchard for the slope above the sunk tennis court; to be a
glory some Spring with Apple and Pear blossom, while Daffodils, Narcissi
and Scilla riot underneath. And there is the round Autumn Garden to be
dug out and levelled in the wood, where Sunflowers, Michaelmas Daisies,
“Fire King” Antirrhinums, Nasturtiums and flaunting orange and saffron
Dahlias are to make a rim of splendour against a cropped green hedge.
The centre of this blazing circle is to be flagged and consecrated to
“Herbs.” That will be something to live for; to see accomplished some
golden autumn of the future!

So much has already been done in what was, most of it, a mere sodden
tangle, impenetrable not only to human beings but even to the light of
heaven, that it gives one heart for what may be achieved in the future.
Yet never does the Grandmother of Loki feel the uncertainty of life more
keenly than when she is in the midst of her garden dreams. Every winter
indeed, when the bulbs are planted, she wonders, with a pang, if she
will see them come up in the Spring; how much more does she now ask
herself whether the hidden Autumn Garden, or the Italian walk, or the
Bowery Orchard, or even the Sunk Fountain, are ever destined to rejoice
her.

Well, after all, she gets an extraordinary amount of pleasure out of the
mere mental picture, and who can say if the very uncertainty of all
things here below does not add to their zest?

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

[Illustration: THE MOOR]

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



XXIX


[Sidenote: DAWN OVER THE MOOR]

This morning, waking at dawn, the Padrona was impelled to roll out of
bed, and look out of both her windows. The one over her balcony gives
down the valley and the one opposite her bed affords her vision of the
moor rolling away beyond the Dutch Garden and the terrace corner. If she
had been but a woman of moderate vigour, she would not have gone to bed
again till the whole pageant of mysterious glory had fulfilled itself
before her eyes. For what a sight it was! First of all, the whole
garden, woodland and heather hills were steeped in a translucence for
which there is no name. It is a virgin hour, and its purity no words can
describe. The Ling, in full bloom, was silver and amethyst on the rise,
misty purple and blue in the hollows. Behind the shouldering hills a
rift of sky was a radiant lemon-yellow, a kind of honey sea of light.
And above that, again, little drifts of cloud had caught a wonderful
orange-rose glow like the wings of cherubim about the Throne. Down the
valley there were silver mists against the most tender, clear horizon;
and all along the Lily Walk the clumps of Tiger Lilies seemed to be like
little Fra Angelico angels, holding their breath in adoration!

[Illustration: landscape - two pages wide]

Everything lies, after all, in the point of view. The dawn was decidedly
too pink for safety, and the clumps of Lilies that looked so pious and
recollected have got “the disease” badly in their stalks. Yet realism
can never blight that exquisite hour of breaking day in her thoughts!

The only time we degenerates ever really see the dawn is coming home
from some London ball; or again, travelling. The dawn in London often
gives an impression of extraordinary blue in atmosphere and heaven, we
suppose because it is seen contrasted with artificial illuminations. But
that sapphire blue, when it permeates park and streets, when the sky
seems to hold unplumbed depths beyond depths of the same wonderful
colour, is a thing to dwell in the memory likewise, though travellers
have the better part. Dawn in the Alps! A night not to be depicted! Such
vastness of tinted heights; such black chasms where the pines hang;
spume of waterfalls all golden crimson, and deep rivers, green and
terrible and beautiful with a glint on them as they rush!

One of us ‹the fourth in the lucky clover leaf at Villino Loki; one who
is poet and musician besides many other things, and sometimes poet and
musician together› has defined the indefinable. It is not the dawn of
the day she hymns, but the dawn of the young Spring.

Though the poem is printed in a recently published volume, it seems to
fit naturally into this page.

                           _THE ST. GOTHARD_

        _April and I—
    Each with each greeting amid tumbled ice,
    Travel these wastes of frozen purity.
    Here the wild air above the precipice
    E’en tasteth sweet, and hath a delicate scent
    As of faint flowers unseen—the flower of snows
    Massed peak on peak in slumber yet unspent,
    But dreaming of the Rose._

    _Here the great hills wear silence as a seal—
        April and I,
    Listening can hear the loosened snowflake steal
    Down from the burdened bough that slips awry;
    Here the long cry of water-nymphs at play
    Freezes upon the iced lips of fountains,
    And their sweet limbs’ arrested holiday
    In crystal carved engarlandeth the mountains._

    _Through such vast fields of sleep how dare we roam,
        April and I,
    And from its eyrie bid the torrent foam,
    And virgin meads grow starrier than the sky
    With scattered cowslip and with drifted bell?
    Or where austerely looms an Alpine giant
    Set a young almond rosily defiant
    To be our sentinel?_

    _Whence are we victors, chanting as we go,
        April and I.
    “Be free, ye tumbling streams, awake O snow—
    Ye silver blooms increase and multiply?”
    What is our spell?—The singing heart we bring,
    And lo! that song that is the core of earth
    Leaps in reply, and children of the Spring
    Into the light come forth._

[Sidenote: THE DAWN OF YOUNG SPRING]

Then there was a dawn over the Campagna, seen from the train that was
speeding us towards Rome. A ball of red fire hung over the horizon. The
sea lay silver and grey; and misty silver the Campagna.... “God made
himself an awful rose of dawn,” as Tennyson sings. He did that morning:
awful, yet full of a glorious comfort. The sea just caught the great
reflection on its bosom.

A little later, when we came to the first ruins that precede the
aqueducts, there were the white cattle, stepping about among the broken
pillars, with their huge spreading horns all gilded. These had not
changed since the days when the sun gleamed on the grandeurs of classic
Rome. Only then yonder building—temple, or tomb, or villa—fronted the
morning with a forgotten stateliness, a lost grace.

Is anything comparable to the scene that meets the traveller on his
entry into Rome? Alas! St. John Lateran no longer stands like some
titanic splendid ship about to slip her moorings and sail away into the
wild, lonely sea of the Campagna. New walls have sprung up without the
noble ancient walls; sordid disjointed lengths of streets, mean houses
with blistered, leprous plaster; and evil-looking little wine-shops.
Nevertheless, nothing can spoil the moment when the Lateran Church first
gathers shape against the sky. All those statues with tossing gesture
against the faint blue of the new day, heroic figures with outstretched
arms seeming to gather pilgrims into the city; and in the midst of them
the Saviour uplifting the Cross of Salvation! To the believer what a
welcome! And it is Rome herself at a glance, too; for if the Church
stands here beckoning between earth and sky, she is jostled below and
round about by the still speaking wonders of old Pagan Rome.

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



XXX


One of the advantages of being “little people in a little place” is the
pleasure small things can give one. The Duke of Devonshire has seventy
men in his garden. Is it possible to imagine taking an interest in
anything conducted on so enormous a scale? It is not gardening, it is
horticultural government! There can be no individual knowledge of any
“beloved flower,” as our Dutch friend has it. Outside a millionaire’s
greenhouse we once beheld regiment after regiment of Begonia pots. It
made one’s brain reel. How insupportable anything so repeated would
become!

Even in small gardens there is too much of a tendency nowadays to overdo
garden effects. The flagged-path effect can certainly be overdone. We
were tempted to visit a farmhouse the other day, adorably placed on a
high Sussex down just where a stretch of table-land dominates an immense
panorama of undulating country, and a vast half-circle of horizon. With
a few more trees no situation could have been more beautiful.

“It was a party of the name of Mosensohn” who had taken the old
farmhouse, we are told, and they were transmogrifying it according to
the most modern principles of how the plutocrat’s farmhouse should look.

In some ways it was very well done. The fine old lines of wall and roof
were carefully preserved; the high brick wall with its arched doorway
and door with the grille in it, were quite in keeping, and gave one a
sense of comfortable seclusion as one stepped in off the high road.

But the square court, once the farmyard, divided by two different
levels, was completely flagged. Only a few beds against the wall, and a
strip of turf on the lower level under the house, afforded any relief to
the eye. There was a sunk garden beyond which was turfed, and the sense
of rest it instantly afforded made one realize what the incoming family
will suffer on a scorching August day from the glare and refractions of
the flags in a space so hemmed in. In the right spirit of garden mania,
we were not above taking what hints we could. And some were very good.
All the beds on that first level were planted with cool-looking blue and
purple flowers—a happy thought where there was so much hot stone. And
the old cow stables had been very cleverly converted into a most
Italian-looking brick pergola which ran the length of the sunk Rose
Garden, and ended in a round summer-house with a window. From there, as
well as from the Rose Garden, the wide view over the Downs met the gaze.
Vividly coloured herbaceous borders ran along the side nearest to the
sudden slope of the hill. There is something very pleasing to the senses
when the glance passes from such an ordered kaleidoscope of colour to
the misty vastness of a far-reaching view.

In the middle of the Rose Garden was a sunk fountain in a long narrow
basin.

A batch of pinewood, dark and shady, would have saved the situation; one
sought everywhere for the comfort of real shadows.

We went into the house, which was in the act of being papered and
painted for the millionaires. Delightful in theory as such old buildings
are, we were seized with doubt from the moment of crossing the threshold
whether any sense of quaint antiquity would compensate one for beams on
top of one’s head, for bedrooms the size of a bath-towel, and a general
feeling of having one foot on the hearth and another in the passage. We
thought the newcomers had shown more taste outside, and came to the
conclusion that some one else’s taste ruled in the garden, but that they
had allowed their own ideas free scope indoors. These ideas were
monotonous. The parlour that gave on the little orchard had a paper all
over green parrots; the best bedroom upstairs had a paper all over blue
parrots; and the second best bedroom was adorned with terra-cotta
parrots. The only chance for a conglomeration of rooms so hopelessly low
and contracted, would have been a plain distemper of no tint deeper than
cream, or at the outside butter colour. Then the old beams would have
had a chance, and one might have felt able to draw one’s breath.

‹Fancy waking in the morning to the dance of all the little parrots on
top of one’s eyelids!›

Then, out of a small space, the shapes of trees and flower-beds beyond
come upon the vision with no sense of effect if the space within is
tormented. Neither can anyone have any proper appreciation of the joy of
a bunch of flowers, or a vase of spreading boughs, who has not set them
against plain walls where their shadows have play.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: CONVERTING A COTTAGE]

Another little house near here—set down in the valley this, on the edge
of a hamlet, overlooking a wide pond—has been to our thinking more
successfully dealt with. Three very old cottages have been knocked into
one, and the whole little rambling up-and-down dwelling-place thus
produced has been boldly distempered white within from roof to kitchen.
The round black oak beams are delightful in these little white rooms,
and the pretty, blue-eyed, still youthful spinster who owns them has
been content with a short pair of clear white muslin curtains in every
window; not, be it understood, the London bedroom kind that cuts across
the pane ‹an abomination difficult to avoid in towns›, but proper
curtains hanging over the recess. Nothing more suitable could be
devised, and it took a “real lady,” in the sense of Hans Andersen’s
“Real Princess,” to be content with such fresh simplicity. But
attractive as her furnishing is, and full of genuinely beautiful things,
there our tastes slightly diverged.

[Sidenote: COTTAGE FURNITURE]

[Illustration: landscape]

The largest sitting-room has a set of black lacquer furniture inlaid
with vivid mother-of-pearl; it is deliciously gay in this gay cottage
parlour, and certainly no one who possessed these early Victorian
treasures could bear to put them on one side. We think if we had been
the lucky owner, however, we would have eschewed coupling them with
velvet—or, indeed, brought velvet at all under those weather beaten
tiles. The mistress of the Villino had a vision—a daring vision—of
printed linen with scarlet cherries and impossible birds pecking at
them; something with a true Jacobean angularity in it, to link the
centuries together, and an uncompromising vividness of tint. That for
cushions and sofa-covers. On the floor then, no bright carpet would be
admitted. We should have enamelled that floor white, and cast a few rugs
down on it, with no more colours in them than faint lemons and greys or
creams.

To complete this discursion on cottages, some of us visited the other
day a tiny house, where all the downstairs rooms, except the kitchen,
had been thrown together, making a charming, long, low living-room with
one great black beam across the ceiling. On the walls was a perfect
cottage paper, with isolated pink rose-buds well-distanced from each
other: a pink rosebud chintz and black carpet dotted with faint stiff
roses, made quaint and unusual but very satisfying arrangement. The
windows looked out on a pine wood across a hedge of rampant pink Dorothy
Roses. Gazing out on the dim, dark green grey aisles of the fir trees
one would want the gay note within; and the little Rose-strewn paper was
perfection.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Yesterday the Grandfather of Loki dragged the Grandmother in her
bath-chair out into the heart of the moors. It’s a sporting bath-chair
this. It has been over as much rough ground as a horse artillery
gun-carriage, and nothing in the matter of obstacles stops it unless it
is barbed wire; it was chosen as light in make as possible, and now it
has a rakish, weather-beaten appearance, like an old mountain mule.

The rare strangers we meet on our wild career regard us with varied
sentiments. Some are obviously filled with compassion over the joggling
the occupant of the bath-chair must be enduring. “What can that fool of
a man be about to expose that wretchedly delicate woman to such
suffering?” their expression says to us as they pass. Others, on the
other hand, are horror-stricken at the spectacle of the wifely brutality
that condemns this weakly, good-natured man to the task of lugging her
about. There is a good deal of uphill work, of course, about us, and he
goes a good pace. “You ought to get a donkey, Madam,” is their
conclusion.

On two or three occasions good Samaritans have rushed to assist him,
with glances of scathing rebuke at this new embodiment of woman’s
tyranny.

But they are some of our best days, in spite of outside disapproval.
And, to go back to yesterday, we started off with all the dogs in a
state of “high cockalorum”—Arabella in her most obsequious mood ‹having
been scolded the day before for running away›; Loki, the Chinaman,
trotting on in determined and splendid isolation as usual, it being
quite against Chinese etiquette to speak to any fur-brother _outside_
the garden gates; Betty, and her father Laddie, secretly determined to
go hunting, no matter what execrations should be hurled after them.
Laddie comes from a neighbouring house, and insists on adopting us as
his family. It is very hard to be brutal and say that we won’t be
adopted when a pair of the most beautiful cairngorm eyes in all the
world are looking up at us out of the dear long, wise, pathetic dog
face. In fact, we are not brutal; and Laddie comes and goes as he likes.
Only he is occasionally carried back to his cook ‹who, it seems, duly
loves him› by Juvenal the tender-hearted.

It is very difficult to reach the moors, with this discursiveness! But,
in a sunshine as blazing as that which ever fell from any Italian sky,
we did get into the hollow of the heather hills, and there spend an
afternoon of perfect dreaminess and pleasure.

[Sidenote: BATH CHAIR AND HEATHER]

Loki’s Grandfather took off his coat and marched up the slippery paths,
the bath-chair bumping merrily after him. It is one of his male
prerogatives to scorn the idea of sunstroke, and Loki’s Grandmother is
filled with apprehensions half the time. But when she saw him stretched
on a rug over the heather, smoking his pipe, and the four dogs cast
themselves down in attitudes expressive of their different natures, the
mental horizon became cloudless. The material skies—if such an adjective
can be used in such connexion—the unplumbed dome of mystery above us,
were by no means cloudless, and that was part of their wonderful beauty.
Huge lazy white clouds, so luminous as to be dazzling, sailed over the
rim of the moor and cast shadows of indescribable mauve and purple into
the hollows. A day of such intense light it was that every tree in the
thick of the woods flung its patch of shadow, purple-dark against the
vivid green. And, oh, the colour of the Ling, mixed with Hill Heather,
set with islands of Bracken—Bracken in its proper place—silver under the
sun rays, against the blue! And the scent of the Heath and the Whin!

One doesn’t know if it is exactly one’s soul that the beauty touches,
the appeal is so strongly to the senses. But the soul is of it; for no
mere physical joy can give such a serenity, such an airiness as of wings
to the spirit. Mr. A. C. Benson says, in some early book of his, that
one of the great proofs to him of the existence of God is the feeling
which comes at the sight of a very beautiful prospect. We want to give
ourselves to it—he says—to be absorbed into it; and that is a movement
of the soul, for everything earthly is possessive.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Arabella, who is a very affectionate dog, flung herself down beside her
master, taking up a large share of the rug, and pensively chewed gorse
half the time, the other half being absorbed in extracting its prickles
from her chest. Laddie, of course, slipped off to the chase. The two
little dogs, russet brother and little white sister, whiled away a
period of inaction: Betty, by circling round the bath-chair, jumping in
to assure its occupant that she loved her very much and out again to
show that she was a dog of tact; and Loki, panting in his great fur coat
‹in which condition he grins like a Chinese dragon with his roseleaf
tongue bent back in the oddest little loop between his white teeth› by
seeking cool spots wherein to repose—preferably under the very wheel of
the chair, to his Grandmother’s distraction.

An afternoon to remember, when nothing happened but the greatest
happenings of all: God’s good gifts of sun and wild moor and balmy air!

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



XXXI


[Illustration: flower]

The really artistic member of the _famiglia_ is Juvenal. He settles all
the flowers; and for that alone—for the pleasure he gets from it and the
pleasure he gives—he is worth his weight in gold. The little gold and
mother-of-pearl tinted Italian drawing-room is always a bower.
Yesterday, on the silver table which stands beneath a silver and gold
Ikon, he set a vase of white and yellow Roses. It was a touch of genius!
We are quite sick of reading how beautiful Primroses look in Benares
brass bowls. Personally, we dislike brass bowls for flowers. Glass!
Glass! There is nothing as good as glass, especially when you have the
luck to possess, as we did, a case of old Dutch moulded bottles. They
were made in all kinds of delicious angles—three-cornered, square,
hexagonal—with Tulips stamped in the glass: in such as these a couple of
long-stemmed Roses or Irises, and especially Tulips and Daffodils, are
at their very best.

We have said “they were.” Alas for those Dutch bottles, and for our
folly, improvident wretches as we are, in setting them about for our own
pleasure, instead of shutting them up in a cabinet! Of what were once
eleven perfect irreplaceable treasures ‹the twelfth had a large chip off
its neck from the beginning›, there are only five left! Tittums, the
splendid savage “smoke Persian,” swept the biggest and best off a
chimney-piece with taps of a deliberately evil paw.... And the rest have
gone the way of vases!

“Very sorry, Miss” ‹it’s generally to the Signorina they come: she takes
the edge off the Padrona’s fury›. “I don’t know how it happened, I’m
sure. It came to pieces——”

‹Oh, let us stay our pen! Every owner of precious bric-à-brac knows the
awful sound of those words, and the futility of resentment.›

The Master of the Villino had a teapot. Of yellow Cantagalli pottery it
was, with quaint adornments like caterpillars all over it; it had a
snake handle and a long curving spout. He loved it. He never wanted to
have his tea out of any other vessel. One morning a stranger sat in its
place. He rang the bell severely. One of the nomad footmen, who appear,
and camp, and go away, answered it.

“My teapot.”

‹Yes, it was broken.›

“It came to pieces in your hand, I suppose?” said the master
sarcastically.

The injured expression of the misjudged became painted on John’s face:

“No, sir,” he said with much dignity, “it shut itself in the door!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: MORE PEKINESE WAYS]

[Illustration: dog lying down]

Loki has had a bath, out of due season, because his own artist has come
down from London to limn his imperial splendours for his own book. We
tried to make him understand that it is only smug _nouveaux riches_ who
imagine they can patronize art; that, on the contrary, it is Art which
condescends to us. He put on his most Chinese face and became a
crocodile on the spot. On such occasions his Grandpa calls him a
“Crocowog.” ‹This page is only for the pet dog-lover: superior people,
please pass on!› He is very nice to kiss after his bath, a process
attended on his side by subterranean growls of protest and an alarming
curling of the lip. But—dear little gentle creature as he is at heart—it
is not in him to bite even the most persistent tormentor.

When his Grandfather amuses himself by what he calls “Squeezing the
growls out” every morning, Loki tries vainly to keep up a show of
displeasure, but always ends on his back with a windmill waving of
pretty prayerful paws.

[Illustration: dog facing away]

Loki has his own very marked ideas on the subject of jokes; at least he
has one—in fact, an only joke! It took his Grandfather some time to
apprehend it; but constant repetition of the incident ‹after the
consecrated fashion of the British farce› is beginning to make him see
the point of it. The joke is this: at the top, or the bottom, of the
garden, as the case may be, coming in from, or going out for, a walk,
Loki stands stock still, generally unperceived till you are midway. No
coaxing, whistling, or screaming will budge him. He will stand there a
quarter of an hour, it may be. And the point of the joke is that you
must get behind him and stamp your feet, and say “Naughty Dog!” Then
Loki careers up or down in paroxysms of merriment. This may not appeal
to some people’s special bump of hilarity; and as it is useless to try
to explain a jest, we will leave those to enjoy the spinach story.

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



XXXII


England is so seldom visited by hot weather such as we now have, that,
especially in our little place with its foreign stamp within and
without, one keeps thinking of other lands. There was the one hot summer
we went visiting in country houses in Italy—two country houses, to be
precise, and both of them were “_castelli_.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: A CASTELLO IN PIEDMONT]

The first ‹which we preferred vastly› was on a high plateau in the
middle of the Piedmontese plain, not far from Turin. From that
entrancing spot the view lay over wide undulating stretches of maize
fields and vineyards; and the eye could not turn North, West, East or
South without resting on a distant panorama of Alps or Apennines.

That was a hot summer with a vengeance! We were met in the dusk of the
evening—the soft warm dusk of such days in Italy, when the caress of the
air is like the touch of velvet—by a gay little equipage drawn by three
mountain horses abreast, each with a collar of bells and a red hussar
plume erect on its forehead. It was the most merry vehicle we have ever
driven in. How those horses went! How they tossed their heads and how
their bells jangled!

A beautiful old French style castello it was, by no means spoilt in our
eyes by having been left with rough brick. Now we hear that its
ambitious owners have faced it with stone and are themselves charmed
with the result. No doubt its original picturesqueness had its
disadvantages, for innumerable birds built under the eaves amid those
rough bricks. At the approach of any vehicle the air was full of flying
wings. The flutter and the sound of them! We thought the place all
delightful and characteristic; wonderfully more attractive than the
pompous banality of the now renewed mansion, photographs of which we
have since had mendaciously to admire.

Inside it was cool and charming; full of old French furniture and
irreplaceable family relics. Some of these have recently been sold, to
defray, no doubt, part of the cost of the new exterior.

The sedan chair of _Madame la Maréchale_ in pre-Revolution days remains
in my memory as a regret; it was a wonder of old Vernis-Martin. We hope
they have kept the great flags that used to hang in the hall. The
reigning châtelaine did not really care for any of these old things. Her
heart was set on the joys of a Roman _appartement_, and its concomitant
social gaieties.

[Sidenote: GRANDCHILDREN]

There was a spacious white hall with impossible paintings of a boar hunt
on its walls, opening upon an endless series of reception rooms. And
through these lofty chambers three little children were running about in
little white linen tunics, and nothing on underneath, because of the
heat of the weather. Their hair was cut in mediæval fashion, straight
across the forehead and straight again across the shoulders. There was
also a most adorable baby of eleven months carried about by a soft-eyed
_Balia_. Out of the mountains she had come, this creature, to cherish
another’s child! And a series of misfortunes had fallen upon her little
home since her departure: the death of her own nursling followed by the
death of the cow! “_Cara moglie_,” her husband wrote on each occasion,
“do not grieve. It is the will of God!”

There were no doubt other very simple reasons for these catastrophes:
the pitiable poverty of the family which had made it necessary for the
poor woman to sell her mother-rights, and possibly the tainted milk of
the sick cow which had poisoned the little mountaineer. But call it
fate, or the intolerable economic system of modern Italy, it came round
in the end to the same thing. “Do not grieve, _cara moglie_. It is the
will of God!”

She had done her best to help her own, and this was her comfort in her
sorrow. It was not such a bad comfort; and the most advanced thinker
cannot prove after all that it was not the will of God.

It was difficult, too, for the foster-mother to weep long when Baby
Maddalena danced on the stone of the terrace with little bare brown
feet. She had the bluest eyes and the brownest face that ever we beheld,
and laughed and gurgled as she danced, with very high action, upheld by
the ends of her sash by the adoring _Balia_, whose own face and neck
above her string of gold beads were the colour of a ripe apricot.

It would be difficult to have devised a fortnight of greater interest,
amusement, and quaintness than that of this Piedmontese visit. It was a
thoroughly foreign household. The handsome white-bearded athletic father
of the Chatelaine, tied to his chair by an attack of gout, had his
apartments downstairs. And on an upper floor the mother of the Marchese
had her own complete establishment, including a wonderful library, all
tawny gold. There was a baroque Chapel; and one of our most vivid
recollections was our pulling the children down by their sashes as they
swung themselves over the tops of the benches, doubled up like golden
fleeces till their curly heads and their little shoes touched.

One thing never to be omitted was to watch Monte Rosa at sunset. The
night before our departure there was a thunderstorm far, far away in
those Alps where Monte Rosa rises in beauty. At every flash, peak beyond
peak shone out in distances hitherto wrapped away even from the
imagination.

“Why does the sky do like that?” asked the second boy, vigorously
blinking his great eyes. With straight black hair and an odd, serious
little countenance, square-jawed and long upper-lipped like a Medici out
of Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes, he was the most mediæval-looking of all
the children. We loved that four-year-old.... He has grown up, we hear,
“impossible” and a burden to his family. We cannot help feeling it must
be the family’s fault. The elder boy, much handsomer though he was, did
not then promise so well. A terribly nervous child; the cry “_Ho
paura_,” was always on his lips. It hurt his grandfather’s pride that
any son of his race should show such degenerate timidity.

One typical scene we were witness of. The little fellow, in great awe of
the peremptory, loud-voiced old sportsman, approached him to say
good-night; and, hanging his head after the manner of the frightened
child, stammered the requisite “_Bonsoir, Bonpapa_,” almost inaudibly.

Instantly wrath broke out over him. ‹Bonpapa’s temper had not improved
with the gout.› “That was not the manner in which to say good-night.”—“A
man was to look up: to speak straight.” “What does one say?” he ended,
shouting.

“_Pardon!_” cried the poor, terrified imp, with a wail.

This child, over whom were so many head-shakings, doubts and laments,
has grown up so brave and fine a boy that it would have rejoiced the
heart of the old Vicomte to see him now. His was a stormy heart that
wanted much of life, and therefore, of course, knew much bitterness. It
is stilled now, alas! this many a year.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: A CASTELLO IN LOMBARDY]

From this comparatively modern mansion in the Piedmont we went to an
old, old castle in the plains of Lombardy. The chronicles have it that
Barbarossa besieged it. It was approached through a considerable
village—one of great antiquity, and still retaining the lines of the
Roman _castrum_, with all its streets parallel or at right-angles. At
the top of the main of these the great machicolated entrance of the
Castello, with its faded frescoes across the arch, was very impressive
in mediæval strength. The church shouldered one corner of the immense
pile of outer wall; and each side of the moat, between the towers,
inside and out, peasant houses had crept.

The Castello itself, of extreme antiquity, as has been said, formed two
sides of a square, round, and flagged courtyard. The garden ran sheer up
the hill, within the tower-flanked walls of the outer bailey. There were
vineyards inside; and outside, where the ground fell away, the whole
land was likewise covered with vines. They ran up and down long ridges,
like petrified waves, as far as the eye could see. And in the far, far
distance, almost lost in the horizon, were the Alps.

What a view that was from the loopholes of those half-ruined
towers—especially at sunset, when there gathered a rosy mist over that
curious, wild-tossing expanse!

Could we go back now to that unique spot, what a vast amount of æsthetic
pleasure should we not draw from it? But it must be admitted that we
were gross-minded enough at the time to allow material discomfort to
overcome all other impressions.

[Illustration: castle tower]

To lodge in a genuine old Lombard Castle, with stone floors and stairs
hewn in the immense thickness of the stone; to look out upon one side
into the moat, and to see the peasant houses clinging to the massive
foundations far below like barnacles to a rock; to look out on the other
side upon the odd rise of sunburnt garden up to the vineyard and the
towers; to imagine oneself back into the very heart of the Middle Ages
may be very inspiring, in theory. But mediæval sensibilities were
undoubtedly more blunted than ours. The smell of that moat running with
the refuse of the crowded Italian village!... For additional pungency,
all the water in the place came from sulphur springs! The reek of it was
in one’s nostrils all day from merely washing in it.

The household was composed of peasant women out of the village. The wife
of the barber, the mother of the shoemaker, and others, clattered about
the stone passages in their _mules_—a style of foot-gear which leaves
the foot free from the instep. It was perhaps as well that the heels
were high, for their idea of housemaiding ‹a method which appertains in
most Italian households to this day› was first to walk about with a pail
and to slop water out of it over the flags of the floor; then to sweep
the resulting wet mess into a puddle where the stone was worn most
hollow or under the carpet!

Some attempts at a housemaid’s sink had been excavated in the stone at
the head of the stairs outside our set of rooms; but there was generally
a small cataract of soapy water dripping down the steps, for the simple
practice of the _donna_ that attended on our apartment was to stand on
the landing outside our doors and to shy the contents of her bucket
upwards.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The delightful friend with whom we stayed, though not born of the
country, had fallen quite resignedly into its ways. And, indeed, the
castle was chiefly ruled by the _Princesse Mère_, a châtelaine of the
old school, who used to arise in the grey dawn and pull the iron chain
of the great bell that hung outside her windows, to call the vassals to
their daily work.

“Come, come!” she was frequently heard addressing some dependent or
other whose movements were more indolent than she approved of. “Are you
here for your comfort or for mine?”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The table was served, copiously, with singular Italian dishes. There was
a favourite soup with stewed quails in it: the whole animal, bones and
beak and all! It is an unspeakable dish to have set before you on a hot
day. Patties filled with cocks’ combs might follow. Even the _Risotto_
was intermingled with such strange mincings of liver and cutlet
trimmings that one hesitated before venturing. The _Fritura_, needless
to say, was in full force. A lucky dip, that! You may come across
yesterday’s cauliflower, a bit of forgotten sweetbread, a slice of
sausage, a frizzled artichoke, and half the quail you couldn’t eat the
night before—all in one spoonful!

Besides the fierce matutinal summons of the domestic bell, one’s sleep
was constantly disturbed by a jangle of chimes from the church: a
perfect frenzy of joy-bells it was, so prolonged and insistent that
sleep was beaten out of one’s brain as with hammers.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE ANGELS’ MASS]

“What,” we asked our younger hostess, the third day of this infliction,
“what are these carillons, morning after morning?”

“Oh, that?—That is for the Angels’ Mass,” she answered us indifferently.

“The Angels’ Mass?”

“Yes. A child dead in the village.”

“But every morning?”

“There have been several deaths lately. It is the fever from the rice
fields.”

Pleasant hearing for a woman with an only little daughter just
recovering from a rather serious illness! Every smell that greeted her
nostrils afterwards—and they were of a diversified and poignant
description—seemed laden with the germs of death. But the young
_Principessa_ had absorbed a good deal of the indolent indifference of
her adopted country towards hygiene.

“You, with your English notions!” was all the comfort her visitor got,
offered in tones of good-humour not unmixed with contempt. Or else:
“What you smell, my dear, is only carbolic; and that is very healthy.”

A few dabs of disinfectant had indeed been distributed about the moat,
on much the same principle, and with the same effect, as the red pepper
which is served with wild duck, just to heighten the flavour of the
dish.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: ENTOMOLOGICAL MYSTERIES]

Perhaps the most lasting impression of that Lombardy sojourn was the
morning discovery in a glass of drinking-water which had been placed
beside the bed the previous night, of the most extraordinary creature
any of us had ever seen. It was like a very large shrimp, perfectly
transparent, with such gigantic antennæ and legs that they protruded
over the top of the tumbler!

No one else in the castle had ever beheld anything like it either, it
appeared; except one old woman, who described it vaguely as “_una bestia
del acqua_.” But as it most certainly had not been in the tumbler when
the water was put into it, its origin remains for ever a mystery.

A few nights later the little girl of the party of travellers found one
of these zoological mysteries in a quite empty tumbler! We might have
thought it a practical joke played on the _forestieri_, only that no one
could have come into the room without the knowledge of its occupants.

This, and the sudden departure of the “chef” who had been responsible
for the little quails in the soup, did upset the equanimity of the
pretty hostess.

“To think,” she cried, “that I should invite my best friend here, to
starve or poison her!... And that unknown beasts should get into her
drinking-water! I—I have been here every summer for eleven years and I
have never seen a beast like that!”

She thought we had dreamt the first monster. The second was carried in
to her, with its horrible transparent legs bristling over the tumbler.
She surveyed it hopelessly.

“_Il ne manquait plus que cela!_”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Yet one looks back on it all with a kind of tenderness. It was all so
picturesque! What a dwelling might have been made of that antique castle
by anyone who had the money and the art to spend it!

But, alas!... In the great stone bedchambers where we lodged there were
blinds with Swiss scenes depicted in the most vivid colours: a mountain
maiden and a Mont Blanc, and a torrent upon each.... Incongruity could
go no farther—except perhaps in the billiard-room, which had been done
up by the _Principe_ and was always shown off with great pomp. It was a
splendid vaulted apartment, dating from the Barbarossa period; there
were four deep niches hewn out of the stone: well, in two of these were
placed large Chinese Mandarins, with heads that nodded if anyone could
reach high enough to set them going; and, in the other two were plaster
statues of the worst garden description: Flora with a basket, Ceres with
a lumpy sheaf!

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

[Illustration: AUTUMN]

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



[Illustration: landscape with man and pets]



XXXIII


[Sidenote: SOME GARDEN GHOSTS]

There is no ghost in the garden of the Villino. Neither the meek spirit
of Susan nor Tom’s saturnine spectre haunts the peaceful glade where
they lie. ‹Juvenal has planted a “Tree of Heaven” at the head of his
ever-mourned darling and covered the grave with Forget-me-nots!›

                  *       *       *       *       *

My youth ‹these reminiscences are contributed by Loki’s grandmother› was
spent in a large country place in Ireland, and to us children—we were
six then—certain walks, certain dells in the woods, were assuredly
haunted.

The property had long ago belonged to one Lady Tidd, who so adored it
that she had herself buried on a hill overlooking it, her coffin upright
in its tall square tomb. It was Lady Tidd who was popularly supposed to
haunt the fair wooded lands that had come to us. This Dysart Hill, on
the top of which the ruined chapel and the deserted graveyard lay, was a
favourite walk of our childish days. When our short legs had mastered
the difficulties of the slope—and a very stony slope it was, covered
towards the summit with a fine mountain grass, than which no footing is
more slippery—we never failed to wander round to that singular monument,
through the massive granite door of which she who stood in the upright
coffin was supposed to be gazing down upon the distant prospect of our
own home. It was never without an awful sense of horror and mystery that
I pictured those dead eyes, endowed with miraculous vision, piercing
through wood and stone to stare out upon what she still loved. Some
apprehension of the horror and tragedy of bodily death and of the dread
power of the spirit seized hold of my small soul as I contemplated that
grave of human folly and of poor human aspiration. There it was,
perhaps, that an overpowering dislike of graveyards began in me.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lady Tidd was seen by a gardener of ours, between two Yew trees, in a
dark corner outside the garden wall.

“She riz up out of the ground at me,” he told my mother. And he added,
as a convincing detail, that his hat stood up on his equally rising
hair. “Sure, wasn’t me hat lifted an inch off me head, ma’m?”

My mother, strong-souled creature as she was, laughed with a fine
scepticism. Another kind of spirit had done the mischief, she declared.
But we who heard could not so easily dismiss the agonizingly fascinating
tale. We knew that spot outside the garden wall, in the shadow of the
black Yew trees; and the fear and the darkness that always fell upon us
when we passed it.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Another dreaded place was a certain Primrose dell, beautifully starred
with blossoms, beautifully green, beautifully shaded; the very place for
happy children, it would seem, and for long hours of flower-picking
gipsy teas and endless games. It was quite lost in the woods that banded
the property, away from intrusions of nurse or governess—and yet, how
haunted! Never shall I forget—I feel it now as I write—the profound
misery that would seize upon me at the very entrance to the laughing
glade.

I am not sure, however, that there was not a tangible reason for this
depression, connected with the disappearance of a fondly-loved
four-footed playfellow. A darling dog he was: one of the jocose,
high-spirited kind; his open mouth and hanging tongue seemed to show him
a partaker in human mirth, with a waggish humour all his own. ‹No pun is
intended!› He had a rough tangled coat, black and white, a flag of a
tail, flopping ears. He was the swiftest, gayest, most romping creature
that has ever shared the play of children. We adored him. His name was
Carlo. I don’t know of what breed he was, if of any.... Alas! he hunted
the sheep! He disappeared! No one knew what had become of him. We
children never ascertained anything, but there was a rumour—a dark,
untraceable, yet most convincing rumour—that somebody had seen the
small, rough corpse hanging from a tree-trunk, not far from the Primrose
dell. Was it not that, perhaps, which haunted the dell for me?

[Sidenote: THE LOATHELY HERD]

We suspected the herd. A large, fat, round-faced, smiling man, this;
with an unctuous, creeping voice that seemed to gurgle up like a slow
oil-bubble from inner recesses of obesity. A man who at intervals would
remark, seeing us grouped about our mother, “You’ve a lovely lot of
ladies, ma’m, God bless them!”—as if we were little pigs or calves.

He had a sinister reputation with us already on account of his
periodical dealings with sheep, which we, tender-hearted and
impressionable children, scarcely as much as hinted to each other; and
certainly never really associated with the roast mutton that appeared
twice a week.

No, we did not like Green, the herd; and I, the smallest of the “lovely
lot,” would cling to my mother’s skirts when his little twinkling eye
turned in my direction.

                  *       *       *       *       *

For a long time he was associated in my mind with the horror of a
conversation which passed between him and my mother. How well I remember
that day! We were walking through one of the upper fields towards a
village called Hop Hall, which also belonged to the estate. It was a
lovely meadow with a curious little wood in the middle of it, ringed
like a moat by a streamlet in which the cattle drank. This wood was full
of wild Crab-apples; the blossom of it hung over the water and was
mirrored therein. The field caught the sweep of wind that blew from the
top of the hill with the breath of the Pine-trees. It was a carpet of
Cowslips in the right season.

Well, as we walked, my mother and four little girls and one little boy,
the herd stumping along with a stick—he had a lame leg—his ragged dog
behind him, there came the following interchange of remarks, which set a
seal of terror on my young mind. My mother mentioned her intention of
visiting Hop Hall, and then inquired how a certain old woman might be
who dwelt there. She had been long bedridden.

“Troth, and she’s the same as ever!”

“My goodness,” exclaimed my mother, “why, she must be nearly a hundred!”

“She must be that, me lady.—Begorra, she’ll have to be shot!”

My mother laughed, and so did the herd. The anguish of the small
listener passes description; and there ensued a veritable haunting. The
herd she could understand, she knew him to be a criminal of the deepest
dye. But her mother!...

It was months before a benevolent governess discovered the hidden sore,
and explained and consoled. It was only a joke! It left a rankling
tenderness. I could see no humour in it.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It is no wonder that Irish children should be fanciful, surrounded as
they are, or were in my day, with the quaint, superstitious beliefs of
servants and peasantry. Our chief nursery comfort and most beloved
companion was the old housekeeper, who had begun her life in the service
of our mother’s grandmother. That takes one back! Whenever we had a free
moment we trotted into her sitting-room for pleasant conversation and,
maybe, a biscuit, a bit of chocolate or candy. She had the key of the
stores.

“I declare if I was made of sugar, you’d have me eaten!” she would say;
a cannibalistic possibility I made it a point of earnestly disclaiming.

[Sidenote: THE THREE KINGS AND THE STAR]

The linen room was where she sat, in a quaint, painted, high-backed
armchair by the window. She gazed straight out across a yard to a
shrubbery dominated by three large Fir trees over which the evening star
would peep, a tremulous yellow. She called those Fir trees her Three
Kings, and never failed to lift her hands in wonder and gratitude over
the beauty of the star. Poetry goes deep into the hearts of the Irish.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I can see that room now. The whole of one side was filled with
cupboards—presses, we called them—where, behind buff wire gratings and
beautifully fluted bright pink calico, the linen was stored. A few
nursery groceries, biscuit and dessert oddments were kept in a cupboard
just at the entrance; and there was always a faint fragrance of raisins
and spice in the atmosphere. I can see the dear occupant of the room
too; the picture of beautiful old age, with banded silver hair beneath
the snow-white cap which was tied with muslin strings under her chin. I
can see her apple-blossom cheeks and her blue eyes, clear and innocent
as a child’s, yet so wise! She had a white starched kerchief folded
across her black bodice, and her black skirt was gathered with a great
many pleats round the comfortable rotundity of her figure. We used to
find her sitting by the casement in the twilight, gazing out. If the
mood took me, I would sit on her knee and stare out too. Every few
minutes or so she would sigh, not with sadness, but gently, as the woods
sigh, with scarcely perceptible movement on a still night. But though I
knew it to be no sigh of distress, it nevertheless troubled me. I would
ask anxiously:

“Why do you sigh, Mobie?”

Her answer was always the same:

“Old age, Alanna!”

Her name was Mrs. O’Brien, which was interpreted Mobie by our baby lips.

In same fashion the first nurse, whom I only vaguely remember, erect,
small, severe, and kind, had degenerated from Mrs. Hughes into Shuzzie;
and the queer, tiny head housemaid, baptized Bridget, was Dadgie. A
unique personage this, minute as she was active, with bobbing bunches of
grey curls on each side of her grey net cap with purple ribbons which
were tied under her chin. Upon the rare occasions when some damage
occurred to the china or glass under her hands, she would trot into my
mother with the announcement:

“Oh, ma’am, I’ve made a ‘_foo pas_!’”

No one knew where she had picked up this inappropriate bit of French.

Dear, quaint, pathetic, busy little creature, buzzing about the house
with a flapping duster! I have a vision of her too, as I write: her huge
poke bonnet overshadowing the small, important face; her bobbing curls
as she fluttered in to confession in the oratory on those monthly
occasions when the old parish priest—another figure out of long past
times, he too, with his white head, his black stockings and buckle
shoes, his full-skirted coat—came out from the little country town to
“hear” the household.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE FAIRIES]

My mother used to call the three old women servants her three duchesses.
Alas! two of these dignitaries passed away very early in my
recollection. Fortunately, Mobie, the best beloved, was left to us till
later years. It is to her that my thoughts most readily return.

[Illustration: profile of old woman]

She was a store-house of anecdotes and legends. Never would she speak,
nor allow anyone to speak before her, of the fairies otherwise than as
“the good people”; and then it was with bated breath. It was established
as a fact among us that in her girlhood she had had communication with
them. Certainly, we believed, she had seen them one evening dancing in a
ring; but never could she be got to tell us in detail anything about
these experiences. The very mystery of her silence confirmed our theory.

What a delightful volume one could have made out of the tales that fell
from her lips upon our small listening ears by the nursery fire; or in
the linen room with its uncurtained window and its vision of the Three
Kings and the Star.

From many memories one floats back to me. It made a great impression:

“... And when Tim Brenahan was on his way home that evening, wasn’t it
round by the wall he went, and didn’t he see two great cats sitting on
the top of it with their tails hanging over? And didn’t one cat say to
the other, as plain as can be, and didn’t he hear it, just as you do be
hearing me:

“Says one, ‘And what’s the news this evening?’ And says the other, ‘No
news at all,’ says he. ‘Only that the widdie Moloney’s old tabby’s gone
at last,’ says he, ‘and it’s the great funeral will be to-night,’ says
he.

“And when Tim Brenahan came home to his wife, says she to him, ‘And
what’s the news this evening, Tim, asthore?’

[Illustration: two cats sitting on a wall]

“And says he to her, ‘Faith, no news at all,’ says he, ‘save as I was
coming home by the long wall beyont, there was two great fellers of cats
sitting on the top of it. And says one to the other, “The widdie
Moloney’s tabb’s goney at last,” says he, “and it’s the grand burying on
her there’ll be to-night.”’

“And no sooner were the words out of his mouth when his own tom-cat ups
with him and shakes himself where he was sittin’ starin’ at the turf,
and says he ‘Then it’s time for me to be off,’ says he, ‘or I’ll be late
for the funeral.’ And out of the door with him, with his tail all of a
bristle....”

I was rather awed by that story, which, to my infant mind, bore the
stamp of unmistakable veracity; but nothing that proceeded from the
linen room ever really distressed me. Its ruling spirit was too benign
and too perfectly in harmony with us.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: AN OLD IRISH NURSE]

The terror of those days to me was the fragile-looking, soft-voiced,
mincing widow who became our nurse after the death of the fine old
martinet by whom we had been ruled before. It was not surprising that
our mother should have imagined she was passing us over to a much
gentler authority; but as a matter of fact—indolent, ignorant,
peevish—the new nursery autocrat was given to enforcing her orders by
threats of a ghastly and impossible description.

“I’ll cut your tongue out,” was a favourite menace, which, if defied,
would be supplemented by—“Wait, now, till I run and get my scissors.”

Stronger of body, more enlightened in mind, my co-nurseryites treated
these remarks with the scorn they deserved. But I cannot describe the
agony with which they pressed upon me. It is peculiar to all children
that these terrors are never communicated to others. Not even to my
brothers and sisters would I breathe one word of my apprehensions. But
the misery took shape in horrible dreams and sleepless nights. And when
matters became too intolerable, I would creep out of my little bed, and
patter across the bare boards into the adjoining room where the
housekeeper slept. On no single occasion did she show the smallest
severity or even annoyance at being disturbed.

[Illustration: little girl]

“Mobie,” I would pipe, “I’m afraid!... May I get into your bed?”

“Come in, Alanna,” was the invariable response.

Oh! the comfort of snuggling against her!

Whether she promptly fell asleep again, or whether she watched and
talked loving nonsense one felt equally safe, equally blessedly happy.
If she slept, it was lightly enough, like all old people; and each time
she turned or moved in the bed, the small bed-fellow would hear her
murmur:

“The Lord have mercy on me!”

It was not a deliberate prayer, scarcely even a conscious thought, but
the natural movement of the soul.

Little wonder that, being what she was, she who had lain down every
night, as it were, in the very arms of Providence, should pass to her
last sleep as simply and fearlessly.

“Are you frightened, mother?” cried her daughter, bending over her at
the very end. She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Frightened? How could I be frightened? Am I not going to my best
friend?”

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



XXXIV


Looking back now, it seems to me that the whole of my childhood was
pursued by one phantom or another. The smell of the woods through the
open nursery window on a hot summer’s night turned me sick with an
unspeakable apprehension. Believers in reincarnation would attribute
this peculiarity to some sylvan tragedy in a previous existence. No
doubt there must have been a physical explanation. I have come to the
conclusion that most things in life are capable of a double
interpretation; which is the same thing as saying that there are two
aspects to every question!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Is it usual for children, I wonder, to see such marvellous colours,
shapes, and appearances in the dark as both I and a sister did, between
the ages of five and eight? Kaleidoscopic colours running one into the
other, and an odd, very frequently recurrent vision of a cushion covered
with gold pieces which poured down on the bed.

My husband, as a small child, would behold complete scenes in the corner
of his nursery, and would pull his nurse on one side impatiently when
she impeded his view. And let me here note a curious incident connected
with his juvenile imaginings. All his life, as far back as he could
remember, he had a recurrent dream of terror—at fairly rare intervals—of
an immense wave rising up before him like a mountain and curling over at
the top, about to overwhelm the land. He told me of this dream after we
were married, adding that though it was so distinct that he could draw
it, he knew it for a purely fantastic nightmare; knew that no such tall
and steep wave as he beheld in his sleep could exist in nature. A few
years ago—we were at Brighton, I remember—he brought up to me from the
hotel room an illustrated paper, and, laying it on the table before me,
said: “Look—there is my dream!”

I looked. It was an illustration that held the whole page. I saw a huge
wall of water, rising sheer black, with a toppling crest of white—an
awful, threatening vision! I read underneath: “Photograph of the recent
tidal wave in Japan.”

Who can explain the mystery? He had had that dream first as a baby boy
in Paris, some forty-five years before. No such sight, no such picture
had ever come across his waking consciousness.

A tidal wave in Japan ... so far has my discursive mind led me from
garden ghosts!

                  *       *       *       *       *

We know a haunted garden belonging to an old Manor House in Dorsetshire
which was our abode one summer, five or six years ago. The house had
once been Catherine Parr’s. It was full of ghosts too, but I am none too
sure that they were mellow sixteenth-century spectres; rather I believe
were they the objectionable offspring of a table-rapping spiritualistic
owner.

[Sidenote: THE FORGOTTEN NUN]

The garden ghost was, to our thinking, neither Tudor nor modern, but
that of a sad little eighteenth-century nun. For, passing through many
hands, the place had for a time been a convent. A gentle community,
turned out by the French Revolution, had been offered a refuge in this
far corner of England by the then papist possessor of “The Court.” The
place had its previous story of faith and persecution: its parish
church, which had long clung to the old dispensation, and its priest
martyr still lying in the little churchyard. All this is forgotten now.
We knew nothing of it, nor of the nuns; but oddly enough, when we came
into the house, one of us said to the other: “I am sure there was a
chapel here.”

[Illustration: nun]

Well, when the nuns packed up their goods and returned to France, they
took away with them too ‹so tradition says› the coffins of some sisters
who had been buried in the garden. Surely they had forgotten one! What
else could account for the dreadful melancholy which fell upon us at a
particular turn of the walk that ran round that sunny, bowery enclosure?
There was nothing whatsoever suggestive about the spot. The high, warm
wall with the spreading fruit trees rose on one side; an Apple tree and
a clump of Hazels held the other—yet so sure as one came to this place
the heart was gripped, the spirit seized. We each of us felt it;
visitors felt it. That dear, departed cat, Tom, of venerable memory—he
was a great ghost-seer—he felt it—nay, he saw it! His tail would
bristle, his fur stare, he would stand and then flee as if pursued for
his life.

The poor little nun, lying in a foreign land, away from the rest of her
sisters, forgotten!—Ghosts have walked for much less. In fact, it is
curious to note that the restlessness of most authenticated ghosts seems
due to an objection to their place of burial. And on this score—if the
anecdote takes me away from gardens, it brings me back to them in the
end—I have in my mind another tale. It is a true story, as the children
say, connected with a house which we have often visited in Ireland: an
old monastery, full of that curious depression in its stateliness which
so many confiscated church properties retain. It was haunted in many
ways.

Personally, beyond unpleasant sensations in traversing some particular
corridor and landing, we never met any ghost in the Abbey. But then we
were not placed in _the_ ghost-room.

[Sidenote: A STRONG MIND CONVINCED]

An old friend of our hostess, an elderly lady, was not so kindly
treated. She was a spinster of robust constitution and strong mind; a
type of the particular generation which comes between the nervous
gentility of the Early Victorian sisterhood and the present day
“suffrage” community. No doubt the mistress of the Abbey believed her
ghost-proof. But she was mistaken. After the first night in the Lavender
Bedroom, the visitor’s appearance at breakfast pointed so conclusively
to the fatigue of sleeplessness that, with some misgiving, her friend
drew her on one side to question her in private:

“Were you disturbed, Lucy?”

“I was, Mary.” The maiden lady was not a person of many words.

“Did you—did you ... see any thing, Lucy?” exclaimed the hostess. The
family had but lately come into possession; and the idea of haunters and
haunted annoyed rather than frightened her.

“I did,” said the friend firmly.

Some persuasion was necessary before she would relate her experience. At
last it was extracted from her in some such shape as this:

                  *       *       *       *       *

“I couldn’t sleep. Towards two in the morning I heard a noise. I thought
it was rats. I sat up in bed to feel for the matches: couldn’t find
them. There came a light, on the opposite wall. I stared. I saw a monk
in it. He began to move. He didn’t look alive: he looked like a magic
lantern. He went out of the room through the closed door. I got up,
opened the door, looked out into the passage. Yes, Mary, the light was
there, and the figure in it, too. It moved along the wall. I followed
it. It disappeared before the cross doors. I went back to bed. No, I’m
not frightened, but I haven’t slept. I’d like another room, please. No,
I wasn’t asleep—it wasn’t a dream. I can’t explain it. Nor you either, I
suppose.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The hostess pondered. It was true she couldn’t explain. She had heard of
that apparition before—perhaps had seen it. It was certainly very
annoying. She promised her friend to give instant orders for the
preparation of another room; and then made a request that the matter
should not be mentioned to her daughter—an impressionable, imaginative
girl of eighteen.

The maiden lady snorted. It wasn’t likely.

Rosamund, the daughter, had of course known all about it long ago;
while, after the fashion of her kind, keeping her counsel demurely
before her elders, she had discussed freely the thrilling appanage of
her new home with all the companions of her own age who came to stay at
the Abbey.

It was she who was destined to lay the ghost. One rainy afternoon later
in the same summer, the young members of the house-party found
themselves stranded together in the great hall, and Rosamund cheerfully
suggested table-turning and spirit-rapping to while away the time till
tea. It is a never-failing amusement.

Having produced a satisfactory condition of lurching, and elicited
several quite distinct raps from the round mahogany table, she cried
out:

“Let us call up the ghost.”

Responsive knocks came, loud and marked. A system of communication was
promptly established. Two raps for yes, one for no. Then the questioning
began.

With much laughter and some agreeable tremors, it was ascertained that
the monk-ghost belonged to the community which had dwelt so long at the
Abbey; that he was dissatisfied with his present place of burial, which
was outside the old monks’ burying-ground, now a part of the actual
garden.

It is always safe, as I have said, to question a ghost on this point.
Now, however, some difficulty ensued when, through the limited medium,
the rapping spirit endeavoured to specify the spot of its present abode,
and the field was too wide for exactness—until a young sailor cousin
intervened. He had been playing, in mere idleness and utter scepticism,
the rather gruesome game. But at this point he roused himself,
interested to put the matter to the proof. He fetched pencil and paper,
and drew up a scheme of latitude and longitude with reference to the
garden walls; and finally determined the position where the discontented
ghost announced that his bones were actually reposing.

With professional neatness he made a plan of the shrubbery, marked the
grave thereon, and the whole party resolved to sally forth with spades
“to see if the old ghost spoke the truth.” The sailor cousin was
particularly jocose in unbelief.

[Sidenote: LAID AT LAST]

Yet truly, the next day, in the very place designated, they came upon
bones—to be exact, upon a skeleton complete save for the skull. The
sailor was the first to rush back to the Abbey and collect a circle for
a fresh séance. And once more the phantom monk rapped out latitude and
longitude in connexion with his skull; once more he was found to be a
ghost of the most complete veracity. And the end of this true story is
that the skeleton, complete with its cranium, was laid duly and
reverently in the old consecrated ground in the garden. And the monk
appeared no more in the Lavender Room.

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



XXXV


I promised to return to gardens, and here I am. What a garden that was!
Not a bit uncomfortable in spite of its company of departed friars. The
monk’s old Yew Walk was there; such a one as has not its match in the
kingdom, I believe. There too were fields of “Malmaison” Carnations.
Never have I beheld such lavishness before or since. The scent of the
things! It was our hostess’s rather extravagant fancy. I don’t know that
I exactly envy it. It was almost too much, but yet it was a wonder!

                  *       *       *       *       *

I think it was a dream of very childish days that started my haunting
dread of graveyards; that, and the peculiar desolation of the little
burial-place through which we passed every Sunday morning to go to the
Chapel near our country home. It was what is called in Ireland a
“station,” that is a Chapel of Ease, which was only attended on Sundays
and shut up on week-days. Deprived of the flicker of the Sanctuary lamp,
the place seemed, except for that brief Sunday service, as deserted
within as it was forlorn without.

[Sidenote: GREEN GRAVES]

I dreamt that all those poor neglected green graves—there was hardly one
with even a black painted cross to mark it—had become endued with
ghastly life and started in pursuit of me down the familiar country
road. In a frightful, stealthy silence they wallowed and leaped, gaining
on me as I ran, in my dream, in a panic that I can hardly even now bear
to think back on.

For years afterwards I never walked away from that little churchyard,
even in the large and cheerful company of my sisters, clutching the
solid hand of governess or nurse, without the nightmare terror coming on
me again. Not a word did I breathe of it, of course; but I would look
back over my shoulder, at every turn of the road, horribly expecting to
see those uncanny green hounds on the trace of my miserable little
heels.

[Illustration: children walking]

It was only in my walks I feared, however. When driving backwards and
forwards to Mass I felt I could defy the graves. We always drove to the
Sunday Mass. How vivid are the impressions of those early days! As I
write I have before me the whole scene. Just before the cracked bell
ceased ringing, we would file up the little front aisle and enter the
pew reserved for us; my mother very solemn, with what we called her
church face; our two governesses and we children. In summer each of the
four little girls wore a new starched, very full-skirted print frock;
and the one little boy of the party a white duck suit equally stiff from
the wash. Our wooden pew ran on the right side of the Sanctuary rails
and was shut off by a little door from the rest of the chapel. It had
long bright red rep cushions, and the wood-work was painted a peculiarly
pale yellow, handsomely and wormily grained! Just opposite to us, the
better class farmers’ families were installed; and every new fashion
that appeared in our bench was promptly copied by the bouncing Miss
Condrens and Miss Mahons opposite.

There was, I recollect, one personage who inspired me with great
admiration. She was a Mrs. Condren and her Christian name was Eliza. The
daughter of what is called a “warm farmer,” she had been forbidden all
thoughts of matrimony by him, who held the holy estate in as much
disfavour as did Mrs. Browning’s father.

Well on in years, and presumably bored by her maiden state, she had at
length eloped with an elderly admirer; and though she had “done very
well for herself” and her spouse was quite as “warm” as her papa, the
latter maintained towards them both an undying resentment. No wonder
Mrs. Condren moved in a halo of romance in our eyes. Added to this she
was always very handsomely attired in a shining purple silk, which
filled the chapel with its rustle. She also sported a yellow bonnet with
bunches of wax grapes and—last touch of elegance—dependent from its
brim, a lace veil embroidered also with grapes, a cluster of which
completely covered one eye and part of her cheek.

Quite another type was old Judy in her little brown shawl and lilac
sun-bonnet, who knelt ostentatiously just in front of the altar rails,
apart from the rest of the congregation; and who punctuated the service
and sermon with loud clacks of her tongue, groans from and thumps upon
her attenuated chest. My mother was once highly amused by Judy’s
pantomime during a particular discourse.

[Sidenote: BLESSED ARE THE POOR]

“Blessed are the poor,” announced the young curate with his rolling
Irish emphasis.

Here was a statement quite to Judy’s taste. Loud were her groans of
approval. She turned up her eyes with great piety, and the gusto with
which she beat her breast indicated that she took the benediction
entirely to herself. “But don’t think, me brethren,” went on the
ecclesiastic warningly, “that this means that because you’re poor in
purse you’re pleasing to God. It’s the poor in spirit that I do be
meaning. There’s many a poor body with a proud heart.”

Now poor old Judy must have been conscious of the possession of this
spiritual drawback; for even as she had taken the text as a direct
compliment, so she now took the corollary to it as a personal insult.
She drew herself up with a jerk and threw a glance of furious reproach
at the speaker. No more groans should His Riverence have out of her!
No—nor tongue clacking, nor chest thumpings either!

For the rest of his sermon she remained rigid, fixing her gaze upon him
with an unwavering glare of disapproval.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As the priest had to come from a considerable distance, he was generally
late; and as the congregation itself straggled in from over the hills,
sometimes much before the hour, it was the pious custom at Rathenisha
for the two model damsels of the congregation each to read aloud out of
a different book of sermons for the edification of the assembly in the
delay before Mass. They had fine loud voices and read simultaneously;
the effect can be better imagined than described. One ear would be
struck by genteel accents proclaiming, “Admoire the obedience of Joseph,
me brethren. Did he repoine, did he hesitate?”—the while the other ear
was assailed by a rich brogue announcing, “The sentence is already past.
Thou must doi. How many have gone to bed at noight in apparent good
health—”

It was some such threat as this, intermittently caught from the side of
the deepest brogue, which would terrify my small mind. The whole
churchyard, with its horror of green graves, would seem to close about
me. And how much worse it was should there chance to be a new, raw mound
without!

                  *       *       *       *       *

One of the Mahon girls did indeed illustrate the gloomy treatise in a
manner appalling to my secret state of apprehension. She died quite
suddenly while dancing at some rural festivity. Rumour had it it was
tight-lacing which had produced the tragedy.

“Wasn’t she black all down one side, the crathur?”

“Ah, maybe—but she was always a yaller girl,” opined a wise matron.

Dimly I can recall that she had the pallor that goes with swarthy hair
and eyes. A handsome creature, but not of the type admired by her class.
The poor girl’s sudden end formed a stirring illustration for the second
curate’s sermon the Sunday after the funeral.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: A PERSUASIVE TONGUE]

“What did I say, me brethren, last time I stood preaching here at you?
Didn’t I say who could tell who would be missing before the year was
out? And look now at the wan that has been taken—a foin, sthrapping
young girl, one of the foinest, I might say, in this parish.... Not an
ail on her a few days ago, and where is she now?”

He jerked his thumb terribly through the little glass window at the
side. The congregation enjoyed it enormously. There was a sucking of
breaths, a clacking of tongues and subdued groans of approbation; and a
good deal of rocking backwards and forwards on the part of Judy, who as
usual squatted on her heels at the edge of the altar rails. But, poor
little wretch that I was, how I quaked!

The second curate was an excellent young man, of the sturdy type
familiar to many Irish districts in those days. The people called him
“rale wicked,” and loved him proportionately—“wicked,” in their
terminology, having a very different significance from the word used in
its English sense. “Wicked” to them refers but to the flame of the fire
of zeal; and they like to feel it scorch them.

When from the altar steps he threatened by name certain recalcitrant
black sheep of his congregation who were neglecting their Easter duty,
to be “afther them with a horsewhip if they didn’t present themselves
‘at the box’ so soon as he had his breakfast swallowed,” there was a
thrill of admiration through the chapel. That was being “wicked” after a
fashion they all appreciated. And when, after his breakfast had been
gulped down, he duly appeared with a horsewhip, the results were
immediate and excellent. His morning meal, in parenthesis, got ready for
him by a neighbouring farmer’s wife and served to him in the little damp
sacristy, invariably consisted of three boiled eggs, besides the usual
pot of poisonous strong tea. Three eggs is the number consecrated to the
cleric in Ireland.

At a certain Connemara hotel a curious visitor, hearing the orders
shouted out: “Bacon and eggs for a lady,” “Bacon and eggs for a
gentleman,” “Bacon and eggs for a priest,” ventured to inquire the
differentiation. The answer was prompt and simple.

“Wan egg for a lady; two for a gentleman; and three for a priest!”

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



XXXVI


[Sidenote: NECROPOLIS]

I have solemnly sworn my family that when I die I am not to be buried in
a “Necropolis.” Horrible thought, a “city” of the dead! To hate the herd
when living, and to be forcibly associated with it till the Day of
Judgment, if not evicted to make room for fresh tenants!

In the very early months of my marriage we were obliged to take up our
abode in a large northern town, for Loki’s future grandfather had to
study certain aspects of newspaper management. Never was anything more
difficult to find than a roof for our heads in that place of teeming
activities. Worn out with a long and fruitless search we were at last
landed in a higher quarter of the town at the house of a dentist! The
dentist was going away for a holiday, and was ready to put at our
disposal, for a consideration, the whole of the clean, fresh, quite
unobjectionable little abode, reserving only one room—his chamber of
horrors!

I interviewed an elderly thin-faced lady, with, as became a dentist’s
mother, a very handsome smile. She brought me to the window. We looked
down on waving tree-tops and a wide space of green in the gathering dusk
of the September evening.

“You see,” she said, “we have a most pleasant view.”

I gazed. That stretch of green silence and restfulness, after all those
sordid roaring streets, decided me.

“We will take the house!” I cried, in a hurry lest we should miss such a
chance.

“I always think,” said the dentist’s mother, smiling still more broadly,
“that it is a great advantage to be opposite the Necropolis.”

Poor innocent as I was, and country bred, I had no idea of the meaning
of the word.

I was soon to discover. Funerals are of more than daily occurrence in a
mighty city. Oh! the processions that I stared down upon from the
drawing-room window, through the fog and the rain—gloom generally
enveloped that centre of manufactures! I was left long hours alone; no
one but an impertinent French maid with whom I could exchange my ideas.
The proceedings in the Necropolis had a hypnotic attraction for me. I
began to feel quite certain that it was gaping for my poor little bones,
and that they must inevitably rest there. Finally, I extracted a solemn
oath that, whatever happened, this should not be the case—a promise
momentarily soothing, but far from lifting the weight of depression that
pressed upon me.

To add a touch of revolting comedy to my experiences, the owner of the
house returned abruptly from his holiday and took possession of the
locked-up room for an afternoon, for the purpose of extracting all the
teeth of a special friend. I fled from the house in terror, when Elise
‹who hated me› informed me with much gusto of the impending excitement.
Needless to say, however, she regaled me with every groan on my return,
and all the details she had been able to pick up from the
parlourmaid—left by the dentist, _en parenthèse_—who had counted the
teeth.

The nightmare shrinking from death and its dreadful appanages is one
that is mercifully passing from me. But I envy those who can take the
great tragic facts of existence, not only with simplicity, but with a
kind of enjoyable interest.

A Hungarian friend of ours derived much solace in the loss of an adored
mother by the choosing of a coffin—“Louis XV, with little Watteau bows
of ormolu.” She smiled with real joy, through her tears as she described
the casket to us, adding:

“And I have chosen just such another for myself for ven I die!”

She stared in amazement when I remarked that I should not care what my
coffin was like.

“Vat?” she exclaimed, “not like to be buried in a Vatteau coffin? But it
is so pretty!”

Alas! she lies in her pretty coffin, and our world is much the poorer.
But we are sure that during the long months of her last illness, when
she shut herself away from every one in the solitude of her great
Hungarian property, to face death alone, the thought of those Watteau
bows was a distinct satisfaction.

Never was there a creature so instinct with life as she! It was little
wonder she could not imagine herself as past caring for the small
pleasures for which she had always had so keen a taste. She never lost
the heart of a child. Though when last we saw her she must have been, as
years go, almost an old woman, there was no touch of age about her: only
a snowier white of her hair made her more like an adorable little
Marquise than ever. Her pretty picturesque ways were unchanged, her
eager sympathy, the delicious freshness of her mind, the lightness, the
charm, the simplicity.

She had a soft oval face; rich southern tints; the bluest eyes between
black lashes that it is possible to imagine; her small nose like a
falcon’s beak—which gave a character of decision, an untamed, spirited
look to the whole countenance. The word savage could not apply to
anything so exquisitely dainty in manner and appearance; and yet one
felt the long line of savage ancestry at the back of her, a wildness no
other European nation would show in such a flower of its race. And, to
finish the description, no one had ever so pretty a mouth with the smile
of a child and a thousand fascinating expressions.

Life had dealt very hardly with her, as is sometimes the case with such
buoyant souls. She lost all she loved, and was left in the end with half
a province in land, and no creature nearer than the son of a second
cousin to whom to bequeath the vast inheritance.

[Sidenote: JOHNNIE’S SOUL]

Wedded to an English officer in the Austrian service, while still in her
teens, one might have thought she would have had a better chance of
domestic bliss than if her choice had fallen upon one of her own
countrymen; since, above all in those middle Victorian days, the English
home and the English virtues are so proverbial. But he was all that a
husband ought not to be. And her only child died in babyhood. For thirty
years she devoted herself in an alien land to what she conceived to be
her duty. A fervent believer in the higher destinies of man and the
necessity of repentance, she would say, “I will not give up Johnnie’s
soul.”

The dashing Chevau-leger became an old curmudgeon of the crankiest
description. To a less courageous spirit life would really have been
intolerable beside him. Nevertheless the small London house near the
Park, every window of which was bright with flower-boxes, was as gay
within as it was without, and friends flocked to those Sunday
tea-parties—the only entertainments she was permitted to give.

Well, she had the reward she craved. Johnnie “made his soul,” in Irish
parlance, quite sufficiently long before softening of the brain became
too marked to preclude intelligent action. And after three years more
she was able to send that telegram to her intimates: “Released!” It was
the cry of one who had been enslaved and in prison for all her youth and
all her bright womanhood.

But, characteristically, “Johnnie’s” funeral was a matter of great
importance. He had been very fond of driving four-in-hand, and so there
were four horses to the hearse that conveyed all that was left of the
Tyrant to Kensal Green. It was as splendid as lavish instructions could
make it; and the little widow would pop her head out of the window at
every turning to watch the noble appearance of the hearse with its
nodding plumes and murmur contentedly:

“Poor Johnnie, he vas so fond of driving behind four horses: I vas
determined he should have it for de last time!”

We were not a little startled to receive a postcard a few weeks later,
containing the cryptic phrase:

“Just re-buried Johnnie!”

Johnnie had always been a trial of a unique description. Was it possible
that he had put the laws of nature at defiance and returned to torment
his long-suffering spouse? But the explanation was simple. She thought
it so simple herself as to admit of its expression, as we have said, on
a postcard.

When she had left him among all those ranks of dead, the thought came to
her that he was dissatisfied with his resting-place and would prefer to
be laid with his ancestors. And so Johnnie was promptly dug up from
where he had been deposited with so much pomp, removed across half
England, and “reburied.”

If it was true that, like so many ghosts, he was particular about his
tomb, I can quite understand his displeasure in this instance. As I have
said, I share it.

He lies now just outside the park where he played as a child, under the
lee of the little church where he said his first innocent prayers, and
his dust will mingle with the dust of his grandsires.

Such a quiet, peaceful spot! Immense cornfields skirt it on the one hand
and on the other the great woods.

May I lie in some such hallowed, uncrowded acre!

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



XXXVII


Irish born as I am, there is something in the breath of Ireland that
makes my heart rise. The sound of the soft Irish voices is music to my
ear. I forgive the slipshod ways because of the general delightfulness.
Distressful country as it is—more than ever, now, alas! the
battle-ground of factions—from the moment of our landing joyfully on its
shores, to the sad hour of parting, our too rare visits to Ireland have
been punctuated by kindly and innocent laughter. Impossible, beloved
people! They break the heart of the politician and of the reformer; but
how enchanting they are to just a foolish person such as I am, who likes
to go and live among them and enjoy them without political bias; who can
laugh at and with them, and love them as they are!

Our last journey to Ireland began in mirth, and ended in the agonies of
a bad passage which accentuated all our regrets. The traject thither had
been accomplished with no such drawbacks.

The Master of the Villino is remarkably indifferent to anything the sea
can do; but I like to have a comfortable cabin to myself, and a large
port-hole for the sea-wind to blow through. I cannot say I’m fond of
feeling like the German lover:

                _Himmel-hoch jauchzend, zu Tode betrübt_

between wave and hollow. But it is the woes of other people that really
undo me. On this particular passage—a bright fresh day it was, with
what’s called, I suppose, “a choppy sea”—I was quite ready to defy the
elements, when suddenly there arose, from the next-door cabin,
sounds.... No—even in recollection these things are not to be dwelt
upon!

“My dear,” said I to my companion, “let us talk and drown the outcries
of this shameless and abandoned woman.”

Fortunately I had a companion with whom conversation is always as easy
as it is interesting. We began to enjoy our own pleasant humour very
much, and did not allow a moment’s silence to fall between us, lest—

We were travelling by North Wall; and when the placidity of the Liffey
odoriferously enfolded us, we emerged cheerfully on deck to join some
friends, for the sake of whose agreeable company we had chosen this
particular route.

The dear little lady who was about to be our hostess we found charitably
administering dry biscuits to a very dilapidated-looking, green-faced
young woman with the unmistakable appearance of—but again, no!

“Poor Mrs. Saunders has been feeling so faint,” said our friend, with
the cheerful sympathy of the good sailor.

We were introduced to the languid one.

“Poor thing,” we said, “you do look bad! Have you been ill?”

One is very crude in one’s questions on board ship.

“Oh, no; not ill!” She flung the suggestion from her with an acid
titter. Then rolling a jaundiced eye upon us:

“Were you ill?”

“Oh, no,” we said; “we quite enjoyed the passage.”

The sufferer turned her glance from our brutality to the sympathetic
neighbour.

“If I could have slept,” she said plaintively. Then she looked back
darkly at us. “There were some horrible people in the cabin next me, who
would talk, and talk, and talk.”

“Well,” we exclaimed, and it was indeed in all innocence, “you were at
least better off than we were. For there was a creature in the cabin
next to us—the most disgusting—the most unbridled—”

It was not till we saw the dreadful rage in her eyes that we realized!
It is a horrible little anecdote, but it started us laughing even before
we set foot on the quays.

[Sidenote: IRISH VIGNETTES]

The next incident partakes of the tragi-comedy in which every Irish
problem is set. All Ireland stands like one of those figures of mimes on
an old drop-curtain; a laughing face behind a tragic mask—or indeed the
reverse. We laughed while our hearts grew sad at the sight of a stalwart
devil-may-care individual in a frieze coat who strolled up to a group of
jarvies while we sat in the cab waiting for our luggage to be loaded.
The whole business was conducted with a fine artful carelessness. Now
one, now another of the standing group of cab-drivers would lurch up
against him of the frieze coat or clasp him jovially by the hand, and
there would ensue a passage of coppers from one grimy palm to another.
Then out of a deep side-pocket of the frieze coat a black bottle would
be drawn, with all the _désinvolture_ of the conjuring trick. No doubt
some four yards away on either side stood a policeman; the illicit
traffic was conducted, so to speak, under his nose. But, splendid fellow
as he is, is he not, too, an Irishman? He knows when to sniff in another
direction.

‹And here we may parenthetically remember a charming and typical
spectacle which once met our eyes in the County Wicklow: a local police
station, a large placard commanding that all dogs shall be muzzled, and
five or six curs of different low degrees snapping untrammelled in the
sunshine at the feet of two smiling members of the constabulary.

Some brutish Saxon member of our party stops to point out the
discrepancy.

“Unmuzzled, is it?” says the elder policeman genially. “And, begorra, so
it is, ma’am. But, sure, isn’t that Tim Connolly’s little dog? Sure,
what ’ud we be muzzling him for? Thim orders is only for stray dogs!”›

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: DRIVEN IN STYLE]

We drove away across the cobbled Dublin streets at a hand gallop.
Whether the poor animal that drew us had to be kept at this unnatural
speed lest it should collapse altogether, or whether our “jarvey” had
had more than one pull at the black bottle I know not; certainly we went
in peril of our lives. Shaving off corners, striking the edge of the
curb, oscillating violently from side to side, the antique vehicle
threatened at every leap and bound to break into fragments like a
pantomime joke. The Dublin cab is a thing apart. From the musty straw
upon which your feet rest, to the dilapidated blue velveteen cushion
upon which you leap, to its wooden walls and rattling windows, you would
not find its like upon any other point of the globe. It searches you to
your least bone socket; and the noise of its career deafens your wails
on the principle of the “painless extractor” at the fair, who blows a
trumpet for every wrench.

It was useless for us to thrust our heads out of the window, like “Bunny
come to town”; the frightful clatter of an arrest, a grunt, and a start
at fresh speed were the only result. We trembled in every limb and so
did the poor horse, as we were at last flung out in front of our hotel
with a jerk that nearly broke the bottom of the cab in two.

We tendered what we knew to be considerably more than the fare. The
driver surveyed it and looked at us, then rolled a disgusted glance back
to the coins, and dropped them into his pocket.

“Is that all? And me afther dhriving you in such style!”

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



XXXVIII


Humours pursued us during our brief sojourn in the hotel. We are very
fond of that hotel. It is associated with the repeated charm of its
hospitable reception on each of our visits. We were glad to see we were
given the same set of rooms as on a previous occasion; and when we found
the same broken lock on the door, we felt indeed that we were among old
friends.

When our tea was brought—we were lying down to rest—we had however to
ring and protest.

“Look at this spoon!” we exclaimed dramatically.

The soft-voiced maid looked at it quizzically.

“What is it?” Then she smiled. “It’s apt to have been in the honey, by
the look of it,” she observed dispassionately.

“Please take it away,” we said, “and bring another.”

She thought us strange and dull of wit. There was a clean napkin on
every plate. But—no doubt with a mental “Ah, God help us. Travellers is
queer folk!”—she departed, we feel sure, no farther than the passage,
there to wipe the honey off on the inside of her apron.

[Sidenote: A GARDEN IN MEATH]

The next day saw us landed at a small wayside station in the rich flat
land of Meath, where we were met by a charming old-fashioned “turn out,”
a handsome waggonette and a sturdy pair of carriage horses. At least we
thought the waggonette old-fashioned and delightful, in these motor
times; but it seems it was on the contrary new and wonderful.

The coachman surveyed us tentatively two or three times while our divers
small goods were being collected, magisterially directing the footman
with the butt end of his whip. Presently he broke into speech:

“Will you be noticing the carriage, sir?” he remarked, addressing the
head of the party. “Her Ladyship’s just bought it. I chose it for her
meself, so I did. It’s a grand contrivance. You can have it the way it
is now, and it’s real comfortable, isn’t it, sir? But sure, you can turn
it into an omnibus. And you’d never believe now, how many it would hold.
I drove six ladies to a ball in it the other night, and not one of them
crushed on me—And fine large ladies they were,” he observed admiringly.

“We do wish he would not tell every one that,” observed one of the
“large ladies” a little later. “Every time he’s gone to the station in
the new waggonette this summer he’s told that story.”

But she was quite good-humoured and amused. Indeed, her largeness was of
the beautiful order. It was no wonder the coachman was proud of
conveying it uncrushed.

The gardens where these hostesses dwelt were pleasantly green and
flowery. There was the usual high-walled garden. Villino Loki, with its
absurd terraces, can never dream of attaining to such an enclosure of
antique charm. For if we walled in the Kitchen and Reserve Garden at the
foot of our hill we should wall out the moor from below, and obstruct
our sweeping vision from above. But my heart yearns to an old walled
garden. A place quite apart, with its mingled odours of herb and flower
and ripening fruit; with its perpetual murmur of bees, its tangled
walks, its old bushes of Rosemary and Lavender, its mossy Apple-trees,
its crisp Parsley beds, its tumble-down greenhouses.

[Illustration: garden view - two pages wide]

[Sidenote: CURBED AMBITIONS]

This particular walled garden was a very good specimen of its kind. It
was here that our ignorance first made acquaintance with the invaluable
Cosmia; that treasure of the herbaceous border that keeps on blooming in
the face of adversity from June till November. There was also a huge bed
of Salvias, one sheet of gentian blue. ‹Why cannot we grow Salvias like
that?› It ran at the foot of an overgrown, very old rose plot, the trees
of which had developed into fairy-tale luxuriance. And opposite, across
the gravelled path, which from old associations we prefer to any other
species of walk, was a field of Snap-dragon against the high wall where
the leaves of the plum branches were reddening as they clung. Duly
mossed was this old wall, and richly lichened; overtopped by the great
trees without. These swayed to the mild Irish wind, with long, pleasant,
choiring sounds, the rooks cawing as they circled in them. It was small
wonder that I should have felt content and at peace as I stood there—if
only my heart had not swelled with envy over those Salvias! But one
can’t be the owner of an Italian Villino on a Surrey Highland and
encompass the antique peace of a centuries-old Irish home. One must be
reasonable—as a French governess of our youth used to say to us when she
began her most lengthy harangues. “_Voyons—de deux choses l’une ..._”

The park was typically Irish, and possessed some wonderful trees.
Amongst others a chestnut, four or five immense branches of which,
sweeping to the ground, had taken root again and started fresh trees,
forming a singular tropical-looking grove. How children would have
delighted in such a leafy palace, roofed in and pillared of its own
stateliness!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Memories of laughter pursue us at every stage of those weeks. There was
the visit to a neighbouring castle; a genuine old castle this, but
irretrievably “restored” in that bygone period of history when Pugin
reigned supreme.

[Sidenote: AN IRISH CHATELAINE]

It was Sunday, and we found the Châtelaine—a little lady renowned for
her vivacity and charm—out in the field with her children and her lord,
energetically teaching hockey to the young men and women of the village.
Her little boy was running up and down after her, wringing his hands and
ejaculating, “Mamma, ye’ll be kilt! Mamma, ye’ll be kilt!” to perfectly
regardless ears.

In a whirl of energy we were rushed into tea; and, while drawing off her
loose gloves and flinging them at random into a corner, our hostess’s
tongue, which was as nimble as her little feet, never ceased wagging:

“I hope you don’t mind the smell! Oh, it’s a terrible smell. But it’s
only the dogs, ye know. We’ve been washing them. They’re sick, poor
things. Not infectious, ye needn’t be a bit afraid. Only mange, or
something. It’s the sulphur in the soap, ye know. Come in, come in!—Oh,
I do hope we have got something fit to eat! Katie, Katie! ‹Katie’s me
eldest daughter› Katie, what have we got? Ah, it’s horrid!—Ah, I don’t
know what’s the matter with them.—Yes, it’s a fine big room. We were
dancing here last week. You wouldn’t think it to look at it now, would
you? ’Pon my word! I was thinking to meself that night, ‘It’s a queer
world we live in, with all those saints looking down at us with their
bare legs, and we with our bare backs!’ Oh, yes, they’re very grand old
paintings, I dare say! But there is a deal of bare legs about them.—Will
you have any more? Ah, no, ye can’t eat it!—I don’t wonder, I can’t
meself.—Will you come into the garden? I’d like to be showing you the
garden. Where’s me gloves?—Where’s me yellow gloves? Katie, did ye see
me yellow gloves? Ah, never mind! This way.—I’ve been making a new
herbaceous border. Ah, ’pon me word, if they’ve not gone and locked the
garden door! Sunday’s the mischief! Never mind, I’ll ring the bell.
Green! Green, Johnny Green, are ye there? Is Mrs. Green there? Is Patsy
there? Where’s young Condren? Ah, they’re all out! But I’ll not be
beaten.—Maybe I’ll get it open. Will ye push, now? I’ll turn the handle.
Give a good shove. It’s an old lock. Ah, devil a bit of it! Will ye give
me your stick.—No, thank ye. I’d rather hit it meself.”

Even to her it was impossible to continue talking, while she was, as she
herself would have expressed it, “laying on to the garden door.”
Scarlet, panting, dishevelled, but still completely fascinating, she
desisted at last and handed back the stick with a smile and gasp, and a
resigned: “Ah, I clean forgot, I see how it is now. They’re all off to
the funeral of the priest’s brother’s sister.”

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

[Illustration: THE HOLLY TREE]

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



XXXIX


From the rich plains of Meath to the barren lands of Galway, it is a far
cry and an unforgettable journey. The country grows more and more
desolate, and grand in desolation, as one approaches the Atlantic. There
was an orange sunset that evening, over an illimitable stretch of bog, a
vision of savage, haunting beauty that went with us into the darkness of
the fast closing day like a strain of wild music.

Ireland has always been as a living creature to her children. She has
taken, in their fanciful minds, a distinct personality. To get such a
glimpse of her as that, is to understand the passionate ardour of fealty
which she has had the power to inspire; to understand how she has come
to be “Kathleen na Hoolihan,” and “My dark Rosaleen,” to those poet
hearts. We were speeding now to that very corner of land from which her
younger lovers have chiefly sprung.

It was pitch dark when we alighted at a town which had once been large
and prosperous and was now forlornly sunk in decay; mute witness, like
so many others, to that act of tyranny—blunder and crime—the effects of
which England can never wipe away.

Our kind friends had ordered “a carriage from the hotel” to meet us. We
had a long cross-country drive before us. Looking doubtfully by the
light of the station lamp at the two emaciated animals that were to draw
us, we wondered, in our tired brains, if two bad horses are not worse
than one. It had begun to drizzle rain, a fine soft rain that is like a
caress in the air.

[Sidenote: A TYPICAL JARVEY]

If anything could beat the Dublin cab, it was that Galway carriage. We
set off lurching and rattling; and soon, the wind catching us from over
the fields, the rain began to strike in across the open windows. To have
a window up seemed the simple remedy; but things simple elsewhere are
not so in the West of Ireland. One window was as impossible to lift out
of its socket as the oyster out of its closed shells, for it was
strapless. We fell upon the other strap and instantly the window shot
outwards at right angles, with the evident intention of casting itself
on the road, had we not held it despairingly by its shabby appendage. If
you have ever tried to hold a window in that position by its strap you
will know how agonizing is the process. The driver was hailed.

“Look here! Your window’s loose!—You’d better stop and put it back.”

The slogging trot of the horses slackened, and over his shoulder the man
of Galway demanded:

“Is it the windy on the left, or the wan to the right of ye?”

“The left, the left! Oh, do be quick!”

“The left, is it? Sure, isn’t that the wan with the sthrap?” He jerked
his reins and clucked at his horses. What more could we want? Wasn’t
that the one with the “sthrap?”

With great difficulty, with imminent risk to the life of the window and
our own safety, we got the recalcitrant pane back into its socket, and
discovered that by dint of judicious manipulation, and a tight hold of
the “sthrap,” it was possible to shelter the most neuralgic of the
party.

A ten Irish miles’ drive along the stoniest of roads, through complete
darkness—for there was only a partial glimmer from one carriage-lamp
half the way, which then became extinct altogether—it is something of an
enterprise! But it was worth it to find such a welcome at the end!

[Sidenote: A GALWAY DEMESNE]

A “Gothic” mansion, dating from the early part of last century,
Kilcoultra is outwardly a very grand pile and stands nobly in the midst
of a rolling park, reclaimed from the wild stony land of Galway. And
inside, the first impression is like stepping in to the glories of a
missal page. The whole house is homogeneous and entirely successful in
its mediæval colouring. On the walls are gorgeous enamel blues, peacock
greens or yet carmine crimsons appropriately set with fleurs-de-lis,
maltese cross or some other conventional device in gold; ceiling and
cornices are richly illuminated to correspond. To find this glow of
colour in the midst of the melancholy greys and greens of the western
landscape, under the low drifting cloud-ridden skies, has a great charm;
it has a poetic Maeterlinckian atmosphere.

There is something too of the delicate sadness of an old romance in the
lives of these kindly ladies who rule so wisely over the lands left to
them by their brother—the last of his name. He was a man round whom
justly centred unusual hopes and ambitions. Now he, who had so great a
heart and so splendid a mind, lies in the ruined chapel in the park,
alone. The chapel is roofless. It is a nobly solitary and fit
resting-place for one who was nobly apart from the petty aims of his
contemporaries; who lived and died true to his ideals; whose work still
prospers in the freed lands of his people. He gave up much for Ireland,
and Ireland gave him nothing at all in return ... except that wonderful
sleeping-place with the changing sky overhead.

They say there is no such word in the Irish language as gratitude, and
yet—

My Kilcoultra hostess drove me round the property on the day after my
arrival, and drew the pony to the standstill on a height that finely
dominated the park and house. When I had duly admired the view she
pointed with her whip to a little white cottage that stood a few yards
away and began a kindly tale of the old woman who had long lived there
and had but recently passed away.

“When I’d come round to see her, I used to find her, times out of
number, leaning over the wall, gazing down at Kilcoultra. Always she’d
be leaning over the wall, staring down at the house. And one day I said
to her, ‘Mary, what in the world makes you stand there like that?’ And
she answered me, ‘I’m looking down on the roof that shelters me lovely
master!’”

“My lovely master!” A fragrant thing to have become to the poor that
live on your soil! When we reach a sphere where things are judged by
different standards and higher measures than we can now conceive, how
far will not such a title outweigh any paltry worldly honour!

Yet if the memory of its lost master dominates and haunts all Kilcoultra
house and lands, there is nothing to sadden one in the thoughts it
inspires; and our stay there is altogether full of charm and pleasure.

Not only are the ladies a fund of anecdote, racy of the soil; not only
do they live delightfully in touch with their peasantry, with eye and
ear ever ready to catch the humour and the pathos about them; but they
are cultured, far-travelled beings. Not much in the outer world escapes
their knowledge and shrewd apprehension.

Home topics, however, are what appeals to their visitors most.

[Sidenote: IRISH WITS]

“Carrie,” the younger sister will say to the elder, “I heard Whalen the
guard, and Tim Rooney the porter, at Athenmore Station, talking
together. And Tim is thinking of making up to a young lady, you know,
and I suppose he’s always talking about it, for Whalen was saying to him
just as I came up: ‘’Pon me word, I wish you were married, and had your
family rared on me!’ They had a great jollification at our station the
other night,” she goes on, turning to us. “And they brewed the punch in
the station bell! Whalen’s a very humorous man,” she proceeds. “They
used to stop the express from Galway at Athenmore when required; but
there were complaints of the delay and orders came from Dublin it wasn’t
to be done on any account. But it’s a recent regulation and everybody
doesn’t know about it. And the other day there was terrible work, for
there was Father Blake and the Doctor both counting on it for an urgent
sick call—dying, they said the poor man was.

“‘You’ll have to stop the train for this once, Whalen,’ says Father
Blake.

“‘I’ll maybe save him yet,’ says the doctor.

“‘I couldn’t, yer riverence,’ says Whalen; ‘it’s as much as me place is
worth. Don’t you be askin’ me, doctor. It ’ud be me ruin. The company’s
very strict.’

“‘Think of his poor soul,’ says the priest.

“‘I’ll hold ye responsible for his life,’ says the doctor.

“‘Wirra, I can’t,’ says poor Whalen, and calls up Tim. ‘Tell his
riverence, Tim,’ says he, ‘tell his riverence and the doctor that I
can’t be disobeying orders.... And begorra, she’s due this minute! Up
into the signal-box with you. And down with that signal, so the express
can get by,’ says he. And as Tim starts off at a great pace, Whalen
shouts after him, ‘And I’m sure I hope ye’ll get it to work, Tim, for
it’s terrible stiff it is, that same signal, and it at danger!’

“Well, whether he had winked at Tim, or what, but Tim worked and worked.

“‘I can’t get it to move,’ he says. ‘Will you come up yourself, Mr.
Whalen, sir, and have a try?’

“And, oh,” says Miss Margaret, in fits of laughter, “the way the two of
them went on in that signal-box, and the way Whalen pumped and pulled,
and at last he cries, ‘There’s no help for it, it’s stuck! And sure the
company can’t blame me, if the machinery’s out of order,’ says he.
‘Well, there’s wan good thing, your riverence, the thrain ’ull have to
stop now, anyhow.’”

We laugh a good deal during those pleasant meals at Kilcoultra. Not one
dull moment does the house hold for us, and we don’t want any better
company than that of the two dear ladies.

“We’ve got,” Miss Caroline, the elder, explains to me carefully, “a very
careful coachman, a very steady man, so you needn’t be the least nervous
driving out with us. He was selected, indeed, because he could be
trusted. It wouldn’t do for us unprotected women, you know,” she says in
all seriousness, “to be risking our necks with a tipsy coachman.”

Two days we are driven by this paragon. The third day there sits a
stranger on the box.

“I hope,” says Miss Carrie apologetically, “that you don’t mind his
being out of livery.”

“The fact is, Regan had an accident last night,” explains Miss Margaret.
“He fell into the old gravel pit going back home and cut his head open,
and——”

“It was my fault entirely,” interrupts Miss Caroline in distressed
accents. “I had to send him in to Galway town, and to tell him to wait
and bring back Captain Blake. And that meant loitering an hour.”

“Dear, dear!” Miss Margaret clacks her tongue. “That was very
unfortunate! He—such a steady man! But an hour in Galway town...!”

“It’s only what might have been expected,” Miss Caroline concludes. “I
blame myself entirely.—I generally,” she adds, turning to me, “avoid
leaving him any time in the town, you know.”

[Sidenote: A STEADY MAN]

And the best of it is that Regan remains in their minds “the steady
man.” How impossible it is for the stranger to understand Ireland and
Ireland’s ways! How much humour must you have—and what unlimited
patience! There is nothing, of course, that so conduces to patience as a
pleasant sense of humour.

The ladies are the Providence of the district. There is a room at the
back of the great gallery filled nearly to the ceiling with rolls of
homespun made by the peasant women in the villages. Whenever a cottage
mother is in want of money she runs up to Miss Margaret or Miss
Caroline, bringing or promising the product of her loom. A good deal of
money is advanced; a good deal paid in this manner, chiefly out of the
ladies’ generous pockets.

“Of course, poor things, you must know the way to take them,” says Miss
Caroline in her Irish way. “One of them will come up and declare they’ll
all be ‘lost entirely, ruined out and out’ for the want of five pounds.
‘Are you sure you couldn’t do with thirty shillings, now?’ I say to
them. ‘Oh, Miss Caroline’—it will be then—‘as thrue as I’m a living
woman, I couldn’t do with less than two pound ten!’ ... I get at the
truth that way,” she adds.

It is Miss Margaret who undertakes the sale of goods which have already
cost Kilcoultra so dear, and no one can say that she shows a commercial
spirit.

“Let me see now,” she will say, fingering the stuff—and splendid stuff
it is—with tentative finger and thumb. “I think we paid
three-and-tenpence a yard for this, or maybe it was four shillings,
but”—with a delighted smile—“I’ll let you have it for one-and-six, if
you’re sure—really sure—you want it.”

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



XL


[Sidenote: THE COLOUR OF THE WEST]

The country all about Kilcoultra is typically wild and melancholy. The
fields stretch, barren and yellowing, strewn with giant stones. Except
where sombre belts of woodland mark the great estates, there is scarcely
a tree to break the monotony; a monotony intensified by the low,
unending lines of rough grey walls that border every road. But there is
a kind of poetry even in this desolation, and a satisfaction to all who
love the freedom of unbounded horizons. Then the mountains of Clare
stretch their incomparable plum and grape colours against the sky. The
colour of Ireland is a thing scarcely realized over here, where,
somehow, hues seem washed out. “In England everything has got grey in
it,” an artist friend of ours discontentedly avers.

[Illustration: landscape with tree - two pages wide]

We are taken across the county to a castle standing by a lake, which is
a place of wonder. It is a castle no older, in its mediæval sturdiness,
than the Gothic mansion we are staying in, but quite as convincingly
built. Loughcool is a realm of beauty. At the end of the long approach
the road rises very steeply through a stern grove of pines. All at once,
as you approach the summit of this dark woodland, the ground breaks away
abruptly on the right, and, between the pines, far, far below, lies the
lake smiling, and on its banks what is called “the hidden garden”—a
stretch of fairy beauty. Words are poor things to describe the vision
which breaks so unexpectedly upon the eye. Everything that gardening art
can do has been accomplished at Loughcool. You have terraces and a glory
of roses overhanging the water even this late September; and there are
“Auratum” Lilies rising in splendid groups on each side of a grass walk
that runs grandly into the woods between stately trees. The lady of
Loughcool is fighting a hard fight to make Azaleas and Rhododendrons
grow in the limy soil; but it is a question whether the struggle is
worth while.

“We have given it up,” says the sensible châtelaine of Kilcoultra.

We smiled privately. Villino Loki has at least some points of
superiority.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We made another expedition, over the border into County Clare. A white
plastered pillared house this, dating from the terrible neo-Italian
period of the end of the last century. There dwells an eccentric
gentleman, one of the chief instigators of the Young Ireland movement;
but he was unfortunately away. We visited the house, and were
entertained by his housekeeper. This lady’s name was Mrs. Quinlan, and
she was an old friend of our hostesses. We think we enjoyed that
afternoon as well as any of our excursions; and certainly we laughed as
much as ever.

Mrs. Quinlan came creaking down in a flowing black silk, which brought
me instantly back to the Sundays of my childhood and the genteel
appearance of my mother’s maid. We sat in the early Victorian
drawing-room and had tea and Albert biscuits, listening with unremitting
amusement to the conversation between Miss Caroline and Mrs. Quinlan. Be
it mentioned that the owner of Curriestown has long been a widower and
that the question of his remarriage has never ceased to agitate the
bosoms of his neighbours since the event, so many years ago, which
qualified him once again for the matrimonial market.

Mrs. Quinlan stood, her perfectly unwashed hands crossed on the last
button of her black silk bodice; her faded face all over lines,
querulous, good-humoured, quizzical, under the untidy wisps of her
yellow-grey hair; and, while we ate and drank, she flowed continuously
on, stimulated by a question here and there, or an appropriate comment.

[Sidenote: SPEAKING THE IRISH]

“And indeed, Miss Caroline, it’s very busy I am. For sure, didn’t the
master wire there’d be twelve of them here the day after to-morrow? It’s
getting all the rooms ready I am, and the Professor here and all. Not
that he’s much trouble, the crathur. Them’s his shoes, in the hall
beyant. I’m sorry he’s out, then, for it’s the queer-looking body he is.
He’s wearing the kilt, ye know, Miss Carrie. And not a word out of him
but Irish! Musha, I don’t know what he’d be saying!—It’s a deal of store
they do be setting on speaking the Irish now, Miss.”

Here Mrs. Quinlan, seized with a paroxysm of silent laughter, claps one
of the grimy hands over her mouth and doubles herself in two.

“The master’s wild about it, God help him!” she proceeds presently. “But
sure, I do be tellin’ him, I’m too old to be thinkin’ about that kind of
thing at my time of life. Troth, and it’s queer times we do be having!
Isn’t the master bringing back a black lady on us!”

“A black lady?” ejaculated Miss Carrie, startled out of her placidity.
“Good gracious, Mrs. Quinlan!”

“Indeed, and it’s true. A rale black lady I hear she is, and it’s in
Paris he met her.”

“In Paris!”

It seemed a strange place from which to bring a black lady. We were all
full of the liveliest interest.

“I suppose,” says Miss Caroline, “you mean a very dark lady, Mrs.
Quinlan—a brunette?”

“I do not, then—rale black she is, I’m told. Out of the Indies, or
Africa, or some of them places.”

“Dear me!” Our hostess is much puzzled. “Is he thinking of marrying her,
Mrs. Quinlan?”

“I wouldn’t put it past him. I wouldn’t put anything past him, Miss
Carrie!”

A black lady! Was this to be the end of twenty-five years’ expectation?

“Well, now, and is he bringing her with him to-morrow night?”

“Och, maybe he is! He’s coming by the midnight train, Miss Carrie, and
the Lord knows what time in the world they’ll be up here.”

“Oh, he must mean to marry her!” says Miss Carrie, and Mrs. Quinlan
laughs again exhaustedly with an undercurrent of plaintiveness, and
remarks once more that she wouldn’t put it past him.

We go through the house in Mrs. Quinlan’s wake. There is something that
looks like a kitchen rubber laid over one corner of the mahogany table
in the great red-papered dining-room; and on it a crusty loaf flanks a
dim glass and a cracked plate. Mrs. Quinlan casts a phrase of
explanation as she trails us around.

“He do be looking for his bit of dinner early.” We presume “he” to be
the “crathur that gives no trouble.”

We pass through a bewildering series of bedrooms. The damp has been
coming in very copiously at Curriestown. Mrs. Quinlan points out the
worst places in each apartment as we go along:

“Look athere, now! Just cast your eye on that, Miss Carrie, and sure
it’s nothing to what’s behind the bed. If ye could see the way it is at
the back of that press, Miss Carrie, you’d be hard set to believe it.
Och, the house is in a tirrible state! Me heart’s broke pulling the
furniture about, thrying to get them bad bits covered.”

Some one suggests that perhaps the owner will have it painted for the
black lady. But Honoria Quinlan is still of opinion that you couldn’t
tell what he’d be at.

                  *       *       *       *       *

On the way back we burst a tyre, not far from one of those hamlets which
are typical of the western coast. Set in surroundings of the wildest
beauty, it is practically deserted. The four walls of the ruined chapel
gaping to the sky, and the long row of empty broken-down cottages
testify still to the ruthless policy that laid the country waste in far
Cromwellian times. Perhaps there are no more than fifteen smoking
hearths left, beaten by passionate seas, guarded by the tremendous black
cliffs. Life here, it would seem, must be hard won indeed from stony
fields and treacherous waters.

Very soon, while the chauffeur worked at the wheel, a small knot of
onlookers gathers about us; children with a tangled thatch of bleached
hair, and eyes that look half-fiercely, half-appealingly out from under
it. Black eyes they seem at first sight, set as they are with raven
lashes. It is only on examination that you find them to be richly
violet. There is an old man fantastically attired in a blanket laced
with twine down to his knees. Such a creature of savage primitiveness he
seems that one of the party is moved to ask him humorously if he has
ever driven in a motor-car. He surveys us with his mild blue eyes that
are as innocent as the child’s beside him, and shakes his shaggy white
head.

“Bedad, I have,” he then says unexpectedly. “And sure it never touched
the ground at all but an odd time between here and Connemara.”

[Sidenote: CLARE ROADS]

Yet motor-cars must be very rare apparitions along these Clare roads;
for at their approach the people fling themselves sideways into the
ditches and against the walls, when they cannot escape through a gap
into the fields. Even the dogs will flee. One poor Collie flattened
himself on a bank in a paroxysm of terror that we cannot forget. When I
remember how along the English roads my heart is for ever in my mouth
over the callous indifference of the British cur, I realize that canine
folk are very much like human beings when all is said and done.

The Irish of the west have curious habits and customs which seem to link
them with their forgotten eastern ancestral race. The women will draw
their garments over their heads at the approach of a stranger, so
closely that you may not get even a glimpse of their faces. Their
husband is still “the master” to them, and they walk two steps behind
him when they go abroad. But it is the old Catholic spirit that leads
them to expect the greeting “God save all here!” when you enter their
cottage, and “God bless the work!” when you pass them in the field.

[Sidenote: AN IRISH STRIKE]

We hurry away, much against our will, from these attractive scenes
because of the breaking out of the railway strike. The newspapers are
all very alarming, and we are threatened with being flung for an
indefinite period upon the hospitality of our most hospitable friends.
We do not fear for a minute that that would fail us, but we are due in
England at appointed dates, and so we bustle off, “against the heart” as
the French say.

But when you make acquaintance with a strike from an Irish point of
view, it seems one huge joke. Never did we make a journey to the sound
of so much laughter as that day. Every station was crowded with
soldiers, and all the inhabitants mustered on the platforms to exchange
sallies with them. An eager, curious, good-humoured gathering greets and
speeds the train which is supposed to be kept running at imminent risk
of riot and peril.

A very splendid looking police-inspector came into our carriage and had
an animated conversation on the prospects with an elderly gentleman whom
he addressed as “Judge.” Both seemed inspired with glee.

When we arrived in Dublin there was indeed a slight drawback in finding
no porters available for our many boxes. But the stalwart man of the
party made “no bones,” as they would say, about shouldering them
himself, and this was accomplished amid the unstinted enthusiasm of the
“jarvies.” He was aided ‹save the mark› by the only faithful porter, as
old as Pantaloon, who quivered and quavered behind him. A further
occasion for cheers.

“Ah, will ye look at the gintleman! To think of the likes of him now,
being put to carry the thrunks! Isn’t it ashamed of themselves they
ought to be! Well done, Larry, it is a grand old boy ye are! Let me get
a hould of the box, yer honour. Oh, begorra, isn’t it the stringth of
ten ye do be having....”

“And how do ye like Dublin now, Mr. Smith?” we heard a pretty Irish girl
saying to a stalwart young British soldier on the platform.

He was grinning down at her in stolid admiration. She herself had
dove-like eyes and a dove-like cooing voice.

We think he liked Dublin very much indeed.

It was the laughing face behind the mask of tragedy.

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



XLI


[Sidenote: THE FALL OF THE LEAF]

Once more has the Equinox come and dropped into the past. Autumn—the
Fall, as our older and more poetic term had it to balance the image of
Spring, and as America still prefers to call it—is about us.

[Illustration: bird in nest]

We disagree radically with Chateaubriand’s estimate of the “russet and
silver days.”

“A moral character” ‹thus does the Father of _Romantisme_ meditate, in
his usual melancholy mood, upon the season of shortening days and
long-drawing nights› “is attached to autumnal scenes.... The leaves
falling like our years, the flowers withdrawing like our hours, the
colours of the clouds fading like our illusions, the light waning like
our intelligence, the sun growing colder like our affections, the rivers
becoming frozen like our lives—everything about Autumn bears secret
relations to our destinies....”

Yes, we disagree with every one of these similes. Rather should Autumn
be considered as the happy season of the task accomplished. The wine is
pressed and stored, the fruit is garnered.... In the garden it is the
time of eager preparation against new delights, another year; of
solicitude for the treasures of beauty which are to brighten another
Spring, another Summer. The seed of the dying Annuals has been saved;
the more tender of the Perennials are timely withdrawn into shelter,
while the hardier are cosily tucked in their own bed for the coming long
winter sleep. It is the time of the tidying down and of the confident
“good night—till next year!”

“Colder, like our affections,” indeed! What will not love of rhetoric
perpetrate?—and Christmastide drawing on apace!

                  *       *       *       *       *

The Master of the House has an old-fashioned weakness—what may be called
a “Dickensy” weakness—for things Christmassy. And his family have all
childlike tastes and are quite ready to minister to his picturesque
fancy.

We have a Christmas tree—a Spruce sapling, selected yearly for
sacrifice in the territory called the Wilderness. It must be said that
the wide library, with the capacious hearth and the beamed ceiling,
lends a suitable scenery to this homelike ‹but, we fear, obsolescent›
entertainment. The tree is lit up on the first night for ourselves; on
the second for the household; and a third time for the children. For
the true pleasures of Yule would be incomplete without a
“foregathering-and-rejoicing-together” ‹as only a tough German
compound word could express it› of all grades of age and station. The
children, in this case, are those of the Catechism class and of our
_employés_—which pompous term must be understood to refer to the
gardener, the chauffeur, the under-gardener, and the “occasional
help.” This last has five of them—so it mounts up satisfactorily.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THINGS CHRISTMASSY]

[Illustration: bird bath hanging from tree]

The beloved “furry ones” are not forgotten. Loki, who is always in a
state of violent excitement on Christmas Tree nights, has a toy animal
to make acquaintance with, tease, and finally worry. Some one ‹it must
have been Juvenal› suggested tying up nice clean bones in red ribbons;
but out of regard for Grandma’s carpet, the succulent thought has never
been “materialized.”

The Master of the House, and Juvenal, are also full of solicitude for
the feathery things in Winter. The bird-baths are carefully thawed—it
seems, by the way, to be in the coldest days of the year that they
appear to prefer to bathe; sand baths are generally found sufficient in
the Summer, one wonders why. In cold weather generally, cocoanuts filled
with fat are disposed in various parts of the garden, around which tits
and finches of every shade dispute noisily all day. But on Christmas day
the terraces, the balustrades and steps round the house are further
disfigured with such an abundance of crumbs and other tempting morsels,
that, even with the help of all the black birds from neighbouring
copses, they cannot come even with the whole of the feast.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We give each other enchanting presents. The lovely little carved-wood
Joan of Arc, on a bracket in Grandpa’s library; the Madonna of Cluny
“prayer-stick” in one corner of the chimney-piece; the Medici copy of
Filippino Lippi’s wonderful angel in the National Gallery, in the grey
and yellow bedroom; the cut-glass goblets painted with purple plums and
red cherries and blue grapes in the drawing-room—all these were this
year’s Christmas gifts, cunningly chosen, we think, and a constant
delight to our eyes.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Loki’s Grandma, after the fashion of a lady in a recent celebrated
lawsuit, likes to choose her own presents. But she is not so indelicate
as to demand money and buy it herself—No, she drops an absent hint, as
Christmastide draws near. If this is not satisfactory, she abandons
diplomacy for an engaging frankness.... But she is always overwhelmed
with surprise and delight when “the very thing she wanted” duly appears
about the Tree. The Master of the Villino, on his side, has had all the
pleasure of purchasing; and, being of a guileless nature, is often quite
persuaded that the choice was his own.

In fact we all become like children again at Christmas; and this, after
all, cannot be displeasing to the Christ Child. It is a time of hectic
preparation, of pleasurable brain-racking over the suitability of gifts;
of endless tying up of parcels for foreign and home dispatch. We
decorate the Villino with round compact Holly-wreaths, which Adam makes
with rare raste and adroitness. Never was such a year as the last for
Hollies; and some of the trees were still scarlet with them in the late
Spring.

[Sidenote: HUES OF WINTER]

As for Juvenal, he shows a recrudescence of genius in the devising of
table decoration with unthought-of evergreens; with rich-toned leaves in
the sear and the brown and purpling hues of Winter, brightened with an
astonishing variety of haws, hips, and berries.

In the little Chapel a crib is built up in a stone manger brought from
Rome. Therein lies the Italian _Bambino_, purchased two generations ago
by a dear one who has now gone from us. It is the quaintest little wax
figure imaginable, with its painted red curls and one wax foot uplifted
in the act of kicking.—The story goes that the original much venerated
image in a certain Roman church, the object of yearly pilgrimages, was
purloined, or for some reason moved to another Church, to the woe and
indignation of the faithful of the district. But on the first Christmas
night after this translation, a loud knocking was heard at the door of
the original Church, and the small figure was discovered, kicking with
all its might for re-admittance. Captured and carried in with devotion
and joy, it was re-established with much pomp in its old quarters, but
ever after remained with a little kicking leg in the air!

Our Crib, surrounded with Roman Hyacinths and White Narcissus and
Primulas, is fragrant and poetic; but we do not attempt to show anything
more than the one image. Want of space prevents it. Our ambition,
however, finds larger scope in the village Chapel. There Juvenal has
built a very noble stable, thatched with heather; and all the figures of
those first scenes of the Greatest Story in the World will take their
place this year.

Last year the tragedy happened that the St. Joseph and Our Lady; the Ox
and the Ass; the Kings and Shepherds, which had been ordered in secret
to surprise every one, remained on the high seas detained by December
gales, until too late.—But our coming Noel will be the richer for the
enforced postponement of the Holy Picture.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At the last Yuletide the Mistress of Villino was unable, after a long
year’s illness, to join the family party at Midnight Mass in the village
below the hill. ‹Midnight Mass, be it noted in parenthesis, has an
extraordinary charm for the household and indeed for the neighbourhood.
And, when all is said and done, it certainly is as picturesque and
touching a ceremony as ever men of goodwill are happy to join in. It
seems to bring one in direct touch with the simplicity of the shepherds
of those far-off hills.› But as the excluded _padrona_ was lying quietly
in bed waiting for the sounds of departure, she was touched and charmed
to hear the strains of a carol rising softly from the terrace beneath
her windows:

    _See amid the winter’s snow,
    Born for us on earth below,
    See, the tender Lamb appears,
    Promised from eternal years!_

    _Hail, thou ever blessed morn!
    Hail, Redemption’s happy dawn!
    Sing, through all Jerusalem,
    Christ is born in Bethlehem!_

    _Lo, within a manger lies
    He Who built the starry skies;
    He, Who throned in heights sublime
    Sits amid the Cherubim!_

All the household had gathered there to give her this pleasure and make
her feel that she was not altogether shut out from the Christmas
privileges! Wrapped in their thick cloaks, with Juvenal swinging a
lantern, they stood in a long row and chanted to her. It was one of
those small sweetnesses in life that leave a lasting memory.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There is a picture in a garden paper of Japanese single Asters growing
wild in grass: the seeds had been mixed by mistake, but the result,
according to the illustration, was singularly attractive. When we saw it
we said that the experiment should be made at Villino Loki!—Many indeed
are the experiments, many the improvements to be made within our small
acres.

But what a difference lies between conception and execution. Of late
‹for an instance› we had revolved round the agreeable thought of a Pool
and a wet place generally, for Iris Kæmpheri, Spiræa and other
moisture-loving darlings. We had indeed intended something altogether
choice in the shape of a large sunken basin with a piping faun on the
edge of it. Oh, something quite delightful.... But an inconvenient
attack of “conscience”—in other words the heavy memory of garden bills,
already incurred over the Autumn lists, rose up and barred the way. We
felt something like Scrooge when the ghost with the bony finger
‹horrible vision of our youth› pointed to the tomb. Only, on our tablet
what was written was the ghastly total of our bulbous liabilities! Like
Scrooge, we covered our faces with our hands. No wonder the faun took
fright and leaped into next year.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: THE TURN OF THE YEAR]

Well, now, another year has come; and it is passing, taking us upon yet
another round of garden pleasures, of old hopes and ambitions
renewed—with many new delights and new disappointments, as of old; with
also fresh openings on the bright horizon. New interests too. Of these,
some of the smaller are not the least engrossing. To Villino Loki this
year, for example, has come a new Pekinese. It is a Princess, very
small, very sleek; chestnut-hued, with a face like a pansy. She has got
a little jutting under-jaw, an extremely flat nose; and, in moments of
excitement, her eyes display an amazing amount of white rim. But they
are becoming very beautiful eyes for all that. They were the brightest
of “boot-buttons” when she came first.

[Illustration: dog]

Loki was, naturally, very angry. He did his best to kill her; which was
ungrateful, as she was really procured, at great cost and difficulty, to
be his Imperial Bride! She, on her side, liked him awfully, and told him
so. On her first motor drive down here from London, as she waggled and
smirked at him from an opposite lap, he sat on his Ma-Ma’s knee and
pulled a series of grimaces in return, the like of which you can only
find painted on Chinese screens or cast in Chinese bronze.

[Sidenote: THE NEW PEKY]

The ways of the new Peky are an endless source of amusement and joy. We
tried to call her Mimosa; but, as usual with the youngest of the family,
she remains “Baby.”

She has a coat the colour of a ripe chestnut, which will, we think,
almost rival Loki’s in luxuriance. Her eyes have the same proportion to
her face as those of a Dicky Doyle fairy. She has the oddest tastes,
loving among many other unexpected things the flavour of tobacco. If she
can get hold of a pipe or a cigarette she will sit and suck it, sniffing
with enchantment, till one would swear she was smoking.

All the dogs, of course, have their coffee after lunch and dinner in
orthodox fashion, so there is nothing astounding in her having taken to
it with gusto from the very first—but, for her, the stronger the better!

Like most Pekies, she begs and “prays” without ever having had to be
taught the art. She has furthermore a talent quite her own—that of
elaborately waltzing in front of you when she wants anything very
particularly.

One of the dearest peculiarities of the breed is, as we have said, the
rapture of their welcome on the return of any member of the family. The
Master of the House is sensitive to this attention, and is quite hurt if
he misses Loki’s clamorous greeting. The other day “the Baby” was sent
into the Hall to meet him on his home-coming. No sooner did he appear
than she solemnly began her dance and preceded him as he advanced,
conscientiously executing her finest _pas de fascination_. This consists
of leaping into the air, turning round upon herself, and coming down on
to her front paws. Little Eastern as she is, she knew no better way of
expressing her feelings towards “the Master.”

From what far ancestress, bred in the secret sinister splendours of a
Manchu Palace, did she inherit this accomplishment?

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

[Illustration: WINTER]

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



XLII


It is the dream of the owners of Villino Loki to build on another wing;
but, so far, funds do not run to this. The Villino is sadly short of
guest chambers; that is because one room has been for ever allotted to
the little Oratory.

This little Chapel is a haven of peace. One’s thoughts turn to it when
one has the misfortune to be away from home. Over the altar there hangs
a large, wonderfully beautiful crucifix. The figure, white majolica, was
bought in a villainous den of a curiosity shop on the Tiber. We remember
how it shone out of the darkness at us, and we felt it _had_ to be ours!
It is now affixed to a large gilt carved wood cross made for us by the
_doratore_ in _Piazza Nicosia_.... Excellent ruffian! The cross has one
arm much longer than the other, though no one would know it who did not
measure; and it has the inimitable stamp of the artistic hand bound by
no slavish measure or hideous time-saving mechanism.

The Chapel is chiefly white and gold. Two large Donatello angels, warm
ivory-coloured, from the _Manifattura di Signa_, carry the red Sanctuary
lamps. One is certainly the real Donatello—the other, we fear, a poor
foundling. But they both look very well.

There is a great window over the moor.

The few small statues are, we think, attractive; chiefly decorated with
bronzy golds and deep colours. There is St. Louis, King of France,
specially carved by a Bavarian artist; a slender noble figure with a
face of grave asceticism, holding up the Crown of Thorns. And there is a
sternly warlike St. Michael, all golden, resting on his sword. And a St.
Anthony ‹a real discovery this› lifting a pale countenance that seems on
fire with ardour towards the Divine Infant who stands on his book—St.
Anthony is “in glory”; his habit golden over the brown. St. George, a
fine splash of colour, charges the dragon over the fireplace. It is a
most satisfying dragon with red jaws open and a green claw tearing at
the lance that has conquered him. St. George’s iron-grey horse, with
flowing crimson trappings, starts aside and rolls a distraught eye—as
well he might. It is all in plaster and in rather deep relief. Two tall
golden wood-carved Roman church candlesticks flank it on either side,
fitted with electric light.

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

[Illustration: garden view]

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

We have placed square Compton pots with Italian wreaths, filled with
palms and flowering plants, one on each side of the altar step.

At night, when there is no light in the Oratory, except that of the
Sanctuary lamps, the shadows of the palms look like angels’ wings,
crossing and re-crossing....

                  *       *       *       *       *

But, just as to a Garden there is no end—no end to its wants or to our
desires for it; to its phases, its transmutation surprises; to our joys
and disappointments in it—so there is no end to a Garden and Country
House gossip. We might go on for ever—like Tennyson’s Brook! And
meanwhile the year is passing on, in its stately pomp.

[Sidenote: SUMMER ONCE MORE ... AND AFTER]

Full Summer is once more upon the Garden. The Delphiniums are rampant.
We are in the centre of a heat wave, and our dry hill-side pants in the
sun. At the fall of eve our souls rejoice in the sound of the refreshing
showers when the watering begins; for one thirsts sympathetically with
the cherished borders....

The moor is deepening to purple. The trees wear the deep green that
precedes the turn. Life is rushing by with us so quickly that it seems
but the “blink of an eye,” as the Germans say, since we were peering for
the first bulb shoot.... In a little while the Ramblers and Wichurianas
will be one blaze of glory; and in a little while again the Autumn winds
will be shouting up the valley and the Bracken turning gold over the
rolling hills; and again in a little while again it will be the Winter
and the snow and we shall be watching for the Spring.

And it will be all even as before and yet all quite different. And so
year by year.... And one day our garden will bloom for other eyes than
ours.

_Nunc tibi—mox aliis_, the Book-Lover’s motto has it. How true also of
the beloved Garden!... Another “eye-blink.”

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

[Illustration: path down garden]





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