A COUNTRY LANE: A MEMORY FROM ABROAD

I was looking at a vision of the world upside down, mirrored in the deep
blue of a still sea. Where the inverted picture of my boat gleamed
white, and the rope that moored her to a tree showed grey, I saw the
dark fir trees growing upside down, the bank of emerald grass looking
more brilliant because of the grey-green lichened rocks; a black rock,
glistening, hung with brown seaweed, made the vision clear, and, over
all, clouds chased each other in the sky, seemingly below me. They were
those round fleecy clouds, like sheep, and they reminded me of something
I could not quite arrest.

A fish swam—dash—across my mirror, another and another, rippling the
sky, the trees, the bank, distorting everything. Then I looked up and
saw a fishing-boat come sailing by with its great orange and tawny sails
all set out to catch the land breeze; and bright blue nets hung out
ready, floating and billowing in the slight wind. There was a creaking
of ropes and a hum of Breton as the sailors talked. From my moorings by
the island I watched her sail—_Saint Nicholas_ she was called, and had a
little figure of the Madonna on her stern. Out of the land-locked
harbour she slipped, tacking to make the neck that led to the outer
harbour, and there she was going to meet other gaily coloured ships and
sail with them to the sardine grounds off the coast of Spain.

After she had passed, leaving her wide white wake in the still waters, I
followed her in my mind, seeing the nets cast and the shimmering silver
fish drawn up, and the long loaves of bread eaten, with wine and onions,
until the waters round me were quiet again, and I could look once more
into my mirror and wonder what it was the flocks of clouds said to my
brain.

It came in a flash. Big Claus said to Little Claus, “After I threw you
into the river in the sack, where did you get all those sheep and
cattle?” And Little Claus said, “Out of the river, brother, for there I
came upon a man in beautiful meadows, and he was tending the sheep and
cattle. There were so many that he gave me a flock of sheep and a herd
of cattle for myself, and I drove them out of the river and up here to
graze.” Now they were looking over the bridge at the time, and the
description Little Claus gave of the meadows and the sheep below in the
river made the mouth of Big Claus begin to water with greed. As they
looked, Little Claus pointed excitedly at the water, and said, “Look,
brother, there go a flock of sheep under your very nose.” It was,
really, nothing but the reflection of the clouds in the water, but Big
Claus was too interested to think of this, and he implored his brother
to tie him in a sack and push him into the water, that he, too, might
get some of these wonderful herds. This Little Claus did, and that was
the end of Big Claus.

How well I remember now—so well that when I looked into the water and
saw the fleecy clouds go floating by, the picture changed for me and I
saw an English country lane, and a small boy sitting under a hedge out
of a summer shower, and he was deep in dreams over an old brown volume
of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”

How wonderful the lane smelt after the rain! The Honeysuckle filled the
air and mingled with the smell of warm wet earth. It was a deep lane,
with the high hedges grown so rank and wild that they nearly crossed
overhead, and the curved arms of the Dog Roses criss-crossed against the
patch of turquoise sky. The thin new thread of a single wire crossed
high overhead, shining like gold in the sun. It went, I knew, to the
Coast Guard Station below me, and I remember clearly how I used to
wonder what flashed across the wire to those fortunate men: news of
thrilling wrecks, of smugglers creeping round the point, of battle-ships
put out to sea, and other tales the sailors told me.




The lane was deep and twisted, and so narrow that when a flock of sheep
was driven down it, the dogs ran across the backs of the sheep to head
off stragglers. What a cloud of white dust they made, and how thick it
lay on the leaves and flowers until the rain washed them clean again.

On the day of which I was dreaming, there had been one of those sharp
angry storms, very short and fierce, with growling thunder in the
distance, and purple and deep grey clouds flying along with torn,
rust-coloured edges. I had sheltered under a quick-set hedge (set, that
is, while the thorn was alive—quick, and bent into a kind of wattle
pattern by men with sheepskin gloves) and where I sat, under a wayfaring
tree (the Guelder Rose), the lane had a double turn, fore and aft, so
that a space of it was quite shut off, like an island. I had my garden
here and knew all the flowers and the butterflies.

On this day the rain washed the Foxgloves and made them gay and bright,
each bell with a sparkling drop of water on its lips. The Brambles had
long rows of drops on them, all shining like jewels, until a
yellow-hammer perched on one of the arched sprays and shook all the
raindrops off in a fluster of bright light.

Behind me, and in front, trailing Black Bryony twisted its arms round
Traveller’s Joy, Honeysuckle and Wild Roses. Here and there, pink and
white Bindweed hung, clinging to the hedge. By me, on the bank,
Monkshood, Our Lady’s Cushion, and Butterfly Orchis grew, all shining
with the rain, and the Silverweed shone better than them all.

Presently came two great cart horses, their trappings jingling, down my
lane, and on the back of one, riding sideways, a small boy, swaying as
he rode. His face was a perfect country poem, blue eyes, shaded by a
battered hat of felt, into the band of which a Dog Rose was stuck. His
hair, like Corn, shone in the sun, and his face, red and freckled, a
blue shirt, faded by many washings and sun-bleached to a fine colour,
thick boots, a hard horny young fist, and in his mouth a long stem of
feathery grass. He looked as much part of Nature as the flowers
themselves. There was some sort of greeting as he passed. I can see the
group now; the slow patient horses, the boy, the yellow canvas coat
slung to dry across the horse’s neck, a straw basket, from which a
bottle neck protruded, hitched on the horse’s collar. They passed the
bend in the lane and the boy began to whistle an aimless tune, but very
good to hear. And it was England, every bit of it, the kind of thing one
hungers for when a southern sun is beating pitilessly on one’s head, or
when the rains in the tropics bring out overpowering scents, heavy and
stifling.

So I might have dreamed on about this garden lane I carried in my mind,
had not the tide turned and little waves begun to lop the sides of my
boat.

I slipped my moorings, shipped the oars, and sailed home quietly on the
tide under a clear blue sky from which all the clouds had vanished like
my dream.

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THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND: THE PATCHWORK QUILT

Even your most unadventurous fellow can hardly look on a fair prospect
of fields and meadows, woods, villages with smoking chimneys, a river,
and a road, without a certain feeling rising in him that he would like
to tread the road that winds so dapperly through the country, and
discover for himself where it leads.

To those who love their country the road is but a garden path running
between borders of fair flowers whose names and virtues should be known
to every child.

A poet can weave a story from the speck of mud on a fellow traveller’s
boot—the red soil of a Devonshire lane calls up such pictures of
fern-covered banks, such rushing streams, as make a poem in themselves.

It strikes one from the very first how neatly most of England is kept.
The dip and rise of softly swelling hills across which the curling
ribbon of the road winds leisurely between neat hedges, the fields in
patches, coloured brown and green, golden with Corn, scarlet with
Poppies, yellow with Buttercups; the circular bunches of trees under
whose shade fat cattle stand lazily switching their tails at flies; the
woods, hangers, shaws and coppices, glades, dells, dingles and combes,
all set out so orderly and precise that, from a hill, the country has
the appearance of a patchwork quilt set in a pleasant irregularity,
studded with straggling farms, and little sleepy villages where the
resonant note of the church clock checks off the drowsy hours. The road
that runs through this quilt land seems like a thread on which villages
and market towns are strung, beads of endless variety, some huddled in a
bunch upon a hill, some long and straggling, some thatched and warm,
red-bricked and creeper-covered, others white with roofs of purple
slate, others of grey stone, others of warm yellow. All alive with birds
and flowers and village children, butterflies and trees; fed by broad
rivers, or hanging over singing streams or deep in the lush grass of
water meadows gay with kingcups.

This garden is for us who care to know it. We can take the road, our
garden path, and pluck, as we will, flowers of all kinds from our
borders; sleep in our garden on beds of bracken pulled and piled high
under trees; or on soft heaps of heather heaped under sheltering stones.
If we know our garden well enough it will give us food—salads, fruits
and nuts; it will cure us of our ills by its herbs; feed our imagination
by the quaint names of flower and herb. Here’s a small list that will
sing a man to sleep, dreaming of England.

Poet’s Asphodel.
Shepherd’s Purse.
Our Lady’s Bedstraw.
Water Soldier.
Rowan.
Hound’s Tongue.
Gipsy Rose.
Fool’s Parsley.
Celandine.
Columbine.
Adder’s Tongue.
Speedwell.
Thorn Apple.
Virgin Bower.
Whin.

These alone of hundreds give a lift to the day: there’s a story to each
of them.

Take our England as a garden and let the eye roam over the land. Here’s
the flat country of the Fens, long, long vistas of fields, with spires
and towers sticking up against the sky. Plenty of rare flowers there for
your gardener, marsh flowers, water plants galore. That’s the place to
see the sky, to watch a summer storm across the plain, to see the
Poplars bending in an angry wind, and the white windmills glare against
purple rain clouds. Few hedges here but plenty of banks and dykes, and
canals they call drains. Here you may find Marsh Valerian, Water
Crowsfoot, Frogbit, pink Cuckoo-flowers, Bog Bean, Sundews, Sea
Lavender, and Bladder-worts. The Sundews alone will give you an hour’s
pleasure with their glistening red glands tricked out to catch unwary
flies and midges.

Then there’s a wild garden waiting you by stone walls in the dales of
Derbyshire, or in the Yorkshire wolds, or the Lancashire fells. On the
open heaths, where the grey roads wind through warm carpets of ling and
heather, you can fill your nostrils with the sweet scent of Gorse and
Thyme.

I was sitting one hot afternoon, drawing the twisted bole of a Beech
tree. All the wood in which I sat was stirring with life; the dingle
below me a mist of flowers, Primroses, Wind-flowers, Hyacinths whose
bells made the air softly fragrant. Above me the sky showed through a
trellis-work of young leaves, the distance of the wood was purple with
opening buds, and the floor was a swaying sea of Bluebells dancing in a
gentle breeze. Squirrels chattered in the trees; now and then a wood
pigeon flopped out of a tree, and a blackbird whistled in some hidden
place.

All absorbed in my work, following the grotesquely beautiful curves of
the beech roots, I heard no sound of approaching footsteps. A voice
behind me said “Good,” and I started, dropping my pencil in my
confusion.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you,” said the voice.

I turned round and saw a man standing behind me, a man without a cap,
with curly brown hair, and a face coloured deep brown by the sun. He was
dressed in a faded suit of greenish tweed, wore a blue flannel shirt,
carried a thick stick in his hand, and had a worn-looking box slung over
his shoulders by a stained leather strap.

I suppose my surprise showed in my face in some comic way, for he
laughed heartily, showing a set of strong white teeth.

“No, I’m not Pan,” he said laughing, “or a keeper, or a vision. I’m a
gardener.”

His admirable assurance and pleasant address were very captivating.

I asked him what he did there, and he immediately sat down by me, pulled
out a black clay pipe, and lit up before replying. He extended the
honours of his match to my cigarette and I noticed that his hands were
well formed, and that he wore a silver ring on the little finger of his
right hand.

When he had arranged himself to his comfort, propping his back against a
tree and crossing his legs, he told me he was a gardener on a very large
scale.

I wished him joy of his garden, at which he smiled broadly, and informed
me in the most matter-of-fact way that he gardened the whole of Great
Britain.

For a moment I wondered if I had fallen in with an amiable lunatic, but
a closer inspection of his face showed me he was sane, uncommonly
healthy, and, I judged, a clever man.

“A vast garden?” I said.

Without exactly replying to my remark, which was put half in the manner
of a question, he said, partly to himself, “The slight fingers of April.
Do you notice how delicate everything is?”

I had noticed. The air was full of suggestion, the flowers were very
fairylike, the green of the trees very tender.

“Pied April,” said I.

Instead of answering me again he unstrapped the box that now lay beside
him on the grass, opened it and took from it a beautiful Fritillaria.

“There’s one of the April Princesses, if you like,” he said. “There are
not many about here, just an odd one or two; plenty near Oxford though.”

“You know Oxford?” said I.

“Guess again,” he said, smiling. “I’m no Oxford man, but I know the
woods about there well. Please go on working; I’ll talk.”

I was about to look at my watch when he stopped me.

“It’s half-past two,” he said. “The slant of the sun on the leaves ought
to tell you that.”




I was amused, interested in the man; he was so odd and quaint. “I’ve not
eaten my lunch yet,” I said. “Perhaps you’ll share it with me.”

“I was wondering if you’d invite me,” he replied. “I’m rather hungry.”

I had, luckily, enough for two. Slices of ham, some cheese, a loaf of
new bread, and a full flask. Very soon we were eating together like old
friends.

In an inconsequent way he asked me what I thought of the name of Noakes.

I said it was as good as any other.

“Let’s have it Noakes, then,” he said, laughing again. A very merry man.

“About this garden of yours, Mr. Noakes?” I asked.

He tapped his wooden box and said, “If you want to know, I’m a
herbalist. You can scarcely call me a civilised being, except on
occasions when I do go among my fellow men to winter.” He pulled a cap
and a pair of gloves out of his pocket. “My titles to respectability,”
he said.

“And in the Spring?”

“I take to the road with the Coltsfoot and the Butterburrs. I come out
with the first Violet, and the Pussy-cat Willow. I wander, all through
the year, up and down the length and breadth of England, with my box of
herbs. I get my bread and cheese that way—while you draw for pleasure.”

“Partly.”

“It must be for pleasure, or you wouldn’t take so much pains. I suppose
you think I’m a very disgraceful person, a bad citizen, a worse patriot.
But I know the news of the world better than those who read newspapers.
Although I trade on superstitions, I do no harm.”

“Do you sell your herbs?”

“Colchicum for gout—Autumn Crocus, you know it,” he replied.
“Willow-bark quinine; Violet distilled, for coughs. Not a bad
trade—besides, it keeps me free.”

I hazarded a question. “Tell me—you must observe these things—do swifts
drink as they fly? It has often puzzled me.”

“I don’t know,” said he. “Ask Mother Nature. Some of these things are
the province of professors. I’m not a learned man; just a herbalist.”

At that moment a thrush began to sing in a tree overhead. My friend
cocked his head, just like an animal.

“There’s the wise thrush,” he quoted softly, “he sings his song twice
over.”

“So you read Browning,” I said.

“I have a garret and a library,” he said. “Winter quarters. We shall
meet one day, and you’ll be surprised. I actually possess two dress
suits. It’s a mad world.” He stopped abruptly to listen to the thrush.
“This is better than the Carlton or Delmonico’s, anyhow!”

“What do you do?” I asked. “Go from village to village selling herbs?”

“That’s about it. Lord! Listen to that bird. I heard and saw a
nightingale sing once in a shaw near Ewelme. I think a thrush is the
better musician, though. Yes, I sell my herbs, all sorts and kinds.
Drugs and ointments, very simple I assure you—Hemlock and Poppy to cure
the toothache. Wood Sorrel—full of oxalic acid, you know, like
Rhubarb—for fevers. Aconite for rheumatics—very popular medicine I make
of that, sells like hot cakes in water meadow land, so does Agrimony for
Fen ague. Tansy and Camomile for liver—excellent. Hellebore for
blisters, and Cowslip pips for measles—I’m a regular quack, you see.”

“And it’s worth doing, is it?”

He leaned back, his pipe between his lips, a very contented man. “Worth
doing!” he said. “Worth owning England, with all the wonderful mornings,
and the clean air; worth waking up to the scent of Violets; worth lying
on your back near a Bean field on a summer day; worth seeing the Bracken
fronds uncurl; watching kingfishers; worth having the fields and
hedgerows for a garden, full of flowers always—I should think so. I earn
my bread, and I’m happy, far happier than most men. I can lend a hand at
haymaking, at the harvest; at sheep-shearing, at the cider press, at
hoeing, when I’m tired of my own company. I’ve worked the seines in the
mackerel season on the South coast—do you know the bend of shore by Lyme
and Charmouth? I’ve ploughed in the Lowlands, and found lost sheep in
the Lake Country; caught moles for a living in Norfolk, and cut
Hop-poles in Kent, and Heather in the Highlands.—And I’m not forty, and
I’m never ill.”

[Illustration: THE WEALD OF KENT SHOWING THE COUNTRY LIKE A PATCHWORK
QUILT.]

“It sounds delightful.”

He rose to his feet and gave me his hand.

“We shall meet again,” he said laughing. “Perhaps in the conventional
armour of starched shirts and inky black. For the present—to my work,”
he pointed over his shoulder. “I’m building hen-coops for a widow.
_Hasta luego._”

With that he vanished as quietly as he came. Almost as soon as the trees
had hidden him from my sight, a blackbird began to whistle, then
stopped, and a laugh came out of the woods.

Altogether a very strange man.

I found, when he had gone, that he had written something on a piece of
paper and had pinned it to the tree with a long thorn. It was this:

“I think, very likely, you may not know Ben Jonson’s ‘Gipsy
Benediction.’ If you don’t, accept the offering as a return for my
excellent lunch.

“The faerybeam upon you—
The stars to glisten on you—
A moon of light
In the noon of night,
Till the firedrake hath o’er gone you!
The wheel of fortune guide you;
The boy with the bow beside you;
Run aye in the way
Till the bird of day,
And the luckier lot, betide you.”

He signed, at the foot, “Noakes, Under the Greenwood Tree.” And he
seemed to have written some of his clear laughter into it.

Continue Reading

THE SPIRIT OF GARDENS

Once, I remember well, when I was hungering for a breath of country air,
a woman, brown with the caresses of the wind and sun, brought the Spring
to my door and sold it to me for a penny. The husky rough scent of those
Primroses gave me news of England that I longed to hear. When I had
placed my flowers in a bowl and put them on the table where I worked,
they told me stories of the lanes and woods, how thrushes sang, and the
wild Cherry Blossom flared delicately across the purpling trees.

A flower often will reclaim a mood when nothing else will bring it back.

To garden, to garner up the seasons in a little space, is part of every
wise man’s philosophy. To sow the seeds, to watch the tender shoots come
out and brave the light and rain, to see the buds lift up their heads,
and then to catch one’s breath as the flowers open and display their
precious colours, living, breathing jewels, is enough to live for. But
there is more than that. A man may choose the feast to spread before his
eyes, may sow old memories and see them grow, and feel the answering
colours in his heart. This Rose he used to pass on his way to school; it
nodded to him over the high red wall, while next to it a Purple Clematis
clung, arching over, so that, by standing on his pile of school-books,
he could reach the flowers. This patch of Golden Marigolds reminds him
of a long border in the garden where he spent his boyhood (they used to
grow behind the bee skeps, had a little place to themselves next to the
Horseradish and the early Lettuces). There’s a hedge of Lavender full of
association, he may remember how he was allowed (or was it set him for a
task?) to cut great sheaves of it and take them to the Apple-room, and
hang them up to dry over old newspapers. To look at Lavender brings back
the curious musty smell of that store-room, where Apples wintered on
long shelves; where the lawn-mower stood, and the brooms, and the scythe
(to cut the orchard grass), and untidy bundles of bass hung with string
and coils of wire. What a wonderful place that store-room was, with the
broken door and the rusty lock that creaked as the big key turned to let
him in: to reach the latch he had to stand on tip-toe, and to turn the
key seemed quite a grown-up task. There was all a garden needs stored in
that room. It had been a dining-room once, a hundred years ago, a room
where the members of a bowling club convivially met and fought old
games; bias, twist, jack, all the terms ring in his ears, even the click
of the bowls, sharp on the summer air, comes back; and the plastered
ornamental ceiling had sagged and dropped away here and there, showing
the laths. There was a big dusty window, across which the twisted arms
of a Wisteria stretched, and a broken window seat in it that opened like
a box to hold the bowls. Just the hedge of Lavender brings back the
picture of the boy whose cherished dreams hung about those four walls;
who, having strung his bunches, neatly tied, on wooden pegs along the
walls, and spread his papers underneath to catch the falling seeds, sat,
book in hand, and travelled into foreign lands with Mungo Park. There,
on his left, and facing him as well, shelves lined the walls, and Pears,
Apples and Medlars were arranged in rows, while by his side, placed on
the window ledge to catch the sun, were fallen Nectarines, Peaches and
big yellow Plums set to ripen.

What curious things a garden store-room holds! The tins, slopped over,
of weed-killer, of patent plant foods, of fine white sand. The twisted
string, criss-crossed upon a peg of wood, covered with whitewash, the
string that serves to guide the marker for the tennis-court. Then an
array of nets to cover Currant bushes, and bid birds beware of
Gooseberries, Cherries and ripe Strawberries. A barrow, full of odds and
ends, baskets, queer little bags of seeds, a heap of Groundsel gathered
for a bird and lying there forgotten. Like a Dutch picture, half in
gloom with bright lights on the shears, and along the edge of the
scythe, and on the curved wire mesh made to guard young seedlings. Empty
seed packets on the floor, bright coloured pictures of the flowers on
the outsides, a little soiled by the earth and the gardener’s thumb.

Plant memories, indeed! A man may plant a host of them and never then
recapture all his joys. There’s his first love garnishing a rustic arch,
a deep yellow Rose, beautiful in the bud—William Allen Richardson: she
wore them in her sash. He can laugh now and see the long yellow hair
floating in a cloud behind her as she ran, and the twinkling black legs,
and the merry pretty face looking down on him from between the leaves of
the Apple-tree she climbed. He grows that Apple in his orchard now, and
toasts her memory when the first ripe fruit of it shines on the dish
before him at dessert.

The Clove Carnation with its spice-like scent he bought from a barrow in
a London slum, brought with care—wrapped in paper on the rack of the
railway carriage—and planted it here. This Picotee he hailed with joy in
the flower-market at Saint Malo and carried it across the sea, each
bloom tied up to a friendly length of cane. His neighbours marvel at his
pains, but it recalls many a happy day to him.




There, in a corner under a nut-tree, is a grass bank thick with Primrose
plants—another memory. A picture comes to him from the Primroses very
clear, very distinct, a picture of the world gone black, of a day when a
boy thought heaven and earth purposeless, cruel; when he ran from a
garden to the woods and threw himself on a bank, covered with Primroses,
sobbing and weeping till the world was blotted out with his tears,
because his dog had died. It had been the first thing he had learnt to
love, the first thing he had had to care for, to look after. All his
childish ideas were whispered into the big retriever’s silky coat. They
had secret understandings, a different language, ideas in common, and
the dog’s death was his first hint of death in the world. Years after,
when he planted this garden, he gave a place to Don, and planted the
Primroses himself. The earth was kindly and the flowers flourished. The
earth is kindly, even your cynic knows that and marks the spot where he
hopes to lie, and thinks, not sourly, of the Daisies over his head.

There is something more than memory in a garden. There is that urgent
need man has to be part of growing life. He must have open spaces, he
takes health from the sight of a tree in bud, from the sight of a newly
ploughed field, from a plant or so in a window-box, a flower in his
button-hole. Men, who by a thousand ties are held at desks in cities,
look up and hear a caged thrush sing, and their thoughts fly out to
fields and the common wayside flowers, and, for a moment, the offices
are filled with the perfume—indescribable—of the open road.

[Illustration: A PRIMROSE BANK NEAR DORKING.]

There is that in the hum and business of a garden that makes for peace;
the senses are softly stirred even as the heart finds wings. No greeting
is as sweet as the drowsy murmur of bees, in garden, lane or open heath.
No day so good as that which breaks to song of birds. No sight so happy
as the elegant confusion of flower-border still wet and glistening with
the morning dew.

I heard a man once deliver a learned lecture on the Persian character,
full of history, romance and thoughtful ideas. Towards the end of his
discourse I began to feel that he, indeed, knew the Persian inside out,
but that I could catch but a fleeting and momentary glimpse of his
knowledge. Then, by way of background to an anecdote, he mirrored, with
loving care and wealth of detail, Oriental in its imagery and
elaboration, the gardens in a palace. There was a stream of clear water
running through the garden, and the owner had paved the bed of the
stream with exquisite old tiles; white Irises bloomed along the banks,
white Roses, growing thickly, dropped scented petals in the stream. I
have as good as lived in that garden; I saw it so well, and what little
I know of the Persian I know from that description. Omar is more than a
dead poet to me now; I can smell the Roses blooming over his grave.

There should be a sundial in every garden to mark the true beginning and
the end of day; some noise of water somewhere; bees; good trees to give
shade to us and shelter to the birds; a garden-house with proper amount
of flower-lore on shelves within; a walk for scent alone, flowers grown
perfume-wise; a solitary place, if possible, where should be a nest of
owls; a spread of lawn to rest the eyes, no cut beds in it to spoil the
symmetry, and at least one border for herbaceous plants. If this is
greedy of good things leave out the owls—that’s but a fanciful thought.
Do you know what a small space this requires? Those who might be free
and yet choose to live in towns might have it all for the price of the
rent of the ground their kitchen covers.

[Illustration: SIR WALTER’S SUNDIAL, ABBOTSFORD.]

There are those aching spirits to whom no land is home, whose feet go
wandering over the world; gipsy-spirits searching one must suppose for
peace of mind in constant new sights. For them the well-ordered garden
with its high walls, its neat lawn, its fair carriage-drive, is but a
dull prison-house, and even if in the course of their wanderings they
stray into such a place their talk is all of other lands; of scarlet
twisted flowers in Cashmere; of fields of Arum Lilies near Table
Mountain; of the sad-grey Olives and the gorgeous Orange groves of
Spain; the Poppy fields of China, or the brightly painted Tulips growing
orderly in Holland. We with our ancestral rookery near by, our talk of
last year’s nests, or overweening pride in the soft snows of Mrs.
Simpkin’s Pinks, seem to these folk like prisoners, who having tamed a
mouse proclaim it chief of all the animal world. But ask of the Garden
of England and the flowers it affords and see their eyes take on a
far-away look as the road calls to them, and hear them at their own lore
of roadside flowers, praising and loving Traveller’s Joy, the gilt array
of Buttercups, the dusty pink of Ragged Robin, and the like sweet joys
the vagabond holds dear. This one can whistle like a blackbird; that one
has boiled the roots of Dandelions (Dent de Lion, a charming name) and
has been cured by their juices. He knows that if he sees the delicate
parachutes of Dandelion, Coltsfoot, or of Thistle-fly when there is not
a breath of wind, then there will be rain. They read the skies, hear
voices in the wind, take courses from the stars, and know the time of
day from flowers. These men, having none of the spirit that inspires
your gardener, see the results of the work and smile pleasantly, ask,
perhaps, the name of some flower, to please you, know something of
soils, praise your Mulberries, and admire your collection of Violas, but
soon they are off and away, breathing more freely for leaving the
sheltered peace of your well-kept place, and vanish to Spitzbergen or
the Chinese desert in search of what their souls crave. We are
different; we sit in the cool of the evening, overlooking our
sweet-scented borders, gaining joy from the gathering night that paints
out the detail of our world, and hope quietly for a soft, gentle rain in
the night to stiffen the flowers’ drooping heads. We English are
gardeners by nature: perhaps the greyness of our skies accounts for our
desire to make our gardens blaze with colours.

We have our memories, our desire for peace, our love of colour, and, at
the back of all, something infinitely more grand.

“No lily muffled hum of a summer bee
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
… Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who knows takes off his shoes.”

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WHAT GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER

About two years ago, a great crowd assembled in one of the largest
churches in London to hear a popular preacher. He had, it was said,
a rare power of touching men’s hearts, and of lifting their thoughts
out of the mire and clay of this working-day world. And often, too,
his wife’s name was coupled with his; for she, by her written words,
was doing angels’ work among the people. Fashionable society knew them
only as preacher and writer; but some of the unfashionable were better
acquainted with them.

In the crowd were two persons who managed to get good seats in the
middle aisle. They were husband and wife; he a brave soldier, she a
beautiful woman. It would not have been easy to have found a couple
better matched, or better satisfied with each other. They exchanged
a quick glance of intelligence when the preacher ascended the pulpit
stairs, and then composed themselves to listen.

They were not disappointed in him. As they listened, they understood
how and why he won such a ready hearing; and when the sermon was over,
Nelly turned to her husband again with the old bright look; and he
answered her with a slight nod of satisfaction. Then, and not till
then, did she perceive a familiar face at the top of the pew.

As Nelly looked once more on Eve, there was revealed to her a strange
glimpse of what might have been if those two had been kept apart, and
she had taken Eve’s place. She saw herself a restless, unsatisfied
wife, always craving for a vague something that was withheld. She saw
Morgan crippled, not helped, by her riches; a good man still, but one
who had, somehow, missed his footing, and failed to climb so high as
had been expected of him. And she comprehended, fully and thankfully,
the great love and pity of that Being who had saved them from their
mistake.

There was a quiet hand-clasp in the crowded aisle; and then these two
women went their respective ways. And a voice seemed to be ringing in
Nelly’s ears, as she leaned upon her husband’s arm.

“I am thinking,” she said, “of something that was spoken long ago.
It was when I was in great trouble, dear, and felt as if I couldn’t
be comforted. ‘Don’t forget,’ my stepmother said to me, ‘that God
can bless those whom He puts asunder as well as those whom He joins
together.’ And I think I’m realizing the truth of those words to-night.”

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AN UNLOOKED-FOR RELEASE

Very early on Monday, the Golds’ governess took her departure from
Huntsdean. The train bore her away through the pleasant southern
counties while the dew was still shining on the meadows. On and on it
went; past cottages, standing amid fruit-laden trees, and gardens where
Michaelmas daisies were in bloom; past yellow fields, where the corn
was falling under the sickles of the reapers. Hedges were gay with
Canterbury bells and ragged robins. Here and there were dashes of gold
on the deep green of the woods. Eve Hazleburn, quiet and tearless,
looked out upon the smiling country, and bade it a mute farewell.

Afterwards, two carriages laden with luggage drove out of the village,
taking the road that led to the neighbouring seaport town. The first
contained the two little Channells and their nurses; in the second sat
Rhoda and Nelly. And before the vehicles were out of sight, Robert
Channell had turned his steps in the direction of the curate’s lodging.

He met the young man in the lane outside the sexton’s cottage, and gave
him a kindly good morning.

“I am the bearer of startling news, Morgan,” he said, slipping a little
note into his hand. “Let us come under the shade of the churchyard
trees. And now, Morgan, before you read the note, I want to ask you to
forgive my Nelly.”

“Forgive Nelly!” stammered the curate, thinking that if all could be
known it would be Nelly’s part to forgive him.

“Yes,” the father answered. “Try to think of her as a dear, foolish
child who has made a grave mistake. She has sent me to break off her
engagement with you, Morgan. She begs you, through me, to forgive her
for any pain that she may cause you. She wants you to remember her
kindly always, but neither to write to her, nor seek to see her again.”

The curate was silent for some moments. No suspicion of the truth
crossed his mind. He concluded, not unnaturally, that he had been too
quiet and grave a lover for the bright girl. That was all.

When he spoke, his words were very few. Perhaps Nelly’s father
respected him none the less because he made no pretence of great
sorrow. His face was pale, and his voice trembled a little, as he said
quietly,–

“If you will come into my lodging, Mr. Channell, I will give you
Nelly’s letters and her portrait. She may like to have them back again
without delay.”

They walked out of the churchyard, and down the lane to the sexton’s
cottage. And then Morgan left Mr. Channell sitting in the little
parlour, while he went upstairs to his room.

The hour of release had come. He took out a plain gold locket, which
had always been worn unseen, and detached it from its guard. He opened
it, and looked long and sadly at the fair face that it contained. It
was a delicately-painted photograph, true to life; and locket and
portrait had been Nelly’s first gift. The smile was her own smile,
frank and bright; the brown eyes seemed to look straight at the gazer.
“O Nelly,” he said, kissing the picture, “why couldn’t I love you
better? Thank God for this painless parting! No wonder that you wearied
of me, dear; you will be a thousand times freer and happier without me.”

Presently he came downstairs, and entered the parlour with the locket
and a little packet of letters. These he gave silently into Mr.
Channell’s hands.

“Morgan,” said Robert Channell, “I am heartily sorry for this. Don’t
think that I shall cease to feel for you as a friend, because I cannot
have you for a son-in-law.”

“I shall never forget all your kindness,” Morgan answered, in a low
voice. “But I shall soon leave this place, Mr. Channell.”

“Better so, perhaps,” Robert responded. “You ought to labour in a
larger sphere. You have great capacities for hard work, Morgan.”




Then the two men parted with a close hand-shake. And Mr. Channell
looked back to say, almost carelessly,–

“My family have migrated to Southsea for a month or two. I follow them
to-morrow.”

It would be too much to say that the curate “regained his freedom with
a sigh.” Yet certain it is that this unlooked-for release set his heart
aching; it might be that his _amour propre_ was slightly wounded, for
was it not a little hard to find that the girl for whom he had been
making a martyr of himself could do very well without him? He had
climbed the height of self-sacrifice only to find deliverance. The
spirit of sacrifice had been required of him, but the crowning act was
not demanded.

He read Nelly’s note again. It was a very commonplace little letter,
written in a sloping, feminine hand. She used that stereotyped phrase
which, hackneyed as it is, does as well or better than any other,
“I feel we are not suited for each other.” This was the sole excuse
offered for breaking the engagement, and surely it was excuse enough.

How could he know that these few trite sentences had been written in
the anguish of a woman’s first great sorrow? We don’t recognise the
majesty of woe when it masquerades in every-day garments. It needs
a Divine sight to find out the real heroes and heroines of life. If
Morgan had been questioned about Nelly, the term “heroine” would have
been the very last that he would have applied to her. And yet Nelly,
quite unconsciously, had acted in the true spirit of heroism.

By-and-by the sense of relief began to make itself felt, and Morgan’s
heart grew wonderfully light. He went through his usual routine of
duties, and then took his way to the rectory. He must give the rector
timely notice of his intention to resign his curacy.

Meanwhile Robert Channell had proceeded to Laurel House. Mrs. Gold
received him in a depressed manner. Her governess, she said, had left
her; and she seemed to consider that Miss Hazleburn had used her
unkindly. She did not know how such a useful person could be replaced.
Nobody would ever satisfy her so well as Miss Hazleburn had done. Yes,
she could give the governess’s address to Mr. Channell. She had chosen
to go to Warwickshire, to live with an invalid lady. Mrs. Gold hoped
she would find the post unbearably dull, and return to her former
situation.

“There is little probability of that,” thought Robert Channell, as he
went his way with the address in his pocket-book. And then he thought
of Nelly’s face and voice when she had stated her intention of giving
up Mr. Myrtle’s legacy to Eve.

“I won’t keep anything that isn’t fairly mine,” she had said; “let her
have both the lover and the money.”

Eve never ceased to wonder how the Channells had found out that Mr.
Myrtle had owed her father three thousand pounds.

October had just set in when Eve and Morgan met again. It was Sunday
morning, and she was on her way to that beautiful old church which
is the chief glory of the city of C—-. The bells were chiming; the
ancient street was bright with autumn light; far above them rose the
tall spire, rising high into the calm skies.

They said very little to each other at that moment. A great deal had
already been said on paper, and they could afford to be quiet just
then. Together they entered the church, a happy pair of worshippers,
“singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.” “A thousand
times happier,” Eve remarked afterwards, “than we could ever have dared
to be if another had suffered for our joy.”

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