THE COTTAGE GARDEN

For the same reason that your town man keeps a pot of Geraniums on his
window-sill, and a caged bird in his house, your countryman plants
bright-coloured flowers by his door, and regales his children with news
of the first cuckoo. They pull as much of Heaven down as will
accommodate itself to their plot of earth.

Any man standing in the centre of however small a space of his personal
ownership—a piece of drugget in a garret, a patch of garden—makes it the
hub of the universe round which the stars spin, on which his world
revolves. Within a hand-stretch of him lie all he is, his intimate
possessions, his scraps of comfort scratched out of the hard earth:
books, pictures, photographs showing the faces of his small world of
friends and his tiny travels—how little difference there is between a
walk through Piccadilly and a journey across Asia: your great traveller
has little more to say than the man who has found Heaven in a penny
bunch of Violets, or heard the stars whisper over St. James’s
Park—within his reach are the things he has paid the price of life for,
and they are the cloak with which he covers his nakedness of soul
against the all-seeing eye he calls his Destiny.

With all this, commenced perhaps in cowardice—for the earth’s brown
crust is too like a grave, the garret floor too like a shell of
wood—your man, town or country, grown to know love of little things,
nurses a seedling as if it were his conscience, patches his drugget as
if it were a verse he’d like to polish. Out of the vast dreary waste of
faces who pass by unheeding, and the unseeing world that does not care
whether he lives or dies, he makes his small hoard of treasures, as a
child hides marbles, thinking them precious stones—as, indeed, they are
to those who have eyes to see—and, be they books, or pictures, pots of
plants, or curious conceits in china, they all answer for flowers, for
the bright-coloured spots of comfort in a life of doubt.

No man thinks this out carefully, and sets about to plan his garden in
this spirit: he feels a need, and meets it as he can. In this manner we
are all cottage gardeners.

In days gone by—days of serfdom, oppression, battle, slavery,
poverty—the countryman passed his day waiting for the next blow, living
between pestilences, and praying in the dark for small sparks of
comfort. The monks kept the land sweet by growing herbs in sheltered
places; the countryman looked dully at Periwinkles and Roses and
Columbines, thought them pretty, and passed by. Even the meanest flower,
Shepherd’s-eye or Celandine, was too high for him to reach. (The poet
who keeps Jove’s Thunder on his mantelpiece would understand that.)
Roses were common enough even in the dark ages; the English hedgerow
threw out its fingers of Wild Rose and scented the air—but where was the
man with a nose for fragrance when a mailed hand was on his shoulder.
Those Roses on the Field of Tewkesbury—think of them stained with blood
and flowering over rotting corpses.

“I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its lap from some once lovely Head.

And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River’s Lip on which we lean.
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen.”

Little did the dull ploughman think of Roses in the hedge, or Violets in
the bank, he’d little care except for a dish of Pulse. Yet, all the
time, curious men were studying botany, dredging the earth for secrets,
as the astronomer swept the sky. The Arviells, Gilbert and Hernicus,
were, one in Europe, the other in Asia, collecting good plants and herbs
to replenish the Jardins de Santé the monks kept—that in the thirteenth
century, too, with war clouds everywhere, and steel-clad knights wooing
maidens in castles by the secondhand means of luting troubadours.

The Arts of Rome were dead, buried, and cut up by the plough. (How many
ploughmen, such as Chaucer knew, turned long brown furrows over Roman
vineyards, and black crows, following, pecked at bright coins, brought
by the plough to light.)

All at once, it must have seemed, the culture of flowers, was in the
air: Carnations became the rage; then men spent heaven knows what on a
Tulip bulb; built orangeries; sent Emissaries abroad to cull flowers in
the East. The great men’s gardeners, great men themselves, kept flowers
in the plot of ground about their cottages; gave out a seed or so here
and there; talked garden gossip at the village ale-house. (Tradescant
steals Apricots from Morocco into England. A Carew imports Oranges. The
Cherry orchards at Sittingbourne are planted by one of Henry the
Eighth’s gardeners. Peiresc brings all manner of flowers to bloom under
our grey skies: great numbers of Jessamines, the clay-coloured Jessamine
from China; the crimson American kind; the Violet-coloured Persian.)

[Illustration: A SURREY COTTAGE.]

The grass piece by the cottage door begins to find itself cut into beds;
uncared for flowers, wild Gilly-flowers, Thyme, Violets and the like,
give colour to the cottage garden that has only just become a garden.
With that comes competition: one man outdoes another, begs plants and
seeds of all his friends; buds a Rose on to a Briar standard, and boasts
the scent of his new Clove Pinks, And so it grew that times were not so
strenuous: Queen Victoria comes to the throne, and with prosperity come
the pretty frillings of life, and cottage gardens ape their masters’
Rose walks, and collections of this and that. To-day Africa and Asia nod
together in a sunny cottage border, and Lettuces from the Island of Cos
show their green faces next to Sir Walter Raleigh’s great gift to the
poor man, the Potato. Poplars from Lombardy grow beside the garden gate;
the Currant bush from Zante drips its jewel-like fruit tassels under a
Cherry tree given to us, indirectly, by Lucullus, lost by us in our
slumbering Saxon times, and here again, with Henry the Eighth’s
gardener, from Flanders. In some quite humble gardens the Cretan Quince
and Persian Peach grow; so that history, poetry, and romance peer over
Giles’s rustic hedge; and the wind blows scents of all the world through
the small latticed window.

Ploughman Giles, sitting by his cottage door, smoking an American weed
in his pipe while his wife shells the Peas of ancient Rome into a basin,
does not realise that his little garden, gay with Indian Pinks and
African Geraniums, and all its small crowd of joyous-coloured flowers,
is an open book of the history of his native land spread at his feet.
Here’s the conquest of America, and the discovery of the Cape, and all
the gold of Greece for his bees to play with. Here’s his child making a
chain of Chaucer’s Daisies; and there’s a Chinese mandarin nodding at
him from the Chrysanthemums; and there’s a ghost in his cabbage patch of
Sir Anthony Ashley of Wimbourne St. Giles in Dorsetshire.

Ploughman Giles is a fortunate man, and we, too, bless his enterprise
and his love of striking colours and good perfumes when we lean over the
gate of his cottage garden to give him good-day.

I showed him once a photograph of a picture by Holbein—the Merchant of
the Steel Yard—and pointed out the vase of flowers on the table and the
very same flowers growing side by side in his garden, Carnations, the
old single kind, and single Gilly-flower. He looked at the picture with
his glasses cocked at the proper angle on his nose—he’s an oldish man
and short-sighted—and said in his husky voice, “Well, zur, I be
surprised to zee un.” And he called out his wife to look—which didn’t
please her much as she was cooking—but, when she saw the flowers, “In
that there queer gentleman’s room, and as true as life, so they do be,”
she became enthusiastic, wiped her hands many times on her apron, and
looked from the picture to the actual flowers growing in her garden with
a kind of awe and wonder. It was of far more interest to them to know
that they were hand in glove with the history of their own country than
it would have been to learn that chemists made a wonderful drug called
digitalis out of the Foxgloves by the fence. I gave them the photograph
and it hangs in a proud position next to a stuffed and bloated perch in
a glass-case; and, what is more, they have an added sense of dignity
from the dim, far away time the picture represents to them.

“He might a plucked they flowers in this very garden,” she says; and
indeed, he might if he had happened that way. But the older flowers,
though they don’t realise it, are the people themselves. Ploughman Giles
and his wife, have been on the very spot far, far longer than the Pinks
and Gilly-flowers, blooming into ripe age, rearing countless families
back and back and back, until one can almost see a Giles sacrificing to
Thor and Odin at the stone on the hill behind the cottage. The Norman
Church throws its shadow over the graves of countless Gileses, and over
the graves, pleasant-eyed English Daisies shine on the grass.

After all, when we see a cottage standing in its glowing garden, with a
neat hedge cutting it off from its fellows; with children playing
eternal games with dolls (Mr. Mould’s children following the ledger to
its long home in the safe—shall I ever forget that?), we see the whole
world, cares, joys, birth, death and marriage; the wealth of nations
scattered carelessly in flowers, spoils from every continent, surrounded
by a hedge, its own birds to sing, its hundred forms of life, feeding,
breeding, dying round the cottage door; and, at night, its little patch
of stars overhead.

It was a fanciful child, perhaps, but children are full of quaint ideas,
who caught the moon in a bright tin spoon, and put it in a bottle, and
drew the cork at night to let the moon out to sail in the sky. The child
found the tin spoon, dropped by a passing tinware pedlar, in the road,
waited till night came, with his head full of a fairy story he had
heard, and when it was dark, except for the moon, he stepped into the
garden, held the bowl of the spoon to catch the moon’s reflection, and
when she showed her yellow face distorted in the bright spoon, he poured
the reflection, very solemnly, into a bottle and corked it fast and
tight. Then, with a whispered fairy spell, some nurse’s gibberish, he
took the precious bottle and hid it in a cupboard along with other
mysterious tokens. That’s a symbol of all our lives, bottling up moons
and letting them out at nights. Isn’t a garden just such a dream-treat
to some of us? There are golden Marigolds for the sun we live by, and
silver Daisies for the stars, and blue Forget-me-nots for summer skies.
Heaven at our feet, and angels singing from birds’ throats among the
trees.




Sometimes we see one cottage garden, next to a Paradise of colour,
flaunting Geraniums, and all the summer garland, and in it a poor tree
or so, a few ill-kept weedy flowers, overgrown Stocks, a patch of
drunken-looking Poppies, a grass-grown waste of choked Pinks: the whole
place with a sullen air. What is the matter with the people living
there? A decent word will beg a plant or two, seeds and cuttings can be
had for the asking. Is it a poor or a proud spirit who refuses to join
the other displays of colour? Knock at the door, and your answer comes
quick-footed; it is the poor spirit answers you. Of course, there are
men who can coax blood out of a stone, and find big strawberries in the
bottom of the basket; and others who cannot grow anything, try as they
may. It is common enough to hear this or that will not grow for
so-and-so, or that man makes such a plant flourish where mine all die.
There’s something between man and his flowers, some sympathy, that makes
a Rose bloom its best for one, and Carnations wither under his touch, or
Asters show their magic purples for one, and give a weak display for
another. No one knows what speaks in the man to the Roses that bloom for
him, or what distaste Carnations feel for all his ministrations, but the
fact remains—any gardener will tell you that. So with your man of
greenhouses, so with your humble cottage gardener, and, looking along a
village street, the first glance will show you not who loves the flowers
but whom flowers love.

This, of course, is not the reason of the weedy garden of the poor
spirit, the reason for that is obvious: the poor spirit never rejoices,
and to grow and care for flowers is a great way of rejoicing. There’s
many a man sows poems in the spring who never wrote a line of verse: his
flowers are his contribution to the world’s voice; united in expressions
of joy, the writer, the painter, the singer, the flower-grower are all
part of one great poem.

The average person who passes a cottage garden is more moved by the
senses than the imagination; he or she drinks deep draughts of perfume,
takes long comfort to the eyes from the fragrant and coloured rood of
land. They do not cast this way and that for curious imaginings; it
might add to their pleasure if they did so. There are men who find the
whole of Heaven in a grain of mustard seed; and there are those who, in
all the pomp and circumstance of a hedge of Roses, find but a passing
pleasure to the eye.

We, who take our pleasure in the Garden of England, who feast our eyes
on such rich schemes of colours she affords, have reason to be more than
grateful to those who encourage the cottage gardener in his work. It is
from the vicarage, rectory, or parsonage gardens that most encouragement
springs; it is the country clergyman and his wife who, in a large
measure, are responsible for the good cottage gardening we see nearly
everywhere. These, and the numberless societies, combine to keep up the
interest in gardening and bee-keeping, to which we owe one of our
chiefest English pleasures. The good garden is the purple and fine linen
of the poor man’s life; poets, philosophers, and kings have praised and
sung the simple flowers that he grows. Wordsworth for instance, sings of
a flower one finds in nearly every cottage garden:

LOVE-LIES-BLEEDING.

You call it “Love-lies-Bleeding”—so you may,
Though the red Flower, not prostrate, only droops
As we have seen it here from day to day,
From month to month, life passing not away:
A flower how rich in sadness! Even thus stoops,
(Sentient by Grecian sculpture’s marvellous power)
Thus leans, with hanging brow and body bent
Earthward in uncomplaining languishment,
The dying Gladiator. So, sad Flower!
(’Tis Fancy guides me, willing to be led,
Though by a slender thread,)
So drooped Adonis bathed in sanguine dew
Of his death-wound, when he from innocent air
The gentlest breath of resignation drew;
While Venus in a passion of despair
Rent, weeping over him, her golden hair
Spangled with drops of that celestial shower.
She suffered, as Immortals sometimes do;
But pangs more lasting far that Lover knew
Who first, weighed down by scorn, in some lone bower
Did press this semblance of unpitied smart
Into the service of his constant heart,
His own dejection, downcast Flower! could share
With thine, and gave the mournful name
Which thou wilt ever bear.

Then again, Mrs. Browning, who loved Nature and England, and spoke her
love in such delicate fancies, writes of flowers in “Our Gardened
England,” in a poem called,

A FLOWER IN A LETTER.

Red Roses, used to praises long,
Contented with the poet’s song,
The nightingale’s being over;
And Lilies white, prepared to touch
The whitest thought, nor soil it much,
Of dreamer turned to lover.

Deep Violets you liken to
The kindest eyes that look on you,
Without a thought disloyal!
And Cactuses a queen might don
If weary of her golden crown,
And still appear as royal!

Pansies for ladies all! I wis
That none who wear such brooches miss
A jewel in the mirror:
And Tulips, children love to stretch
Their fingers down, to feel in each
Its beauty’s secret nearer.

Love’s language may be talked with these!
To work out choicest sentences,
No blossoms can be neater—
And, such being used in Eastern bowers,
Young maids may wonder if the flowers
Or meanings be the sweeter.

Continue Reading

THE TAILOR’S SISTER’S TOMBSTONE

I was on the hill over against the village where my friend the tailor
lived, and was preparing to descend into the valley to inquire the
whereabouts of his cottage, when one of those sharp summer storms came
on, the sky being darkened as if a hand had drawn a curtain across it,
and the entire village lit by a vivid, unnatural light, like limelight
in its intensity.

Turning about, as the first great drops fell, to look for shelter, I
spied a rough shed by the wayside, shut in on three sides with gorse,
wattle and mud, and roofed over with heather thatch. Into this I
scuttled and found a comfortable seat on a sack placed on a pile of
hurdles.

It was evidently a place used by a shepherd for a store-house of the
implements of his craft. At the back of a shed was one of those houses
on wheels shepherds use in the lambing season; besides this were
hurdles, sacks, several rusty tins, and a very rusty oil-stove. All very
primitive, and possessed of a nice earthy smell. It gave me a sudden
desire to be a shepherd.

Looking down into the valley I saw men running for shelter, hastily
pulling their coats over their shoulders as they ran. In a field on the
far side of the valley they were carting Wheat, and I saw two men
quickly unhitch the cart horses, and lead them away to some place hidden
from me by trees.

The village was buried in orchards, and lay along the bank of a quickly
running river that caught a glint of the weird light here and there
between the trees like a path of shining silver. A squat church tower
stuck up among the red roofs.

For a moment the scene shone in the fierce light, then the low growling
thunder broke into a tremendous crash, and the light was gone in an
instant. Then the rain blotted out everything.

The hiss of the rain on the dry heather thatch over my head was good
enough company, and it was added to, soon, by the entrance of seven
swallows that flew into my shelter and sat twittering on a beam just
inside the opening. Then came an inky darkness, broken violently by a
blare of lightning as if some hand had rent the dark curtain across in a
rage. A great torn jagged edge of blue-white light streamed across the
valley, showing everything in wet, glistening detail.

Only that morning I had been reading by the wayside an account of a
storm in the Memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini. It came very pat for the day.
It was at the time when Cellini rode from Paris carrying two precious
vases on a mule of burden, lent him to go as far as Lyons, by the Bishop
of Pavia. When they were a day’s journey from Lyons, it being almost ten
o’clock at night, such a terrific storm burst upon them that Cellini
thought it was the day of judgment. The hailstones were the size of
Lemons; and the event caused him to sing psalms and wrap his clothes
about his head. All the trees were broken down, all the cattle deprived
of life, and a great many shepherds were killed.

I was still engaged in picturing this when the sky above me grew
lighter, the rain fell less heavily, and, in a very short time, all that
was left of the storm was a distant sound as of a giant murmuring, a
dark blot of rain cloud on the distant hills, and the ceaseless patter
of dripping trees. The sun shone out and showed the village and
landscape all fresh and shining. Then, as I looked, against the dark
bank of distant clouds, a rainbow arched in glorious colours, one step
of the arch on the hills tailing into mist, and one in the corn field
below. The sight of the rainbow with its wonderful beauty, and its great
message of hope thrilled me, as it always does. I do not care what the
scientist tells me of its formation: he has not added one atom to my
feeling, with all his knowledge. It remains for me the sign of God’s
compact with man.

“And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make
between me and you, and every living creature that is with you,
for perpetual generations.

“I set my bow in a cloud, and it shall be for a token of a
covenant between me and the earth.

“And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth,
that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.

“And I will remember my covenant which is between me and you,
and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no
more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

“And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it,
that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and
every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

I learnt to love that when I was a child, and being still, in many ways,
the same child, I look upon a rainbow and think of God remembering his
covenant: and it makes me very happy.

Now as the storm was over, and I had no further excuse for stopping in
my shelter, I took my knapsack again on to my shoulder and walked down,
across two fields of grass, round the high hedges of two orchards, and
came out into the road in the valley, about two hundred yards distant
from the village church. It was about four of the afternoon.

I was about to turn towards the village to ask my best way to the
tailor’s cottage, when who should turn the bend of the road but the
tailor himself with all the air of looking for some one.

I grasped him warmly by the hand, and he held mine in a good grip like
the good fellow he was, saying, “I was looking about for you, sir,
thinking you might have forgotten my direction” (as indeed, I had), “and
knowing you would most likely go to the village to inquire, I was on my
way there.”

As we turned to walk down the road away from the church, the tailor
informed me his sister was all agog to see me, but very nervous that I
might think theirs too poor a place to put up with, and she had, at the
last moment, implored him to take me to the inn instead.

The affection I had gained for the little man in my few hours’ talk with
him made me certain I should be happy in his company, and I laughed at
his fears.

“Why, man,” said I, “I have walked a good hundred miles to see you, do
you think it likely I shall turn away at the last minute?”

“There,” cried the tailor, “I told her so. She’s a small body, you’ll
understand, sir, and gets worried at times.”

We turned a corner and I saw before me one of the prettiest cottages I
have ever seen. A low, sloping roof of thatch, golden brown where it had
been mended, rich brown and green in the older part. The body of the
cottage was white, with a fine tree of Cluster Roses, the Seven Sisters,
I think it is called, growing over the porch and on the walls. The
garden was one mass of bloom, a wonderful garden—as artists say, “juicy”
with colour. Standard Roses, Sweet Williams, Hollyhocks, patches of
Violas, Red Hot Pokers, Japanese Anemones, a hedge of Sweet Peas “all
tip-toe for a flight” as Keats has it, clumps of Dahlias just coming
out, with red pots on sticks to catch the earwigs; an old Lavender
hedge, grey-green. A rain butt painted green; round a corner, three
blue-coloured beehives; and all about, such flowers—I could not mention
half of them. Bushes of Phlox, for instance; and great brown-eyed
Sunflowers cracked across with wealth of seed; and tall spikes of
Larkspur like the summer skies: and Carnations couched in their grey
grass or tied to sticks. A worn brick pathway leading through it all.

The tailor watched the effect on me anxiously.

I stood with one hand on the gate and drank in the beauty of it. Set, as
the place was, in a bower of orchards, it looked like a jewelled nest, a
place out of a fairy tale, everything complete. The diamond panes of the
windows with neat muslin curtains behind them, with fine Geraniums in
very red pots on the window-sill, were like friendly eyes beaming
pleasantly at the passing world. To a tired traveller making his way
upon that road, such a sight would bring delight to his eyes, and cause
him, most certainly, to pause before the glad garden. If he were a
romantic man he would take off his hat, as men do abroad to a wayside
Calvary, in honour of the peace that dwelt over all.

Like a rich illuminated page the garden glowed among the trees—like a
jewel of many colours it shone in its velvet nest.

The tailor could restrain himself no longer. He said, “As neat as
anything you’ve seen, sir?”

“Perfect,” said I. “As much as a man could want.”

He walked before me down the garden path and called, “Rose,” through the
open door.

In another minute I was shaking hands with the tailor’s sister.

In appearance she was as spotlessly clean as her muslin curtains. She
was a tiny woman of about forty-five, very quick in her movements, with
a little round red face and very bright blue eyes. She wore, in my
honour, a black silk dress, and a black silk apron and a large cornelian
brooch at her neck.

“Pray step inside, sir,” she said throwing open the door of the parlour.

When I was seated at tea with these people I kept wondering where they
had learnt the refinement and taste everywhere exhibited. For one thing
the few family possessions were good, and there was no tawdry rubbish. A
grandfather clock, its case shining with polishing, ticked comfortably
in one corner of the room. An old-fashioned sofa filled the window
space. We sat upon Windsor chairs with our feet on a rag carpet. Most of
the household gods were over or upon the mantelpiece, most prominent
among which was a really fine landscape, hung in the centre. I inquired
whose work this might be.

One had only to look in the direction of any object to get its history
from the tailor.

“I bought that, sir,” he said, when I was looking at the picture, “of a
man near Norwich. It cost me half a crown.”

“Three shillings,” said the sister. Then to me, “He takes a sixpence
off, now and again, sir, because he’s jealous of my bargains; aren’t
you, Tom?”

Tom smiled at her and winked at me. “She will have her bit of fun,” he
said.

“But it’s a fine picture,” said I.

“Proud to have you say so,” he answered; “I like it, and the man didn’t
seem to care about it. He was going to the Colonies and parting with a
lot of odds and ends. I bought the brass candlesticks off him at the
same time—a shilling.”

I could see why the little man liked the picture, for the same reason I
liked it myself. It was of the Norwich School, a broad open landscape
painted with care and finish of detail, and with much of the charming
falsity of light common among certain pictures of that time. On the left
was a cottage whose garden gave on to the road, a cottage almost buried
under two great trees. The road wound past, out of the shadows of the
trees, and vanished over a hill. The middle distance showed a great
expanse of country dotted with trees with the continuation of the road
running through the vale until it was lost in a wood. A sky of banked up
clouds hung over all. Right across the middle of the picture was a
wonderfully painted gleam of sunlight, flicking trees, meadows, and the
road into bright colours; the rest of the picture being subdued to give
this effect. Up the road, coming towards the cottage, was a small man in
a three-cornered hat, knee breeches, and long skirted coat. This figure
dated the picture a little earlier than I had at first thought it.

“That’s me,” said the tailor, pointing to the figure. “That’s what Rose
said as soon as I brought it home, ‘Why that’s you, Tom.’”




“I did, sir, that’s just what I said. ‘Why Tom, that’s you,’ I said.”

“And so it is,” said the tailor.

Half a crown! Few of us are rich enough in taste to have bought it.

After tea I begged leave to see the garden. “And, Miss Rose,” I said,
“to hear about the tombstone, please.”

She put her small fat hands to her face and laughed and laughed. “He’s
been and told you that, sir? Well, I never did!”

[Illustration: A COTTAGE GARDEN.]

We went out of the back door and into a second flower garden rivalling
the one in front for a display of colour. There, sure enough, stood the
tombstone, grey and upright, planted in a bed of flowers. They seemed to
hurl themselves at the grim object, wave upon wave of coloured joy
washing the feet of the emblem of Death.

“There she is,” said the tailor’s sister proudly.

“Please tell me about it,” said I, wondering at her cheerfulness.

“You see, sir,” she began, “before Tom and I came into our fortune, and
got rich——”

Multi-millionaires, I thought, could you but hear that! But they were
rich—as rich as any one could be. The flowers in the garden were worth a
kingdom.

“—We used to wonder what we’d do if we ever had a bit of money. Of
course, we never dreamed of anything like this.” Her eyes wandered
proudly over her possessions.

“Yes,” said the tailor, joining in. “Our best dreams never came near
this. I’d seen such places, but never thought to live in one, much less
own one.”

“Well, you see, sir,” said his sister taking up the thread of her story,
“there was one thing I’d always set my mind on—a nice place to lie in
when I was dead. I had a horror of cemeteries, great ugly places, as you
might say, with the tombstones sticking up like almonds in a tipsy cake
pudding, and a lot of dirty children playing about. I lived for ten
years in London, in a room that overlooked one, a most dingy place I
called it. I couldn’t bear to think I’d be popped in with a crowd,
anyhow. Now, a churchyard in the country—that’s quite different.”

“I’d a great fancy for a spot I knew in Kent,” said the tailor. “Dark
Yew trees all round one side, and Daisies over everything, and a seat
near by for people to rest on, coming early to church.”

“Go on, Tom,” said his sister lovingly. “Ar’n’t you satisfied with what
you’ve got?”

He turned to me after putting his arm through his sister’s. “We’ve got
our piece of ground,” he said cheerfully. “I’m going to be planted next
to her, on the left of the church door—well, it’s as good a place as
you’d find anywhere, and people coming out of church will notice us
easily. I’d like to be thought of, after I’m gone.”

Death held no terrors for these people, it seemed, they talked so
happily of it, made such delightful plans to welcome it; robbed it of
all its gloom and horror, its false trappings, its dingy grandeur.

There was a flaunting Red Admiral sunning its wings on the tombstone.

“I never thought,” said the sister, “I should find just what I wanted by
accident. Isn’t it lovely?”

It certainly had a beauty of its own. It was a copy of an early
eighteenth century tombstone, the top in three arches, the centre arch
large, and round, ending in carved scroll work. In the centre of the
arch a cherub was carved, very fat and smiling, with wings on either
side of his head. Then, in good deep-cut lettering, were the words:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY
OF
ROSE BRANDLE

Both these curious people looked at me as I read the lettering. Arm in
arm they looked nice, cheerful, loving friends, a good deal like one
another in the face, very gay and homely, and with a certain sparkling
brightness, like the flowers they loved. To see them standing there
proudly, smiling at the grey tombstone, smiling at me, under the sun, in
the garden so full of life and of growing healthy things, gave me a
sensation that Death was present in friendly guise, a constant welcome
companion to my new friends, and a pleasant image even to myself.

“Second-hand,” said the tailor’s sister, “all except the name, and he
put that in for me at a penny the letter: that came to elevenpence, so I
gave him a shilling to make an even sum.”

“A guinea, as it stands,” said the tailor.

“You like it, sir?” asked his sister anxiously.

“On the contrary,” said I, “I admire it enormously.”

“As soon as I saw it,” she said, “I fell in love with it. It was
standing at the back of the yard among a heap of stones. The sun was
shining on it, and I said to myself, ‘If that’s cheap, it’s as good as
mine.’ The man had cut it out years ago as an advertisement to put in
the front of the yard, and it had a bit of paper pasted on it with his
terms and what not—Funerals in the best style. Distance no object—and
that sort of thing. I asked the price of it and he told me ‘One pound.’
‘Cheap,’ I said, and he told me how ’twas so, since people nowadays like
broken urns and pillars or something plainer, and had given up cherubs,
and death-heads and suchlike. So I put down the money, and he popped it
on a waggon that was coming back this way with a small load of Hay, and
Tom put it up for me in the garden. Now I can die happy, sir.”

I asked her if she had no feelings about Death, and if the idea of
leaving her garden and her cottage was not strange to her.

She replied, in the simplest way possible, being a cheerful religious
woman without a particle of sham in her nature, that when God called her
she was ready and glad to go, and as for the garden she would only go to
another one—far more beautiful.

Her faith, I found afterwards, was of a sweet simple kind, and had been
with her as a child, and remained with her as a woman, untouched by the
least doubt. She heard Mass every morning of her life in the little
church half a mile away, and spoke in loving and familiar tones of her
favourite saints as being friends of hers, though in a higher station of
life. Included in her ideas of heaven was a very distinct belief that
there would be many beautiful flowers and birds, and the pleasure with
which she looked forward to seeing them—in a humble way, as if she might
be one of a crowd in a Public Garden—gave her a quiet dignity and charm,
the equal of which I have seldom met. Her brother, who was always
marvelling at her, had, also, some of her dignity, but a wider, freer
view of things, and the natural gaiety of a bird.

The next morning, as soon as I woke in the fresh clean bedroom they had
made ready for me, I sprang from my bed and went to look out of the
window. The dew was sparkling on the flowers, and their scent came up
sweet and strong; a tubful of Mignonette, at which the bees were busy,
was especially fragrant. As I looked, the tailor’s sister came into the
garden, in a neat lavender-coloured print dress; she carried a missal in
one hand, and a rosary swung in the other. She stood opposite to her
tombstone for a minute, her lips moving softly, and then, after turning
her pleasant face towards the wealth of flowers about her, she bowed
deeply, as if saluting the morning. A little time later I heard the gate
of the front garden swing and shut, and I knew she had gone to hear
Mass.

The garden was left alone, busy in its quiet way; growing, dying,
perpetuating its kind. The bees were industriously singing as they
worked; lordly butterflies danced rigadoons and ravanes over the
flowers; a thrush, after a long hearty tug at a fat worm, swallowed it,
and then, perching on the tombstone, poured out its joy in full clear
notes. And Death was cheated of his sting.

Continue Reading

THE BLUEBELL WOOD AND THE CALM STONE DOG

Man is an autobiographical animal, he speaks only from his thimbleful of
human experience, and the I, I, I, of his talk drops out like an
insistent drip of water. Even the knowledge we gain from books has to be
grafted on to the knowledge we have of life before it bears fruit in our
minds. Like patient clerks we are always adding up the columns of facts,
fancies, and ideas, and arriving at the very tiny total at the end of
the day.

In order to give themselves scope when they wish to soliloquise, many
authors address their conversation to a cat, a grandfather clock, a dog,
a picture on the wall, or what-not. Cats, I think, have the preference.
I have often wondered what Crome, the painter, said to his cat when he
pulled hairs out of her to make paint-brushes; or what Doctor Johnson
said to his cat Hodge, about Boswell. Having explained this much, I may
easily be forgiven for repeating the conversation I had with a Stone Dog
who sat on his haunches outside the door of a woodman’s cottage.

The cottage stood on the edge of a wood, and was, as I shall point out,
a remnant of departed glory, of which the dog was the most pertinent
reminder.

A cottage on the borders of a wood is in itself one of the most valuable
pictures for a romance. A woodcutter may be in league with goodness
knows how many fairies, elves, and witches. It is a place where heroes
meet heroines; where kings in disguise eat humble pie; where dukes, lost
in hunting a white stag, meet enchanted princesses.

The wood, of which I speak, was once, years ago—about three hundred
years—part of the park of Tanglewood Court, an extensive property, an
old house, a great family possession.

Gone, like last winter’s snow, were the family of Bois; gone the pack;
gone the glories of the great family; gone the portraits, the armour,
the very windows of Tanglewood Court, of which but a fine ruin remained.
And the lane, a mere cart track, was all that was left of the fine sweep
of drive to the house; and a tangled undergrowth under ancient trees all
that stood for the grand avenue down which my Lord Bois had once ridden
so madly. They call the lane Purgatory Lane, and they tell a story of
wild doings and of a beautiful avenue, that cannot have its place here.

The great gates that once swung open to admit the carriage of Perpetua
Bois (of the red hair, the full voluptuous figure, the smile Sir Peter
Lely painted) were now two stone stumps at the feet of which two slots,
green and worn, showed where the hinges had been. These fine gates once
boasted, on the top of stone pillars, the greyhounds of Bois in stone.
One of these dogs had been rescued from the undergrowth by the
woodcutter, the other lies broken and bramble-covered in the wood. I
wonder if they miss each other.

So you see I was addressing myself to a high-born Jacobean dog.

This dog, very calm and dignified, with a stone tail and a back worn
smooth by wind and weather, sat with his back to the cottage which had
been built out of the remains of the old stone lodge by a gentleman of
the name of Bellington, who was afterwards found drowned in the lake.
That lake held many secrets, indeed, some said (the woodcutter’s wife
told me this) it held Lady Perpetua’s jewels. That did not concern me,
for it held for me the finer jewels of Water Lilies that grew there in
profusion, though I will not deny that the idea of Lady Perpetua gave an
added touch of romance. How often had the clear water of the lake
reflected her satin-clad figure and the forms of her little toy
spaniels?

It so happening, I sat by the Stone Dog, on a wooden seat, to eat my
lunch one day, and dropped into conversation with him, after a bite or
two, in the most natural way in the world.

There was the wood in front of us, blue-purple with wild Hyacinths.
There was the old cottage behind clothed with rambling Creepers; a
carpet of smooth rabbit-worn grass at our feet; a profusion of
Primroses, Wind Flowers, and budding trees before our eyes. There was
also the enchanting hum of wild bees (like those wild bees Horace knew,
that sought the mountain of Matinus in Calabria, and there “laboriously
gathered the grateful thyme”) to soothe us in our solitude.

I addressed him then, “Stone Dog,” I said, “this is a very beautiful
wood. Nature, laughing at the ghosts of the Bois family, steel-clad,
periwigged, or patched, has reclaimed her own.”

The dog answered me never a word but kept his gaze fixed in front of him
as if he saw visions in the wood.

“This was a Park once,” said I, “the pleasure-ground of great folk,
where they might sport in playful dalliance”—I thought that sounded
rather Jacobean.

But, as I looked at him, it seemed, as though he listened for the sound
of wheels, and turned his sightless eyes to look for the figure of Lady
Perpetua.

“She was very fair,” I said, understanding him, knowing that he had seen
many generations drive through the gates he sat to guard. “She would
come down to the lodge-keeper’s house to take her breakfast draught of
small ale. Poor Lady Perpetua, she was a good house wife, and saw to the
pickling of Nasturtium buds, and Lime Tree buds, and Elder roots; and
ordered the salting of the winter beef; and looked to it that plenty of
Parsnips were stored to eat with it. What sights you must have seen!”

Even as I talked there emanated from the Stone Dog some atmosphere of
the past, and we were once more in a fair English park, with its
orangeries, and houses of exotic plants, and its maze, and leaden
statues, and cut yew trees, and lordly peacocks. The great trees had
been cut down, and the timber sold; acres of land, once grazing ground
for herds of deer, were ploughed; here, in front of us, was the tangled
wood, a corner of what was, once, a wild garden—a fancy of Lady
Perpetua’s, no doubt, who loved solitudes, and sentimental poetry:

“I could not love thee, dear, so much;
Loved I not honour more.”

Perhaps it was here she met young Hervey; perhaps it was here Lord Bois
found them, cutting initials on one of those very trees, G. H. and P. B.
and two hearts with an arrow through them. Ah! then the smile Sir Peter
Lely painted faded to a quiver of the lips. Lord Bois looked at the
trembling mouth and his glance flew to the initials on the tree. “So
this is why, madam,” I could hear him say, “you took to sylvan glades
like a timid deer; so this is why you coaxed me up to London, leaving
you alone—but, not unprotected.” I could see his sneering bow to young
Hervey—a bow that was a blow.




And all the while I was only seeing with the Stone Dog’s eyes. There was
just the rippling sea of wild Hyacinths, the pale gold of the Primroses,
the innocent white of the wood Anemones—like fairies’ washing—and the
purple haze of bursting buds.

Once the Stone Dog had looked along an avenue and had seen a vista of
Tanglewood Court, and smooth terraces, and bright beds of flowers, with
Lords and Ladies walking up and down, taking the air, discussing fruit
trees, and Dutch gardening, and glass hives for bees. Now, he saw
nothing but the woods all brimming with Spring flowers: a garden made by
Nature.

And then I thought I saw one Bluebell detach itself from its fellows and
come wafting to us with a fairy’s message, but it was a bright blue
butterfly who sailed, rejoicing in the sun. Somehow the butterfly
reminded me of the Lady Perpetua, soft and smiling, and fluttering in
the sun: as if she had returned to her woods in that guise to hover near
the tree, the trysting-place, on which the initials were cut.

I said as much to the Stone Dog, but received no answer.

“Stone Dog,” I said, “England is a very wonderful place: every park,
every field, every little wood is full of stories. I cannot pass a park
gate without thinking of the men and women who have been through it.
What a Garden of History the whole place is! I’ll warrant a Roman has
kissed a Saxon girl in this very place, for there’s a camp not far
off—perhaps you have seen twinkling ghostly watch-fires gleaming in the
night. Young Hervey’s dead, but you never saw him die; they fought in
the garden on the smooth grass, and the story goes that he slipped, and
Bois ran him through as he lay on the grass. What flowers grow over his
head now? And Perpetua is dead. They say she ran out and saw her lover
dead, and bared her breast to her husband’s sword. The grass was wet
with her blood when you saw Lord Bois ride madly down the drive, through
the gates, and out into the open country. The smile Sir Peter Lely
painted is carved by the hand of Death. She was only a girl, after all.
Who places flowers on her grave?”

Meanwhile the sun shone on the Bluebells, and struck odd leaves of the
trees, picking them out with a fanciful finger till they shone like
green fires.

Then the idea came to me that this wood held the spirit of Lady Perpetua
fast for ever. The Bluebells were the satin sheen of her dress (blue
like the Lely portrait), the red-brown autumn leaves and the dead
Bracken were her hair; the Wind Flowers, like her body linen; the
Violets, her eyes; the Primroses, her breath; the Cowslips, her golden
ornaments; the Daisy petals like her pure white skin. A gentle breeze
stirred all the flowers together, and—behold! there she was, alive. The
wood was yielding up her secret, as woods and flowers will do to those
who love them.

So the Stone Dog and I had a bond of sympathy between us, the bond of
old memories, and the wood united us with its store of romance and
beauty: and he who loves wild flowers and woods, as well as walled
gardens and trees clipped in images, may gather store of pictures for
his mind.

So the afternoon passed in this pleasant manner, and I took opportunity
to speak once more to the Stone Dog before the woodcutter’s children
came home from school to spoil our peace.

[Illustration: BLUEBELLS IN SURREY.]

I said, “There is no man so poor but he can afford to take pleasure in
Bluebells, and, even if he live in a town, there are wild flowers for
sale in the streets, and a bunch of Spring to be bought for a penny. And
there is no man so rich that he can wall up the treasures of heaven, or
build his walls so high but a Rose will peep over the edge. Poor and
rich are free of their thoughts, and there are thoughts and enough to
spare, in a hedgerow or a wood. Uncaged birds sing best, and wild
flowers yield the purest scents. You and I are fellow dreamers, and this
wood is our garden, and these birds our orchestra, and this grass our
carpet; and even when I am underneath the brown earth I love so well,
you will sit here and listen for the sound of carriage wheels, and
wonder if you will catch a glimpse of red hair and a satin dress through
the long-silent avenue. There are mountains, Stone Dog, that still feel
the pressure of the foot of Moses; and hills under which Roman soldiers
lie; and there are woods growing where orchard gardens were; and gardens
planted where the wild boar once ravaged.”

After I had said this came wild shouts, and the laughter of children,
and a great clatter as the four children of the woodcutter came running
from the village school.

As I left that place, and turned, before a bend of the road shut out the
sight of the wood, I saw the sea of Bluebells, and the sky above, the
Primroses and the Wind Flowers and last year’s leaves all melt into one.
The figure they made was the figure of Lady Perpetua standing there
smiling. Then I heard the wheels of a carriage on the road, and I could
have sworn I saw the Stone Dog turn his head.

Continue Reading

EPISODE OF THE CONTENTED TAILOR

Not a hundred yards out of a certain village I came across a little man
dressed in grey. We were alone on the road, we were going in the same
direction, and I came to learn that he travelled with as little purpose
as I.

As soon as I saw his face, his jaunty walk, his knapsack and his stick,
I knew him for a friend.

I hailed him. He stopped, smiled pleasantly, and fell in with my stride.
We soon found a mutual bond of esteem. It appeared we were out in search
of adventures.

He explained to me, quite simply, that he was not going anywhere, and
that he proposed to be some four months about it.

“Just walking about looking at things,” he volunteered.

“That is my case,” I replied.

“I’m a tailor, sir,” said he.

“Having a look at the cut of the country?”

He gave a little friendly nod.

“And do you tailor as you go along?” I asked, for I had never met a
travelling tailor before: tinkers galore; haberdashers aplenty; patent
medicine men a few; sailors; old soldiers (the worst); apothecaries I
have mentioned; gentlemen, many; ploughboys, purse thieves, one or two,
and ugly customers—they were in a dark lane—but a tailor, never. It
seemed all the world could tread the high road but a tailor. Then I
remembered my fairy tales—“Seven at a Blow”—and laughed aloud.

“I’ve given up my trade,” he explained, as we began to mount the hill.
“No more sitting on a bench for me in the spring or summer. I do a bit
in the winter, but I’m a free man on two pounds ten a week.”

And he was young—forty at the most.

“Put by?” said I.

He smiled again. “Not quite, sir. I had a little bit put by, but a
brother of mine went to Australia, and made a fortune—he died, poor Tom,
and left his money to me and my sister. Two pound ten a week for each of
us.”

“And it has brought you—this,” I explained, pointing with my stick at
the expanse of country. “It’s like a romance.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Then you read romances?” I asked quickly.

“I read all I can lay hands on,” he replied. “I’m living just as my
sister and I dreamed we’d live if ever something wonderful happened.”

“And it has happened?”

“You’re right, sir. My sister lives in the little cottage I bought with
my savings. She’s got all she wants—all anybody might want, you might
say. A cottage, six-roomed, all white, with a Pink Rose growing over the
porch, and a canary in a cage in the parlour. Then there’s a garden, and
a bit of orchard, and bees and a river at the bottom of the little
meadow, and a Catholic Church within a stone’s throw—so it’s all right.
She’s a rare good gardener, is my sister.”

“I envy you both,” I said.

He looked me up and down for a moment before speaking. “No cause for you
to do that, I expect, sir.”

“Well, you know what you want, and you’ve got it.”

We had reached the crest of the hill now after a longish climb. It was a
hot day and I proposed a rest. Besides, it was one o’clock and I was
hungry.

I had four hard boiled eggs, and he had bread and cheese—we divided our
goods evenly, and ate comfortably under a hedge in a field.

“I’ve often sat on my bench,” he said, “and looked out at the sun in the
dusty street and wondered if I should ever be able to sit out in it on
the grass and have nothing to do. We used to go for a day in the
country, I and my sister, whenever I could spare the money, and it was a
holiday. You wouldn’t believe what the sight of green fields and trees
meant to me and my sister: you see the hedgerows were the only garden we
could afford, and we could ill-afford that. My sister used to talk about
the Roses she’d have, and the Carnations, and the Sunflowers and Asters,
when our ship came home. It came home—think of that.” He stretched his
limbs luxuriously. “And here we are with everything, and more.”

“And more?” I asked.

“Well, you see, it is more, somehow. I’m ‘me’ now—do you follow the
idea? I never knew what it was to be on my own: just ‘me.’ I can lie
abed now as long as I want to, I can wear what I like, do what I like.
And I’ve a garden of my own.”

“But you don’t stop there,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “I wonder if you’d know what I meant if I said that a
garden and sitting about is a bit too much for me for the present. I
want to walk and walk in the open air, and see things, and stretch my
legs a bit to get rid of twenty odd years of the bench. I want to run up
the top of hills and shout because—well, because I feel as if I had a
right to shout when the sun is shining.”

“I quite understand that,” I said.

“And then,” he went on, and his face showed the joy he felt, “everything
is so wonderful. Look at that village we came through: those people
there feel the same as you and me. They’ve got to express themselves
somehow, so they grow flowers right out into the road, just as a gift to
you and me. A sort of something comes to them that they must have
flowers at the front door. Whenever I see a good garden, full of Pinks
and Roses and Larkspur, I get a bed at that cottage, if I can. I’ve
slept all over the place, all over England, you might say; and cheap,
too.”

“That was a beautiful village, below there,” I said.

He nodded wisely. “Seems as if they’d decorated the street on purpose to
make the cottages look as if they grew like the flowers. All the porches
covered with Honeysuckle and Roses, and everlasting Peas, and flowers up
against the windows. I’ve a perfect craze for flowers—can’t think where
I get it from.”

“You are the real gardener,” said I.

“I believe I am,” he said. “And why I took to tailoring beats me, now.
My father was a butcher.”

I pointed over my shoulder towards the village. “Do you live in a place
like that?” I asked.

“Better than that,” he answered proudly. “It took me nearly two years to
find the place my sister and I had dreamed of. We wanted a cottage in a
county as much like a garden as possible. I found it—in Devonshire; my
eye, it’s a wonderful place, all orchards. In the blossom time it looks
like—well, as if it was expecting somebody, it’s so beautiful.”

“I know,” I said. “Sometimes the country dresses itself as if a lover
were coming.”

“Do you ever read Browning?” he asked. “Because he answers a lot of
questions for me.”

“For me too.”

“Well,” he said, and reddened shyly as he said it; “do you remember the
poem that ends

‘What if that friend happened to be God?’”

I understood perfectly. He was a man of soul, my tailor.

“I expect you are surprised to find I read a lot,” he went on in his
artless way. “But when I was a boy I was in a book shop, before my
father lost all his money, and put me out to be a tailor. My mother was
a lady’s maid, and she encouraged me to read. There was a priest, Father
Brown, who helped me too; it was from him I first learned to love
flowers.”

“Then, as you are a Catholic, you know what to-day is,” said I.




“The twenty-ninth of August. No, sir, I’m afraid I don’t.”

“It is dedicated to one of our patron Saints—there are two for
gardeners—Saint Phocas, a Greek, and Saint Fiacre, an Irishman. To-day
is the day of Saint Phocas.”

The tailor crossed himself reverently.

“I’ll tell you the story if you like.” And, as he lay on his back, I
told him the little legend of

SAINT PHOCAS: PATRON SAINT OF GARDENERS.

“At the end of the third century there lived a certain good man called
Phocas, who had a little dwelling outside the gates of the city of
Sinope, in Pontus. He had a small garden in which he grew flowers and
vegetables for the poor and for his own needs. Prayer, love of his
labour, and care for the things he grew filled his life.”

My tailor interrupted here to ask, apologetically, what manner of garden
Saint Phocas would have.

“Neat beds,” said I—for I had gone into the matter myself—“edged with
box. The flowers and vegetables growing together. Violets, Leeks,
Onions, with Crocuses, Narcissus, and Lilies. Then, in their season,
Gladiolus, Hyacinths, Iris, Poppies, and plenty of Roses. Melons, also,
and Gherkins, Peaches, Plums, Apples and Pomegranates, Olives, Almonds,
Medlars, Cherries, and Pears, of which quite thirty kinds were known. In
his house, on the window ledge, if he had one, he may have grown Violets
and Lilies in window pots, for they did that in those days.”

“Now, isn’t that interesting?” said the tailor. “My sister will care to
know that. I shouldn’t be a bit surprised to find her putting a statue
of Saint Phocas over the door. She’s all for figures.”

“I’m afraid,” said I, “there will be some trouble over that. There is a
statue of him in Saint Mark’s in Venice, a great old man with a fine
beard, dressed like a gardener, and holding a spade in his hand. There’s
one of him, too, in the Cathedral at Palermo, but I have never seen them
copied. Now I must tell you the rest of the story.

“There were days, you know, when Christians were hunted out and killed.
One evening there came to the house of the Saint, two strangers. It was
the habit of this good man to give of what he had to all travellers,
food, rest, water to bathe their feet, and a kindly welcome. On this
occasion the Saint performed his hospitable offices as usual—set the
strangers at his board, prepared a meal for them, and led them
afterwards to a place where they might sleep. Before going to rest they
told him their errand; they were searching for a certain man of the name
of Phocas, a Christian, and, having found him, they were to slay him.
When they were asleep, the Saint, after offering up his prayers, went
into his garden and dug a grave in the middle of the flower beds.

“The morning came, and the strangers prepared to depart, but the Saint,
standing before them, told them he was the very man whom they sought. A
horror seized them that they should have eaten with the man they had set
out to kill, but Saint Phocas, leading them to the grave among the
flowers, bid them do their work. They cut off his head, and buried him
in his own garden, in the grave he had dug.”

[Illustration: PORCHES GROWN OVER WITH HONEYSUCKLE AND ROSES AT BROADWAY
IN THE COTSWOLDS.]

The little tailor was silent. I lit my pipe, and began to put my traps
together.

Then he spoke. “I couldn’t do that, you know. Those martyrs—by gum!”

“Death,” said I, “was life to them. Their life was only a preparation
for death.”

The tailor sat up. “My sister’s like that,” he said. “She’s bought a
tombstone—think of that. Said she’d like to have it by her. She’s a one
for a bargain, if you like; saw this tombstone marked ‘Cheap,’ in a
stonemason’s yard down our way, and went in at once to ask the price.
She’d price anything, my sister would. You’ve only got to mark a thing
down ‘Cheap’ and she’s after the price in a minute.”

“How did the tombstone come to be marked ‘cheap’?” I asked, laughing
with him.

“It was this way,” said the tailor. Then he turned, in his inconsequent
way to me. “I wonder,” he said, “if, as you’re so kind as to take an
interest, you’d care to see our cottage. We’d be proud, my sister and I,
if you would come. If you are just walking about for pleasure, perhaps
you’d come down as far as that one day and—and, well, sir, it’s very
humble, but we’d do our best.”

“When shall you be there?” I said. “Because I want to come very much.”

“I’m going back; I’m on my way now,” he said; “I always go back two or
three times in the summer just to tell her the news. I tell her what’s
happened, and what flowers they grow where I’ve been. If you would
really come, sir, perhaps you’d come in three weeks from now, if you
have nothing better to do. I’d let her know.”

“Then she could tell me the story of the tombstone herself?” I said.

It ended at that. He wrote the address for me in my sketch-book, and
took his leave of me in characteristic fashion.

“I hope I’m not taking a liberty,” he said, as he jerked his knapsack
into a comfortable place between his shoulders.

“There’s nothing I should like better,” said I.

“You’ll like the garden,” he said as an inducement.

And this was how I came to hear the story of the “Tailor’s Sister’s
Tombstone.”

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FIELDS

A man will tell you how he has walked to such and such a place “across
the fields,” with an air of saying, “You, I suppose, not knowing the
country, painfully pursue the highroad.” He has the look of one who has
made the discovery that it is good and wise to leave the beaten track,
the cart rut, and the plain and obvious road, and has adventured in a
daring spirit from stile to stile, from gate to ditch, where only the
knowing ones may go. He is generally so occupied in the pride of
reaching his destination by these means, that he has had little time to
look about him and enjoy the expanse of country. For all that, he is a
man after my own heart for, in a sense, he becomes part owner of England
with me as soon as he puts his leg across a stile and begins to cast an
eye across country.

There is an extraordinary satisfaction in following a footpath, that is
made doubly sweet if one sucks in the joy of the day, and the blitheness
of that through which we pass. To be knee-high in a bean field in flower
is as good a thing as I know, more especially if it be on a hillside
overlooking the sea.

I sat once on the polished rail of a stile (very well made with cross
arms to hold by, like two short step-ladders, each with one long arm)
and looked at a path I had taken that lay through a field of whispering
oats. They seemed to hold a thousand secrets that they passed from ear
to ear all down the field, and when the breeze came, and blew birds
across the hedge, the whole field swayed, showing a rustling, silken
surface, as if it enjoyed a great joke. The Poppies and Cornflowers and
the White Convolvulus had no part in the conversation of the Oats, but
field mice had, and ran across the path hurrying like urgent messengers,
and once a mole nosed its way from the earth by my stile and vanished
grumbling—like some gruff old gentleman—along the hedgerow. I never saw
a field laugh as much as that field, or be so frivolous, or so feminine.
The field at my back was more like a great lady in a green velvet gown,
embroidered with Daisies. There, at the bottom of the field, was a pond
like a bright blue eye in the green, and lazy cattle, red and white,
stood in it, while others lay under a chestnut tree near by.

Down in the valley, a long undulating spread before me, fields of
different hues, some green, some brown, some golden with ripe Corn, lay
baked in the heat, quivering under a calm blue sky. In one field a man
was sharpening a scythe with a whetstone—the rasp came floating up to me
clearly, and presently he began to open a field of wheat for the reaping
machine I could see, with men round her, under a clump of trees. Next to
this field was a narrow strip of coarse grass all aglow with Buttercups,
then a wide triangular field, with a pit in the corner of it, snowed
over with Daisies, and then a farm looking like a toy place, neat with
white painted railings, and a dovecote, and a long barn covered over
with yellow Stone Crop. I could see—all in miniature—the farmer come out
of his house door, beckon to a dog, and walk past a row of Hollyhocks
and a flush of pink Sweet Williams, open the gate and cross a road to
the Corn-field. The dog leapt ahead of him, barking joyously.





A little further down, and cut off partly from view by the May tree that
sheltered me, was a village, white and grey, sheltered by Elm trees. In
the midst of the handful of cottages the square-towered flint church
stood with Ivy on the tower and dark Yews in the churchyard. The graves
in the churchyard looked like the Daisies in the distant field, as if
they grew there. At the back of the church, and facing the high road,
was a line of trees from whence came an incessant noise of rooks.

Very few things moved on the high road, a lumbering waggon, the doctor’s
trap, a bicycle, and then the carrier’s cart with a man I knew driving
it, a very pleasant man who preached in the Sion Chapel on Sundays and
chalked up texts in the tilt of his waggon—but with a shrewd eye to
business: a man who never forgave a debt.

As I sat on my stile I felt this was all mine: no person there knew the
beauty of it as I did, or cared to capture its sweetness as I did. No
one but I saw the field of Oats laugh, or cared to note the business of
the dragon fly, or the flashing patterns of the butterflies. I had seen
these fields turned up, rich and brown, under the plough, and tender
green when the seeds came up, and waving green, and gold when they bore
their harvest of Corn, or silver and green with roots and red with
Beets. I had counted the sheep on the hillsides, and watched the cattle
stray in a long line to be milked at milking time, and though I did not
farm an acre of it, I owned it with my heart, and gathered its harvest
with my eyes.

Every field footpath had its story, the road was rich in old romance,
and hidden by the trees at the head of the valley was the big house
where my hostess lived and with a loving hand directed all this little
world—but I doubt if she owned it more than I.

To end all this, comes a little maid through the Oats, almost hidden by
them, her face quivering with tears because of a misplaced trust in a
bunch of Nettles. So we apply Dock leaves and a penny, and a farthing’s
worth of country wisdom, and part friends—I to the head of the valley,
she to her father’s farm on the other side of the hill.

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