THE ROMAN GARDEN IN ENGLAND

It would appear, judging from the specimens one sees, that the building
of garden apartments, or summer-houses, is a lost art. But then leisure,
as an art, has also been lost; and no man unless he understand leisure
can possibly build an apartment to be entirely devoted to it.

Imagine the man of the day who could write of his summer-house as the
younger Pliny wrote: “At the end of the terrace, adjoining to the
gallery, is a little garden-apartment, which I own is my delight. In
truth it is my mistress: I built it.” The younger Pliny, of to-day, is
scouring the countryside in a motorcar, his eyes half-blinded by dust,
his nose offended by the stink of petrol; his thoughts, like his toys,
purely mechanical.

There are still a few quiet people, and some scholars, whom the
Socialist in his eager desire to benefit mankind at reckless speed, and
at ruthless expense of humanity, would like to blot out, who can enjoy
their gardens with that curious remoteness which is the privilege of the
person of leisure.

The art of leisure lies, to me, in the power of absorbing without effort
the spirit of one’s surroundings; to look, without speculation, at the
sky and the sea; to become part of a green plain; to rejoice, with a
tranquil mind, in the feast of colour in a bed of flowers. To this end
is the good gardener born. The man, who, from a sudden love, stops in
his walk to look at a field of Buttercups has no idea of the spiritual
advancement he has made.

All this ambles away from the main topic, but so closely does the peace
of gardens cling, that thoughts fly over the hedges like bees on the
wing and bring back honey from wider pastures and dreams from larger
tracts than those the garden itself covers. A man might write a romance
of Spain from looking at an Orange.

The Romans, who left an indelible mark on England in their roadways and
by their laws, built in this country many villas whose pavements and
foundations remain to show us what manner of habitations they were.
Besides this we have ample records of the shapes and purposes of these
villas, with long accounts of baths, furniture and the like, such as
enable us to picture very completely the life of a Roman gentleman
exiled to these shores.

Houses, parks, and fields now cover all traces of any gardens there were
attached to these Roman villas. Many a man lives over the spot where the
hedges and alleys, the flower beds and walks, once delighted those
gentlemen who sat drinking Falernian wine poured from old amphoræ dated
by the year of the consul. Where sheep now browse gentlemen have sat
after a feast of delicacies—Syrian Plums stewed with Pomegranate seeds;
roasted field-fares, fresh Asparagus; Dates sent from Thebes—and, having
eaten, have enjoyed the work of their topiarius, whose skill has cut
hedges of Laurel, Box, and Yew into the forms of ships, bears, beasts
and birds.

Differing from the Greeks, who were not good gardeners, the Romans, with
a skill learnt partly from Oriental countries, made much of their
gardens, and laid them out with infinite care and arrangement. They
raised their flower-beds in terraces, and edged them with neat box
borders; they made walks for shade, and walks for sun; planted thickets,
alleys of fruit trees, orchards, and Vine pergolas. They had, as a rule,
in larger gardens, a gestatio, a broad pathway in which they were
carried about in litters. They had the hippodromus, a circus for
exercise, which had several entrances with paths leading to different
parts of the garden.

It is not too much to presume that the Romans, who spent their lives in
our country, and build magnificent villas for themselves, and brought
over all the arts of their country, brought, also, their methods of
gardening, and planted here as they planted in their villas outside
Rome, all the flowers, fruits and vegetables that the country would
produce.

Tacitus was of the opinion that “the soil and climate of England was
very fit for all kinds of fruit trees, except Vine and Olive; and for
all kinds of edible vegetables.” In this he was right but for the Vine,
which was planted here in the Third Century, and we know of vineyards
and wine made from them in the Eighth Century.

Of gardeners there was the topiarius, a fancy gardener, whose main
business it was to be expert on growing, cutting and clipping trees. The
villicus, or viridarius, who was the real villa gardener, with much the
same duties as our gardener of to-day. The hortulanus is a later term.
And there was the aquarius, a slave whose duty it was to see that all
the garden was provided with proper aqueducts, and who managed the
fountains which, without doubt, formed a great part in garden ornament.
I imagine, also, that the aquarius would have control over the supply of
hot water which must flow through the green-houses where early fruits
and flowers were forced; such fruits as Winter Grapes, Melons, and
Gherkins; and of flowers, the Rose in particular, for use in garlands
and crowns.

Violets and Roses were the principal flowers, being often grown as
borders to the beds of vegetables, so that one might find Violets,
Onions, Turnips, and Kidney Beans flourishing together.

Besides these flowers there were also the Crocus, Narcissus, Lily, Iris,
Hyacinth (the Greek emblem of the dead in memory of the youth killed by
Apollo by mistake with a quoit), Poppy, and the bright red Damask Rose
and Lupias.

In the orchards of Rome were Cherries, Plums, Quinces, Pomegranates,
Peaches, Almonds, Medlars, and Mulberries; and in the vineyards were
thirty varieties of Grapes. Those kinds of fruits which were hardy
enough to stand our climate were grown here, and to judge from all
account only the Olive failed to meet the test.

Not only were flowers and fruit grown in profusion but Herbs, Asparagus,
and Radishes had their place.

Honey, which took a great place in Roman cookery, and in making possets,
and in thickening wine, was provided by bees kept especially in apiaries
built in sheltered places, with beds of Cytisus, and Thyme and Apiastrum
by them. The hives were built of brick or baked dung, and were placed in
tiers, the lowest on stone parapets about three feet above the ground;
these parapets being covered with smooth stucco to prevent lizards and
insects from entering the hives.

The descriptions by the younger Pliny of his villas and gardens are so
delightful in themselves, besides being of great value, that I am going
to quote largely from them.

The village of Laurentium where Pliny built his villa was on the shores
of the Tuscan Sea, and not far from the mouth of the Tiber. The villa
was built as a refuge after a hard day’s work in Rome, which was only
seventeen miles away. “A distance,” he says, “which allows us, after we
have finished the business of the day, to return thither from town, with
the setting sun.”

There were two roads from Rome to this villa, the one the Laurentine
road—“if you go the Laurentine you must quit the high road at the
fourteenth stone”—and the Ostian road, where the branch took place at
the eleventh.

After a description of the house and the baths he writes of the garden:

“At no great distance is the tennis-court, so situated, as never to be
annoyed by the heat, and to be visited only by the setting sun. At the
end of the tennis-court rises a tower, containing two rooms at the top
of it, and two again under them; besides a banqueting room, from whence
there is a view of very wide ocean, a very extensive continent, and
numberless beautiful villas interspersed upon the shore. Answerable to
this is another turret containing, on the top, one single room where we
enjoy both the rising and the setting sun. Underneath is a very large
store-room for fruit, and a granary, and under these again a dining-room
from whence, even when the sea is most tempestuous, we only hear the
roaring of it, and that but languidly and at a distance. It looks upon
the garden, and the place for exercise which encludes my garden. The
whole is encompassed with Box; and where that is wanting with Rosemary;
for Box, when sheltered by buildings, will flourish very well, but
wither immediately if exposed to wind and weather, or ever so distantly
affected by the moist dews from the sea. The place for exercise
surrounds a delicate shady vineyard, the paths of which are easy and
soft even to the naked feet.

“The garden is filled with Mulberry and Fig trees; the soil being
propitious to both those kinds of trees, but scarce to any other.

“A dining-room, too remote to view the ocean, commands an object no less
agreeable, the prospect of the garden: and at the back of the
dining-room are two apartments, whose windows look upon the vestibule of
the house; and upon a fruitery and a kitchen garden. From hence you
enter into a covered gallery, large enough to appear a public work. The
gallery has a double row of windows on both sides; in the lower row are
several which look towards the sea; and one on each side towards the
garden; in the upper row there are fewer; in calm days when there is not
a breath of air stirring we open all the windows, but in windy weather
we take the advantage of opening that side only which is entirely free
from the hurricane. Before the gallery lies a terrace perfumed with
Violets. The building not only retains the heat of the sun, and
increases it by reflexion, but defends and protects us from the northern
blasts.”

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO THE GARDENS, AYSCOUGH FEE HALL, SPALDING.]

After a further description of this gallery written with some care,
Pliny begins his praise of his garden apartment. No man but a man of
true leisure could have dwelt so lovingly on a description of a
summer-house. Herrick loved his simple things as much, and sang them
tenderly. The small things that come close to us, to keep us warm from
all life’s disappointments, these are the things our hearts sing out to,
these are the things we think of when we are from home. “At the end of
the terrace, adjoining to the gallery, is a little garden-apartment,
which I own is my delight. In truth it is my mistress: I built it; and
in it is a particular kind of sun-trap which looks on one side towards
the terrace, on the other towards the sea, but on both sides has the
advantage of the sun. A double door opens into another room, and one of
the windows has a full view of the gallery. On the side next the sea,
over against the middle wall, is an elegant little closet; separated
only by transparent windows, and a curtain which can be opened or shut
at pleasure, from the room just mentioned. It holds a bed and two
chairs; the feet of the bed stand towards the sea, the back towards the
house, and one side of it towards some distant woods. So many different
views, seen from so many different windows diversify and yet blend the
prospect.

“Adjoining to this cabinet is my own constant bedchamber, where I am
never disturbed by the discourse of my servants, the murmurs of the sea,
nor the violence of a storm. Neither lightning nor daylight can break in
upon me till my own windows are opened. The reason of so perfect and
undisturbed a calm here arises from a large void space which is left
between the walls of the bedchamber and of the garden; so that all sound
is drowned in the intervening space.

“Close to the bedchamber is a little stove, placed so near a small
window of communication that it lets out, or retains, the heat just as
we think fit.

“From hence we pass through a lobby into another room, which stands in
such a position as to receive the sun, though obliquely, from daybreak
till past noon.”

There is one thing in this description that is very noteworthy, the
absolute content with everything, the lack of any note of grumbling.
After all, the pleasures of that garden apartment were very simple; he
took his joy of the sun, the wind, and the distant sound of the sea.
Heat, light, and the pleasant music of nature; the bank of Violets near
by, the prospect of the villas on the shore glimmering amidst their
greenery in the sun; the songs of birds in the thickets of Myrtle and
Rosemary, there made up the fine moments of his life.




Such little houses were copied from the Eastern idea, such as is pointed
to several times in the Bible. The Shunamite gives such a house to
Elisha:

“Let us make him a little chamber, I pray thee, with walls; and
let us set him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a
candlestick, that he may turn in thither when he cometh to us.”

Whether a Roman living in England ever built himself such a house it is
difficult to prove, since, so far as I can find, no remains of such a
place are to be seen. But, when one considers the actual evidence of the
Roman Occupation, the yields given by the neighbourhoods of Roman
cities, the statues, vases, toys, the amphitheatres for cock-fighting,
wrestling, and gladiatoral combat, then surely there were gardens of
great wonder near to these cities where men like Pliny went to sit in
their garden houses and enjoyed the cool of the evening after a day’s
work.

I have always made it a fancy of mine to suppose such an apartment to
have stood on the spot where a garden house I know now stands. I have
sat in this little house, a tiny place compared to Pliny’s, and pictured
to myself the surrounding country as it might have looked under the eyes
of our Roman conquerors. Not far distant is a Roman town, outside which
is a huge amphitheatre; the Roman road, via Iceniana, cutting through
the western downs and forests. Over this very countryside were villas
scattered here and there, bridges, walls, moats and camps. Even to-day,
not far away from my summer-house, are two small Roman bridges, over
which, in my day-dreams, the previous occupier of the site has often
passed.

Here, from this summer-house, I look upon an apiary, a bed of Violets, a
little wood that gives shelter to the birds, a running stream where
trout leap in the pools. My Roman friend, had he built his house here,
would have looked, as I look, at green meadows, and across them to a
wild heath on which rise the very mounds he must have known, British
earthworks, and the heap-up burial places of great British chiefs. Round
about the house grow many flowers that would seem homely to my ghostly
friend, Roses, Lilies, Narcissi, Violets, Poppies. Here he might have
sat and contemplated, as Pliny did, and taken his pleasure of the sun,
the wind, the birds. The sea he could not have heard, since it is eight
miles away, but he could well have seen storms come up over the western
downs, known that the Roman galleys were seeking shelter in the coves
and harbours, and noticed how the gulls flew screaming inland, and the
Egyptian swallows flew low before the coming tempest.

This house that I know is a simple affair, compared to the elaborate
design of Pliny’s; it is a small thatched single apartment built in the
elbow of the garden wall. It is not tuned to trap the sun, or dull the
sounds of the violence of the winds, but its solitary window opens wide
to let in the sound of the bees at work, the thrush singing in the Lilac
tree, or tapping his snails on a big stone by the side of the garden
path. It has a shelf for books, two chairs, a writing table, and an
infinity of those odds and ends a person collects who deals with bees.
Withal it is pervaded by a very sweet smell of honey.

Then there are ghosts for company if the books, the birds, and the bees
fail. There is my Roman to speak for his villa, for the glories of the
town near by. There is the British chieftain whose mound is not two
miles away, a mound where his charred ashes lie, but the urn that held
them is on a shelf overhead. There are Saxons who have trod this very
ground, and Danes and Normans, men also from Anjou, Gascony, and Maine,
and a host of others. Then there are the flowers themselves with
romances every one.

If I have a mind to following fancy and turn this into a veritable Roman
garden, I can link my fancy with Pliny’s facts and see how it would have
been ordered and arranged. I can see the villa portico with its terrace
in front of it adorned with statues and edged with Box. Below here is a
gravel walk on each side of which are figures of animals cut in Box.
Then there is the circus at the end of a broad path, where my Roman
friend could exercise himself on horseback. Round about the circus are
sheared dwarf trees, and clipped Box hedges. On the outside of this is a
lawn, smooth and green. Then comes my summer-house shaded with Plane
trees, with a marble fountain that plays on the roots of the trees and
the grass round them. There would be a walk near by covered with Vines,
and ended by an Ivy-covered wall. Several alleys (my imagination has
traced their courses) wind in and out to meet in the end of a series of
straight walks divided by grass plots, or Box trees cut into a thousand
shapes; some of letters forming my Roman’s name; others the name of his
gardener. In these are mixed small pyramid Apple trees; “and now and
then (to follow Pliny’s plan) you met, on a sudden, with a spot of
ground, wild and uncultivated, as if transplanted hither on purpose.”
Everywhere are marble or stone seats, little fountains, arbours covered
with Vines, and facing beds of Roses, or Violets, or Herbs, and always
is to be heard the pleasant murmur of water “conveyed through pipes by
the hand of the artificer.”

The more I think of it the more I see how exactly the garden I know
fulfils this purpose. Except for a greater, a far greater display of
flowers, Pliny would be quite at home here. There is an abundance of
water; the very site for the horse course; winding alleys, straight
paths, and several pergolas for Roses.

A noticeable thing in the planning of a Roman garden, and one that is
too often absent from our own, is the great attention paid to the value
of water. In many places where there is an abundant supply of water,
with streams running close by, or even through the garden, we find no
attempt made to use the value of water either decoratively or for useful
purposes. We are apt to dispose our gardens for the purposes of large
collections of flowers, whereas the Roman with his small store of them
was forced to bring every aid to bear on varying his garden, such as
seats, fountains, and little artificial brooks. The cost, even in small
gardens, of arranging a decorative effect of water, where water is
plentiful, would not amount to so very much, and in many cases would be
a great saving of labour. We use wells to some extent, and, to my mind,
a properly-built well-head, with a roof and posts, and seats, is one of
the most beautiful garden ornaments we can have.

The well-head itself should be built of brick raised about eighteen
inches above the ground, and should be at least fourteen inches broad in
the shelf, so that the buckets have ample room in which to stand. The
coil and windlass are better if they are both simple, and of good
timber. Round this a brick path, two feet broad, should be laid. Over
all a roof of red tiles supported on square wooden posts or brick
pillars, would give shade to the well, and to a seat of plain design
that should be placed against the outer edge of the brick path. And if
beds of flowers were set about it all, as I have seen done, and well
done, in a cottage garden in Kent, the effect is quaint and beautiful.

I have no doubt that in Roman England such wells were built where the
supply of water was not equal to great distribution. But it is amazing
to think that such a tiny village as Laurentium, where Pliny had one of
his villas outside Rome, held three Inns, in each of which were baths
always heated and ready for travellers, and that it has taken us until
the present day to bring the bath into the ordinary house.

Naturally, when one casts one’s eyes over a picture of a Roman garden in
England, and compares it with a garden of to-day, the very first thing
we find missing is that mass of colour and that wonderful variety of
bloom that constitutes the apex of modern gardening. Where they were
surprised, or gave themselves sudden shocks to the eye, it was by means
of little grottos, fountains, vistas at the ends of long alleys, statues
in a wild part of a garden, or unexpected seats commanding a prospect
opened out by an arrangement of the trees. We prepare for ourselves
wildernesses in which the Spring shall paint her wonderful picture of
Anemones, Daffodils, Crocuses, and such flowers; where Blue Bells and
Primroses, Ragged Robin, and Foxgloves hold us by their vivid colour.
Our scarlet armies of Geranium, our banks of purple Asters, or the
flaming panoplies of Roses with which we illuminate our gardens would
seem to the Roman something wonderful and strange. Yet, in a sense, his
taste was more subtle. He held green against green, a bed of Herbs, the
occasional jewel of a clump of Violets, more to his manner of liking.
And he arranged his garden so as to contain as many varieties of walks
as possible.

In the evenings now, when I am, by chance, staying in the house whose
garden holds that summer-house I love, I can see my old Roman of my
dreams wandering over his estate, and I almost feel his presence near me
as his ghost sits on the wooden seat by the lawn and his eyes seem to
peer across the meadows back to where Rome herself lies over the eastern
hills. An exile, buried far from Rome, his spirit seems to hover here as
if he could not sleep in peace away from the warm, sweet Italy of his
birth.

Continue Reading

A FEAST OF WILD STRAWBERRIES

There’s many a child has crowned her head with Buttercups—no bad
substitute for gold—mirrored her face in a pool, and dreamed she was a
Queen. There’s many a boy has lain for hours in the Wild Thyme on a
cliff top and sent dream-fleets to Spain. The touch of imagination is
all that is required to make the world seem real, and not until that
wand is used is the world real. Only those moments when we hear the
stars, peer in through Heaven’s gates, or rub shoulders with a poet’s
vision, are real and substantial; the rest is only dreamland, vague,
unsatisfactory. Huddled rows of dingy houses, smoke, grime, roar of
traffic, scramble for the pence that make the difference, these things
are not abiding thoughts—“Here there is no abiding city”—but those great
moments when we grow as the flowers grow, sing as the birds sing, and
feel at ease with the furthest stars, those are the moments we live in
and remember. Our great garden may hold our thoughts if we wish. When we
own England with our eyes, when all the fields and woods, the mountain
streams, the pools and rills, rivers and ponds, are ours; when we are on
our own ground with Ling and Broom, Heather, Heath and Furze for our
carpet; when Harebells ring our matin’s bell and Speedwell close the day
for us; when the Water-lily is our cup, broad leaves of Dock our
platter, and King-cups our array—how vast!—of gold plate, then are we
kings indeed.

I’ll give you joy of all your hot-house fruit, if you’ll leave me to my
Wild Strawberries. I’ll wish you pleasure of Signor What’s-his-name, the
violin player, if you’ll but listen to my choir of thrushes. What do you
care to eat? Here’s nothing over substantial, I’ll admit; but there’s
good wine in the brook, and food for a day in the fields and hedges.
Nuts, Blackberries, Wortleberries, Wild Raspberries, Mushrooms, Crabs
and Sloes, and Samphire for preserving; Elderberries to make into a
cordial; and Wild Strawberries, that’s my chiefest dish at this
season—food for princesses.

Come to the cliffs with your leaf of Wild Strawberries, and I can show
you blue Flax, and Sea Pinks, yellow Sea-Cabbage, and Sea Convolvulus,
and Golden Samphire; you shall have Sandwort, and Viper’s Bugloss, and
Ploughman’s Spikenard, and Horned Poppies, and Thyme, in plenty. We will
choose a fanciful flower for the table, the yellow Elecampane that gave
a cosmetic to Helen of Troy. And the mention of her who set Olympus and
Earth in a blaze of discord makes me remember how Hermes, of the golden
wand, gave to Odysseus the plant he had plucked from the ground, black
at the root, and with a flower like to milk—“Moly the Gods call it, but
it is hard for mortal men to dig; howbeit with the Gods all things are
possible.”

Any manner of imaginings may come to those who make a feast of Wild
Strawberries. We may follow our Classic idea and discuss the Hydromel,
or cider of the Greeks; the syrup of squills they drank to aid their
digestion, or the absinthe they took to promote appetite. We might even
try to make one of their sweet wines of Rose leaves and honey, such a
thing would go well with our Wild Strawberries. These things might all
come out of our country garden and give us a ghostly Greek flavour for
our pains. There were Wild Strawberries, I think, on Mount Ida where
Paris was shepherd, whence they fetched him when Discord threw the
Golden Apple.

It is almost impossible to reach out a hand and pick a flower without
plucking a legend with it.

I had taken, I thought, England for my garden, and Wild Strawberries for
my dish, but I find that I have taken the world for my flower patch, and
am sitting to eat with ancient Greeks. Let me but pick the Pansy by my
hand and I find that Spenser plucked its fellow years ago:

“Strew me the ground with Daffe-down-dillies,
And Cowslips, and King-cups, and loved Lilies,
The pretty Paunce (that is my wild Pansy)
The Chevisaunce
Shall watch with the fayre Fleur de Luce.”

And you may call it Phœbus’-paramour, or Herb-Trinity, or Three
Faces-under-a-Hood.

To our forefathers the fields, lanes, and gardens were a newspaper far
more valuable than the modern sheet in which we read news of no
importance day by day. To them the blossoming of the Sloe meant the time
for sowing barley; the bursting of Alder buds that eels had left their
winter holes and might be caught. The Wood Sorrel and the cuckoo came
together; when Wild Wallflower is out bees are on the wing, and linnets
have learnt their spring songs. Water Plantain is supposed to cure a mad
dog, and is a remedy against the poison of a rattlesnake; ointment of
Cowslips removes sunburn and freckles; the Self-heal is good against
cuts, and so is called also, Carpenter’s Herb, Hook-heal, and
Sicklewort. Yellow Water-lilies will drive cockroaches and crickets from
a house. Most charming intelligence of all deals with the Wild
Canterbury Bell, in which the little wild bees go to sleep, loving their
silky comfort. These are but a few paragraphs from our news-sheet, but
they serve to show how pleasant a paper it is to know—and it costs
nothing but a pair of loving and careful eyes.

If we choose to be more fanciful—and who is not, in a wild garden with a
dish of Wild Strawberries?—we shall find ourselves filling Acorn cups
with dew to drink to the fairies, and wondering how the thigh of a
honey-bee might taste. Herrick is the poet for such flights of thought.
His songs—“To Daisies, not to shut so soon.” “To Primroses filled with
Morning Dew,” and, for this instance, to

THE BAG OF THE BEE

About the sweet bag of a bee
Two Cupids fell at odds;
And whose the pretty prize should be
They vowed to ask the Gods.

Which Venus hearing, thither came
And for their boldness stripped them;
And taking thence from each his flame
With rods of Myrtle whipped them.

Which done, to still their wanton cries,
When quiet grown she’s seen them,
She kissed and wiped their dove-like eyes,
And gave the bag between them.

We can do no better than give thanks for all our garden, our house, and
our well-being in the words of the same poet. For we need to thank,
somehow, for all the joys Nature gives us. Though, in this poem, he
names no flowers, yet his poems are full of them:

“—That I, poor I,
May think, thereby,
I live and die
’Mongst Roses.”

Every man who is a gardener at heart, whether he be in love with the
flowers of the open fields, the garden of the highways and the woods, or
with his protected patch of ground, will care to know this song of
Herrick’s if he has not already found it for himself:




A THANKSGIVING TO GOD FOR HIS HOUSE

Lord, thou hast given me a cell,
Wherein to dwell;
A little house, whose humble roof
Is waterproof;
Under the spars of which I lie
Both soft and dry;
Where thou, my chamber for to ward,
Hast set a guard
Of harmless thoughts, to watch and keep
Me, while I sleep.
Low is my porch, as is my fate;
Both void of state;
And yet the threshold of my door
Is worn by th’ poor,
Who thither come, and freely get
Good words or meat.
Like as my parlour, so my hall
And kitchen’s small;
A little buttery, and therein
A little bin,
Which keeps my little loaf of bread
Unchipt, unflead;
Some brittle sticks of Thorn or Briar
Make me a fire
Close by whose living coal I sit,
And glow like it.
Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
The Pulse is thine.
And all those other bits that be
There placed by Thee;
The Worts, the Purslain, and the mess
Of Watercress,
Which of thy kindness thou hast sent;
And my content
Makes those, and my beloved Beet,
To be more sweet.
’Tis thou that crown’st my glittering hearth,
With guiltless mirth,
And giv’st me wassail bowls to drink,
Spiced to the brink.
Lord, ’tis thy plenty-dropping hand
That soils my land,
And giv’st me, for my bushel sown,
Twice ten for one;
Thou mak’st my teeming hen to lay
Her egg each day;
Besides, my healthful ewes to bear
Me twins each year;
The while the conduits of my kine
Run cream, for wine;
All these, and better, thou dost send
Me, to this end—
That I should render, for my part,
A thankful heart;
Which, fired with incense, I resign,
As wholly thine;
—But the acceptance, that must be,
My Christ, by Thee.

Happy the man, who, remote from business, after the manner of the
ancient race of mortals, cultivates his paternal lands with his own
oxen, disengaged from every kind of usury; his is neither alarmed with
the horrible trumpet, as a soldier, nor dreads he the angry sea; he
shuns both the bar, and the proud portals of men in power.

Wherefore, he either weds the lofty Poplars to the mature branches of
the Vine; or lopping off the useless boughs with his pruning-knife, he
engrafts more fruitful ones; or takes a prospect of the herds of his
lowing cattle, wandering about in a lonely vale; or stores his honey,
pressed from the combs, in clean vessels; or shears his tender sheep.

Or, when Autumn has lifted up in the field his head adorned with mellow
fruits, how glad is he while he gathers Pears grafted by himself, and
the Grape that vies with the purple, with which he may recompense thee,
O Priapus, and thee, father Sylvanus, the guardian, of his boundaries!

Sometimes he delights to lie under an aged Holm, sometimes on the matted
grass: meanwhile the waters glide down from steep clefts; the birds
warble in the woods; and the fountains murmur with their purling
streams, which invites gentle slumbers.

But when the wintry season of the tempestuous air prepares rains and
snows, he either drives the fierce boars, with dogs on every side, into
the intercepting toils; or spreads his thin nets with the smooth pole,
as a snare for the voracious thrushes; or catches in his gin the
timorous hare, or that stranger, the crane, pleasing rewards for his
labour.

Amongst such joys as these, who does not forget those mischievous
anxieties, which are the property of love? But if a chaste wife,
assisting on her part in the management of the house and beloved
children, (such as is the Sabine, or the sunburnt spouse of the
industrious Apulian) piles up the sacred hearth with old wood, just at
the approach of her weary husband, and shutting up the fruitful cattle
in the woven hurdles milks dry their distended udders; and drawing this
year’s wine out of a well-seasoned cask, prepares the unbought
collation; not the Lucrine oysters could delight me more, nor the
turbot, nor the scar, should the tempestuous Winter drive any from the
Eastern floods to this sea: not the turkey, nor the Asiatic wild fowl,
can come into my stomach more agreeable than the Olive, gathered from
the richest branches of the trees, or the Sorrel that loves the meadows,
or Mallows salubrious for a sickly body, or a lamb slain at the feast of
the god Terminus, or a kid just rescued from a wolf.

Amidst these dainties, how it pleases one to see the well-fed sheep
hastening home? To see the weary oxen, with drooping neck, dragging the
inverted ploughshare! and numerous slaves, the test of a rich family
ranged about the smiling household gods!

Continue Reading

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.

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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.

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