Elizabeth and her German Garden*
"Elizabeth" [Marie Annette Beauchamp]
Part 1 out of 3
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Elizabeth and her German Garden
May 7th.--I love my garden. I am writing in it now in
the late afternoon loveliness, much interrupted by the mosquitoes
and the temptation to look at all the glories of the new
green leaves washed half an hour ago in a cold shower.
Two owls are perched near me, and are carrying on a long
conversation that I enjoy as much as any warbling of nightingales.
The gentleman owl says [[musical notes occur here in the printed
text]], and she answers from her tree a little way off,
[[musical notes]], beautifully assenting to and completing her
lord's remark, as becomes a properly constructed German she-owl.
They say the same thing over and over again so emphatically
that I think it must be something nasty about me; but I shall
not let myself be frightened away by the sarcasm of owls.
This is less a garden than a wilderness. No one has lived
in the house, much less in the garden, for twenty-five years,
and it is such a pretty old place that the people who might have
lived here and did not, deliberately preferring the horrors
of a flat in a town, must have belonged to that vast number of eyeless
and earless persons of whom the world seems chiefly composed.
Noseless too, though it does not sound pretty; but the greater
part of my spring happiness is due to the scent of the wet earth
and young leaves.
I am always happy (out of doors be it understood,
for indoors there are servants and furniture) but in quite
different ways, and my spring happiness bears no resemblance
to my summer or autumn happiness, though it is not more intense,
and there were days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out
in my frost-bound garden, in spite of my years and children.
But I did it behind a bush, having a due regard for the decencies.
There are so many bird-cherries round me, great trees with branches
sweeping the grass, and they are so wreathed just now with white
blossoms and tenderest green that the garden looks like a wedding.
I never saw such masses of them; they seemed to fill the place.
Even across a little stream that bounds the garden on the east,
and right in the middle of the cornfield beyond, there is an immense one,
a picture of grace and glory against the cold blue of the spring sky.
My garden is surrounded by cornfields and meadows,
and beyond are great stretches of sandy heath and pine forests,
and where the forests leave off the bare heath begins again;
but the forests are beautiful in their lofty, pink-stemmed vastness,
far overhead the crowns of softest gray-green, and underfoot a bright
green wortleberry carpet, and everywhere the breathless silence;
and the bare heaths are beautiful too, for one can see across them
into eternity almost, and to go out on to them with one's face
towards the setting sun is like going into the very presence of God.
In the middle of this plain is the oasis of birdcherries and greenery
where I spend my happy days, and in the middle of the oasis is the gray
stone house with many gables where I pass my reluctant nights.
The house is very old, and has been added to at various times.
It was a convent before the Thirty Years' War, and the vaulted chapel,
with its brick floor worn by pious peasant knees, is now used as a hall.
Gustavus Adolphus and his Swedes passed through more than once,
as is duly recorded in archives still preserved, for we are on what was
then the high-road between Sweden and Brandenburg the unfortunate.
The Lion of the North was no doubt an estimable person and acted wholly
up to his convictions, but he must have sadly upset the peaceful nuns,
who were not without convictions of their own, sending them out on to
the wide, empty plain to piteously seek some life to replace the life
of silence here.
From nearly all the windows of the house I can look out
across the plain, with no obstacle in the shape of a hill,
right away to a blue line of distant forest, and on the west
side uninterruptedly to the setting sun--nothing but a green,
rolling plain, with a sharp edge against the sunset.
I love those west windows better than any others, and have
chosen my bedroom on that side of the house so that even times
of hair-brushing may not be entirely lost, and the young woman
who attends to such matters has been taught to fulfil her duties
about a mistress recumbent in an easychair before an open window,
and not to profane with chatter that sweet and solemn time.
This girl is grieved at my habit of living almost in the garden,
and all her ideas as to the sort of life a respectable German lady
should lead have got into a sad muddle since she came to me.
The people round about are persuaded that I am, to put it
as kindly as possible, exceedingly eccentric, for the news
has travelled that I spend the day out of doors with a book,
and that no mortal eye has ever yet seen me sew or cook.
But why cook when you can get some one to cook for you?
And as for sewing, the maids will hem the sheets better and
quicker than I could, and all forms of needlework of the fancy
order are inventions of the evil one for keeping the foolish
from applying their heart to wisdom.
We had been married five years before it struck us that we
might as well make use of this place by coming down and living
in it. Those five years were spent in a flat in a town,
and during their whole interminable length I was perfectly
miserable and perfectly healthy, which disposes of the ugly
notion that has at times disturbed me that my happiness
here is less due to the garden than to a good digestion.
And while we were wasting our lives there, here was
this dear place with dandelions up to the very door,
all the paths grass-grown and completely effaced, in winter
so lonely, with nobody but the north wind taking the least
notice of it, and in May--in all those five lovely Mays--
no one to look at the wonderful bird-cherries and still more
wonderful masses of lilacs, everything glowing and blowing,
the virginia creeper madder every year, until at last,
in October, the very roof was wreathed with blood-red tresses,
the owls and the squirrels and all the blessed little birds
reigning supreme, and not a living creature ever entering
the empty house except the snakes, which got into the habit during
those silent years of wriggling up the south wall into the rooms
on that side whenever the old housekeeper opened the windows.
All that was here,--peace, and happiness, and a reasonable life,--
and yet it never struck me to come and live in it.
Looking back I am astonished, and can in no way account for
the tardiness of my discovery that here, in this far-away corner,
was my kingdom of heaven. Indeed, so little did it enter
my head to even use the place in summer, that I submitted
to weeks of seaside life with all its horrors every year;
until at last, in the early spring of last year, having come
down for the opening of the village school, and wandering out
afterwards into the bare and desolate garden, I don't know what
smell of wet earth or rotting leaves brought back my childhood
with a rush and all the happy days I had spent in a garden.
Shall I ever forget that day? It was the beginning of my real life,
my coming of age as it were, and entering into my kingdom.
Early March, gray, quiet skies, and brown, quiet earth;
leafless and sad and lonely enough out there in the damp
and silence, yet there I stood feeling the same rapture of pure
delight in the first breath of spring that I used to as a child,
and the five wasted years fell from me like a cloak, and the world
was full of hope, and I vowed myself then and there to nature,
and have been happy ever since.
My other half being indulgent, and with some faint thought
perhaps that it might be as well to look after the place,
consented to live in it at any rate for a time; whereupon followed
six specially blissful weeks from the end of April into June,
during which I was here alone, supposed to be superintending
the painting and papering, but as a matter of fact only going
into the house when the workmen had gone out of it.
How happy I was! I don't remember any time quite so perfect
since the days when I was too little to do lessons and was
turned out with sugar on my eleven o'clock bread and butter
on to a lawn closely strewn with dandelions and daisies.
The sugar on the bread and butter has lost its charm,
but I love the dandelions and daisies even more passionately
now than then, and never would endure to see them all mown
away if I were not certain that in a day or two they would
be pushing up their little faces again as jauntily as ever.
During those six weeks I lived in a world of dandelions
and delights. The dandelions carpeted the three lawns,--
they used to be lawns, but have long since blossomed
out into meadows filled with every sort of pretty weed,--
and under and among the groups of leafless oaks and beeches were
blue hepaticas, white anemones, violets, and celandines in sheets.
The celandines in particular delighted me with their clean,
happy brightness, so beautifully trim and newly varnished,
as though they too had had the painters at work on them.
Then, when the anemones went, came a few stray periwinkles and
Solomon's Seal, and all the birdcherries blossomed in a burst.
And then, before I had a little got used to the joy of their
flowers against the sky, came the lilacs--masses and masses
of them, in clumps on the grass, with other shrubs and trees
by the side of walks, and one great continuous bank of them
half a mile long right past the west front of the house,
away down as far as one could see, shining glorious against
a background of firs. When that time came, and when,
before it was over, the acacias all blossomed too,
and four great clumps of pale, silvery-pink peonies flowered
under the south windows, I felt so absolutely happy, and blest,
and thankful, and grateful, that I really cannot describe it.
My days seemed to melt away in a dream of pink and purple peace.
There were only the old housekeeper and her handmaiden in the house,
so that on the plea of not giving too much trouble I could indulge
what my other half calls my _fantaisie_ _dereglee_ as regards meals--
that is to say, meals so simple that they could be brought out to
the lilacs on a tray; and I lived, I remember, on salad and bread
and tea the whole time, sometimes a very tiny pigeon appearing
at lunch to save me, as the old lady thought, from starvation.
Who but a woman could have stood salad for six weeks, even salad
sanctified by the presence and scent of the most gorgeous lilac masses?
I did, and grew in grace every day, though I have never liked it since.
How often now, oppressed by the necessity of assisting at three
dining-room meals daily, two of which are conducted by the functionaries
held indispensable to a proper maintenance of the family dignity,
and all of which are pervaded by joints of meat, how often do I
think of my salad days, forty in number, and of the blessedness
of being alone as I was then alone!
And then the evenings, when the workmen had all gone and the house
was left to emptiness and echoes, and the old housekeeper had gathered
up her rheumatic limbs into her bed, and my little room in quite another
part of the house had been set ready, how reluctantly I used to leave
the friendly frogs and owls, and with my heart somewhere down in my shoes
lock the door to the garden behind me, and pass through the long series
of echoing south rooms full of shadows and ladders and ghostly pails
of painters' mess, and humming a tune to make myself believe I liked it,
go rather slowly across the brick-floored hall, up the creaking stairs,
down the long whitewashed passage, and with a final rush of panic whisk
into my room and double lock and bolt the door!
There were no bells in the house, and I used to take a great
dinner-bell to bed with me so that at least I might be able
to make a noise if frightened in the night, though what good it
would have been I don't know, as there was no one to hear.
The housemaid slept in another little cell opening out of mine, and we
two were the only living creatures in the great empty west wing.
She evidently did not believe in ghosts, for I could hear how she fell
asleep immediately after getting into bed; nor do I believe in them,
"mais je les redoute," as a French lady said, who from her books
appears to have been strongminded.
The dinner-bell was a great solace; it was never rung, but it
comforted me to see it on the chair beside my bed, as my nights
were anything but placid, it was all so strange, and there were such
queer creakings and other noises. I used to lie awake for hours,
startled out of a light sleep by the cracking of some board,
and listen to the indifferent snores of the girl in the next room.
In the morning, of course, I was as brave as a lion and much amused
at the cold perspirations of the night before; but even the nights
seem to me now to have been delightful, and myself like those historic
boys who heard a voice in every wind and snatched a fearful joy.
I would gladly shiver through them all over again for the sake of
the beautiful purity of the house, empty of servants and upholstery.
How pretty the bedrooms looked with nothing in them but their cheerful
new papers! Sometimes I would go into those that were finished and
build all sorts of castles in the air about their future and their past.
Would the nuns who had lived in them know their little white-washed
cells again, all gay with delicate flower papers and clean white paint?
And how astonished they would be to see cell No. 14 turned into a bathroom,
with a bath big enough to insure a cleanliness of body equal to their
purity of soul! They would look upon it as a snare of the tempter;
and I know that in my own case I only began to be shocked at the blackness
of my nails the day that I began to lose the first whiteness of my soul
by falling in love at fifteen with the parish organist, or rather with
the glimpse of surplice and Roman nose and fiery moustache which was all I
ever saw of him, and which I loved to distraction for at least six months;
at the end of which time, going out with my governess one day,
I passed him in the street, and discovered that his unofficial garb
was a frock-coat combined with a turn-down collar and a "bowler" hat,
and never loved him any more.
The first part of that time of blessedness was the most perfect, for I
had not a thought of anything but the peace and beauty all round me.
Then he appeared suddenly who has a right to appear when and how
he will and rebuked me for never having written, and when I told him
that I had been literally too happy to think of writing, he seemed
to take it as a reflection on himself that I could be happy alone.
I took him round the garden along the new paths I had had made,
and showed him the acacia and lilac glories, and he said that it was
the purest selfishness to enjoy myself when neither he nor the offspring
were with me, and that the lilacs wanted thoroughly pruning.
I tried to appease him by offering him the whole of my salad and toast
supper which stood ready at the foot of the little verandah steps when we
came back, but nothing appeased that Man of Wrath, and he said he would
go straight back to the neglected family. So he went; and the remainder
of the precious time was disturbed by twinges of conscience (to which I
am much subject) whenever I found myself wanting to jump for joy.
I went to look at the painters every time my feet were for taking me
to look at the garden; I trotted diligently up and down the passages;
I criticised and suggested and commanded more in one day than I
had done in all the rest of the time; I wrote regularly and sent my love;
but I could not manage to fret and yearn. What are you to do if your
conscience is clear and your liver in order and the sun is shining?
May 10th.--I knew nothing whatever last year about gardening
and this year know very little more, but I have dawnings
of what may be done, and have at least made one great stride--
from ipomaea to tea-roses.
The garden was an absolute wilderness. It is all
round the house, but the principal part is on the south
side and has evidently always been so. The south front
is one-storied, a long series of rooms opening one into
the other, and the walls are covered with virginia creeper.
There is a little verandah in the middle, leading by a flight
of rickety wooden steps down into what seems to have been
the only spot in the whole place that was ever cared for.
This is a semicircle cut into the lawn and edged with privet,
and in this semicircle are eleven beds of different sizes
bordered with box and arranged round a sun-dial, and the sun-dial
is very venerable and moss-grown, and greatly beloved by me.
These beds were the only sign of any attempt at gardening
to be seen (except a solitary crocus that came up all by itself
each spring in the grass, not because it wanted to, but because
it could not help it), and these I had sown with ipomaea,
the whole eleven, having found a German gardening book,
according to which ipomaea in vast quantities was the one thing
needful to turn the most hideous desert into a paradise.
Nothing else in that book was recommended with anything like
the same warmth, and being entirely ignorant of the quantity
of seed necessary, I bought ten pounds of it and had it sown
not only in the eleven beds but round nearly every tree, and then
waited in great agitation for the promised paradise to appear.
It did not, and I learned my first lesson.
Luckily I had sown two great patches of sweetpeas which made me
very happy all the summer, and then there were some sunflowers and a few
hollyhocks under the south windows, with Madonna lilies in between.
But the lilies, after being transplanted, disappeared to my great dismay,
for how was I to know it was the way of lilies? And the hollyhocks turned
out to be rather ugly colours, so that my first summer was decorated
and beautified solely by sweet-peas.
At present we are only just beginning to breathe after the bustle
of getting new beds and borders and paths made in time for this summer.
The eleven beds round the sun-dial are filled with roses,
but I see already that I have made mistakes with some.
As I have not a living soul with whom to hold communion on this or
indeed on any matter, my only way of learning is by making mistakes.
All eleven were to have been carpeted with purple pansies, but finding
that I had not enough and that nobody had any to sell me, only six
have got their pansies, the others being sown with dwarf mignonette.
Two of the eleven are filled with Marie van Houtte roses,
two with Viscountess Folkestone, two with Laurette Messimy,
one with Souvenir de la Malmaison, one with Adam and Devoniensis,
two with Persian Yellow and Bicolor, and one big bed behind
the sun-dial with three sorts of red roses (seventy-two in all),
Duke of Teck, Cheshunt Scarlet, and Prefet de Limburg. This bed is,
I am sure, a mistake, and several of the others are, I think,
but of course I must wait and see, being such an ignorant person.
Then I have had two long beds made in the grass on either side
of the semicircle, each sown with mignonette, and one filled
with Marie van Houtte, and the other with Jules Finger and the Bride;
and in a warm corner under the drawing-room windows is a bed
of Madame Lambard, Madame de Watteville, and Comtesse Riza du Parc;
while farther down the garden, sheltered on the north and west
by a group of beeches and lilacs, is another large bed,
containing Rubens, Madame Joseph Schwartz, and the Hen. Edith Gifford.
All these roses are dwarf; I have only two standards in the whole garden,
two Madame George Bruants, and they look like broomsticks.
How I long for the day when the tea-roses open their buds!
Never did I look forward so intensely to anything; and every day I
go the rounds, admiring what the dear little things have achieved
in the twentyfour hours in the way of new leaf or increase of
lovely red shoot.
The hollyhocks and lilies (now flourishing) are still under the south
windows in a narrow border on the top of a grass slope, at the foot
of which I have sown two long borders of sweetpeas facing the rose beds,
so that my roses may have something almost as sweet as themselves to look
at until the autumn, when everything is to make place for more tea-roses.
The path leading away from this semicircle down the garden is bordered
with China roses, white and pink, with here and there a Persian Yellow.
I wish now I had put tea-roses there, and I have misgivings as to the effect
of the Persian Yellows among the Chinas, for the Chinas are such wee
little baby things, and the Persian Yellows look as though they intended
to be big bushes.
There is not a creature in all this part of the world who could
in the least understand with what heart-beatings I am looking forward
to the flowering of these roses, and not a German gardening book
that does not relegate all tea-roses to hot-houses, imprisoning
them for life, and depriving them for ever of the breath of God.
It was no doubt because I was so ignorant that I rushed in where Teutonic
angels fear to tread and made my tea-roses face a northern winter;
but they did face it under fir branches and leaves, and not one
has suffered, and they are looking to-day as happy and as determined
to enjoy themselves as any roses, I am sure, in Europe.
May 14th.--To-day I am writing on the verandah with the
three babies, more persistent than mosquitoes, raging round me,
and already several of the thirty fingers have been in
the ink-pot and the owners consoled when duty pointed to rebukes.
But who can rebuke such penitent and drooping sunbonnets?
I can see nothing but sunbonnets and pinafores and nimble black legs.
These three, their patient nurse, myself, the gardener,
and the gardener's assistant, are the only people who ever
go into my garden, but then neither are we ever out of it.
The gardener has been here a year and has given me notice
regularly on the first of every month, but up to now has
been induced to stay on. On the first of this month he came
as usual, and with determination written on every feature told
me he intended to go in June, and that nothing should alter
his decision. I don't think he knows much about gardening,
but he can at least dig and water, and some of the things
he sows come up, and some of the plants he plants grow,
besides which he is the most unflaggingly industrious person
I ever saw, and has the great merit of never appearing
to take the faintest interest in what we do in the garden.
So I have tried to keep him on, not knowing what the next one
may be like, and when I asked him what he had to complain
of and he replied "Nothing," I could only conclude
that he has a personal objection to me because of my eccentric
preference for plants in groups rather than plants in lines.
Perhaps, too, he does not like the extracts from gardening books I
read to him sometimes when he is planting or sowing something new.
Being so helpless myself, I thought it simpler, instead of explaining,
to take the book itself out to him and let him have wisdom
at its very source, administering it in doses while he worked.
I quite recognise that this must be annoying, and only my anxiety
not to lose a whole year through some stupid mistake has given
me the courage to do it. I laugh sometimes behind the book
at his disgusted face, and wish we could be photographed,
so that I may be reminded in twenty years' time, when the garden
is a bower of loveliness and I learned in all its ways,
of my first happy struggles and failures.
All through April he was putting the perennials we had sown in the autumn
into their permanent places, and all through April he went about with a
long piece of string making parallel lines down the borders of beautiful
exactitude and arranging the poor plants like soldiers at a review.
Two long borders were done during my absence one day, and when I
explained that I should like the third to have plants in groups and not
in lines, and that what I wanted was a natural effect with no bare spaces
of earth to be seen, he looked even more gloomily hopeless than usual;
and on my going out later on to see the result, I found he had planted
two long borders down the sides of a straight walk with little lines
of five plants in a row--first five pinks, and next to them five rockets,
and behind the rockets five pinks, and behind the pinks five rockets,
and so on with different plants of every sort and size down to the end.
When I protested, he said he had only carried out my orders and had
known it would not look well; so I gave in, and the remaining borders
were done after the pattern of the first two, and I will have patience
and see how they look this summer, before digging them up again;
for it becomes beginners to be humble.
If I could only dig and plant myself! How much easier,
besides being so fascinating, to make your own holes exactly where
you want them and put in your plants exactly as you choose instead
of giving orders that can only be half understood from the moment
you depart from the lines laid down by that long piece of string!
In the first ecstasy of having a garden all my own, and in my
burning impatience to make the waste places blossom like a rose,
I did one warm Sunday in last year's April during the servants'
dinner hour, doubly secure from the gardener by the day and the dinner,
slink out with a spade and a rake and feverishly dig a little
piece of ground and break it up and sow surreptitious ipomaea,
and run back very hot and guilty into the house, and get into a chair
and behind a book and look languid just in time to save my reputation.
And why not? It is not graceful, and it makes one hot; but it
is a blessed sort of work, and if Eve had had a spade in Paradise
and known what to do with it, we should not have had all that sad
business of the apple.
What a happy woman I am living in a garden, with books,
babies, birds, and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them!
Yet my town acquaintances look upon it as imprisonment, and burying,
and I don't know what besides, and would rend the air with their shrieks
if condemned to such a life. Sometimes I feel as if I were blest
above all my fellows in being able to find my happiness so easily.
I believe I should always be good if the sun always shone,
and could enjoy myself very well in Siberia on a fine day.
And what can life in town offer in the way of pleasure to equal
the delight of any one of the calm evenings I have had this month
sitting alone at the foot of the verandah steps, with the perfume
of young larches all about, and the May moon hanging low over
the beeches, and the beautiful silence made only more profound
in its peace by the croaking of distant frogs and hooting of owls?
A cockchafer darting by close to my ear with a loud hum sends a shiver
through me, partly of pleasure at the reminder of past summers,
and partly of fear lest he should get caught in my hair.
The Man of Wrath says they are pernicious creatures and should be killed.
I would rather get the killing done at the end of the summer
and not crush them out of such a pretty world at the very beginning
of all the fun.
This has been quite an eventful afternoon.
My eldest baby, born in April, is five years old, and the youngest,
born in June, is three; so that the discerning will at once
be able to guess the age of the remaining middle or May baby.
While I was stooping over a group of hollyhocks planted on the top
of the only thing in the shape of a hill the garden possesses,
the April baby, who had been sitting pensive on a tree stump
close by, got up suddenly and began to run aimlessly about,
shrieking and wringing her hands with every symptom of terror.
I stared, wondering what had come to her; and then I saw
that a whole army of young cows, pasturing in a field next
to the garden, had got through the hedge and were grazing
perilously near my tea-roses and most precious belongings.
The nurse and I managed to chase them away, but not before
they had trampled down a border of pinks and lilies in the
cruellest way, and made great holes in a bed of China roses,
and even begun to nibble at a Jackmanni clematis that I am trying
to persuade to climb up a tree trunk. The gloomy gardener
happened to be ill in bed, and the assistant was at vespers--
as Lutheran Germany calls afternoon tea or its equivalent--
so the nurse filled up the holes as well as she could with mould,
burying the crushed and mangled roses, cheated for ever of their
hopes of summer glory, and I stood by looking on dejectedly.
The June baby, who is two feet square and valiant beyond
her size and years, seized a stick much bigger than herself
and went after the cows, the cowherd being nowhere to be seen.
She planted herself in front of them brandishing her stick,
and they stood in a row and stared at her in great astonishment;
and she kept them off until one of the men from the farm
arrived with a whip, and having found the cowherd sleeping
peacefully in the shade, gave him a sound beating.
The cowherd is a great hulking young man, much bigger
than the man who beat him, but he took his punishment
as part of the day's work and made no remark of any sort.
It could not have hurt him much through his leather breeches,
and I think he deserved it; but it must be demoralising work
for a strong young man with no brains looking after cows.
Nobody with less imagination than a poet ought to take it up
as a profession.
After the June baby and I had been welcomed back by the other two
with as many hugs as though we had been restored to them from great perils,
and while we were peacefully drinking tea under a beech tree, I happened
to look up into its mazy green, and there, on a branch quite close to my head,
sat a little baby owl. I got on the seat and caught it easily, for it
could not fly, and how it had reached the branch at all is a mystery.
It is a little round ball of gray fluff, with the quaintest,
wisest, solemn face. Poor thing! I ought to have let it go,
but the temptation to keep it until the Man of Wrath, at present
on a journey, has seen it was not to be resisted, as he has often
said how much he would like to have a young owl and try and tame it.
So I put it into a roomy cage and slung it up on a branch near where it
had been sitting, and which cannot be far from its nest and its mother.
We had hardly subsided again to our tea when I saw two more balls
of fluff on the ground in the long grass and scarcely distinguishable
at a little distance from small mole-hills. These were promptly united
to their relation in the cage, and now when the Man of Wrath comes home,
not only shall he be welcomed by a wife decked with the orthodox smiles,
but by the three little longed-for owls. Only it seems wicked to take them
from their mother, and I know that I shall let them go again some day--
perhaps the very next time the Man of Wrath goes on a journey.
I put a small pot of water in the cage, though they never could have
tasted water yet unless they drink the raindrops off the beech leaves.
I suppose they get all the liquid they need from the bodies of
the mice and other dainties provided for them by their fond parents.
But the raindrop idea is prettier.
May 15th.--How cruel it was of me to put those poor little
owls into a cage even for one night! I cannot forgive myself,
and shall never pander to the Man of Wrath's wishes again.
This morning I got up early to see how they were getting on,
and I found the door of the cage wide open and no owls to be seen.
I thought of course that somebody had stolen them--
some boy from the village, or perhaps the chastised cowherd.
But looking about I saw one perched high up in the branches of
the beech tree, and then to my dismay one lying dead on the ground.
The third was nowhere to be seen, and is probably safe in its nest.
The parents must have torn at the bars of the cage until by chance
they got the door open, and then dragged the little ones out
and up into the tree. The one that is dead must have been blown
off the branch, as it was a windy night and its neck is broken.
There is one happy life less in the garden to-day through
my fault, and it is such a lovely, warm day--just the sort
of weather for young soft things to enjoy and grow in.
The babies are greatly distressed, and are digging a grave,
and preparing funeral wreaths of dandelions.
Just as I had written that I heard sounds of arrival,
and running out I breathlessly told the Man of Wrath how nearly I had been
able to give him the owls he has so often said he would like to have,
and how sorry I was they were gone, and how grievous the death of one,
and so on after the voluble manner of women.
He listened till I paused to breathe, and then he said, "I am
surprised at such cruelty. How could you make the mother owl suffer so?
She had never done you any harm."
Which sent me out of the house and into the garden more convinced
than ever that he sang true who sang--
Two paradises 'twere in one to live in Paradise alone.
May 16th.--The garden is the place I go to for refuge
and shelter, not the house. In the house are duties and annoyances,
servants to exhort and admonish, furniture, and meals;
but out there blessings crowd round me at every step--
it is there that I am sorry for the unkindness in me,
for those selfish thoughts that are so much worse than they feel;
it is there that all my sins and silliness are forgiven,
there that I feel protected and at home, and every flower
and weed is a friend and every tree a lover. When I have been
vexed I run out to them for comfort, and when I have been
angry without just cause, it is there that I find absolution.
Did ever a woman have so many friends? And always the same,
always ready to welcome me and fill me with cheerful thoughts.
Happy children of a common Father, why should I, their own sister,
be less content and joyous than they? Even in a thunder storm,
when other people are running into the house, I run out of it.
I do not like thunder storms--they frighten me for hours
before they come, because I always feel them on the way;
but it is odd that I should go for shelter to the garden.
I feel better there, more taken care of, more petted.
When it thunders, the April baby says, "There's lieber Gott scolding
those angels again." And once, when there was a storm in the night,
she complained loudly, and wanted to know why lieber Gott didn't
do the scolding in the daytime, as she had been so tight asleep.
They all three speak a wonderful mixture of German and English,
adulterating the purity of their native tongue by putting
in English words in the middle of a German sentence.
It always reminds me of Justice tempered by Mercy.
We have been cowslipping to-day in a little wood dignified by
the name of the Hirschwald, because it is the happy hunting-ground
of innumerable deer who fight there in the autumn evenings,
calling each other out to combat with bayings that ring through
the silence and send agreeable shivers through the lonely listener.
I often walk there in September, late in the evening, and sitting
on a fallen tree listen fascinated to their angry cries.
We made cowslip balls sitting on the grass. The babies had
never seen such things nor had imagined anything half so sweet.
The Hirschwald is a little open wood of silver birches and springy
turf starred with flowers, and there is a tiny stream meandering
amiably about it and decking itself in June with yellow flags.
I have dreams of having a little cottage built there,
with the daisies up to the door, and no path of any sort--
just big enough to hold myself and one baby inside and a purple
clematis outside. Two rooms--a bedroom and a kitchen.
How scared we would be at night, and how completely happy by day!
I know the exact spot where it should stand, facing south-east,
so that we should get all the cheerfulness of the morning,
and close to the stream, so that we might wash our plates among the flags. Sometimes, when in the
mood for society,
we would invite the remaining babies to tea and entertain them
with wild strawberries on plates of horse-chestnut leaves;
but no one less innocent and easily pleased than a baby would
be permitted to darken the effulgence of our sunny cottage--
indeed, I don't suppose that anybody wiser would care to come.
Wise people want so many things before they can even begin to
enjoy themselves, and I feel perpetually apologetic when with them,
for only being able to offer them that which I love best myself--
apologetic, and ashamed of being so easily contented.
The other day at a dinner party in the nearest town
(it took us the whole afternoon to get there) the women after
dinner were curious to know how I had endured the winter,
cut off from everybody and snowed up sometimes for weeks.
"Ah, these husbands!" sighed an ample lady, lugubriously shaking
her head; "they shut up their wives because it suits them, and don't
care what their sufferings are."
Then the others sighed and shook their heads too, for the ample lady
was a great local potentate, and one began to tell how another dreadful
husband had brought his young wife into the country and had kept
her there, concealing her beauty and accomplishments from the public
in a most cruel manner, and how, after spending a certain number of years
in alternately weeping and producing progeny, she had quite lately run
away with somebody unspeakable--I think it was the footman, or the baker,
or some one of that sort.
"But I am quite happy," I began, as soon as I could put
in a word.
"Ah, a good little wife, making the best of it,"
and the female potentate patted my hand, but continued gloomily
to shake her head.
"You cannot possibly be happy in the winter entirely alone,"
asserted another lady, the wife of a high military authority and not
accustomed to be contradicted.
"But I am."
"But how can you possibly be at your age? No, it is not possible."
"But I _am_."
"Your husband ought to bring you to town in the winter."
"But I don't want to be brought to town."
"And not let you waste your best years buried."
"But I like being buried."
"Such solitude is not right."
"But I'm not solitary."
"And can come to no good." She was getting quite angry.
There was a chorus of No Indeeds at her last remark,
and renewed shaking of heads.
"I enjoyed the winter immensely," I persisted when they
were a little quieter; "I sleighed and skated, and then
there were the children, and shelves and shelves full of--"
I was going to say books, but stopped. Reading is an occupation
for men; for women it is reprehensible waste of time.
And how could I talk to them of the happiness I felt when the sun
shone on the snow, or of the deep delight of hear-frost days?
"It is entirely my doing that we have come down here,"
I proceeded, "and my husband only did it to please me."
"Such a good little wife," repeated the patronising potentate,
again patting my hand with an air of understanding all about it,
"really an excellent little wife. But you must not let your husband
have his own way too much, my dear, and take my advice and insist
on his bringing you to town next winter."
And then they fell to talking about their cooks, having settled to their
entire satisfaction that my fate was probably lying in wait for me too,
lurking perhaps at that very moment behind the apparently harmless brass
buttons of the man in the hall with my cloak.
I laughed on the way home, and I laughed again for sheer satisfaction
when we reached the garden and drove between the quiet trees to the pretty
old house; and when I went into the library, with its four windows open
to the moonlight and the scent, and looked round at the familiar bookshelves,
and could hear no sounds but sounds of peace, and knew that here I might read
or dream or idle exactly as I chose with never a creature to disturb me,
how grateful I felt to the kindly Fate that has brought me here and given me
a heart to understand my own blessedness, and rescued me from a life like
that I had just seen--a life spent with the odours of other people's dinners
in one's nostrils, and the noise of their wrangling servants in one's ears,
and parties and tattle for all amusement.
But I must confess to having felt sometimes quite crushed
when some grand person, examining the details of my home
through her eyeglass, and coolly dissecting all that I
so much prize from the convenient distance of the open window,
has finished up by expressing sympathy with my loneliness, and on
my protesting that I like it, has murmured, "sebr anspruchslos."
Then indeed I have felt ashamed of the fewness of my wants;
but only for a moment, and only under the withering influence
of the eyeglass; for, after all, the owner's spirit is the same
spirit as that which dwells in my servants--girls whose one idea
of happiness is to live in a town where there are others of their
sort with whom to drink beer and dance on Sunday afternoons.
The passion for being for ever with one's fellows, and the fear of
being left for a few hours alone, is to me wholly incomprehensible.
I can entertain myself quite well for weeks together, hardly aware,
except for the pervading peace, that I have been alone at all.
Not but what I like to have people staying with me for a few days,
or even for a few weeks, should they be as anspruchslos as I am myself,
and content with simple joys; only, any one who comes here and would
be happy must have something in him; if he be a mere blank creature,
empty of head and heart, he will very probably find it dull.
I should like my house to be often full if I could find people
capable of enjoying themselves. They should be welcomed and sped
with equal heartiness; for truth compels me to confess that,
though it pleases me to see them come, it pleases me just as much
to see them go.
On some very specially divine days, like today, I have actually
longed for some one else to be here to enjoy the beauty with me.
There has been rain in the night, and the whole garden seems to
be singing--not the untiring birds only, but the vigorous plants,
the happy grass and trees, the lilac bushes--oh, those lilac bushes!
They are all out to-day, and the garden is drenched with the scent.
I have brought in armfuls, the picking is such a delight, and every
pot and bowl and tub in the house is filled with purple glory,
and the servants think there is going to be a party and are extra nimble,
and I go from room to room gazing at the sweetness, and the windows
are all flung open so as to join the scent within to the scent without;
and the servants gradually discover that there is no party,
and wonder why the house should be filled with flowers for one woman
by herself, and I long more and more for a kindred spirit--
it seems so greedy to have so much loveliness to oneself--but kindred
spirits are so very, very rare; I might almost as well cry for the moon.
It is true that my garden is full of friends, only they are--dumb.
June 3rd.--This is such an out-of-the-way corner of the world that it
requires quite unusual energy to get here at all, and I am thus delivered
from casual callers; while, on the other hand, people I love, or people
who love me, which is much the same thing, are not likely to be deterred
from coming by the roundabout train journey and the long drive at the end.
Not the least of my many blessings is that we have only one neighbour.
If you have to have neighbours at all, it is at least a mercy that there
should be only one; for with people dropping in at all hours and wanting
to talk to you, how are you to get on with your life, I should like to know,
and read your books, and dream your dreams to your satisfaction?
Besides, there is always the certainty that either you or the dropper-in
will say something that would have been better left unsaid, and I have
a holy horror of gossip and mischief-making. A woman's tongue is a
deadly weapon and the most difficult thing in the world to keep in order,
and things slip off it with a facility nothing short of appalling at
the very moment when it ought to be most quiet. In such cases the only
safe course is to talk steadily about cooks and children, and to pray
that the visit may not be too prolonged, for if it is you are lost.
Cooks I have found to be the best of all subjects--the most phlegmatic
flush into life at the mere word, and the joys and sufferings connected
with them are experiences common to us all.
Luckily, our neighbour and his wife are both busy and charming,
with a whole troop of flaxenhaired little children to keep
them occupied, besides the business of their large estate.
Our intercourse is arranged on lines of the most
beautiful simplicity. I call on her once a year, and she
returns the call a fortnight later; they ask us to dinner
in the summer, and we ask them to dinner in the winter.
By strictly keeping to this, we avoid all danger of that closer
friendship which is only another name for frequent quarrels.
She is a pattern of what a German country lady should be,
and is not only a pretty woman but an energetic and practical one,
and the combination is, to say the least, effective.
She is up at daylight superintending the feeding of the stock,
the butter-making, the sending off of the milk for sale;
a thousand things get done while most people are fast asleep,
and before lazy folk are well at breakfast she is off in her
pony-carriage to the other farms on the place, to rate the "mamsells,"
as the head women are called, to poke into every corner,
lift the lids off the saucepans, count the new-laid eggs,
and box, if necessary, any careless dairymaid's ears.
We are allowed by law to administer "slight corporal punishment"
to our servants, it being left entirely to individual taste to decide
what "slight" shall be, and my neighbour really seems to enjoy
using this privilege, judging from the way she talks about it.
I would give much to be able to peep through a keyhole and see
the dauntless little lady, terrible in her wrath and dignity,
standing on tiptoe to box the ears of some great strapping
girl big enough to eat her.
The making of cheese and butter and sausages
_excellently_ well is a work which requires brains,
and is, to my thinking, a very admirable form of activity,
and entirely worthy of the attention of the intelligent.
That my neighbour is intelligent is at once made evident
by the bright alertness of her eyes--eyes that nothing escapes,
and that only gain in prettiness by being used to some good purpose.
She is a recognised authority for miles around on the mysteries
of sausage-making, the care of calves, and the slaughtering of swine;
and with all her manifold duties and daily prolonged absences
from home, her children are patterns of health and neatness,
and of what dear little German children, with white pigtails
and fearless eyes and thick legs, should be. Who shall say
that such a life is sordid and dull and unworthy of a high order
of intelligence? I protest that to me it is a beautiful life,
full of wholesome outdoor work, and with no room for those
listless moments of depression and boredom, and of wondering
what you will do next, that leave wrinkles round a pretty
woman's eyes, and are not unknown even to the most brilliant.
But while admiring my neighbour, I don't think I shall ever try
to follow in her steps, my talents not being of the energetic
and organising variety, but rather of that order which makes
their owner almost lamentably prone to take up a volume of poetry
and wander out to where the kingcups grow, and, sitting on
a willow trunk beside a little stream, forget the very
existence of everything but green pastures and still waters,
and the glad blowing of the wind across the joyous fields.
And it would make me perfectly wretched to be confronted
by ears so refractory as to require boxing.
Sometimes callers from a distance invade my solitude, and it
is on these occasions that I realise how absolutely alone each
individual is, and how far away from his neighbour; and while they talk
(generally about babies, past, present, and to come), I fall to
wondering at the vast and impassable distance that separates one's
own soul from the soul of the person sitting in the next chair.
I am speaking of comparative strangers, people who are forced
to stay a certain time by the eccentricities of trains,
and in whose presence you grope about after common interests
and shrink back into your shell on finding that you have none.
Then a frost slowly settles down on me and I grow each minute more
benumbed and speechless, and the babies feel the frost in the air
and look vacant, and the callers go through the usual form of
wondering who they most take after, generally settling the question
by saying that the May baby, who is the beauty, is like her father,
and that the two more or less plain ones are the image of me,
and this decision, though I know it of old and am sure it is coming,
never fails to depress me as much as though I heard it for the first time.
The babies are very little and inoffensive and good, and it
is hard that they should be used as a means of filling up gaps
in conversation, and their features pulled to pieces one by one,
and all their weak points noted and criticised, while they stand
smiling shyly in the operator's face, their very smile drawing forth
comments on the shape of their mouths; but, after all, it does not
occur very often, and they are one of those few interests one has
in common with other people, as everybody seems to have babies.
A garden, I have discovered, is by no means a fruitful topic, and it
is amazing how few persons really love theirs--they all pretend they do,
but you can hear by the very tone of their voice what a lukewarm
affection it is. About June their interest is at its warmest,
nourished by agreeable supplies of strawberries and roses;
but on reflection I don't know a single person within twenty miles
who really cares for his garden, or has discovered the treasures
of happiness that are buried in it, and are to be found if sought
for diligently, and if needs be with tears.
It is after these rare calls that I experience the only
moments of depression from which I ever suffer, and then I am angry
at myself, a well-nourished person, for allowing even a single
precious hour of life to be spoil: by anything so indifferent.
That is the worst of being fed enough, and clothed enough,
and warmed enough, and of having everything you can reasonably desire--
on the least provocation you are made uncomfortable and unhappy
by such abstract discomforts as being shut out from a nearer approach
to your neighbour's soul; which is on the face of it foolish,
the probability being that he hasn't got one.
The rockets are all out. The gardener, in a fit of inspiration,
put them right along the very front of two borders, and I don't
know what his feelings can be now that they are all flowering
and the plants behind are completely hidden; but I have learned
another lesson, and no future gardener shall be allowed
to run riot among my rockets in quite so reckless a fashion.
They are charming things, as delicate in colour as in scent,
and a bowl of them on my writing-table fills the room with fragrance.
Single rows, however, are a mistake; I had masses of them
planted in the grass, and these show how lovely they can be.
A border full of rockets, mauve and white, and nothing else,
must be beautiful; but I don't know how long they last
nor what they look like when they have done flowering.
This I shall find out in a week or two, I suppose. Was ever
a would-be gardener left so entirely to his own blundering?
No doubt it would be a gain of years to the garden if I
were not forced to learn solely by my failures, and if I
had some kind creature to tell me when to do things.
At present the only flowers in the garden are the rockets,
the pansies in the rose beds, and two groups of azaleas--
mollis and pontica. The azaleas have been and still are gorgeous;
I only planted them this spring and they almost at once
began to flower, and the sheltered corner they are in looks
as though it were filled with imprisoned and perpetual sunsets.
Orange, lemon, pink in every delicate shade--what they
will be next year and in succeeding years when the bushes
are bigger, I can imagine from the way they have begun life.
On gray, dull days the effect is absolutely startling.
Next autumn I shall make a great bank of them in front of a belt
of fir trees in rather a gloomy nook. My tea-roses are covered
with buds which will not open for at least another week,
so I conclude this is not the sort of climate where they
will flower from the very beginning of June to November,
as they are said to do.
July 11th.--There has been no rain since the day before Whitsunday,
five weeks ago, which partly, but not entirely, accounts for the
disappointment my beds have been. The dejected gardener went mad
soon after Whitsuntide, and had to be sent to an asylum. He took
to going about with a spade in one hand and a revolver in the other,
explaining that he felt safer that way, and we bore it quite patiently,
as becomes civilised beings who respect each other's prejudices,
until one day, when I mildly asked him to tie up a fallen creeper--
and after he bought the revolver my tones in addressing him
were of the mildest, and I quite left off reading to him aloud--
he turned round, looked me straight in the face for the first time
since he has been here, and said, "Do I look like Graf X- --(a great
local celebrity), or like a monkey?" After which there was nothing
for it but to get him into an asylum as expeditiously as possible.
There was no gardener to be had in his place, and I have only
just succeeded in getting one; so that what with the drought,
and the neglect, and the gardener's madness, and my blunders,
the garden is in a sad condition; but even in a sad condition it
is the dearest place in the world, and all my mistakes only make
me more determined to persevere.
The long borders, where the rockets were, are looking dreadful.
The rockets have done flowering, and, after the manner of rockets:
in other walks of life, have degenerated into sticks;
and nothing else in those borders intends to bloom this summer.
The giant poppies I had planted out in them in April have either
died off or remained quite small, and so have the columbines;
here and there a delphinium droops unwillingly, and that is all.
I suppose poppies cannot stand being moved, or perhaps they were not
watered enough at the time of transplanting; anyhow, those borders
are going to be sown to-morrow with more poppies for next year;
for poppies I will have, whether they like it or not, and they
shall not be touched, only thinned out.
Well, it is no use being grieved, and after all, directly I
come out and sit under the trees, and look at the dappled sky,
and see the sunshine on the cornfields away on the plain,
all the disappointment smooths itself out, and it seems
impossible to be sad and discontented when everything
about me is so radiant and kind.
To-day is Sunday, and the garden is so quiet, that, sitting here in
this shady corner watching the lazy shadows stretching themselves across
the grass, and listening to the rooks quarrelling in the treetops, I almost
expect to hear English church bells ringing for the afternoon service.
But the church is three miles off, has no bells, and no afternoon service.
Once a fortnight we go to morning prayer at eleven and sit up in a sort
of private box with a room behind, whither we can retire unobserved when
the sermon is too long or our flesh too weak, and hear ourselves being
prayed for by the blackrobed parson. In winter the church is bitterly cold;
it is not heated, and we sit muffled up in more furs than ever we wear out
of doors ; but it would of course be very wicked for the parson to wear furs,
however cold he may be, so he puts on a great many extra coats under
his gown, and, as the winter progresses, swells to a prodigious size.
We know when spring is coming by the reduction in his figure.
The congregation sit at ease while the parson does the praying
for them, and while they are droning the long-drawn-out chorales,
he retires into a little wooden box just big enough to hold him.
He does not come out until he thinks we have sung enough, nor do we stop
until his appearance gives us the signal. I have often thought how dreadful
it would be if he fell ill in his box and left us to go on singing.
I am sure we should never dare to stop, unauthorised by the Church.
I asked him once what he did in there; he looked very shocked at such
a profane question, and made an evasive reply.
If it were not for the garden, a German Sunday would be a
terrible day; but in the garden on that day there is a sigh of relief
and more profound peace, nobody raking or sweeping or fidgeting;
only the little flowers themselves and the whispering trees.
I have been much afflicted again lately by visitors--
not stray callers to be got rid of after a due administration
of tea and things you are sorry afterwards that you said,
but people staying in the house and not to be got rid of at all.
All June was lost to me in this way, and it was from first
to last a radiant month of heat and beauty; but a garden
where you meet the people you saw at breakfast, and will see
again at lunch and dinner, is not a place to be happy in.
Besides, they had a knack of finding out my favourite seats and lounging in them just when I longed
to lounge myself;
and they took books out of the library with them, and left them face
downwards on the seats all night to get well drenched with dew,
though they might have known that what is meat for roses is
poison for books; and they gave me to understand that if they
had had the arranging of the garden it would have been finished
long ago--whereas I don't believe a garden ever is finished.
They have all gone now, thank heaven, except one, so that I
have a little breathing space before others begin to arrive.
It seems that the place interests people, and that there
is a sort of novelty in staying in such a deserted corner of
the world, for they were in a perpetual state of mild amusement
at being here at all. Irais is the only one left.
She is a young woman with a beautiful, refined face, and her
eyes and straight, fine eyebrows are particularly lovable.
At meals she dips her bread into the salt-cellar, bites
a bit off, and repeats the process, although providence
(taking my shape) has caused salt-spoons to be placed at
convenient intervals down the table. She lunched to-day on beer,
Schweine-koteletten, and cabbage-salad with caraway seeds in it, and now I hear her through the open
extemporising touching melodies in her charming, cooing voice.
She is thin, frail, intelligent, and lovable, all on the above diet.
What better proof can be needed to establish the superiority
of the Teuton than the fact that after such meals he can produce
such music? Cabbage salad is a horrid invention, but I don't
doubt its utility as a means of encouraging thoughtfulness;
nor will I quarrel with it, since it results so poetically,
any more than I quarrel with the manure that results in roses,
and I give it to Irais every day to make her sing.
She is the sweetest singer I have ever heard, and has
a charming trick of making up songs as she goes along.
When she begins, I go and lean out of the window and look
at my little friends out there in the borders while listening
to her music, and feel full of pleasant sadness and regret.
It is so sweet to be sad when one has nothing to be sad about.
The April baby came panting up just as I had written that,
the others hurrying along behind, and with flaming cheeks displayed
for my admiration three brand-new kittens, lean and blind,
that she was carrying in her pinafore, and that had just been
found motherless in the woodshed.
"Look," she cried breathlessly, "such a much!"
I was glad it was only kittens this time, for she had been once
before this afternoon on purpose, as she informed me, sitting herself
down on the grass at my feet, to ask about the lieber Gott, it being
Sunday and her pious little nurse's conversation having run, as it seems,
on heaven and angels.
Her questions about the lieber Gott are better left unrecorded,
and I was relieved when she began about the angels.
"What do they wear for clothes?" she asked in her German-English.
"Why, you've seen them in pictures," I answered,
"in beautiful, long dresses, and with big, white wings."
"Feathers?" she asked.
"I suppose so,--and long dresses, all white and beautiful."
"Are they girlies?"
"Don't boys go into the Himmel?"
"Yes, of course, if they're good."
"And then what do _they_ wear?"
"Why, the same as all the other angels, I suppose."
She began to laugh, looking at me sideways as though she suspected me
of making jokes. "What a funny Mummy!" she said, evidently much amused.
She has a fat little laugh that is very infectious.
"I think," said I, gravely, "you had better go and play
with the other babies."
She did not answer, and sat still a moment watching the clouds.
I began writing again.
"Mummy," she said presently.
"Where do the angels get their dwesses?"
I hesitated. "From lieber Gott," I said.
"Are there shops in the Himmel?"
"But, then, where does lieber Gott buy their dwesses?"
"Now run away like a good baby; I'm busy."
"But you said yesterday, when I asked about lieber Gott,
that you would tell about Him on Sunday, and it is Sunday.
Tell me a story about Him."
There was nothing for it but resignation, so I put
down my pencil with a sigh. "Call the others, then."
She ran away, and presently they all three emerged from the bushes
one after the other, and tried all together to scramble on to my knee.
The April baby got the knee as she always seems to get everything,
and the other two had to sit on the grass.
I began about Adam and Eve, with an eye to future parsonic probings.
The April baby's eyes opened wider and wider, and her face grew redder
and redder. I was surprised at the breathless interest she took in the story--
the other two were tearing up tufts of grass and hardly listening.
I had scarcely got to the angels with the flaming swords and announced
that that was all, when she burst out, "Now I'll tell about it.
Once upon a time there was Adam and Eva, and they had plenty of clothes,
and there was no snake, and lieber Gott wasn't angry with them,
and they could eat as many apples as they liked, and was happy for ever
and ever--there now!"
She began to jump up and down defiantly on my knee.
"But that's not the story," I said rather helplessly.
"Yes, yes! It's a much nicelier one! Now another."
"But these stories are true," I said severely; "and it's no use
my telling them if you make them up your own way afterwards."
"Another! another!" she shrieked, jumping up and down
with redoubled energy, all her silvery curls flying.
I began about Noah and the flood.
"Did it rain so badly?" she asked with a face of the deepest
concern and interest.
"Yes, all day long and all night long for weeks and weeks-- --"
"And was everybody so wet?"
"But why didn't they open their umbwellas?"
Just then I saw the nurse coming out with the tea-tray.
"I'll tell you the rest another time," I said, putting her off my knee,
greatly relieved; "you must all go to Anna now and have tea."
"I don't like Anna," remarked the June baby, not having
hitherto opened her lips; "she is a stupid girl."
The other two stood transfixed with horror at this statement,
for, besides being naturally extremely polite, and at all times
anxious not to hurt any one's feelings, they had been brought up
to love and respect their kind little nurse.
The April baby recovered her speech first, and lifting
her finger, pointed it at the criminal in just indignation.
"Such a child will never go into the Himmel," she said with
great emphasis, and the air of one who delivers judgment.
September 15th.--This is the month of quiet days, crimson creepers,
and blackberries; of mellow afternoons in the ripening garden;
of tea under the acacias instead of the too shady beeches;
of wood-fires in the library in the chilly evenings. The babies go
out in the afternoon and blackberry in the hedges; the three kittens,
grown big and fat, sit cleaning themselves on the sunny verandah steps;
the Man of Wrath shoots partridges across the distant stubble;
and the summer seems as though it would dream on for ever.
It is hard to believe that in three months we shall probably
be snowed up and certainly be cold. There is a feeling about
this month that reminds me of March and the early days of April,
when spring is still hesitating on the threshold and the garden
holds its breath in expectation. There is the same mildness
in the air, and the sky and grass have the same look as then;
but the leaves tell a different tale, and the reddening creeper
on the house is rapidly approaching its last and loveliest glory.
My roses have behaved as well on the whole as was to be expected,
and the Viscountess Folkestones and Laurette Messimys have been
most beautiful, the latter being quite the loveliest things in the garden,
each flower an exquisite loose cluster of coral-pink petals, paling at
the base to a yellow-white. I have ordered a hundred standard tea-roses
for planting next month, half of which are Viscountess Folkestones,
because the tea-roses have such a way of hanging their little heads
that one has to kneel down to be able to see them well in the dwarf forms--
not but what I entirely approve of kneeling before such perfect beauty,
only it dirties one's clothes. So I am going to put standards down each
side of the walk under the south windows, and shall have the flowers on
a convenient level for worship. My only fear is, that they will stand the
winter less well than the dwarf sorts, being so difficult to pack up snugly.
The Persian Yellows and Bicolors have been, as I predicted, a mistake
among the tea-roses; they only flower twice in the season and all
the rest of the time look dull and moping; and then the Persian Yellows
have such an odd smell and so many insects inside them eating them up.
I have ordered Safrano tea-roses to put in their place, as they all come
out next month and are to be grouped in the grass; and the semicircle
being immediately under the windows, besides having the best position
in the place, must be reserved solely for my choicest treasures.
I have had a great many disappointments, but feel as though I were really
beginning to learn. Humility, and the most patient perseverance,
seem almost as necessary in gardening as rain and sunshine, and every
failure must be used as a stepping-stone to something better.
I had a visitor last week who knows a great deal
about gardening and has had much practical experience.
When I heard he was coming, I felt I wanted to put my arms right
round my garden and hide it from him; but what was my surprise
and delight when he said, after having gone all over it, "Well, I
think you have done wonders." Dear me, how pleased I was!
It was so entirely unexpected, and such a complete novelty
after the remarks I have been listening to all the summer.
I could have hugged that discerning and indulgent critic,
able to look beyond the result to the intention, and appreciating
the difficulties of every kind that had been in the way.
After that I opened my heart to him, and listened reverently to all
he had to say, and treasured up his kind and encouraging advice,
and wished he could stay here a whole year and help me through
the seasons. But he went, as people one likes always do go,
and he was the only guest I have had whose departure made me sorry.
The people I love are always somewhere else and not able
to come to me, while I can at any time fill the house with
visitors about whom I know little and care less. Perhaps, if I
saw more of those absent ones, I would not love them so well--
at least, that is what I think on wet days when the wind is
howling round the house and all nature is overcome with grief;
and it has actually happened once or twice when great friends
have been staying with me that I have wished, when they left,
I might not see them again for at least ten years. I suppose
the fact is, that no friendship can stand the breakfast test,
and here, in the country, we invariably think it our duty
to appear at breakfast. Civilisation has done away with curl-papers,
yet at that hour the soul of the Hausfrau is as tightly screwed
up in them as was ever her grandmother's hair; and though
my body comes down mechanically, having been trained that way
by punctual parents, my soul never thinks of beginning to wake up
for other people till lunch-time, and never does so completely
till it has been taken out of doors and aired in the sunshine.
Who can begin conventional amiability the first thing in the morning?
It is the hour of savage instincts and natural tendencies;
it is the triumph of the Disagreeable and the Cross.
I am convinced that the Muses and the Graces never thought
of having breakfast anywhere but in bed.
November 11th.--When the gray November weather came,
and hung its soft dark clouds low and unbroken over the brown
of the ploughed fields and the vivid emerald of the stretches of
winter corn, the heavy stillness weighed my heart down to a forlorn
yearning after the pleasant things of childhood, the petting,
the comforting, the warming faith in the unfailing wisdom of elders.
A great need of something to lean on, and a great weariness
of independence and responsibility took possession of my soul;
and looking round for support and comfort in that transitory mood,
the emptiness of the present and the blankness of the future sent
me back to the past with all its ghosts. Why should I not go
and see the place where I was born, and where I lived so long;
the place where I was so magnificently happy, so exquisitely wretched,
so close to heaven, so near to hell, always either up on a cloud of glory,
or down in the depths with the waters of despair closing over my head?
Cousins live in it now, distant cousins, loved with the exact measure
of love usually bestowed on cousins who reign in one's stead;
cousins of practical views, who have dug up the flower-beds and
planted cabbages where roses grew; and though through all the years
since my father's death I have held my head so high that it hurt,
and loftily refused to listen to their repeated suggestions that I
should revisit my old home, something in the sad listlessness of
the November days sent my spirit back to old times with a persistency
that would not be set aside, and I woke from my musings surprised
to find myself sick with longing.
It is foolish but natural to quarrel with one's cousins,
and especially foolish and natural when they have done nothing,
and are mere victims of chance. Is it their fault that my not being a boy
placed the shoes I should otherwise have stepped into at their disposal?
I know it is not; but their blamelessness does not make me love them more.
"Noch ein dummes Frauenzimmer!" cried my father, on my arrival into the world--
he had three of them already, and I was his last hope,--and a dummes
Frauenzimmer I have remained ever since; and that is why for years I
would have no dealings with the cousins in possession, and that is why,
the other day, overcome by the tender influence of the weather,
the purely sentimental longing to join hands again with my childhood
was enough to send all my pride to the winds, and to start me off without
warning and without invitation on my pilgrimage.
I have always had a liking for pilgrimages, and if I had
lived in the Middle Ages would have spent most of my time on
the way to Rome. The pilgrims, leaving all their cares at home,
the anxieties of their riches or their debts, the wife that
worried and the children that disturbed, took only their sins
with them, and turning their backs on their obligations,
set out with that sole burden, and perhaps a cheerful heart.
How cheerful my heart would have been, starting on a fine morning,
with the smell of the spring in my nostrils, fortified by
the approval of those left behind, accompanied by the pious
blessings of my family, with every step getting farther from
the suffocation of daily duties, out into the wide fresh world,
out into the glorious free world, so poor, so penitent,
and so happy! My dream, even now, is to walk for weeks
with some friend that I love, leisurely wandering from place
to place, with no route arranged and no object in view,
with liberty to go on all day or to linger all day, as we choose;
but the question of luggage, unknown to the simple pilgrim,
is one of the rocks on which my plans have been shipwrecked,
and the other is the certain censure of relatives, who, not fond
of walking themselves, and having no taste for noonday naps
under hedges, would be sure to paralyse my plans before they
had grown to maturity by the honest horror of their cry,
"How very unpleasant if you were to meet any one you know!"
The relative of five hundred years back would simply have said,
My father had the same liking for pilgrimages--indeed, it is evident
that I have it from him--and he encouraged it in me when I was little,
taking me with him on his pious journeys to places he had lived in as a boy.
Often have we been together to the school he was at in Brandenburg, and spent
pleasant days wandering about the old town on the edge of one of those lakes
that lie in a chain in that wide green plain; and often have we been
in Potsdam, where he was quartered as a lieutenant, the Potsdam pilgrimage
including hours in the woods around and in the gardens of Sans Souci,
with the second volume of Carlyle's Frederick under my father's arm;
and often did we spend long summer days at the house in the Mark, at the head
of the same blue chain of lakes, where his mother spent her young years,
and where, though it belonged to cousins, like everything else that was
worth having, we could wander about as we chose, for it was empty,
and sit in the deep windows of rooms where there was no furniture,
and the painted Venuses and cupids on the ceiling still smiled irrelevantly
and stretched their futile wreaths above the emptiness beneath.
And while we sat and rested, my father told me, as my grandmother
had a hundred times told him, all that had happened in those rooms
in the far-off days when people danced and sang and laughed through life,
and nobody seemed ever to be old or sorry.
There was, and still is, an inn within a stone's throw of
the great iron gates, with two very old lime trees in front of it,
where we used to lunch on our arrival at a little table spread
with a red and blue check cloth, the lime blossoms dropping into
our soup, and the bees humming in the scented shadows overhead.
I have a picture of the house by my side as I write, done from
the lake in old times, with a boat full of ladies in hoops
and powder in the foreground, and a youth playing a guitar.
The pilgrimages to this place were those I loved the best.
But the stories my father told me, sometimes odd enough stories
to tell a little girl, as we wandered about the echoing rooms,
or hung over the stone balustrade and fed the fishes in the lake,
or picked the pale dog-roses in the hedges, or lay in the boat
in a shady reed-grown bay while he smoked to keep the mosquitoes off,
were after all only traditions, imparted to me in small doses
from time to time, when his earnest desire not to raise his remarks above the level of dulness
supposed to be wholesome
for Backfische was neutralised by an impulse to share his thoughts
with somebody who would laugh; whereas the place I was bound for on
my latest pilgrimage was filled with living, first-hand memories
of all the enchanted years that lie between two and eighteen.
How enchanted those years are is made more and more clear to me
the older I grow. There has been nothing in the least like them since;
and though I have forgotten most of what happened six months ago,
every incident, almost every day of those wonderful long years
is perfectly distinct in my memory.
But I had been stiffnecked, proud, unpleasant, altogether
cousinly in my behaviour towards the people in possession.
The invitations to revisit the old home had ceased.
The cousins had grown tired of refusals, and had left me alone.
I did not even know who lived in it now, it was so long
since I had had any news. For two days I fought against
the strong desire to go there that had suddenly seized me,
and assured myself that I would not go, that it would
be absurd to go, undignified, sentimental, and silly,
that I did not know them and would be in an awkward position,
and that I was old enough to know better. But who can
foretell from one hour to the next what a woman will do?
And when does she ever know better? On the third morning I
set out as hopefully as though it were the most natural thing
in the world to fall unexpectedly upon hitherto consistently
neglected cousins, and expect to be received with open arms.
It was a complicated journey, and lasted several hours.
During the first part, when it was still dark, I glowed
with enthusiasm, with the spirit of adventure, with delight
at the prospect of so soon seeing the loved place again;
and thought with wonder of the long years I had allowed to pass
since last I was there. Of what I should say to the cousins,
and of how I should introduce myself into their midst,
I did not think at all: the pilgrim spirit was upon me,
the unpractical spirit that takes no thought for anything,
but simply wanders along enjoying its own emotions.
It was a quiet, sad morning, and there was a thick mist.
By the time I was in the little train on the light railway
that passed through the village nearest my old home, I had got
over my first enthusiasm, and had entered the stage of critically
examining the changes that had been made in the last ten years.
It was so misty that I could see nothing of the familiar country
from the carriage windows, only the ghosts of pines in the front
row of the forests; but the railway itself was a new departure,
unknown in our day, when we used to drive over ten miles of deep,
sandy forest roads to and from the station, and although most
people would have called it an evident and great improvement,
it was an innovation due, no doubt, to the zeal and energy
of the reigning cousin; and who was he, thought I, that he should
require more conveniences than my father had found needful?
It was no use my telling myself that in my father's time the era
of light railways had not dawned, and that if it had, we should
have done our utmost to secure one; the thought of my cousin,
stepping into my shoes, and then altering them, was odious to me.
By the time I was walking up the hill from the station I
had got over this feeling too, and had entered a third stage
of wondering uneasily what in the world I should do next.
Where was the intrepid courage with which I had started?
At the top of the first hill I sat down to consider this question
in detail, for I was very near the house now, and felt I wanted time.
Where, indeed, was the courage and joy of the morning?
It had vanished so completely that I could only suppose that it
must be lunch time, the observations of years having led to the
discovery that the higher sentiments and virtues fly affrighted
on the approach of lunch, and none fly quicker than courage.
So I ate the lunch I had brought with me, hoping that it was
what I wanted; but it was chilly, made up of sandwiches and pears,
and it had to be eaten under a tree at the edge of a field;
and it was November, and the mist was thicker than ever and very wet--
the grass was wet with it, the gaunt tree was wet with it,
I was wet with it, and the sandwiches were wet with it.
Nobody's spirits can keep up under such conditions;
and as I ate the soaked sandwiches, I deplored the headlong
courage more with each mouthful that had torn me from a warm,
dry home where I was appreciated, and had brought me first
to the damp tree in the damp field, and when I had finished
my lunch and dessert of cold pears, was going to drag me into
the midst of a circle of unprepared and astonished cousins.
Vast sheep loomed through the mist a few yards off.
The sheep dog kept up a perpetual, irritating yap.
In the fog I could hardly tell where I was, though I
knew I must have played there a hundred times as a child.
After the fashion of woman directly she is not perfectly warm
and perfectly comfortable, I began to consider the uncertainty
of human life, and to shake my head in gloomy approval as
lugubrious lines of pessimistic poetry suggested themselves
to my mind.
Now it is clearly a desirable plan, if you want
to do anything, to do it in the way consecrated by custom,
more especially if you are a woman. The rattle of a carriage
along the road just behind me, and the fact that I started
and turned suddenly hot, drove this truth home to my soul.
The mist hid me, and the carriage, no doubt full of cousins,
drove on in the direction of the house; but what an absurd
position I was in! Suppose the kindly mist had lifted,
and revealed me lunching in the wet on their property, the cousin
of the short and lofty letters, the unangenehme Elisabeth!
"Die war doch immer verdreht," I could imagine them hastily muttering
to each other, before advancing wreathed in welcoming smiles.
It gave me a great shock, this narrow escape, and I got
on to my feet quickly, and burying the remains of my lunch
under the gigantic molehill on which I had been sitting,
asked myself nervously what I proposed to do next.
Should I walk back to the village, go to the Gasthof, write a letter
craving permission to call on my cousins, and wait there till
an answer came? It would be a discreet and sober course to pursue;
the next best thing to having written before leaving home.
But the Gasthof of a north German village is a dreadful place,
and the remembrance of one in which I had taken refuge
once from a thunderstorm was still so vivid that nature
itself cried out against this plan. The mist, if anything,
was growing denser. I knew every path and gate in the place.
What if I gave up all hope of seeing the house,
and went through the little door in the wall at the bottom
of the garden, and confined myself for this once to that?
In such weather I would be able to wander round as I pleased,
without the least risk of being seen by or meeting any cousins,
and it was after all the garden that lay nearest my heart.
What a delight it would be to creep into it unobserved,
and revisit all the corners I so well remembered,
and slip out again and get away safely without any need
of explanations, assurances, protestations, displays of affection,
without any need, in a word, of that exhausting form
of conversation, so dear to relations, known as Redensarten!
The mist tempted me. I think if it had been a fine
day I would have gone soberly to the Gasthof and written
the conciliatory letter; but the temptation was too great,
it was altogether irresistible, and in ten minutes I had found
the gate, opened it with some difficulty, and was standing
with a beating heart in the garden of my childhood.
Now I wonder whether I shall ever again feel thrills of
the same potency as those that ran through me at that moment.
First of all I was trespassing, which is in itself thrilling;
but how much more thrilling when you are trespassing on what
might just as well have been your own ground, on what actually
was for years your own ground, and when you are in deadly
peril of seeing the rightful owners, whom you have never met,
but with whom you have quarrelled, appear round the corner,
and of hearing them remark with an inquiring and awful politeness "I
do not think I have the pleasure--?" Then the place was unchanged.
I was standing in the same mysterious tangle of damp little paths
that had always been just there; they curled away on either
side among the shrubs, with the brown tracks of recent footsteps
in the centre of their green stains, just as they did in my day.
The overgrown lilac bushes still met above my head.
The moisture dripped from the same ledge in the wall on
to the sodden leaves beneath, as it had done all through
the afternoons of all those past Novembers. This was the place,
this damp and gloomy tangle, that had specially belonged to me.
Nobody ever came to it, for in winter it was too dreary,
and in summer so full of mosquitoes that only a Backfisch
indifferent to spots could have borne it. But it was a place
where I could play unobserved, and where I could walk up
and down uninterrupted for hours, building castles in the air.
There was an unwholesome little arbour in one dark corner,
much frequented by the larger black slug, where I used
to pass glorious afternoons making plans. I was for ever
making plans, and if nothing came of them, what did it matter?
The mere making had been a joy. To me this out-of-the-way
corner was always a wonderful and a mysterious place,
where my castles in the air stood close together in radiant rows,
and where the strangest and most splendid adventures befell me;
for the hours I passed in it and the people I met in it
were all enchanted.
Standing there and looking round with happy eyes,
I forgot the existence of the cousins. I could have cried
for joy at being there again. It was the home of my fathers,
the home that would have been mine if I had been a boy,
the home that was mine now by a thousand tender and happy
and miserable associations, of which the people in possession
could not dream. They were tenants, but it was my home.
I threw my arms round the trunk of a very wet fir tree,
every branch of which I remembered, for had I not climbed it,
and fallen from it, and torn and bruised myself on it uncountable
numbers of times? and I gave it such a hearty kiss that my nose
and chin were smudged into one green stain, and still I did not care.
Far from caring, it filled me with a reckless, Backfisch pleasure
in being dirty, a delicious feeling that I had not had for years.
Alice in Wonderland, after she had drunk the contents of
the magic bottle, could not have grown smaller more suddenly
than I grew younger the moment I passed through that magic door.
Bad habits cling to us, however, with such persistency that I
did mechanically pull out my handkerchief and begin to rub
off the welcoming smudge, a thing I never would have dreamed
of doing in the glorious old days; but an artful scent of
violets clinging to the handkerchief brought me to my senses,
and with a sudden impulse of scorn, the fine scorn for scent
of every honest Backfisch, I rolled it up into a ball and flung
it away into the bushes, where I daresay it is at this moment.
"Away with you," I cried, "away with you, symbol of conventionality,
of slavery, of pandering to a desire to please--away with you,
miserable little lace-edged rag!" And so young had I grown
within the last few minutes that I did not even feel silly.
As a Backfisch I had never used handkerchiefs--
the child of nature scorns to blow its nose--though for
decency's sake my governess insisted on giving me a clean
one of vast size and stubborn texture on Sundays.
It was stowed away unfolded in the remotest corner of my pocket,
where it was gradually pressed into a beautiful compactness
by the other contents, which were knives. After a while,
I remember, the handkerchief being brought to light on
Sundays to make room for a successor, and being manifestly
perfectly clean, we came to an agreement that it should only
be changed on the first and third Sundays in the month,
on condition that I promised to turn it on the other Sundays.
My governess said that the outer folds became soiled
from the mere contact with the other things in my pocket,
and that visitors might catch sight of the soiled side if it
was never turned when I wished to blow my nose in their presence,
and that one had no right to give one's visitors shocks.
"But I never do wish-- --" I began with great earnestness.
"Unsinn," said my governess, cutting me short.
After the first thrills of joy at being there again had gone,
the profound stillness of the dripping little shrubbery
frightened me. It was so still that I was afraid to move;
so still, that I could count each drop of moisture falling from
the oozing wall; so still, that when I held my breath to listen,
I was deafened by my own heart-beats. I made a step forward
in the direction where the arbour ought to be, and the rustling
and jingling of my clothes terrified me into immobility. The house
was only two hundred yards off; and if any one had been about,
the noise I had already made opening the creaking door and so
foolishly apostrophising my handkerchief must have been noticed.
Suppose an inquiring gardener, or a restless cousin,
should presently loom through the fog, bearing down upon me?
Suppose Fraulein Wundermacher should pounce upon me suddenly
from behind, coming up noiselessly in her galoshes,
and shatter my castles with her customary triumphant "Fetzt
halte ich dich aber fest!" Why, what was I thinking of?
Fraulein Wundermacher, so big and masterful, such an enemy
of day-dreams, such a friend of das Praktische, such a lover
of creature comforts, had died long ago, had been succeeded
long ago by others, German sometimes, and sometimes English,
and sometimes at intervals French, and they too had all
in their turn vanished, and I was here a solitary ghost.
"Come, Elizabeth," said I to myself impatiently, "are you actually
growing sentimental over your governesses? If you think you
are a ghost, be glad at least that you are a solitary one.
Would you like the ghosts of all those poor women you
tormented to rise up now in this gloomy place against you?
And do you intend to stand here till you are caught?"
And thus exhorting myself to action, and recognising how great
was the risk I ran in lingering, I started down the little path
leading to the arbour and the principal part of the garden,
going, it is true, on tiptoe, and very much frightened
by the rustling of my petticoats, but determined to see what I
had come to see and not to be scared away by phantoms.
How regretfully did I think at that moment of the
petticoats of my youth, so short, so silent, and so woollen!
And how convenient the canvas shoes were with the india rubber soles,
for creeping about without making a sound! Thanks to them I
could always run swiftly and unheard into my hiding-places,
and stay there listening to the garden resounding with cries
of "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Come in at once to your lessons!"
Or, at a different period, "Ou etes-vous donc, petite sotte?"
Or at yet another period, "Warte nur, wenn ich dich erst habe!"
As the voices came round one corner, I whisked in my noiseless
clothes round the next, and it was only Fraulein Wundermacher,
a person of resource, who discovered that all she needed for my
successful circumvention was galoshes. She purchased a pair,
wasted no breath calling me, and would come up silently,
as I stood lapped in a false security lost in the contemplation
of a squirrel or a robin, and seize me by the shoulders
from behind, to the grievous unhinging of my nerves.
Stealing along in the fog, I looked back uneasily once
or twice, so vivid was this disquieting memory, and could
hardly be reassured by putting up my hand to the elaborate
twists and curls that compose what my maid calls my Frisur,
and that mark the gulf lying between the present and the past;
for it had happened once or twice, awful to relate and to remember,
that Fraulein Wundermacher, sooner than let me slip through
her fingers, had actually caught me by the long plait of hair
to whose other end I was attached and whose English name
I had been told was pigtail, just at the instant when I
was springing away from her into the bushes; and so had led
me home triumphant, holding on tight to the rope of hair,
and muttering with a broad smile of special satisfaction,
"Diesmal wirst du mir aber nicht entschlupfen!"
Fraulein Wundermacher, now I came to think of it, must have been
a humourist. She was certainly a clever and a capable woman.
But I wished at that moment that she would not haunt me
so persistently, and that I could get rid of the feeling that
she was just behind in her galoshes, with her hand stretched
out to seize me.
Passing the arbour, and peering into its damp recesses, I started
back with my heart in my mouth. I thought I saw my grandfather's
stern eyes shining in the darkness. It was evident that my anxiety
lest the cousins should catch me had quite upset my nerves,
for I am not by nature inclined to see eyes where eyes are not.
"Don't be foolish, Elizabeth," murmured my soul in rather
a faint voice, "go in, and make sure." "But I don't like going
in and making sure," I replied. I did go in, however, with a
sufficient show of courage, and fortunately the eyes vanished.
What I should have done if they had not I am altogether unable to imagine.
Ghosts are things that I laugh at in the daytime and fear at night,
but I think if I were to meet one I should die. The arbour had
fallen into great decay, and was in the last stage of mouldiness.
My grandfather had had it made, and, like other buildings,
it enjoyed a period of prosperity before being left to the ravages
of slugs and children, when he came down every afternoon in summer
and drank his coffee there and read his Kreuzzeitung and dozed,
while the rest of us went about on tiptoe, and only the birds dared sing.
Even the mosquitoes that infested the place were too much in awe
of him to sting him; they certainly never did sting him, and I naturally
concluded it must be because he had forbidden such familiarities.
Although I had played there for so many years since his death, my memory
skipped them all, and went back to the days when it was exclusively his.
Standing on the spot where his armchair used to be, I felt how well I
knew him now from the impressions he made then on my child's mind,
though I was not conscious of them for more than twenty years.
Nobody told me about him, and he died when I was six, and yet within
the last year or two, that strange Indian summer of remembrance
that comes to us in the leisured times when the children have been
born and we have time to think, has made me know him perfectly well.
It is rather an uncomfortable thought for the grown-up, and especially
for the parent, but of a salutary and restraining nature, that though
children may not understand what is said and done before them,
and have no interest in it at the time, and though they may forget
it at once and for years, yet these things that they have seen
and heard and not noticed have after all impressed themselves
for ever on their minds, and when they are men and women come
crowding back with surprising and often painful distinctness,
and away frisk all the cherished little illusions in flocks.
I had an awful reverence for my grandfather.
He never petted, and he often frowned, and such people are
generally reverenced. Besides, he was a just man, everybody said;
a just man who might have been a great man if he had chosen,
and risen to almost any pinnacle of worldly glory.
That he had not so chosen was held to be a convincing proof
of his greatness; for he was plainly too great to be great in
the vulgar sense, and shrouded himself in the dignity of privacy
and potentialities. This, at least, as time passed and he still
did nothing, was the belief of the simple people around.
People must believe in somebody, and having pinned their
faith on my grandfather in the promising years that lie
round thirty, it was more convenient to let it remain there.
He pervaded our family life till my sixth year, and saw to it
that we all behaved ourselves, and then he died, and we
were glad that he should be in heaven. He was a good German
(and when Germans are good they are very good) who kept
the commandments, voted for the Government, grew prize potatoes
and bred innumerable sheep, drove to Berlin once a year with
the wool in a procession of waggons behind him and sold it
at the annual Wollmarkt, rioted soberly for a few days there,
and then carried most of the proceeds home, hunted as often
as possible, helped his friends, punished his children,
read his Bible, said his prayers, and was genuinely astonished
when his wife had the affectation to die of a broken heart.
I cannot pretend to explain this conduct. She ought, of course,
to have been happy in the possession of so good a man;
but good men are sometimes oppressive, and to have one
in the house with you and to live in the daily glare of his
goodness must be a tremendous business. After bearing him
seven sons and three daughters, therefore, my grandmother
died in the way described, and afforded, said my grandfather,
another and a very curious proof of the impossibility of ever
being sure of your ground with women. The incident faded
more quickly from his mind than it might otherwise have done
for its having occurred simultaneously with the production
of a new kind of potato, of which he was justly proud.
He called it Trost in Trauer, and quoted the text of Scripture
Auge um Auge, Zabn um Zahn, after which he did not
again allude to his wife's decease. In his last years,
when my father managed the estate, and he only lived with us
and criticised, he came to have the reputation of an oracle.
The neighbours sent him their sons at the beginning of
any important phase in their lives, and he received them
in this very arbour, administering eloquent and minute
advice in the deep voice that rolled round the shrubbery
and filled me with a vague sense of guilt as I played.
Sitting among the bushes playing muffled games for fear
of disturbing him, I supposed he must be reading aloud,
so unbroken was the monotony of that majestic roll.
The young men used to come out again bathed in perspiration,
much stung by mosquitoes, and looking bewildered; and when they had
got over the impression made by my grandfather's speech and presence,
no doubt forgot all he had said with wholesome quickness,
and set themselves to the interesting and necessary work of gaining
their own experience. Once, indeed, a dreadful thing happened,
whose immediate consequence was the abrupt end to the long
and close friendship between us and our nearest neighbour.
His son was brought to the arbour and left there in the usual way,
and either he must have happened on the critical
half hour after the coffee and before the Kreuzzeitung,
when my grandfather was accustomed to sleep, or he was more
courageous than the others and tried to talk, for very shortly,
playing as usual near at hand, I heard my grandfather's voice,
raised to an extent that made me stop in my game and quake, saying
with deliberate anger, "Hebe dich weg von mir, Sohn des Satans!"
Which was all the advice this particular young man got,
and which he hastened to take, for out he came through the bushes,
and though his face was very pale, there was an odd twist
about the corners of his mouth that reassured me.
This must have happened quite at the end of my grandfather's life,
for almost immediately afterwards, as it now seems to me, he died before he
need have done because he would eat crab, a dish that never agreed with him,
in the face of his doctor's warning that if he did he would surely die.
"What! am I to be conquered by crabs?" he demanded indignantly of the doctor;
for apart from loving them with all his heart he had never yet been conquered
by anything." Nay, sir, the combat is too unequal--do not, I pray you,
try it again," replied the doctor. But my grandfather ordered crabs that
very night for supper, and went in to table with the shining eyes of one
who is determined to conquer or die, and the crabs conquered, and he died.
"He was a just man," said the neighbours, except that nearest neighbour,
formerly his best friend, "and might have been a great one had he so chosen."
And they buried him with profound respect, and the sunshine came into our
home life with a burst, and the birds were not the only creatures that sang,
and the arbour, from having been a temple of Delphic utterances, sank into
a home for slugs.
Musing on the strangeness of life, and on the invariable
ultimate triumph of the insignificant and small over the important
and vast, illustrated in this instance by the easy substitution
in the arbour of slugs for grandfathers, I went slowly round
the next bend of the path, and came to the broad walk along
the south side of the high wall dividing the flower garden
from the kitchen garden, in which sheltered position my father
had had his choicest flowers. Here the cousins had been at work,
and all the climbing roses that clothed the wall with beauty
were gone, and some very neat fruit trees, tidily nailed
up at proper intervals, reigned in their stead.
Evidently the cousins knew the value of this warm aspect,
for in the border beneath, filled in my father's time in this
month of November with the wallflowers that were to perfume
the walk in spring, there was a thick crop of--I stooped down close
to make sure--yes, a thick crop of radishes. My eyes filled
with tears at the sight of those radishes, and it is probably
the only occasion on record on which radishes have made anybody cry.
My dear father, whom I so passionately loved, had in his turn
passionately loved this particular border, and spent the spare
moments of a busy life enjoying the flowers that grew in it.
He had no time himself for a more near acquaintance with the
delights of gardening than directing what plants were to be used,
but found rest from his daily work strolling up and down here,
or sitting smoking as close to the flowers as possible.
"It is the Purest of Humane pleasures, it is the Greatest
Refreshment to the Spirits of Man," he would quote
(for he read other things besides the Kreuzzeitung), looking
round with satisfaction on reaching this fragrant haven after
a hot day in the fields. Well, the cousins did not think so.
Less fanciful, and more sensible as they probably would have said, their position plainly was that
you cannot eat flowers.
Their spirits required no refreshment, but their bodies needed much,
and therefore radishes were more precious than wallflowers.
Nor was my youth wholly destitute of radishes, but they were
grown in the decent obscurity of odd kitchen garden corners
and old cucumber frames, and would never have been allowed
to come among the flowers. And only because I was not a boy
here they were profaning the ground that used to be so beautiful.
Oh, it was a terrible misfortune not to have been a boy!
And how sad and lonely it was, after all, in this ghostly garden.
The radish bed and what it symbolised had turned my first joy
into grief. This walk and border me too much of my father reminded,
and of all he had been to me. What I knew of good he had taught me,
and what I had of happiness was through him. Only once during
all the years we lived together had we been of different opinions
and fallen out, and it was the one time I ever saw him severe.
I was four years old, and demanded one Sunday to be taken
to church. My father said no, for I had never been to church,
and the German service is long and exhausting. I implored.
He again said no. I implored again, and showed such a
pious disposition, and so earnest a determination to behave well,
that he gave in, and we went off very happily hand in hand.
"Now mind, Elizabeth," he said, turning to me at the church door,
"there is no coming out again in the middle. Having insisted
on being brought, thou shalt now sit patiently till the end."
"Oh, yes, oh, yes," I promised eagerly, and went in filled
with holy fire. The shortness of my legs, hanging helplessly
for two hours midway between the seat and the floor,
was the weapon chosen by Satan for my destruction.
In German churches you do not kneel, and seldom stand, but sit
nearly the whole time, praying and singing in great comfort.
If you are four years old, however, this unchanged position
soon becomes one of torture. Unknown and dreadful things
go on in your legs, strange prickings and tinglings and
dartings up and down, a sudden terrifying numbness, when you
think they must have dropped off but are afraid to look,
then renewed and fiercer prickings, shootings, and burnings.
I thought I must be very ill, for I had never known my legs
like that before. My father sitting beside me was engrossed
in the singing of a chorale that evidently had no end,
each verse finished with a long-drawn-out hallelujah,
after which the organ played by itself for a hundred years--
by the organist's watch, which was wrong, two minutes exactly--
and then another verse began. My father, being the patron of
the living, was careful to sing and pray and listen to the sermon
with exemplary attention, aware that every eye in the little
church was on our pew, and at first I tried to imitate him;
but the behaviour of my legs became so alarming that after vainly
casting imploring glances at him and seeing that he continued
his singing unmoved, I put out my hand and pulled his sleeve.
"Hal-le-lu-jah," sang my father with deliberation; continuing in a low
voice without changing the expression of his face, his lips hardly moving,
and his eyes fixed abstractedly on the ceiling till the organist,
who was also the postman, should have finished his solo, "Did I not
tell thee to sit still, Elizabeth?" "Yes, but-- --" "Then do it."
"But I want to go home."
"Unsinn." And the next verse beginning, my father
sang louder than ever. What could I do? Should I cry?
I began to be afraid I was going to die on that chair,so
extraordinary were the sensations in my legs. What could my
father do to me if I did cry? With the quick instinct of small
children I felt that he could not put me in the corner in church,
nor would he whip me in public, and that with the whole village
looking on, he was helpless, and would have to give in.
Therefore I tugged his sleeve again and more peremptorily,
and prepared to demand my immediate removal in a loud voice.
But my father was ready for me. Without interrupting his singing,
or altering his devout expression, he put his hand slowly down
and gave me a hard pinch--not a playful pinch, but a good hard
unmistakeable pinch, such as I had never imagined possible,
and then went on serenely to the next hallelujah.
For a moment I was petrified with astonishment.
Was this my indulgent father, my playmate, adorer, and friend?
Smarting with pain, for I was a round baby, with a nicely stretched,
tight skin, and dreadfully hurt in my feelings, I opened my mouth
to shriek in earnest, when my father's clear whisper fell on my ear,
each word distinct and not to be misunderstood, his eyes as before
gazing meditatively into space, and his lips hardly moving,
"Elizabeth, wenn du schreist, kneife ich dich bis du platzt."
And he finished the verse with unruffled decorum--
"Will Satan mich verschlingen,
So lass die Engel singen
We never had another difference. Up to then he had been
my willing slave, and after that I was his.
With a smile and a shiver I turned from the border and its memories
to the door in the wall leading to the kitchen garden, in a corner
of which my own little garden used to be. The door was open, and I stood
still a moment before going through, to hold my breath and listen.
The silence was as profound as before. The place seemed deserted;
and I should have thought the house empty and shut up but for the carefully
tended radishes and the recent footmarks on the green of the path.
They were the footmarks of a child. I was stooping down to examine
a specially clear one, when the loud caw of a very bored looking crow
sitting on the wall just above my head made me jump as I have seldom in my
life jumped, and reminded me that I was trespassing. Clearly my nerves
were all to pieces, for I gathered up my skirts and fled through
the door as though a whole army of ghosts and cousins were at my heels,
nor did I stop till I had reached the remote corner where my garden was.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Elizabeth?" asked the mocking sprite that calls
itself my soul: but I was too much out of breath to answer.
This was really a very safe corner. It was separated
from the main garden and the house by the wall, and shut in on
the north side by an orchard, and it was to the last degree
unlikely that any one would come there on such an afternoon.
This plot of ground, turned now as I saw into a rockery,
had been the scene of my most untiring labours. Into the cold
earth of this north border on which the sun never shone I had
dug my brightest hopes. All my pocket money had been spent
on it, and as bulbs were dear and my weekly allowance small,
in a fatal hour I had borrowed from Fraulein Wundermacher,
selling her my independence, passing utterly into her power,
forced as a result till my next birthday should come round
to an unnatural suavity of speech and manner in her company,
against which my very soul revolted. And after all,
nothing came up. The labour of digging and watering,
the anxious zeal with which I pounced on weeds, the poring
over gardening books, the plans made as I sat on the little
seat in the middle gazing admiringly and with the eye of faith
on the trim surface so soon to be gemmed with a thousand flowers,
the reckless expenditure of pfennings, the humiliation of my
position in regard to Fraulein Wundermacher,--all, all had
been in vain. No sun shone there, and nothing grew.
The gardener who reigned supreme in those days had given
me this big piece for that sole reason, because he could
do nothing with it himself. He was no doubt of opinion
that it was quite good enough for a child to experiment upon,
and went his way, when I had thanked him with a profuseness
of gratitude I still remember, with an unmoved countenance.
For more than a year I worked and waited, and watched the career
of the flourishing orchard opposite with puzzled feelings.
The orchard was only a few yards away, and yet, although my
garden was full of manure, and water, and attentions that were
never bestowed on the orchard, all it could show and ever
did show were a few unhappy beginnings of growth that either remained stationary and did not achieve
or dwindled down again and vanished. Once I timidly asked
the gardener if he could explain these signs and wonders,
but he was a busy man with no time for answering questions,
and told me shortly that gardening was not learned in a day.
How well I remember that afternoon, and the very shape of
the lazy clouds, and the smell of spring things, and myself
going away abashed and sitting on the shaky bench in my domain
and wondering for the hundredth time what it was that made
the difference between my bit and the bit of orchard in front of me.
The fruit trees, far enough away from the wall to be beyond
the reach of its cold shade, were tossing their flower-laden heads
in the sunshine in a carelessly well-satisfied fashion that filled
my heart with envy. There was a rise in the field behind them,
and at the foot of its protecting slope they luxuriated
in the insolent glory of their white and pink perfection.
It was May, and my heart bled at the thought of the tulips
I had put in in November, and that I had never seen since.
The whole of the rest of the garden was on fire with tulips;
behind me, on the other side of the wall, were rows and rows
of them,--cups of translucent loveliness, a jewelled
ring flung right round the lawn. But what was there not on
the other side of that wall? Things came up there and grew
and flowered exactly as my gardening books said they should do;
and in front of me, in the gay orchard, things that nobody ever
troubled about or cultivated or noticed throve joyously beneath
the trees,--daffodils thrusting their spears through the grass,
crocuses peeping out inquiringly, snowdrops uncovering their
small cold faces when the first shivering spring days came.
Only my piece that I so loved was perpetually ugly and empty.
And I sat in it thinking of these things on that radiant day,
and wept aloud.
Then an apprentice came by, a youth who had often seen me
busily digging, and noticing the unusual tears, and struck perhaps
by the difference between my garden and the profusion of splendour
all around, paused with his barrow on the path in front of me,
and remarked that nobody could expect to get blood out of a stone.
The apparent irrelevance of this statement made me weep still louder,
the bitter tears of insulted sorrow; but he stuck to his point,
and harangued me from the path, explaining the connection between north walls and tulips and blood
and stones till my tears all
dried up again and I listened attentively, for the conclusion to be
drawn from his remarks was plainly that I had been shamefully taken
in by the head gardener, who was an unprincipled person thenceforward
to be for ever mistrusted and shunned. Standing on the path from
which the kindly apprentice had expounded his proverb, this scene
rose before me as clearly as though it had taken place that very day;
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