In A London Garden by Barry Pain
THE RECLAMATION OF THE CAT-WALK: AND THE STORY OF "THE POOL IN THE
My London garden is not really mine. I have it for a period of years on
conditions arranged between two legal gentlemen, the tenant paying the
landlord's cost. Obviously the person who owns the property can better
afford to pay those costs than the man who has to hire it. And similarly
the man who is lending money on a mortgage can better afford to pay
costs than the man who has to borrow it. But the tenant pays, and the
borrower pays. It is a principle of the law that the poor man pays. But
this reflection, into which bitterness of spirit has led me, has nothing
whatever to do with my garden.
I wasted more than a year. The thing looked quite hopeless. I left my
garden to the cats, the jobbing gardeners, the caterpillars, and the
Of these the worst and most dangerous is perhaps the jobbing gardener.
As the law stands at present you may kill a caterpillar, but not a
Coming on the wrong day—and he never comes on the right day if he can
avoid it—he brings with him a mixed scent of beer and lubricating oil.
If the weather is wet, he sits in the potting-shed and smokes. If it is
fine, he may possibly mow the lawn. He prefers to mow part of it and
then to get on with something else, leaving it like a man with one side
of his face shaved. He takes no sort of interest in the garden, and
candidly there is no reason why he should take any interest. He only
sees the place for a few hours every week, and he would not see it then
if he were not paid for it. He has untruthful testimonials, very dirty
and decomposed, in his coat pocket, and he is aggrieved when you sack
him. This is quite reasonable. A jobbing gardener who attends to the
gardens of A, B, and C naturally steals something from A's garden to
sell to B, something from B's garden to sell to C, and something from
C's garden to sell to A, and thereout sucks he no small advantage. When
he gets the sack there is nothing left for him but to steal your
secators. He never forgets to do that. I will not say that even in my
regenerate condition I never employ a jobbing gardener. There are days
when it seems a fine, manly, and primitive thing to do a piece of
digging or to mow the lawn. There are more days when such operations
seem rather in the light of a nuisance. One would always sooner direct
than perform. But the jobbing gardeners who come to me now are under
supervision, and are compelled to do things that they hate most in the
world—such as putting away their tools when they have finished with
I am not particularly fond of the expert and regular gardener either.
Generally he has the luck to be a Scotchman and is a man of few words
and great knowledge. But his knowledge is always better than his taste,
and he debases an art into a science. His ideals would not fit a London
garden, and his feeling for colour is often wrong and poisonous.
The horticulturist-and-florist debases a science into a commerce. I have
found him useful and shall continue to do so. He saves me trouble. I
will deal with him, but I absolutely refuse to admire him.
The amateur gardener would be pleasant if you could cut out his conceit,
but it is ineradicable. He comes into my garden and points out my
principal mistakes and tells me of the much better things which he has
in his garden.
I myself am not a gardener at all. I admit it. I should imagine that
there is no man in Great Britain and her Dependencies who knows as
little about gardening as I do. But that is not the sole reason why I
write about my London garden. We can distinguish between the dog lover
and the dog fancier. In the same way we may distinguish between the
garden lover and the gardener. It is an important distinction.
The garden in London makes you love it, and it also breaks your heart.
It has therefore all the charm of woman. I am not going to believe that
any garden in the heart of the country, where everything is green and
easy, can give the same pleasure as my half-acre reclaimed among the
chimney-pots. It has its limitations, of course, but so have I. So have
all human beings. One does not ask a beautiful woman to be clever. One
does not expect a clever woman to be beautiful. One does not even hope
that an aggressively good woman will be either. Similarly one does not
ask the London garden for fruit and vegetables. All that one may really
require is shade and flowers. Even that is something, when you remember
how very few flowers will grow in shade.
Some blackguard who was allowed to use this garden before it fell to my
lot planted rhubarb in a part of it. Most of the rhubarb has now gone,
and the rest is going (as the politicians used to say), contrary, I
believe, to the terms of my lease. But my landlord is more sympathetic
than her solicitors. (The word "landlady" is not to be used. It gives
totally wrong associations.) I have also a currant bush, and this shall
remain. Its green does not displease me. It produces few currants and I
never get or try to get any of them; but birds that are kept as busy
with the slugs and caterpillars as the birds in my garden are, deserve
an occasional change of diet. I have a few old apple trees and pear
trees, but I think I regard them chiefly for their blossom, though these
last two years they have taken heart from the enrichment of the soil and
have been covered with fruit. You will find parsley and mint in a
secluded border, but these represent rather the ornament of nutrition
than nutrition itself.
As a rule parsley in London is terribly over-worked. In the
refreshment-room at a London terminus late at night I have seen a
barmaid collect the sprigs of wilted parsley from the tired sandwiches
and sad hard eggs, and put it all in a teacup with a little water. It
was heart-breaking to think that that parsley would have to go to work
again the next day. But also it presented the barmaid in a new light. It
was so foreign to her abnormal stateliness and her unnatural gaiety. It
tempted one to believe that after all she was human.
Sitting here in the shade on a hot summer day, with an Austrian brier in
full bloom within a few yards of me, I wonder why on earth I ever
neglected this garden.
In the first place it had been neglected before. I think for some two
years previously a jobbing gardener had called one day every week on
purpose to neglect it. Therefore it seemed hopeless to do anything. In
the second place it was too rectilineal. It was an exact rectangle,
surrounded by straight paths and bisected by one straight path. In the
third place I bought a book about gardening for amateurs and it
frightened me. It began just about the point where I shall leave off if
I live to be a hundred years old.
And then, neglected though it was, the garden made its appeal to me. All
round it are tall trees—elm, and chestnut, and wild cherry, and plane,
and sycamore. It offered me grateful shade on a hot afternoon, and I had
done nothing to deserve it. In the springtime there were mauve blossoms
on the lilac, and golden trails on the laburnum, that I had never
earned. Later, tall hollyhocks, lavish sunflowers, crowded Michaelmas
daisies, added their reproach. I became uneasy. I went out and bought
things, such as bast, and fertiliser, and green stakes. I began to
wander about the garden, thinking what could be done with it. By the
next summer the garden had got a fair hold of me. A man who can learn
something fresh is not old, wherefore I am not old, but it surprises me
that one of my youth should have learned so amazingly little about a
garden in the time.
I began to see encouraging factors. I had not to think about fruit and
vegetables. I had not to think about a greenhouse, because the garden
has no greenhouse. It has not even got a frame. I shall buy one next
year, or possibly the year after. London is simply crawling with
florists, and for a few shillings you can buy things all ready to put
in. The shilling that goes to the taxicab driver is gone for
ever—sacrificed to a fit of laziness. The shilling that buys six
sweet-williams provides pleasure for many weeks. The sweet-william is, I
believe, a two-year thing, or as the sacred jargon of the gardener puts
it, a biennial. You start it one year and it flowers the next. It may be
a mean and cowardly thing to do to let the florist do the first year's
work on it, and buy it when it is ready to flower that season, but I do
it, and I shall continue to do it. I shall continue to do everything
that I can think of that will save me trouble in my garden without
injuring the garden. But the Iceland poppies are from seed that I myself
sowed. I have sown blood-red wallflowers and Canterbury bells to flower
next year. One can be lazy without being wholly bad.
Things which looked hopeless at first sight proved better on further
consideration. There was the lawn, for instance. The jobbing gardener
turned up his nose at the lawn. It slopes. It slopes in several
different directions simultaneously.
"There's only one thing to be done with that," said the jobber, "and the
sooner you make up your mind to it the better. That all wants to be
taken up, levelled, and relaid. It'll cost a bit of money, but it'll
never be satisfactory till it's done."
He produced figures and they frightened me. The lawn still slopes
deviously, and every day that I see it I am thankful for it. Nobody can
possibly play lawn-tennis on it. I hate white rectilineal lines on grass
almost more than I hate underdone mutton or "The Lost Chord". Therefore
it is a perpetual joy to me that my lawn slopes.
I asked the jobbing gardener what the roses were, planted in odd corners
of the lawn.
"Roses!" he said scornfully. "They ain't roses. It's just some common
sort of brier. What anybody put it there for, I don't know. It has never
flowered for the last three years, and never will flower, and if it did,
you wouldn't like it."
Those despised briers are all covered with flower at the present moment,
and I like them very much. They are not gardeners' roses, but they are
nicer to look at than the Putney bus.
Are there any plantains in my lawn? There are. There is also more grass
than there used to be. You can do a lot of things with plantains. If you
turn guinea-pigs loose on your lawn, so one newspaper informs me, they
will eat the plantains and leave the grass. But I have not got any
guinea-pigs, and I am not going to provide a manly but barbarous sport
for the cats of the neighbourhood by buying guinea-pigs. Another method
is to cut off the head of the plantain and apply lawn-sand. I shall very
likely do that one day when there is nothing in the garden which wants
doing more, and if I happen to feel like it. A part of a summer day you
must work in a London garden, but it is equally true that for another
part of the summer day you must just sit and enjoy it. Otherwise you
sacrifice the end to the means.
"As for that old box tree," said my jobbing Jeremiah, "it never ought to
have been put there at all, right on the edge of a bed. If you take my
advice you will have it out. Of course, if it had been properly trimmed
and looked after, that might have been made into a peacock, but it would
take you years to get it into shape now. You can't grow anything under
it, and it's no good trying."
I am glad the old box tree is not a peacock. It has grown the way it
wanted to grow, and it suits it. It is perfectly true that nothing will
grow under it, and therefore I have not tried to grow anything under it.
I found me a handy man and sent him out to buy me a hundred bricks, what
time I marked out under the box tree a place where one might sit—a
place dry to the feet after the rain. I sent him for red bricks, and he
came back with white, because the red bricks were (a) too expensive, and
(b) too soft. But the white bricks have done very well with some old
bricks mixed in with them, and soon lost their aggressiveness. So
underneath my box tree is an L-shaped pavement of bricks, with room for
a seat and a table.
People look at it and sniff. It is too unusual. Then they go away and
buy bricks. It is astonishing, by the way, how very few bricks there are
in a hundred. What I mean, of course, is what a very small pavement they
I made another seat under the big scarlet thorn, but this is more
ambitious. I got me broken pavement stones—not very easy to get
nowadays—and paved a semicircle. On that I put a semicircular seat with
a back to it. Irreverent people have compared it (a) to a pew, and
(b) to a loose-box; but it is a pleasant place to sit in in the
evening, and just catches the last of the sunlight. After that I dealt
firmly with myself, and said that I could not be always making seats.
I began to see ways by which I might make the garden a little less
rectilineal. I need hardly say that I wanted a pergola, because of
course everybody wants a pergola. The best house-agents say that a
riverside cottage lets better if it has a pergola and no dining-room
than if it has a dining-room and no pergola. My pergola is built of
rustic wood creosoted, which costs very little. It forms a big
semicircle with a short tail projecting from the middle of the curve. On
it I grow ramblers and glory-roses. I told an expert with some pride
what I had done.
"Yes," said the expert sadly and thoughtfully, "almost any rose does
well in London, except the Gloire-de-Dijon."
My glory-roses look all right at present, but he is probably correct.
When you do a work and do not know how to do it, you are handicapped.
Almost the first thing I did in the way of gardening was to put in some
gaillardias, which I had bought in a box. Three of them died. It takes a
good deal to kill a gaillardia. Things that I plant now do not die. I am
certainly getting on. I shall soon be able to say Gloire-de-Dijon when I
Perfection is not for me. But there are some pleasant halting-places
this side of it. I consult that book for amateur gardeners at intervals,
principally because it is such a delight to be able to skip the long
chapter about sea-kale. I still struggle, and tell myself frequently
that I shall continue to struggle. But, as I have said, there are
pleasant halting-places this side of perfection, and I have a great
tendency to get out at the next station.
When that tendency comes over me I try to remember the smallness of my
garden. In a small garden you may cut the caterpillar nests off the
scarlet thorn, and burn them to ashes so that no spark of life remains.
You feel sure that not one caterpillar is left in the garden. You may
then get to work and pick caterpillars off the rose trees. You may hunt
the ubiquitous green fly. You may weed properly with a small fork,
instead of perfunctorily with a hoe, after the manner of the jobbing
gardener. In time of drought you can water everything. In a small garden
much is possible.
It is not exactly a garden yet, of course. The author of that book for
amateurs would drop dead from shock if he saw it. But it is more like a
garden than the cankered cat-walk it once was.
By the way, speaking of a garden in London, you may possibly have heard
the story of
THE POOL IN THE DESERT
There was once a desert. Now I come to think of it, there still is.
Across the desert, mounted on three camels, came the millionaire, the
artist, and the analyst. During the day their diet had consisted
principally of biscuits and sand. With this they had drunk as much dry
sherry as happened to be left in the millionaire's gold flask with the
diamond monogram on it. Therefore at first sight they were glad when
they saw the pool, and dismounted hurriedly from their camels. But
self-respect, which is a splendid quality, came to their rescue. It was
the millionaire who spoke first.
"I don't call that a pool at all. I have a lake in the park at my
country-place at least four times the size of that. It is a wretched
skimpy little business not worth our attention. Now if we had come to
the cataract of Niagara, that really would have been of some interest."
Even as he spoke, the analyst had produced from his saddle-bags test
tubes, and litmus paper, and a spirit-lamp, and all manner of mixed
chemicals, and was busily engaged on a sample of the water which he had
It was the artist who spoke next.
"Water demands green surroundings. To put a pool in a desert is to put
it in a wrong setting altogether. Here we have one stunted and miserable
palm tree, and no other vegetation. There is really nothing at all here
that I should care to paint."
The analyst was now ready with his results.
"This is precisely what I feared. There can be no doubt whatever that
this pool suffers from organic pollution. I do not say that it exists to
such an extent as to be dangerous to life, but there is a very distinct
trace. I will show you the figures in my analysis."
He did so. I have forgotten the figures. But that does not matter,
because if I told you them, you also would forget them.
And then for a while these three good men sat and looked at one another.
"I believe I am dying of thirst," said the millionaire.
"So am I," said the artist.
"There is no known form of liquid that I would not at this moment gladly
drink," said the analyst.
So after all they turned their attention to the pool.
But in the meantime the three camels—poor dumb beasts who knew no
better—had drunk up the whole of that pool, and had gone on their way
OMISSIONS: AND THE STORY OF "THE GIRL WHO WENT BACK"
There are smuts in London.
There is also a tradition about the smuts in London, and it may be as
well to differentiate the facts and the tradition. According to
tradition, everywhere within a six-mile radius from Charing Cross smuts
fall heavily and continuously. Nothing will grow. No green things can
exist. A sheet of paper exposed to the open air becomes black in three
seconds, and a thick layer of carbon covers everything. There are many
people who believe this. I was told so only the other night by a
beautiful lady to whom I had inadvertently jabbered about my garden. By
the way, she was wearing a white dress. Why?
The fact is that there are as many smuts as one can reasonably want—and
perhaps a few more—in the city and in Mayfair. There are not so many as
there used to be, because there is less smoke. Electricity does not
smoke. Up in St John's Wood and Hampstead the smuts are very much
diminished. Probably if I climbed one of my trees I should find my hands
black. But I am not a boy nor a gorilla, that I should do this thing. I
read or write in the garden, and I find that no smut settles on the
white page. I dine under the tall trees, and the white cloth remains
unpolluted. I may possibly get an elm-seed in my soup, but that is
another matter. (Can anyone tell me, by the way, why the elm produces
such an amazing lot of seeds and sows them broadcast, with a preference
for places where they can never by any possibility germinate?) This is
all quite contrary to tradition, but it happens to be the truth.
There is a good time coming—the time when smoke will be eliminated. The
London garden will doubtless be an easier and cleaner matter then. But
meanwhile the London garden is not impossible. The evergreens are
distinctly shop-soiled after the winter; but with the summer comes the
fresh green, and in the summer London provides us with less smoke from
fewer fires. Beautiful white dresses must be washed or cleaned, and
after all the garden has its hose and its rain-showers.
The tradition is inept as it stands, but it has a basis of truth. There
is very much that must be omitted in the London garden. There are
flowers that never come to town. Speaking generally, bulbs will do less
work here than they will in the country. After the first year the tulips
get tired. But as a compensation for the many things which one must
omit, come the many other things which one may omit.
The liberty of the subject is too much circumscribed, but I believe that
there is no law in this country which compels a man to grow the Jacoby
geranium. This does not seem to be generally understood. Look at the
window-boxes of London, and look at the gardens. Mayfair as a rule is
ambitious and kills quite pretty things in its window-boxes; but
elsewhere all too frequently one finds the Jacoby geranium and the
edging of blue lobelia. I think that people get these things and grow
them just exactly as they pay their dog licence—not because they want
to do it but because they feel they must. There is probably an organised
conspiracy between florists and jobbing gardeners to promote Jacobys.
"You will be wanting some geraniums," says the florist decisively, and
you are hypnotised into believing it. "What could we have in that bed?"
you ask the jobbing gardener. "A few Jacobys," he says, with the air of
a man who has had a bright idea. If he does not edge them with blue
lobelia, he edges them with some yellow stuff which I think he calls
pyrethrum. One has only to smell it once never to try it again. At the
same time there are some super-cultured people who carry the hatred of
the geranium to an unreasonable extent. There is a white one which does
not make me ill, and a pink one which is not too hideous. But as it
happens, the only geranium in my garden is the one which is grown solely
for the scent of its leaves. One year where geraniums might have been I
had blue-violet verbenas, sweet-scented and just as easy to grow. I was
told to hairpin them to the ground, but out of obstinacy I grew them
upright. They did not seem to mind. I have no rage against the blue
lobelia, if it is put in a safe place where its colour can do no harm. I
do not know why the white lobelia has so much less popularity. One is
not bound to grow it as an edging. Now I come to think of it, I believe
I hate all edgings.
I am not very fond of those flowers which are distinctively villa
flowers. I do not think there is any man alive who could sell me a
yellow calceolaria or persuade me to find room for it in my garden. The
fuschia too is rather a self-conscious and ostentatious thing, though I
admit the tree-fuschia. To these I prefer musk, and mignonette, and
heliotrope. They flourish in a wet summer, and I wish I did. Lilies and
carnations of course one must have, and London permits it. London pride
is common enough, but I like it and grow it. It is a generous thing that
asks little and gives much. If only its graceful flower were expensive,
it would be greatly admired. The white and yellow marguerites are of no
dazzling rarity, but I welcome them. Hosts of the old-fashioned
perennials are desirable and possible, though there are some of them
that need to be watched. The sunflower, for instance, is distinctly
greedy and would take the whole garden if it could get it.
If a general principle of omission and selection for a London garden
could be formulated, it would probably run as follows—choose
cottage-garden things and avoid villa-garden things. In this way you
will get all that is simple and sweet-scented and easy of cultivation,
and nothing which is formal and perky. There are men who at present do
earn large salaries by making gardens perky. The pity of it!
I have myself seen a long bed covered with things of different coloured
foliage in geometrical patterns. "You may see as good Sights, many
times, in Tarts." Thank you, my Lord Verulam, for those words. Looking
at such a bed one did not see the flowers only. The eye of imagination
lingered on all that must have conduced to its preparation—all the
pegs, and string, and perspiration, and misplaced cleverness. A garden
may easily be over-educated, and that which is good in itself may suffer
And that reminds me. You do not, perhaps, know the story of
THE GIRL WHO WENT BACK
There was once a girl whose name was Rose, and she was rather pretty and
rather clever. She was not very pretty or very clever, but everybody
said she was very sweet. She had great advantages. Her papa was a wise
man. Her mamma—well, her mamma had the best intentions and was troubled
with ambition. But they both loved Rose.
The ambitious mamma said to the wise papa: "Rose is now seventeen years
old. She has faults which must be eradicated. She has good qualities
which must be enhanced. The last year of her education must be
"As how?" said the wise papa.
"Well, I do not quite like the way she speaks. Her voice is pleasant in
quality, and you can generally understand her; but she slurs her words
and she is just a little weak on the letter 'r'. She must be made to pay
far more attention to her personal appearance. Her waist is not as small
as it might be; and her complexion—but these are not things which you
will require to understand. She must learn German thoroughly. A
smattering is no use. She must not be allowed to have her own way about
the violin. Arithmetic is a very weak point with her. Are you
The wise papa opened his eyes, and said that he had heard every word,
and that she was quite certain to be right, and that he would leave it
Rose had no ambition and no wisdom. She liked play. She liked real
music. She liked dancing. But as she was quite good, she did what she
was told. Many tutors came about her, and she worked early and late. Her
mother confided to her those secrets which should add to her beauty.
The elocution master was quite pleased with her. She learned to
ar-tic-u-late her words and to speak dis-tinct-ly. She pronounced every
"r" as if it had been a coffee-mill. It was a treat to listen to her.
Her proficiency in foreign languages was really remarkable.
Her music teacher said that she had improved enormously in technique and
in taste. Her playing on the violin was a mixture of gymnastics and
conjuring tricks. She learned to speak slightingly of melody. She
understood advanced orchestration, and pronounced Tschaikowsky
correctly. She occasionally annoyed people by giving Chopin the Russian
Her waist became smaller. You might have thought that her long hours of
study would have made her pale, but there was always a delicate blush on
either cheek-bone, except when she had just washed her face. Her hair
became a work of art. It was marvellously arranged.
The college of domestic-training found Rose its most apt pupil. She
could cook. She could housekeep. Her arithmetic was unfailing. She could
detect at once the mistake in the tradesman's account, and she could get
the right note of asperity into her voice in speaking to him about it.
"Is it not rather an extraordinary coincidence that these frequent
errors are always in your own favour?" This was obviously the kind of
woman that a sensible man would be glad to marry. She was a highly
The ambitious mamma saw that Rose had improved out of all knowledge. She
became proud of her. She now waited for Rose to make an exceptionally
brilliant match. She continued to wait, for something had changed in
Rose. People said she was very accomplished and very beautiful, but
nobody said she was rather sweet. The boys who had played with her and
danced with her did not seem to require her any more; they shivered with
fear in her splendid presence.
We should all improve ourselves, and try to do our best—this is the
accepted view and there is no need to dispute it—but concentration on
one's own self, even with the highest possible motive, is poison. And
Rose had drunk of that poison.
And then the ambitious mamma died; and there were some people who
thought that she was better dead. But Rose was overcome with grief. It
was not until six weeks later that, standing before the cheval-glass,
she noticed how very well she looked in black. She worked harder than
ever at the task of self-improvement, until her health broke down. Then
two things happened simultaneously. She was ordered into the country,
and her papa went to take up an important post in Paris.
Rose lived now in a cottage up on a hill with a refined and elderly
lady-companion. Beyond the garden of the cottage was common-land. Here
the bracken grew waist-high, and you might see as many foxgloves in ten
minutes as you would find in London in ten years. Sheep roamed among the
bracken. The difference between the face of the lady-companion and the
face of one of those sheep was hardly noticeable; they also had
similarities in disposition.
When the lady-companion slept—and she was a perfectly grand
sleeper—Rose wandered all the afternoon about the common. She was not
improving herself any longer, because that was held to be bad for her
health. She worried because she felt that she had lost the love of
people. The longer she lived in the country, the more she wanted to be
loved. She even put tentative questions to the lady-companion, to find
out how it was that she was not loved. But these tentative questions
were of no use, because the lady-companion maintained that Rose was
loved very much indeed, being under the impression that this was the
kind of thing that she was paid to say. She was a conscientious woman.
And then one night Rose had a dream. In her dream she heard a loud
knocking at the cottage door, and she herself went to see who was there.
There stood a very ugly old pedlar with a leer on his face, and a pack
on his back. He swung his pack round and took off the piece of American
cloth from the top of it.
"And what can I sell you to-day, my pretty lady?" he asked.
"Nothing, thank you," said Rose.
"Don't say that," said the pedlar. "You have dealt with me before, you
"Never," said Rose. "You are mistaken."
"Yes, you did," said the ugly old man stoutly. "You bought a packet of
Amoricide, and those that deal with me once must deal with me again."
"What is Amoricide?" asked Rose, who began to have a feeling that after
all she did recognise the pedlar's face.
"Well, well," said the pedlar, "that's telling. I don't mind owning that
there is a lot of the Air of Superiority in it, and there are other
things. You have no complaint to make about it, have you? It does its
work all right. I guarantee that it will exterminate love absolutely. It
is death to love. Have you not found it so?"
"I have found," said Rose, "that it has destroyed the love of others for
me, but not the love of me for others."
The old man chuckled. "That's it. That's right. That's why the people
who deal with me once must deal with me again. You must have one more
"This time I want to know what is in it."
The pedlar began to look uneasy. "Don't ask too many questions. We call
it Taedium Vitae. It is a splendid thing."
Rose was highly educated, and she told him that Taedium Vitae meant
life-weariness, and that she would like to know how it acted.
"You go down the hill," said the old man absent-mindedly, as if he were
speaking to himself, "and then, of course, you come to the pine wood."
Rose nodded. "Yes, I know it. Through the wood is the short cut if you
are going to the station. The stile is rather awkward to climb over."
"You can manage it all right. You have done it before. And you know the
dark pool under the trees?"
Rose nodded. This time she did not speak.
"That's another short cut," said the old man with a chuckle. "It's soon
over. The sensation of drowning is said to be quite pleasant. Then there
is no more trouble—no more worrying because you have lost love, and
because life has lost its savour."
Rose was rather frightened. "When do I pay you?" she asked in a husky
"That's all right," said the old man ingratiatingly. "You don't pay me
till afterwards. We give credit."
"After the pool. Come, you will take this packet."
"I will not," said Rose with sudden determination, and shut the door in
the old man's ugly face. He kept on knocking.
Then she knew that it was only the knocking of the maid who brought her
one cup of China tea, one piece of thin bread-and-butter, one large can
of hot water, and the news that it was a fine morning.
After that there was a change in Rose. Some of the change was very
subtle. Some of it was quite obvious. Even a lady-companion with the
mind of a sheep can detect a change in personal appearance. She did
detect it, and she spoke about it with discretion.
Rose answered: "Yes, two inches bigger. I don't wear them at all now.
Suppose I shall have to when I go back to town. And I find I simply
cannot stand the other stuff. If I've got brown, that is because God's
sun meant me to be brown."
"The merest touch would——"
Rose was good-humoured, but obstinate.
And in time she went back to town. She had lost the habit of thinking
about herself or of asking why people did not love her. She gave them
the music that they wanted, and not the music that she knew they ought
to have wanted. She became very simple and friendly. The tone of her
voice softened, and the "r" sound no longer buzzed properly. She had
gone back. And when she was not thinking about it at all, people began
to love her.
One man particularly. And this was fortunate for Rose.
Papa, who was a director of Kekshose & Cie—they make such big
motor-cars that nobody ever dares to let them do as much as they will,
and hardly anybody can afford to buy them—came back for the wedding.
I was just going to say, when that foolish story interrupted me, that
Cardinal Newman wrote a book called "Apologia pro vita sua." I mention
it not as a discovery but as a reminder. I believe that almost every
imaginative author writes an Apologia pro vita sua, though under a
different title and in a different guise. I could name one author (and
so, of course, could you) who has written several such apologiĉ. If I
have never done it myself, it is because I am not of the heroic type
which undertakes lost causes. But I am not quite sure that I am not
writing an Apologia pro horto meo. There is a serpent in every Eden,
and its name is Pride. If my half-acre of cat-walk can claim to be a
remote descendant of Eden, the serpent exists there too. I point out the
good things in the garden. I cover up the defects, or—which is even
worse—I make elaborate explanations to prove that they are not defects
at all. I cannot expect anybody to like my garden as much as I do, but I
want them to respect it. Jokes about it always seem to me to be in bad
taste. A very good amateur gardener once came into my garden and
mentioned just a few of the things that he noticed. He did it in the
kindliest way. He taught me quite a good deal, and I hope he will never
know how near I came to beating him on the head with the business end of
a large rake.
I think that what I have said about omission is true. Everybody who
loves art loves omission. I should like, for instance, if I could, to
write in the fewest words that lucidity requires. It has given me
pleasure to omit certain things from my garden.
But all the same—and I may as well confess it—fewer things would be
omitted from my garden if it were larger and in the heart of the
country, and if I had somebody to help me, and if by chance I happened
to know something about it.
ROSES: AND THE STORY OF "THE BLESSED ARTIST"
The terminology of the botanist is a standard joke, but as a matter of
fact, the botanist blunders into a good thing sometimes. It was rather a
fine idea to have in plants an order of those that bear the
cross—cruciferĉ. The turnip and sea-kale are among those whose petals
make the sign, but it need not shock us. Is there not loveliness in the
flower of the potato, and poetry in the foliage of the asparagus? On the
whole, I think the botanist makes me less angry than the horticulturist.
Why, for instance, are so many roses named after abominable
horticulturists or their wearisome female relatives? How can you call a
rose Frau Karl Druschki? I always call that great white rose Mabel,
because it reminds me of a large, lymphatic, handsome girl, who was
entirely without charm. Scent in a flower is charm in a woman. Frau Karl
Druschki has no scent. Hugh Dickson has nothing wrong with it but its
name. Fancy calling a beautiful apricot-tinted rose William Allen
Richardson! Its godfathers and godmothers in its baptism showed a small
sense of humour. Besides, its name is quite obviously Doris. It is
permissible to call a pink rambler Dorothy, but why add the unspeakable
surname Perkins? Why should a red rose be named after a duke? It is
insufferable, snobbish, and inept. No rose should be named after any
man, and should never bear more than the first name of a woman. Niphetos
is a possible name; it is the most sentimental of the white roses. But
almost all roses have their counterparts in women. There is, for
instance, in my garden a pink, useful, knobbly dumpling of a rose. I
have not the faintest idea what the horticulturist would call it, but no
one can see it without knowing that its real name is Kate.
I think the roses that I love best are those of the deepest and darkest
crimson. They have velvety skins and the most perfect fragrance. It is
part of the perversity of the thing that they should be so difficult to
manage. You feed them and tend them, and they give you scanty and
imperfect bloom, or they die, and the intelligent inquest results in an
open verdict. When that happens, the only consolation is to find
somebody else who has had the same trouble with the same rose. I have
not ventured to ask one of them to put up with a London garden as yet,
but I fancy one is coming to stay with me next year. Perversity haunts
the garden, and the dock always grows as near as possible to some plant
that you value. "Now then," says the dock, "if you dig me up, you'll
have to pay for it." But especially does perversity attach itself to
roses. What have I done for the perennial lupins? Nothing. And they have
given me numberless spikes of incomparable loveliness. What have I done
for the Canterbury bells? Nothing. And they also seem to like it. But I
did a good deal for that particular rose which I call Mabel, and then
there was a late spring frost. It was no fault of mine. I was not even
there when it was done. I was in bed at the time. But it annoyed Mabel.
She seemed unable to forget it. Why must those loathsome and
parthenogenetic green flies devour the tender roses? There is still a
certain amount of rhubarb in the garden, and they are welcome to it. I
would very much rather they ate it than that I should eat it myself. But
the green flies will not look at it. They cling to the rose and suck its
life out. Then, out of sheer devilry, they grow wings and migrate to
some other rose tree.
The queen demands homage, and the rose has received it to the extent of
countless volumes written by wise gardeners who have studied her
specially. Their learning appals. They almost deter the poor blunderer
in London from ever trying to grow a rose or to talk about one. A little
knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but the expert runs his risks also.
I was taken through a most beautiful rose-garden once, and I dared to
admire one particular bed. "Yes," said the owner of the garden almost
apologetically, "it's quite one of the old sorts." And then I was taken
to other beds in which was the very last word in roses—kinds that had
only been produced within the last year or so—and here the owner showed
more enthusiasm. Has it come to this then—that fashion is to stray from
the milliner's shop and find a place in the garden?
From motives of humanity I refrain from bringing out once more certain
over-worked quotations from Herrick and Omar; but in truth the poets,
like the scientific gardeners, have not spared writing materials where
roses were in question. They are ecstatic about the colour and
fragrance, and generally sentimental about the thorns, and never by any
chance allude to the culture. There is something feminine about poets.
They like the result, but they ignore the process, just as a woman eats
a lamb cutlet, but does not want you to talk about the slaughter-house.
Perhaps it is not to be expected that poets should mention the food of
the roses, and yet I hate a shirker of facts. I am not sure that there
is not something of poetry in the plain truth that in nature's impartial
chemistry there is only one step from muck to glory.
And now, if you are tired of uninformative talk about roses, I will tell
you the story of
THE BLESSED ARTIST
There was once an artist who lived in a great town. He was painting a
picture, and he took a great deal of trouble to make it as difficult for
himself as possible. He tried for effects of lighting that needed
miracles. In his work he sought and worshipped difficulties. In the
garden beyond the studio he found plenty of difficulty without seeking
for it. But this was difficulty of a kind that maddened him. He wanted a
garden, but he did not want to make a garden. So he employed a man one
day a week, and was profoundly dissatisfied.
One afternoon he had a dream. He dreamed that an angel came into his
room—a beautiful angel of the accepted Doré Gallery type. The angel had
a pleasant voice and said pleasant things to him.
"You have lived well," said the angel, "and you have worked well. You
have earned for yourself the blessedness that belonged to the Garden of
Eden. That blessedness shall fall upon your garden. Go and look at it."
So the artist went out on to his lawn and was quite surprised. It was of
one beautiful tint of fresh green all over, with never a brown spot.
There had been many daisies on that lawn, but they had all gone now. It
had suffered from moss, but the moss had vanished. It had been
superficially irregular, but it was now level. The perfect grass was
just three-quarters of an inch in height, and no tall bents stuck up
anywhere. He went to look at his roses. He remembered them as they had
formerly been—spindly bushes which he had forgotten to prune, and that
bore leaves only at the extreme end of their branches. They had changed
to compact bushes that were green all over and flowered like an
illustration in a seedsman's catalogue. Caterpillars had played havoc
with them aforetime, but now he could find no caterpillar and no trace
of the caterpillar's work. He went on to his two apple trees. They had
borne no blossom that year that he could remember, and the white tufts
of American blight had bedecked their trunks. The American blight was
all gone now. The blossom had set, and the fruit was swelling, and each
tree would bear exactly the right number of apples, neither more nor
less. The carnations were very large, numerous, and fragrant. The
madonna lilies promised well. There was no weed to be seen anywhere, and
the paths had been newly gravelled with the red gravel which he had
always wanted, and never been able to get. The very quality of the soil
had changed, and was now dark and rich. It was worth while to work in
such a garden as this; he took his coat off and went into the
potting-shed to get his tools.
And then he realised his blessedness. There was absolutely nothing for
him to do in the garden. It was all quite good. The drought had not
brought down the leaves nor cracked the surface. The strong winds had
not dishevelled and laid low the sunflowers. He noticed, moreover, that
things were tied up now with green bast to green sticks. He had always
wanted green bast and green sticks, but had used the other kind because
it was the only kind that the man round the corner sold.
He put on his coat and stretched himself on a deck-chair on the lawn in
the evening sunlight in a great state of contentment. When it grew dusk,
from the shrubbery at the end of the garden came beyond mistake the
voice of the nightingale. He had always wanted nightingales, but so far
he had put up with imitative blackbirds. Blessedness had come to him
He lit a cigarette and reflected how he would show his garden to Smith,
and how much Smith would be annoyed about it. Smith had a garden of his
own, and was a toilsome amateur with a certain amount of knowledge.
Smith would undoubtedly be green with jealousy. He would ask Smith to
luncheon, and afterwards they would have coffee in the garden. He would
carefully abstain from calling Smith's attention to anything; but he
would watch him, as he slowly drank it all in and meditated suicide.
On the day that Smith was to come to luncheon, the blessed artist rose
early in order that he might mow the lawn before breakfast. But when he
went out, he found that it did not require to be mown. The grass grew to
just the right height and then stopped. At luncheon Smith was inflated
with pride, and talked freely about begonias. He mentioned other things
which he had in his garden—things that that artist ought to come and
see. The artist sat quite meekly, and was very polite until luncheon was
over. Then he said: "I think we might have coffee in the garden, Smith,
if you call that backyard of mine a garden."
"Ah," said Smith, "you should give a little more time and attention to
Then they passed out into the garden, and Smith was struck dumb. At last
he said: "How do you manage to get those fine dark wallflowers in full
bloom at the end of June?"
"Takes a bit of management," said the blessed artist complacently.
Smith began to walk round the garden. He admired exceedingly. The
confession that he had got nothing like that escaped him frequently; and
when he had seen it all, he pulled from one pocket an old envelope and
from another a short stubb of a pencil.
"Look here," he said, "you might just give me the name of the chap who
does your garden for you."
"The angels do my garden for me," said the blessed artist.
"Oh, all right," said Smith, "if you don't want to tell me, you
And he put back the old envelope and the pencil in their respective
pockets, and he went away in a very bad temper. But this incident
reminded the blessed artist to countermand the jobbing gardener—a man
of intemperate habits and quite unfit to collaborate with angels.
The next day the artist went into his garden and enjoyed it extremely.
The day after he enjoyed it less.
The day after that he began to be dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction began to
settle like a cloud upon him. He wondered why. It came to him slowly
that he felt like a man who had stolen the Victoria Cross and was
wearing it ostentatiously. He was exhibiting a perfection for which he
had never worked; and there was no savour in it.
"Better," he cried, "imperfection towards which one has contributed
something. Better even the sickly wilderness that this garden once was."
The sound of his own voice woke him.
He found that he was sitting in a deck-chair on the lawn. It was a
decayed chair, having been left out in many rains. The lawn was just as
bad as ever it had been. He could almost hear the caterpillars crunching
up the surrounding vegetation. One glance showed him that his rose trees
were still a shame and a reproach. And down the steps from the house
came his old friend Smith, smiling and rubicund.
"Been asleep in this rotten old garden of yours?" he said. "It looks to
me as if you would have done better if you had been working in it."
"I am inclined to think so," said the artist.
As a rule it is easier to do much work than little. The man who is
underworked rarely does the little that he has to do thoroughly and
punctually. The more leisure one has, the more one desires.
I feel confident that if I had a thousand rose trees, I should be up
bright and early in the morning to do for them all that they required. I
should study the literature on the subject and become expert. Possibly I
should not go so far as some experts, who provide a kind of conical tin
hat for each rose bloom to shelter it from the rain. But it would not be
slackness which would stay my hand; it would be because I cannot think
that the conical tin hat adds greatly to the beauty of the garden.
But I have not got a thousand rose trees. It is none the less essential
that I should cut off all the dead blooms. This labour, carried out with
no unseemly haste, might possibly occupy me for five minutes.
And how many times have I shirked those five minutes of labour? I am
shirking them now. Let me see, where are the scissors?
THE FOUNTAIN: AND THE STORY OF "THE LITTLE DEATH"
I will admit that I very nearly erected a sun-dial in my garden. There
was a kind of snobbery about it. So many artistic people have erected
sun-dials in their gardens, that I supposed that I should be artistic if
I erected a sun-dial in mine. But all the time, somewhere at the back of
my head, was the conviction that the thing was rotten. I knew it was
rotten some time before I knew the reason why.
Sun-dials are not used nowadays for the purpose of telling the time. It
is therefore insincere and affected to put a sun-dial in a modern
garden. It is not conscientious. It is like the artificial creation of
worm-holes in the spurious-antique furniture. Where the sun-dial already
exists in an old garden one may be glad of it, but one may not
deliberately put a sun-dial into a new garden.
So I put in a fountain.
The simplest and most satisfactory way to get a fountain in one's garden
is to buy one from the fountain shop, make arrangements with the Water
Company, and get a real plumber to fix it. This did not appeal to me.
There was no adventure about it, it would cost too much, and I knew that
I should hate shop-fountains. I therefore designed and made my own
fountain, and will now instruct others how they may make one which will
be nearly as bad and delightful.
The first step is to find among your acquaintances a family where the
baby is grown up. Talk about babies. Ask if the baby had a tin bath with
a lid to it, the kind that its things are packed in when it goes to the
seaside in the summer. Ask further if that bath is still in existence.
If it is, then make the family give you the bath. It is to serve as the
reservoir for your fountain and is essential.
You proceed to the second step. In deciding where you would put your
fountain, you will remember of course that fountains always look best
among big trees with a green background. You now fix the disused bath
firmly in the tree twenty feet or so from the ground, in such a position
that it is secluded by foliage from the gaze of the curious and
impertinent. The chestnut tree seems to have been specially designed by
nature for this purpose.
Your third step would be to dig out the basin of the fountain. I chose a
spot under the trees mid ferns and laurels. I bought from a stone-yard a
cartload of material, half of it broken flat paving-stone and half of it
chunks, and I may add incidentally that I paid too much for it. I paved
the bottom of the basin with flat stone and concrete, leaving a space
for the jet of the fountain to come up in the middle. I used the flat
stone also for the border round the margin of the basin. At the back of
the fountain I built up the chunks to the height of six feet or so,
putting in plenty of earth with them. I have golden and silver ivies
climbing over the stones, and I have planted there anything which I
thought would grow.
The reservoir being in its place and the basin constructed, the next
step is to connect them. This is done by a compo pipe with a
surreptitious tap in it.
And after that you fill the bath with the garden hose and turn the tap.
As a rule nothing happens the first time, because there is air in the
pipe; but you can put the garden syringe to the fine nozzle in which the
compo pipe terminates, and draw out the air. My own fountain will play
for six hours continuously; and then when no one is looking one must
fill up the bath reservoir again.
It is really extraordinary how gardening turns decent, God-fearing men
into braggarts. I have said that I did this myself. I did design it. I
did direct the work, and to some extent assist in it; but can I fix
compo pipes on to holes in baths, or fine nozzles on to compo pipes? Can
I fit taps? Can I manipulate stone and concrete? Certainly not.
It is very useful to know a man who can do everything, especially when
one gets ambitious in a London garden. The same man who did the plumbing
work of the fountain also did the stone work. He built the palace—it
were an affectation of modesty to call it a kennel—in which the
Pekinese puppy lives when it is not eating the Iceland poppies. He
painted the garden seats. He is an expert in the removal of the American
blight. He has diagnosed that my wild cherry is bark-bound, and wishes
me to let him cut a slit in it, but I dare not. He is wonderful and he
The public fountain is always placed in an open space. There is a
tendency even among quite decent private people to use the fountain as a
lawn decoration. I like it better among trees myself; it is more
classical. It recalls more lines of Horace. The fountain must never be
allowed to play on a dull or cold day. And if you yourself are doing
something strenuous in the garden, it is irksome to have the fountain
playing while you are working. The fountain belongs to sunlight and
repose, and the garden that is not a place of rest is no garden. The
purr of the lawn-mower and the tinkle of falling water are the two most
soporific sounds in existence. They should be used by the medical
profession in the cure of insomnia. I do not know why, but people
generally seem to be a little proud of insomnia. They like to tell you
how many times in the night they heard the clock strike. One will do
almost anything to be interesting, undeterred by failure in it. This, I
suppose, it is which drives some to story-writing.
You may have chanced to hear the story of
THE LITTLE DEATH
There was once (but it must have happened a long time ago and in some
very distant island) a race of people who never slept. Occasionally they
became tired and lay down, but they never closed their eyes and never
lost consciousness. They had never heard of sleep. They had never
learned it. And in consequence they did a great deal of work, but they
died very young. They were quite happy about it of course, because one
never misses what one has never had. There may be something quite as
sweet as sleep which we ourselves do not miss, only because we do not
know about it.
One day a shipwrecked man was cast up on the shore. These were
hospitable people, and they took him up to the King's palace and
entertained him. And when night came, after he had feasted and drunk,
the King said: "And now what pleasure can we offer you? Would you like
to hear music, or to see the dancing-girls, or to ride out in the
The man laughed. "None of these things, sir," he said. "The day has been
long, and a feeling of weariness overcomes me. I should now like to
"That is some new game?" asked the King, intelligently.
"Sleep?" said the Princess Melissa. "We do not know that. What is this
The man explained it as best he could, and his account was received with
the greatest interest. Many questions were put to him.
"I perceive," said the King at last, "that this sleep is really a little
death. For the time being you are dead. Take my advice, therefore, O
stranger, and give it up. It is an awful risk, thus voluntarily to enter
into the place of death. Suppose that one day you find something there
that keeps you, and you cannot come back again."
The stranger explained that, so far was this from being the case, that
every time when he went to sleep he was more afraid that something would
wake him, than that he would never wake at all.
"I fear," said the King, "that this shows that you have not thought
about the matter profoundly."
"Possibly not," said the stranger. "But I am as I am constructed. I
sleep because I must sleep. Had I but a couch to lie upon, I could be
asleep now in five minutes."
"How exciting," said the Princess Melissa.
"May we all see it? May we watch you when you are dead of the little
"Most certainly," said the stranger politely. "I am so tired that I am
likely to sleep very soundly, but all the same noise or bright light
would wake me again, and that would make me very angry. I must beg,
therefore, that when you come to look upon me in my sleep, the light may
be subdued and no sound may be made."
And to this condition they agreed.
A room was prepared for the stranger in the palace. It was thickly
carpeted, so that no footfall could sound. It had a curtained entrance,
that the stranger might not be disturbed by the sound of the door
opening and shutting when people entered to see the show. The room was
dimly lit by the flame of a small lamp. In five minutes the stranger was
One by one they entered the room—the King, the Princess, and all the
people of the court—to see this new and awful phenomenon of a man who
was dead of his own volition and would yet come to life again. Three
ladies of the court fainted on leaving the apartment. The King became
terribly anxious. "This is a dangerous game," he said, "and must be
stopped at once. We do not wish to have the death of this stranger on
our conscience. Bring, therefore, bright lights and make a loud
But here the Princess Melissa intervened. "No," she said; "he is not
really dead, for he still breathes. I watched him most carefully and am
sure of it. It is an experiment which he has often made. He tells me
that he has had this sleep every night of his life."
"Doubtless," said the King, "he wished to make an impression; we are not
bound to believe that."
But the King was bound to admit, though he did so grudgingly, that a man
who breathed was not a dead man.
All the night through they watched outside the sleeping-chamber, and
about the middle of the night they heard a terrific sound.
"That," said the King, "is the cry of his death agony. I know it. I am
sure of it. We have done wrong."
As a matter of fact, the sound was the first snore which had ever been
heard in that island. It made even the Princess Melissa nervous. But she
investigated the phenomenon and reported that no interference seemed to
be required. The man was not only breathing, he was breathing more
strenuously than he did when he was awake.
Nevertheless a great weight was taken from the King's mind when his
guest came back to life again in the morning. It was noted that the man
was none the worse for his strange experience. He seemed even better for
it. He was more active and alert. His eye was brighter. He was instantly
ready to undertake the fatigue of swimming for a long distance in the
That morning, as he conversed with the Princess Melissa, he tried to
explain to her something even more strange than sleep—the dreams that
come to one in sleep. The two walked alone through the forest together.
"Tell me," said the Princess, "do you think that I also could sleep and
have a dream? I know it is bizarre and morbid, but I long passionately
and above all things to have this strange experience."
"So far as I can judge," said her companion, "you are constructed
precisely as the women of the rest of the world, where sleep is a
nightly event. I may be wrong, but I should imagine that if the initial
impulse could be given to you, you also would sleep."
The Princess clasped her hands in ecstasy. "How perfectly splendid!" she
said. "But then how am I to get the initial impulse?"
"What," asked the man, "is that glow of red amid the yellow in the field
"That is where poppies grow among ripening corn. But what have they to
do with the initial impulse?"
"They are it," said the stranger; "by means of those poppies I could
prepare for you the secret of sleep. But there would be a risk."
"You told me just now that in a dream it seemed to you that you were
sitting in a boat with an elephant, drinking tea, and the elephant had
on a small white coat with a rose in its buttonhole. That seemed as real
to you in the dream as it seems now that you are walking with me on the
edge of the forest?"
"Quite as real, absolutely real."
"Then for such a miraculous experience as that, who would not run any
risk? Come, we will go and gather poppies."
For the next few days the stranger was shut up in his apartments in the
palace, making the sleep-producing drug of which he knew. He had to test
it many times, that he might be assured that the Princess ran no risk.
And during these days the Princess Melissa gathered dry bracken and
carried it to the ruined temple that stood in the heart of the forest.
For it was there that she meant to yield to her great adventure.
The man continued to sleep at nights, always before a good audience. For
the wonderful story had been bruited abroad, and all the people in the
land were eager to see. One night he slept for a charity in which the
King was interested. Money was turned away at the doors, and the thing
was a great financial success. But one newspaper of the island
complained of the morbid character of the exhibition. "We cannot," wrote
the editor, "approve that this poor sufferer should be made to earn
money by what is doubtless his disease."
The time came at last on a hot afternoon in July. The Princess drank the
potion that was given her and lay down on the bed of bracken. The
stranger watched by her side.
"It is going to fail. I am not asleep," said the Princess; "I do not see
elephants or boats or anything but what is really here."
"Close your eyes," said the stranger; "relax your muscles, breathe
regularly, and count every breath you take up to ten. Then begin to
"It is no use," said the Princess wearily.
But in a few minutes she was fast asleep.
The Princess was young. Two years before she had fallen in love with a
man whom she could not marry, and the man had fallen in love with her.
There had been no scandal, such was the discretion that they used, but
there had been material for a scandal. The matter was all over now, for
the man in his wisdom had gone away.
When the Princess awoke, she sighed deeply.
"You have slept?" said the man.
"You have dreamed?"
"Tell me your dream."
"I cannot tell you my dream, but I have been to Paradise."
"Les yeux gris vont au Paradis," quoted the man.
"Now give me more of the poppy juice," said the Princess.
"No," said the man, "I have given you as much as you may take safely in
So the Princess pretended to be meek and obedient, and said it was very
well and she would think no more about it, and perhaps now sleep would
come to her at nights even if she did not drink the poppy juice. That
had broken down the barrier of the garden of sleep, and now she would be
able to enter the garden freely when she would.
"Perhaps," said the man.
But when for many nights she tried and could not sleep, she grew
rebellious, and going secretly to his apartments she procured the poppy
juice he had prepared. With this treasure in her hand, she went back to
the temple and stretched herself again on the bed of bracken. She drank
the whole of the poppy juice.
"For," she said aloud, "if the little death be so sweet, then—then——"
And here she fell asleep.
For ten successive days I had forgotten to buy the weed-killer;
therefore on the tenth day, which was a Wednesday, I went out to weed
the gravel paths with my own hands. It is not a pleasant operation. It
is, I believe, the thing in gardening that I loathe most.
The faint burble of water led me towards my fountain. It was playing
joyously, and some careless person had left beside it a garden-chair and
the current issue of Punch.
Any man with a sense of duty and a reasonable amount of will-power would
have turned off the fountain and got to work.
The sun was shining brightly. The day was warm. I had not seen that
number of Punch. And I did not turn off the fountain, I turned off the
But the next day I remembered to buy weed-killer. The commonest saying
of the Spaniard is not duly appreciated in this country, and is
especially useful in the summer-time.
THE STRUGGLE: AND THE STORY OF "ALFRED SIMPSON"
The garden is peaceful, and this is the more extraordinary because it is
really the perpetual scene of the bloodiest warfare, and this warfare is
the more acute in a London garden because in London there are more
enemies. One has the fight of the gardener against natural conditions,
his fight against the enemies of his plants, and the fight of the plants
One season there was a prolonged drought and the leaves of the trees
fell prematurely. "That's due to the drought," said the experts. The
following year the season was very wet, and once more my trees shed
their leaves before the time. "What else can you expect after all the
rain we've had?" said the experts. And in both seasons the dairymen, who
seem to have a touch of the expert about them, raised the price of milk.
Perhaps one year I shall find the kind of season which exactly suits my
To fight the drought I got me a great length of hose, and made the usual
arrangements with the Water Board. But once the question of a garden is
raised, the Water Board also seems to be infected with the military
spirit. I had a printed document from them, which was severe to the
point of truculence. They reserve themselves rights. They do not
guarantee. They are not responsible. They strictly forbid. With these
and similar phrases they teach the man who dares to use a hose what a
poor worm he is. They tell me that the hose must not be left unattended.
What am I to do with it then? Am I to sit up all night with it and hold
its nozzle? A wet season brings home to me the awful injustice of Water
Boards. Nobody who can get rain for his garden will use the hard, less
satisfactory, but highly valuable products of the Water Board. But in
the wet season, as in the dry, the consumer must pay. In strict justice,
the amount one pays for the water supply for the hose should in any
season be in inverse proportion to the rainfall during that season.
When the drought was here I watered my lawn profusely (and the Water
Board need not rage and swell, for I never left the hose unattended for
one moment). A little later I walked over the lawn to collect its
gratitude, as it were, and I saw hosts of strange and horrid things.
They were white, and yellow, and yellowish brown. They had come out of
the crevices, and they had crawled. When I thought that for weeks past,
this, my garden, had been providing them with sustenance, I was moved to
fury. But I did not lose my head. There is a right way and a wrong way
of doing everything. There is even a right way of killing slugs.
I have read in books that the gardener takes the slug and crushes it
under his heel on the gravel path; a jobbing gardener might possibly do
that—jobbing gardeners will do anything. Any man who does that is not
fit to have a garden. He is only fit to collect house refuse in an open
cart during hot weather.
My own method is simple and refined. I have a large jar filled with a
strong solution of salt and water. I have, moreover, a large pair of
surgical forceps serrated on the inner edge, price one shilling at the
shop in the Strand. With the forceps I lift up the slug and I place him
in the salt water; he dies incontinently and very neatly. My best time
so far is a hundred and one in a quarter of an hour. I have found out
the thing which the green fly absolutely cannot stand, and I give the
green fly plenty of that thing with the syringe. I destroy earwigs. I
destroy caterpillars. I have not yet reached the fine Tennysonian
sensibility of the gentleman "whose eyes were tender over drowning
flies." I kill some things that other things may live. They cannot all
have it their own way in my garden, and I must settle which side is to
prevail. All the same, I do sometimes try to look at it from the slug's
point of view. What does the slug think about it? Let us hope and
believe that the slug does not think about it.
With what brutality, too, does the gardener fight against the prolific
impulses of nature. The dead flowers must be picked off from the sweet
peas; otherwise they give up work early. If you cut down the lupine
spikes as soon as the beans have formed, you will get more spikes. (I am
told that this will not weaken the plant if it is well fed, but I never
do it myself.) And what does it all mean, when one comes to think of it?
These poor beautiful things live and struggle only for the perpetuation
of their kind. When that is done, their warfare is accomplished. We make
lovely gardens by thwarting and baffling this natural instinct.
Even among the plants that I tend there is civil war. My garden is
surrounded by tall trees, so that at any hour of the day I can get
shade. I would not have it otherwise. I would not lose one of the trees.
But they are all unprincipled robbers. Their roots spread far underneath
the ground. The fight goes on, and they steal the sustenance that one
has given to the roses.
I knew a man who admired in his neighbour's garden the golden stars of
the stone-crop. He put a little piece in an envelope and planted it in
his own garden. A few years later he turned out of his garden three
cartloads of stone-crop; that, I admit, was in the country. Australian
bamboo is determined and rapacious. It is easy to get it into the
garden. It is next to impossible to get it out. The smallest fragment of
root seems to be enough, and up it comes again. The perennial sunflower
is terrifically aggressive. It has a disregard of limits and wants the
world. If its masses of yellow flowers were not so exhilarating, I would
turn it out of my garden altogether. One would like to be able to argue
with these things. I should like to say to those sunflowers: "Try to
take example by the bergamot. It has the same perennial advantages as
yourself, and it is quite beautiful. In addition, the scent of its
leaves pressed in the fingers reminds one of Egypt. You do not find the
bergamot shoving itself forward wherever it has a chance. Contemplate it
and learn modesty." But argument does not avail with the perennial
sunflower. The knife and the spade are the things that it understands.
I fight the weeds of course, but I have vague ideas as to what a weed
is. I am quite merciless towards the bindweed, it is a murderer and a
garrotter; but with the materials at my disposal I could not make
anything quite so beautiful as its flowers. I found two low-growing
things in a flower-bed, which seemed to be of the clover kind. One had
small crimson-brown leaves with a flush of green on them; the other had
a much larger green leaf with a delicate design in grey on it. The
jobbing gardener said they were weeds, he would have turned them out. I
saved their lives, and the one with the reddish-brown leaf rewarded me
with any number of little yellow flowers. Were I a sentimentalist, I
should say that this showed its gratitude. Next year some more of the
same clovery thing came up in the middle of a gravel path, where it was
not wanted; was that gratitude?
When one comes into my garden at the close of a fine summer day, one
does really seem to come into a peaceful place apart, where the fight
for life no longer exists. But the fight for life exists everywhere, and
one can never get away.
Don't go, let me tell you the story of
Alfred Simpson was a nice-looking young man who had independent means
and other attractions. People liked him, but when they spoke of him it
was with a smile. "He is so easily influenced," said some. "He is so
frightfully obstinate," said others. "He has such funny ideas," said
Simpson could be easily influenced by anything he saw in print. From
views which he had formed in this way he could not be driven by spoken
words of mature and skilled experience. He had the very unusual habit of
acting upon his convictions, and the unusual is frequently funny. So
possibly in what they said about Alfred Simpson people had reason.
"I have definitely made up my mind," said Alfred Simpson one day. "I
will take no part whatever in the struggle. To struggle is vulgar. It
happens that I have just enough to live upon; but if I had not, I should
decline to earn anything. One cannot earn without beginning the
struggle. Just as I set no value on property, so do I set none on my own
rights. I would never resist anything."
Nobody minded. In spite of previous experience, nobody expected that
Alfred Simpson would be as good as his word.
Hector Brown was quite a different type of man. His friends said that
Hector was a rough diamond. His enemies said more briefly that he was a
rough. Hector Brown went to a dance, danced with Mary, took her into the
conservatory, and then and there kissed her—contra pacem and to the
scandal of the Government.
Mary was very angry. She had promised to marry Alfred Simpson, and it
was to him that she complained.
"Now, what you've got to do," said Alfred's friends, "is to punch Hector
"Why?" said Simpson.
"What will you ask next? For infringing your copyright, of course."
"That," said Simpson coldly, "would be quite contrary to the views which
I have already expressed to you."
So he did not punch Hector Brown's head, and Mary told Alfred Simpson
that he could go away and play by himself. Mary's decision was warmly
applauded by her parents, who had heard without enthusiasm of the noble
resolve on the part of their prospective son-in-law never to earn
anything. Three months later Mary married Hector Brown.
Now Alfred Simpson was not a coward. He was not quite so big and heavy
as Hector Brown, but he was quicker, harder, and in better training. He
had been boxing while Hector had been boozing. The instructor was of
opinion that Alfred could punch Hector when he liked, where he liked,
and as often as he liked. Of this Alfred's friends were well aware, and
it made them the more angry with him. They despaired. What could they
say to a man who banged the door on the primeval instincts and declared
that struggle, resistance, and retaliation were repugnant to him.
Alfred's subsequent refusal to secure a highly valuable post by the
medium of a competitive examination alienated his family, as he had
already alienated his friends. It is probable that his friends would
have refused to have anything whatever to do with him, but for one
fact—it was possible to borrow money from Alfred Simpson. They all did
it, except one man, but differed in the amount and the frequency of
their borrowings, according as their self-respect hindered or their
necessities encouraged them. The one man who would not do it was the
most confirmed borrower of them all. To the professional money-lender he
was well known. "But," he said, "I cannot borrow from Alfred Simpson; it
is altogether too easy—it is inartistic and gives me no satisfaction."
Without working Alfred Simpson could very well have lived on his income.
But his income depended on capital, and his capital rapidly dwindled to
nothing under the inroads made upon it. When his last hundred had been
lent to a young gentleman who wished to test practically his solution of
certain mathematical problems in the neighbourhood of Nice, Alfred
Simpson went with empty pockets to those to whom he had lent money, and
inquired if the repayment of the whole or part would be convenient. He
returned from this inquiry with one pound six shillings, and the happy
consciousness that he had not been vulgar. He had never insisted, he had
His next step was to sell the furniture of his well-appointed flat in
order to pay the rent for it. After that he lived on a fairly extensive
wardrobe and a few small articles of jewellery that he possessed. He
retained only the gold watch and chain which had been presented to him
by his mother on his twenty-first birthday.
There came a day when he had lunched lightly on his last six
collars—or, to speak with pedantic accuracy, on the meal which had been
provided with the money which had been acquired by the sale of those six
collars. In spite of this banquet, by eight o'clock in the evening he
felt hungry again, and our sentiments yield to our necessities. He
therefore went out to dispose of his watch and chain. He went through
Regent's Park and was stopped by a man whose appearance was against him.
He looked in so many directions at once that anybody else would have
"Could you tell us the time, Gov'nor?" said the man.
Alfred produced his watch. The man snatched it and the chain therewith,
and ran. He did not run remarkably well. It would have been perfectly
easy for Alfred Simpson to have overtaken him and to have given him into
custody. But such an act would have been inconsistent with the rest of
his career. So he gave up the idea of dinner and sat on the Embankment.
On the following day he remained in the parks until closing time and
then sat on the Embankment again.
And the next night he dreamed that he died on the Embankment.
And after death Alfred Simpson opened his eyes and saw that he was in a
large and very plainly furnished room. He sat on a hard bench, not
unlike that which had been his bed on the Embankment, and many others,
mostly of villainous appearance, sat there also.
"I say," said Alfred Simpson to the grey-haired reprobate next to him.
"This isn't Heaven, is it?"
The reprobate chuckled. "Not exactly," he said.
"Then what is it?"
"It's the waiting-room for lost souls before they take their trial."
"But I'm not a lost soul," said Alfred Simpson indignantly. "I ought not
to be here. I must have taken the wrong turning. I have never done
anything very wrong in my life, and I have done heaps of good. I gave up
the only girl I ever loved."
"I know," said the old man; "and in consequence she married a man she
did not love out of pique. He's a brute, he ill-treats her, and she will
die. You murdered her."
"This is terrible," said Alfred Simpson. "I had no idea of it. But I
have done lots of other good things. I refused to go in for a
competitive examination and take up a valuable post, in order that some
other man might enjoy it."
"I know," said the old man again. "The other man got it; he had not your
mental equipment and he was not equal to it. He bungled badly and
disgraced himself. That's him over there, the man with the bullet-hole
in his temples. It was his hand that held the revolver, but it was you
who shot him, Alfred Simpson."
"This is most distressing," said Alfred. "If I could have foreseen this
kind of thing, I should certainly have revised my ideas. I should have
drawn out another scheme for my life altogether. But as it is, I must
have done some good. I lent large sums of money without interest."
"I know," said the old man once more. "And by so doing you have turned
various people who might have had self-respect and industry into
worthless wastrels. The souls of some of them are waiting now to give
evidence against you."
"It is very sad," said Alfred, "that things do not turn out as one
intends. One of my last acts on earth was to allow a man to steal my
watch and chain. I suppose it is useless to plead that this was a good
"Quite. How can you suppose it to be a good action to put such a premium
Then the door of the waiting-room opened and there stood there a most
"Alfred Simpson," he called, in a fruity and resonant voice.
"Here I am," said Alfred meekly. "Could you tell me what I am charged
"You know perfectly well," said the policeman. "You are charged with
starting the millennium before it was ready."
The shock awoke him. He rose and walked to his father's house. His dire
necessities and abject condition broke down the alienation which had
existed between him and his family, and he was welcomed as the returned
prodigal. On the following morning, decently attired, with a bundle of
IOU's in his pocket, he started across Regent's Park to call upon his
solicitor. On his way he met a shabby man who looked in all directions
at once. The shabby man saw him and ran. Alfred ran also. He caught the
shabby man in an unfrequented part of the park, took from him fourpence
in bronze, which was all that he possessed, and administered to him an
extremely thorough hiding.
He handed the bundle of IOU's to his solicitor. Those who could pay in
full were to pay in full. Those who could pay in part were to pay in
part. Those who could not pay were to be left alone. Nobody was to be
ruined, but Alfred Simpson was to have some of his money back.
And later, some two years later, he married the widow of Hector Brown.
He is on his way to take up an important post in India, and she
accompanies him. They say that she looks quite young and pretty again.
She is certainly quite happy with her husband, though there are some who
think him a little too selfish and dictatorial.
NIGHT IN THE GARDEN: AND THE STORY OF "THE GHOSTLY MUSIC"
There are many things that may bring a man, normally sociable, into that
state of mind when it is not desirable that he shall dine out. Too many
wrong numbers on the telephone, too many visitors, too much
talk—anything in fact that jangles the nerves may be the cause. In my
case the cause was unimportant and uninteresting, but I was undoubtedly
in that state of mind. I had to dine out, and I had not the feeling of
gratitude which would have better become me. The idea of dining out
filled me with rage and despair—disproportionate, ludicrous, but quite
real. I recalled the words of a woman who had been through many seasons.
"I want," she said to me earnestly, "to be asked to everything and to go
And then the blessed sentence of reprieve came over the telephone. Never
before had I known what a lovely word chicken-pox is. Postponed is
another beautiful word; the long "o" sounds are like the coo of a dove.
My more important nerves that had been revolving rapidly like large hot
corkscrews began to shrink, to slow, and to cool.
Later, when it was dark, I went out into the garden. Lighted windows
patterned themselves on the lawn, and half-way across it a warm wave of
perfume met me from the white stars of the tobacco plants. The scents of
flowers please me. Lavender and rosemary, lemon verbena and musk, rose
and carnation—I have them all. But for scents in bottles or sachets,
the chemist's products, I have only hatred and contempt. The bottled
perfume is like mechanical music; the freshness and life have departed
Even in the daytime but little sound of traffic reaches my garden, and
at night there are such long stretches of precious silence that one
seems to be far from London. As one grows older one values silence
more—maybe a gentle providence, that in the end the great silence may
not be unwelcome. The years change in so many things our sense of value.
Property loses much of its attraction when one begins to think for how
short a time one may hold it. This is consolatory if one be poor. I
cannot own this scrap of London garden, but what matter? I may use it as
if it were my own in return for—well, for so many stories a year. The
transaction seems more estimable when the medium of exchange is not
I sat and smoked, and drank the silence "like some sharp, strengthening
wine". The great trees before me, motionless in the still air, were a
flat dark grey against a sky a little paler. Below, where in the
sunlight would be a riot of colour, were masses of velvety black out of
which only the white flowers spoke. The tall white hollyhock would be a
patient sentinel all night while its dark sister slept invisible. There
is peace in the gardens of the country—gardens far richer and more
beautiful than mine—but here the peace seemed deeper because of the
near contrast. Not far away the useful deadly motor-bus would be busy
for hours yet. Theatres would be full, and Fleet Street would be
strenuous, and (in houses which the chicken-pox had not yet reached)
people would be dining out. Perhaps, without being too artistic and
diseased, one who has sometimes liked crowds may sometimes like to
escape them. Dusk and sweet scents, silence and solitude—the London
garden has pleasant gifts for folks who are temporarily tired of things.
Across the lighted squares or mirrored windows on the lawn, slow yet
alert, crept a cat with a heart full of sinful purposes. It flickered
over the wall, poised clear against the sky for one moment, on its way
to blood and passion in some valerian-scented hell. The nocturnal cat is
supposed to be comic, but (in spite of many opportunities) I have never
managed to see the joke. There is something terrific in those lower
animals—there are several of them—that in certain moments produces the
sound of the human voice. Strange too is that electric repugnance that a
cat may set up. Unseen and unheard, her presence is yet felt and
loathed. She is a creature of the night, mysterious and satanic. Watch
her as she starts for the black sabbath—a voluptuous sprawl with claws
extended, steps of tense and measured stealth, and then a mad scurry.
Presently, you shall hear her cry like a woman, even as the wounded hare
sobs out her sisterhood. To-night it was as though for a few moments a
taint of monstrousness had passed through the peace of the garden.
Through an open window not far away came the sound of music—somebody
was playing the piano. Music heard from another house is supposed to be
a torture, and so (like the cat) has its place among the accepted jokes.
But, because to-night I was to have the luck—who invented
chicken-pox?—it was not distressing and funny. It was fine music played
by an artist on a good instrument. It had the quality of the night,
wistful and desiderious. Long ago and in a far country there was a king
who suffered from a restless melancholy, or a bad temper, or something
of that kind, and somebody made music for him. "So Saul was refreshed,
and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." Surely, that
nocturne was meant to be heard as I heard it—in a garden at night.
Alas, these concerts, with their awful too-muchness, and professional
smirks, and roars of ugly applause! I do not like to have music thus
administered. But for the music that visited my garden that night I had
the most grateful welcome.
When the chance things are charming they far surpass the calculated, and
love itself may be no more than a delightful accident. It was just by
chance that somebody in a lighted room, without a thought of audience,
went to the piano and remembered that music. Chance makes things grow on
old stone walls; and in the rich man's rock-garden, wealth, skill, and
calculation try to imitate the charm. The music ceased, and my gratitude
must remain unspoken—unless, by a chance that were wellnigh miraculous,
this page may carry it. But artists—be they makers of music or
pictures, poems or stories—must not think too much of gratitude; for
they will not always get it, and they will not always deserve it. That
king of old once flung a javelin at the musician who played before him.
Some lazy souls can never do their uttermost unless they are thrashed up
to it. A moderate amount of javelin—avoiding vital parts—is not always
bad for the artist.
My garden, they tell me, was once the garden of an old priory. Under one
corner of the lawn is the well that provided the religious with water.
It has been covered in with stone, and just over the stone the grass
refuses to grow. It is like a tonsure. But though I have been in my
garden I think at every hour of the night and of the early morning, I
have met no shadowy figures counting their beads or reading their little
illuminated books. These good people sleep long and quietly.
Let me tell you the story of
THE GHOSTLY MUSIC
There was once a master of music, who, from the charity of his heart and
from his love of excellence, took as his pupil without reward a young
boy that was greatly gifted. And in time it came to pass that the pupil
reached his zenith and the powers of the master had begun to decline, so
that it was said by some that the pupil now surpassed the master. And
the hints of this that came to the master's ears were to him bitter as
Now it happened one day that, as the pupil walked in a wood, music came
to him; and he hastened back to his house in order that he might sit
down at the piano and play it. For although, being a musician, he knew
quite well how the music would sound, he yet wished to hear it. And as
he was on his way, though it was a calm day, the great limb of a
treacherous elm fell upon him and crushed him so that he died. And in
his music-room his piano waited in vain.
Upon his death all bitterness passed away from the heart of his master.
Rivalry died with the rival. There came back to him old recollections of
the boy and of the esteem and affection in which he had then held him.
There was now no one who spoke of the dead musician with more generous
praise than his master. In his own music-room the master placed the
piano on which his pupil had been used to play. It had been specially
bequeathed to him. It was the dead man's gift.
But now the old man became himself conscious that he was not as he had
been. The fountains were dried up. Melody had ceased to come. He was
arid and unproductive. His fear that his power was leaving him tended
the more to diminish it. There were many long days and nights when he
could do nothing; and at such seasons he would not enter his music-room
upstairs, but sat in the room below it, trying sometimes to divert his
mind by reading, and at other times cursing the wretchedness into which
the course of nature had brought him.
After a long while it happened that one night when he sat late alone,
his wretchedness seemed to him more than he could bear. In a few weeks
he was to play before the King and there would be many great musicians
in the audience. On such occasions it had always been his custom to
produce some new work. Now he had nothing to give them. He would have to
fall back on the compositions of his younger days. He could picture in
his mind the meaning looks which the musicians would interchange. He
could hear their polite applause, and it was like a torture. The King,
himself no mean musician, might ask some question. He could not go into
that company and thus fail. It was not possible. It could not be asked
of him thus to debase himself. And there seemed to him but one
alternative—a little more than usual of that laudanum in which he had
lately sought inspiration.
But as he raised the glass to his lips he heard something so unexpected
that the glass crashed to the floor. In the music-room overhead someone
was playing the piano. Who could it be? No servant of his had that
skill, and besides, hours before his servants had gone to sleep. It was
divine music, entrancing, uplifting.
For a moment he hesitated, and then the desire to know overcame his
fears. He went up the stairs, and in the passage outside the music-room
he noted that a light showed under the door. Someone had switched the
light on then. Was it the carelessness of a servant? "Quite possibly,"
he said to himself. "Quite possibly."
He opened the door and entered, and his eyes flew to the piano. No one
was seated there, but the notes moved and the touch was human. He shrank
back from the piano and stood in the farthest corner of the room,
listening intently. When at last the music ceased, he had a great desire
to say something, and yet could choose no words. And, as he hesitated,
there was a sudden click and the lights were switched off. He fled from
the darkness down the stairs to the brightly lit room below. For a while
he was too overcome to be able to do anything; and then, for he had a
musician's memory, he took paper and wrote down the music that he had
A few days later it chanced that a great lady asked him what new music
he would play before the King.
"I have decided," said the master, "to play a composition of mine
that—if one must give these things names—I shall call 'The Sylvan
"Sylvan? How delightful. It represents scenes in the wood then."
The master shook his head. "Music represents nothing," he said. "Music
is music. It is not an imitation of a sylvan scene, or church bells
heard in the distance, or any other rubbish. I call this music 'The
Sylvan Sonata' merely because it has in it different phases of woodland
feeling. You understand me? It is the kind of music that might occur to
the mind of a musician when he was walking through a wood."
"But how that reminds one," said the great lady. "It was in the wood
that your favourite pupil died."
"I prefer," said the master sternly, "not to speak of that."
He preferred also not to think of it. The piano which had been
bequeathed to him was kept closed and locked now, and it was on another
instrument in another room that he prepared himself for the great
occasion. He was a fine executant, as not every composer is. He tried to
cheat himself. He said again and again to himself that what he had seen
and heard in the music-room that night was illusion. The notes had not
really moved. His brain had been over-wrought with worry and anxiety.
The music was really his own. But the attempt to cheat himself was idle,
for he knew too much of the characteristics of a promising young
composer who was now dead. No one else but him could have written that.
The evening came and the occasion found him equal to it. His playing of
"The Sylvan Sonata" was as near perfection as a man may attain. When he
had finished there were a few seconds of silence before the audience
could get back to the world again and begin their applause. And when
that had died away, many came up to congratulate him, and a critic of
"I am ashamed of myself," said the critic. "I confess that I had
thought, in company with many others, that you declined in power,
maestro. You have given us to-night something more superb than we have
ever heard from you before. You are at your very highest at this
The master did not seem to hear, did not seem to see the hands which
were stretched out to him. He sat looking intently before him, as at
some presence not visible to the others. And when he was summoned to
speak to the King, he rose stiffly and moved mechanically, looking now
and again over his shoulder, as at someone who followed him.
And when the King had finished his compliments, he drew a deep breath,
as of one who makes an effort. He swung round and pointed with a wave of
"Alas, sir," he said, "I am not he who made 'The Sylvan Sonata'. But the
composer is here. See him. He stands behind me. The face was somewhat
crushed by the fall of the tree, but it is made well again. It is as it
always was. It is his music, not mine, that I have played to you."
He stepped backward from the royal presence. The shiver of sensation
went through the great assembly. This was clearly aberration. Someone
should see to the old man. The trial had been too great for him, and his
reason had been overcome. A doctor should be summoned.
But before anything could be done, the old man had slipped out of the
assembly and left the palace and gone back to his own house. Once more
he poured the laudanum, and this time his hand did not fail him. When he
had drunk, he went up to the music-room again and unlocked the piano
that had once been his pupil's. He opened it and began to play.
It was there they found him in the morning.
It was late at night and I had gone out to see the September moon. It
was one of those nights which people like to say are as light as day. It
was not in the least as light as day. It was light grey and silver. It
was even black in places. I heard a faint crackle and could smell the
acrid smoke which mounted thin and straight in the still air from the
fire which had been made in the morning. There burned things which had
done their work and had been beautiful, but were now over.
The fire had been lit that morning and the lawn had been swept that
morning; but there was a rustle of fallen leaves about my feet. The air
was shrewd and chill. Next morning I should still see flowers in my
garden, but none the less the sentence had been pronounced. Summer was
I suppose it is a question of temperament. Youth can enjoy the moment.
Age must look forward. There is plenty of work to do in this garden in
the autumn, and not a little in the winter. And all the time one is
looking forward to the spring—to the coming of the new leaves and the
But then, throughout the summer, one is haunted with fear and hatred of
the coming winter. Even as one plants or sows, one seems to see the
September weed fire.
It is better not to be wearisome, sentimental, and self-pitying on the
subject, for one might get into that state of mind when, throughout the
winter, one would no longer dare to look forward to the summer, because
one would know the summer would be haunted with the hatred of the next
winter. From which refinement and desolation may I be delivered.