Bessie's Garden

by Caroline S. Whitmarsh

Above all things, Bessie loved flowers, but wild flowers most. It seemed so wonderful to her that these frail things could find their way up out of the dark ground, and unfold their lovely blossoms, and all their little pointed leaves, without any one to teach or help them.

Who watched over the dear little wild flowers, all alone in the field, and on the hillside, and down by the brook? Ah, Bessie knew that her Heavenly Father watched over them; and she loved to think he was smiling down upon her at the same time that his strong, gentle hand took care of the flowers and of her at once. And she was not wrong, for Bessie was a kind of flower, you know.

One day the little girl thought how nice it would be to have a wild garden; to plant ever so many flowering things in one place, and let them run together in their pretty way, until the bright-eyed blossoms should gaze out from the whole tangled mass of beautiful green leaves.

So into the house she ran to find Aunt Annie, and ask her leave to wander over on a shady hillside where wild flowers grew thickest.

Yes, indeed, she might go, Aunt Annie said; but what had she to carry her roots and earth in while making the garden?

O, Bessie said, she could take a shingle, or her apron.

Aunt Annie laughed, and thought a basket would do better; they must find one. So they looked in the closets and attics, everywhere; but some of the baskets were full, and some were broken, and some had been gnawed by mice; not one could they find that was fit for Bessie's purpose.

Then dear Aunt Annie poured out the spools and bags from a nice large work-basket, and told Bessie she might have that for her own, to fill with earth or flowers, or anything she chose.

Pleased enough with her present, our young gardener went dancing along through the garden,—Aunt Annie watched her from the balcony,—dancing along,—and crept through a gap in the hedge, and out into the field, that was starred all over with dandelions, and down the hollow by the brook, and up on the hillside, out of sight among the shady trees.

And how she worked that afternoon,—singing all the while to herself as she worked! How she heaped together the rich, dark mould, and evened it over with her little hands! How she dug up roots of violets, and grass, and spring-beauty, and Dutchmen's breeches, travelling back and forth, back and forth, never tired, never ceasing her song.

The squirrels ran up out of their holes to look at Bessie; the birds alighted over her head and sang.

While Bessie was bending over her garden so earnestly, thump! came something all at once, something so cold and heavy! How quickly she jumped upon her feet, upsetting her basket, and making it roll down the hill, violet-roots and all!

And then how she laughed when she saw a big brown toad that had planted himself in the very centre of her garden, and stood there winking his silly eyes, and saying, "No offence, I hope!"

The squirrel chattered as if he were laughing too; the bird sang, "Never mind, Bessie, never mind; pick up your violets, and don't hurt the poor old toad!"

"O no; it's God's toad; I shouldn't dare to hurt him," said Bessie.

Just at that moment she heard a bell ringing loudly from her father's house. She knew it was calling her home; but how could she leave her basket! She must look for that first; the hillside was steep and tangled with bushes, yet she must make her way down and search for the lost treasure.  

"Waiting, waiting, waiting!" suddenly sang the bird, from out of sight among the boughs; "waiting, Bessie," sang the bird.

"True enough," said Bessie; "perhaps I'm making my mother or dear Aunt Annie wait,—and they are so good! I'd better let the basket wait; take care of it, birdie!—and none of your trampling down my flowers, Mr. Toad!" And she climbed back again from bush to bush, and skipped along among the trunks of the great tall trees, and out by the brook through the meadow, hedge, garden,—up the steps, calling, "Mother, mother! Aunt Annie! who wants me?"

"I, dear," said her mother's voice; "I am going away for a long visit, and if you had not come at once, I couldn't have bidden my little girl good by." So Bessie's mother kissed her, and told her to obey her kind aunt, and then asked what she would like brought home for a present.

"O, bring yourself, dear mother; come home all well and bright," said Bessie, "and I won't ask any more." For Bessie's mother had long been sick, and was going now for her health.

Her mother smiled and kissed her. "Yes, I will bring that if I can, but there must be something else; how would you like a set of tools for this famous garden?"

Bessie's eyes shone with joy. "What! a whole set,—rake, and hoe, and trowel, such as the gardener uses?"

"Exactly, only they'll be small enough for your little hands; and there'll be a shovel besides, and a wheelbarrow, and a water-pot."

So Bessie did not cry when her mother went away, though she loved her as well as any one possibly could. She thought of all the bright things, of the pleasant journey and the better health; and then,—then of her pretty set of tools, and the handsome garden they would make!

It was too late to go back to the hill that evening; and on the morrow Bessie awoke to find it raining fast. She went into her Aunt Annie's room with such a mournful face. "O aunty, this old rain!"

"This new, fresh, beautiful rain, Bessie; what are you thinking about? How it will make our flowers grow! and what a good time we can have together in the house!"

"I know it, Aunt Annie, but you'll think me so careless!"

"To let it rain!"

"No,—don't laugh, aunty,—to leave your nice basket out-of-doors all night, and now to be soaked and spoiled in this—this—beautiful rain." Bessie's countenance did not look as though the beautiful rain made her very happy.

And good Aunt Annie, seeing how much she was troubled, only said, "You must be more careful, dear, another time; come and tell me all about it. Perhaps my Bessie has some good excuse; I can see it now in her eyes."

"Yes, indeed, I have," said Bessie, wiping away her tears. And the little girl crept close to her aunty's side, and told her of her beautiful time the day before, and of the bird, and squirrel, and toad; and how the basket rolled away down hill in the steepest place, and then how the bell rang, and she couldn't wait to find it.

"And you did exactly right, dear," said Aunt Annie. "If you had lingered, your mother would have had to wait a whole day, or else go without seeing you. When I write, I shall tell her how obedient you were, and I know it will please her more than anything else I shall have to say."

Dear Aunt Annie, she had always a word of excuse and of comfort for every one! Bessie was too small to think much about it then. She only pressed her little cheek lovingly against her aunty's hand, and resolved that, when she grew up to a young lady, she would be just as kind and ready to forget herself as Aunt Annie was.

Ah, it was not Bessie's lot to grow up to a woman in this world! Before the ground was dry enough for her to venture out in search of her basket, she was seized with a fever, and in a few days shut up her sweet eyes, as the flowers shut their leaves together, and never opened them again.

Then the summer passed, and the grass grew green and faded, and snow-flakes began to fall on a little grave; and Aunt Annie quietly laid aside the set of garden tools that had come too late for Bessie's use, and only made her mother feel sad and lonely when she looked upon them now. And all this time, what had become of the basket?

As it fell from Bessie's hands that bright spring afternoon, it had lodged in a grassy hollow, that was all wound about, like a nest, with roots of the tall birch and maple trees; close among the roots grew patches of the lovely scented May-flower; and all the rest was long fine grass, with a tiny leaf or a violet growing here and there.

The roots in the basket dried away, and died for want of water; but the earth that Bessie had dug with them was full of little seeds, which had been hiding in the dark for years, awaiting their chance to grow.

Broader and darker grew the leaves on the shady boughs above, higher and higher grew the grass, and all but hid Bessie's basket. "Coming, coming, coming!" the bird sang in the boughs; but Bessie never came.

So the summer passed; and when autumn shook the broad leaves from the trees, and some went whirling down the hill, and some sailed away in the brook, some lodged in Bessie's basket; a few to-day, and a few the next day, till the snow came, and it was almost full to the brim.

Sometimes there would come a hoar-frost, and then it was full of sparkling flowers so airy that the first sunbeam melted them, but none the less lovely for that; and they melted, and went down among the leaves, and seed, and sand, and violet-roots.

In spring the May-flowers perfumed the hollow with their sweet, fresh breath; but no one gathered them. The leaves and the grass nestled close to Bessie's basket, as if they remembered her; and drops of rain dripped into it from the budding boughs, and sparkled as they dropped, though they were full of tiny grains of dust and seed; and thus another summer passed, and no one knew what had become of Bessie's basket.

The bird sang, "Coming, coming!" but she never came.

So the third spring came round; and Aunt Annie was putting her closet in order one day, rolling up pieces, and clearing boxes, and smoothing drawers, when she came upon a little bundle. It was the bags, and work, and spools of thread—all old and yellow now—which she had poured out that morning in spring, in order to give the basket to her little niece.

"Dear child!" said Aunt Annie, "why have I never looked for the lost basket? The poor little garden must be swept away, but it would be pleasant to go where her sweet footsteps trod on that happy afternoon."

So she went, all by herself, in the same direction which she had watched Bessie take; and it seemed as if the little one were skipping before her through the garden, the gate,—the gap in the hedge was not large enough for Aunt Annie,—across the meadow that shone again with starry dandelions, along by the brook, and up the hill, till she was lost from sight among the trees.

How sweet and fresh it was in the lonely wood, with the birds, and the young leaves, and starry wild flowers, and patches of pretty moss! Did Bessie wait here and rest? Did she climb this rock for columbines? Did she creep to the edge of this bank, and look over?

So Aunt Annie seated herself to rest among the moss and roots and leaves; she picked columbines, climbing by help of the slender birch-trees; she went to the edge of the bank, and looked down past all the trees, and stones, and flowers, to the little brook below. And what do you think she saw?

What do you think made the tears come in Aunt Annie's eyes so quickly, though she seemed so glad they must have been tears of joy?

After a while Aunt Annie turned to go home. Why did she put the boughs aside so gently, and step so carefully over the soft moss, as if she feared making any sound. Can you think?

She found Bessie's mother seated at work with a sad face, and her back turned towards the window.

"O," said Aunt Annie, "how dark the room is, with all these heavy curtains! and how still and lonesome it seems here! You must come this moment and take a walk with me out in the sunshine; it will do you good."

Bessie's mother shook her head. "I don't care for sunshine to-day; I would rather be lonely."

Then Aunt Annie knelt by her sister, and looked up with those sweet eyes none could ever refuse. "Not care for sun, because our dear little Bessie has gone to be an angel! O, you must see the field all over buttercups and dandelions, like a sky turned upside down,—it would have pleased her so! and you must see the brook and woods; and then I have such a surprise for you, you'll never be sorry for laying aside your work."

"Is it anything about Bessie?" the mother asked, as they went down the steps, out into the bright, beautiful sunshine.

"Yes, yes! Everything makes you think of her to-day; I can almost see her little footsteps in the grass. A bird somewhere in the wood sung her very name,—and so sweetly, as if he loved her,—'Bessie, Bessie, Bessie,' as if he were thinking of her all the while!"

They reached the wood soon, for Aunt Annie seemed in haste, and hurried Bessie's mother on; though she had grown so happy all at once, that she wanted to wait and look at everything,—the little leaves in the ground, and the grass-blades, and clover, and bees even, seemed to please her.

When you find people sad, there is nothing in all the world so good as to take them out in the sun of a summer day. You must remember this; it is better than most of the Latin prescriptions doctors write.

When they were fairly within the wood, at the brow of the steep bank, Aunt Annie parted the branches with both her hands, and said, "You must follow me down a little way; come."

O, as Aunt Annie looked back, it seemed as if she had brought all the sunshine in her dear face! "Don't think of being afraid," she said; "why, Bessie came down here once! I have found her basket, I've found her beautiful garden!"

Yes, that was the secret! You remember the spot into which Bessie's basket fell; all intertwined like a bird's-nest with roots of the great tall trees; all green and soft with the fine grass that grows in the woods. Here it had lain ever since. Here it was.—

But you cannot think how changed! The violet-roots, the leaves, dust, rain, frost, seed,—you remember how they filled it, and withered to leave room for more, day by day, week by week.

Now these had mingled together, and made rich earth; and the seeds had grown, the tiny seeds, and were dear little plants and flowers, that hung about the edge, and crept through the open-work sides, with their delicate green leaves, and tendrils, and starry blossoms!

Violet, chickweed, anemone, spring-beauty, and dicentra, that children call "Dutchman's breeches," with its pearly, drooping flowers,—these had tangled into one lovely mass of leaves and blossoms, just such as would have made our Bessie sing for joy.

Yet you have not heard the best; Aunt Annie's footsteps on the moss would not have disturbed these. Right in the midst of the flowers in Bessie's basket a little gray ground-sparrow had built her nest of hair and moss, and there she was hatching her eggs! As they drew nearer, the little bird looked up at the ladies with his bright brown eye, and seemed to say, "Don't hurt me; don't, for Bessie's sake!"

No, they would not hurt Bessie's bird for the whole wide world. They went quietly home, and left him there watching for his mate, who had flown up towards the sky to stretch her wings a little.

Slowly, hand in hand, the sisters passed once more through the wood. They could not bear to leave so sweet a place. And all the while Bessie's bird sang to them his strange song, "Coming, coming, coming!" They heard it till the wood was out of sight.

"Yes, there are always good things coming as well as going," Aunt Annie said, softly, "if we are patient and wait. The dear child's basket has grown more useful and lovely because she lost it that bright day."

"And our lost darling?" Bessie's mother began to ask, and looked in Aunt Annie's eyes.

"Our Bessie's flowers do not fade now; there is no cold winter in heaven; she cannot lose her treasures there. And hasn't she grown more useful and lovely, living among the angels all this while?"

Then, from afar in the woods, they heard the low, sweet voice, that thrilled forth, "Coming, coming!" and Bessie's mother smiled, and said, "She cannot come to us, but we soon shall go to her; and O, our darling's hand in ours, how gladly shall we walk in the Eternal Garden!"