Elizabeth and her German Garden
by Elizabeth von Arnim
—I love my garden. I am writing in it now in the late afternoon
loveliness, much interrupted by the mosquitoes and the temptation to
look at all the glories of the new green leaves washed half an hour
ago in a cold shower. Two owls are perched near me, and are carrying
on a long conversation that I enjoy as much as any warbling of
nightingales. The gentleman owl says [[musical notes occur here in the
printed text]], and she answers from her tree a little way off,
[[musical notes]], beautifully assenting to and completing her lord's
remark, as becomes a properly constructed German she-owl. They say the
same thing over and over again so emphatically that I think it must be
something nasty about me; but I shall not let myself be frightened
away by the sarcasm of owls.
This is less a garden than a wilderness. No one has lived in the
house, much less in the garden, for twenty-five years, and it is such
a pretty old place that the people who might have lived here and did
not, deliberately preferring the horrors of a flat in a town, must
have belonged to that vast number of eyeless and earless persons of
whom the world seems chiefly composed. Noseless too, though it does
not sound pretty; but the greater part of my spring happiness is due
to the scent of the wet earth and young leaves.
I am always happy (out of doors be it understood, for indoors
there are servants and furniture) but in quite different ways, and my
spring happiness bears no resemblance to my summer or autumn
happiness, though it is not more intense, and there were days last
winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden, in
spite of my years and children. But I did it behind a bush, having a
due regard for the decencies.
There are so many bird-cherries round me, great trees with branches
sweeping the grass, and they are so wreathed just now with white
blossoms and tenderest green that the garden looks like a wedding. I
never saw such masses of them; they seemed to fill the place. Even
across a little stream that bounds the garden on the east, and right
in the middle of the cornfield beyond, there is an immense one, a
picture of grace and glory against the cold blue of the spring sky.
My garden is surrounded by cornfields and meadows, and beyond are
great stretches of sandy heath and pine forests, and where the forests
leave off the bare heath begins again; but the forests are beautiful
in their lofty, pink-stemmed vastness, far overhead the crowns of
softest gray-green, and underfoot a bright green wortleberry carpet,
and everywhere the breathless silence; and the bare heaths are
beautiful too, for one can see across them into eternity almost, and
to go out on to them with one's face towards the setting sun is like
going into the very presence of God.
In the middle of this plain is the oasis of birdcherries and
greenery where I spend my happy days, and in the middle of the oasis
is the gray stone house with many gables where I pass my reluctant
nights. The house is very old, and has been added to at various times.
It was a convent before the Thirty Years' War, and the vaulted chapel,
with its brick floor worn by pious peasant knees, is now used as a
hall. Gustavus Adolphus and his Swedes passed through more than once,
as is duly recorded in archives still preserved, for we are on what
was then the high-road between Sweden and Brandenburg the unfortunate.
The Lion of the North was no doubt an estimable person and acted
wholly up to his convictions, but he must have sadly upset the
peaceful nuns, who were not without convictions of their own, sending
them out on to the wide, empty plain to piteously seek some life to
replace the life of silence here.
From nearly all the windows of the house I can look out across the
plain, with no obstacle in the shape of a hill, right away to a blue
line of distant forest, and on the west side uninterruptedly to the
setting sun—nothing but a green, rolling plain, with a sharp edge
against the sunset. I love those west windows better than any others,
and have chosen my bedroom on that side of the house so that even
times of hair-brushing may not be entirely lost, and the young woman
who attends to such matters has been taught to fulfil her duties
about a mistress recumbent in an easychair before an open window, and
not to profane with chatter that sweet and solemn time. This girl is
grieved at my habit of living almost in the garden, and all her ideas
as to the sort of life a respectable German lady should lead have got
into a sad muddle since she came to me. The people round about are
persuaded that I am, to put it as kindly as possible, exceedingly
eccentric, for the news has travelled that I spend the day out of
doors with a book, and that no mortal eye has ever yet seen me sew or
cook. But why cook when you can get some one to cook for you? And as
for sewing, the maids will hem the sheets better and quicker than I
could, and all forms of needlework of the fancy order are inventions
of the evil one for keeping the foolish from applying their heart to
We had been married five years before it struck us that we might
as well make use of this place by coming down and living in it. Those
five years were spent in a flat in a town, and during their whole
interminable length I was perfectly miserable and perfectly healthy,
which disposes of the ugly notion that has at times disturbed me that
my happiness here is less due to the garden than to a good digestion.
And while we were wasting our lives there, here was this dear place
with dandelions up to the very door, all the paths grass-grown and
completely effaced, in winter so lonely, with nobody but the north
wind taking the least notice of it, and in May—in all those five
lovely Mays— no one to look at the wonderful bird-cherries and still
more wonderful masses of lilacs, everything glowing and blowing, the
virginia creeper madder every year, until at last, in October, the
very roof was wreathed with blood-red tresses, the owls and the
squirrels and all the blessed little birds reigning supreme, and not a
living creature ever entering the empty house except the snakes, which
got into the habit during those silent years of wriggling up the south
wall into the rooms on that side whenever the old housekeeper opened
the windows. All that was here,—peace, and happiness, and a
reasonable life,— and yet it never struck me to come and live in it.
Looking back I am astonished, and can in no way account for the
tardiness of my discovery that here, in this far-away corner, was my
kingdom of heaven. Indeed, so little did it enter my head to even use
the place in summer, that I submitted to weeks of seaside life with
all its horrors every year; until at last, in the early spring of last
year, having come down for the opening of the village school, and
wandering out afterwards into the bare and desolate garden, I don't
know what smell of wet earth or rotting leaves brought back my
childhood with a rush and all the happy days I had spent in a garden.
Shall I ever forget that day? It was the beginning of my real life,
my coming of age as it were, and entering into my kingdom. Early
March, gray, quiet skies, and brown, quiet earth; leafless and sad and
lonely enough out there in the damp and silence, yet there I stood
feeling the same rapture of pure delight in the first breath of spring
that I used to as a child, and the five wasted years fell from me like
a cloak, and the world was full of hope, and I vowed myself then and
there to nature, and have been happy ever since.
My other half being indulgent, and with some faint thought perhaps
that it might be as well to look after the place, consented to live in
it at any rate for a time; whereupon followed six specially blissful
weeks from the end of April into June, during which I was here alone,
supposed to be superintending the painting and papering, but as a
matter of fact only going into the house when the workmen had gone out
How happy I was! I don't remember any time quite so perfect since
the days when I was too little to do lessons and was turned out with
sugar on my eleven o'clock bread and butter on to a lawn closely
strewn with dandelions and daisies. The sugar on the bread and butter
has lost its charm, but I love the dandelions and daisies even more
passionately now than then, and never would endure to see them all
mown away if I were not certain that in a day or two they would be
pushing up their little faces again as jauntily as ever. During those
six weeks I lived in a world of dandelions and delights. The
dandelions carpeted the three lawns,— they used to be lawns, but have
long since blossomed out into meadows filled with every sort of pretty
weed,— and under and among the groups of leafless oaks and beeches
were blue hepaticas, white anemones, violets, and celandines in
sheets. The celandines in particular delighted me with their clean,
happy brightness, so beautifully trim and newly varnished, as though
they too had had the painters at work on them. Then, when the anemones
went, came a few stray periwinkles and Solomon's Seal, and all the
birdcherries blossomed in a burst. And then, before I had a little got
used to the joy of their flowers against the sky, came the
lilacs—masses and masses of them, in clumps on the grass, with other
shrubs and trees by the side of walks, and one great continuous bank
of them half a mile long right past the west front of the house, away
down as far as one could see, shining glorious against a background of
firs. When that time came, and when, before it was over, the acacias
all blossomed too, and four great clumps of pale, silvery-pink peonies
flowered under the south windows, I felt so absolutely happy, and
blest, and thankful, and grateful, that I really cannot describe it.
My days seemed to melt away in a dream of pink and purple peace.
There were only the old housekeeper and her handmaiden in the
house, so that on the plea of not giving too much trouble I could
indulge what my other half calls my _fantaisie_ _dereglee_ as regards
meals— that is to say, meals so simple that they could be brought out
to the lilacs on a tray; and I lived, I remember, on salad and bread
and tea the whole time, sometimes a very tiny pigeon appearing at
lunch to save me, as the old lady thought, from starvation. Who but a
woman could have stood salad for six weeks, even salad sanctified by
the presence and scent of the most gorgeous lilac masses? I did, and
grew in grace every day, though I have never liked it since. How often
now, oppressed by the necessity of assisting at three dining-room
meals daily, two of which are conducted by the functionaries held
indispensable to a proper maintenance of the family dignity, and all
of which are pervaded by joints of meat, how often do I think of my
salad days, forty in number, and of the blessedness of being alone as
I was then alone!
And then the evenings, when the workmen had all gone and the house
was left to emptiness and echoes, and the old housekeeper had gathered
up her rheumatic limbs into her bed, and my little room in quite
another part of the house had been set ready, how reluctantly I used
to leave the friendly frogs and owls, and with my heart somewhere down
in my shoes lock the door to the garden behind me, and pass through
the long series of echoing south rooms full of shadows and ladders and
ghostly pails of painters' mess, and humming a tune to make myself
believe I liked it, go rather slowly across the brick-floored hall, up
the creaking stairs, down the long whitewashed passage, and with a
final rush of panic whisk into my room and double lock and bolt the
There were no bells in the house, and I used to take a great
dinner-bell to bed with me so that at least I might be able to make a
noise if frightened in the night, though what good it would have been
I don't know, as there was no one to hear. The housemaid slept in
another little cell opening out of mine, and we two were the only
living creatures in the great empty west wing. She evidently did not
believe in ghosts, for I could hear how she fell asleep immediately
after getting into bed; nor do I believe in them, "mais je les
redoute," as a French lady said, who from her books appears to have
The dinner-bell was a great solace; it was never rung, but it
comforted me to see it on the chair beside my bed, as my nights were
anything but placid, it was all so strange, and there were such queer
creakings and other noises. I used to lie awake for hours, startled
out of a light sleep by the cracking of some board, and listen to the
indifferent snores of the girl in the next room. In the morning, of
course, I was as brave as a lion and much amused at the cold
perspirations of the night before; but even the nights seem to me now
to have been delightful, and myself like those historic boys who heard
a voice in every wind and snatched a fearful joy. I would gladly
shiver through them all over again for the sake of the beautiful
purity of the house, empty of servants and upholstery.
How pretty the bedrooms looked with nothing in them but their
cheerful new papers! Sometimes I would go into those that were
finished and build all sorts of castles in the air about their future
and their past. Would the nuns who had lived in them know their little
white-washed cells again, all gay with delicate flower papers and
clean white paint? And how astonished they would be to see cell No. 14
turned into a bathroom, with a bath big enough to insure a cleanliness
of body equal to their purity of soul! They would look upon it as a
snare of the tempter; and I know that in my own case I only began to
be shocked at the blackness of my nails the day that I began to lose
the first whiteness of my soul by falling in love at fifteen with the
parish organist, or rather with the glimpse of surplice and Roman nose
and fiery moustache which was all I ever saw of him, and which I loved
to distraction for at least six months; at the end of which time,
going out with my governess one day, I passed him in the street, and
discovered that his unofficial garb was a frock-coat combined with a
turn-down collar and a "bowler" hat, and never loved him any more.
The first part of that time of blessedness was the most perfect,
for I had not a thought of anything but the peace and beauty all round
me. Then he appeared suddenly who has a right to appear when and how
he will and rebuked me for never having written, and when I told him
that I had been literally too happy to think of writing, he seemed to
take it as a reflection on himself that I could be happy alone. I took
him round the garden along the new paths I had had made, and showed
him the acacia and lilac glories, and he said that it was the purest
selfishness to enjoy myself when neither he nor the offspring were
with me, and that the lilacs wanted thoroughly pruning. I tried to
appease him by offering him the whole of my salad and toast supper
which stood ready at the foot of the little verandah steps when we
came back, but nothing appeased that Man of Wrath, and he said he
would go straight back to the neglected family. So he went; and the
remainder of the precious time was disturbed by twinges of conscience
(to which I am much subject) whenever I found myself wanting to jump
for joy. I went to look at the painters every time my feet were for
taking me to look at the garden; I trotted diligently up and down the
passages; I criticised and suggested and commanded more in one day
than I had done in all the rest of the time; I wrote regularly and
sent my love; but I could not manage to fret and yearn. What are you
to do if your conscience is clear and your liver in order and the sun
—I knew nothing whatever last year about gardening and this year
know very little more, but I have dawnings of what may be done, and
have at least made one great stride— from ipomaea to tea-roses.
The garden was an absolute wilderness. It is all round the house,
but the principal part is on the south side and has evidently always
been so. The south front is one-storied, a long series of rooms
opening one into the other, and the walls are covered with virginia
creeper. There is a little verandah in the middle, leading by a flight
of rickety wooden steps down into what seems to have been the only
spot in the whole place that was ever cared for. This is a semicircle
cut into the lawn and edged with privet, and in this semicircle are
eleven beds of different sizes bordered with box and arranged round a
sun-dial, and the sun-dial is very venerable and moss-grown, and
greatly beloved by me. These beds were the only sign of any attempt at
gardening to be seen (except a solitary crocus that came up all by
itself each spring in the grass, not because it wanted to, but because
it could not help it), and these I had sown with ipomaea, the whole
eleven, having found a German gardening book, according to which
ipomaea in vast quantities was the one thing needful to turn the most
hideous desert into a paradise. Nothing else in that book was
recommended with anything like the same warmth, and being entirely
ignorant of the quantity of seed necessary, I bought ten pounds of it
and had it sown not only in the eleven beds but round nearly every
tree, and then waited in great agitation for the promised paradise to
appear. It did not, and I learned my first lesson.
Luckily I had sown two great patches of sweetpeas which made me
very happy all the summer, and then there were some sunflowers and a
few hollyhocks under the south windows, with Madonna lilies in
between. But the lilies, after being transplanted, disappeared to my
great dismay, for how was I to know it was the way of lilies? And the
hollyhocks turned out to be rather ugly colours, so that my first
summer was decorated and beautified solely by sweet-peas. At present
we are only just beginning to breathe after the bustle of getting new
beds and borders and paths made in time for this summer. The eleven
beds round the sun-dial are filled with roses, but I see already that
I have made mistakes with some. As I have not a living soul with whom
to hold communion on this or indeed on any matter, my only way of
learning is by making mistakes. All eleven were to have been carpeted
with purple pansies, but finding that I had not enough and that nobody
had any to sell me, only six have got their pansies, the others being
sown with dwarf mignonette. Two of the eleven are filled with Marie
van Houtte roses, two with Viscountess Folkestone, two with Laurette
Messimy, one with Souvenir de la Malmaison, one with Adam and
Devoniensis, two with Persian Yellow and Bicolor, and one big bed
behind the sun-dial with three sorts of red roses (seventy-two in
all), Duke of Teck, Cheshunt Scarlet, and Prefet de Limburg. This bed
is, I am sure, a mistake, and several of the others are, I think, but
of course I must wait and see, being such an ignorant person. Then I
have had two long beds made in the grass on either side of the
semicircle, each sown with mignonette, and one filled with Marie van
Houtte, and the other with Jules Finger and the Bride; and in a warm
corner under the drawing-room windows is a bed of Madame Lambard,
Madame de Watteville, and Comtesse Riza du Parc; while farther down
the garden, sheltered on the north and west by a group of beeches and
lilacs, is another large bed, containing Rubens, Madame Joseph
Schwartz, and the Hen. Edith Gifford. All these roses are dwarf; I
have only two standards in the whole garden, two Madame George
Bruants, and they look like broomsticks. How I long for the day when
the tea-roses open their buds! Never did I look forward so intensely
to anything; and every day I go the rounds, admiring what the dear
little things have achieved in the twentyfour hours in the way of new
leaf or increase of lovely red shoot.
The hollyhocks and lilies (now flourishing) are still under the
south windows in a narrow border on the top of a grass slope, at the
foot of which I have sown two long borders of sweetpeas facing the
rose beds, so that my roses may have something almost as sweet as
themselves to look at until the autumn, when everything is to make
place for more tea-roses. The path leading away from this semicircle
down the garden is bordered with China roses, white and pink, with
here and there a Persian Yellow. I wish now I had put tea-roses there,
and I have misgivings as to the effect of the Persian Yellows among
the Chinas, for the Chinas are such wee little baby things, and the
Persian Yellows look as though they intended to be big bushes.
There is not a creature in all this part of the world who could in
the least understand with what heart-beatings I am looking forward to
the flowering of these roses, and not a German gardening book that
does not relegate all tea-roses to hot-houses, imprisoning them for
life, and depriving them for ever of the breath of God. It was no
doubt because I was so ignorant that I rushed in where Teutonic angels
fear to tread and made my tea-roses face a northern winter; but they
did face it under fir branches and leaves, and not one has suffered,
and they are looking to-day as happy and as determined to enjoy
themselves as any roses, I am sure, in Europe.
—To-day I am writing on the verandah with the three babies, more
persistent than mosquitoes, raging round me, and already several of
the thirty fingers have been in the ink-pot and the owners consoled
when duty pointed to rebukes. But who can rebuke such penitent and
drooping sunbonnets? I can see nothing but sunbonnets and pinafores
and nimble black legs.
These three, their patient nurse, myself, the gardener, and the
gardener's assistant, are the only people who ever go into my garden,
but then neither are we ever out of it. The gardener has been here a
year and has given me notice regularly on the first of every month,
but up to now has been induced to stay on. On the first of this month
he came as usual, and with determination written on every feature told
me he intended to go in June, and that nothing should alter his
decision. I don't think he knows much about gardening, but he can at
least dig and water, and some of the things he sows come up, and some
of the plants he plants grow, besides which he is the most
unflaggingly industrious person I ever saw, and has the great merit of
never appearing to take the faintest interest in what we do in the
garden. So I have tried to keep him on, not knowing what the next one
may be like, and when I asked him what he had to complain of and he
replied "Nothing," I could only conclude that he has a personal
objection to me because of my eccentric preference for plants in
groups rather than plants in lines. Perhaps, too, he does not like the
extracts from gardening books I read to him sometimes when he is
planting or sowing something new. Being so helpless myself, I thought
it simpler, instead of explaining, to take the book itself out to him
and let him have wisdom at its very source, administering it in doses
while he worked. I quite recognise that this must be annoying, and
only my anxiety not to lose a whole year through some stupid mistake
has given me the courage to do it. I laugh sometimes behind the book
at his disgusted face, and wish we could be photographed, so that I
may be reminded in twenty years' time, when the garden is a bower of
loveliness and I learned in all its ways, of my first happy struggles
All through April he was putting the perennials we had sown in the
autumn into their permanent places, and all through April he went
about with a long piece of string making parallel lines down the
borders of beautiful exactitude and arranging the poor plants like
soldiers at a review. Two long borders were done during my absence one
day, and when I explained that I should like the third to have plants
in groups and not in lines, and that what I wanted was a natural
effect with no bare spaces of earth to be seen, he looked even more
gloomily hopeless than usual; and on my going out later on to see the
result, I found he had planted two long borders down the sides of a
straight walk with little lines of five plants in a row—first five
pinks, and next to them five rockets, and behind the rockets five
pinks, and behind the pinks five rockets, and so on with different
plants of every sort and size down to the end. When I protested, he
said he had only carried out my orders and had known it would not look
well; so I gave in, and the remaining borders were done after the
pattern of the first two, and I will have patience and see how they
look this summer, before digging them up again; for it becomes
beginners to be humble.
If I could only dig and plant myself! How much easier, besides
being so fascinating, to make your own holes exactly where you want
them and put in your plants exactly as you choose instead of giving
orders that can only be half understood from the moment you depart
from the lines laid down by that long piece of string! In the first
ecstasy of having a garden all my own, and in my burning impatience to
make the waste places blossom like a rose, I did one warm Sunday in
last year's April during the servants' dinner hour, doubly secure from
the gardener by the day and the dinner, slink out with a spade and a
rake and feverishly dig a little piece of ground and break it up and
sow surreptitious ipomaea, and run back very hot and guilty into the
house, and get into a chair and behind a book and look languid just in
time to save my reputation. And why not? It is not graceful, and it
makes one hot; but it is a blessed sort of work, and if Eve had had a
spade in Paradise and known what to do with it, we should not have had
all that sad business of the apple.
What a happy woman I am living in a garden, with books, babies,
birds, and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them! Yet my town
acquaintances look upon it as imprisonment, and burying, and I don't
know what besides, and would rend the air with their shrieks if
condemned to such a life. Sometimes I feel as if I were blest above
all my fellows in being able to find my happiness so easily. I believe
I should always be good if the sun always shone, and could enjoy
myself very well in Siberia on a fine day. And what can life in town
offer in the way of pleasure to equal the delight of any one of the
calm evenings I have had this month sitting alone at the foot of the
verandah steps, with the perfume of young larches all about, and the
May moon hanging low over the beeches, and the beautiful silence made
only more profound in its peace by the croaking of distant frogs and
hooting of owls? A cockchafer darting by close to my ear with a loud
hum sends a shiver through me, partly of pleasure at the reminder of
past summers, and partly of fear lest he should get caught in my hair.
The Man of Wrath says they are pernicious creatures and should be
killed. I would rather get the killing done at the end of the summer
and not crush them out of such a pretty world at the very beginning
of all the fun.
This has been quite an eventful afternoon. My eldest baby, born in
April, is five years old, and the youngest, born in June, is three; so
that the discerning will at once be able to guess the age of the
remaining middle or May baby. While I was stooping over a group of
hollyhocks planted on the top of the only thing in the shape of a hill
the garden possesses, the April baby, who had been sitting pensive on
a tree stump close by, got up suddenly and began to run aimlessly
about, shrieking and wringing her hands with every symptom of terror.
I stared, wondering what had come to her; and then I saw that a whole
army of young cows, pasturing in a field next to the garden, had got
through the hedge and were grazing perilously near my tea-roses and
most precious belongings. The nurse and I managed to chase them away,
but not before they had trampled down a border of pinks and lilies in
the cruellest way, and made great holes in a bed of China roses, and
even begun to nibble at a Jackmanni clematis that I am trying to
persuade to climb up a tree trunk. The gloomy gardener happened to be
ill in bed, and the assistant was at vespers— as Lutheran Germany
calls afternoon tea or its equivalent— so the nurse filled up the
holes as well as she could with mould, burying the crushed and mangled
roses, cheated for ever of their hopes of summer glory, and I stood by
looking on dejectedly. The June baby, who is two feet square and
valiant beyond her size and years, seized a stick much bigger than
herself and went after the cows, the cowherd being nowhere to be seen.
She planted herself in front of them brandishing her stick, and they
stood in a row and stared at her in great astonishment; and she kept
them off until one of the men from the farm arrived with a whip, and
having found the cowherd sleeping peacefully in the shade, gave him a
sound beating. The cowherd is a great hulking young man, much bigger
than the man who beat him, but he took his punishment as part of the
day's work and made no remark of any sort. It could not have hurt him
much through his leather breeches, and I think he deserved it; but it
must be demoralising work for a strong young man with no brains
looking after cows. Nobody with less imagination than a poet ought to
take it up as a profession.
After the June baby and I had been welcomed back by the other two
with as many hugs as though we had been restored to them from great
perils, and while we were peacefully drinking tea under a beech tree,
I happened to look up into its mazy green, and there, on a branch
quite close to my head, sat a little baby owl. I got on the seat and
caught it easily, for it could not fly, and how it had reached the
branch at all is a mystery. It is a little round ball of gray fluff,
with the quaintest, wisest, solemn face. Poor thing! I ought to have
let it go, but the temptation to keep it until the Man of Wrath, at
present on a journey, has seen it was not to be resisted, as he has
often said how much he would like to have a young owl and try and tame
it. So I put it into a roomy cage and slung it up on a branch near
where it had been sitting, and which cannot be far from its nest and
its mother. We had hardly subsided again to our tea when I saw two
more balls of fluff on the ground in the long grass and scarcely
distinguishable at a little distance from small mole-hills. These were
promptly united to their relation in the cage, and now when the Man of
Wrath comes home, not only shall he be welcomed by a wife decked with
the orthodox smiles, but by the three little longed-for owls. Only it
seems wicked to take them from their mother, and I know that I shall
let them go again some day— perhaps the very next time the Man of
Wrath goes on a journey. I put a small pot of water in the cage,
though they never could have tasted water yet unless they drink the
raindrops off the beech leaves. I suppose they get all the liquid they
need from the bodies of the mice and other dainties provided for them
by their fond parents. But the raindrop idea is prettier.
—How cruel it was of me to put those poor little owls into a cage
even for one night! I cannot forgive myself, and shall never pander
to the Man of Wrath's wishes again. This morning I got up early to see
how they were getting on, and I found the door of the cage wide open
and no owls to be seen. I thought of course that somebody had stolen
them— some boy from the village, or perhaps the chastised cowherd.
But looking about I saw one perched high up in the branches of the
beech tree, and then to my dismay one lying dead on the ground. The
third was nowhere to be seen, and is probably safe in its nest. The
parents must have torn at the bars of the cage until by chance they
got the door open, and then dragged the little ones out and up into
the tree. The one that is dead must have been blown off the branch,
as it was a windy night and its neck is broken. There is one happy
life less in the garden to-day through my fault, and it is such a
lovely, warm day—just the sort of weather for young soft things to
enjoy and grow in. The babies are greatly distressed, and are digging
a grave, and preparing funeral wreaths of dandelions.
Just as I had written that I heard sounds of arrival, and running
out I breathlessly told the Man of Wrath how nearly I had been able to
give him the owls he has so often said he would like to have, and how
sorry I was they were gone, and how grievous the death of one, and so
on after the voluble manner of women.
He listened till I paused to breathe, and then he said, "I am
surprised at such cruelty. How could you make the mother owl suffer
so? She had never done you any harm."
Which sent me out of the house and into the garden more convinced
than ever that he sang true who sang—
Two paradises 'twere in one to live in Paradise alone.
—The garden is the place I go to for refuge and shelter, not the
house. In the house are duties and annoyances, servants to exhort and
admonish, furniture, and meals; but out there blessings crowd round me
at every step— it is there that I am sorry for the unkindness in me,
for those selfish thoughts that are so much worse than they feel; it
is there that all my sins and silliness are forgiven, there that I
feel protected and at home, and every flower and weed is a friend and
every tree a lover. When I have been vexed I run out to them for
comfort, and when I have been angry without just cause, it is there
that I find absolution. Did ever a woman have so many friends? And
always the same, always ready to welcome me and fill me with cheerful
thoughts. Happy children of a common Father, why should I, their own
sister, be less content and joyous than they? Even in a thunder
storm, when other people are running into the house, I run out of it.
I do not like thunder storms—they frighten me for hours before they
come, because I always feel them on the way; but it is odd that I
should go for shelter to the garden. I feel better there, more taken
care of, more petted. When it thunders, the April baby says, "There's
lieber Gott scolding those angels again." And once, when there was a
storm in the night, she complained loudly, and wanted to know why
lieber Gott didn't do the scolding in the daytime, as she had been so
tight asleep. They all three speak a wonderful mixture of German and
English, adulterating the purity of their native tongue by putting in
English words in the middle of a German sentence. It always reminds me
of Justice tempered by Mercy. We have been cowslipping to-day in a
little wood dignified by the name of the Hirschwald, because it is the
happy hunting-ground of innumerable deer who fight there in the autumn
evenings, calling each other out to combat with bayings that ring
through the silence and send agreeable shivers through the lonely
listener. I often walk there in September, late in the evening, and
sitting on a fallen tree listen fascinated to their angry cries.
We made cowslip balls sitting on the grass. The babies had never
seen such things nor had imagined anything half so sweet. The
Hirschwald is a little open wood of silver birches and springy turf
starred with flowers, and there is a tiny stream meandering amiably
about it and decking itself in June with yellow flags. I have dreams
of having a little cottage built there, with the daisies up to the
door, and no path of any sort— just big enough to hold myself and one
baby inside and a purple clematis outside. Two rooms—a bedroom and a
kitchen. How scared we would be at night, and how completely happy by
day! I know the exact spot where it should stand, facing south-east,
so that we should get all the cheerfulness of the morning, and close
to the stream, so that we might wash our plates among the flags.
Sometimes, when in the mood for society, we would invite the
remaining babies to tea and entertain them with wild strawberries on
plates of horse-chestnut leaves; but no one less innocent and easily
pleased than a baby would be permitted to darken the effulgence of our
sunny cottage— indeed, I don't suppose that anybody wiser would care
to come. Wise people want so many things before they can even begin to
enjoy themselves, and I feel perpetually apologetic when with them,
for only being able to offer them that which I love best myself—
apologetic, and ashamed of being so easily contented.
The other day at a dinner party in the nearest town (it took us
the whole afternoon to get there) the women after dinner were curious
to know how I had endured the winter, cut off from everybody and
snowed up sometimes for weeks.
"Ah, these husbands!" sighed an ample lady, lugubriously shaking
her head; "they shut up their wives because it suits them, and don't
care what their sufferings are."
Then the others sighed and shook their heads too, for the ample
lady was a great local potentate, and one began to tell how another
dreadful husband had brought his young wife into the country and had
kept her there, concealing her beauty and accomplishments from the
public in a most cruel manner, and how, after spending a certain
number of years in alternately weeping and producing progeny, she had
quite lately run away with somebody unspeakable—I think it was the
footman, or the baker, or some one of that sort.
"But I am quite happy," I began, as soon as I could put in a word.
"Ah, a good little wife, making the best of it," and the female
potentate patted my hand, but continued gloomily to shake her head.
"You cannot possibly be happy in the winter entirely alone,"
asserted another lady, the wife of a high military authority and not
accustomed to be contradicted.
"But I am."
"But how can you possibly be at your age? No, it is not possible."
"But I _am_."
"Your husband ought to bring you to town in the winter."
"But I don't want to be brought to town."
"And not let you waste your best years buried." "But I like being
"Such solitude is not right."
"But I'm not solitary."
"And can come to no good." She was getting quite angry.
There was a chorus of No Indeeds at her last remark, and renewed
shaking of heads.
"I enjoyed the winter immensely," I persisted when they were a
little quieter; "I sleighed and skated, and then there were the
children, and shelves and shelves full of—" I was going to say books,
but stopped. Reading is an occupation for men; for women it is
reprehensible waste of time. And how could I talk to them of the
happiness I felt when the sun shone on the snow, or of the deep
delight of hear-frost days?
"It is entirely my doing that we have come down here," I
proceeded, "and my husband only did it to please me."
"Such a good little wife," repeated the patronising potentate,
again patting my hand with an air of understanding all about it,
"really an excellent little wife. But you must not let your husband
have his own way too much, my dear, and take my advice and insist on
his bringing you to town next winter." And then they fell to talking
about their cooks, having settled to their entire satisfaction that my
fate was probably lying in wait for me too, lurking perhaps at that
very moment behind the apparently harmless brass buttons of the man in
the hall with my cloak.
I laughed on the way home, and I laughed again for sheer
satisfaction when we reached the garden and drove between the quiet
trees to the pretty old house; and when I went into the library, with
its four windows open to the moonlight and the scent, and looked round
at the familiar bookshelves, and could hear no sounds but sounds of
peace, and knew that here I might read or dream or idle exactly as I
chose with never a creature to disturb me, how grateful I felt to the
kindly Fate that has brought me here and given me a heart to
understand my own blessedness, and rescued me from a life like that I
had just seen—a life spent with the odours of other people's dinners
in one's nostrils, and the noise of their wrangling servants in one's
ears, and parties and tattle for all amusement.
But I must confess to having felt sometimes quite crushed when
some grand person, examining the details of my home through her
eyeglass, and coolly dissecting all that I so much prize from the
convenient distance of the open window, has finished up by expressing
sympathy with my loneliness, and on my protesting that I like it, has
murmured, "sebr anspruchslos." Then indeed I have felt ashamed of the
fewness of my wants; but only for a moment, and only under the
withering influence of the eyeglass; for, after all, the owner's
spirit is the same spirit as that which dwells in my servants—girls
whose one idea of happiness is to live in a town where there are
others of their sort with whom to drink beer and dance on Sunday
afternoons. The passion for being for ever with one's fellows, and the
fear of being left for a few hours alone, is to me wholly
incomprehensible. I can entertain myself quite well for weeks
together, hardly aware, except for the pervading peace, that I have
been alone at all. Not but what I like to have people staying with me
for a few days, or even for a few weeks, should they be as
anspruchslos as I am myself, and content with simple joys; only, any
one who comes here and would be happy must have something in him; if
he be a mere blank creature, empty of head and heart, he will very
probably find it dull. I should like my house to be often full if I
could find people capable of enjoying themselves. They should be
welcomed and sped with equal heartiness; for truth compels me to
confess that, though it pleases me to see them come, it pleases me
just as much to see them go.
On some very specially divine days, like today, I have actually
longed for some one else to be here to enjoy the beauty with me.
There has been rain in the night, and the whole garden seems to be
singing—not the untiring birds only, but the vigorous plants, the
happy grass and trees, the lilac bushes—oh, those lilac bushes! They
are all out to-day, and the garden is drenched with the scent. I have
brought in armfuls, the picking is such a delight, and every pot and
bowl and tub in the house is filled with purple glory, and the
servants think there is going to be a party and are extra nimble, and
I go from room to room gazing at the sweetness, and the windows are
all flung open so as to join the scent within to the scent without;
and the servants gradually discover that there is no party, and
wonder why the house should be filled with flowers for one woman by
herself, and I long more and more for a kindred spirit— it seems so
greedy to have so much loveliness to oneself—but kindred spirits are
so very, very rare; I might almost as well cry for the moon. It is
true that my garden is full of friends, only they are—dumb.
—This is such an out-of-the-way corner of the world that it
requires quite unusual energy to get here at all, and I am thus
delivered from casual callers; while, on the other hand, people I
love, or people who love me, which is much the same thing, are not
likely to be deterred from coming by the roundabout train journey and
the long drive at the end. Not the least of my many blessings is that
we have only one neighbour. If you have to have neighbours at all, it
is at least a mercy that there should be only one; for with people
dropping in at all hours and wanting to talk to you, how are you to
get on with your life, I should like to know, and read your books, and
dream your dreams to your satisfaction? Besides, there is always the
certainty that either you or the dropper-in will say something that
would have been better left unsaid, and I have a holy horror of gossip
and mischief-making. A woman's tongue is a deadly weapon and the most
difficult thing in the world to keep in order, and things slip off it
with a facility nothing short of appalling at the very moment when it
ought to be most quiet. In such cases the only safe course is to talk
steadily about cooks and children, and to pray that the visit may not
be too prolonged, for if it is you are lost. Cooks I have found to be
the best of all subjects—the most phlegmatic flush into life at the
mere word, and the joys and sufferings connected with them are
experiences common to us all.
Luckily, our neighbour and his wife are both busy and charming,
with a whole troop of flaxenhaired little children to keep them
occupied, besides the business of their large estate. Our intercourse
is arranged on lines of the most beautiful simplicity. I call on her
once a year, and she returns the call a fortnight later; they ask us
to dinner in the summer, and we ask them to dinner in the winter. By
strictly keeping to this, we avoid all danger of that closer
friendship which is only another name for frequent quarrels. She is a
pattern of what a German country lady should be, and is not only a
pretty woman but an energetic and practical one, and the combination
is, to say the least, effective. She is up at daylight superintending
the feeding of the stock, the butter-making, the sending off of the
milk for sale; a thousand things get done while most people are fast
asleep, and before lazy folk are well at breakfast she is off in her
pony-carriage to the other farms on the place, to rate the "mamsells,"
as the head women are called, to poke into every corner, lift the
lids off the saucepans, count the new-laid eggs, and box, if
necessary, any careless dairymaid's ears. We are allowed by law to
administer "slight corporal punishment" to our servants, it being left
entirely to individual taste to decide what "slight" shall be, and my
neighbour really seems to enjoy using this privilege, judging from the
way she talks about it. I would give much to be able to peep through a
keyhole and see the dauntless little lady, terrible in her wrath and
dignity, standing on tiptoe to box the ears of some great strapping
girl big enough to eat her.
The making of cheese and butter and sausages _excellently_ well is
a work which requires brains, and is, to my thinking, a very admirable
form of activity, and entirely worthy of the attention of the
intelligent. That my neighbour is intelligent is at once made evident
by the bright alertness of her eyes—eyes that nothing escapes, and
that only gain in prettiness by being used to some good purpose. She
is a recognised authority for miles around on the mysteries of
sausage-making, the care of calves, and the slaughtering of swine; and
with all her manifold duties and daily prolonged absences from home,
her children are patterns of health and neatness, and of what dear
little German children, with white pigtails and fearless eyes and
thick legs, should be. Who shall say that such a life is sordid and
dull and unworthy of a high order of intelligence? I protest that to
me it is a beautiful life, full of wholesome outdoor work, and with no
room for those listless moments of depression and boredom, and of
wondering what you will do next, that leave wrinkles round a pretty
woman's eyes, and are not unknown even to the most brilliant. But
while admiring my neighbour, I don't think I shall ever try to follow
in her steps, my talents not being of the energetic and organising
variety, but rather of that order which makes their owner almost
lamentably prone to take up a volume of poetry and wander out to where
the kingcups grow, and, sitting on a willow trunk beside a little
stream, forget the very existence of everything but green pastures and
still waters, and the glad blowing of the wind across the joyous
fields. And it would make me perfectly wretched to be confronted by
ears so refractory as to require boxing.
Sometimes callers from a distance invade my solitude, and it is on
these occasions that I realise how absolutely alone each individual
is, and how far away from his neighbour; and while they talk
(generally about babies, past, present, and to come), I fall to
wondering at the vast and impassable distance that separates one's
own soul from the soul of the person sitting in the next chair. I am
speaking of comparative strangers, people who are forced to stay a
certain time by the eccentricities of trains, and in whose presence
you grope about after common interests and shrink back into your shell
on finding that you have none. Then a frost slowly settles down on me
and I grow each minute more benumbed and speechless, and the babies
feel the frost in the air and look vacant, and the callers go through
the usual form of wondering who they most take after, generally
settling the question by saying that the May baby, who is the beauty,
is like her father, and that the two more or less plain ones are the
image of me, and this decision, though I know it of old and am sure it
is coming, never fails to depress me as much as though I heard it for
the first time. The babies are very little and inoffensive and good,
and it is hard that they should be used as a means of filling up gaps
in conversation, and their features pulled to pieces one by one, and
all their weak points noted and criticised, while they stand smiling
shyly in the operator's face, their very smile drawing forth comments
on the shape of their mouths; but, after all, it does not occur very
often, and they are one of those few interests one has in common with
other people, as everybody seems to have babies. A garden, I have
discovered, is by no means a fruitful topic, and it is amazing how few
persons really love theirs—they all pretend they do, but you can hear
by the very tone of their voice what a lukewarm affection it is.
About June their interest is at its warmest, nourished by agreeable
supplies of strawberries and roses; but on reflection I don't know a
single person within twenty miles who really cares for his garden, or
has discovered the treasures of happiness that are buried in it, and
are to be found if sought for diligently, and if needs be with tears.
It is after these rare calls that I experience the only moments of
depression from which I ever suffer, and then I am angry at myself, a
well-nourished person, for allowing even a single precious hour of
life to be spoil: by anything so indifferent. That is the worst of
being fed enough, and clothed enough, and warmed enough, and of having
everything you can reasonably desire— on the least provocation you
are made uncomfortable and unhappy by such abstract discomforts as
being shut out from a nearer approach to your neighbour's soul; which
is on the face of it foolish, the probability being that he hasn't got
The rockets are all out. The gardener, in a fit of inspiration,
put them right along the very front of two borders, and I don't know
what his feelings can be now that they are all flowering and the
plants behind are completely hidden; but I have learned another
lesson, and no future gardener shall be allowed to run riot among my
rockets in quite so reckless a fashion. They are charming things, as
delicate in colour as in scent, and a bowl of them on my writing-table
fills the room with fragrance. Single rows, however, are a mistake; I
had masses of them planted in the grass, and these show how lovely
they can be. A border full of rockets, mauve and white, and nothing
else, must be beautiful; but I don't know how long they last nor what
they look like when they have done flowering. This I shall find out in
a week or two, I suppose. Was ever a would-be gardener left so
entirely to his own blundering? No doubt it would be a gain of years
to the garden if I were not forced to learn solely by my failures, and
if I had some kind creature to tell me when to do things. At present
the only flowers in the garden are the rockets, the pansies in the
rose beds, and two groups of azaleas— mollis and pontica. The
azaleas have been and still are gorgeous; I only planted them this
spring and they almost at once began to flower, and the sheltered
corner they are in looks as though it were filled with imprisoned and
perpetual sunsets. Orange, lemon, pink in every delicate shade—what
they will be next year and in succeeding years when the bushes are
bigger, I can imagine from the way they have begun life. On gray, dull
days the effect is absolutely startling. Next autumn I shall make a
great bank of them in front of a belt of fir trees in rather a gloomy
nook. My tea-roses are covered with buds which will not open for at
least another week, so I conclude this is not the sort of climate
where they will flower from the very beginning of June to November,
as they are said to do.
—There has been no rain since the day before Whitsunday, five
weeks ago, which partly, but not entirely, accounts for the
disappointment my beds have been. The dejected gardener went mad
soon after Whitsuntide, and had to be sent to an asylum. He took to
going about with a spade in one hand and a revolver in the other,
explaining that he felt safer that way, and we bore it quite
patiently, as becomes civilised beings who respect each other's
prejudices, until one day, when I mildly asked him to tie up a fallen
creeper— and after he bought the revolver my tones in addressing him
were of the mildest, and I quite left off reading to him aloud— he
turned round, looked me straight in the face for the first time since
he has been here, and said, "Do I look like Graf X- —(a great local
celebrity), or like a monkey?" After which there was nothing for it
but to get him into an asylum as expeditiously as possible. There was
no gardener to be had in his place, and I have only just succeeded in
getting one; so that what with the drought, and the neglect, and the
gardener's madness, and my blunders, the garden is in a sad condition;
but even in a sad condition it is the dearest place in the world, and
all my mistakes only make me more determined to persevere.
The long borders, where the rockets were, are looking dreadful.
The rockets have done flowering, and, after the manner of rockets: in
other walks of life, have degenerated into sticks; and nothing else in
those borders intends to bloom this summer. The giant poppies I had
planted out in them in April have either died off or remained quite
small, and so have the columbines; here and there a delphinium droops
unwillingly, and that is all. I suppose poppies cannot stand being
moved, or perhaps they were not watered enough at the time of
transplanting; anyhow, those borders are going to be sown to-morrow
with more poppies for next year; for poppies I will have, whether they
like it or not, and they shall not be touched, only thinned out.
Well, it is no use being grieved, and after all, directly I come
out and sit under the trees, and look at the dappled sky, and see the
sunshine on the cornfields away on the plain, all the disappointment
smooths itself out, and it seems impossible to be sad and discontented
when everything about me is so radiant and kind.
To-day is Sunday, and the garden is so quiet, that, sitting here in
this shady corner watching the lazy shadows stretching themselves
across the grass, and listening to the rooks quarrelling in the
treetops, I almost expect to hear English church bells ringing for the
afternoon service. But the church is three miles off, has no bells,
and no afternoon service. Once a fortnight we go to morning prayer at
eleven and sit up in a sort of private box with a room behind, whither
we can retire unobserved when the sermon is too long or our flesh too
weak, and hear ourselves being prayed for by the blackrobed parson.
In winter the church is bitterly cold; it is not heated, and we sit
muffled up in more furs than ever we wear out of doors ; but it would
of course be very wicked for the parson to wear furs, however cold he
may be, so he puts on a great many extra coats under his gown, and, as
the winter progresses, swells to a prodigious size. We know when
spring is coming by the reduction in his figure. The congregation sit
at ease while the parson does the praying for them, and while they are
droning the long-drawn-out chorales, he retires into a little wooden
box just big enough to hold him. He does not come out until he thinks
we have sung enough, nor do we stop until his appearance gives us the
signal. I have often thought how dreadful it would be if he fell ill
in his box and left us to go on singing. I am sure we should never
dare to stop, unauthorised by the Church. I asked him once what he did
in there; he looked very shocked at such a profane question, and made
an evasive reply.
If it were not for the garden, a German Sunday would be a terrible
day; but in the garden on that day there is a sigh of relief and more
profound peace, nobody raking or sweeping or fidgeting; only the
little flowers themselves and the whispering trees.
I have been much afflicted again lately by visitors— not stray
callers to be got rid of after a due administration of tea and things
you are sorry afterwards that you said, but people staying in the
house and not to be got rid of at all. All June was lost to me in this
way, and it was from first to last a radiant month of heat and beauty;
but a garden where you meet the people you saw at breakfast, and will
see again at lunch and dinner, is not a place to be happy in.
Besides, they had a knack of finding out my favourite seats and
lounging in them just when I longed to lounge myself; and they took
books out of the library with them, and left them face downwards on
the seats all night to get well drenched with dew, though they might
have known that what is meat for roses is poison for books; and they
gave me to understand that if they had had the arranging of the garden
it would have been finished long ago—whereas I don't believe a garden
ever is finished. They have all gone now, thank heaven, except one, so
that I have a little breathing space before others begin to arrive.
It seems that the place interests people, and that there is a sort of
novelty in staying in such a deserted corner of the world, for they
were in a perpetual state of mild amusement at being here at all.
Irais is the only one left. She is a young woman with a beautiful,
refined face, and her eyes and straight, fine eyebrows are
particularly lovable. At meals she dips her bread into the
salt-cellar, bites a bit off, and repeats the process, although
providence (taking my shape) has caused salt-spoons to be placed at
convenient intervals down the table. She lunched to-day on beer,
Schweine-koteletten, and cabbage-salad with caraway seeds in it, and
now I hear her through the open window, extemporising touching
melodies in her charming, cooing voice. She is thin, frail,
intelligent, and lovable, all on the above diet. What better proof can
be needed to establish the superiority of the Teuton than the fact
that after such meals he can produce such music? Cabbage salad is a
horrid invention, but I don't doubt its utility as a means of
encouraging thoughtfulness; nor will I quarrel with it, since it
results so poetically, any more than I quarrel with the manure that
results in roses, and I give it to Irais every day to make her sing.
She is the sweetest singer I have ever heard, and has a charming
trick of making up songs as she goes along. When she begins, I go and
lean out of the window and look at my little friends out there in the
borders while listening to her music, and feel full of pleasant
sadness and regret. It is so sweet to be sad when one has nothing to
be sad about.
The April baby came panting up just as I had written that, the
others hurrying along behind, and with flaming cheeks displayed for my
admiration three brand-new kittens, lean and blind, that she was
carrying in her pinafore, and that had just been found motherless in
"Look," she cried breathlessly, "such a much!"
I was glad it was only kittens this time, for she had been once
before this afternoon on purpose, as she informed me, sitting herself
down on the grass at my feet, to ask about the lieber Gott, it being
Sunday and her pious little nurse's conversation having run, as it
seems, on heaven and angels.
Her questions about the lieber Gott are better left unrecorded,
and I was relieved when she began about the angels.
"What do they wear for clothes?" she asked in her German-English.
"Why, you've seen them in pictures," I answered, "in beautiful,
long dresses, and with big, white wings." "Feathers?" she asked.
"I suppose so,—and long dresses, all white and beautiful."
"Are they girlies?"
"Don't boys go into the Himmel?"
"Yes, of course, if they're good."
"And then what do _they_ wear?" "Why, the same as all the other
angels, I suppose."
She began to laugh, looking at me sideways as though she suspected
me of making jokes. "What a funny Mummy!" she said, evidently much
amused. She has a fat little laugh that is very infectious.
"I think," said I, gravely, "you had better go and play with the
She did not answer, and sat still a moment watching the clouds. I
began writing again.
"Mummy," she said presently.
"Where do the angels get their dwesses?"
I hesitated. "From lieber Gott," I said.
"Are there shops in the Himmel?"
"But, then, where does lieber Gott buy their dwesses?"
"Now run away like a good baby; I'm busy."
"But you said yesterday, when I asked about lieber Gott, that you
would tell about Him on Sunday, and it is Sunday. Tell me a story
There was nothing for it but resignation, so I put down my pencil
with a sigh. "Call the others, then."
She ran away, and presently they all three emerged from the bushes
one after the other, and tried all together to scramble on to my knee.
The April baby got the knee as she always seems to get everything,
and the other two had to sit on the grass.
I began about Adam and Eve, with an eye to future parsonic
probings. The April baby's eyes opened wider and wider, and her face
grew redder and redder. I was surprised at the breathless interest
she took in the story— the other two were tearing up tufts of grass
and hardly listening. I had scarcely got to the angels with the
flaming swords and announced that that was all, when she burst out,
"Now I'll tell about it. Once upon a time there was Adam and Eva, and
they had plenty of clothes, and there was no snake, and lieber Gott
wasn't angry with them, and they could eat as many apples as they
liked, and was happy for ever and ever—there now!"
She began to jump up and down defiantly on my knee.
"But that's not the story," I said rather helplessly. "Yes, yes!
It's a much nicelier one! Now another."
"But these stories are true," I said severely; "and it's no use my
telling them if you make them up your own way afterwards."
"Another! another!" she shrieked, jumping up and down with
redoubled energy, all her silvery curls flying.
I began about Noah and the flood.
"Did it rain so badly?" she asked with a face of the deepest
concern and interest.
"Yes, all day long and all night long for weeks and weeks— —"
"And was everybody so wet?"
"But why didn't they open their umbwellas?"
Just then I saw the nurse coming out with the tea-tray.
"I'll tell you the rest another time," I said, putting her off my
knee, greatly relieved; "you must all go to Anna now and have tea."
"I don't like Anna," remarked the June baby, not having hitherto
opened her lips; "she is a stupid girl."
The other two stood transfixed with horror at this statement, for,
besides being naturally extremely polite, and at all times anxious not
to hurt any one's feelings, they had been brought up to love and
respect their kind little nurse.
The April baby recovered her speech first, and lifting her finger,
pointed it at the criminal in just indignation. "Such a child will
never go into the Himmel," she said with great emphasis, and the air
of one who delivers judgment.
—This is the month of quiet days, crimson creepers, and
blackberries; of mellow afternoons in the ripening garden; of tea
under the acacias instead of the too shady beeches; of wood-fires in
the library in the chilly evenings. The babies go out in the
afternoon and blackberry in the hedges; the three kittens, grown big
and fat, sit cleaning themselves on the sunny verandah steps; the Man
of Wrath shoots partridges across the distant stubble; and the summer
seems as though it would dream on for ever. It is hard to believe that
in three months we shall probably be snowed up and certainly be cold.
There is a feeling about this month that reminds me of March and the
early days of April, when spring is still hesitating on the threshold
and the garden holds its breath in expectation. There is the same
mildness in the air, and the sky and grass have the same look as then;
but the leaves tell a different tale, and the reddening creeper on
the house is rapidly approaching its last and loveliest glory.
My roses have behaved as well on the whole as was to be expected,
and the Viscountess Folkestones and Laurette Messimys have been most
beautiful, the latter being quite the loveliest things in the garden,
each flower an exquisite loose cluster of coral-pink petals, paling at
the base to a yellow-white. I have ordered a hundred standard
tea-roses for planting next month, half of which are Viscountess
Folkestones, because the tea-roses have such a way of hanging their
little heads that one has to kneel down to be able to see them well in
the dwarf forms— not but what I entirely approve of kneeling before
such perfect beauty, only it dirties one's clothes. So I am going to
put standards down each side of the walk under the south windows, and
shall have the flowers on a convenient level for worship. My only
fear is, that they will stand the winter less well than the dwarf
sorts, being so difficult to pack up snugly. The Persian Yellows and
Bicolors have been, as I predicted, a mistake among the tea-roses;
they only flower twice in the season and all the rest of the time look
dull and moping; and then the Persian Yellows have such an odd smell
and so many insects inside them eating them up. I have ordered Safrano
tea-roses to put in their place, as they all come out next month and
are to be grouped in the grass; and the semicircle being immediately
under the windows, besides having the best position in the place, must
be reserved solely for my choicest treasures. I have had a great many
disappointments, but feel as though I were really beginning to learn.
Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary
in gardening as rain and sunshine, and every failure must be used as a
stepping-stone to something better.
I had a visitor last week who knows a great deal about gardening
and has had much practical experience. When I heard he was coming, I
felt I wanted to put my arms right round my garden and hide it from
him; but what was my surprise and delight when he said, after having
gone all over it, "Well, I think you have done wonders." Dear me, how
pleased I was! It was so entirely unexpected, and such a complete
novelty after the remarks I have been listening to all the summer. I
could have hugged that discerning and indulgent critic, able to look
beyond the result to the intention, and appreciating the difficulties
of every kind that had been in the way. After that I opened my heart
to him, and listened reverently to all he had to say, and treasured up
his kind and encouraging advice, and wished he could stay here a whole
year and help me through the seasons. But he went, as people one
likes always do go, and he was the only guest I have had whose
departure made me sorry.
The people I love are always somewhere else and not able to come
to me, while I can at any time fill the house with visitors about whom
I know little and care less. Perhaps, if I saw more of those absent
ones, I would not love them so well— at least, that is what I think
on wet days when the wind is howling round the house and all nature is
overcome with grief; and it has actually happened once or twice when
great friends have been staying with me that I have wished, when they
left, I might not see them again for at least ten years. I suppose
the fact is, that no friendship can stand the breakfast test, and
here, in the country, we invariably think it our duty to appear at
breakfast. Civilisation has done away with curl-papers, yet at that
hour the soul of the Hausfrau is as tightly screwed up in them as was
ever her grandmother's hair; and though my body comes down
mechanically, having been trained that way by punctual parents, my
soul never thinks of beginning to wake up for other people till
lunch-time, and never does so completely till it has been taken out of
doors and aired in the sunshine. Who can begin conventional amiability
the first thing in the morning? It is the hour of savage instincts and
natural tendencies; it is the triumph of the Disagreeable and the
Cross. I am convinced that the Muses and the Graces never thought of
having breakfast anywhere but in bed.
—When the gray November weather came, and hung its soft dark
clouds low and unbroken over the brown of the ploughed fields and the
vivid emerald of the stretches of winter corn, the heavy stillness
weighed my heart down to a forlorn yearning after the pleasant things
of childhood, the petting, the comforting, the warming faith in the
unfailing wisdom of elders. A great need of something to lean on, and
a great weariness of independence and responsibility took possession
of my soul; and looking round for support and comfort in that
transitory mood, the emptiness of the present and the blankness of the
future sent me back to the past with all its ghosts. Why should I not
go and see the place where I was born, and where I lived so long; the
place where I was so magnificently happy, so exquisitely wretched, so
close to heaven, so near to hell, always either up on a cloud of glory,
or down in the depths with the waters of despair closing over my head?
Cousins live in it now, distant cousins, loved with the exact measure
of love usually bestowed on cousins who reign in one's stead; cousins
of practical views, who have dug up the flower-beds and planted
cabbages where roses grew; and though through all the years since my
father's death I have held my head so high that it hurt, and loftily
refused to listen to their repeated suggestions that I should revisit
my old home, something in the sad listlessness of the November days
sent my spirit back to old times with a persistency that would not be
set aside, and I woke from my musings surprised to find myself sick
with longing. It is foolish but natural to quarrel with one's cousins,
and especially foolish and natural when they have done nothing, and
are mere victims of chance. Is it their fault that my not being a boy
placed the shoes I should otherwise have stepped into at their
disposal? I know it is not; but their blamelessness does not make me
love them more. "Noch ein dummes Frauenzimmer!" cried my father, on my
arrival into the world— he had three of them already, and I was his
last hope,—and a dummes Frauenzimmer I have remained ever since; and
that is why for years I would have no dealings with the cousins in
possession, and that is why, the other day, overcome by the tender
influence of the weather, the purely sentimental longing to join hands
again with my childhood was enough to send all my pride to the winds,
and to start me off without warning and without invitation on my
I have always had a liking for pilgrimages, and if I had lived in
the Middle Ages would have spent most of my time on the way to Rome.
The pilgrims, leaving all their cares at home, the anxieties of their
riches or their debts, the wife that worried and the children that
disturbed, took only their sins with them, and turning their backs on
their obligations, set out with that sole burden, and perhaps a
cheerful heart. How cheerful my heart would have been, starting on a
fine morning, with the smell of the spring in my nostrils, fortified
by the approval of those left behind, accompanied by the pious
blessings of my family, with every step getting farther from the
suffocation of daily duties, out into the wide fresh world, out into
the glorious free world, so poor, so penitent, and so happy! My
dream, even now, is to walk for weeks with some friend that I love,
leisurely wandering from place to place, with no route arranged and no
object in view, with liberty to go on all day or to linger all day, as
we choose; but the question of luggage, unknown to the simple pilgrim,
is one of the rocks on which my plans have been shipwrecked, and the
other is the certain censure of relatives, who, not fond of walking
themselves, and having no taste for noonday naps under hedges, would
be sure to paralyse my plans before they had grown to maturity by the
honest horror of their cry, "How very unpleasant if you were to meet
any one you know!" The relative of five hundred years back would
simply have said, "How holy!"
My father had the same liking for pilgrimages—indeed, it is
evident that I have it from him—and he encouraged it in me when I was
little, taking me with him on his pious journeys to places he had
lived in as a boy. Often have we been together to the school he was at
in Brandenburg, and spent pleasant days wandering about the old town
on the edge of one of those lakes that lie in a chain in that wide
green plain; and often have we been in Potsdam, where he was quartered
as a lieutenant, the Potsdam pilgrimage including hours in the woods
around and in the gardens of Sans Souci, with the second volume of
Carlyle's Frederick under my father's arm; and often did we spend long
summer days at the house in the Mark, at the head of the same blue
chain of lakes, where his mother spent her young years, and where,
though it belonged to cousins, like everything else that was worth
having, we could wander about as we chose, for it was empty, and sit
in the deep windows of rooms where there was no furniture, and the
painted Venuses and cupids on the ceiling still smiled irrelevantly
and stretched their futile wreaths above the emptiness beneath. And
while we sat and rested, my father told me, as my grandmother had a
hundred times told him, all that had happened in those rooms in the
far-off days when people danced and sang and laughed through life, and
nobody seemed ever to be old or sorry.
There was, and still is, an inn within a stone's throw of the
great iron gates, with two very old lime trees in front of it, where
we used to lunch on our arrival at a little table spread with a red
and blue check cloth, the lime blossoms dropping into our soup, and
the bees humming in the scented shadows overhead. I have a picture of
the house by my side as I write, done from the lake in old times, with
a boat full of ladies in hoops and powder in the foreground, and a
youth playing a guitar. The pilgrimages to this place were those I
loved the best.
But the stories my father told me, sometimes odd enough stories to
tell a little girl, as we wandered about the echoing rooms, or hung
over the stone balustrade and fed the fishes in the lake, or picked
the pale dog-roses in the hedges, or lay in the boat in a shady
reed-grown bay while he smoked to keep the mosquitoes off, were after
all only traditions, imparted to me in small doses from time to time,
when his earnest desire not to raise his remarks above the level of
dulness supposed to be wholesome for Backfische was neutralised by an
impulse to share his thoughts with somebody who would laugh; whereas
the place I was bound for on my latest pilgrimage was filled with
living, first-hand memories of all the enchanted years that lie
between two and eighteen. How enchanted those years are is made more
and more clear to me the older I grow. There has been nothing in the
least like them since; and though I have forgotten most of what
happened six months ago, every incident, almost every day of those
wonderful long years is perfectly distinct in my memory.
But I had been stiffnecked, proud, unpleasant, altogether cousinly
in my behaviour towards the people in possession. The invitations to
revisit the old home had ceased. The cousins had grown tired of
refusals, and had left me alone. I did not even know who lived in it
now, it was so long since I had had any news. For two days I fought
against the strong desire to go there that had suddenly seized me,
and assured myself that I would not go, that it would be absurd to
go, undignified, sentimental, and silly, that I did not know them and
would be in an awkward position, and that I was old enough to know
better. But who can foretell from one hour to the next what a woman
will do? And when does she ever know better? On the third morning I
set out as hopefully as though it were the most natural thing in the
world to fall unexpectedly upon hitherto consistently neglected
cousins, and expect to be received with open arms.
It was a complicated journey, and lasted several hours. During the
first part, when it was still dark, I glowed with enthusiasm, with the
spirit of adventure, with delight at the prospect of so soon seeing
the loved place again; and thought with wonder of the long years I had
allowed to pass since last I was there. Of what I should say to the
cousins, and of how I should introduce myself into their midst, I did
not think at all: the pilgrim spirit was upon me, the unpractical
spirit that takes no thought for anything, but simply wanders along
enjoying its own emotions. It was a quiet, sad morning, and there was
a thick mist. By the time I was in the little train on the light
railway that passed through the village nearest my old home, I had got
over my first enthusiasm, and had entered the stage of critically
examining the changes that had been made in the last ten years. It
was so misty that I could see nothing of the familiar country from the
carriage windows, only the ghosts of pines in the front row of the
forests; but the railway itself was a new departure, unknown in our
day, when we used to drive over ten miles of deep, sandy forest roads
to and from the station, and although most people would have called it
an evident and great improvement, it was an innovation due, no doubt,
to the zeal and energy of the reigning cousin; and who was he, thought
I, that he should require more conveniences than my father had found
needful? It was no use my telling myself that in my father's time the
era of light railways had not dawned, and that if it had, we should
have done our utmost to secure one; the thought of my cousin,
stepping into my shoes, and then altering them, was odious to me. By
the time I was walking up the hill from the station I had got over
this feeling too, and had entered a third stage of wondering uneasily
what in the world I should do next. Where was the intrepid courage
with which I had started? At the top of the first hill I sat down to
consider this question in detail, for I was very near the house now,
and felt I wanted time. Where, indeed, was the courage and joy of the
morning? It had vanished so completely that I could only suppose that
it must be lunch time, the observations of years having led to the
discovery that the higher sentiments and virtues fly affrighted on
the approach of lunch, and none fly quicker than courage. So I ate the
lunch I had brought with me, hoping that it was what I wanted; but it
was chilly, made up of sandwiches and pears, and it had to be eaten
under a tree at the edge of a field; and it was November, and the mist
was thicker than ever and very wet— the grass was wet with it, the
gaunt tree was wet with it, I was wet with it, and the sandwiches were
wet with it. Nobody's spirits can keep up under such conditions; and
as I ate the soaked sandwiches, I deplored the headlong courage more
with each mouthful that had torn me from a warm, dry home where I was
appreciated, and had brought me first to the damp tree in the damp
field, and when I had finished my lunch and dessert of cold pears, was
going to drag me into the midst of a circle of unprepared and
astonished cousins. Vast sheep loomed through the mist a few yards
off. The sheep dog kept up a perpetual, irritating yap. In the fog I
could hardly tell where I was, though I knew I must have played there
a hundred times as a child. After the fashion of woman directly she is
not perfectly warm and perfectly comfortable, I began to consider the
uncertainty of human life, and to shake my head in gloomy approval as
lugubrious lines of pessimistic poetry suggested themselves to my
Now it is clearly a desirable plan, if you want to do anything, to
do it in the way consecrated by custom, more especially if you are a
woman. The rattle of a carriage along the road just behind me, and
the fact that I started and turned suddenly hot, drove this truth home
to my soul. The mist hid me, and the carriage, no doubt full of
cousins, drove on in the direction of the house; but what an absurd
position I was in! Suppose the kindly mist had lifted, and revealed
me lunching in the wet on their property, the cousin of the short and
lofty letters, the unangenehme Elisabeth! "Die war doch immer
verdreht," I could imagine them hastily muttering to each other,
before advancing wreathed in welcoming smiles. It gave me a great
shock, this narrow escape, and I got on to my feet quickly, and
burying the remains of my lunch under the gigantic molehill on which I
had been sitting, asked myself nervously what I proposed to do next.
Should I walk back to the village, go to the Gasthof, write a letter
craving permission to call on my cousins, and wait there till an
answer came? It would be a discreet and sober course to pursue; the
next best thing to having written before leaving home. But the Gasthof
of a north German village is a dreadful place, and the remembrance of
one in which I had taken refuge once from a thunderstorm was still so
vivid that nature itself cried out against this plan. The mist, if
anything, was growing denser. I knew every path and gate in the
place. What if I gave up all hope of seeing the house, and went
through the little door in the wall at the bottom of the garden, and
confined myself for this once to that? In such weather I would be able
to wander round as I pleased, without the least risk of being seen by
or meeting any cousins, and it was after all the garden that lay
nearest my heart. What a delight it would be to creep into it
unobserved, and revisit all the corners I so well remembered, and
slip out again and get away safely without any need of explanations,
assurances, protestations, displays of affection, without any need, in
a word, of that exhausting form of conversation, so dear to relations,
known as Redensarten! The mist tempted me. I think if it had been a
fine day I would have gone soberly to the Gasthof and written the
conciliatory letter; but the temptation was too great, it was
altogether irresistible, and in ten minutes I had found the gate,
opened it with some difficulty, and was standing with a beating heart
in the garden of my childhood.
Now I wonder whether I shall ever again feel thrills of the same
potency as those that ran through me at that moment. First of all I
was trespassing, which is in itself thrilling; but how much more
thrilling when you are trespassing on what might just as well have
been your own ground, on what actually was for years your own ground,
and when you are in deadly peril of seeing the rightful owners, whom
you have never met, but with whom you have quarrelled, appear round
the corner, and of hearing them remark with an inquiring and awful
politeness "I do not think I have the pleasure—?" Then the place was
unchanged. I was standing in the same mysterious tangle of damp little
paths that had always been just there; they curled away on either
side among the shrubs, with the brown tracks of recent footsteps in
the centre of their green stains, just as they did in my day. The
overgrown lilac bushes still met above my head. The moisture dripped
from the same ledge in the wall on to the sodden leaves beneath, as it
had done all through the afternoons of all those past Novembers. This
was the place, this damp and gloomy tangle, that had specially
belonged to me. Nobody ever came to it, for in winter it was too
dreary, and in summer so full of mosquitoes that only a Backfisch
indifferent to spots could have borne it. But it was a place where I
could play unobserved, and where I could walk up and down
uninterrupted for hours, building castles in the air. There was an
unwholesome little arbour in one dark corner, much frequented by the
larger black slug, where I used to pass glorious afternoons making
plans. I was for ever making plans, and if nothing came of them, what
did it matter? The mere making had been a joy. To me this
out-of-the-way corner was always a wonderful and a mysterious place,
where my castles in the air stood close together in radiant rows, and
where the strangest and most splendid adventures befell me; for the
hours I passed in it and the people I met in it were all enchanted.
Standing there and looking round with happy eyes, I forgot the
existence of the cousins. I could have cried for joy at being there
again. It was the home of my fathers, the home that would have been
mine if I had been a boy, the home that was mine now by a thousand
tender and happy and miserable associations, of which the people in
possession could not dream. They were tenants, but it was my home. I
threw my arms round the trunk of a very wet fir tree, every branch of
which I remembered, for had I not climbed it, and fallen from it, and
torn and bruised myself on it uncountable numbers of times? and I gave
it such a hearty kiss that my nose and chin were smudged into one
green stain, and still I did not care. Far from caring, it filled me
with a reckless, Backfisch pleasure in being dirty, a delicious
feeling that I had not had for years. Alice in Wonderland, after she
had drunk the contents of the magic bottle, could not have grown
smaller more suddenly than I grew younger the moment I passed through
that magic door. Bad habits cling to us, however, with such
persistency that I did mechanically pull out my handkerchief and begin
to rub off the welcoming smudge, a thing I never would have dreamed
of doing in the glorious old days; but an artful scent of violets
clinging to the handkerchief brought me to my senses, and with a
sudden impulse of scorn, the fine scorn for scent of every honest
Backfisch, I rolled it up into a ball and flung it away into the
bushes, where I daresay it is at this moment. "Away with you," I
cried, "away with you, symbol of conventionality, of slavery, of
pandering to a desire to please—away with you, miserable little
lace-edged rag!" And so young had I grown within the last few minutes
that I did not even feel silly.
As a Backfisch I had never used handkerchiefs— the child of
nature scorns to blow its nose—though for decency's sake my governess
insisted on giving me a clean one of vast size and stubborn texture on
Sundays. It was stowed away unfolded in the remotest corner of my
pocket, where it was gradually pressed into a beautiful compactness
by the other contents, which were knives. After a while, I remember,
the handkerchief being brought to light on Sundays to make room for a
successor, and being manifestly perfectly clean, we came to an
agreement that it should only be changed on the first and third
Sundays in the month, on condition that I promised to turn it on the
other Sundays. My governess said that the outer folds became soiled
from the mere contact with the other things in my pocket, and that
visitors might catch sight of the soiled side if it was never turned
when I wished to blow my nose in their presence, and that one had no
right to give one's visitors shocks. "But I never do wish— —" I
began with great earnestness. "Unsinn," said my governess, cutting me
After the first thrills of joy at being there again had gone, the
profound stillness of the dripping little shrubbery frightened me. It
was so still that I was afraid to move; so still, that I could count
each drop of moisture falling from the oozing wall; so still, that
when I held my breath to listen, I was deafened by my own heart-beats.
I made a step forward in the direction where the arbour ought to be,
and the rustling and jingling of my clothes terrified me into
immobility. The house was only two hundred yards off; and if any one
had been about, the noise I had already made opening the creaking door
and so foolishly apostrophising my handkerchief must have been
noticed. Suppose an inquiring gardener, or a restless cousin, should
presently loom through the fog, bearing down upon me? Suppose Fraulein
Wundermacher should pounce upon me suddenly from behind, coming up
noiselessly in her galoshes, and shatter my castles with her customary
triumphant "Fetzt halte ich dich aber fest!" Why, what was I thinking
of? Fraulein Wundermacher, so big and masterful, such an enemy of
day-dreams, such a friend of das Praktische, such a lover of creature
comforts, had died long ago, had been succeeded long ago by others,
German sometimes, and sometimes English, and sometimes at intervals
French, and they too had all in their turn vanished, and I was here a
solitary ghost. "Come, Elizabeth," said I to myself impatiently, "are
you actually growing sentimental over your governesses? If you think
you are a ghost, be glad at least that you are a solitary one. Would
you like the ghosts of all those poor women you tormented to rise up
now in this gloomy place against you? And do you intend to stand here
till you are caught?" And thus exhorting myself to action, and
recognising how great was the risk I ran in lingering, I started down
the little path leading to the arbour and the principal part of the
garden, going, it is true, on tiptoe, and very much frightened by the
rustling of my petticoats, but determined to see what I had come to
see and not to be scared away by phantoms.
How regretfully did I think at that moment of the petticoats of my
youth, so short, so silent, and so woollen! And how convenient the
canvas shoes were with the india rubber soles, for creeping about
without making a sound! Thanks to them I could always run swiftly and
unheard into my hiding-places, and stay there listening to the garden
resounding with cries of "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Come in at once to
your lessons!" Or, at a different period, "Ou etes-vous donc, petite
sotte?" Or at yet another period, "Warte nur, wenn ich dich erst
habe!" As the voices came round one corner, I whisked in my noiseless
clothes round the next, and it was only Fraulein Wundermacher, a
person of resource, who discovered that all she needed for my
successful circumvention was galoshes. She purchased a pair, wasted
no breath calling me, and would come up silently, as I stood lapped in
a false security lost in the contemplation of a squirrel or a robin,
and seize me by the shoulders from behind, to the grievous unhinging
of my nerves. Stealing along in the fog, I looked back uneasily once
or twice, so vivid was this disquieting memory, and could hardly be
reassured by putting up my hand to the elaborate twists and curls that
compose what my maid calls my Frisur, and that mark the gulf lying
between the present and the past; for it had happened once or twice,
awful to relate and to remember, that Fraulein Wundermacher, sooner
than let me slip through her fingers, had actually caught me by the
long plait of hair to whose other end I was attached and whose English
name I had been told was pigtail, just at the instant when I was
springing away from her into the bushes; and so had led me home
triumphant, holding on tight to the rope of hair, and muttering with a
broad smile of special satisfaction, "Diesmal wirst du mir aber nicht
entschlupfen!" Fraulein Wundermacher, now I came to think of it, must
have been a humourist. She was certainly a clever and a capable
woman. But I wished at that moment that she would not haunt me so
persistently, and that I could get rid of the feeling that she was
just behind in her galoshes, with her hand stretched out to seize me.
Passing the arbour, and peering into its damp recesses, I started
back with my heart in my mouth. I thought I saw my grandfather's
stern eyes shining in the darkness. It was evident that my anxiety
lest the cousins should catch me had quite upset my nerves, for I am
not by nature inclined to see eyes where eyes are not. "Don't be
foolish, Elizabeth," murmured my soul in rather a faint voice, "go in,
and make sure." "But I don't like going in and making sure," I
replied. I did go in, however, with a sufficient show of courage, and
fortunately the eyes vanished. What I should have done if they had not
I am altogether unable to imagine. Ghosts are things that I laugh at
in the daytime and fear at night, but I think if I were to meet one I
should die. The arbour had fallen into great decay, and was in the
last stage of mouldiness. My grandfather had had it made, and, like
other buildings, it enjoyed a period of prosperity before being left
to the ravages of slugs and children, when he came down every
afternoon in summer and drank his coffee there and read his
Kreuzzeitung and dozed, while the rest of us went about on tiptoe, and
only the birds dared sing. Even the mosquitoes that infested the place
were too much in awe of him to sting him; they certainly never did
sting him, and I naturally concluded it must be because he had
forbidden such familiarities. Although I had played there for so many
years since his death, my memory skipped them all, and went back to
the days when it was exclusively his. Standing on the spot where his
armchair used to be, I felt how well I knew him now from the
impressions he made then on my child's mind, though I was not
conscious of them for more than twenty years. Nobody told me about
him, and he died when I was six, and yet within the last year or two,
that strange Indian summer of remembrance that comes to us in the
leisured times when the children have been born and we have time to
think, has made me know him perfectly well. It is rather an
uncomfortable thought for the grown-up, and especially for the parent,
but of a salutary and restraining nature, that though children may not
understand what is said and done before them, and have no interest in
it at the time, and though they may forget it at once and for years,
yet these things that they have seen and heard and not noticed have
after all impressed themselves for ever on their minds, and when they
are men and women come crowding back with surprising and often painful
distinctness, and away frisk all the cherished little illusions in
I had an awful reverence for my grandfather. He never petted, and
he often frowned, and such people are generally reverenced. Besides,
he was a just man, everybody said; a just man who might have been a
great man if he had chosen, and risen to almost any pinnacle of
worldly glory. That he had not so chosen was held to be a convincing
proof of his greatness; for he was plainly too great to be great in
the vulgar sense, and shrouded himself in the dignity of privacy and
potentialities. This, at least, as time passed and he still did
nothing, was the belief of the simple people around. People must
believe in somebody, and having pinned their faith on my grandfather
in the promising years that lie round thirty, it was more convenient
to let it remain there. He pervaded our family life till my sixth
year, and saw to it that we all behaved ourselves, and then he died,
and we were glad that he should be in heaven. He was a good German
(and when Germans are good they are very good) who kept the
commandments, voted for the Government, grew prize potatoes and bred
innumerable sheep, drove to Berlin once a year with the wool in a
procession of waggons behind him and sold it at the annual Wollmarkt,
rioted soberly for a few days there, and then carried most of the
proceeds home, hunted as often as possible, helped his friends,
punished his children, read his Bible, said his prayers, and was
genuinely astonished when his wife had the affectation to die of a
broken heart. I cannot pretend to explain this conduct. She ought, of
course, to have been happy in the possession of so good a man; but
good men are sometimes oppressive, and to have one in the house with
you and to live in the daily glare of his goodness must be a
tremendous business. After bearing him seven sons and three
daughters, therefore, my grandmother died in the way described, and
afforded, said my grandfather, another and a very curious proof of the
impossibility of ever being sure of your ground with women. The
incident faded more quickly from his mind than it might otherwise have
done for its having occurred simultaneously with the production of a
new kind of potato, of which he was justly proud. He called it Trost
in Trauer, and quoted the text of Scripture Auge um Auge, Zabn um
Zahn, after which he did not again allude to his wife's decease. In
his last years, when my father managed the estate, and he only lived
with us and criticised, he came to have the reputation of an oracle.
The neighbours sent him their sons at the beginning of any important
phase in their lives, and he received them in this very arbour,
administering eloquent and minute advice in the deep voice that rolled
round the shrubbery and filled me with a vague sense of guilt as I
played. Sitting among the bushes playing muffled games for fear of
disturbing him, I supposed he must be reading aloud, so unbroken was
the monotony of that majestic roll. The young men used to come out
again bathed in perspiration, much stung by mosquitoes, and looking
bewildered; and when they had got over the impression made by my
grandfather's speech and presence, no doubt forgot all he had said
with wholesome quickness, and set themselves to the interesting and
necessary work of gaining their own experience. Once, indeed, a
dreadful thing happened, whose immediate consequence was the abrupt
end to the long and close friendship between us and our nearest
neighbour. His son was brought to the arbour and left there in the
usual way, and either he must have happened on the critical half hour
after the coffee and before the Kreuzzeitung, when my grandfather was
accustomed to sleep, or he was more courageous than the others and
tried to talk, for very shortly, playing as usual near at hand, I
heard my grandfather's voice, raised to an extent that made me stop in
my game and quake, saying with deliberate anger, "Hebe dich weg von
mir, Sohn des Satans!" Which was all the advice this particular young
man got, and which he hastened to take, for out he came through the
bushes, and though his face was very pale, there was an odd twist
about the corners of his mouth that reassured me.
This must have happened quite at the end of my grandfather's life,
for almost immediately afterwards, as it now seems to me, he died
before he need have done because he would eat crab, a dish that never
agreed with him, in the face of his doctor's warning that if he did he
would surely die. "What! am I to be conquered by crabs?" he demanded
indignantly of the doctor; for apart from loving them with all his
heart he had never yet been conquered by anything." Nay, sir, the
combat is too unequal—do not, I pray you, try it again," replied the
doctor. But my grandfather ordered crabs that very night for supper,
and went in to table with the shining eyes of one who is determined to
conquer or die, and the crabs conquered, and he died. "He was a just
man," said the neighbours, except that nearest neighbour, formerly his
best friend, "and might have been a great one had he so chosen." And
they buried him with profound respect, and the sunshine came into our
home life with a burst, and the birds were not the only creatures that
sang, and the arbour, from having been a temple of Delphic utterances,
sank into a home for slugs.
Musing on the strangeness of life, and on the invariable ultimate
triumph of the insignificant and small over the important and vast,
illustrated in this instance by the easy substitution in the arbour of
slugs for grandfathers, I went slowly round the next bend of the path,
and came to the broad walk along the south side of the high wall
dividing the flower garden from the kitchen garden, in which sheltered
position my father had had his choicest flowers. Here the cousins had
been at work, and all the climbing roses that clothed the wall with
beauty were gone, and some very neat fruit trees, tidily nailed up at
proper intervals, reigned in their stead. Evidently the cousins knew
the value of this warm aspect, for in the border beneath, filled in my
father's time in this month of November with the wallflowers that were
to perfume the walk in spring, there was a thick crop of—I stooped
down close to make sure—yes, a thick crop of radishes. My eyes
filled with tears at the sight of those radishes, and it is probably
the only occasion on record on which radishes have made anybody cry.
My dear father, whom I so passionately loved, had in his turn
passionately loved this particular border, and spent the spare
moments of a busy life enjoying the flowers that grew in it. He had
no time himself for a more near acquaintance with the delights of
gardening than directing what plants were to be used, but found rest
from his daily work strolling up and down here, or sitting smoking as
close to the flowers as possible. "It is the Purest of Humane
pleasures, it is the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man," he
would quote (for he read other things besides the Kreuzzeitung),
looking round with satisfaction on reaching this fragrant haven after
a hot day in the fields. Well, the cousins did not think so. Less
fanciful, and more sensible as they probably would have said, their
position plainly was that you cannot eat flowers.
Their spirits required no refreshment, but their bodies needed
much, and therefore radishes were more precious than wallflowers. Nor
was my youth wholly destitute of radishes, but they were grown in the
decent obscurity of odd kitchen garden corners and old cucumber
frames, and would never have been allowed to come among the flowers.
And only because I was not a boy here they were profaning the ground
that used to be so beautiful. Oh, it was a terrible misfortune not to
have been a boy! And how sad and lonely it was, after all, in this
ghostly garden. The radish bed and what it symbolised had turned my
first joy into grief. This walk and border me too much of my father
reminded, and of all he had been to me. What I knew of good he had
taught me, and what I had of happiness was through him. Only once
during all the years we lived together had we been of different
opinions and fallen out, and it was the one time I ever saw him
severe. I was four years old, and demanded one Sunday to be taken to
church. My father said no, for I had never been to church, and the
German service is long and exhausting. I implored. He again said no.
I implored again, and showed such a pious disposition, and so earnest
a determination to behave well, that he gave in, and we went off very
happily hand in hand. "Now mind, Elizabeth," he said, turning to me at
the church door, "there is no coming out again in the middle. Having
insisted on being brought, thou shalt now sit patiently till the end."
"Oh, yes, oh, yes," I promised eagerly, and went in filled with holy
fire. The shortness of my legs, hanging helplessly for two hours
midway between the seat and the floor, was the weapon chosen by Satan
for my destruction. In German churches you do not kneel, and seldom
stand, but sit nearly the whole time, praying and singing in great
comfort. If you are four years old, however, this unchanged position
soon becomes one of torture. Unknown and dreadful things go on in
your legs, strange prickings and tinglings and dartings up and down, a
sudden terrifying numbness, when you think they must have dropped off
but are afraid to look, then renewed and fiercer prickings, shootings,
and burnings. I thought I must be very ill, for I had never known my
legs like that before. My father sitting beside me was engrossed in
the singing of a chorale that evidently had no end, each verse
finished with a long-drawn-out hallelujah, after which the organ
played by itself for a hundred years— by the organist's watch, which
was wrong, two minutes exactly— and then another verse began. My
father, being the patron of the living, was careful to sing and pray
and listen to the sermon with exemplary attention, aware that every
eye in the little church was on our pew, and at first I tried to
imitate him; but the behaviour of my legs became so alarming that
after vainly casting imploring glances at him and seeing that he
continued his singing unmoved, I put out my hand and pulled his
"Hal-le-lu-jah," sang my father with deliberation; continuing in a
low voice without changing the expression of his face, his lips hardly
moving, and his eyes fixed abstractedly on the ceiling till the
organist, who was also the postman, should have finished his solo,
"Did I not tell thee to sit still, Elizabeth?" "Yes, but— —" "Then
do it." "But I want to go home."
"Unsinn." And the next verse beginning, my father sang louder than
ever. What could I do? Should I cry? I began to be afraid I was
going to die on that chair,so extraordinary were the sensations in my
legs. What could my father do to me if I did cry? With the quick
instinct of small children I felt that he could not put me in the
corner in church, nor would he whip me in public, and that with the
whole village looking on, he was helpless, and would have to give in.
Therefore I tugged his sleeve again and more peremptorily, and
prepared to demand my immediate removal in a loud voice. But my father
was ready for me. Without interrupting his singing, or altering his
devout expression, he put his hand slowly down and gave me a hard
pinch—not a playful pinch, but a good hard unmistakeable pinch, such
as I had never imagined possible, and then went on serenely to the
next hallelujah. For a moment I was petrified with astonishment. Was
this my indulgent father, my playmate, adorer, and friend? Smarting
with pain, for I was a round baby, with a nicely stretched, tight
skin, and dreadfully hurt in my feelings, I opened my mouth to shriek
in earnest, when my father's clear whisper fell on my ear, each word
distinct and not to be misunderstood, his eyes as before gazing
meditatively into space, and his lips hardly moving, "Elizabeth, wenn
du schreist, kneife ich dich bis du platzt." And he finished the verse
with unruffled decorum—
"Will Satan mich verschlingen,
So lass die Engel singen
We never had another difference. Up to then he had been my
willing slave, and after that I was his.
With a smile and a shiver I turned from the border and its memories
to the door in the wall leading to the kitchen garden, in a corner of
which my own little garden used to be. The door was open, and I stood
still a moment before going through, to hold my breath and listen.
The silence was as profound as before. The place seemed deserted;
and I should have thought the house empty and shut up but for the
carefully tended radishes and the recent footmarks on the green of the
path. They were the footmarks of a child. I was stooping down to
examine a specially clear one, when the loud caw of a very bored
looking crow sitting on the wall just above my head made me jump as I
have seldom in my life jumped, and reminded me that I was trespassing.
Clearly my nerves were all to pieces, for I gathered up my skirts and
fled through the door as though a whole army of ghosts and cousins
were at my heels, nor did I stop till I had reached the remote corner
where my garden was. "Are you enjoying yourself, Elizabeth?" asked the
mocking sprite that calls itself my soul: but I was too much out of
breath to answer.
This was really a very safe corner. It was separated from the
main garden and the house by the wall, and shut in on the north side
by an orchard, and it was to the last degree unlikely that any one
would come there on such an afternoon. This plot of ground, turned now
as I saw into a rockery, had been the scene of my most untiring
labours. Into the cold earth of this north border on which the sun
never shone I had dug my brightest hopes. All my pocket money had
been spent on it, and as bulbs were dear and my weekly allowance
small, in a fatal hour I had borrowed from Fraulein Wundermacher,
selling her my independence, passing utterly into her power, forced
as a result till my next birthday should come round to an unnatural
suavity of speech and manner in her company, against which my very
soul revolted. And after all, nothing came up. The labour of digging
and watering, the anxious zeal with which I pounced on weeds, the
poring over gardening books, the plans made as I sat on the little
seat in the middle gazing admiringly and with the eye of faith on the
trim surface so soon to be gemmed with a thousand flowers, the
reckless expenditure of pfennings, the humiliation of my position in
regard to Fraulein Wundermacher,—all, all had been in vain. No sun
shone there, and nothing grew. The gardener who reigned supreme in
those days had given me this big piece for that sole reason, because
he could do nothing with it himself. He was no doubt of opinion that
it was quite good enough for a child to experiment upon, and went his
way, when I had thanked him with a profuseness of gratitude I still
remember, with an unmoved countenance. For more than a year I worked
and waited, and watched the career of the flourishing orchard opposite
with puzzled feelings. The orchard was only a few yards away, and yet,
although my garden was full of manure, and water, and attentions that
were never bestowed on the orchard, all it could show and ever did
show were a few unhappy beginnings of growth that either remained
stationary and did not achieve flowers, or dwindled down again and
vanished. Once I timidly asked the gardener if he could explain these
signs and wonders, but he was a busy man with no time for answering
questions, and told me shortly that gardening was not learned in a
day. How well I remember that afternoon, and the very shape of the
lazy clouds, and the smell of spring things, and myself going away
abashed and sitting on the shaky bench in my domain and wondering for
the hundredth time what it was that made the difference between my bit
and the bit of orchard in front of me. The fruit trees, far enough
away from the wall to be beyond the reach of its cold shade, were
tossing their flower-laden heads in the sunshine in a carelessly
well-satisfied fashion that filled my heart with envy. There was a
rise in the field behind them, and at the foot of its protecting slope
they luxuriated in the insolent glory of their white and pink
perfection. It was May, and my heart bled at the thought of the tulips
I had put in in November, and that I had never seen since. The whole
of the rest of the garden was on fire with tulips; behind me, on the
other side of the wall, were rows and rows of them,—cups of
translucent loveliness, a jewelled ring flung right round the lawn.
But what was there not on the other side of that wall? Things came
up there and grew and flowered exactly as my gardening books said they
should do; and in front of me, in the gay orchard, things that nobody
ever troubled about or cultivated or noticed throve joyously beneath
the trees,—daffodils thrusting their spears through the grass,
crocuses peeping out inquiringly, snowdrops uncovering their small
cold faces when the first shivering spring days came. Only my piece
that I so loved was perpetually ugly and empty. And I sat in it
thinking of these things on that radiant day, and wept aloud.
Then an apprentice came by, a youth who had often seen me busily
digging, and noticing the unusual tears, and struck perhaps by the
difference between my garden and the profusion of splendour all
around, paused with his barrow on the path in front of me, and
remarked that nobody could expect to get blood out of a stone. The
apparent irrelevance of this statement made me weep still louder, the
bitter tears of insulted sorrow; but he stuck to his point, and
harangued me from the path, explaining the connection between north
walls and tulips and blood and stones till my tears all dried up
again and I listened attentively, for the conclusion to be drawn from
his remarks was plainly that I had been shamefully taken in by the
head gardener, who was an unprincipled person thenceforward to be for
ever mistrusted and shunned. Standing on the path from which the
kindly apprentice had expounded his proverb, this scene rose before me
as clearly as though it had taken place that very day; but how
different everything looked, and how it had shrunk! Was this the wide
orchard that had seemed to stretch away, it and the sloping field
beyond, up to the gates of heaven? I believe nearly every child who is
much alone goes through a certain time of hourly expecting the Day of
Judgment, and I had made up my mind that on that Day the heavenly host
would enter the world by that very field, coming down the slope in
shining ranks, treading the daffodils under foot, filling the orchard
with their songs of exultation, joyously seeking out the sheep from
among the goats. Of course I was a sheep, and my governess and the
head gardener goats, so that the results could not fail to be in every
way satisfactory. But looking up at the slope and remembering my
visions, I laughed at the smallness of the field I had supposed would
hold all heaven.
Here again the cousins had been at work. The site of my garden
was occupied by a rockery, and the orchard grass with all its
treasures had been dug up, and the spaces between the trees planted
with currant bushes and celery in admirable rows; so that no future
little cousins will be able to dream of celestial hosts coming towards
them across the fields of daffodils, and will perhaps be the better
for being free from visions of the kind, for as I grew older,
uncomfortable doubts laid hold of my heart with cold fingers, dim
uncertainties as to the exact ultimate position of the gardener and
the governess, anxious questionings as to how it would be if it were
they who turned out after all to be sheep, and I who—? For that we
all three might be gathered into the same fold at the last never, in
those days, struck me as possible, and if it had I should not have
"Now what sort of person can that be," I asked myself, shaking my
head, as I contemplated the changes before me, "who could put a
rockery among vegetables and currant bushes? A rockery, of all things
in the gardening world, needs consummate tact in its treatment. It is
easier to make mistakes in forming a rockery than in any other garden
scheme. Either it is a great success, or it is great failure; either
it is very charming, or it is very absurd. There is no state between
the sublime and the ridiculous possible in a rockery." I stood shaking
my head disapprovingly at the rockery before me, lost in these
reflections, when a sudden quick pattering of feet coming along in a
great hurry made me turn round with a start, just in time to receive
the shock of a body tumbling out of the mist and knocking violently
It was a little girl of about twelve years old.
"Hullo!" said the little girl in excellent English; and then we
stared at each other in astonishment.
"I thought you were Miss Robinson," said the little girl, offering
no apology for having nearly knocked me down. "Who are you?"
"Miss Robinson? Miss Robinson?" I repeated, my eyes fixed on the
little girl's face, and a host of memories stirring within me. "Why,
didn't she marry a missionary, and go out to some place where they ate
The little girl stared harder. "Ate him? Marry? What, has she
been married all this time to somebody who's been eaten and never let
on? Oh, I say, what a game!" And she threw back her head and laughed
till the garden rang again.
"O hush, you dreadful little girl!" I implored, catching her by
the arm, and terrified beyond measure by the loudness of her mirth.
"Don't make that horrid noise—we are certain to be caught if you
don't stop— —"
The little girl broke off a shriek of laughter in the middle and
shut her mouth with a snap. Her eyes, round and black and shiny like
boot buttons, came still further out of her head. "Caught?" she said
eagerly. "What, are you afraid of being caught too? Well, this is a
game!" And with her hands plunged deep in the pockets of her coat she
capered in front of me in the excess of her enjoyment, reminding me of
a very fat black lamb frisking round the dazed and passive sheep its
It was clear that the time had come for me to get down to the gate
at the end of the garden as quickly as possible, and I began to move
away in that direction. The little girl at once stopped capering and
planted herself squarely in front of me. "Who are you?" she said,
examining me from my hat to my boots with the keenest interest.
I considered this ungarnished manner of asking questions
impertinent, and, trying to look lofty, made an attempt to pass at the
The little girl, with a quick, cork-like movement, was there
"Who are you?" she repeated, her expression friendly but firm. "
Oh, I—I'm a pilgrim," I said in desperation.
"A pilgrim!" echoed the little girl. She seemed struck, and while
she was struck I slipped past her and began to walk quickly towards
the door in the wall. "A pilgrim!" said the little girl, again,
keeping close beside me, and looking me up and down attentively. "I
don't like pilgrims. Aren't they people who are always walking about,
and have things the matter with their feet? Have you got anything the
matter with your feet?"
"Certainly not," I replied indignantly, walking still faster. "And
they never wash, Miss Robinson says. You don't either, do you?"
"Not wash? Oh, I'm afraid you are a very badly brought-up little
girl—oh, leave me alone—I must run—"
"So must I," said the little girl, cheerfully, "for Miss Robinson
must be close behind us. She nearly had me just before I found you."
And she started running by my side.
The thought of Miss Robinson close behind us gave wings to my
feet, and, casting my dignity, of which, indeed, there was but little
left, to the winds, I fairly flew down the path. The little girl was
not to be outrun, and though she panted and turned weird colours, kept
by my side and even talked. Oh, I was tired, tired in body and mind,
tired by the different shocks I had received, tired by the journey,
tired by the want of food; and here I was being forced to run because
this very naughty little girl chose to hide instead of going in to her
"I say—this is jolly—" she jerked out.
"But why need we run to the same place?" I breathlessly asked, in
the vain hope of getting rid of her. "Oh, yes—that's just—the fun.
We'd get on—together—you and I—"
"No, no," said I, decided on this point, bewildered though I was.
"I can't stand washing—either—it's awful—in winter— and makes
"But I don't mind it in the least," I protested faintly, not
having any energy left.
"Oh, I say!" said the little girl, looking at my face, and making
the sound known as a guffaw. The familiarity of this little girl was
We had got safely through the door, round the corner past the
radishes, and were in the shrubbery. I knew from experience how easy
it was to hide in the tangle of little paths, and stopped a moment to
look round and listen. The little girl opened her mouth to speak.
With great presence of mind I instantly put my muff in front of it
and held it there tight, while I listened. Dead silence, except for
the laboured breathing and struggles of the little girl.
"I don't hear a sound," I whispered, letting her go again. "Now
what did you want to say?" I added, eyeing her severely.
"I wanted to say," she panted, "that it's no good pretending you
wash with a nose like that."
"A nose like that! A nose like what?" I exclaimed, greatly
offended; and though I put up my hand and very tenderly and carefully
felt it, I could find no difference in it. "I am afraid poor Miss
Robinson must have a wretched life," I said, in tones of deep disgust.
The little girl smiled fatuously, as though I were paying her
compliments. "It's all green and brown," she said, pointing. "Is it
always like that?"
Then I remembered the wet fir tree near the gate, and the
enraptured kiss it had received, and blushed.
"Won't it come off?" persisted the little girl.
"Of course it will come off," I answered, frowning.
"Why don't you rub it off? "
Then I remembered the throwing away of the handkerchief, and
"Please lend me your handkerchief," I said humbly, "I—I have lost
There was a great fumbling in six different pockets, and then a
handkerchief that made me young again merely to look at it was
produced. I took it thankfully and rubbed with energy, the little
girl, intensely interested, watching the operation and giving me
advice. "There—it's all right now—a little more on the
right—there— now it's all off."
"Are you sure? No green left?" I anxiously asked.
"No, it's red all over now," she replied cheerfully. "Let me get
home," thought I, very much upset by this information, "let me get
home to my dear, uncritical, admiring babies, who accept my nose as an
example of what a nose should be, and whatever its colour think it
beautiful." And thrusting the handkerchief back into the little
girl's hands, I hurried away down the path. She packed it away
hastily, but it took some seconds for it was of the size of a small
sheet, and then came running after me. "Where are you going?" she
asked surprised, as I turned down the path leading to the gate.
"Through this gate," I replied with decision.
"But you mustn't—we're not allowed to go through there— —"
So strong was the force of old habits in that place that at the
words not allowed my hand dropped of itself from the latch; and at
that instant a voice calling quite close to us through the mist struck
"Elizabeth! Elizabeth!" called the voice, "Come in at once to your
"It's Miss Robinson," whispered the little girl, twinkling with
excitement; then, catching sight of my face, she said once more with
eager insistence, "Who are you?"
"Oh, I'm a ghost!" I cried with conviction, pressing my hands to
my forehead and looking round fearfully.
"Pooh," said the little girl.
It was the last remark I heard her make, for there was a creaking
of approaching boots in the bushes, and seized by a frightful panic I
pulled the gate open with one desperate pull, flung it to behind me,
and fled out and away down the wide, misty fields.
The Gotha Almanach says that the reigning cousin married the
daughter of a Mr. Johnstone, an Englishman, in 1885, and that in 1886
their only child was born, Elizabeth.
—Last night we had ten degrees of frost (Fahrenheit), and I went
out the first thing this morning to see what had become of the
tea-roses, and behold, they were wide awake and quite
cheerful—covered with rime it is true, but anything but black and
shrivelled. Even those in boxes on each side of the verandah steps
were perfectly alive and full of buds, and one in particular, a
Bouquet d'Or, is a mass of buds, and would flower if it could get the
least encouragement. I am beginning to think that the tenderness of
tea-roses is much exaggerated, and am certainly very glad I had the
courage to try them in this northern garden. But I must not fly too
boldly in the face of Providence, and have ordered those in the boxes
to be taken into the greenhouse for the winter, and hope the Bouquet
d'Or, in a sunny place near the glass, may be induced to open some of
those buds. The greenhouse is only used as a refuge, and kept at a
temperature just above freezing, and is reserved entirely for such
plants as cannot stand the very coldest part of the winter out of
doors. I don't use it for growing anything, because I don't love
things that will only bear the garden for three or four months in the
year and require coaxing and petting for the rest of it. Give me a
garden full of strong, healthy creatures, able to stand roughness and
cold without dismally giving in and dying. I never could see that
delicacy of constitution is pretty, either in plants or women. No
doubt there are many lovely flowers to be had by heat and constant
coaxing, but then for each of these there are fifty others still
lovelier that will gratefully grow in God's wholesome air and are
blessed in return with a far greater intensity of scent and colour.
We have been very busy till now getting the permanent beds into
order and planting the new tea-roses, and I am looking forward to next
summer with more hope than ever in spite of my many failures. I wish
the years would pass quickly that will bring my garden to perfection!
The Persian Yellows have gone into their new quarters, and their place
is occupied by the tearose Safrano; all the rose beds are carpeted
with pansies sown in July and transplanted in October, each bed having
a separate colour. The purple ones are the most charming and go well
with every rose, but I have white ones with Laurette Messimy, and
yellow ones with Safrano, and a new red sort in the big centre bed of
red roses. Round the semicircle on the south side of the little privet
hedge two rows of annual larkspurs in all their delicate shades have
been sown, and just beyond the larkspurs, on the grass, is a
semicircle of standard tea and pillar roses.
In front of the house the long borders have been stocked with
larkspurs, annual and perennial, columbines, giant poppies, pinks,
Madonna lilies, wallflowers, hollyhocks, perennial phloxes, peonies,
lavender, starworts, cornflowers, Lychnis chalcedonica, and bulbs
packed in wherever bulbs could go. These are the borders that were so
hardly used by the other gardener. The spring boxes for the verandah
steps have been filled with pink and white and yellow tulips. I love
tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of
alert cheerfulness and tidy grace, and next to a hyacinth look like a
wholesome, freshly tubbed young girl beside a stout lady whose every
movement weighs down the air with patchouli. Their faint, delicate
scent is refinement itself; and is there anything in the world more
charming than the sprightly way they hold up their little faces to the
sun. I have heard them called bold and flaunting, but to me they seem
modest grace itself, only always on the alert to enjoy life as much as
they can and not afraid of looking the sun or anything else above them
in the face. On the grass there are two beds of them carpeted with
forget-me-nots; and in the grass, in scattered groups, are daffodils
and narcissus. Down the wilder shrubbery walks foxgloves and mulleins
will (I hope) shine majestic; and one cool corner, backed by a group
of firs, is graced by Madonna lilies, white foxgloves, and columbines.
In a distant glade I have made a spring garden round an oak tree
that stands alone in the sun—groups of crocuses, daffodils,
narcissus, hyacinths, and tulips, among such flowering shrubs and
trees as Pirus Malus spectabilis, floribunda, and coronaria; Prunus
Juliana, Mahaleb, serotina, triloba, and Pissardi; Cydonias and
Weigelias in every colour, and several kinds of Crataegus and other
May lovelinesses. If the weather behaves itself nicely, and we get
gentle rains in due season, I think this little corner will be
beautiful—but what a big "if" it is! Drought is our great enemy, and
the two last summers each contained five weeks of blazing, cloudless
heat when all the ditches dried up and the soil was like hot pastry.
At such times the watering is naturally quite beyond the strength of
two men; but as a garden is a place to be happy in, and not one where
you want to meet a dozen curious eyes at every turn, I should not like
to have more than these two, or rather one and a half—the assistant
having stork-like proclivities and going home in the autumn to his
native Russia, returning in the spring with the first warm winds. I
want to keep him over the winter, as there is much to be done even
then, and I sounded him on the point the other day. He is the most
abject-looking of human beings—lame, and afflicted with a hideous
eye-disease; but he is a good worker and plods along unwearyingly from
sunrise to dusk.
"Pray, my good stork," said I, or German words to that effect,
"why don't you stay here altogether, instead of going home and rioting
away all you have earned?"
"I would stay," he answered," but I have my wife there in Russia."
"Your wife!" I exclaimed, stupidly surprised that the poor
deformed creature should have found a mate—as though there were not a
superfluity of mates in the world—"I didn't know you were married?"
"Yes, and I have two little children, and I don't know what they
would do if I were not to come home. But it is a very expensive
journey to Russia, and costs me every time seven marks."
"Yes, it is a great sum."
I wondered whether I should be able to get to Russia for seven
marks, supposing I were to be seized with an unnatural craving to go
All the labourers who work here from March to December are
Russians and Poles, or a mixture of both. We send a man over who can
speak their language, to fetch as many as he can early in the year,
and they arrive with their bundles, men and women and babies, and as
soon as they have got here and had their fares paid, they disappear in
the night if they get the chance, sometimes fifty of them at a time,
to go and work singly or in couples for the peasants, who pay them a
pfenning or two more a day than we do, and let them eat with the
family. From us they get a mark and a half to two marks a day, and as
many potatoes as they can eat. The women get less, not because they
work less, but because they are women and must not be encouraged. The
overseer lives with them, and has a loaded revolver in his pocket and
a savage dog at his heels. For the first week or two after their
arrival, the foresters and other permanent officials keep guard at
night over the houses they are put into. I suppose they find it
sleepy work; for certain it is that spring after spring the same thing
happens, fifty of them getting away in spite of all our precautions,
and we are left with our mouths open and much out of pocket. This
spring, by some mistake, they arrived without their bundles, which had
gone astray on the road, and, as they travel in their best clothes,
they refused utterly to work until their luggage came. Nearly a week
was lost waiting, to the despair of all in authority.
Nor will any persuasions induce them to do anything on Saints'
days, and there surely never was a church so full of them as the
Russian Church. In the spring, when every hour is of vital
importance, the work is constantly being interrupted by them, and the
workers lie sleeping in the sun the whole day, agreeably conscious
that they are pleasing themselves and the Church at one and the same
time— a state of perfection as rare as it is desirable. Reason
unaided by Faith is of course exasperated at this waste of precious
time, and I confess that during the first mild days after the long
winter frost when it is possible to begin to work the ground, I have
sympathised with the gloom of the Man of Wrath, confronted in one week
by two or three empty days on which no man will labour, and have
listened in silence to his remarks about distant Russian saints.
I suppose it was my own superfluous amount of civilisation that
made me pity these people when first I came to live among them. They
herd together like animals and do the work of animals; but in spite of
the armed overseer, the dirt and the rags, the meals of potatoes
washed down by weak vinegar and water, I am beginning to believe that
they would strongly object to soap, I am sure they would not wear new
clothes, and I hear them coming home from their work at dusk singing.
They are like little children or animals in their utter inability to
grasp the idea of a future; and after all, if you work all day in
God's sunshine, when evening comes you are pleasantly tired and ready
for rest and not much inclined to find fault with your lot. I have not
yet persuaded myself, however, that the women are happy. They have to
work as hard as the men and get less for it; they have to produce
offspring, quite regardless of times and seasons and the general
fitness of things ; they have to do this as expeditiously as possible,
so that they may not unduly interrupt the work in hand; nobody helps
them, notices them, or cares about them, least of all the husband. It
is quite a usual thing to see them working in the fields in the
morning, and working again in the afternoon, having in the interval
produced a baby. The baby is left to an old woman whose duty it is to
look after babies collectively. When I expressed my horror at the poor
creatures working immediately afterwards as though nothing had
happened, the Man of Wrath informed me that they did not suffer
because they had never worn corsets, nor had their mothers and
grandmothers. We were riding together at the time, and had just passed
a batch of workers, and my husband was speaking to the overseer, when
a woman arrived alone, and taking up a spade, began to dig. She
grinned cheerfully at us as she made a curtesy, and the overseer
remarked that she had just been back to the house and had a baby.
"Poor, poor woman!" I cried, as we rode on, feeling for some
occult reason very angry with the Man of Wrath. "And her wretched
husband doesn't care a rap, and will probably beat her to-night if his
supper isn't right. What nonsense it is to talk about the equality of
the sexes when the women have the babies! "
"Quite so, my dear," replied the Man of Wrath, smiling
condescendingly. "You have got to the very root of the matter.
Nature, while imposing this agreeable duty on the woman, weakens her
and disables her for any serious competition with man. How can a
person who is constantly losing a year of the best part of her life
compete with a young man who never loses any time at all? He has the
brute force, and his last word on any subject could always be his
I said nothing. It was a dull, gray afternoon in the beginning of
November, and the leaves dropped slowly and silently at our horses'
feet as we rode towards the Hirschwald.
"It is a universal custom," proceeded the Man of Wrath, "amongst
these Russians, and I believe amongst the lower classes everywhere,
and certainly commendable on the score of simplicity, to silence a
woman's objections and aspirations by knocking her down. I have heard
it said that this apparently brutal action has anything but the
maddening effect tenderly nurtured persons might suppose, and that the
patient is soothed and satisfied with a rapidity and completeness
unattainable by other and more polite methods. Do you suppose," he
went on, flicking a twig off a tree with his whip as we passed, "that
the intellectual husband, wrestling intellectually with the chaotic
yearnings of his intellectual wife, ever achieves the result aimed at?
He may and does go on wrestling till he is tired, but never does he
in the very least convince her of her folly; while his brother in the
ragged coat has got through the whole business in less time than it
takes me to speak about it. There is no doubt that these poor women
fulfil their vocation far more thoroughly than the women in our class,
and, as the truest: happiness consists in finding one's vocation
quickly and continuing in it all one's days, I consider they are to be
envied rather than not, since they are early taught, by the
impossibility of argument with marital muscle, the impotence of female
endeavour and the blessings of content."
"Pray go on," I said politely.
"These women accept their beatings with a simplicity worthy of all
praise, and far from considering themselves insulted, admire the
strength and energy of the man who can administer such eloquent
rebukes. In Russia, not only may a man beat his wife, but it is laid
down in the catechism and taught all boys at the time of confirmation
as necessary at least once a week, whether she has done anything or
not, for the sake of her general health and happiness."
I thought I observed a tendency in the Man of Wrath rather to
gloat over these castigations.
"Pray, my dear man," I said, pointing with my whip, "look at that
baby moon so innocently peeping at us over the edge of the mist just
behind that silver birch; and don't talk so much about women and
things you don't understand. What is the use of your bothering about
fists and whips and muscles and all the dreadful things invented for
the confusion of obstreperous wives? You know you are a civilised
husband, and a civilised husband is a creature who has ceased to be a
"And a civilised wife?" he asked, bringing his horse close up
beside me and putting his arm round my waist, "has she ceased to be a
"I should think so indeed,—she is a goddess, and can never be
worshipped and adored enough."
"It seems to me," he said, "that the conversation is growing
I started off at a canter across the short, springy turf. The
Hirschwald is an enchanted place on such an evening, when the mists
lie low on the turf, and overhead the delicate, bare branches of the
silver birches stand out clear against the soft sky, while the little
moon looks down kindly on the damp November world. Where the trees
thicken into a wood, the fragrance of the wet earth and rotting leaves
kicked up by the horses' hoofs fills my soul with delight. I
particularly love that smell,—it brings before me the entire
benevolence of Nature, for ever working death and decay, so piteous in
themselves, into the means of fresh life and glory, and sending up
sweet odours as she works.
—I have been to England. I went for at least a month and stayed
a week in a fog and was blown home again in a gale. Twice I fled
before the fogs into the country to see friends with gardens, but it
was raining, and except the beautiful lawns (not to be had in the
Fatherland) and the infinite possibilities, there was nothing to
interest the intelligent and garden-loving foreigner, for the good
reason that you cannot be interested in gardens under an umbrella. So
I went back to the fogs, and after groping about for a few days more
began to long inordinately for Germany. A terrific gale sprang up
after I had started, and the journey both by sea and land was full of
horrors, the trains in Germany being heated to such an extent that it
is next to impossible to sit still, great gusts of hot air coming up
under the cushions, the cushions themselves being very hot, and the
wretched traveller still hotter.
But when I reached my home and got out of the train into the
purest, brightest snow-atmosphere, the air so still that the whole
world seemed to be listening, the sky cloudless, the crisp snow
sparkling underfoot and on the trees, and a happy row of three beaming
babies awaiting me, I was consoled for all my torments, only
remembering them enough to wonder why I had gone away at all.
The babies each had a kitten in one hand and an elegant bouquet of
pine needles and grass in the other, and what with the due
presentation of the bouquets and the struggles of the kittens, the
hugging and kissing was much interfered with. Kittens, bouquets, and
babies were all somehow squeezed into the sleigh, and off we went with
jingling bells and shrieks of delight. "Directly you comes home the
fun begins," said the May baby, sitting very close to me. "How the
snow purrs!" cried the April baby, as the horses scrunched it up with
their feet. The June baby sat loudly singing "The King of Love my
Shepherd is," and swinging her kitten round by its tail to emphasise
The house, half-buried in the snow, looked the very abode of
peace, and I ran through all the rooms, eager to take possession of
them again, and feeling as though I had been away for ever. When I got
to the library I came to a standstill,—ah, the dear room, what happy
times I have spent in it rummaging amongst the books, making plans for
my garden, building castles in the air, writing, dreaming, doing
nothing! There was a big peat fire blazing half up the chimney, and
the old housekeeper had put pots of flowers about, and on the
writingtable was a great bunch of violets scenting the room. "Oh, how
good it is to be home again!" I sighed in my satisfaction. The babies
clung about my knees, looking up at me with eyes full of love. Outside
the dazzling snow and sunshine, inside the bright room and happy
faces—I thought of those yellow fogs and shivered. The library is not
used by the Man of Wrath ; it is neutral ground where we meet in the
evenings for an hour before he disappears into his own rooms—a series
of very smoky dens in the southeast corner of the house. It looks, I
am afraid, rather too gay for an ideal library; and its colouring,
white and yellow, is so cheerful as to be almost frivolous. There are
white bookcases all round the walls, and there is a great fireplace,
and four windows, facing full south, opening on to my most cherished
bit of garden, the bit round the sun-dial; so that with so much colour
and such a big fire and such floods of sunshine it has anything but a
sober air, in spite of the venerable volumes filling the shelves.
Indeed, I should never be surprised if they skipped down from their
places, and, picking up their leaves, began to dance.
With this room to live in, I can look forward with perfect
equanimity to being snowed up for any time Providence thinks proper;
and to go into the garden in its snowed-up state is like going into a
bath of purity. The first breath on opening the door is so ineffably
pure that it makes me gasp, and I feel a black and sinful object in
the midst of all the spotlessness. Yesterday I sat out of doors near
the sun-dial the whole afternoon, with the thermometer so many degrees
below freezing that it will be weeks finding its way up again; but
there was no wind, and beautiful sunshine, and I was well wrapped up
in furs. I even had tea brought out there, to the astonishment of the
menials, and sat till long after the sun had set, enjoying the frosty
air. I had to drink the tea very quickly, for it showed a strong
inclination to begin to freeze. After the sun had gone down the rooks
came home to their nests in the garden with a great fuss and
fluttering, and many hesitations and squabbles before they settled on
their respective trees. They flew over my head in hundreds with a
mighty swish of wings, and when they had arranged themselves
comfortably, an intense hush fell upon the garden, and the house began
to look like a Christmas card, with its white roof against the clear,
pale green of the western sky, and lamplight shining in the windows.
I had been reading a Life of Luther, lent me by our parson, in the
intervals between looking round me and being happy. He came one day
with the book and begged me to read it, having discovered that my
interest in Luther was not as living as it ought to be; so I took it
out with me into the garden, because the dullest book takes on a
certain saving grace if read out of doors, just as bread and butter,
devoid of charm in the drawing-room, is ambrosia eaten under a tree.
I read Luther all the afternoon with pauses for refreshing glances at
the garden and the sky, and much thankfulness in my heart. His
struggles with devils amazed me ; and I wondered whether such a day as
that, full of grace and the forgiveness of sins, never struck him as
something to make him relent even towards devils. He apparently never
allowed himself just to be happy. He was a wonderful man, but I am
glad I was not his wife.
Our parson is an interesting person, and untiring in his efforts
to improve himself. Both he and his wife study whenever they have a
spare moment, and there is a tradition that she stirs her puddings
with one hand and holds a Latin grammar in the other, the grammar, of
course, getting the greater share of her attention. To most German
Hausfraus the dinners and the puddings are of paramount importance,
and they pride themselves on keeping those parts of their houses that
are seen in a state of perpetual and spotless perfection, and this is
exceedingly praiseworthy; but, I would humbly inquire, are there not
other things even more important? And is not plain living and high
thinking better than the other way about? And all too careful making
of dinners and dusting of furniture takes a terrible amount of
precious time, and—and with shame I confess that my sympathies are
all with the pudding and the grammar. It cannot be right to be the
slave of one's household gods, and I protest that if my furniture ever
annoyed me by wanting to be dusted when I wanted to be doing something
else, and there was no one to do the dusting for me, I would cast it
all into the nearest bonfire and sit and warm my toes at the flames
with great contentment, triumphantly selling my dusters to the very
next pedlar who was weak enough to buy them. Parsons' wives have to do
the housework and cooking themselves, and are thus not only cooks and
housemaids, but if they have children— and they always do have
children—they are head and under nurse as well; and besides these
trifling duties have a good deal to do with their fruit and vegetable
garden, and everything to do with their poultry. This being so, is it
not pathetic to find a young woman bravely struggling to learn
languages and keep up with her husband? If I were that husband, those
puddings would taste sweetest to me that were served with Latin sauce.
They are both severely pious, and are for ever engaged in desperate
efforts to practise what they preach; than which, as we all know,
nothing is more difficult. He works in his parish with the most noble
self-devotion, and never loses courage, although his efforts have been
several times rewarded by disgusting libels pasted up on the
street-corners, thrown under doors, and even fastened to his own
garden wall. The peasant hereabouts is past belief low and animal, and
a sensitive, intellectual parson among them is really a pearl before
swine. For years he has gone on unflinchingly, filled with the most
living faith and hope and charity, and I sometimes wonder whether they
are any better now in his parish than they were under his predecessor,
a man who smoked and drank beer from Monday morning to Saturday night,
never did a stroke of work, and often kept the scanty congregation
waiting on Sunday afternoons while he finished his postprandial nap.
It is discouraging enough to make most men give in, and leave the
parish to get to heaven or not as it pleases; but he never seems
discouraged, and goes on sacrificing the best part of his life to
these people when all his tastes are literary, and all his
inclinations towards the life of the student. His convictions drag him
out of his little home at all hours to minister to the sick and exhort
the wicked; they give him no rest, and never let him feel he has done
enough; and when he comes home weary, after a day's wrestling with his
parishioners' souls, he is confronted on his doorstep by filthy abuse
pasted up on his own front door. He never speaks of these things, but
how shall they be hid? Everybody here knows everything that happens
before the day is over, and what we have for dinner is of far greater
general interest than the most astounding political earthquake. They
have a pretty, roomy cottage, and a good bit of ground adjoining the
churchyard. His predecessor used to hang out his washing on the
tombstones to dry, but then he was a person entirely lost to all sense
of decency, and had finally to be removed, preaching a farewell sermon
of a most vituperative description, and hurling invective at the Man
of Wrath, who sat up in his box drinking in every word and enjoying
himself thoroughly. The Man of Wrath likes novelty, and such a sermon
had never been heard before. It is spoken of in the village to this
day with bated breath and awful joy.
—Up to now we have had a beautiful winter. Clear skies, frost,
little wind, and, except for a sharp touch now and then, very few
really cold days. My windows are gay with hyacinths and lilies of the
valley; and though, as I have said, I don't admire the smell of
hyacinths in the spring when it seems wanting in youth and chastity
next to that of other flowers, I am glad enough now to bury my nose in
their heavy sweetness. In December one cannot afford to be fastidious;
besides, one is actually less fastidious about everything in the
winter. The keen air braces soul as well as body into robustness, and
the food and the perfume disliked in the summer are perfectly welcome
I am very busy preparing for Christmas, but have often locked
myself up in a room alone, shutting out my unfinished duties, to study
the flower catalogues and make my lists of seeds and shrubs and trees
for the spring. It is a fascinating occupation, and acquires an
additional charm when you know you ought to be doing something else,
that Christmas is at the door, that children and servants and farm
hands depend on you for their pleasure, and that, if you don't see to
the decoration of the trees and house, and the buying of the presents,
nobody else will. The hours fly by shut up with those catalogues and
with Duty snarling on the other side of the door. I don't like Duty—
everything in the least disagreeable is always sure to be one's duty.
Why cannot it be my duty to make lists and plans for the dear garden?
"And so it is," I insisted to the Man of Wrath, when he protested
against what he called wasting my time upstairs. "No," he replied
sagely; "your garden is not your duty, because it is your Pleasure."
What a comfort it is to have such wells of wisdom constantly at my
disposal! Anybody can have a husband, but to few is it given to have
a sage, and the combination of both is as rare as it is useful.
Indeed, in its practical utility the only thing I ever saw to equal it
is a sofa my neighbour has bought as a Christmas surprise for her
husband, and which she showed me the last time I called there—a
beautiful invention, as she explained, combining a bedstead, a sofa,
and a chest of drawers, and into which you put your clothes, and on
top of which you put yourself, and if anybody calls in the middle of
the night and you happen to be using the drawing-room as a bedroom,
you just pop the bedclothes inside, and there you are discovered
sitting on your sofa and looking for all the world as though you had
been expecting visitors for hours.
"Pray, does he wear pyjamas?" I inquired.
But she had never heard of pyjamas.
It takes a long time to make my spring lists. I want to have a
border all yellow, every shade of yellow from fieriest orange to
nearly white, and the amount of work and studying of gardening books
it costs me will only be appreciated by beginners like myself. I have
been weeks planning it, and it is not nearly finished. I want it to be
a succession of glories from May till the frosts, and the chief
feature is to be the number of "ardent marigolds"— flowers that I
very tenderly love—and nasturtiums. The nasturtiums are to be of
every sort and shade, and are to climb and creep and grow in bushes,
and show their lovely flowers and leaves to the best advantage. Then
there are to be eschscholtzias, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias,
scabiosa, portulaca, yellow violas, yellow stocks, yellow sweet-peas,
yellow lupins—everything that is yellow or that has a yellow variety.
The place I have chosen for it is a long, wide border in the sun, at
the foot of a grassy slope crowned with lilacs and pines, and facing
southeast. You go through a little pine wood, and, turning a corner,
are to come suddenly upon this bit of captured morning glory. I want
it to be blinding in its brightness after the dark, cool path through
That is the idea. Depression seizes me when I reflect upon the
probable difference between the idea and its realisation. I am
ignorant, and the gardener is, I do believe, still more so; for he was
forcing some tulips, and they have all shrivelled up and died, and he
says he cannot imagine why. Besides, he is in love with the cook, and
is going to marry her after Christmas, and refuses to enter into any
of my plans with the enthusiasm they deserve, but sits with vacant eye
dreamily chopping wood from morning till night to keep the beloved
one's kitchen fire well supplied. I cannot understand any one
preferring cooks to marigolds; those future marigolds, shadowy as they
are, and whose seeds are still sleeping at the seedsman's, have shone
through my winter days like golden lamps.
I wish with all my heart I were a man, for of course the first
thing I should do would be to buy a spade and go and garden, and then
I should have the delight of doing everything for my flowers with my
own hands and need not waste time explaining what I want done to
somebody else. It is dull work giving orders and trying to describe
the bright visions of one's brain to a person who has no visions and
no brain, and who thinks a yellow bed should be calceolarias edged
I have taken care in choosing my yellow plants to put down only
those humble ones that are easily pleased and grateful for little,
for my soil is by no means all that it might be, and to most plants
the climate is rather trying. I feel really grateful to any flower
that is sturdy and willing enough to flourish here. Pansies seem to
like the place and so do sweet-peas; pinks don't, and after much
coaxing gave hardly any flowers last summer. Nearly all the roses were
a success, in spite of the sandy soil, except the tea-rose Adam, which
was covered with buds ready to open, when they suddenly turned brown
and died, and three standard Dr. Grills which stood in a row and
simply sulked. I had been very excited about Dr. Grill, his
description in the catalogues being specially fascinating, and no
doubt I deserved the snubbing I got. "Never be excited, my dears,
about anything," shall be the advice I will give the three babies when
the time comes to take them out to parties, "or, if you are, don't
show it. If by nature you are volcanoes, at least be only smouldering
ones. Don't look pleased, don't look interested, don't, above all
things, look eager. Calm indifference should be written on every
feature of your faces. Never show that you like any one person, or any
one thing. Be cool, languid, and reserved. If you don't do as your
mother tells you and are just gushing, frisky, young idiots, snubs
will be your portion. If you do as she tells you, you'll marry
princes and live happily ever after."
Dr. Grill must be a German rose. In this part of the world the
more you are pleased to see a person the less is he pleased to see
you; whereas, if you are disagreeable, he will grow pleasant visibly,
his countenance expanding into wider amiability the more your own is
stiff and sour. But I was not Prepared for that sort of thing in a
rose, and was disgusted with Dr. Grill. He had the best place in the
garden—warm, sunny, and sheltered; his holes were prepared with the
tenderest care; he was given the most dainty mixture of compost, clay,
and manure; he was watered assiduously all through the drought when
more willing flowers got nothing; and he refused to do anything but
look black and shrivel. He did not die, but neither did he live—he
just existed; and at the end of the summer not one of him had a scrap
more shoot or leaf than when he was first put in in April. It would
have been better if he had died straight away, for then I should have
known what to do; as it is, there he is still occupying the best
place, wrapped up carefully for the winter, excluding kinder roses,
and probably intending to repeat the same conduct next year. Well,
trials are the portion of mankind, and gardeners have their share, and
in any case it is better to be tried by plants than persons, seeing
that with plants you know that it is you who are in the wrong, and
with persons it is always the other way about—and who is there among
us who has not felt the pangs of injured innocence, and known them to
I have two visitors staying with me, though I have done nothing to
provoke such an infliction, and had been looking forward to a happy
little Christmas alone with the Man of Wrath and the babies. Fate
decreed otherwise. Quite regularly, if I look forward to anything,
Fate steps in and decrees otherwise; I don't know why it should, but
it does. I had not even invited these good ladies—like greatness on
the modest, they were thrust upon me. One is Irais, the sweet singer
of the summer, whom I love as she deserves, but of whom I certainly
thought I had seen the last for at least a year, when she wrote and
asked if I would have her over Christmas, as her husband was out of
sorts, and she didn't like him in that state. Neither do I like sick
husbands, so, full of sympathy, I begged her to come, and here she is.
And the other is Minora.
Why I have to have Minora I don't know, for I was not even aware
of her existence a fortnight ago. Then coming down cheerfully one
morning to breakfast— it was the very day after my return from
England— I found a letter from an English friend, who up till then
had been perfectly innocuous, asking me to befriend Minora. I read
the letter aloud for the benefit of the Man of Wrath, who was eating
Spickgans, a delicacy much sought after in these parts.
"Do, my dear Elizabeth," wrote my friend, "take some notice of the
poor thing. She is studying art in Dresden, and has nowhere literally
to go for Christmas. She is very ambitious and hardworking—"
"Then," interrupted the Man of Wrath," she is not pretty. "Only
ugly girls work hard."
"—and she is really very clever—"
"I do not like clever girls, they are so stupid," again
interrupted the Man of Wrath.
"—and unless some kind creature like yourself takes pity on her
she will be very lonely."
"Then let her be lonely."
"Her mother is my oldest friend, and would be greatly distressed to
think that her daughter should be alone in a foreign town at such a
"I do not mind the distress of the mother."
"Oh, dear me," I exclaimed impatiently, "I shall have to ask her
"If you should be inclined," the letter went on, "to play the good
Samaritan, dear Elizabeth, I am positive you would find Minora a
bright, intelligent companion—"
"Minora?" questioned the Man of Wrath.
The April baby, who has had a nursery governess of an altogether
alarmingly zealous type attached to her person for the last six weeks,
looked up from her bread and milk.
"It sounds like islands," she remarked pensively.
The governess coughed.
"Majora, Minora, Alderney, and Sark," explained her pupil.
I looked at her severely.
"If you are not careful, April," I said, "you'll be a genius when
you grow up and disgrace your parents."
Miss Jones looked as though she did not like Germans. I am afraid
she despises us because she thinks we are foreigners— an attitude of
mind quite British and wholly to her credit; but we, on the other
hand, regard her as a foreigner, which, of course, makes things
"Shall I really have to have this strange girl?" I asked,
addressing nobody in particular and not expecting a reply.
"You need not have her," said the Man of Wrath composedly, "but
you will. You will write to-day and cordially invite her, and when
she has been here twenty-four hours you will quarrel with her. I know
you, my dear."
"Quarrel! I? With a little art-student?" Miss Jones cast down her
eyes. She is perpetually scenting a scene, and is always ready to
bring whole batteries of discretion and tact and good taste to bear on
us, and seems to know we are disputing in an unseemly manner when we
would never dream it ourselves but for the warning of her downcast
eyes. I would take my courage in both hands and ask her to go, for
besides this superfluity of discreet behaviour she is, although only
nursery, much too zealous, and inclined to be always teaching and
never playing; but, unfortunately, the April baby adores her and is
sure there never was any one so beautiful before. She comes every day
with fresh accounts of the splendours of her wardrobe, and feeling
descriptions of her umbrellas and hats; and Miss Jones looks offended
and purses up her lips. In common with most governesses, she has a
little dark down on her upper lip, and the April baby appeared one day
at dinner with her own decorated in faithful imitation, having
achieved it after much struggling, with the aid of a lead pencil and
unbounded love. Miss Jones put her in the corner for impertinence. I
wonder why governesses are so unpleasant. The Man of Wrath says it is
because they are not married. Without venturing to differ entirely
from the opinion of experience, I would add that the strain of
continually having to set an example must surely be very great. It is
much easier, and often more pleasant, to be a warning than an example,
and governesses are but women, and women are sometimes foolish, and
when you want to be foolish it must be annoying to have to be wise.
Minora and Irais arrived yesterday together; or rather, when the
carriage drove up, Irais got out of it alone, and informed me that
there was a strange girl on a bicycle a little way behind. I sent back
the carriage to pick her up, for it was dusk and the roads are
"But why do you have strange girls here at all?" asked Irais
rather peevishly, taking off her hat in the library before the fire,
and otherwise making herself very much at home; "I don't like them.
I'm not sure that they're not worse than husbands who are out of
order. Who is she? She would bicycle from the station, and is, I am
sure, the first woman who has done it. The little boys threw stones
"Oh, my dear, that only shows the ignorance of the little boys.
Never mind her. Let us have tea in peace before she comes." "But we
should be much happier without her," she grumbled. "Weren't we happy
enough in the summer, Elizabeth—just you and I? "
"Yes, indeed we were," I answered heartily, putting my arms round
her. The flame of my affection for Irais burns very brightly on the
day of her arrival; besides, this time I have prudently provided
against her sinning with the salt-cellars by ordering them to be
handed round like vegetable dishes. We had finished tea and she had
gone up to her room to dress before Minora and her bicycle were got
here. I hurried out to meet her, feeling sorry for her, plunged into
a circle of strangers at such a very personal season as Christmas.
But she was not very shy; indeed, she was less shy than I was, and
lingered in the hall, giving the servants directions to wipe the snow
off the tyres of her machine before she lent an attentive ear to my
"I couldn't make your man understand me at the station," she said
at last, when her mind was at rest about her bicycle; "I asked him how
far it was, and what the roads were like, and he only smiled. Is he
German? But of course he is— how odd that he didn't understand. You
speak English very well,— very well indeed, do you know." By this
time we were in the library, and she stood on the hearth-rug warming
her back while I poured her out some tea.
"What a quaint room," she remarked, looking round, "and the hall
is so curious too. Very old, isn't it? There's a lot of copy here."
The Man of Wrath, who had been in the hall on her arrival and had
come in with us, began to look about on the carpet. "Copy" he
inquired, "Where's copy? "
"Oh—material, you know, for a book. I'm just jotting down what
strikes me in your country, and when I have time shall throw it into
book form." She spoke very loud, as English people always do to
"My dear," I said breathlessly to Irais, when I had got into her
room and shut the door and Minora was safely in hers, "what do you
think— she writes books!"
"What—the bicycling girl?"
We stood and looked at each other with awestruck faces.
"How dreadful!" murmured Irais. "I never met a young girl who did
"She says this place is full of copy." "Full of what? "
"That's what you make books with."
"Oh, my dear, this is worse than I expected! A strange girl is
always a bore among good friends, but one can generally manage her.
But a girl who writes books—why, it isn't respectable! And you can't
snub that sort of people; they're unsnubbable."
"Oh, but we'll try!" I cried, with such heartiness that we both
The hall and the library struck Minora most; indeed, she lingered
so long after dinner in the hall, which is cold, that the Man of Wrath
put on his fur coat by way of a gentle hint. His hints are always
She wanted to hear the whole story about the chapel and the nuns
and Gustavus Adolphus, and pulling out a fat note-book began to take
down what I said. I at once relapsed into silence.
"Well?" she said.
"Oh, but you've only just begun."
"It doesn't go any further. Won't you come into the library? "
In the library she again took up her stand before the fire and
warmed herself, and we sat in a row and were cold. She has a
wonderfully good profile, which is irritating. The wind, however, is
tempered to the shorn lamb by her eyes being set too closely together.
Irais lit a cigarette, and leaning back in her chair, contemplated
her critically beneath her long eyelashes. "You are writing a book?"
she asked presently.
"Well—yes, I suppose I may say that I am. Just my impressions,
you know, of your country. Anything that strikes me as curious or
amusing—I jot it down, and when I have time shall work it up into
something, I daresay."
"Are you not studying painting? "
"Yes, but I can't study that for ever. We have an English proverb:
'Life is short and Art is long'—too long, I sometimes think— and
writing is a great relaxation when I am tired."
"What shall you call it?"
"Oh, I thought of calling it Journeyings in Germany. It sounds
well, and would be correct. Or Jottings from German Journeyings,—I
haven't quite decided yet which."
"By the author of Prowls in Pomerania, you might add," suggested
"And Drivel from Dresden," said I.
"And Bosh from Berlin," added Irais.
Minora stared. "I don't think those two last ones would do," she
said, "because it is not to be a facetious book. But your first one is
rather a good title," she added, looking at Irais and drawing out her
note-book. "I think I'll just jot that down."
"If you jot down all we say and then publish it, will it still be
your book?" asked Irais.
But Minora was so busy scribbling that she did not hear.
"And have you no suggestions to make, Sage?" asked Irais, turning
to the Man of Wrath, who was blowing out clouds of smoke in silence.
"Oh, do you call him Sage?" cried Minora; "and always in English?"
Irais and I looked at each other. We knew what we did call him,
and were afraid Minora would in time ferret it out and enter it in her
note-book. The Man of Wrath looked none too well pleased to be alluded
to under his very nose by our new guest as "him."
"Husbands are always sages," said I gravely.
"Though sages are not always husbands," said Irais with equal
gravity. "Sages and husbands—sage and husbands—" she went on
musingly, "what does that remind you of, Miss Minora?"
"Oh, I know,—how stupid of me!" cried Minora eagerly, her pencil
in mid-air and her brain clutching at the elusive recollection, "sage
and,— why,—yes,—no,—yes, of course—oh," disappointedly, "but
that's vulgar— I can't put it in."
"What is vulgar?" I asked.
"She thinks sage and onions is vulgar," said Irais languidly; "but
it isn't, it is very good." She got up and walked to the piano, and,
sitting down, began, after a little wandering over the keys, to sing.
"Do you play?" I asked Minora.
"Yes, but I am afraid I am rather out of practice."
I said no more. I know what that sort of playing is.
"When we were lighting our bedroom candles Minora began suddenly
to speak in an unknown tongue. We stared. "What is the matter with
her?" murmured Irais.
"I thought, perhaps," said Minora in English, you might prefer to
talk German, and as it is all the same to me what I talk—" "Oh, pray
don't trouble," said Irais. "We like airing our English— don't we,
"I don't want my German to get rusty though," said Minora; "I
shouldn't like to forget it."
"Oh, but isn't there an English song," said Irais, twisting round
her neck as she preceded us upstairs, "''Tis folly to remember, 'tis
wisdom to forget'?"
"You are not nervous sleeping alone, I hope," I said hastily.
"What room is she in?" asked Irais.
"Oh!—do you believe in ghosts?"
Minora turned pale.
"What nonsense," said I; "we have no ghosts here. Good-night. If
you want anything, mind you ring."
"And if you see anything curious in that room," called Irais from
her bedroom door, "mind you jot it down."
—It is the fashion, I believe, to regard Christmas as a bore of
rather a gross description, and as a time when you are invited to
over-eat yourself, and pretend to be merry without just cause. As a
matter of fact, it is one of the prettiest and most poetic
institutions possible, if observed in the proper manner, and after
having been more or less unpleasant to everybody for a whole year, it
is a blessing to be forced on that one day to be amiable, and it is
certainly delightful to be able to give presents without being haunted
by the conviction that you are spoiling the recipient, and will suffer
for it afterward. Servants are only big children, and are made just as
happy as children by little presents and nice things to eat, and, for
days beforehand, every time the three babies go into the garden they
expect to meet the Christ Child with His arms full of gifts. They
firmly believe that it is thus their presents are brought, and it is
such a charming idea that Christmas would be worth celebrating for its
As great secrecy is observed, the preparations devolve entirely on
me, and it is not very easy work, with so many people in our own house
and on each of the farms, and all the children, big and little,
expecting their share of happiness. The library is uninhabitable for
several days before and after, as it is there that we have the trees
and presents. All down one side are the trees, and the other three
sides are lined with tables, a separate one for each person in the
house. When the trees are lighted, and stand in their radiance shining
down on the happy faces, I forget all the trouble it has been, and
the number of times I have had to run up and down stairs, and the
various aches in head and feet, and enjoy myself as much as anybody.
First the June baby is ushered in, then the others and ourselves
according to age, then the servants, then come the head inspector and
his family, the other inspectors from the different farms, the
mamsells, the bookkeepers and secretaries, and then all the children,
troops and troops of them— the big ones leading the little ones by
the hand and carrying the babies in their arms, and the mothers
peeping round the door. As many as can get in stand in front of the
trees, and sing two or three carols; then they are given their
presents, and go off triumphantly, making room for the next batch. My
three babies sang lustily too, whether they happened to know what was
being sung or not. They had on white dresses in honour of the
occasion, and the June baby was even arrayed in a low-necked and
short-sleeved garment, after the manner of Teutonic infants, whatever
the state of the thermometer. Her arms are like miniature
prize-fighter's arms—I never saw such things; they are the pride and
joy of her little nurse, who had tied them up with blue ribbons, and
kept on kissing them. I shall certainly not be able to take her to
balls when she grows up, if she goes on having arms like that.
When they came to say good-night, they were all very pale and
subdued. The April baby had an exhausted-looking Japanese doll with
her, which she said she was taking to bed, not because she liked him,
but because she was so sorry for him, he seemed so very tired. They
kissed me absently, and went away, only the April baby glancing at the
trees as she passed and making them a curtesy.
"Good-bye, trees," I heard her say; and then she made the Japanese
doll bow to them, which he did, in a very languid and blase fashion.
"You'll never see such trees again," she told him, giving him a
vindictive shake, "for you'll be brokened long before next time."
She went out, but came back as though she had forgotten something.
"Thank the Christkind so much, Mummy, won't you, for all the
lovely things He brought us. I suppose you're writing to Him now,
I cannot see that there was anything gross about our Christmas,
and we were perfectly merry without any need to pretend, and for at
least two days it brought us a little nearer together, and made us
kind. Happiness is so wholesome; it invigorates and warms me into
piety far more effectually than any amount of trials and griefs, and
an unexpected pleasure is the surest means of bringing me to my knees.
In spite of the protestations of some peculiarly constructed persons
that they are the better for trials, I don't believe it. Such things
must sour us, just as happiness must sweeten us, and make us kinder,
and more gentle. And will anybody affirm that it behoves us to be
more thankful for trials than for blessings? We were meant to be
happy, and to accept all the happiness offered with
thankfulness—indeed, we are none of us ever thankful enough, and yet
we each get so much, so very much, more than we deserve. I know a
woman—she stayed with me last summer—who rejoices grimly when those
she loves suffer. She believes that it is our lot, and that it braces
us and does us good, and she would shield no one from even unnecessary
pain; she weeps with the sufferer, but is convinced it is all for the
best. Well, let her continue in her dreary beliefs; she has no garden
to teach her the beauty and the happiness of holiness, nor does she in
the least desire to possess one; her convictions have the sad gray
colouring of the dingy streets and houses she lives amongst—the sad
colour of humanity in masses. Submission to what people call their
"lot" is simply ignoble. If your lot makes you cry and be wretched,
get rid of it and take another; strike out for yourself; don't listen
to the shrieks of your relations, to their gibes or their entreaties;
don't let your own microscopic set prescribe your goings-out and
comings-in; don't be afraid of public opinion in the shape of the
neighbour in the next house, when all the world is before you new and
shining, and everything is possible, if you will only be energetic and
independent and seize opportunity by the scruff of the neck.
"To hear you talk," said Irais, "no one would ever imagine that
you dream away your days in a garden with a book, and that you never
in your life seized anything by the scruff of its neck. And what is
scruff? I hope I have not got any on me." And she craned her neck
before the glass.
She and Minora were going to help me decorate the trees, but very
soon Irais wandered off to the piano, and Minora was tired and took up
a book; so I called in Miss Jones and the babies— it was Miss Jones's
last public appearance, as I shall relate— and after working for the
best part of two days they were finished, and looked like lovely
ladies in widespreading, sparkling petticoats, holding up their skirts
with glittering fingers. Minora wrote a long description of them for a
chapter of her book which is headed Noel,—I saw that much, because
she left it open on the table while she went to talk to Miss Jones.
They were fast friends from the very first, and though it is said to
be natural to take to one's own countrymen, I am unable altogether to
sympathise with such a reason for sudden affection.
"I wonder what they talk about?" I said to Irais yesterday, when
there was no getting Minora to come to tea, so deeply was she engaged
in conversation with Miss Jones.
"Oh, my dear, how can I tell? Lovers, I suppose, or else they
think they are clever, and then they talk rubbish."
"Well, of course, Minora thinks she is clever."
"I suppose she does. What does it matter what she thinks? Why
does your governess look so gloomy? When I see her at luncheon I
always imagine she must have just heard that somebody is dead. But she
can't hear that every day. What is the matter with her? "
"I don't think she feels quite as proper as she looks," I said
doubtfully; I was for ever trying to account for Miss Jones's
"But that must be rather nice," said Irais. "It would be awful
for her if she felt exactly the same as she looks."
At that moment the door leading into the schoolroom opened softly,
and the April baby, tired of playing, came in and sat down at my feet,
leaving the door open; and this is what we heard Miss Jones saying—
"Parents are seldom wise, and the strain the conscientious place
upon themselves to appear so before their children and governess must
be terrible. Nor are clergymen more pious than other men, yet they
have continually to pose before their flock as such. As for
governesses, Miss Minora, I know what I am saying when I affirm that
there is nothing more intolerable than to have to be polite, and even
humble, to persons whose weaknesses and follies are glaringly apparent
in every word they utter, and to be forced by the presence of children
and employers to a dignity of manner in no way corresponding to one's
feelings. The grave father of a family, who was probably one of the
least respectable of bachelors, is an interesting study at his own
table, where he is constrained to assume airs of infallibility merely
because his children are looking at him. The fact of his being a
parent does not endow him with any supreme and sudden virtue; and I
can assure you that among the eyes fixed upon him, not the least
critical and amused are those of the humble person who fills the post
"Oh, Miss Jones, how lovely!" we heard Minora say in accents of
rapture, while we sat transfixed with horror at these sentiments. "Do
you mind if I put that down in my book? You say it all so
"Without a few hours of relaxation," continued Miss Jones, "of
private indemnification for the toilsome virtues displayed in public,
who could wade through days of correct behaviour? There would be no
reaction, no room for better impulses, no place for repentance.
Parents, priests, and governesses would be in the situation of a
stout lady who never has a quiet moment in which she can take off her
"My dear, what a firebrand!" whispered Irais. I got up and went
in. They were sitting on the sofa, Minora with clasped hands, gazing
admiringly into Miss Jones's face, which wore a very different
expression from the one of sour and unwilling propriety I have been
used to seeing.
"May I ask you to come to tea?" I said to Minora. And I should
like to have the children a little while."
She got up very reluctantly, but I waited with the door open until
she had gone in and the two babies had followed. They had been playing
at stuffing each other's ears with pieces of newspaper while Miss
Jones provided Minora with noble thoughts for her work, and had to be
tortured afterward with tweezers. I said nothing to Minora, but kept
her with us till dinner-time, and this morning we went for a long
sleigh-drive. When we came in to lunch there was no Miss Jones.
"Is Miss Jones ill?" asked Minora.
"She is gone," I said.
"Did you never hear of such things as sick mothers?" asked Irais
blandly; and we talked resolutely of something else.
All the afternoon Minora has moped. She had found a kindred
spirit, and it has been ruthlessly torn from her arms as kindred
spirits so often are. It is enough to make her mope, and it is not
her fault, poor thing, that she should have preferred the society of a
Miss Jones to that of Irais and myself.
At dinner Irais surveyed her with her head on one side. "You look
so pale," she said; "are you not well?"
Minora raised her eyes heavily, with the patient air of one who
likes to be thought a sufferer. "I have a slight headache," she
"I hope you are not going to be ill," said Irais with great
concern, "because there is only a cow-doctor to be had here, and
though he means well, I believe he is rather rough." Minora was
plainly startled. "But what do you do if you are ill?" she asked.
"Oh, we are never ill," said I; "the very knowledge that there
would be no one to cure us seems to keep us healthy."
"And if any one takes to her bed," said Irais, "Elizabeth always
calls in the cow-doctor."
Minora was silent. She feels, I am sure, that she has got into a
part of the world peopled solely by barbarians, and that the only
civilised creature besides herself has departed and left her at our
mercy. Whatever her reflections may be her symptoms are visibly
—The service on New Year's Eve is the only one in the whole year
that in the least impresses me in our little church, and then the very
bareness and ugliness of the place and the ceremonial produce an
effect that a snug service in a well-lit church never would. Last
night we took Irais and Minora, and drove the three lonely miles in a
sleigh. It was pitch-dark, and blowing great guns. We sat wrapped up
to our eyes in furs, and as mute as a funeral procession.
We are going to the burial of our last year's sins," said Irais,
as we started; and there certainly was a funereal sort of feeling in
the air. Up in our gallery pew we tried to decipher our chorales by
the light of the spluttering tallow candles stuck in holes in the
woodwork, the flames wildly blown about by the draughts. The wind
banged against the windows in great gusts, screaming louder than the
organ, and threatening to blow out the agitated lights together. The
parson in his gloomy pulpit, surrounded by a framework of dusty carved
angels, took on an awful appearance of menacing Authority as he raised
his voice to make himself heard above the clatter. Sitting there in
the dark, I felt very small, and solitary, and defenceless, alone in a
great, big, black world. The church was as cold as a tomb; some of
the candles guttered and went out; the parson in his black robe spoke
of death and judgment; I thought I heard a child's voice screaming,
and could hardly believe it was only the wind, and felt uneasy and
full of forebodings; all my faith and philosophy deserted me, and I
had a horrid feeling that I should probably be well punished, though
for what I had no precise idea. If it had not been so dark, and if the
wind had not howled so despairingly, I should have paid little
attention to the threats issuing from the pulpit; but, as it was, I
fell to making good resolutions. This is always a bad sign,—only
those who break them make them; and if you simply do as a matter of
course that which is right as it comes, any preparatory resolving to
do so becomes completely superfluous. I have for some years past left
off making them on New Year's Eve, and only the gale happening as it
did reduced me to doing so last night; for I have long since
discovered that, though the year and the resolutions may be new, I
myself am not, and it is worse than useless putting new wine into old
"But I am not an old bottle," said Irais indignantly, when I held
forth to her to the above effect a few hours later in the library,
restored to all my philosophy by the warmth and light, "and I find my
resolutions carry me very nicely into the spring. I revise them at
the end of each month, and strike out the unnecessary ones. By the end
of April they have been so severely revised that there are none left."
"There, you see I am right; if you were not an old bottle your new
contents would gradually arrange themselves amiably as a part of you,
and the practice of your resolutions would lose its bitterness by
becoming a habit."
She shook her head. "Such things never lose their bitterness," she
said, "and that is why I don't let them cling to me right into the
summer. When May comes, I give myself up to jollity with all the rest
of the world, and am too busy being happy to bother about anything I
may have resolved when the days were cold and dark."
"And that is just why I love you," I thought. She often says what
"I wonder," she went on after a pause, "whether men ever make
"I don't think they do. Only women indulge in such luxuries. It
is a nice sort of feeling, when you have nothing else to do, giving
way to endless grief and penitence, and steeping yourself to the eyes
in contrition; but it is silly. Why cry over things that are done?
Why do naughty things at all, if you are going to repent afterward?
Nobody is naughty unless they like being naughty; and nobody ever
really repents unless they are afraid they are going to be found out."
"By 'nobody' of course you mean women, said Irais.
"Naturally; the terms are synonymous. Besides, men generally have
the courage of their opinions."
"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais in the amiably
polite tone she assumes whenever she speaks to that young person.
It was getting on towards midnight, and we were sitting round the
fire, waiting for the New Year, and sipping Glubwein, prepared at a
small table by the Man of Wrath. It was hot, and sweet, and rather
nasty, but it is proper to drink it on this one night, so of course we
Minora does not like either Irais or myself. We very soon
discovered that, and laugh about it when we are alone together. I can
understand her disliking Irais, but she must be a perverse creature
not to like me. Irais has poked fun at her, and I have been, I hope,
very kind; yet we are bracketed together in her black books. It is
also apparent that she looks upon the Man of Wrath as an interesting
example of an ill-used and misunderstood husband, and she is disposed
to take him under her wing, and defend him on all occasions against
us. He never speaks to her; he is at all times a man of few words,
but, as far as Minora is concerned, he might have no tongue at all,
and sits sphinx-like and impenetrable while she takes us to task
about some remark of a profane nature that we may have addressed to
him. One night, some days after her arrival, she developed a
skittishness of manner which has since disappeared, and tried to be
playful with him; but you might as well try to be playful with a
graven image. The wife of one of the servants had just produced a boy,
the first after a series of five daughters, and at dinner we drank the
health of all parties concerned, the Man of Wrath making the happy
father drink a glass off at one gulp, his heels well together in
military fashion. Minora thought the incident typical of German
manners, and not only made notes about it, but joined heartily in the
health-drinking, and afterward grew skittish.
She proposed, first of all, to teach us a dance called, I think,
the Washington Post, and which was, she said, much danced in England;
and, to induce us to learn, she played the tune to us on the piano.
We remained untouched by its beauties, each buried in an easy-chair
toasting our toes at the fire. Amongst those toes were those of the
Man of Wrath, who sat peaceably reading a book and smoking. Minora
volunteered to show us the steps, and as we still did not move, danced
solitary behind our chairs. Irais did not even turn her head to look,
and I was the only one amiable or polite enough to do so. Do I
deserve to be placed in Minora's list of disagreeable people side by
side with Irais? Certainly not. Yet I most surely am.
"It wants the music, of course," observed Minora breathlessly,
darting in and out between the chairs, apparently addressing me, but
glancing at the Man of Wrath.
No answer from anybody.
"It is such a pretty dance," she panted again, after a few more
"And is all the rage at home."
"Do let me teach you. Won't you try, Herr Sage?"
She went up to him and dropped him a little curtesy. It is thus
she always addresses him, entirely oblivious to the fact, so patent to
every one else, that he resents it.
"Oh come, put away that tiresome old book," she went on gaily, as
he did not move; "I am certain it is only some dry agricultural work
that you just nod over. Dancing is much better for you." Irais and I
looked at one another quite frightened. I am sure we both turned pale
when the unhappy girl actually laid hold forcibly of his book, and,
with a playful little shriek, ran away with it into the next room,
hugging it to her bosom and looking back roguishly over her shoulder
at him as she ran. There was an awful pause. We hardly dared raise
our eyes. Then the Mall of Wrath got up slowly, knocked the ashes off
the end of his cigar, looked at his watch, and went out at the
opposite door into his own rooms, where he stayed for the rest of the
evening. She has never, I must say, been skittish since.
"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais, "because this
sort of conversation is likely to do you good."
"I always listen when people talk sensibly," replied Minora,
stirring her grog.
Irais glanced at her with slightly doubtful eyebrows. "Do you
agree with our hostess's description of women?" she asked after a
"As nobodies? No, of course I do not."
"Yet she is right. In the eye of the law we are literally
nobodies in our country. Did you know that women are forbidden to go
to political meetings here?" "Really?" Out came the note-book.
"The law expressly forbids the attendance at such meetings of
women, children, and idiots."
"Children and idiots—I understand that," said Minora; "but women—
and classed with children and idiots?"
"Classed with children and idiots," repeated Irais, gravely
nodding her head. "Did you know that the law forbids females of any
age to ride on the top of omnibuses or tramcars?"
"Do you know why?"
"I can't imagine."
"Because in going up and down the stairs those inside might perhaps
catch a glimpse of the stocking covering their ankles."
"Did you know that the morals of the German public are in such a
shaky condition that a glimpse of that sort would be fatal to them? "
"But I don't see how a stocking—"
"With stripes round it," said Irais.
"And darns in it," I added.
—could possibly be pernicious? "
"'The Pernicious Stocking; or, Thoughts on the Ethics of
Petticoats,'" said Irais. "Put that down as the name of your next
book on Germany."
"I never know," complained Minora, letting her note-book fall,
"whether you are in earnest or not."
"Don't you?" said Irais sweetly.
"Is it true," appealed Minora to the Man of Wrath, busy with his
lemons in the background, "that your law classes women with children
"Certainly," he answered promptly, "and a very proper
We all looked blank. "That's rude," said I at last.
"Truth is always rude, my dear," he replied complacently. Then he
added, "If I were commissioned to draw up a new legal code, and had
previously enjoyed the privilege, as I have been doing lately, of
listening to the conversation of you three young ladies, I should make
precisely the same classification."
Even Minora was incensed at this.
"You are telling us in the most unvarnished manner that we are
idiots," said Irais.
"Idiots? No, no, by no means. But children,—nice little
agreeable children. I very much like to hear you talk together. It
is all so young and fresh what you think and what you believe, and not
of the least consequence to any one.
"Not of the least consequence?" cried Minora. "What we believe is
of very great consequence indeed to us."
"Are you jeering at our beliefs?" inquired Irais sternly.
"Not for worlds. I would not on any account disturb or change
your pretty little beliefs. It is your chief charm that you always
believe every-thing. How desperate would our case be if young ladies
only believed facts, and never accepted another person's assurance,
but preferred the evidence of their own eyes! They would have no
illusions, and a woman without illusions is the dreariest and most
difficult thing to manage possible."
"Thing?" protested Irais.
The Man of Wrath, usually so silent, makes up for it from time to
time by holding forth at unnecessary length. He took up his stand now
with his back to the fire, and a glass of Glubwein in his hand.
Minora had hardly heard his voice before, so quiet had he been since
she came, and sat with her pencil raised, ready to fix for ever the
wisdom that should flow from his lips.
"What would become of poetry if women became so sensible that they
turned a deaf ear to the poetic platitudes of love? That love does
indulge in platitudes I suppose you will admit." He looked at Irais.
"Yes, they all say exactly the same thing," she acknowledged.
"Who could murmur pretty speeches on the beauty of a common
sacrifice, if the listener's want of imagination was such as to enable
her only to distinguish one victim in the picture, and that one
Minora took that down word for word,—much good may it do her.
"Who would be brave enough to affirm that if refused he will die,
if his assurances merely elicit a recommendation to diet himself, and
take plenty of outdoor exercise? Women are responsible for such lies,
because they believe them. Their amazing vanity makes them swallow
flattery so gross that it is an insult, and men will always be ready
to tell the precise number of lies that a woman is ready to listen to.
Who indulges more recklessly in glowing exaggerations than the lover
who hopes, and has not yet obtained2 He will, like the nightingale,
sing with unceasing modulations, display all his talent, untiringly
repeat his sweetest notes, until he has what he wants, when his song,
like the nightingale's, immediately ceases, never again to be heard."
"Take that down," murmured Irais aside to Minora—unnecessary
advice, for her pencil was scribbling as fast as it could.
"A woman's vanity is so immeasurable that, after having had
ninety-nine object-lessons in the difference between promise and
performance and the emptiness of pretty speeches, the beginning of the
hundredth will find her lending the same willing and enchanted ear to
the eloquence of flattery as she did on the occasion of the first.
What can the exhortations of the strong-minded sister, who has never
had these experiences, do for such a woman? It is useless to tell her
she is man's victim, that she is his plaything, that she is cheated,
down-trodden, kept under, laughed at, shabbily treated in every
way—that is not a true statement of the case. She is simply the
victim of her own vanity, and against that, against the belief in her
own fascinations, against the very part of herself that gives all the
colour to her life, who shall expect a woman to take up arms?"
"Are you so vain, Elizabeth?" inquired Irais with a shocked face,
"and had you lent a willing ear to the blandishments of ninety-nine
before you reached your final destiny?"
"I am one of the sensible ones, I suppose," I replied, "for nobody
ever wanted me to listen to blandishments."
"I like to hear you talk together about the position of women," he
went on, "and wonder when you will realise that they hold exactly the
position they are fitted for. As soon as they are fit to occupy a
better, no power on earth will be able to keep them out of it.
Meanwhile, let me warn you that, as things now are, only
strong-minded women wish to see you the equals of men, and the
strong-minded are invariably plain. The pretty ones would rather see
men their slaves than their equals."
"You know," said Irais, frowning, "that I consider myself
"And never rise till lunch-time?"
Irais blushed. Although I don't approve of such conduct, it is
very convenient in more ways than one; I get through my housekeeping
undisturbed, and whenever she is disposed to lecture me, I begin about
this habit of hers. Her conscience must be terribly stricken on the
point, for she is by no means as a rule given to meekness.
"A woman without vanity would be unattackable," resumed the Man of
Wrath. "When a girl enters that downward path that leads to ruin, she
is led solely by her own vanity; for in these days of policemen no
young woman can be forced against her will from the path of virtue,
and the cries of the injured are never heard until the destroyer
begins to express his penitence for having destroyed. If his passion
could remain at white-heat and he could continue to feed her ear with
the protestations she loves, no principles of piety or virtue would
disturb the happiness of his companion; for a mournful experience
teaches that piety begins only where passion ends, and that principles
are strongest where temptations are most rare."
"But what has all this to do with us?" I inquired severely.
"You were displeased at our law classing you as it does, and I
merely wish to justify it," he answered. "Creatures who habitually say
yes to everything a man proposes, when no one can oblige them to say
it, and when it is so often fatal, are plainly not responsible
"I shall never say it to you again, my dear man," I said.
"And not only that fatal weakness," he continued, "but what is
there, candidly, to distinguish you from children? You are older, but
not wiser,—really not so wise, for with years you lose the common
sense you had as children. Have you ever heard a group of women
talking reasonably together? "
"Yes—we do!" Irais and I cried in a breath.
"It has interested me," went on the Man of Wrath, "in my idle
moments, to listen to their talk. It amused me to hear the malicious
little stories they told of their best friends who were absent, to
note the spiteful little digs they gave their best friends who were
present, to watch the utter incredulity with which they listened to
the tale of some other woman's conquests, the radiant good faith they
displayed in connection with their own, the instant collapse into
boredom, if some topic of so-called general interest, by some
extraordinary chance, were introduced." "You must have belonged to a
particularly nice set," remarked Irais.
"And as for politics," he said, "I have never heard them mentioned
"Children and idiots are not interested in such things," I said.
"And we are much too frightened of being put in prison," said
"In prison?" echoed Minora.
"Don't you know," said Irais, turning to her "that if you talk
about such things here you run a great risk of being imprisoned?"
"But why? Because, though you yourself may have meant nothing but
what was innocent, your words may have suggested something less
innocent to the evil minds of your hearers; and then the law steps in,
and calls it dolus eventualis, and everybody says how dreadful, and
off you go to prison and are punished as you deserve to be."
Minora looked mystified.
"That is not, however, your real reason for not discussing them,"
said the Man of Wrath; "they simply do not interest you. Or it may
be, that you do not consider your female friends' opinions worth
listening to, for you certainly display an astonishing thirst for
information when male politicians are present. I have seen a pretty
young woman, hardly in her twenties, sitting a whole evening drinking
in the doubtful wisdom of an elderly political star, with every
appearance of eager interest. He was a bimetallic star, and was
giving her whole pamphletsful of information."
"She wanted to make up to him for some reason," said Irais, "and
got him to explain his hobby to her, and he was silly enough to be
taken in. Now which was the sillier in that case?"
She threw herself back in her chair and looked up defiantly,
beating her foot impatiently on the carpet.
"She wanted to be thought clever," said the Man of Wrath. "What
puzzled me," he went on musingly," was that she went away apparently
as serene and happy as when she came. The explanation of the
principles of bimetallism produce, as a rule, a contrary effect."
"Why, she hadn't been listening," cried Irais, "and your simple
star had been making a fine goose of himself the whole evening.
"Prattle, prattle, simple star,
Though you're given to describe
Woman as a dummes Weib.
You yourself are sillier far,
Prattling, bimetallic star!"
"No doubt she had understood very little," said the Man of Wrath,
taking no notice of this effusion.
"And no doubt the gentleman hadn't understood much either." Irais
was plainly irritated.
"Your opinion of woman," said Minora in a very small voice, "is
not a high one. But, in the sick chamber, I suppose you agree that no
one could take her place? "
"If you are thinking of hospital-nurses," I said, "I must tell you
that I believe he married chiefly that he might have a wife instead of
a strange woman to nurse him when he is sick."
"But," said Minora, bewildered at the way her illusions were being
knocked about, "the sick-room is surely the very place of all others
in which a woman's gentleness and tact are most valuable."
"Gentleness and tact?" repeated the Man of Wrath. "I have never
met those qualities in the professional nurse. According to my
experience, she is a disagreeable person who finds in private nursing
exquisite opportunities for asserting her superiority over ordinary
and prostrate mankind. I know of no more humiliating position for a
man than to be in bed having his feverish brow soothed by a
sprucely-dressed strange woman, bristling with starch and
spotlessness. He would give half his income for his clothes, and
probably the other half if she would leave him alone, and go away
altogether. He feels her superiority through every pore; he never
before realised how absolutely inferior he is; he is abjectly polite,
and contemptibly conciliatory; if a friend comes to see him, he
eagerly praises her in case she should be listening behind the screen;
he cannot call his soul his own, and, what is far more intolerable,
neither is he sure that his body really belongs to him; he has read of
ministering angels and the light touch of a woman's hand, but the day
on which he can ring for his servant and put on his socks in private
fills him with the same sort of wildness of joy that he felt as a
homesick schoolboy at the end of his first term."
Minora was silent. Irais's foot was livelier than ever. The Man
of Wrath stood smiling blandly down upon us. You can't argue with a
person so utterly convinced of his infallibility that he won't even
get angry with you; so we sat round and said nothing.
"If," he went on, addressing Irais, who looked rebellious, "you
doubt the truth of my remarks, and still cling to the old poetic
notion of noble, self-sacrificing women tenderly helping the patient
over the rough places on the road to death or recovery, let me beg
you to try for yourself, next time any one in your house is ill,
whether the actual fact in any way corresponds to the picturesque
belief. The angel who is to alleviate our sufferings comes in such a
questionable shape, that to the unimaginative she appears merely as
an extremely self-confident young woman, wisely concerned first of all
in securing her personal comfort, much given to complaints about her
food and to helplessness where she should be helpful, possessing an
extraordinary capacity for fancying herself slighted, or not regarded
as the superior being she knows herself to be, morbidly anxious lest
the servants should, by some mistake, treat her with offensive
cordiality, pettish if the patient gives more trouble than she had
expected, intensely injured and disagreeable if he is made so
courageous by his wretchedness as to wake her during the night— an
act of desperation of which I was guilty once, and once only. Oh,
these good women! What sane man wants to have to do with angels? And
especially do we object to having them about us when we are sick and
sorry, when we feel in every fibre what poor things we are, and when
all our fortitude is needed to enable us to bear our temporary
inferiority patiently, without being forced besides to assume an
attitude of eager and grovelling politeness towards the angel in the
There was a pause.
"I didn't know you could talk so much, Sage," said Irais at length.
"What would you have women do, then?" asked Minora meekly. Irais
began to beat her foot up and down again,—what did it matter what Men
of Wrath would have us do? "There are not," continued Minora,
blushing, "husbands enough for every one, and the rest must do
"Certainly," replied the oracle. "Study the art of pleasing by
dress and manner as long as you are of an age to interest us, and
above all, let all women, pretty and plain, married and single, study
the art of cookery. If you are an artist in the kitchen you will
always be esteemed."
I sat very still. Every German woman, even the wayward Irais, has
learned to cook; I seem to have been the only one who was naughty and
"Only be careful," he went on, "in studying both arts, never to
forget the great truth that dinner precedes blandishments and not
blandishments dinner. A man must be made comfortable before he will
make love to you; and though it is true that if you offered him a
choice between Spickgans and kisses, he would say he would take both,
yet he would invariably begin with the Spickgans, and allow the kisses
At this I got up, and Irais followed my example. "Your cynicism is
disgusting," I said icily.
"You two are always exceptions to anything I may say," he said,
He stooped and kissed Irais's hand. She is inordinately vain of
her hands, and says her husband married her for their sake, which I
can quite believe. I am glad they are on her and not on Minora, for
if Minora had had them I should have been annoyed. Minora's are bony,
with chilly-looking knuckles, ignored nails, and too much wrist. I
feel very well disposed towards her when my eye falls on them. She put
one forward now, evidently thinking it would be kissed too.
"Did you know," said Irais, seeing the movement, "that it is the
custom here to kiss women's hands?"
"But only married women's," I added, not desiring her to feel out
of it, "never young girls'."
She drew it in again. "It is a pretty custom," she said with a
sigh; and pensively inscribed it in her book.
—The bills for my roses and bulbs and other last year's
horticultural indulgences were all on the table when I came down to
breakfast this morning. They rather frightened me. Gardening is
expensive, I find, when it has to be paid for out of one's own private
pin-money. The Man of Wrath does not in the least want roses, or
flowering shrubs, or plantations, or new paths, and therefore, he
asks, why should he pay for them? So he does not and I do, and I have
to make up for it by not indulging all too riotously in new clothes,
which is no doubt very chastening. I certainly prefer buying new
rose-trees to new dresses, if I cannot comfortably have both; and I
see a time coming when the passion for my garden will have taken such
a hold on me that I shall not only entirely cease buying more clothes,
but begin to sell those that I already have. The garden is so big that
everything has to be bought wholesale; and I fear I shall not be able
to go on much longer with only one man and a stork, because the more I
plant the more there will be to water in the inevitable drought, and
the watering is a serious consideration when it means going backwards
and forwards all day long to a pump near the house, with a little
water-cart. People living in England, in almost perpetual mildness and
moisture, don't really know what a drought is. If they have some weeks
of cloudless weather, it is generally preceded and followed by good
rains; but we have perhaps an hour's shower every week, and then comes
a month or six weeks' drought. The soil is very light, and dries so
quickly that, after the heaviest thunder-shower, I can walk over any
of my paths in my thin shoes; and to keep the garden even moderately
damp it should pour with rain regularly every day for three hours. My
only means of getting water is to go to the pump near the house, or to
the little stream that forms my eastern boundary, and the little
stream dries up too unless there has been rain, and is at the best of
times difficult to get at, having steep banks covered with
forget-me-nots. I possess one moist, peaty bit of ground, and that is
to be planted with silver birches in imitation of the Hirschwald, and
is to be carpeted between the birches with flaming azaleas. All the
rest of my soil is sandy— the soil for pines and acacias, but not the
soil for roses; yet see what love will do—there are more roses in my
garden than any other flower! Next spring the bare places are to be
filled with trees that I have ordered: pines behind the delicate
acacias, and startling mountain-ashes, oaks, copper-beeches, maples,
larches, juniper-trees—was it not Elijah who sat down to rest under a
juniper-tree? I have often wondered how he managed to get under it.
It is a compact little tree, not more than two to three yards high
here, and all closely squeezed up together. Perhaps they grew more
aggressively where he was. By the time the babies have grown old and
disagreeable it will be very pretty here, and then possibly they won't
like it; and, if they have inherited the Man of Wrath's indifference
to gardens, they will let it run wild and leave it to return to the
state in which I found it. Or perhaps their three husbands will refuse
to live in it, or to come to such a lonely place at all, and then of
course its fate is sealed. My only comfort is that husbands don't
flourish in the desert, and that the three will have to wait a long
time before enough are found to go round. Mothers tell me that it is a
dreadful business finding one husband; how much more painful then to
have to look for three at once!—the babies are so nearly the same age
that they only just escaped being twins. But I won't look. I can
imagine nothing more uncomfortable than a son-in-law, and besides, I
don't think a husband is at all a good thing for a girl to have. I
shall do my best in the years at my disposal to train them so to love
the garden, and out-door life, and even farming, that, if they have a
spark of their mother in them, they will want and ask for nothing
better. My hope of success is however exceedingly small, and there is
probably a fearful period in store for me when I shall be taken every
day during the winter to the distant towns to balls—a poor old mother
shivering in broad daylight in her party gown, and being made to start
after an early lunch and not getting home till breakfast-time next
morning. Indeed, they have already developed an alarming desire to go
to "partings" as they call them, the April baby announcing her
intention of beginning to do so when she is twelve. "Are you twelve,
Mummy?" she asked.
The gardener is leaving on the first of April, and I am trying to
find another. It is grievous changing so often— in two years I shall
have had three—because at each change a great part of my plants and
plans necessarily suffers. Seeds get lost, seedlings are not pricked
out in time, places already sown are planted with something else, and
there is confusion out of doors and despair in my heart. But he was to
have married the cook, and the cook saw a ghost and immediately left,
and he is going after her as soon as he can, and meanwhile is wasting
visibly away. What she saw was doors that are locked opening with a
great clatter all by themselves on the hingeside, and then somebody
invisible cursed at her. These phenomena now go by the name of "the
ghost." She asked to be allowed to leave at once, as she had never
been in a place where there was a ghost before. I suggested that she
should try and get used to it; but she thought it would be wasting
time, and she looked so ill that I let her go, and the garden has to
suffer. I don't know why it should be given to cooks to see such
interesting things and withheld from me, but I have had two others
since she left, and they both have seen the ghost. Minora grows very
silent as bed-time approaches, and relents towards Irais and myself;
and, after having shown us all day how little she approves us, when
the bedroom candles are brought she quite begins to cling. She has
once or twice anxiously inquired whether Irais is sure she does not
object to sleeping alone.
"If you are at all nervous, I will come and keep you company," she
said; "I don't mind at all, I assure you."
But Irais is not to be taken in by such simple wiles, and has told
me she would rather sleep with fifty ghosts than with one Minora.
Since Miss Jones was so unexpectedly called away to her parent's
bedside I have seen a good deal of the babies; and it is so nice
without a governess that I would put off engaging another for a year
or two, if it were not that I should in so doing come within the reach
of the arm of the law, which is what every German spends his life in
trying to avoid. The April baby will be six next month, and, after her
sixth birthday is passed, we are liable at any moment to receive a
visit from a school inspector, who will inquire curiously into the
state of her education, and, if it is not up to the required standard,
all sorts of fearful things might happen to the guilty parents,
probably beginning with fines, and going on crescendo to dungeons if,
owing to gaps between governesses and difficulties in finding the
right one, we persisted in our evil courses. Shades of the
prison-house begin to close here upon the growing boy, and prisons
compass the Teuton about on every side all through life to such an
extent that he has to walk very delicately indeed if he would stay
outside them and pay for their maintenance. Cultured individuals do
not, as a rule, neglect to teach their offspring to read, and write,
and say their prayers, and are apt to resent the intrusion of an
examining inspector into their homes; but it does not much matter
after all, and I daresay it is very good for us to be worried; indeed,
a philosopher of my acquaintance declares that people who are not
regularly and properly worried are never any good for anything. In
the eye of the law we are all sinners, and every man is held to be
guilty until he has proved that he is innocent.
Minora has seen so much of the babies that, after vainly trying to
get out of their way for several days, she thought it better to resign
herself, and make the best of it by regarding them as copy, and using
them to fill a chapter in her book. So she took to dogging their
footsteps wherever they went, attended their uprisings and their
lyings down, engaged them, if she could, in intelligent conversation,
went with them into the garden to study their ways when they were
sleighing, drawn by a big dog, and generally made their lives a burden
to them. This went on for three days, and then she settled down to
write the result with the Man of Wrath's typewriter, borrowed whenever
her notes for any chapter have reached the state of ripeness
necessary for the process she describes as "throwing into form." She
writes everything with a typewriter, even her private letters.
"Don't forget to put in something about a mother's knee," said
Irais; "you can't write effectively about children without that."
"Oh, of course I shall mention that," replied Minora.
"And pink toes," I added. "There are always toes, and they are
never anything but pink."
"I have that somewhere," said Minora, turning over her notes.
"But, after all, babies are not a German speciality," said Irais,
"and I don't quite see why you should bring them into a book of German
travels. Elizabeth's babies have each got the fashionable number of
arms and legs, and are exactly the same as English ones."
"Oh, but they can't be just the same, you know," said Minora,
looking worried. "It must make a difference living here in this
place, and eating such odd things, and never having a doctor, and
never being ill. Children who have never had measles and those things
can't be quite the same as other children; it must all be in their
systems and can't get out for some reason or other. And a child
brought up on chicken and rice-pudding must be different to a child
that eats Spickgans and liver sausages. And they are different; I
can't tell in what way, but they certainly are; and I think if I
steadily describe them from the materials I have collected the last
three days, I may perhaps hit on the points of difference."
"Why bother about points of difference?" asked Irais. "I should
write some little thing, bringing in the usual parts of the picture,
such as knees and toes, and make it mildly pathetic."
"But it is by no means an easy thing for me to do," said Minora
plaintively; "I have so little experience of children."
"Then why write it at all?" asked that sensible person Elizabeth.
"I have as little experience as you," said Irais, "because I have
no children; but if you don't yearn after startling originality,
nothing is easier than to write bits about them. I believe I could
do a dozen in an hour."
She sat down at the writing-table, took up an old letter, and
scribbled for about five minutes. "There," she said, throwing it to
Minora, "you may have it—pink toes and all complete."
Minora put on her eye-glasses and read aloud:
"When my baby shuts her eyes and sings her hymns at bed-time my
stale and battered soul is filled with awe. All sorts of vague
memories crowd into my mind— memories of my own mother and
myself—how many years ago!— of the sweet helplessness of being
gathered up half asleep in her arms, and undressed, and put in my cot,
without being wakened; of the angels I believed in; of little children
coming straight from heaven, and still being surrounded, so long as
they were good, by the shadow of white wings,—all the dear poetic
nonsense learned, just as my baby is learning it, at her mother's
knee. She has not an idea of the beauty of the charming things she is
told, and stares wide-eyed, with heavenly eyes, while her mother talks
of the heaven she has so lately come from, and is relieved and
comforted by the interrupting bread and milk. At two years old she
does not understand angels, and does understand bread and milk; at
five she has vague notions about them, and prefers bread and milk; at
ten both bread and milk and angels have been left behind in the
nursery, and she has already found out that they are luxuries not
necessary to her everyday life. In later years she may be disinclined
to accept truths second-hand, insist on thinking for herself, be
earnest in her desire to shake off exploded traditions, be untiring in
her efforts to live according to a high moral standard and to be
strong, and pure, and good—"
"Like tea," explained Irais.
"—yet will she never, with all her virtues, possess one-thousandth
part of the charm that clung about her when she sang, with quiet
eyelids, her first reluctant hymns, kneeling on her mother's knees. I
love to come in at bed-time and sit in the window in the setting
sunshine watching the mysteries of her going to bed. Her mother tubs
her, for she is far too precious to be touched by any nurse, and then
she is rolled up in a big bath towel, and only her little pink toes
peep out; and when she is powdered, and combed, and tied up in her
night-dress, and all her curls are on end, and her ears glowing, she
is knelt down on her mother's lap, a little bundle of fragrant flesh,
and her face reflects the quiet of her mother's face as she goes
through her evening prayer for pity and for peace."
"How very curious!" said Minora, when she had finished. "That is
exactly what I was going to say."
"Oh, then I have saved you the trouble of putting it together; you
can copy that if you like." "But have you a stale soul, Miss Minora?"
"Well, do you know, I rather think that is a good touch," she
replied; "it will make people really think a man wrote the book. You
know I am going to take a man's name."
"That is precisely what I imagined," said Irais. "You will call
yourself John Jones, or George Potts, or some such sternly commonplace
name, to emphasise your uncompromising attitude towards all feminine
weaknesses, and no one will be taken in."
"I really think, Elizabeth," said Irais to me later, when the
click of Minora's typewriter was heard hesitating in the next room,
"that you and I are writing her book for her. She takes down
everything we say. Why does she copy all that about the baby? I
wonder why mothers' knees are supposed to be touching? I never
learned anything at them, did you? But then in my case they were only
stepmother's, and nobody ever sings their praises."
"My mother was always at parties," I said; "and the nurse made me
say my prayers in French."
"And as for tubs and powder," went on Irais, "when I was a baby
such things were not the fashion. There were never any bathrooms, and
no tubs; our faces and hands were washed, and there was a foot-bath in
the room, and in the summer we had a bath and were put to bed
afterwards for fear we might catch cold. My stepmother didn't worry
much; she used to wear pink dresses all over lace, and the older she
got the prettier the dresses got. When is she going?"
"Who? Minora? I haven't asked her that."
"Then I will. It is really bad for her art to be neglected like
this. She has been here an unconscionable time,—it must be nearly
"Yes, she came the same day you did," I said pleasantly.
Irais was silent. I hope she was reflecting that it is not worse
to neglect one's art than one's husband, and her husband is lying all
this time stretched on a bed of sickness, while she is spending her
days so agreeably with me. She has a way of forgetting that she has a
home, or any other business in the world than just to stay on chatting
with me, and reading, and singing, and laughing at any one there is to
laugh at, and kissing the babies, and tilting with the Man of Wrath.
Naturally I love her—she is so pretty that anybody with eyes in his
head must love her—but too much of anything is bad, and next month
the passages and offices are to be whitewashed, and people who have
ever whitewashed their houses inside know what nice places they are to
live in while it is being done; and there will be no dinner for Irais,
and none of those succulent salads full of caraway seeds that she so
devotedly loves. I shall begin to lead her thoughts gently back to her
duties by inquiring every day anxiously after her husband's health.
She is not very fond of him, because he does not run and hold the
door open for her every time she gets up to leave the room; and though
she has asked him to do so, and told him how much she wishes he would,
he still won't. She stayed once in a house where there was an
Englishman, and his nimbleness in regard to doors and chairs so
impressed her that her husband has had no peace since, and each time
she has to go out of a room she is reminded of her disregarded wishes,
so that a shut door is to her symbolic of the failure of her married
life, and the very sight of one makes her wonder why she was born; at
least, that is what she told me once, in a burst of confidence. He is
quite a nice, harmless little man, pleasant to talk to, good-tempered,
and full of fun ; but he thinks he is too old to begin to learn new
and uncomfortable ways, and he has that horror of being made better by
his wife that distinguishes so many righteous men, and is shared by
the Man of Wrath, who persists in holding his glass in his left hand
at meals, because if he did not (and I don't believe he particularly
likes doing it) his relations might say that marriage has improved
him, and thus drive the iron into his soul. This habit occasions an
almost daily argument between one or other of the babies and myself.
"April, hold your glass in your right hand."
"But papa doesn't."
"When you are as old as papa you can do as you like."
Which was embellished only yesterday by Minora adding impressively,
"And only think how strange it would look if everybody held their
April was greatly struck by the force of this proposition.
—It is very cold,—fifteen degrees of frost Reaumur, but perfectly
delicious, still, bright weather, and one feels jolly and energetic
and amiably disposed towards everybody. The two young ladies are still
here, but the air is so buoyant that even they don't weigh on me any
longer, and besides, they have both announced their approaching
departure, so that after all I shall get my whitewashing done in
peace, and the house will have on its clean pinafore in time to
welcome the spring.
Minora has painted my portrait, and is going to present it as a
parting gift to the Man of Wrath; and the fact that I let her do it,
and sat meekly times innumerable, proves conclusively, I hope, that I
am not vain. When Irais first saw it she laughed till she cried, and
at once commissioned her to paint hers, so that she may take it away
with her and give it to her husband on his birthday, which happens to
be early in February. Indeed, if it were not for this birthday, I
really think she would have forgotten to go at all; but birthdays are
great and solemn festivals with us, never allowed to slip by
unnoticed, and always celebrated in the presence of a sympathetic
crowd of relations (gathered from far and near to tell you how well
you are wearing, and that nobody would ever dream, and that really it
is wonderful), who stand round a sort of sacrificial altar, on which
your years are offered up as a burnt-offering to the gods in the shape
of lighted pink and white candles, stuck in a very large, flat, jammy
cake. The cake with its candles is the chief feature, and on the table
round it lie the gifts each person present is more or less bound to
give. As my birthday falls in the winter I get mittens as well as
blotting-books and photograph-frames, and if it were in the summer I
should get photograph-frames and blotting-books and no mittens; but
whatever the present may be, and by whomsoever given, it has to be
welcomed with the noisiest gratitude, and loudest exclamations of joy,
and such words as entzuckend, reizend, herrlich, wundervoll, and suss
repeated over and over again, until the unfortunate Geburtstagskind
feels indeed that another year has gone, and that she has grown older,
and wiser, and more tired of folly and of vain repetitions. A flag is
hoisted, and all the morning the rites are celebrated, the cake eaten,
healths drunk, speeches made, and hands nearly shaken off. The
neighbouring parsons drive up, and when nobody is looking their wives
count the candles in the cake; the active lady in the next Schlass
spares time to send a pot of flowers, and to look up my age in the
Gotha Almanach; a deputation comes from the farms headed by the chief
inspector in white kid gloves who invokes Heaven's blessings on the
gracious lady's head; and the babies are enchanted, and sit in a
corner trying on all the mittens. In the evening there is a dinner for
the relations and the chief local authorities, with more
health-drinking and speechifying, and the next morning, when I come
downstairs thankful to have done with it, I am confronted by the altar
still in its place, cake crumbs and candle-grease and all, because any
hasty removal of it would imply a most lamentable want of sentiment,
deplorable in anybody, but scandalous and disgusting in a tender
female. All birthdays are observed in this fashion, and not a few
wise persons go for a short trip just about the time theirs is due,
and I think I shall imitate them next year; only trips to the country
or seaside in December are not usually pleasant, and if I go to a town
there are sure to be relations in it, and then the cake will spring up
mushroom-like from the teeming soil of their affection.
I hope it has been made evident in these pages how superior Irais
and myself are to the ordinary weaknesses of mankind; if any further
proof were needed, it is furnished by the fact that we both, in
defiance of tradition, scorn this celebration of birthday rites. Years
ago, when first I knew her, and long before we were either of us
married, I sent her a little brass candlestick on her birthday; and
when mine followed a few months later, she sent me a note-book. No
notes were written in it, and on her next birthday I presented it to
her; she thanked me profusely in the customary manner, and when my
turn came I received the brass candlestick. Since then we alternately
enjoy the possession of each of these articles, and the present
question is comfortably settled once and for all, at a minimum of
trouble and expense. We never mention this little arrangement except
at the proper time, when we send a letter of fervid thanks.
This radiant weather, when mere living is a joy, and sitting still
over the fire out of the question, has been going on for more than a
week. Sleighing and skating have been our chief occupation,
especially skating, which is more than usually fascinating here,
because the place is intersected by small canals communicating with a
lake and the river belonging to the lake, and as everything is frozen
black and hard, we can skate for miles straight ahead without being
obliged to turn round and come back again,—at all times an annoying,
and even mortifying, proceeding. Irais skates beautifully: modesty
is the only obstacle to my saying the same of myself; but I may remark
that all Germans skate well, for the simple reason that every year of
their lives, for three or four months, they may do it as much as they
like. Minora was astonished and disconcerted by finding herself left
behind, and arriving at the place where tea meets us half an hour
after we had finished. In some places the banks of the canals are so
high that only our heads appear level with the fields, and it is, as
Minora noted in her book, a curious sight to see three female heads
skimming along apparently by themselves, and enjoying it tremendously.
When the banks are low, we appear to be gliding deliciously over the
roughest ploughed fields, with or without legs according to
circumstances. Before we start, I fix on the place where tea and a
sleigh are to meet us, and we drive home again; because skating
against the wind is as detestable as skating with it is delightful,
and an unkind Nature arranges its blowing without the smallest regard
for our convenience. Yesterday, by way of a change, we went for a
picnic to the shores of the Baltic, ice-bound at this season, and
utterly desolate at our nearest point. I have a weakness for picnics,
especially in winter, when the mosquitoes cease from troubling and
the ant-hills are at rest; and of all my many favourite picnic spots
this one on the Baltic is the loveliest and best. As it is a
three-hours' drive, the Man of Wrath is loud in his lamentations when
the special sort of weather comes which means, as experience has
taught him, this particular excursion. There must be deep snow, hard
frost, no wind, and a cloudless sky; and when, on waking up, I see
these conditions fulfilled, then it would need some very potent reason
to keep me from having out a sleigh and going off. It is, I admit, a
hard day for the horses; but why have horses if they are not to take
you where you want to go to, and at the time you want to go? And why
should not horses have hard days as well as everybody else? The Man of
Wrath loathes picnics, and has no eye for nature and frozen seas, and
is simply bored by a long drive through a forest that does not belong
to him ; a single turnip on his own place is more admirable in his
eyes than the tallest, pinkest, straightest pine that ever reared its
snow-crowned head against the setting sunlight. Now observe the
superiority of woman, who sees that both are good, and after having
gazed at the pine and been made happy by its beauty, goes home and
placidly eats the turnip. He went once and only once to this
particular place, and made us feel so small by his blast behaviour
that I never invite him now. It is a beautiful spot, endless forest
stretching along the shore as far as the eye can reach; and after
driving through it for miles you come suddenly, at the end of an
avenue of arching trees, upon the glistening, oily sea, with the
orange-coloured sails of distant fishing-smacks shilling in the
sunlight. Whenever I have been there it has been windless weather,
and the silence so profound that I could hear my pulses beating. The
humming of insects and the sudden scream of a jay are the only sounds
in summer, and in winter the stillness is the stillness of death.
Every paradise has its serpent, however, and this one is so
infested by mosquitoes during the season when picnics seem most
natural, that those of my visitors who have been taken there for a
treat have invariably lost their tempers, and made the quiet shores
ring with their wailing and lamentations. These despicable but
irritating insects don't seem to have anything to do but to sit in
multitudes on the sand, waiting for any prey Providence may send them;
and as soon as the carriage appears they rise up in a cloud, and rush
to meet us, almost dragging us out bodily, and never leave us until we
drive away again. The sudden view of the sea from the messy,
pine-covered height directly above it where we picnic; the wonderful
stretch of lonely shore with the forest to the water's edge; the
coloured sails in the blue distance; the freshness, the brightness,
the vastness—all is lost upon the picnickers, and made worse than
indifferent to them, by the perpetual necessity they are under of
fighting these horrid creatures. It is nice being the only person who
ever goes there or shows it to anybody, but if more people went,
perhaps the mosquitoes would be less lean, and hungry, and pleased to
see us. It has, however, the advantage of being a suitable place to
which to take refractory visitors when they have stayed too long, or
left my books out in the garden all night, or otherwise made their
presence a burden too grievous to be borne; then one fine hot morning
when they are all looking limp, I suddenly propose a picnic on the
Baltic. I have never known this proposal fail to be greeted with
exclamations of surprise and delight.
"The Baltic! You never told us you were within driving distance?
How heavenly to get a breath of sea air on a day like this! The very
thought puts new life into one! And how delightful to see the Baltic!
Oh, please take us!" And then I take them.
But on a brilliant winter's day my conscience is as clear as the
frosty air itself, and yesterday morning we started off in the gayest
of spirits, even Minora being disposed to laugh immoderately on the
least provocation. Only our eyes were allowed to peep out from the fur
and woollen wrappings necessary to our heads if we would come back
with our ears and noses in the same places they were in when we
started, and for the first two miles the mirth created by each other's
strange appearance was uproarious,— a fact I mention merely to show
what an effect dry, bright, intense cold produces on healthy bodies,
and how much better it is to go out in it and enjoy it than to stay
indoors and sulk. As we passed through the neighbouring village with
cracking of whip and jingling of bells, heads popped up at the windows
to stare, and the only living thing in the silent, sunny street was a
melancholy fowl with ruffled feathers, which looked at us
reproachfully, as we dashed with so much energy over the crackling
"Oh, foolish bird!" Irais called out as we passed; "you'll be
indeed a cold fowl if you stand there motionless, and every one
prefers them hot in weather like this!"
And then we all laughed exceedingly, as though the most splendid
joke had been made, and before we had done we were out of the village
and in the open country beyond, and could see my house and garden far
away behind, glittering in the sunshine; and in front of us lay the
forest, with its vistas of pines stretching away into infinity, and a
drive through it of fourteen miles before we reached the sea. It was a
hoar-frost day, and the forest was an enchanted forest leading into
fairyland, and though Irais and I have been there often before, and
always thought it beautiful, yet yesterday we stood under the final
arch of frosted trees, struck silent by the sheer loveliness of the
place. For a long way out the sea was frozen, and then there was a
deep blue line, and a cluster of motionless orange sails; at our feet
a narrow strip of pale yellow sand; right and left the line of
sparkling forest; and we ourselves standing in a world of white and
diamond traceries. The stillness of an eternal Sunday lay on the place
like a benediction.
Minora broke the silence by remarking that Dresden was pretty, but
she thought this beat it almost.
"I don't quite see," said Irais in a hushed voice, as though she
were in a holy place,"how the two can be compared."
"Yes, Dresden is more convenient, of course," replied Minora;
after which we turned away and thought we would keep her quiet by
feeding her, so we went back to the sleigh and had the horses taken
out and their cloths put on, and they were walked up and down a
distant glade while we sat in the sleigh and picnicked. It is a hard
day for the horses,—nearly thirty miles there and back and no stable
in the middle; but they are so fat and spoiled that it cannot do them
much harm sometimes to taste the bitterness of life. I warmed soup in
a little apparatus I have for such occasions, which helped to take the
chilliness off the sandwiches,—this is the only unpleasant part of a
winter picnic, the clammy quality of the provisions just when you most
long for something very hot. Minora let her nose very carefully out of
its wrappings, took a mouthful, and covered it up quickly again. She
was nervous lest it should be frost-nipped, and truth compels me to
add that her nose is not a bad nose, and might even be pretty on
anybody else; but she does not know how to carry it, and there is an
art in the angle at which one's nose is held just as in everything
else, and really noses were intended for something besides mere
It is the most difficult thing in the world to eat sandwiches with
immense fur and woollen gloves on, and I think we ate almost as much
fur as anything, and choked exceedingly during the process. Minora was
angry at this, and at last pulled off her glove, but quickly put it on
"How very unpleasant," she remarked after swallowing a large piece
"It will wrap round your pipes, and keep them warm," said Irais.
"Pipes!" echoed Minora, greatly disgusted by such vulgarity.
"I'm afraid I can't help you," I said, as she continued to choke
and splutter; "we are all in the same case, and I don't know how to
alter it." "There are such things as forks, I suppose," snapped
"That's true," said I, crushed by the obviousness of the remedy;
but of what use are forks if they are fifteen miles off? So Minora
had to continue to eat her gloves.
By the time we had finished, the sun was already low behind the
trees and the clouds beginning to flush a faint pink. The old coachman
was given sandwiches and soup, and while he led the horses up and down
with one hand and held his lunch in the other, we packed up—or, to be
correct, I packed, and the others looked on and gave me valuable
This coachman, Peter by name, is seventy years old, and was born
on the place, and has driven its occupants for fifty years, and I am
nearly as fond of him as I am of the sun-dial; indeed, I don't know
what I should do without him, so entirely does he appear to understand
and approve of my tastes and wishes. No drive is too long or difficult
for the horses if I want to take it, no place impossible to reach if I
want to go to it, no weather or roads too bad to prevent my going out
if I wish to: to all my suggestions he responds with the readiest
cheerfulness, and smoothes away all objections raised by the Man of
Wrath, who rewards his alacrity in doing my pleasure by speaking of
him as an alter Esel. In the summer, on fine evenings, I love to
drive late and alone in the scented forests, and when I have reached a
dark part stop, and sit quite still, listening to the nightingales
repeating their little tune over and over again after interludes of
gurgling, or if there are no nightingales, listening to the marvellous
silence, and letting its blessedness descend into my very soul. The
nightingales in the forests about here all sing the same tune, and in
the same key of (E flat).
I don't know whether all nightingales do this, or if it is
peculiar to this particular spot. When they have sung it once, they
clear their throats a little, and hesitate, and then do it again, and
it is the prettiest little song in the world. How could I indulge my
passion for these drives with their pauses without Peter? He is so
used to them that he stops now at the right moment without having to
be told, and he is ready to drive me all night if I wish it, with no
sign of anything but cheerful willingness on his nice old face. The
Man of Wrath deplores these eccentric tastes, as he calls them, of
mine; but has given up trying to prevent my indulging them because,
while he is deploring in one part of the house, I have slipped out at
a door in the other, and am gone before he can catch me, and have
reached and am lost in the shadows of the forest by the time he has
discovered that I am nowhere to be found.
The brightness of Peter's perfections are sullied however by one
spot, and that is, that as age creeps upon him, he not only cannot
hold the horses in if they don't want to be held in, but he goes to
sleep sometimes on his box if I have him out too soon after lunch, and
has upset me twice within the last year— once last winter out of a
sleigh, and once this summer, when the horses shied at a bicycle, and
bolted into the ditch on one side of the chaussee (German for high
road), and the bicycle was so terrified at the horses shying that it
shied too into the ditch on the other side, and the carriage was
smashed, and the bicycle was smashed, and we were all very unhappy,
except Peter, who never lost his pleasant smile, and looked so placid
that my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth when I tried to make it
"But I should think he ought to have been thoroughly scolded on an
occasion like that," said Minora, to whom I had been telling this
story as we wandered on the yellow sands while the horses were being
put in the sleigh; and she glanced nervously up at Peter, whose mild
head was visible between the bushes above us. "Shall we get home
before dark?" she asked.
The sun had altogether disappeared behind the pines and only the
very highest of the little clouds were still pink; out at sea the
mists were creeping up, and the sails of the fishing-smacks had turned
a dull brown; a flight of wild geese passed across the disc of the
moon with loud cacklings.
"Before dark?" echoed Irais, "I should think not. It is dark now
nearly in the forest, and we shall have the loveliest moonlight drive
"But it is surely very dangerous to let a man who goes to sleep
drive you," said Minora apprehensively.
"But he's such an old dear," I said.
"Yes, yes, no doubt," she replied tastily; ,"but there are wakeful
old dears to be had, and on a box they are preferable."
Irais laughed. "You are growing quite amusing, Miss Minora," she
"He isn't on a box to-day," said I; "and I never knew him to go to
sleep standing up behind us on a sleigh." But Minora was not to be
appeased, and muttered something about seeing no fun in foolhardiness,
which shows how alarmed she was, for it was rude.
Peter, however, behaved beautifully on the way home, and Irais and
I at least were as happy as possible driving back, with all the
glories of the western sky flashing at us every now and then at the
end of a long avenue as we swiftly passed, and later on, when they had
faded, myriads of stars in the narrow black strip of sky over our
heads. It was bitterly cold, and Minora was silent, and not in the
least inclined to laugh with us as she had been six hours before.
"Have you enjoyed yourself, Miss Minora?' inquired Irais, as we
got out of the forest on to the chaussee, and the lights of the
village before ours twinkled in the distance.
"How many degrees do you suppose there are now?" was Minora's
reply to this question.
"Degrees?—Of frost? Oh, dear me, are you cold," cried Irais
"Well, it isn't exactly warm, is it?" said Minora sulkily; and
Irais pinched me. "Well, but think how much colder you would have
been without all that fur you ate for lunch inside you," she said.
"And what a nice chapter you will be able to write about the Baltic,"
said I. "Why, it is practically certain that you are the first English
person who has ever been to just this part of it."
"Isn't there some English poem," said Irais, "about being the
first who ever burst—"
"'Into that silent sea,'" finished Minora hastily. "You can't
quote that without its context, you know."
"But I wasn't going to," said Irais meekly; "I only paused to
breathe. I must breathe, or perhaps I might die."
The lights from my energetic friend's Schloss shone brightly down
upon us as we passed round the base of the hill on which it stands;
she is very proud of this hill, as well she may be, seeing that it is
the only one in the whole district.
"Do you never go there?" asked Minora, jerking her head in the
direction of the house.
"Sometimes. She is a very busy woman, and I should feel I was in
the way if I went often."
"It would be interesting to see another North German interior,"
said Minora; "and I should be obliged if you would take me.
"But I can't fall upon her suddenly with a strange girl," I
protested; "and we are not at all on such intimate terms as to justify
my taking all my visitors to see her."
"What do you want to see another interior for?" asked Irais. "I
can tell you what it is like; and if you went nobody would speak to
you, and if you were to ask questions, and began to take notes, the
good lady would stare at you in the frankest amazement, and think
Elizabeth had brought a young lunatic out for an airing. Everybody is
not as patient as Elizabeth," added Irais, anxious to pay off old
"I would do a great deal for you, Miss Minora," I said, "but I
can't do that."
"If we went," said Irais, "Elizabeth and I would be placed with
great ceremony on a sofa behind a large, polished oval table with a
crochetmat in the centre— it has got a crochet-mat in the centre,
hasn't it.?" I nodded. "And you would sit on one of the four little
podgy, buttony, tasselly red chairs that are ranged on the other side
of the table facing the sofa. They are red, Elizabeth?" Again I
nodded. "The floor is painted yellow, and there is no carpet except a
rug in front of the sofa. The paper is dark chocolate colour, almost
black; that is in order that after years of use the dirt may not show,
and the room need not be done up. Dirt is like wickedness, you see,
Miss Minora—its being there never matters; it is only when it shows
so much as to be apparent to everybody that we are ashamed of it. At
intervals round the high walls are chairs, and cabinets with lamps on
them, and in one corner is a great white cold stove— or is it
majolica?" she asked, turning to me.
"No, it is white."
"There are a great many lovely big windows, all ready to let in
the air and the sun, but they are as carefully covered with brown lace
curtains under heavy stuff ones as though a whole row of houses were
just opposite, with peering eyes at every window trying to look in,
instead of there only being fields, and trees, and birds. No fire,
no sunlight, no books, no flowers; but a consoling smell of red
cabbage coming up under the door, mixed, in due season, with
"When did you go there?" asked Minora.
"Ah, when did I go there indeed? When did I not go there? I have
been calling there all my life."
Minora's eyes rolled doubtfully first at me then at Irais from the
depths of her head-wrappings; they are large eyes with long dark
eyelashes, and far be it from me to deny that each eye taken by itself
is fine, but they are put in all wrong.
"The only thing you would learn there," went on Irais, "would be
the significance of sofa corners in Germany. If we three went there
together, I should be ushered into the right-hand corner of the sofa,
because it is the place of honour, and I am the greatest stranger;
Elizabeth would be invited to seat herself in the left-hand corner,
as next in importance; the hostess would sit near us in an arm-chair;
and you, as a person of no importance whatever, would either be left
to sit where you could, or would be put on a chair facing us, and with
the entire breadth of the table between us to mark the immense social
gulf that separates the married woman from the mere virgin. These sofa
corners make the drawing of nice distinctions possible in a way that
nothing else could. The world might come to an end, and create less
sensation in doing it, than you would, Miss Minora, if by any chance
you got into the right-hand corner of one. That you are put on a chair
on the other side of the table places you at once in the scale of
precedence, and exactly defines your social position, or rather your
complete want of a social position." And Irais tilted her nose ever so
"Note it," she added, "as the heading of your next chapter."
"Note what?" asked Minora impatiently.
"Why,'The Subtle Significance of Sofas', of course," replied Irais.
"If," she continued, as Minora made no reply appreciative of this
suggestion, "you were to call unexpectedly, the bad luck which pursues
the innocent would most likely make you hit on a washing-day, and the
distracted mistress of the house would keep you waiting in the cold
room so long while she changed her dress, that you would begin to fear
you were to be left to perish from want and hunger; and when she did
appear, would show by the bitterness of her welcoming smile the rage
that was boiling in her heart."
"But what has the mistress of the house to do with washing? "
"What has she to do with washing? Oh, you sweet innocent— pardon
my familiarity, but such ignorance of country-life customs is very
touching in one who is writing a book about them. "
"Oh, I have no doubt I am very ignorant," said Minora loftily.
"Seasons of washing," explained Irais, "are seasons set apart by
the Hausfrau to be kept holy. They only occur every two or three
months, and while they are going on the whole house is in an uproar,
every other consideration sacrificed, husband and children sunk into
insignificance, and no one approaching, or interfering with the
mistress of the house during these days of purification, but at their
"You Don't Really Mean," Said Minora, "that You Only Wash Your
Clothes Four Times A Year?
"Yes, I do mean it," replied Irais.
"Well, I think that is very disgusting," said Minora emphatically.
Irais raised those pretty, delicate eyebrows of hers. "Then you
must take care and not marry a German," she said.
"But what is the object of it?" went on Minora.
"Why, to clean the linen, I suppose."
"Yes, yes, but why only at such long intervals?"
"It is an outward and visible sign of vast possessions in the shape
of linen. If you were to want to have your clothes washed every week,
as you do in England, you would be put down as a person who only has
just enough to last that length of time, and would be an object of
"But I should be a clean object," cried Minora, "and my house
would not be full of accumulated dirt."
We said nothing—there was nothing to be said.
"It must be a happy land, that England of yours," Irais remarked
after a while with a sigh—a beatific vision no doubt presenting
itself to her mind of a land full of washerwomen and agile gentlemen
darting at door-handles.
"It is a clean land, at any rate," replied Minora.
"I don't want to go and live in it," I said—for we were driving
up to the house, and a memory of fogs and umbrellas came into my mind
as I looked up fondly at its dear old west front, and I felt that what
I want is to live and die just here, and that there never was such a
happy woman as Elizabeth.
—I have been so busy ever since Irais and Minora left that I can
hardly believe the spring is here, and the garden hurrying on its
green and flowered petticoat—only its petticoat as yet, for though
the underwood is a fairyland of tender little leaves, the trees above
are still quite bare.
February was gone before I well knew that it had come, so deeply
was I engaged in making hot-beds, and having them sown with petunias,
verbenas, and nicotina affinis; while no less than thirty are
dedicated solely to vegetables, it having been borne in upon me lately
that vegetables must be interesting things to grow, besides possessing
solid virtues not given to flowers, and that I might as well take the
orchard and kitchen garden under my wing. So I have rushed in with all
the zeal of utter inexperience, and my February evenings were spent
poring over gardening books, and my days in applying the freshly
absorbed wisdom. Who says that February is a dull, sad, slow month in
the country? It was of the cheerfullest, swiftest description here,
and its mild days enabled me to get on beautifully with the digging
and manuring, and filled my rooms with snowdrops. The longer I live
the greater is my respect and affection for manure in all its forms,
and already, though the year is so young, a considerable portion of
its pin-money has been spent on artificial manure. The Man of Wrath
says he never met a young woman who spent her money that way before;
I remarked that it must be nice to have an original wife; and he
retorted that the word original hardly described me, and that the word
eccentric was the one required. Very well, I suppose I am eccentric,
since even my husband says so; but if my eccentricities are of such a
practical nature as to result later in the biggest cauliflowers and
tenderest lettuce in Prussia, why then he ought to be the first to
rise up and call me blessed.
I sent to England for vegetable-marrow seeds, as they are not
grown here, and people try and make boiled cucumbers take their place;
but boiled cucumbers are nasty things, and I don't see why marrows
should not do here perfectly well. These, and primrose-roots, are the
English contributions to my garden. I brought over the roots in a tin
box last time I came from England, and am anxious to see whether they
will consent to live here. Certain it is that they don't exist in the
Fatherland, so I can only conclude the winter kills them, for surely,
if such lovely things would grow, they never would have been
overlooked. Irais is deeply interested in the experiment; she reads so
many English books, and has heard so much about primroses, and they
have got so mixed up in her mind with leagues, and dames, and
Disraelis, that she longs to see this mysterious political flower, and
has made me promise to telegraph when it appears, and she will come
over. Bur they are not going to do anything this year, and I only hope
those cold days did not send them off to the Paradise of flowers. I
am afraid their first impression of Germany was a chilly one.
Irais writes about once a week, and inquires after the garden and
the babies, and announces her intention of coming back as soon as the
numerous relations staying with her have left,—"which they won't do,"
she wrote the other day, "until the first frosts nip them off, when
they will disappear like belated dahlias—double ones of course, for
single dahlias are too charming to be compared to relations. I have
every sort of cousin and uncle and aunt here, and here they have been
ever since my husband's birthday—not the same ones exactly, but I get
so confused that I never know where one ends and the other begins. My
husband goes off after breakfast to look at his crops, he says, and I
am left at their mercy. I wish I had crops to go and look at— I
should be grateful even for one, and would look at it from morning
till night, and quite stare it out of countenance, sooner than stay
at home and have the truth told me by enigmatic aunts. Do you know
my Aunt Bertha? she, in particular, spends her time propounding
obscure questions for my solution. I get so tired and worried trying
to guess the answers, which are always truths supposed to be good for
me to hear. 'Why do you wear your hair on your forehead?' she
asks,—and that sets me off wondering why I do wear it on my forehead,
and what she wants to know for, or whether she does know and only
wants to know if I will answer truthfully. 'I am sure I don't know,
aunt,' I say meekly, after puzzling over it for ever so long; 'perhaps
my maid knows. Shall I ring and ask her?' And then she informs me
that I wear it so to hide an ugly line she says I have down the middle
of my forehead, and that betokens a listless and discontented
disposition. Well, if she knew, what did she ask me for? Whenever I
am with them they ask me riddles like that, and I simply lead a dog's
life. Oh, my dear, relations are like drugs,—useful sometimes, and
even pleasant, if taken in small quantities and seldom, but dreadfully
pernicious on the whole, and the truly wise avoid them."
From Minora I have only had one communication since her departure,
in which she thanked me for her pleasant visit, and said she was
sending me a bottle of English embrocation to rub on my bruises after
skating; that it was wonderful stuff, and she was sure I would like
it; and that it cost two marks, and would I send stamps. I pondered
long over this. Was it a parting hit, intended as revenge for our
having laughed at her? Was she personally interested in the sale of
embrocation? Or was it merely Minora's idea of a graceful return for
my hospitality? As for bruises, nobody who skates decently regards it
as a bruise-producing exercise, and whenever there were any they were
all on Minora; but she did happen to turn round once, I remember, just
as I was in the act of tumbling down for the first and only time, and
her delight was but thinly veiled by her excessive solicitude and
sympathy. I sent her the stamps, received the bottle, and resolved to
let her drop out of my life; I had been a good Samaritan to her at the
request of my friend, but the best of Samaritans resents the offer of
healing oil for his own use.
But why waste a thought on Minora at Easter, the real beginning of
the year in defiance of calendars. She belongs to the winter that is
past, to the darkness that is over, and has no part or lot in the life
I shall lead for the next six months. Oh, I could dance and sing for
joy that the spring is here! What a resurrection of beauty there is
in my garden, and of brightest hope in my heart! The whole of this
radiant Easter day I have spent out of doors, sitting at first among
the windflowers and celandines, and then, later, walking with the
babies to the Hirschwald, to see what the spring had been doing there;
and the afternoon was so hot that we lay a long time on the turf,
blinking up through the leafless branches of the silver birches at the
soft, fat little white clouds floating motionless in the blue. We had
tea on the grass in the sun, and when it began to grow late, and the
babies were in bed, and all the little wind-flowers folded up for the
night, I still wandered in the green paths, my heart full of happiest
gratitude. It makes one very humble to see oneself surrounded by such
a wealth of beauty and perfection anonymously lavished, and to think
of the infinite meanness of our own grudging charities, and how
displeased we are if they are not promptly and properly appreciated.
I do sincerely trust that the benediction that is always awaiting me
in my garden may by degrees be more deserved, and that I may grow in
grace, and patience, and cheerfulness, just like the happy flowers I
so much love.