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Elizabeth and Her German Garden Part 4

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 me rigid.

"Elizabeth! Elizabeth!" called the voice, "Come in at once to your lessons--Elizabeth! Elizabeth!"

"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.

November 20th.--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."

"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 there.

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 fist."

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 man.

"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 woman?"

"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 personal."

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.

December 7th.--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 rhythm.

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 writing-table 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.

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