Most sorts of men doe set but little store.”
“WHAT are you reading, Bess?”
I had spoken twice without being able to force the circle of her attention.
“Why — why,” she stammered, absently. Then perceiving my determination, she cried, “Just listen, John: ‘It is impossible to do justice to these lovely flowers in a printed description. Cold type cannot convey any idea of the indescribable richness, the varied and exquisite coloring, the enormous size, perfect form, and great substance of these blossoms. The plants are compact and bushy, and out of a tropical mass of dark green foliage are borne great quantities of perfect flowers of the finest colors. Over a hundred different shades have been counted in one bed of this strain. Blooms come very early and last till —
“Pshaw!” I interrupted. “You’ve caught the catalogue fever again.”
She looked at me so reproachfully that I repented my hasty scorn.
“Look!” she said, holding a gorgeous color-page before my face. I felt in duty bound to scoff, but I yielded so far as to take the pamphlet in hand.
Immediately I was lost in the glories of the seed catalogue which some ambitious rhetorician — in the pride of his diction, perhaps — had sent us “absolutely free of cost.” I wandered care-free over spacious lawns which
Caught from the early sobbings of the morn.”
I rested in cool, shady retreats. Beside flowers of Paradise I paused and refreshed my soul with colors and odors. Then I heard a voice, as of one calling afar off in a dream. By insistent repetition, it pierced the flowery thicket at last, and I knew the voice of my Bess.
“ It would look so pretty at the northeast corner, and would serve to hide the old rain-barrel.”
“ That’s so,” I murmured, slowly awakening.
“ ‘ It grows to the astonishing height of four feet,’ ” she quoted.
“‘And is of remarkably dense foliage,’ ” I read.
“And only ten cents!” she softly breathed.
“Why, ye-es,” I hesitated. “We might try it. At any rate, it would not harm the rain-barrel.”
She rose and went straightway to write the order. Her alacrity aroused in me a vague suspicion that I had been “managed,” but I soon forgot it in the seductive pages of the catalogue.
Half an hour later, I said, “Have you sealed that order yet, my dear?”
“Why, no,” she answered. “Was there anything— Is there—?”
“One or two little things here that I thought — This one, for instance.”
She sighed with pleasure as she followed my finger along the lines: “" Flowers of mammoth size, perfect form, and embracing the richest, most velvety colors. They are also delicately sweetscented. The range of color is great, and the shades are mostly very delicate and dainty. In coloring they are, in fact, perfectly exquisite, there being very little of the common old blue and purple colors among them. In their place we have delicate blushes, lavenders, pinks, velvety indigoes, intense scarlets —’ Yes, John, we certainly must have some of his — his — Oh, verbenas! ”
Thus, during the dreary first quarter of the year we stray through one fragrant catalogue after another, and all the while the order, still unsealed, increases to extravagant length. At the same time, we make imaginary divisions of our grounds, drawing to scale a plan of walks, lawns, and flower-beds. I do sundry sketches which represent, truthfully I hope, just how a rose-court would look if laid out in the angle between the upright and the L. We discuss in detail the proper size and style of a projected summer-house, and I even go so far as to construct laboriously a tiny, whittled-out model of a canopy for the well.
We are very happy. What more charming retreat could there be than our winter garden ? Its paths are always well graveled, and not a weed ever mars their crisp white surfaces. Its borders are ever mathematically regular, and plants and shrubs are always disposed according to the letter of landscape gardening. The skies above are always blue, and clouds are of fleecy whiteness. No plebeian dandelion ever suns himself on our lawns; no fierce summer squalls ever whip our canna leaves to ribbons; no case-hardened bug ever violates the luxuriant foliage; nor does any vagrant worm ever so much as crimp the edge of a single rose petal. The soil is always rich and fine, without sticks, stones, or rotten leaves. It is never dry and baked; never soggy with rains. Planted seeds always sprout and wi thout accident pass marvelously through all stages of growth, even to perfection, in the space of a dream.
This magic celerity with which things happen in the Garden is most delightful. At evening, I’ve picked bouquets which had no existence before supper. I ve been lost in odorous thickets on a bleak spot where the snow-wraith danced but a moment before. Indeed, within a minute past, I ’ve seen a glory of pink blossoms on a bare branch where now, as I look out, I see only the brown, wrinkled mummy of what was once an apple, all hooded with snow.
Why, then, undergo the pains of spring planting, the heat of summer drouth, the misery of autumn ruin, when it is possible to sit with one’s wife beside a bright fire of a winter’s evening and, with a few modest seed-catalogues to stimulate imagination, grow such a glorious garden as never bloomed on earth ?
The day came, at last, for mailing the long-delayed order.
“What is the amount?” I asked.
“Eight dollars and seventy-three cents,” said Bess, poising her pencil with minutest care.
The fire snapped a fierce protest; and the old clock debated with stately logic the question of paying so much for the privilege of shattering our dreams.
“After all,” she mused, “a garden is a perpetual nuisance and an ultimate disappointment.”
“Anticipation is always knocked on the head by meagre results,” I declared.
“ Flowers are so perishable,” said Bess.
“And of fading memory,” I offered.
“So expensive! ”
“Such a bother! ”
“John,” she said, after a pause, “the last time we were in the city I saw you handling a certain choice copy of Seneca.”
“And, Bess, you were looking a long time at a lovely vase.”
At this, the order for seeds and bulbs was thrust into the stove.
When spring opens, we’ll scratch, as usual, a few morning-glory seeds into the ground under the windows, and bestow sundry handfuls of nasturtium seeds in warm places. As for the rest, we shall look to Nature, and we are quite sure we shall find as much surprise and pleasure in the garden she plants as we should in mere man-made growths.
For my part, I love to see things spring of themselves and grow up in spite of the Adversary. I consider a dandelion a sunbright crown of triumph over hard conditions; a thistle a hero perpetually armed against a hostile environment; and the rank hosts of dock and burdock praiseworthy for never asking or granting quarter. I rejoice, indeed, when the despised of earth win a victory.
Weeds, then, are more interesting to us than the manufactured Frankensteins of the florist. Though they lack mammoth blossoms of sensuous colors and odors, we are content; for we love the cool, weedy smells, and find soul-rest in flowers of “common old blue.” They may fail of dense, green foliage for all we care; our affections are firmly set on the thinlyclad, poverty-stricken natives of the soil, which grow up bv God’s favor alone. In the matter of plants, as in literature, we much prefer a Joe Gargery to a Prince Charming, and when it comes to a question of “great substance,” give us a Mr. Mieawber and — a squash.
So it comes to pass that the old seedcatalogues, rich with those vestiges of dreams, dogs’-ears and thumb-marks, now lie neglected in the garret, while a dainty jar of Japanese cloisonné glows sombrely beside Bess’s little willow workbasket; and I, as the afternoon wanes to twilight, gravely conduct her cheerful spirit through the cool, marble porches of the Minor Dialogues.