On Our Fenceless State

COULD a peculiarly British instinct survive through seven Yankee generations, and crop out in me ? If not, why is it I so ardently long for a walled garden ? As a good, modern American, I ought to rejoice that my grass and rambler roses and goldenglow are thine, or anybody’s who happens along. We live in a cottage set with many others in one wide, communistic lawn, over which our children, collectively and individually, scamper freely. They sample Mr. Wheaton’s prize strawberries, they merrily swing upon Mrs. Harkness’s clothes-reel, pausing to plant a muddy foot on a bleaching tablecloth; they admire my white iris and snap off the largest flower. Bruno and Rover, equipped with twice the number of muddy feet, scamper too.

I suppose the man behind the whirring mower knows where our lawn ends and Mr. Wheaton’s begins. I don’t. Probably the nasturtium-border marks the line. It is the neighborhood hurdle. Short-legged little scamps in blue rompers, essaying to leap it, invariably find themselves sitting in a forest of juicy stems. They look surprised, but not at all worried. The old things are n’t anybody’s flowers, so who cares ? As a matter of fact. I plant those nasturtiums laboriously every spring. When I feel the lure of warm April sun mixed with cold April wind, I long to go and sit in the dirt and plant something. But why plant a plant that may not stay planted ? If it should strike the roving fancy of Bobbie Harkness, it will vanish into the leg of his blue rompers, where a pocket ought to be and is n’t. To be sure, our own plump, blueclad little rascal ranges the commons with the rest. Once he trundled home his little " wheel-barrel ” full of tight green peony buds from Mrs. Johnson’s garden, — “ cabbages for dear mamma,” he explained. When we have an English wall round our Yankee yard, our boy shall grub in his own home sand-pile instead of wandering afield. Then, if ravages are committed, I shall know the particular little sinner that needs a spank, unless indeed I ought to spank the sparrows or a courageous, leather-footed pussy-cat.

I suffer considerably, moreover, from an uneasy conviction that the Harknesses, old Mr. Wheaton, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and the critical Miss Laura, not to mention Mrs. Johnson’s Hilda (a superior person), are one and all behind their innocent-looking curtains, observing me romp with my little son till my hair falls down. I am not ashamed of my deeds, but I can never quite forget the eyes, eyes, eyes, with which cities are infested. Wait till I get my wall. Then you shall see — shall not see, I mean — how whole-heartedly I can frisk and loaf, reveling in elemental joys.

No, we have pretended long enough that we own a bit of out-doors. We don’t, not one grass-blade, not one pebble. We never have. We never shall, till we save up, little by little, the tremendous sum of courage needed to do something different from our neighbors. Meanwhile I please myself imagining the sensation we shall produce one of these days in this conventional New England suburb.

With the English model in mind, we shall, in the good time coming, build a red brick wall ten feet high all round our little plot. The top shall fiercely bristle with broken bottles and a row of spikes. I am secretly saving up bottles in a barrel down cellar, for that purpose. In the wall there is to be but one opening, a green door with a key and a peep-hole. Locking the green door will be equivalent to the good old custom of raising the drawbridge.

I suspect, though, that just as soon as we are not obliged to share our garden with Messrs. Tom, Dick, and Harry, their ladies and children, we shall become the soul of hospitality. Spying through the peep-hole Dr. and Mrs. Harkness and the ubiquitous Bobbie afar off, gazing wistfully and perhaps resentfully at our ramparts, we shall lower the drawbridge and jovially shout, “ Come on in; we’re just going to have tea.” Blessed English privacy! Blessed English peace! Blessed homely English tea and bread and butter! Thinking of their own lawn, as public as the street, our guests will eat envious bites, sip envious sips, and afterwards sniff envious sniffs of our wealth of roses, climbing fearlessly over the warm brick. For roses, if nothing else, I will have, real ones, not soulless, machine-made ramblers or prim little imitations of English rose-trees. And a gooseberry bush or two I mean to set out, good British gooseberry bushes, draped in our old tennis net. I am saving that too, in the attic. There shall be no Old Country apple and pear trees, to be sure, writhing crucified against the south wall; but peach-trees we can grow. How delightful to taste our own peaches, for once. We used to have a peach tree bearing fruit large and showy, but like my pencil-eraser in flavor and consistency. We cherished that tree, when all the rest had died. Though we seldom got one of the peaches, the thought of the people who did was very satisfying.

I have heard, I think, below the conventional surface in this neighborhood, grumbles of discontent with our fenceless state. I am willing to wager all the flowers on my white iris — if they are still there — that we have only to set the example in order to see our English wall flattered by at least half a dozen imitations within the year. O John, John, let us see a mason to-morrow! Or why not telephone to-night ?