[Mrs. Basil de Sélincourt]
‘OF course it is a horrid little garden, but one gets so fond of one’s own things, even when they are horrid,’ said Miss Edith Glover, with her gentle deprecatory laugh.
She stood with her friend at the door of the conservatory that led from the sitting-room to the oblong plot of garden — a small, middle-aged woman, with soft brown eyes, and hair the color of a faded leaf; her wasted throat and transparent temples and faint yet feverish flush marking her already with menacing symptoms.
The conservatory was of the sort that crops out irrelevantly at the back of many surburban houses, like glaucous fungi; but in Miss Glover’s little establishment, its shelves filled with neatly ranged boxes of seedlings, with bundles of raffia, tidy baskets, and carefully garnered labels, it was completely utilitarian, with never a fern or begonia to recall its usual state. Miss Glover’s house was surburban, or nearly so, for though it stood in secure detachment from other villas on the southern slopes of a small Surrey town, the town, on its northern side, spread into ugly patches of red brick that devoured the woods and fields and ran long tentacles almost up to London. Acacia Road was removed from this peril of vitality, and its upper windows looked over pleasant stretches of untouched hill and meadow.
The Nook had been left to Miss Glover by an aunt five years ago, and to her it was, from its porch before to its garden behind, a paradise pure and simple, though she described the garden now, in showing it to Florrie Lennard, so disparagingly. If she called it horrid, however, it was only because, with her strong sense of other people’s claims and opinions, she recognized that to Florrie, accustomed to grand weekends at big country-places, it must, qua garden, look very dim and meagre. That it must also look, in its humility, very lovely, she took for granted.
Mrs. Lennard, however, standing with her on the conservatory step, her robust silken arm protectingly and benevolently laid within hers, did not contradict her, though her cheerful eyes roamed kindly over the borders of pansies, the beds of mignonette, and the clumps of sweet peas in the corners; but her kindness was for her friend rather than for the garden, and she said, ‘You have n’t had strength, I expect, for doing more with it.’
‘I’ve never had much strength,’ said Miss Glover. ‘It does n’t want much hard work, luckily. The pansies go on from year to year and only need dividing in the autumn, and then there are the bulbs, of course, in spring; I have crocuses and daffodils and narcissi and some beautiful tulips. The rest I do with penny packets. All those sweet peas and all that mignonette came from two penny packets.’
‘You can’t expect much for a penny, can you?’ said Mrs. Lennard with her rather jovial air; and now she stepped down on to the narrow strip of lawn that had a bird-bath sunken in the middle and a rose-bush at each corner, of the kind now seldom seen, known as Prince Charlie or Maiden’s Blush — dark and small of foliage, with flat flowers that would be snowy were they not tinged with a cold pink. They always made Miss Glover think of an old Scotch ballad. Their flowering season was over, now, however. The old Pyrus japonica that grew against the wall was also, long since, over, though its fresh, vigorous green embossed the dull bricks; but on the wall opposite, a Madame Alfred Carrière was throwing out a second blooming, dreamy, melancholy, and romantic as only she could be. Madame Alfred Carrière made Miss Glover think of a Chopin waltz, and she hoped that Florrie might at all events remark favorably on her abundance. But Florrie hardly glanced at her. Pausing, as they paced the lawn, to look with tolerant interest at the bird-bath, she observed,—
‘I’ve just been staying with the Isaacsons in Hertfordshire. Such a lovely place. They’ve a broad sanded walk leading from the house to the rose-garden, as long as—well, to the end of this road, and it’s arched with roses all the way, a regular roof of roses, the latest climbers; I never saw such a sight. And their herbaceous border, even now, is a blaze of color. I wish you could see it. It would do you good. It did me good, I know. I told Mrs. Isaacson I always feel a better woman after a week-end in her garden. Flowers mean so much to me. I can’t get along without them. I run down to the Isaacsons whenever, as I say to her, I need an æsthetic cocktail. Of course they’ve half a dozen gardeners working from dawn till dewy eve. You can do pretty much what you want in the way of gardens when you’re as rich as the Isaacsons. What it must have cost them to make that sunken rose-garden! — all flagged between the beds, and with a sun-dial and a fountain in the middle and bowers of roses all about. They terraced the lawns, too, with flights of stone steps leading down one from the other, and great white stone vases on the pilasters simply foaming over, my dear, with pink geraniums. Against the blue sky it’s dazzling.
‘Such nice people they are, too, the Isaacsons. Di, the eldest girl, is marrying Lord Haymouth next week, you know. People say it’s a mariage de convenance, of course, for she’s to have £50,000 and he’s without the proverbial penny. But I happen to know it’s a love match: love at first sight; a regular coup de foudre. I was with the Isaacsons at Ascot this spring when they met, and I saw in a moment that Di’s fate was sealed. Do you remember the big photo of Di in court dress on the piano in the flat? No? Well, I should have thought it could n’t have escaped notice. Such a splendid young creature; dark, proud, glowing beauty. I think, when they’re young, there’s nothing to beat a beautiful Jewess. She has a gorgeous voice, too, Di; could have made her fortune in grand opera. I’ve given her a gold cigarette-case with her monogram in diamonds and rubies. It nearly broke me; but they’ve always been simply sweet to me. She’s very fond of smoking. Smokes too much, her mother and I tell her, though I’m afraid I’m not a very good example to set before the young!’
Mrs. Lennard’s face, while she thus spoke, expressed her contentment with the Isaacsons, with herself, the cigarette-case, and life in general. It was large and ruddy and masterful, with aquiline nose and small, jocund mouth, creasing to the chin in a deep line that spoke of good nature and ingenuous sensuality; the full throat supported by a high lace collar, well boned up behind the ears; the prominent blue eyes at once bland and beaming. She was tall, of a fine presence, her handsome bosom thickly decorated with turquoise ornaments, her shoes of glittering patent leather; and from her wrist dangled a purse of fringed and woven gold — an offering to her from the proprietor of the lady’s paper that, for many years, she had edited with so much flair and ability.
She had made a very good thing of her life, had Mrs. Lennard; and, nearing the fifties as she was, she had amassed a small but secure income and a large number of affluent friends; friends always engaged in vigorous and costly pursuits that involved many rich toilettes, meals to the sound of orchestras in sumptuous restaurants, and constant motoring from place to place. Among such friends poor Edie Glover had not counted. She and Mrs. Lennard had been schoolmates in early days when their fortunes, one as the daughter of a poor parson and one of a poor doctor, were equally unpromising. But Florrie had married an ambitious young journalist, typified always, in Miss Glover’s memory, from her one rather dazed and shrinking impression of him, by extraordinarily smart mustard-colored spats and the weighty and imposing seal ring on his finger; and, though early widowed, Florrie had followed along the paths where he had set her feet with an energy and shrewdness that he could not have bettered.
Meanwhile, poor Edie— for so Mrs. Lennard always thought of her — struggled through many years of waning youth to make her living,and support her mother, as a music-teacher in London. Mrs. Lennard, even when the tides of her own fortune ran low, never lost sight of her. She had always been the kindest of friends, sowing the Glovers’ dun-colored days with ‘complimentary ’ theatre or concert tickets and asking them frequently to tea with her at her club. Even after Edie, now alone in the world, had retired to Acacia Road and left youth and London behind her, Mrs. Lennard, who had the air of fully possessing both, kept constantly in touch. She had never managed, it was true, but for one half hour as she motored by on a winter’s day, to visit Acacia Road; but it was to her flat on the borders of Westminster and Charing Cross that Miss Glover always came when called to London by mild necessities or pleasures. Florrie insisted on it; and though, in some ways, Miss Glover would have preferred the house of her cousin in Bayswater, — overflowing with children as it was, and offering only the tiniest of back bedrooms on the top floor, — or the villa of a school-mistress friend at Golder’s Green, it had always been impossible to resist Florrie’s determined benevolence.
‘Nonsense, my dear Edie,’ she would say. ‘Your cousin can’t want you. You’ll only be in the way, with those dozens of children. And as for Golder’s Green, what can you see of London from Golder’s Green?’ (Florrie overlooked the fact that for forty-odd years Miss Glover had done nothing but ‘see’ London.) ‘You’ll be worn out with tubes and motor-buses if you go to Golder’s Green. Whereas with me you are ten minutes from everywhere, be it dentist or dressmaker or concert, and your bedroom’s waiting for you — MurielLestrange left me only last Monday; and you can’t make me believe you’d not rather have your bath in my lovely porcelain tub, with steaming hot water day and night, than in one of those awful, antediluvian, blistered monsters, that fold you up like a jackknife — and the tin of tepid water hauled up four flights by a slavey. I know my London, my dear, through and through, and any pleasure here depends upon how you start your day, upon your bath and your breakfast. I can’t offer much, but I can offer both of those, A number one.’
So she could. Miss Glover could not deny it, though loyally and unheededly murmuring that the villa at Golder’s Green had also its bathroom. It could n’t, however, compare with Florrie’s, all snowy tiles and glittering taps and ranged jars and bottles of salts and scents. Florrie’s bathroom seemed to her always to be the very centre and symbol of Florrie’s life — modern, invigorating, rejuvenating, at once utilitarian and decorative. It was a sort of brilliant magician’s cave from which all the rest radiated: the compact yet so sumptuous little drawing-room with its baby-grand and its palm, its silverframed photographs, frilled crétonnes, and rose-colored carpet; the diningroom, even more compact, yet, in its sobriety, as sumptuous — where the breakfasts always, in spite of familiarity, broke upon Miss Glover as revelations of what coffee and rolls and kidneys and bacon could be in the way of strength and heat and crispness; even the pink silk quilt beneath which she crept at night, and the little maid who brought her early tea, looking, in her fluted caps and aprons, as though she belonged to a theatrical troupe — all seemed emanations of that magic centre where Florrie lay of a morning in hot, scented water and read the paper and smoked a cigarette before emerging armed and panoplied for the avocations and gayeties of the day.
Yet it was not so much Florrie’s bathroom and breakfasts, or even Florrie’s kindness, that overbore her protests as Florrie’s determination, her way of knowing so much better than you yourself could know what was not only good, but happy for you. There was never an answer to be found to her; and though Florrie’s flat, with all its sumptuousness, dazed and even tired Miss Glover a little, just as dear Florrie herself sometimes dazed and tired her, she found herself installed there always, feeling her own pursuits, her little tea-parties, her concerts, her timid, bewildered shopping, to be very humdrum and inappropriate as issuing from such a base of operations. The only return she was able to make was to emboss Florrie’s sheets and towels and table-linen with beautifully embroidered monograms, and she had always a slight and pleasant sense of being, at all events, a country mouse who had contributed its little offering of grain or honey when she recognized these trophies of her craft on her bed and on the table and in the bathroom.
But the last time she had gone up that summer, only, now, three weeks ago, she had found herself suddenly of a significance almost as great as that of any of Florrie’s brilliant friends. To become significant to Florrie one had either to be brilliant or piteous, and she was piteous. Florrie had gone with her to the doctor’s, and it was Florrie, kind Florrie, an arm about her shoulders and a breast spread to her tired head, who had broken to her the verdict.
She was menaced, gravely menaced. — Yes; it did not surprise her — she had thought it might be that. She had seen her father and two sisters die of it. — And unless she could go away and spend a year in a Swiss open-air cure, the doctor did n’t think she’d live through the winter.
Seated on Florrie’s frilled sofa, while Florrie, all encompassing tact and urgency, passed on the verdict, it was not of it that she first thought. Her mind, perhaps in an instinctive recoil, fixed itself upon the oddly insistent impression of pinkness that she was aware, suddenly, of receiving. Florrie’s blouse, under her cheek, was a bright blur of pink; and when she turned her eyes away from that they met, everywhere, garlands of roses looped with knots of blue ribbon on a background of white and pink stripes. Too much pink: this was the absurdly irrelevant criticism that, dimly, but as if culminatingly, emerged. She must have felt it as too pink for many years, but only now was she aware of it. And then, with a sense of refuge, came the vision of her pansies: those borders of white and purple pansies under the dull brick wall that she had looked at so fondly that morning before starting for her journey. But she would have to leave her pansies, then; not only for a season; perhaps forever.
It was in this form and in this roundabout way that the thought of death became real to her; with pathos rather than poignancy and with yearning regret rather than fear. She did not feel afraid of dying. Her quiet little faith that, though so still, was deep enough for all her needs, had sunken wells of wordless security in her. She was not afraid; but the thought of leaving her flowers, her garden, the skyey view from her bedroom window, symbolized for her all the sadness of death. There was, indeed, nothing else to regret much. Every one she had loved most dearly was gone; and when all was said and done, and in spite of the peace of the last five years, she was a battered, tired little creature, with few of the springs of desire left in her. Her life, as she looked back on it, seemed to have been spent, for the most part, in crowded buses on wet evenings, with not enough lunch behind and not enough dinner before her; in those, and in going up and down the steps of strangers’ houses. There had been, of course, more than that; she had never, except when her dearest young sister died, been very unhappy, and there had been interests and alleviations always — beautiful evening walks across the Park and relaxations over tea with a book before the fire in her lodginghouse sitting-room; but the past, when she called it up in an image, seemed always to crumple into that jolting, rattling, wet, and crowded omnibus. So there was not much strength now left in her for resistance or regret; but she would do her best to live, and that really meant that she would do her best not yet to leave her garden.
When she was older, too old to dig a little, divide the pansies in autumn and sow the penny packets in spring, too old to care for the Madame Alfred Carrière or the Pyrus japonica, would be time enough to go. But in coming back to it that evening, she knew how deeply, how tenaciously she loved her garden. It was the only thing she had ever owned in her life, the only thing she had ever made: her work and creation; its roots seemed to go down into her heart; and she could not feel that in heaven there would be old white roses and white and purple pansies and mignonette and sweet peas that one had sown one’s self from penny packets.
At first, when Florrie told her, the verdict had seemed unescapable. She had said, after the little silence in which she received it, — the silence in which much had happened to her, — she had said, in a very quiet voice that had surprised herself, ‘I’m afraid it’s no good, then, Florrie dear. I can’t afford to go away.’
Aunt Kate had left her only the house and its contents. She had saved only the tiniest sum herself — just enough to yield an income that paid for her food and light and coal. To pay for Jane, her good old servant, to pay for her clothes and washing, to pay for the trips to London and the crumpets and cakes that she gave her friends at tea in Acacia Road, she had still to depend upon the pupils that, fortunately, she had found in the small Surrey town. On three afternoons a week she sallied forth, peacefully indeed, with no sense of anxiety or pressure, and made her way to the houses of the doctor, the rector, the big London manufacturer, and instructed their young daughters in the excellent Munich method that she had imbibed in youth. With these delightfully convenient strings to her bow she could manage perfectly. But to give them up and to pay for an open-air cure in Switzerland was outside the bounds of her possibilities.
So she explained, in the quiet voice, to Florrie; and it was then that Florrie, revealing herself as a more wonderfully kind friend than even in Miss Glover’s grateful eyes she had always been, said, the tears suddenly hopping down her cheeks and making dark spots on the pink silk blouse, —
‘Stuff and nonsense, my dearest Edie! What do a few pounds more or less matter at a time like this? You shall go! It’s a question of life or death. Now, not a word, my dear, and listen to me. I’ll send you. It ’ll be the proudest day of my life that sees you off. What’s all my good luck worth to me if I can’t give a friend a helping hand when she needs it? I can sell out some investments. I’ve more than enough, and I’ll soon fill my stocking again. And you shall go as soon as we can get you ready; and first class, my dear, all the way, boat and train. Don’t I know the difference it makes — and getting off to sleep on the way? Jane shall go with you to take care of you — oh, yes, she shall! — I won’t hear of your going alone; and you ’ll come back next spring a sound woman.
‘ I know all about those Swiss openair cures,’ Florrie rushed on. ‘They’re magical. Poor Lady Forestalls was at death’s door three years ago — there she is — over there on the piano — that tall, regal-looking woman with the Pekinese: worse than you she was, by far. And she went to Switzerland and came back in six months’ time, cured; absolutely cured. Never a touch of it since. She does everything and goes everywhere. And such scenery, my dear, such flowers! You’ll revel in it. And Julia Forestalls told me that the people were so interesting. She made a number of friends — Italian, German, Russian. You shall take my teabasket, my dear. Jane can carry it easily. It’s a gem; everything complete and so convenient. It makes simply all the difference on a journey if you can get a steaming hot cup of tea at any time you like, day or night. I saved Cora Clement’s life with my tea-basket in Venice; she says so herself. She got chilled to the bone on the lagoons. Over there on the writing-bureau she is; American. Not a beauty, but jolie laide, and dresses exquisitely — as you can see. She’s always taken for a Frenchwoman.’
Miss Glover, even more than usual, felt to-day that dear Florrie dazed and bewildered her a little; but the mere fact that Florrie’s tears had dried so soon, that she could, so soon, be telling her about Lady Forestalls and Cora Clement, was encouraging. Miss Glover felt that her case was evidently but one among many to which Florrie had seen the happiest endings — a comparatively unalarming affair; entirely unalarming, though exceedingly engrossing, Florrie’s tone and demeanor indicated, when taken in hand by such as she.
And how she took it in hand! There was no use protesting against anything. As always, Florrie made her feel that she knew better than she herself could what was good for her. It was all arranged before they parted that day, and Florrie had further smoothed her path by declaring that nothing would suit her better, if Edie really felt fussed about the money, than to take The Nook during her absence. ‘The very thing I need,’ said Florrie. ‘I’ve been thinking for some time that I must have a little place near London to run down to for week-ends. And you’ve that duck of a spare-room, too, I remember, where I can put up a friend; and it’s so near town that people can motor down and have tea with me of an afternoon. My dear, nothing could be more providential.’
During the three weeks that followed, Florrie, in London, shopped for her, decided on the clothes she would need and the conveniences that she must take; and interesting parcels arrived at The Nook every morning. It was strange and exciting to be made much of, strange and exciting to be starting on a journey; she had not been out of England since that stay, in girlhood, in Munich; and in spite of the shadow hanging over her, the sense of haste lest she be overtaken, she felt the days of preparation as almost happy ones. Jane, it was true, was rather gloomy about everything, but even beneath her sombre demeanor Miss Glover felt sure that she, too, was touched by the sense of adventure, for Jane had never been out of England at all.
And now the boxes were all packed and Miss Glover’s dressing-case stood open, half filled, in her bedroom, waiting only for her sponge-bag and pintray and brush and comb to be added to-morrow morning, when she and Jane and Florrie were to go up together to Victoria, and Florrie was to see them off; and while Jane prepared her most festive tea, Miss Glover had been showing Florrie all over her new domain on that August afternoon when she had spoken of her garden as horrid. Florrie, in answer to her shy request that she might, perhaps, if it was n’t too much bother, sow some mignonette and sweet peas for her next spring, had answered with reassuring decision, ‘To be sure I will, my dear. I’ll take care of everything and have it all waiting for you spick and span when you get back.’ And then Jane’s gong had summoned them in, and it had been reassuring, too, to see how benignant were the glances that Florrie cast about the little sitting-room while she stirred her tea and commended Jane’s cakes. ‘Beeswax and turpentine for all the furniture once a week. I know. And dusted every morning without fail.'
Yes, it was safe in Florrie’s competent hands, dear little room. In her heart of hearts, though she had no faintest flicker of criticism or comparison, — except for that one strangely painful memory of the rush of pinkness, — Miss Glover very much preferred her own room, shabby and simple as it was, to Florrie’s; just as, though so well aware of the relative insignificance of her garden, she knew that she would prefer it to the Isaacsons’, with its arches of roses and its geraniums in white stone vases. She liked quiet, soft, gentle things; the everso-faded ancient chintzes on her aunt’s chairs and sofa, showing here and there a ghostly bird of paradise or a knot of nearly obliterated flowers, her aunt’s absurd, faded, old-fashioned carpet, — fortunately faded ! — and her grandmother’s Lowestoft cups ranged above the mantelpiece. Everything was in its place: her knitting-basket between her chair and the fireplace; her beaded footstool before the best armchair, where Florrie sat; the little table, with a bowl of white and purple pansies on it, where lay the daily paper and the two books from the circulating library. All were dear to her; all spoke of continuity with the past, of long association, of quiet, small, peaceful activities; and as she looked about she knew that her heart would have sunk a little at the thought of leaving them, had it not been for Florrie’s sustaining presence.
Florrie, while her second cup of tea was being made, drew forth and laid beside the tea-tray, with an air of infinite sagacity, the coupons for the reserved seats in the first-class carriage. ' I’ll keep my eyes on those,’ said Florrie. It was almost as if they had been tickets for some brilliant entertainment — as if, Miss Glover felt, she and Jane were going to be taken to the opera rather than to Switzerland. It was owing to Florrie that she had almost come to feel that Switzerland was the opera.
But that night, when they had gone upstairs and the house was still, the sense of adventure deserted her. Sitting in her dressing-gown before her mirror while, with hands that tired so easily, she brushed and braided her hair, she felt, suddenly, very middleaged, very lonely, ill, and almost frightened. The look of her gaping dressingcase, as she glanced round at it, was frightening, as was the emptiness of the mantelpiece, from which the family photographs had all been taken to be packed, together with the Bible and prayer-book from the table near her bed. It was a room already deserted. It looked as it might look if she had died. What, indeed, in spite of Florrie’s good cheer, if she were to die out there, alone, away from everything and every one she knew? And, with a curious impulse, rising to go and close the gaping dressing-case, she realized that she had not said good-bye to anything. The morning had all been spent in packing — in that and in preparations for Florrie’s arrival; and all the afternoon Florrie had been with her, and she was to be with her till her departure tomorrow. She would not again be alone in her little house; she would not again be alone in her garden. The thought of her pansies came with a pang of reproach; it was as if she had forgotten them, like children sent to bed without a good-night kiss.
She drew her curtain and looked out. Yes; there they were. The moon was shining brightly and the white pansies lay below like pools of milk upon the ground. She looked at them for some moments, while the soft fragrance of the night mounted to her and seemed with gently supplicating hands to draw her forth; and then, cautiously — for Florrie slept across the way — but with decision, she put on her heavy cloak over her dressing-gown, wrapped a shawl about her head and shoulders, and stole downstairs.
The drawing-room was very dark; she felt her way swiftly through it past the familiar objects, and the conservatory door opened on a flood of silvery light. She saw the far, shining disk, and the great black poplar tree that grew in the neighboring garden seemed vast against the sky. As she stepped out, she made herself think of Diamond in ' At the Back of the North Wind.’ It was like stepping into a fairy-tale; only something more sweet and solemn than a fairy-tale, as that book was; something, for all its beauty, a little awful. But when she looked down from the moon, the sky, the poplar, there was only sweetness. The fragrance that had solicited her seemed now to welcome her, to clasp and caress her. The pansies were all looking up at her. On the wall Madame Alfred Carrière was more beautiful than she had ever before seen her, her pale flowers and buds making a constellation against the darkness.
She walked round the path, looking at it all, so glad that she had come, smiling — a child in fairyland, or a spirit arrived in Paradise and finding it strange yet familiar — as Paradise should be. Perhaps, she thought, dying would be like that: a stepping out from darkness into something vast and solemn that would slowly gather about one into well-known and transfigured shapes, into white pansies growing thickly at one’s feet. She stooped in the moonlight and passed her hands over their upturned faces. They were flowers entranced, neither sleeping nor awake; and she felt, as her fingers touched their soft, dewy petals, as if their dreams with their whiteness flowed into her. To leave them was like leaving her very self, yet the parting now was all peace and innocent acquiescence and gentleness, like them, and she was still smiling as she whispered to them, ‘Good-bye, darlings.’
Switzerland was like the opera, and for her first months there Miss Glover felt as if she watched it from a box — very much at the back and looking past many heads at the vast display. Everything that Florrie had said was true: the scenery was more magnificent than she could have imagined, oppressively more, and the people, again oppressively, more interesting. They were, these people, engaged all of them in trying to keep alive, and, when they failed in that, in dying, dying under one’s eyes from day to day; and in the publicity of such occupations there was something as abnormal as was the size of the mountains. Some of these people she came to know a little — the ones, usually, who had given up: the dear little Russian girl who, alas, died in December; the sulky, affectionate French boy; and the large yet wasted German singer who made Miss Glover think of a splendid fruit keeping still its shell of form and color while eaten away inside by wasps. Fraülein Schmidt liked to have her play Schubert and Schumann songs to her, and still tried to sing attainable passages here and there in a queer, booming, hollow voice that made Miss Glover, again, think of the wasps imprisoned and buzzing. But most of the people remained parts of the spectacle to her. They engaged, when they were well enough, in winter sports; they talked together of books she had never heard of and of things she had never thought of; and often, moreover, she could not understand what they said, as her languages did not extend beyond rather simple French and German, and Dante with a dictionary.
The only other English person there was a young man who made her think of the Prince Charlie roses; he was sombre and delicate and beautiful and did not talk to anybody, sitting apart and reading all day long. Miss Glover wondered a good deal about him, and watched him sometimes from her place on the snow-sifted balcony when they lay there encased in fur bags and buttressed with hot-water bottles. His name was Lord Ninian Carstairs; and that was like the roses, too.
Once, when they were alone on the balcony, their recumbent chairs near one another, he lifted his eyes suddenly and found hers fixed upon him, and perhaps their wistful and ingenuous absorption touched him, for, flushing faintly,— he was a shy young man, — he asked if she were feeling better.
She said she could n’t quite tell. It was difficult to tell what one felt, did n’t he find? Everything was so different; so exciting in a way; and when one was excited one felt, perhaps, better than one was.
Lord Ninian laughed shortly at that, and said that he did n’t feel excited; he wished he could.
‘I’m depressed, too, sometimes,’ said Miss Glover; and then he sighed.
‘One gets so abominably homesick in this hole,’ he said.
She had never thought of such splendor as being, possibly, to anybody, a hole; but she knew what it was to feel homesick. They smiled at each other when they met after that, she and Lord Ninian, and he lent her magazines and books. When she heard that he had died, — she had not seen him for a week and had feared for him, — she felt very, very sad and her thoughts turned in great longing to Acacia Road and to her garden.
She wanted very much to live to see her garden again; but she could not help being frightened lest she should not; for, as the winter wore on, it became evident to her, and all the more because every one else was so carefully unaware of it, that one of the things that Florrie had predicted was not to come true. She was not to return cured. She was not going to get better. At first the slow burning of fever had seemed only part of the excitement, but she could not go on thinking it that when it began to leave her breathless, trembling, faint. By the time that the miracle of the Alpine flower-meadows was revealed to her and she had watched the snow recede and the jonquils and anemones advance, she knew that if she wished to die at home she must soon go. They would not consent to that at once. They said that the spring months were full of magic, and she was persuaded to stay on. They were magically beautiful and she was glad to see them, but she longed more and more to see her little garden. She dreamed sometimes of her pansies at night, and it seemed to her once that as she stooped in the moonlight and touched them she was cured; the fever fell from her; a cool white peace flowed into her veins; and when she looked up from them, the night was gone and the sun was rising over her Surrey hills.
At the beginning of June they consented that she should go. They did not tell her the truth, of course. They said that she might pass the summer in England, since she wished so much to return there, and that she must come back for next winter; but she knew that if her state had not been recognized as hopeless they would not have let her go. It was hopeless, and she summoned all her strength and resolution, that she might live until she reached Acacia Road.
Florrie met her at Victoria. Florrie did not know that it was hopeless, though she knew that it was not, as yet, a cure; but from the way that she controlled her features to a determined joviality Miss Glover could infer her shock, her grief, her consternation. The glance, too, that Jane and Florrie exchanged was revealing, had she been in need of revelations.
After a night in Florrie’s flat, however, she knew that she looked so much better that poor Florrie, when she came to see her in the morning, was quite erroneously cheered. ‘You’re all right,’ Florrie declared. ‘The journey’s knocked you about a bit; but once we get you down to Surrey, Jane and I, you’ll pick up in no time. After all, there’s no place like home, is there?’
Miss Glover, from her pillows, smiled. She felt very fond of kind Florrie and sorry for her that she must, so soon, suffer sadness on her account.
It was difficult, in the train, to listen to Florrie’s talk. After her fright of the day before, Florrie had cheered up so tremendously that she talked even more than usual, of her friends, her enterprises, of how she was going yachting that autumn with the Forestalls, and of how Di Haymouth had just had a baby.
‘A splendid boy, and Mr. and Mrs. Isaacson are fairly off their heads with pride and pleasure. Such a layette, my dear, you never saw! Real lace through and through — and the cradle of a regular little prince! I gave him a silver porringer for his christening; a lovely thing, all heavy répoussé work with his initials on a shield at one side. Di says it’s the prettiest porringer she ever saw.’
It was difficult to listen to Florrie and to nod and smile at the right moment when she was thinking of her garden and wondering if Florrie had really remembered to sow the sweet peas and mignonette. Even if she had n’t, the Madame Alfred Carrière and the Prince Charlie roses would be out, and the late tulips, and the pansies, of course. And it was such a beautiful day, just such a day as that she had risen to look at when, in her dream, the pansies had cured her.
The drive from the station up to Acacia Road was a short one. The dear, foolish little porch was there, the bow-window, the laurel-bushes. Her own home. As she saw it she felt such a lift of the heart that it seemed to her, too, that she might be going to get better after all. Florrie and Jane helped her out and she and Florrie went into the sitting-room. She looked round it, smiling, while she felt her happy, fluttering breaths like those of some wandering bird put back into its own dear cage again, safe, secure, bewildered a little in its contentment. She was like such a trivial little cage-bird; she was meant for Acacia Road, and not for Swiss mountains.
Everything was the same: even her knitting-basket stood waiting for her, and all that caught her eye with their unfamiliarity were the flowers, the profusion of flowers, standing in bowls and vases everywhere; perhaps almost too many flowers, — that was like dear, exuberant Florrie, — and all pink.
‘Oh —how lovely they are!’ she said, finding the fluttering breath fail her a little. ‘How dear of you, Florrie, to have it all arranged like this!’
‘They look welcoming, don’t they?’ said Florrie, who laughed with some excitement. ‘Will you rest, dear, or come into the garden?’
‘Oh, the garden, please. I’m not at all tired. I can rest later.’
Florrie still led her by the arm. They went into the conservatory and there came to her then the strangest, dizziest sense of pink — everywhere pink! — shining in at her through the sea-green glass, bursting in at her through the open door.
For a moment she thought that her mind was disordered, and looked up with large, startled eyes at Florrie; but, beaming as she had never yet seen her beam, all complacency and triumphant benevolence, Florrie nodded, saying, ‘Now for your surprise, my dear. Now for your garden. Just see what I’ve made of it to welcome you!’
They stepped out. Pink. Pink everywhere, above, below, around one. The paths were arched with swinging iron chains on which, already, the long festoons advanced. The border, heaping itself up splendidly against the wall, was splashed with white, yellow, blue and purple, a blaze of color indeed, but pink dominated, like the sound of trumpets in an orchestra. It also made Miss Glover think, strangely, sickly, of the sound of a gramophone. There was no lawn. The centre of the garden was flagged, with a highly ornamental sundial in the middle and a white garden seat and a wonderful white stone basin for the birds. There were no Prince Charlie roses, no mignonette and sweet peas; there were no pansies. Her garden had disappeared.
‘There!’ said Florrie.
She led her to the garden seat. From here Miss Glover, as she sank down upon it, could see that the back of the house was also draped with the incessant color.
‘Is n’t it a marvel!’ said Florrie. ‘I hardly dared hope they’d grow as they have, but Dorothy Perkins is a winner, and these latest climbers run her close. I spared nothing, my dear, nothing — manure, bone-meal, labor. The men were working here for a week last autumn. All the old soil was carted away and a rich loam put in three feet deep. I knew I could get them to grow up in time if I took enough pains over it. Those chains will be covered in another month. I knew it would do you more good than any open-air cure to find such a garden waiting for you. I’d defy anybody to have the blues in this garden! In its little way it’s just an epitome of joy, is n’t it? It’s done me good, to begin with! I’ve been having tea out here every day in my week-ends and every one who’s seen it and heard about my plan says I’m a regular old fairy with a wand. Mrs. Isaacson motored down only last Saturday and thought it was a perfect poem. And so it is, though I say it as should n’t.’
Florrie had paused on the deepest breath of purest satisfaction, and the time had come when Miss Glover must speak. She must find words to express gratitude and astonishment. She must not burst into tears. She felt that if she began to cry she would at once be very ill. She did not want to be taken ill before dear, good, kind Florrie. And it was, of course, a beautiful garden; far more beautiful than hers had ever been, no doubt; yet it hurt her so — to find her garden gone — that she heard her voice come in gasps as she said, ‘Dear Florrie — you are a wonderful friend — you are indeed. — I can never thank you enough. It’s a miracle.’
Florrie patted her shoulder — she had her arm around her shoulders. ‘ My best thanks will be to see you happy in it, Edie dear, and getting well and strong again in it. It’s a regular surprise-packet, this garden, let me tell you, my dear. It’ll go on, that border, right up till November, one thing after another: I thought it all out, pencil and paper and catalogue in hand. I went over the whole color-scheme with Mrs. Isaacson — there’s no one who knows more about it. And since most of the herbaceous things came from her garden, it did n’t cost as much as you’d think. They’ve always heaps of plants left over when they divide in autumn, and everything was at my disposal; and all the latest varieties, as I need n’t say. Wait till you see the lilies — yes, my dear, I’ve found room for everything; where there’s a will there’s a way is my motto, you know — and the phloxes and the chrysanthemums.’
She would never see them, though she was sure that they would all be very beautiful; she would never see these latest varieties from Mrs. Isaacson’s garden. And she would never see her own little garden again. How wonderfully fortunate it was — the thought went through her mind confusedly as she sat there, feeling herself droop against Florrie’s shoulder — that she was not to live with Florrie and to go on missing her own garden. How fortunate — but her thoughts swam more and more and tears dazed her eyes — that she had not to say good-bye twice to her pansies. She had died, then, really, — that was it, — on the moonlight night when she had last seen them. And she had left the house to Florrie, dear kind Florrie, and Florrie would go on having tea happily under the festoons of roses.