Christmas Roses

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1920. 12mo,vi+326 pp. $2.25.
ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK’S volume of short stories is called, from the first of the tales, Chistmas Roses, and each bears a flowery name
&$x8212;’Hepaticas,”Daffodils,’‘Carnations.’ ’Evening Primroses.’ There is an Order of Gardeners, to whom trowel and rake and spade are precious symbols, and the kneeling-mat a place for the pure worship of the great heart of Nature. This elect company will read these pages with an especial joy. In each story is wrought out a human problem, by the aid of some aspect of plant and blossom. Palace and cottage, hall and chamber, library and drawing-room and kitchen, are all illuminated by light from the garden and the wood.
Two of the eight stories have a hero and no heroine. Six are studies of middle-aged gentlewomen—four of them widows. Mrs. de Sélincourt depicts with delicate skill the tangle of motive beneath the conventional exterior of these charming ladies. Their poise, their grace, their easy coping with difficult situations, are familiar to all of us as we see them at home on English lawn and in London drawing-room. But only the artist can make us realize how bravely they can bear pain, how wisely they can plan for others’ happiness, and how confidently they can love for eternity. The quaintest of the sketches is ‘Pink Foxgloves.’ The hero is a shy little clerk, who, at fifty, by an unexpected legacy, realizes his dream of a country life with a real garden of his own. Just as he enters upon the full satisfaction of it, he must needs fall in love with a girl — and find, after she has accepted him, that she is counting upon life in London, and that he must choose between her and his pink foxgloves! Of course, he makes the great surrender.
The most gracious of the women figures is perhaps that of the heroine of ‘Autumn Crocuses’— a widow who opens her fair country cottage as a place of healing for the victims of war’s horrors. A young poet, torn by hideous memories of the trenches, reproaches her for the preaching of her gentle gospel of forgiveness, yet yields in spite of himself to its wondrous charm. At the end he learns at what cost she has won the right to counsel courage and forbearance, her own feet having passed before him up the Calvary,—a path trodden no less in peace than in war, — ‘and as if with a great, emerging breath, he came into a region bright and fair, whence, looking down on the dark and tattered past, he saw all life differently.’
The book is that noble product of our stormy time, a sad book which yet leaves us strong for life as it is. Its writer evades no stern truth. She sinks into no weary languor. Her words breathe peace of spirit, that peace which is ‘power and clear sight and love, for these are parts of peace.'
H. E. H.