HAVING retired from active business with something considerably less than a competence, and having purchased a small place in the country in which to pass the sunset years of my life, I turned my jaded mind from the contemplation of the eccentricities of the stock market to the equally mysterious processes of nature.
One of my silent aspirations when I took up my abode on my Sabine Farm was that it might become the Mecca of city friends, who would be tempted by its peace and quiet to visit me, and if possible to break bread with me and pass a night under the protection of my many-gabled roof.
So, when some minor repairs had been completed, I issued a somewhat general invitation to my more intimate friends to drop in when motoring by. It was my practice to engage in the less exacting agricultural duties in the morning; then lunch and a brief siesta, and I was ready for company. While waiting for their enthusiastic arrival I contrived to add picturesque bucolic touches to my environment. I made my toilet with nice attention to the requirements of my new character, and arranged to have the quarters of the pigs, the poultry, and my other humble possessions worthy of minute inspection.
I followed this line of procedure for several weeks, but it was totally lacking in results. I spent long afternoons with ears attentive to the sound of an approaching motor, but they whirled by my gateway with arrogant disdain. I decided that there was something wrong with my invitations. A general invitation is, after all, no invitation. After careful thought I selected friends who, I decided, were most in need of the recuperative effect of country quiet, and issued to them definite invitations for specific days and hours. The result of this was a long series of telephone calls, at inconvenient hours, expressing regret that exacting social duties elsewhere prevented their coming, much as they desired to do so. It seemed indelicate to press the matter, so I selected another group of less intimate friends and tried again. For some reason this group was less responsive than the first. From some of them I never heard at all. Then I saw my mistake. This sort of thing must grow naturally. My rural retreat must acquire a reputation for charming and unostentatious hospitality. Little by little its fame would spread, and then the tide would turn toward me. When this comforting reflection came to me I could hear the enraptured comments of friends. ‘ Have you, by any chance,’ they would say, ‘been out to Jackson’s little place in the country? No? Oh, you must go. Just drop in at any time. He will be delighted to see you. Don’t wait for a formal invitation. He does not do things that way. That’s the charm of it.’
With these comforting words ringing in my ears, I settled myself to await developments. Meanwhile I was not bereft of all visitors. I was called upon by a taciturn gentleman who wished to sell me brushes, a pensive youth who offered me a correspondence course in the raising of poultry, and a young woman whose educational future seemed to depend upon my subscribing to a number of multicolored magazines.
The visitor, however, who really stirred me was a young man who descended upon me and threatened to change the whole face of nature. He came with awe-inspiring credentials from the State Bureau of Agriculture. His mission seemed to be to discover just how far I was disregarding the agricultural ethics of the community. He desired to make a minute inspection of all growing things on the place. In half an hour he had reduced me to a state of groveling humiliation.
His discoveries were appalling. I had every sort of growing thing which no right-minded man would have. His face blanched when he beheld my gooseberry bed, and, pointing a trembling finger at the fruit-laden bushes, he uttered one word in a sepulchral whisper: ‘Hosts!'
My currant bushes filled him with anguish, and even my beloved lilacs were pronounced to be ‘hosts,’ and he urged their immediate destruction. He then inspected my ancient fruit trees, and his mood became more and more tragic. He would lay his hand upon trunk after trunk as we made our rounds and, looking mournfully at me, would whisper, ‘Doomed.’ In vain I tried to explain to him that I was not a fruit farmer, that these ancient trees were kept for their beauty and the shade they afforded. He shook his head sadly. Such things could not be. I took him to the garden and tried the effect of a cool drink and a cigar. Nothing could assuage his grief, and his conviction that I was either a knave or a fool was strengthened as I talked.
He then explained with great care — quite simply, as he would to an erring child — that all the things that I loved most must be cut down. They were themselves in perfect health, but harbored the possibilities of disease and destruction to others. I pointed out that none of the things affected by these parasites grew on my place, and, what was more, I did not care if they did. Very kindly but firmly he would reply, ’But they are hosts.’ We had a long and melancholy interview. He evidently had no intention of leaving until he had wrung from me a promise to denude my entire estate. I finally said I would follow his advice as far as possible, for I did not know with what authority the young man was invested, and I had visions of an army of axemen appearing and, under the proud ægis of the Commonwealth, stripping my few acres, while I languished behind prison bars.
After he left me my mood changed to one of exaltation. My trees and shrubs took on a new and beautiful significance. They were not merely dumb growing things. They were ‘hosts,’for ’he himself had said it.’ Amid their leaves and branches myriad living things find asylum, and there enjoy the charming and unostentatious hospitality for which my country retreat is justly famous.
As I spend long, languorous afternoons listening to the hum of passing motors, I am no longer vexed that none pause at my gate. The callous inattention of erstwhile friends does not pain me. The world may pass me by, for I know that my currants, my gooseberries, my lilacs, in fact everything growing on my place is dispensing prodigal hospitality to millions of tiny and appreciative guests, who, though they may be so minute as to be well-nigh invisible, are after all brothers of mine in the great scheme of things.
But if ever again a blue convertible coupé with the arms of the Commonwealth on the door stops at my gate, I shall retire to my root cellar and remain there until it has departed to visit other hosts elsewhere.