July 11th.--There has been no rain since the day before Whitsunday,
five weeks ago, which partly, but not entirely, accounts for the
disappointment my beds have been. The dejected gardener went mad
soon after Whitsuntide, and had to be sent to an asylum. He took
to going about with a spade in one hand and a revolver in the other,
explaining that he felt safer that way, and we bore it quite patiently,
as becomes civilised beings who respect each other's prejudices,
until one day, when I mildly asked him to tie up a fallen creeper--
and after he bought the revolver my tones in addressing him
were of the mildest, and I quite left off reading to him aloud--
he turned round, looked me straight in the face for the first time
since he has been here, and said, "Do I look like Graf X- --(a great
local celebrity), or like a monkey?" After which there was nothing
for it but to get him into an asylum as expeditiously as possible.
There was no gardener to be had in his place, and I have only
just succeeded in getting one; so that what with the drought,
and the neglect, and the gardener's madness, and my blunders,
the garden is in a sad condition; but even in a sad condition it
is the dearest place in the world, and all my mistakes only make
me more determined to persevere.
The long borders, where the rockets were, are looking dreadful.
The rockets have done flowering, and, after the manner of rockets:
in other walks of life, have degenerated into sticks;
and nothing else in those borders intends to bloom this summer.
The giant poppies I had planted out in them in April have either
died off or remained quite small, and so have the columbines;
here and there a delphinium droops unwillingly, and that is all.
I suppose poppies cannot stand being moved, or perhaps they were not
watered enough at the time of transplanting; anyhow, those borders
are going to be sown to-morrow with more poppies for next year;
for poppies I will have, whether they like it or not, and they
shall not be touched, only thinned out.
Well, it is no use being grieved, and after all, directly I
come out and sit under the trees, and look at the dappled sky,
and see the sunshine on the cornfields away on the plain,
all the disappointment smooths itself out, and it seems
impossible to be sad and discontented when everything
about me is so radiant and kind.
To-day is Sunday, and the garden is so quiet, that, sitting here in
this shady corner watching the lazy shadows stretching themselves across
the grass, and listening to the rooks quarrelling in the treetops, I almost
expect to hear English church bells ringing for the afternoon service.
But the church is three miles off, has no bells, and no afternoon service.
Once a fortnight we go to morning prayer at eleven and sit up in a sort
of private box with a room behind, whither we can retire unobserved when
the sermon is too long or our flesh too weak, and hear ourselves being
prayed for by the blackrobed parson. In winter the church is bitterly cold;
it is not heated, and we sit muffled up in more furs than ever we wear out
of doors ; but it would of course be very wicked for the parson to wear furs,
however cold he may be, so he puts on a great many extra coats under
his gown, and, as the winter progresses, swells to a prodigious size.
We know when spring is coming by the reduction in his figure.
The congregation sit at ease while the parson does the praying
for them, and while they are droning the long-drawn-out chorales,
he retires into a little wooden box just big enough to hold him.
He does not come out until he thinks we have sung enough, nor do we stop
until his appearance gives us the signal. I have often thought how dreadful
it would be if he fell ill in his box and left us to go on singing.
I am sure we should never dare to stop, unauthorised by the Church.
I asked him once what he did in there; he looked very shocked at such
a profane question, and made an evasive reply.
If it were not for the garden, a German Sunday would be a
terrible day; but in the garden on that day there is a sigh of relief
and more profound peace, nobody raking or sweeping or fidgeting;
only the little flowers themselves and the whispering trees.
I have been much afflicted again lately by visitors--
not stray callers to be got rid of after a due administration
of tea and things you are sorry afterwards that you said,
but people staying in the house and not to be got rid of at all.
All June was lost to me in this way, and it was from first
to last a radiant month of heat and beauty; but a garden
where you meet the people you saw at breakfast, and will see
again at lunch and dinner, is not a place to be happy in.
Besides, they had a knack of finding out my favourite seats and lounging in them just when I longed
to lounge myself;
and they took books out of the library with them, and left them face
downwards on the seats all night to get well drenched with dew,
though they might have known that what is meat for roses is
poison for books; and they gave me to understand that if they
had had the arranging of the garden it would have been finished
long ago--whereas I don't believe a garden ever is finished.
They have all gone now, thank heaven, except one, so that I
have a little breathing space before others begin to arrive.
It seems that the place interests people, and that there
is a sort of novelty in staying in such a deserted corner of
the world, for they were in a perpetual state of mild amusement
at being here at all. Irais is the only one left.
She is a young woman with a beautiful, refined face, and her
eyes and straight, fine eyebrows are particularly lovable.
At meals she dips her bread into the salt-cellar, bites
a bit off, and repeats the process, although providence
(taking my shape) has caused salt-spoons to be placed at
convenient intervals down the table. She lunched to-day on beer,
Schweine-koteletten, and cabbage-salad with caraway seeds in it, and now I hear her through the open
extemporising touching melodies in her charming, cooing voice.
She is thin, frail, intelligent, and lovable, all on the above diet.
What better proof can be needed to establish the superiority
of the Teuton than the fact that after such meals he can produce
such music? Cabbage salad is a horrid invention, but I don't
doubt its utility as a means of encouraging thoughtfulness;
nor will I quarrel with it, since it results so poetically,
any more than I quarrel with the manure that results in roses,
and I give it to Irais every day to make her sing.
She is the sweetest singer I have ever heard, and has
a charming trick of making up songs as she goes along.
When she begins, I go and lean out of the window and look
at my little friends out there in the borders while listening
to her music, and feel full of pleasant sadness and regret.
It is so sweet to be sad when one has nothing to be sad about.
The April baby came panting up just as I had written that,
the others hurrying along behind, and with flaming cheeks displayed
for my admiration three brand-new kittens, lean and blind,
that she was carrying in her pinafore, and that had just been
found motherless in the woodshed.
"Look," she cried breathlessly, "such a much!"
I was glad it was only kittens this time, for she had been once
before this afternoon on purpose, as she informed me, sitting herself
down on the grass at my feet, to ask about the lieber Gott, it being
Sunday and her pious little nurse's conversation having run, as it seems,
on heaven and angels.
Her questions about the lieber Gott are better left unrecorded,
and I was relieved when she began about the angels.
"What do they wear for clothes?" she asked in her German-English.
"Why, you've seen them in pictures," I answered,
"in beautiful, long dresses, and with big, white wings."
"Feathers?" she asked.
"I suppose so,--and long dresses, all white and beautiful."
"Are they girlies?"
"Don't boys go into the Himmel?"
"Yes, of course, if they're good."
"And then what do _they_ wear?"
"Why, the same as all the other angels, I suppose."
She began to laugh, looking at me sideways as though she suspected me
of making jokes. "What a funny Mummy!" she said, evidently much amused.
She has a fat little laugh that is very infectious.
"I think," said I, gravely, "you had better go and play
with the other babies."
She did not answer, and sat still a moment watching the clouds.
I began writing again.
"Mummy," she said presently.
"Where do the angels get their dwesses?"
I hesitated. "From lieber Gott," I said.
"Are there shops in the Himmel?"
"But, then, where does lieber Gott buy their dwesses?"
"Now run away like a good baby; I'm busy."
"But you said yesterday, when I asked about lieber Gott,
that you would tell about Him on Sunday, and it is Sunday.
Tell me a story about Him."
There was nothing for it but resignation, so I put
down my pencil with a sigh. "Call the others, then."
She ran away, and presently they all three emerged from the bushes
one after the other, and tried all together to scramble on to my knee.
The April baby got the knee as she always seems to get everything,
and the other two had to sit on the grass.
I began about Adam and Eve, with an eye to future parsonic probings.
The April baby's eyes opened wider and wider, and her face grew redder
and redder. I was surprised at the breathless interest she took in the story--
the other two were tearing up tufts of grass and hardly listening.
I had scarcely got to the angels with the flaming swords and announced
that that was all, when she burst out, "Now I'll tell about it.
Once upon a time there was Adam and Eva, and they had plenty of clothes,
and there was no snake, and lieber Gott wasn't angry with them,
and they could eat as many apples as they liked, and was happy for ever
and ever--there now!"
She began to jump up and down defiantly on my knee.
"But that's not the story," I said rather helplessly.
"Yes, yes! It's a much nicelier one! Now another."
"But these stories are true," I said severely; "and it's no use
my telling them if you make them up your own way afterwards."
"Another! another!" she shrieked, jumping up and down
with redoubled energy, all her silvery curls flying.
I began about Noah and the flood.
"Did it rain so badly?" she asked with a face of the deepest
concern and interest.
"Yes, all day long and all night long for weeks and weeks-- --"
"And was everybody so wet?"
"But why didn't they open their umbwellas?"
Just then I saw the nurse coming out with the tea-tray.
"I'll tell you the rest another time," I said, putting her off my knee,
greatly relieved; "you must all go to Anna now and have tea."
"I don't like Anna," remarked the June baby, not having
hitherto opened her lips; "she is a stupid girl."
The other two stood transfixed with horror at this statement,
for, besides being naturally extremely polite, and at all times
anxious not to hurt any one's feelings, they had been brought up
to love and respect their kind little nurse.
The April baby recovered her speech first, and lifting
her finger, pointed it at the criminal in just indignation.
"Such a child will never go into the Himmel," she said with
great emphasis, and the air of one who delivers judgment.