November 11th.--When the gray November weather came,
and hung its soft dark clouds low and unbroken over the brown
of the ploughed fields and the vivid emerald of the stretches of
winter corn, the heavy stillness weighed my heart down to a forlorn
yearning after the pleasant things of childhood, the petting,
the comforting, the warming faith in the unfailing wisdom of elders.
A great need of something to lean on, and a great weariness
of independence and responsibility took possession of my soul;
and looking round for support and comfort in that transitory mood,
the emptiness of the present and the blankness of the future sent
me back to the past with all its ghosts. Why should I not go
and see the place where I was born, and where I lived so long;
the place where I was so magnificently happy, so exquisitely wretched,
so close to heaven, so near to hell, always either up on a cloud of glory,
or down in the depths with the waters of despair closing over my head?
Cousins live in it now, distant cousins, loved with the exact measure
of love usually bestowed on cousins who reign in one's stead;
cousins of practical views, who have dug up the flower-beds and
planted cabbages where roses grew; and though through all the years
since my father's death I have held my head so high that it hurt,
and loftily refused to listen to their repeated suggestions that I
should revisit my old home, something in the sad listlessness of
the November days sent my spirit back to old times with a persistency
that would not be set aside, and I woke from my musings surprised
to find myself sick with longing.
It is foolish but natural to quarrel with one's cousins,
and especially foolish and natural when they have done nothing,
and are mere victims of chance. Is it their fault that my not being a boy
placed the shoes I should otherwise have stepped into at their disposal?
I know it is not; but their blamelessness does not make me love them more.
"Noch ein dummes Frauenzimmer!" cried my father, on my arrival into the world--
he had three of them already, and I was his last hope,--and a dummes
Frauenzimmer I have remained ever since; and that is why for years I
would have no dealings with the cousins in possession, and that is why,
the other day, overcome by the tender influence of the weather,
the purely sentimental longing to join hands again with my childhood
was enough to send all my pride to the winds, and to start me off without
warning and without invitation on my pilgrimage.
I have always had a liking for pilgrimages, and if I had
lived in the Middle Ages would have spent most of my time on
the way to Rome. The pilgrims, leaving all their cares at home,
the anxieties of their riches or their debts, the wife that
worried and the children that disturbed, took only their sins
with them, and turning their backs on their obligations,
set out with that sole burden, and perhaps a cheerful heart.
How cheerful my heart would have been, starting on a fine morning,
with the smell of the spring in my nostrils, fortified by
the approval of those left behind, accompanied by the pious
blessings of my family, with every step getting farther from
the suffocation of daily duties, out into the wide fresh world,
out into the glorious free world, so poor, so penitent,
and so happy! My dream, even now, is to walk for weeks
with some friend that I love, leisurely wandering from place
to place, with no route arranged and no object in view,
with liberty to go on all day or to linger all day, as we choose;
but the question of luggage, unknown to the simple pilgrim,
is one of the rocks on which my plans have been shipwrecked,
and the other is the certain censure of relatives, who, not fond
of walking themselves, and having no taste for noonday naps
under hedges, would be sure to paralyse my plans before they
had grown to maturity by the honest horror of their cry,
"How very unpleasant if you were to meet any one you know!"
The relative of five hundred years back would simply have said,
My father had the same liking for pilgrimages--indeed, it is evident
that I have it from him--and he encouraged it in me when I was little,
taking me with him on his pious journeys to places he had lived in as a boy.
Often have we been together to the school he was at in Brandenburg, and spent
pleasant days wandering about the old town on the edge of one of those lakes
that lie in a chain in that wide green plain; and often have we been
in Potsdam, where he was quartered as a lieutenant, the Potsdam pilgrimage
including hours in the woods around and in the gardens of Sans Souci,
with the second volume of Carlyle's Frederick under my father's arm;
and often did we spend long summer days at the house in the Mark, at the head
of the same blue chain of lakes, where his mother spent her young years,
and where, though it belonged to cousins, like everything else that was
worth having, we could wander about as we chose, for it was empty,
and sit in the deep windows of rooms where there was no furniture,
and the painted Venuses and cupids on the ceiling still smiled irrelevantly
and stretched their futile wreaths above the emptiness beneath.
And while we sat and rested, my father told me, as my grandmother
had a hundred times told him, all that had happened in those rooms
in the far-off days when people danced and sang and laughed through life,
and nobody seemed ever to be old or sorry.
There was, and still is, an inn within a stone's throw of
the great iron gates, with two very old lime trees in front of it,
where we used to lunch on our arrival at a little table spread
with a red and blue check cloth, the lime blossoms dropping into
our soup, and the bees humming in the scented shadows overhead.
I have a picture of the house by my side as I write, done from
the lake in old times, with a boat full of ladies in hoops
and powder in the foreground, and a youth playing a guitar.
The pilgrimages to this place were those I loved the best.
But the stories my father told me, sometimes odd enough stories
to tell a little girl, as we wandered about the echoing rooms,
or hung over the stone balustrade and fed the fishes in the lake,
or picked the pale dog-roses in the hedges, or lay in the boat
in a shady reed-grown bay while he smoked to keep the mosquitoes off,
were after all only traditions, imparted to me in small doses
from time to time, when his earnest desire not to raise his remarks above the level of dulness
supposed to be wholesome
for Backfische was neutralised by an impulse to share his thoughts
with somebody who would laugh; whereas the place I was bound for on
my latest pilgrimage was filled with living, first-hand memories
of all the enchanted years that lie between two and eighteen.
How enchanted those years are is made more and more clear to me
the older I grow. There has been nothing in the least like them since;
and though I have forgotten most of what happened six months ago,
every incident, almost every day of those wonderful long years
is perfectly distinct in my memory.
But I had been stiffnecked, proud, unpleasant, altogether
cousinly in my behaviour towards the people in possession.
The invitations to revisit the old home had ceased.
The cousins had grown tired of refusals, and had left me alone.
I did not even know who lived in it now, it was so long
since I had had any news. For two days I fought against
the strong desire to go there that had suddenly seized me,
and assured myself that I would not go, that it would
be absurd to go, undignified, sentimental, and silly,
that I did not know them and would be in an awkward position,
and that I was old enough to know better. But who can
foretell from one hour to the next what a woman will do?
And when does she ever know better? On the third morning I
set out as hopefully as though it were the most natural thing
in the world to fall unexpectedly upon hitherto consistently
neglected cousins, and expect to be received with open arms.
It was a complicated journey, and lasted several hours.
During the first part, when it was still dark, I glowed
with enthusiasm, with the spirit of adventure, with delight
at the prospect of so soon seeing the loved place again;
and thought with wonder of the long years I had allowed to pass
since last I was there. Of what I should say to the cousins,
and of how I should introduce myself into their midst,
I did not think at all: the pilgrim spirit was upon me,
the unpractical spirit that takes no thought for anything,
but simply wanders along enjoying its own emotions.
It was a quiet, sad morning, and there was a thick mist.
By the time I was in the little train on the light railway
that passed through the village nearest my old home, I had got
over my first enthusiasm, and had entered the stage of critically
examining the changes that had been made in the last ten years.
It was so misty that I could see nothing of the familiar country
from the carriage windows, only the ghosts of pines in the front
row of the forests; but the railway itself was a new departure,
unknown in our day, when we used to drive over ten miles of deep,
sandy forest roads to and from the station, and although most
people would have called it an evident and great improvement,
it was an innovation due, no doubt, to the zeal and energy
of the reigning cousin; and who was he, thought I, that he should
require more conveniences than my father had found needful?
It was no use my telling myself that in my father's time the era
of light railways had not dawned, and that if it had, we should
have done our utmost to secure one; the thought of my cousin,
stepping into my shoes, and then altering them, was odious to me.
By the time I was walking up the hill from the station I
had got over this feeling too, and had entered a third stage
of wondering uneasily what in the world I should do next.
Where was the intrepid courage with which I had started?
At the top of the first hill I sat down to consider this question
in detail, for I was very near the house now, and felt I wanted time.
Where, indeed, was the courage and joy of the morning?
It had vanished so completely that I could only suppose that it
must be lunch time, the observations of years having led to the
discovery that the higher sentiments and virtues fly affrighted
on the approach of lunch, and none fly quicker than courage.
So I ate the lunch I had brought with me, hoping that it was
what I wanted; but it was chilly, made up of sandwiches and pears,
and it had to be eaten under a tree at the edge of a field;
and it was November, and the mist was thicker than ever and very wet--
the grass was wet with it, the gaunt tree was wet with it,
I was wet with it, and the sandwiches were wet with it.
Nobody's spirits can keep up under such conditions;
and as I ate the soaked sandwiches, I deplored the headlong
courage more with each mouthful that had torn me from a warm,
dry home where I was appreciated, and had brought me first
to the damp tree in the damp field, and when I had finished
my lunch and dessert of cold pears, was going to drag me into
the midst of a circle of unprepared and astonished cousins.
Vast sheep loomed through the mist a few yards off.
The sheep dog kept up a perpetual, irritating yap.
In the fog I could hardly tell where I was, though I
knew I must have played there a hundred times as a child.
After the fashion of woman directly she is not perfectly warm
and perfectly comfortable, I began to consider the uncertainty
of human life, and to shake my head in gloomy approval as
lugubrious lines of pessimistic poetry suggested themselves
to my mind.
Now it is clearly a desirable plan, if you want
to do anything, to do it in the way consecrated by custom,
more especially if you are a woman. The rattle of a carriage
along the road just behind me, and the fact that I started
and turned suddenly hot, drove this truth home to my soul.
The mist hid me, and the carriage, no doubt full of cousins,
drove on in the direction of the house; but what an absurd
position I was in! Suppose the kindly mist had lifted,
and revealed me lunching in the wet on their property, the cousin
of the short and lofty letters, the unangenehme Elisabeth!
"Die war doch immer verdreht," I could imagine them hastily muttering
to each other, before advancing wreathed in welcoming smiles.
It gave me a great shock, this narrow escape, and I got
on to my feet quickly, and burying the remains of my lunch
under the gigantic molehill on which I had been sitting,
asked myself nervously what I proposed to do next.
Should I walk back to the village, go to the Gasthof, write a letter
craving permission to call on my cousins, and wait there till
an answer came? It would be a discreet and sober course to pursue;
the next best thing to having written before leaving home.
But the Gasthof of a north German village is a dreadful place,
and the remembrance of one in which I had taken refuge
once from a thunderstorm was still so vivid that nature
itself cried out against this plan. The mist, if anything,
was growing denser. I knew every path and gate in the place.
What if I gave up all hope of seeing the house,
and went through the little door in the wall at the bottom
of the garden, and confined myself for this once to that?
In such weather I would be able to wander round as I pleased,
without the least risk of being seen by or meeting any cousins,
and it was after all the garden that lay nearest my heart.
What a delight it would be to creep into it unobserved,
and revisit all the corners I so well remembered,
and slip out again and get away safely without any need
of explanations, assurances, protestations, displays of affection,
without any need, in a word, of that exhausting form
of conversation, so dear to relations, known as Redensarten!
The mist tempted me. I think if it had been a fine
day I would have gone soberly to the Gasthof and written
the conciliatory letter; but the temptation was too great,
it was altogether irresistible, and in ten minutes I had found
the gate, opened it with some difficulty, and was standing
with a beating heart in the garden of my childhood.
Now I wonder whether I shall ever again feel thrills of
the same potency as those that ran through me at that moment.
First of all I was trespassing, which is in itself thrilling;
but how much more thrilling when you are trespassing on what
might just as well have been your own ground, on what actually
was for years your own ground, and when you are in deadly
peril of seeing the rightful owners, whom you have never met,
but with whom you have quarrelled, appear round the corner,
and of hearing them remark with an inquiring and awful politeness "I
do not think I have the pleasure--?" Then the place was unchanged.
I was standing in the same mysterious tangle of damp little paths
that had always been just there; they curled away on either
side among the shrubs, with the brown tracks of recent footsteps
in the centre of their green stains, just as they did in my day.
The overgrown lilac bushes still met above my head.
The moisture dripped from the same ledge in the wall on
to the sodden leaves beneath, as it had done all through
the afternoons of all those past Novembers. This was the place,
this damp and gloomy tangle, that had specially belonged to me.
Nobody ever came to it, for in winter it was too dreary,
and in summer so full of mosquitoes that only a Backfisch
indifferent to spots could have borne it. But it was a place
where I could play unobserved, and where I could walk up
and down uninterrupted for hours, building castles in the air.
There was an unwholesome little arbour in one dark corner,
much frequented by the larger black slug, where I used
to pass glorious afternoons making plans. I was for ever
making plans, and if nothing came of them, what did it matter?
The mere making had been a joy. To me this out-of-the-way
corner was always a wonderful and a mysterious place,
where my castles in the air stood close together in radiant rows,
and where the strangest and most splendid adventures befell me;
for the hours I passed in it and the people I met in it
were all enchanted.
Standing there and looking round with happy eyes,
I forgot the existence of the cousins. I could have cried
for joy at being there again. It was the home of my fathers,
the home that would have been mine if I had been a boy,
the home that was mine now by a thousand tender and happy
and miserable associations, of which the people in possession
could not dream. They were tenants, but it was my home.
I threw my arms round the trunk of a very wet fir tree,
every branch of which I remembered, for had I not climbed it,
and fallen from it, and torn and bruised myself on it uncountable
numbers of times? and I gave it such a hearty kiss that my nose
and chin were smudged into one green stain, and still I did not care.
Far from caring, it filled me with a reckless, Backfisch pleasure
in being dirty, a delicious feeling that I had not had for years.
Alice in Wonderland, after she had drunk the contents of
the magic bottle, could not have grown smaller more suddenly
than I grew younger the moment I passed through that magic door.
Bad habits cling to us, however, with such persistency that I
did mechanically pull out my handkerchief and begin to rub
off the welcoming smudge, a thing I never would have dreamed
of doing in the glorious old days; but an artful scent of
violets clinging to the handkerchief brought me to my senses,
and with a sudden impulse of scorn, the fine scorn for scent
of every honest Backfisch, I rolled it up into a ball and flung
it away into the bushes, where I daresay it is at this moment.
"Away with you," I cried, "away with you, symbol of conventionality,
of slavery, of pandering to a desire to please--away with you,
miserable little lace-edged rag!" And so young had I grown
within the last few minutes that I did not even feel silly.
As a Backfisch I had never used handkerchiefs--
the child of nature scorns to blow its nose--though for
decency's sake my governess insisted on giving me a clean
one of vast size and stubborn texture on Sundays.
It was stowed away unfolded in the remotest corner of my pocket,
where it was gradually pressed into a beautiful compactness
by the other contents, which were knives. After a while,
I remember, the handkerchief being brought to light on
Sundays to make room for a successor, and being manifestly
perfectly clean, we came to an agreement that it should only
be changed on the first and third Sundays in the month,
on condition that I promised to turn it on the other Sundays.
My governess said that the outer folds became soiled
from the mere contact with the other things in my pocket,
and that visitors might catch sight of the soiled side if it
was never turned when I wished to blow my nose in their presence,
and that one had no right to give one's visitors shocks.
"But I never do wish-- --" I began with great earnestness.
"Unsinn," said my governess, cutting me short.
After the first thrills of joy at being there again had gone,
the profound stillness of the dripping little shrubbery
frightened me. It was so still that I was afraid to move;
so still, that I could count each drop of moisture falling from
the oozing wall; so still, that when I held my breath to listen,
I was deafened by my own heart-beats. I made a step forward
in the direction where the arbour ought to be, and the rustling
and jingling of my clothes terrified me into immobility. The house
was only two hundred yards off; and if any one had been about,
the noise I had already made opening the creaking door and so
foolishly apostrophising my handkerchief must have been noticed.
Suppose an inquiring gardener, or a restless cousin,
should presently loom through the fog, bearing down upon me?
Suppose Fraulein Wundermacher should pounce upon me suddenly
from behind, coming up noiselessly in her galoshes,
and shatter my castles with her customary triumphant "Fetzt
halte ich dich aber fest!" Why, what was I thinking of?
Fraulein Wundermacher, so big and masterful, such an enemy
of day-dreams, such a friend of das Praktische, such a lover
of creature comforts, had died long ago, had been succeeded
long ago by others, German sometimes, and sometimes English,
and sometimes at intervals French, and they too had all
in their turn vanished, and I was here a solitary ghost.
"Come, Elizabeth," said I to myself impatiently, "are you actually
growing sentimental over your governesses? If you think you
are a ghost, be glad at least that you are a solitary one.
Would you like the ghosts of all those poor women you
tormented to rise up now in this gloomy place against you?
And do you intend to stand here till you are caught?"
And thus exhorting myself to action, and recognising how great
was the risk I ran in lingering, I started down the little path
leading to the arbour and the principal part of the garden,
going, it is true, on tiptoe, and very much frightened
by the rustling of my petticoats, but determined to see what I
had come to see and not to be scared away by phantoms.
How regretfully did I think at that moment of the
petticoats of my youth, so short, so silent, and so woollen!
And how convenient the canvas shoes were with the india rubber soles,
for creeping about without making a sound! Thanks to them I
could always run swiftly and unheard into my hiding-places,
and stay there listening to the garden resounding with cries
of "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Come in at once to your lessons!"
Or, at a different period, "Ou etes-vous donc, petite sotte?"
Or at yet another period, "Warte nur, wenn ich dich erst habe!"
As the voices came round one corner, I whisked in my noiseless
clothes round the next, and it was only Fraulein Wundermacher,
a person of resource, who discovered that all she needed for my
successful circumvention was galoshes. She purchased a pair,
wasted no breath calling me, and would come up silently,
as I stood lapped in a false security lost in the contemplation
of a squirrel or a robin, and seize me by the shoulders
from behind, to the grievous unhinging of my nerves.
Stealing along in the fog, I looked back uneasily once
or twice, so vivid was this disquieting memory, and could
hardly be reassured by putting up my hand to the elaborate
twists and curls that compose what my maid calls my Frisur,
and that mark the gulf lying between the present and the past;
for it had happened once or twice, awful to relate and to remember,
that Fraulein Wundermacher, sooner than let me slip through
her fingers, had actually caught me by the long plait of hair
to whose other end I was attached and whose English name
I had been told was pigtail, just at the instant when I
was springing away from her into the bushes; and so had led
me home triumphant, holding on tight to the rope of hair,
and muttering with a broad smile of special satisfaction,
"Diesmal wirst du mir aber nicht entschlupfen!"
Fraulein Wundermacher, now I came to think of it, must have been
a humourist. She was certainly a clever and a capable woman.
But I wished at that moment that she would not haunt me
so persistently, and that I could get rid of the feeling that
she was just behind in her galoshes, with her hand stretched
out to seize me.
Passing the arbour, and peering into its damp recesses, I started
back with my heart in my mouth. I thought I saw my grandfather's
stern eyes shining in the darkness. It was evident that my anxiety
lest the cousins should catch me had quite upset my nerves,
for I am not by nature inclined to see eyes where eyes are not.
"Don't be foolish, Elizabeth," murmured my soul in rather
a faint voice, "go in, and make sure." "But I don't like going
in and making sure," I replied. I did go in, however, with a
sufficient show of courage, and fortunately the eyes vanished.
What I should have done if they had not I am altogether unable to imagine.
Ghosts are things that I laugh at in the daytime and fear at night,
but I think if I were to meet one I should die. The arbour had
fallen into great decay, and was in the last stage of mouldiness.
My grandfather had had it made, and, like other buildings,
it enjoyed a period of prosperity before being left to the ravages
of slugs and children, when he came down every afternoon in summer
and drank his coffee there and read his Kreuzzeitung and dozed,
while the rest of us went about on tiptoe, and only the birds dared sing.
Even the mosquitoes that infested the place were too much in awe
of him to sting him; they certainly never did sting him, and I naturally
concluded it must be because he had forbidden such familiarities.
Although I had played there for so many years since his death, my memory
skipped them all, and went back to the days when it was exclusively his.
Standing on the spot where his armchair used to be, I felt how well I
knew him now from the impressions he made then on my child's mind,
though I was not conscious of them for more than twenty years.
Nobody told me about him, and he died when I was six, and yet within
the last year or two, that strange Indian summer of remembrance
that comes to us in the leisured times when the children have been
born and we have time to think, has made me know him perfectly well.
It is rather an uncomfortable thought for the grown-up, and especially
for the parent, but of a salutary and restraining nature, that though
children may not understand what is said and done before them,
and have no interest in it at the time, and though they may forget
it at once and for years, yet these things that they have seen
and heard and not noticed have after all impressed themselves
for ever on their minds, and when they are men and women come
crowding back with surprising and often painful distinctness,
and away frisk all the cherished little illusions in flocks.
I had an awful reverence for my grandfather.
He never petted, and he often frowned, and such people are
generally reverenced. Besides, he was a just man, everybody said;
a just man who might have been a great man if he had chosen,
and risen to almost any pinnacle of worldly glory.
That he had not so chosen was held to be a convincing proof
of his greatness; for he was plainly too great to be great in
the vulgar sense, and shrouded himself in the dignity of privacy
and potentialities. This, at least, as time passed and he still
did nothing, was the belief of the simple people around.
People must believe in somebody, and having pinned their
faith on my grandfather in the promising years that lie
round thirty, it was more convenient to let it remain there.
He pervaded our family life till my sixth year, and saw to it
that we all behaved ourselves, and then he died, and we
were glad that he should be in heaven. He was a good German
(and when Germans are good they are very good) who kept
the commandments, voted for the Government, grew prize potatoes
and bred innumerable sheep, drove to Berlin once a year with
the wool in a procession of waggons behind him and sold it
at the annual Wollmarkt, rioted soberly for a few days there,
and then carried most of the proceeds home, hunted as often
as possible, helped his friends, punished his children,
read his Bible, said his prayers, and was genuinely astonished
when his wife had the affectation to die of a broken heart.
I cannot pretend to explain this conduct. She ought, of course,
to have been happy in the possession of so good a man;
but good men are sometimes oppressive, and to have one
in the house with you and to live in the daily glare of his
goodness must be a tremendous business. After bearing him
seven sons and three daughters, therefore, my grandmother
died in the way described, and afforded, said my grandfather,
another and a very curious proof of the impossibility of ever
being sure of your ground with women. The incident faded
more quickly from his mind than it might otherwise have done
for its having occurred simultaneously with the production
of a new kind of potato, of which he was justly proud.
He called it Trost in Trauer, and quoted the text of Scripture
Auge um Auge, Zabn um Zahn, after which he did not
again allude to his wife's decease. In his last years,
when my father managed the estate, and he only lived with us
and criticised, he came to have the reputation of an oracle.
The neighbours sent him their sons at the beginning of
any important phase in their lives, and he received them
in this very arbour, administering eloquent and minute
advice in the deep voice that rolled round the shrubbery
and filled me with a vague sense of guilt as I played.
Sitting among the bushes playing muffled games for fear
of disturbing him, I supposed he must be reading aloud,
so unbroken was the monotony of that majestic roll.
The young men used to come out again bathed in perspiration,
much stung by mosquitoes, and looking bewildered; and when they had
got over the impression made by my grandfather's speech and presence,
no doubt forgot all he had said with wholesome quickness,
and set themselves to the interesting and necessary work of gaining
their own experience. Once, indeed, a dreadful thing happened,
whose immediate consequence was the abrupt end to the long
and close friendship between us and our nearest neighbour.
His son was brought to the arbour and left there in the usual way,
and either he must have happened on the critical
half hour after the coffee and before the Kreuzzeitung,
when my grandfather was accustomed to sleep, or he was more
courageous than the others and tried to talk, for very shortly,
playing as usual near at hand, I heard my grandfather's voice,
raised to an extent that made me stop in my game and quake, saying
with deliberate anger, "Hebe dich weg von mir, Sohn des Satans!"
Which was all the advice this particular young man got,
and which he hastened to take, for out he came through the bushes,
and though his face was very pale, there was an odd twist
about the corners of his mouth that reassured me.
This must have happened quite at the end of my grandfather's life,
for almost immediately afterwards, as it now seems to me, he died before he
need have done because he would eat crab, a dish that never agreed with him,
in the face of his doctor's warning that if he did he would surely die.
"What! am I to be conquered by crabs?" he demanded indignantly of the doctor;
for apart from loving them with all his heart he had never yet been conquered
by anything." Nay, sir, the combat is too unequal--do not, I pray you,
try it again," replied the doctor. But my grandfather ordered crabs that
very night for supper, and went in to table with the shining eyes of one
who is determined to conquer or die, and the crabs conquered, and he died.
"He was a just man," said the neighbours, except that nearest neighbour,
formerly his best friend, "and might have been a great one had he so chosen."
And they buried him with profound respect, and the sunshine came into our
home life with a burst, and the birds were not the only creatures that sang,
and the arbour, from having been a temple of Delphic utterances, sank into
a home for slugs.
Musing on the strangeness of life, and on the invariable
ultimate triumph of the insignificant and small over the important
and vast, illustrated in this instance by the easy substitution
in the arbour of slugs for grandfathers, I went slowly round
the next bend of the path, and came to the broad walk along
the south side of the high wall dividing the flower garden
from the kitchen garden, in which sheltered position my father
had had his choicest flowers. Here the cousins had been at work,
and all the climbing roses that clothed the wall with beauty
were gone, and some very neat fruit trees, tidily nailed
up at proper intervals, reigned in their stead.
Evidently the cousins knew the value of this warm aspect,
for in the border beneath, filled in my father's time in this
month of November with the wallflowers that were to perfume
the walk in spring, there was a thick crop of--I stooped down close
to make sure--yes, a thick crop of radishes. My eyes filled
with tears at the sight of those radishes, and it is probably
the only occasion on record on which radishes have made anybody cry.
My dear father, whom I so passionately loved, had in his turn
passionately loved this particular border, and spent the spare
moments of a busy life enjoying the flowers that grew in it.
He had no time himself for a more near acquaintance with the
delights of gardening than directing what plants were to be used,
but found rest from his daily work strolling up and down here,
or sitting smoking as close to the flowers as possible.
"It is the Purest of Humane pleasures, it is the Greatest
Refreshment to the Spirits of Man," he would quote
(for he read other things besides the Kreuzzeitung), looking
round with satisfaction on reaching this fragrant haven after
a hot day in the fields. Well, the cousins did not think so.
Less fanciful, and more sensible as they probably would have said, their position plainly was that
you cannot eat flowers.
Their spirits required no refreshment, but their bodies needed much,
and therefore radishes were more precious than wallflowers.
Nor was my youth wholly destitute of radishes, but they were
grown in the decent obscurity of odd kitchen garden corners
and old cucumber frames, and would never have been allowed
to come among the flowers. And only because I was not a boy
here they were profaning the ground that used to be so beautiful.
Oh, it was a terrible misfortune not to have been a boy!
And how sad and lonely it was, after all, in this ghostly garden.
The radish bed and what it symbolised had turned my first joy
into grief. This walk and border me too much of my father reminded,
and of all he had been to me. What I knew of good he had taught me,
and what I had of happiness was through him. Only once during
all the years we lived together had we been of different opinions
and fallen out, and it was the one time I ever saw him severe.
I was four years old, and demanded one Sunday to be taken
to church. My father said no, for I had never been to church,
and the German service is long and exhausting. I implored.
He again said no. I implored again, and showed such a
pious disposition, and so earnest a determination to behave well,
that he gave in, and we went off very happily hand in hand.
"Now mind, Elizabeth," he said, turning to me at the church door,
"there is no coming out again in the middle. Having insisted
on being brought, thou shalt now sit patiently till the end."
"Oh, yes, oh, yes," I promised eagerly, and went in filled
with holy fire. The shortness of my legs, hanging helplessly
for two hours midway between the seat and the floor,
was the weapon chosen by Satan for my destruction.
In German churches you do not kneel, and seldom stand, but sit
nearly the whole time, praying and singing in great comfort.
If you are four years old, however, this unchanged position
soon becomes one of torture. Unknown and dreadful things
go on in your legs, strange prickings and tinglings and
dartings up and down, a sudden terrifying numbness, when you
think they must have dropped off but are afraid to look,
then renewed and fiercer prickings, shootings, and burnings.
I thought I must be very ill, for I had never known my legs
like that before. My father sitting beside me was engrossed
in the singing of a chorale that evidently had no end,
each verse finished with a long-drawn-out hallelujah,
after which the organ played by itself for a hundred years--
by the organist's watch, which was wrong, two minutes exactly--
and then another verse began. My father, being the patron of
the living, was careful to sing and pray and listen to the sermon
with exemplary attention, aware that every eye in the little
church was on our pew, and at first I tried to imitate him;
but the behaviour of my legs became so alarming that after vainly
casting imploring glances at him and seeing that he continued
his singing unmoved, I put out my hand and pulled his sleeve.
"Hal-le-lu-jah," sang my father with deliberation; continuing in a low
voice without changing the expression of his face, his lips hardly moving,
and his eyes fixed abstractedly on the ceiling till the organist,
who was also the postman, should have finished his solo, "Did I not
tell thee to sit still, Elizabeth?" "Yes, but-- --" "Then do it."
"But I want to go home."
"Unsinn." And the next verse beginning, my father
sang louder than ever. What could I do? Should I cry?
I began to be afraid I was going to die on that chair,so
extraordinary were the sensations in my legs. What could my
father do to me if I did cry? With the quick instinct of small
children I felt that he could not put me in the corner in church,
nor would he whip me in public, and that with the whole village
looking on, he was helpless, and would have to give in.
Therefore I tugged his sleeve again and more peremptorily,
and prepared to demand my immediate removal in a loud voice.
But my father was ready for me. Without interrupting his singing,
or altering his devout expression, he put his hand slowly down
and gave me a hard pinch--not a playful pinch, but a good hard
unmistakeable pinch, such as I had never imagined possible,
and then went on serenely to the next hallelujah.
For a moment I was petrified with astonishment.
Was this my indulgent father, my playmate, adorer, and friend?
Smarting with pain, for I was a round baby, with a nicely stretched,
tight skin, and dreadfully hurt in my feelings, I opened my mouth
to shriek in earnest, when my father's clear whisper fell on my ear,
each word distinct and not to be misunderstood, his eyes as before
gazing meditatively into space, and his lips hardly moving,
"Elizabeth, wenn du schreist, kneife ich dich bis du platzt."
And he finished the verse with unruffled decorum--
"Will Satan mich verschlingen,
So lass die Engel singen
We never had another difference. Up to then he had been
my willing slave, and after that I was his.
With a smile and a shiver I turned from the border and its memories
to the door in the wall leading to the kitchen garden, in a corner
of which my own little garden used to be. The door was open, and I stood
still a moment before going through, to hold my breath and listen.
The silence was as profound as before. The place seemed deserted;
and I should have thought the house empty and shut up but for the carefully
tended radishes and the recent footmarks on the green of the path.
They were the footmarks of a child. I was stooping down to examine
a specially clear one, when the loud caw of a very bored looking crow
sitting on the wall just above my head made me jump as I have seldom in my
life jumped, and reminded me that I was trespassing. Clearly my nerves
were all to pieces, for I gathered up my skirts and fled through
the door as though a whole army of ghosts and cousins were at my heels,
nor did I stop till I had reached the remote corner where my garden was.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Elizabeth?" asked the mocking sprite that calls
itself my soul: but I was too much out of breath to answer.
This was really a very safe corner. It was separated
from the main garden and the house by the wall, and shut in on
the north side by an orchard, and it was to the last degree
unlikely that any one would come there on such an afternoon.
This plot of ground, turned now as I saw into a rockery,
had been the scene of my most untiring labours. Into the cold
earth of this north border on which the sun never shone I had
dug my brightest hopes. All my pocket money had been spent
on it, and as bulbs were dear and my weekly allowance small,
in a fatal hour I had borrowed from Fraulein Wundermacher,
selling her my independence, passing utterly into her power,
forced as a result till my next birthday should come round
to an unnatural suavity of speech and manner in her company,
against which my very soul revolted. And after all,
nothing came up. The labour of digging and watering,
the anxious zeal with which I pounced on weeds, the poring
over gardening books, the plans made as I sat on the little
seat in the middle gazing admiringly and with the eye of faith
on the trim surface so soon to be gemmed with a thousand flowers,
the reckless expenditure of pfennings, the humiliation of my
position in regard to Fraulein Wundermacher,--all, all had
been in vain. No sun shone there, and nothing grew.
The gardener who reigned supreme in those days had given
me this big piece for that sole reason, because he could
do nothing with it himself. He was no doubt of opinion
that it was quite good enough for a child to experiment upon,
and went his way, when I had thanked him with a profuseness
of gratitude I still remember, with an unmoved countenance.
For more than a year I worked and waited, and watched the career
of the flourishing orchard opposite with puzzled feelings.
The orchard was only a few yards away, and yet, although my
garden was full of manure, and water, and attentions that were
never bestowed on the orchard, all it could show and ever
did show were a few unhappy beginnings of growth that either remained stationary and did not achieve
or dwindled down again and vanished. Once I timidly asked
the gardener if he could explain these signs and wonders,
but he was a busy man with no time for answering questions,
and told me shortly that gardening was not learned in a day.
How well I remember that afternoon, and the very shape of
the lazy clouds, and the smell of spring things, and myself
going away abashed and sitting on the shaky bench in my domain
and wondering for the hundredth time what it was that made
the difference between my bit and the bit of orchard in front of me.
The fruit trees, far enough away from the wall to be beyond
the reach of its cold shade, were tossing their flower-laden heads
in the sunshine in a carelessly well-satisfied fashion that filled
my heart with envy. There was a rise in the field behind them,
and at the foot of its protecting slope they luxuriated
in the insolent glory of their white and pink perfection.
It was May, and my heart bled at the thought of the tulips
I had put in in November, and that I had never seen since.
The whole of the rest of the garden was on fire with tulips;
behind me, on the other side of the wall, were rows and rows
of them,--cups of translucent loveliness, a jewelled
ring flung right round the lawn. But what was there not on
the other side of that wall? Things came up there and grew
and flowered exactly as my gardening books said they should do;
and in front of me, in the gay orchard, things that nobody ever
troubled about or cultivated or noticed throve joyously beneath
the trees,--daffodils thrusting their spears through the grass,
crocuses peeping out inquiringly, snowdrops uncovering their
small cold faces when the first shivering spring days came.
Only my piece that I so loved was perpetually ugly and empty.
And I sat in it thinking of these things on that radiant day,
and wept aloud.
Then an apprentice came by, a youth who had often seen me
busily digging, and noticing the unusual tears, and struck perhaps
by the difference between my garden and the profusion of splendour
all around, paused with his barrow on the path in front of me,
and remarked that nobody could expect to get blood out of a stone.
The apparent irrelevance of this statement made me weep still louder,
the bitter tears of insulted sorrow; but he stuck to his point,
and harangued me from the path, explaining the connection between north walls and tulips and blood
and stones till my tears all
dried up again and I listened attentively, for the conclusion to be
drawn from his remarks was plainly that I had been shamefully taken
in by the head gardener, who was an unprincipled person thenceforward
to be for ever mistrusted and shunned. Standing on the path from
which the kindly apprentice had expounded his proverb, this scene
rose before me as clearly as though it had taken place that very day;
but how different everything looked, and how it had shrunk!
Was this the wide orchard that had seemed to stretch away,
it and the sloping field beyond, up to the gates of heaven?
I believe nearly every child who is much alone goes through a certain
time of hourly expecting the Day of Judgment, and I had made up
my mind that on that Day the heavenly host would enter the world
by that very field, coming down the slope in shining ranks,
treading the daffodils under foot, filling the orchard with their songs
of exultation, joyously seeking out the sheep from among the goats.
Of course I was a sheep, and my governess and the head gardener goats,
so that the results could not fail to be in every way satisfactory.
But looking up at the slope and remembering my visions,
I laughed at the smallness of the field I had supposed would
hold all heaven.
Here again the cousins had been at work. The site of my
garden was occupied by a rockery, and the orchard grass with all
its treasures had been dug up, and the spaces between the trees
planted with currant bushes and celery in admirable rows;
so that no future little cousins will be able to dream of celestial
hosts coming towards them across the fields of daffodils,
and will perhaps be the better for being free from visions
of the kind, for as I grew older, uncomfortable doubts laid
hold of my heart with cold fingers, dim uncertainties as to
the exact ultimate position of the gardener and the governess,
anxious questionings as to how it would be if it were they
who turned out after all to be sheep, and I who--? For that we
all three might be gathered into the same fold at the last never,
in those days, struck me as possible, and if it had I should
not have liked it.
"Now what sort of person can that be," I asked myself,
shaking my head, as I contemplated the changes before me,
"who could put a rockery among vegetables and currant bushes?
A rockery, of all things in the gardening world,
needs consummate tact in its treatment. It is easier to make
mistakes in forming a rockery than in any other garden scheme.
Either it is a great success, or it is great failure; either it
is very charming, or it is very absurd. There is no state
between the sublime and the ridiculous possible in a rockery."
I stood shaking my head disapprovingly at the rockery before me,
lost in these reflections, when a sudden quick pattering of feet
coming along in a great hurry made me turn round with a start,
just in time to receive the shock of a body tumbling out
of the mist and knocking violently against me.
It was a little girl of about twelve years old.
"Hullo!" said the little girl in excellent English;
and then we stared at each other in astonishment.
"I thought you were Miss Robinson," said the little girl,
offering no apology for having nearly knocked me down.
"Who are you?"
"Miss Robinson? Miss Robinson?" I repeated, my eyes fixed on
the little girl's face, and a host of memories stirring within me.
"Why, didn't she marry a missionary, and go out to some place
where they ate him?"
The little girl stared harder. "Ate him? Marry? What, has she been
married all this time to somebody who's been eaten and never let on?
Oh, I say, what a game!" And she threw back her head and laughed till
the garden rang again.
"O hush, you dreadful little girl!" I implored, catching her
by the arm, and terrified beyond measure by the loudness of her mirth.
"Don't make that horrid noise--we are certain to be caught if you
don't stop-- --"
The little girl broke off a shriek of laughter in the middle and shut
her mouth with a snap. Her eyes, round and black and shiny like boot buttons,
came still further out of her head. "Caught?" she said eagerly.
"What, are you afraid of being caught too? Well, this is a game!"
And with her hands plunged deep in the pockets of her coat she capered
in front of me in the excess of her enjoyment, reminding me of a very fat
black lamb frisking round the dazed and passive sheep its mother.
It was clear that the time had come for me to get down to
the gate at the end of the garden as quickly as possible,
and I began to move away in that direction. The little girl at once
stopped capering and planted herself squarely in front of me.
"Who are you?" she said, examining me from my hat to my boots
with the keenest interest.
I considered this ungarnished manner of asking questions impertinent,
and, trying to look lofty, made an attempt to pass at the side.
The little girl, with a quick, cork-like movement,
was there before me.
"Who are you?" she repeated, her expression friendly but firm.
" Oh, I--I'm a pilgrim," I said in desperation.
"A pilgrim!" echoed the little girl. She seemed struck,
and while she was struck I slipped past her and began
to walk quickly towards the door in the wall. "A pilgrim!"
said the little girl, again, keeping close beside me,
and looking me up and down attentively. "I don't like pilgrims.
Aren't they people who are always walking about, and have things
the matter with their feet? Have you got anything the matter
with your feet?"
"Certainly not," I replied indignantly, walking still faster.
"And they never wash, Miss Robinson says. You don't either, do you?"
"Not wash? Oh, I'm afraid you are a very badly brought-up
little girl--oh, leave me alone--I must run--"
"So must I," said the little girl, cheerfully, "for Miss Robinson
must be close behind us. She nearly had me just before I found you."
And she started running by my side.
The thought of Miss Robinson close behind us gave wings
to my feet, and, casting my dignity, of which, indeed, there was
but little left, to the winds, I fairly flew down the path.
The little girl was not to be outrun, and though she panted
and turned weird colours, kept by my side and even talked.
Oh, I was tired, tired in body and mind, tired by the different shocks
I had received, tired by the journey, tired by the want of food;
and here I was being forced to run because this very naughty
little girl chose to hide instead of going in to her lessons.
"I say--this is jolly--" she jerked out.
"But why need we run to the same place?" I breathlessly asked,
in the vain hope of getting rid of her.
"Oh, yes--that's just--the fun. We'd get on--together--you and I--"
"No, no," said I, decided on this point, bewildered though I was.
"I can't stand washing--either--it's awful--in winter--
and makes one have--chaps."
"But I don't mind it in the least," I protested faintly,
not having any energy left.
"Oh, I say!" said the little girl, looking at my face,
and making the sound known as a guffaw. The familiarity
of this little girl was wholly revolting.
We had got safely through the door, round the corner past
the radishes, and were in the shrubbery. I knew from experience
how easy it was to hide in the tangle of little paths, and stopped
a moment to look round and listen. The little girl opened her
mouth to speak. With great presence of mind I instantly put my
muff in front of it and held it there tight, while I listened.
Dead silence, except for the laboured breathing and struggles
of the little girl.
"I don't hear a sound," I whispered, letting her go again.
"Now what did you want to say?" I added, eyeing her severely.
"I wanted to say," she panted, "that it's no good pretending you
wash with a nose like that."
"A nose like that! A nose like what?" I exclaimed,
greatly offended; and though I put up my hand and very tenderly
and carefully felt it, I could find no difference in it.
"I am afraid poor Miss Robinson must have a wretched life,"
I said, in tones of deep disgust.
The little girl smiled fatuously, as though I were paying
her compliments. "It's all green and brown," she said, pointing.
"Is it always like that?"
Then I remembered the wet fir tree near the gate,
and the enraptured kiss it had received, and blushed.
"Won't it come off?" persisted the little girl.
"Of course it will come off," I answered, frowning.
"Why don't you rub it off? "
Then I remembered the throwing away of the handkerchief,
and blushed again.
"Please lend me your handkerchief," I said humbly,
"I--I have lost mine."
There was a great fumbling in six different pockets, and then
a handkerchief that made me young again merely to look at it was produced.
I took it thankfully and rubbed with energy, the little girl,
intensely interested, watching the operation and giving me advice.
"There--it's all right now--a little more on the right--there--
now it's all off."
"Are you sure? No green left?" I anxiously asked.
"No, it's red all over now," she replied cheerfully.
"Let me get home," thought I, very much upset by this information,
"let me get home to my dear, uncritical, admiring babies, who accept
my nose as an example of what a nose should be, and whatever
its colour think it beautiful." And thrusting the handkerchief
back into the little girl's hands, I hurried away down the path.
She packed it away hastily, but it took some seconds for it was
of the size of a small sheet, and then came running after me.
"Where are you going?" she asked surprised, as I turned down the path
leading to the gate.
"Through this gate," I replied with decision.
"But you mustn't--we're not allowed to go through there-- --"
So strong was the force of old habits in that place that at
the words not allowed my hand dropped of itself from the latch;
and at that instant a voice calling quite close to us through the mist
struck me rigid.
"Elizabeth! Elizabeth!" called the voice, "Come in at once
to your lessons--Elizabeth! Elizabeth!"
"It's Miss Robinson," whispered the little girl,
twinkling with excitement; then, catching sight of my face,
she said once more with eager insistence, "Who are you?"
"Oh, I'm a ghost!" I cried with conviction, pressing my hands
to my forehead and looking round fearfully.
"Pooh," said the little girl.
It was the last remark I heard her make, for there was a creaking
of approaching boots in the bushes, and seized by a frightful panic I
pulled the gate open with one desperate pull, flung it to behind me,
and fled out and away down the wide, misty fields.
The Gotha Almanach says that the reigning cousin married
the daughter of a Mr. Johnstone, an Englishman, in 1885,
and that in 1886 their only child was born, Elizabeth.
November 20th.--Last night we had ten degrees of frost
(Fahrenheit), and I went out the first thing this morning to see
what had become of the tea-roses, and behold, they were wide awake
and quite cheerful--covered with rime it is true, but anything
but black and shrivelled. Even those in boxes on each side
of the verandah steps were perfectly alive and full of buds,
and one in particular, a Bouquet d'Or, is a mass of buds,
and would flower if it could get the least encouragement.
I am beginning to think that the tenderness of tea-roses
is much exaggerated, and am certainly very glad I
had the courage to try them in this northern garden.
But I must not fly too boldly in the face of Providence,
and have ordered those in the boxes to be taken into the greenhouse
for the winter, and hope the Bouquet d'Or, in a sunny place
near the glass, may be induced to open some of those buds.
The greenhouse is only used as a refuge, and kept at a temperature
just above freezing, and is reserved entirely for such plants
as cannot stand the very coldest part of the winter out of doors.
I don't use it for growing anything, because I don't love things
that will only bear the garden for three or four months in the year
and require coaxing and petting for the rest of it.
Give me a garden full of strong, healthy creatures, able to stand
roughness and cold without dismally giving in and dying.
I never could see that delicacy of constitution is pretty,
either in plants or women. No doubt there are many lovely
flowers to be had by heat and constant coaxing, but then
for each of these there are fifty others still lovelier that
will gratefully grow in God's wholesome air and are blessed
in return with a far greater intensity of scent and colour.
We have been very busy till now getting the permanent beds
into order and planting the new tea-roses, and I am looking forward
to next summer with more hope than ever in spite of my many failures.
I wish the years would pass quickly that will bring my garden to perfection!
The Persian Yellows have gone into their new quarters, and their place is
occupied by the tearose Safrano; all the rose beds are carpeted with pansies
sown in July and transplanted in October, each bed having a separate colour.
The purple ones are the most charming and go well with every rose,
but I have white ones with Laurette Messimy, and yellow ones
with Safrano, and a new red sort in the big centre bed of red roses.
Round the semicircle on the south side of the little privet hedge
two rows of annual larkspurs in all their delicate shades have been sown,
and just beyond the larkspurs, on the grass, is a semicircle of standard
tea and pillar roses.
In front of the house the long borders have been stocked
with larkspurs, annual and perennial, columbines, giant poppies,
pinks, Madonna lilies, wallflowers, hollyhocks, perennial phloxes,
peonies, lavender, starworts, cornflowers, Lychnis chalcedonica,
and bulbs packed in wherever bulbs could go. These are the borders
that were so hardly used by the other gardener. The spring boxes
for the verandah steps have been filled with pink and white and
yellow tulips. I love tulips better than any other spring flower;
they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace,
and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome, freshly tubbed young
girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air
with patchouli. Their faint, delicate scent is refinement itself;
and is there anything in the world more charming than the sprightly
way they hold up their little faces to the sun. I have heard them
called bold and flaunting, but to me they seem modest grace itself,
only always on the alert to enjoy life as much as they can and not
afraid of looking the sun or anything else above them in the face.
On the grass there are two beds of them carpeted with forget-me-nots;
and in the grass, in scattered groups, are daffodils and narcissus.
Down the wilder shrubbery walks foxgloves and mulleins will (I hope)
shine majestic; and one cool corner, backed by a group of firs,
is graced by Madonna lilies, white foxgloves, and columbines.
In a distant glade I have made a spring garden round an oak
tree that stands alone in the sun--groups of crocuses, daffodils,
narcissus, hyacinths, and tulips, among such flowering shrubs
and trees as Pirus Malus spectabilis, floribunda, and coronaria;
Prunus Juliana, Mahaleb, serotina, triloba, and Pissardi;
Cydonias and Weigelias in every colour, and several kinds
of Crataegus and other May lovelinesses. If the weather behaves
itself nicely, and we get gentle rains in due season, I think
this little corner will be beautiful--but what a big "if" it is!
Drought is our great enemy, and the two last summers each
contained five weeks of blazing, cloudless heat when all
the ditches dried up and the soil was like hot pastry.
At such times the watering is naturally quite beyond the strength
of two men; but as a garden is a place to be happy in,
and not one where you want to meet a dozen curious eyes at
every turn, I should not like to have more than these two,
or rather one and a half--the assistant having stork-like
proclivities and going home in the autumn to his native Russia,
returning in the spring with the first warm winds.
I want to keep him over the winter, as there is much to be done
even then, and I sounded him on the point the other day.
He is the most abject-looking of human beings--lame, and afflicted
with a hideous eye-disease; but he is a good worker and plods
along unwearyingly from sunrise to dusk.
"Pray, my good stork," said I, or German words to that effect,
"why don't you stay here altogether, instead of going home and rioting
away all you have earned?"
"I would stay," he answered," but I have my wife there in Russia."
"Your wife!" I exclaimed, stupidly surprised that the poor deformed
creature should have found a mate--as though there were not a superfluity
of mates in the world--"I didn't know you were married?"
"Yes, and I have two little children, and I don't know what they would do if I were not to come
But it is a very expensive journey to Russia, and costs me
every time seven marks."
"Yes, it is a great sum."
I wondered whether I should be able to get to Russia for seven marks,
supposing I were to be seized with an unnatural craving to go there.
All the labourers who work here from March to December
are Russians and Poles, or a mixture of both. We send a man
over who can speak their language, to fetch as many as he can
early in the year, and they arrive with their bundles,
men and women and babies, and as soon as they have got
here and had their fares paid, they disappear in the night
if they get the chance, sometimes fifty of them at a time,
to go and work singly or in couples for the peasants,
who pay them a pfenning or two more a day than we do,
and let them eat with the family. From us they get a mark
and a half to two marks a day, and as many potatoes as they
can eat. The women get less, not because they work less,
but because they are women and must not be encouraged.
The overseer lives with them, and has a loaded revolver in his
pocket and a savage dog at his heels.
For the first week or two after their arrival, the foresters
and other permanent officials keep guard at night over the houses
they are put into. I suppose they find it sleepy work;
for certain it is that spring after spring the same thing happens,
fifty of them getting away in spite of all our precautions,
and we are left with our mouths open and much out of pocket.
This spring, by some mistake, they arrived without their bundles,
which had gone astray on the road, and, as they travel in their
best clothes, they refused utterly to work until their luggage came.
Nearly a week was lost waiting, to the despair of all in authority.
Nor will any persuasions induce them to do anything on Saints'
days, and there surely never was a church so full of them as the
Russian Church. In the spring, when every hour is of vital importance,
the work is constantly being interrupted by them, and the workers
lie sleeping in the sun the whole day, agreeably conscious that they
are pleasing themselves and the Church at one and the same time--
a state of perfection as rare as it is desirable. Reason unaided
by Faith is of course exasperated at this waste of precious time,
and I confess that during the first mild days after the long
winter frost when it is possible to begin to work the ground,
I have sympathised with the gloom of the Man of Wrath, confronted in
one week by two or three empty days on which no man will labour,
and have listened in silence to his remarks about distant Russian saints.
I suppose it was my own superfluous amount of civilisation
that made me pity these people when first I came to live among them.
They herd together like animals and do the work of animals;
but in spite of the armed overseer, the dirt and the rags,
the meals of potatoes washed down by weak vinegar and water,
I am beginning to believe that they would strongly object
to soap, I am sure they would not wear new clothes, and I
hear them coming home from their work at dusk singing.
They are like little children or animals in their utter inability
to grasp the idea of a future; and after all, if you work all day
in God's sunshine, when evening comes you are pleasantly tired and
ready for rest and not much inclined to find fault with your lot.
I have not yet persuaded myself, however, that the women are happy.
They have to work as hard as the men and get less for it;
they have to produce offspring, quite regardless of times
and seasons and the general fitness of things ; they
have to do this as expeditiously as possible, so that they
may not unduly interrupt the work in hand; nobody helps them,
notices them, or cares about them, least of all the husband.
It is quite a usual thing to see them working in the fields
in the morning, and working again in the afternoon, having in
the interval produced a baby. The baby is left to an old
woman whose duty it is to look after babies collectively.
When I expressed my horror at the poor creatures working
immediately afterwards as though nothing had happened, the Man
of Wrath informed me that they did not suffer because they had
never worn corsets, nor had their mothers and grandmothers.
We were riding together at the time, and had just passed a batch
of workers, and my husband was speaking to the overseer,
when a woman arrived alone, and taking up a spade, began to dig.
She grinned cheerfully at us as she made a curtesy, and the
overseer remarked that she had just been back to the house
and had a baby.
"Poor, poor woman!" I cried, as we rode on, feeling for
some occult reason very angry with the Man of Wrath.
"And her wretched husband doesn't care a rap, and will
probably beat her to-night if his supper isn't right.
What nonsense it is to talk about the equality of the sexes
when the women have the babies! "
"Quite so, my dear," replied the Man of Wrath, smiling condescendingly.
"You have got to the very root of the matter. Nature, while imposing this
agreeable duty on the woman, weakens her and disables her for any serious
competition with man. How can a person who is constantly losing a year
of the best part of her life compete with a young man who never loses any time
at all? He has the brute force, and his last word on any subject could always
be his fist."
I said nothing. It was a dull, gray afternoon in the beginning
of November, and the leaves dropped slowly and silently at our horses'
feet as we rode towards the Hirschwald.
"It is a universal custom," proceeded the Man of Wrath,
"amongst these Russians, and I believe amongst the lower classes
everywhere, and certainly commendable on the score of simplicity,
to silence a woman's objections and aspirations by knocking her down.
I have heard it said that this apparently brutal action has anything
but the maddening effect tenderly nurtured persons might suppose,
and that the patient is soothed and satisfied with a rapidity
and completeness unattainable by other and more polite methods.
Do you suppose," he went on, flicking a twig off a tree with his whip
as we passed, "that the intellectual husband, wrestling intellectually
with the chaotic yearnings of his intellectual wife, ever achieves
the result aimed at? He may and does go on wrestling till he is tired,
but never does he in the very least convince her of her folly;
while his brother in the ragged coat has got through the whole
business in less time than it takes me to speak about it.
There is no doubt that these poor women fulfil their vocation far
more thoroughly than the women in our class, and, as the truest:
happiness consists in finding one's vocation quickly and continuing
in it all one's days, I consider they are to be envied rather
than not, since they are early taught, by the impossibility
of argument with marital muscle, the impotence of female endeavour
and the blessings of content."
"Pray go on," I said politely.
"These women accept their beatings with a simplicity worthy
of all praise, and far from considering themselves insulted, admire the
strength and energy of the man who can administer such eloquent rebukes.
In Russia, not only may a man beat his wife, but it is laid
down in the catechism and taught all boys at the time of confirmation
as necessary at least once a week, whether she has done anything or not,
for the sake of her general health and happiness."
I thought I observed a tendency in the Man of Wrath rather
to gloat over these castigations.
"Pray, my dear man," I said, pointing with my whip,
"look at that baby moon so innocently peeping at us over
the edge of the mist just behind that silver birch; and don't
talk so much about women and things you don't understand.
What is the use of your bothering about fists and whips and
muscles and all the dreadful things invented for the confusion
of obstreperous wives? You know you are a civilised husband,
and a civilised husband is a creature who has ceased to be a man.
"And a civilised wife?" he asked, bringing his horse
close up beside me and putting his arm round my waist,
"has she ceased to be a woman?"
"I should think so indeed,--she is a goddess, and can
never be worshipped and adored enough."
"It seems to me," he said, "that the conversation is growing personal."
I started off at a canter across the short, springy turf.
The Hirschwald is an enchanted place on such an evening,
when the mists lie low on the turf, and overhead the delicate,
bare branches of the silver birches stand out clear against the soft sky,
while the little moon looks down kindly on the damp November world.
Where the trees thicken into a wood, the fragrance of the wet earth
and rotting leaves kicked up by the horses' hoofs fills my soul
with delight. I particularly love that smell,--it brings before me
the entire benevolence of Nature, for ever working death and decay,
so piteous in themselves, into the means of fresh life and glory,
and sending up sweet odours as she works.