"'Her folks said the doctors thought if she could get back here for a time that it might help her. Then I recollected that ten years before, when I went up to Maine to visit my sister, I'd rented the place, just as it stood, to folks of the name of Marchant, a fine couple that didn't look beyond each other unless 'twas at their son. In past times my grandmother had an old-country knack of raising healing herbs and all sorts of sweet-smelling things, along with farm truck, so that folks came from all about to buy them and doctors too, for such things weren't sold so much in shops in those days as they are now, and so this place came to be called the Herb Farm. After that it was sold off, little by little, until the garden, wood lane, and orchard is about all that's left.
" 'I was lonesome and liked the idea of company, and besides I was none too well fixed; yet I dreaded a mournful widow that wasn't all there anyway, according to what they said, but I thought I'd try. Well, sir, she come, and that first week I thought I'd never stand it, she talked and wrung her hands so continual.
But one day what do you think happened? I chanced to pick a nosegay, not so much fine flowers perhaps as good-smelling leaves and twigs, and put it in a little pitcher in her room.
"'It was like witchcraft the way it worked; the smell of those things seemed to creep over her like some drugs anight and she changed. She stopped moaning and went out into the garden and touched all the posies with,her fingers, as if she was shaking hands, and all of a sudden it seemed, by her talk, as if her dead were back with her again; and on every other point she's been as clear and ladylike as possible ever since, and from that day she cast off her black clothes as if wearing 'em was all through a mistake.
"'The doctors say it's something to do with the 'sociation of smells, for that season they spent in my cottage was the only vacation Dr. Marchant had taken in years, and they say it was the happiest time in her life, fussing about among my old-fashioned posies with him; and somehow in her mind he's got fixed there among those posies, and every year she plants more and more of them, and what friends of hers she ever speaks of she remembers by some flowers they wore or liked.
"'Well, as it turned out, her trustees have bought my place out and fixed it over, and here we live together, I may say, both fairly content I
" 'Come in and see her, won't you? It'll do no harm. Cortright, did you say your name was?' and before we could retreat, throwing Brown Tom's loose check-rein across the pickets of the gate, she led us to where the tall woman, dressed in pure white, stood under the trees, a look of perfectly calm expectancy in the wonderful dark eyes that made such a contrast to her coils of snow-white hair.
"'Cortright! Martin Cortright, is it not?' she said immediately, as her companion spoke the surname. 'And your wife? I had not heard that you were married, but I remember you well, Lavinia Dor-man, and your city garden, and the musk-rose bush that ailed because of having too little sun. Chester will be so sorry to miss you; he is seldom at home in the mornings, for he takes long walks with our son. He is having the first entire half year's vacation he has allowed himself since our marriage. But you will always find him in the garden in the afternoon; he is so fond of fragrant flowers, and he is making new studies of herbs and such things, for he believes that in spite of some great discoveries it will be proven that the old simples are the most enduring medicines.'
"As she spoke she was leading the way, with that peculiar undulating progress, like a cloud blown over the earth's surface, that I had noticed at first. Then we came out from under the shade of the trees into the garden enclosure and I saw borders and beds, but chiefly borders, stretching and curving everywhere, screening all the fences, approaching the house, and when almost there retreating in graceful lines into the shelter of the trees. The growth had the luxuriance of a jungle, and yet there was nothing weedy or awry about it, and as the breeze blew toward us the combination of many odours, both pungent and sweet, was almost overpowering.
"'You very seldom wore a buttonhole flower, but when you did it was a safrano bud or else a white jasmine,' Mrs. Marchant said, wheeling suddenly and looking at Martin with a gaze that did not stop where he stood, but went through and beyond him; 'it was Dr. Russell who always wore a pink! See! I have both here!' and going up to a tea-rose bush, grown to the size of a shrub and lightly fastened to the side of the house, she gathered a few shell-like buds and a moment later pulled down a spray of the jasmine vine that festooned a window, as we see it in England but never here, and carefully cut off a cluster of its white stars by aid of a pair of the long, slender flower-picking scissors that hung from her belt by a ribbon, twisted the stems together, and placed them in Martin's buttonhole almost without touching it.
"Having done this, she seemed to forget us and drifted away among the flowers, touching some gently as she passed, snipping a dead leaf here and arranging a misplaced branch there.
"We left almost immediately, but have been there many times since, and though as a whole the garden is too heavily fragrant, I thought that it might suggest possibilities to you."
As Aunt Lavinia paused we were turning from the main road into the narrow but beautifully kept lane upon which the Herb Farm, as it was still called, was located, by one of those strange freaks that sometimes induces people to build in a strangely inaccessible spot, though quite near civilization. I know that you must have come upon many such places in your wanderings.
Of course my curiosity was piqued, and I felt, besides, as if I was about to step into the page of some strange psychological romance, nor was I disappointed.