In the hall I placed my tallest green-glass jar upon the greeting table and filled it with long stalks of red and gold Canada lilies from the very bottom of Amos Opie's field, where the damp meadow-grass begins to make way for tussocks and the marshy ground begins.
The field now is as beautiful as a dream; the early grasses have ripened, and above them, literally by the hundreds, - rank, file, regiment, and platoon, - stand these lilies, some stalks holding twenty bells, ranged as regularly as if the will of man had set them there, and yet poised so gracefully that we know at once that no human touch has placed them. I wish that you could have stood with me in the doorway of the camp and looked across that field this morning. Bart declared the sight to be the first extra dividend upon our payment to Amos Opie for leaving the grass uncut.
I left the stalks of the lilies full three feet long and used only their own foliage, together with some broad-leaved grasses, to break the too abrupt edge of the glass. This is a point that must be remembered in arranging flowers, the keeping the relative height and habit of the plant in the mind's eye. These lilies, gathered with short stems and massed in a crowded bunch, at once lose their individuality and become mere little freckled yellow gamins of the flower world.
A rather slender jar or vase also gives an added sense of height; long-stemmed flowers should never be put in a flat receptacle, no matter how adroitly they may be held in place. Only last month I was called upon to admire a fine array of long-stemmed roses that were held in a flat dish by being stuck in wet sand, and even though this was covered by green moss, the whole thing had a painfully artificial and embalmed look, impossible to overcome.
For the living room, which is in quiet green tones and chintz-upholstered wicker furniture, I gathered Shirley poppies. They are not as large and perfectly developed as those I once saw in your garden from fall-sown seed, but they are so delicately tinted and the petals so gracefully winged that it seemed like picking handfuls of butterflies.
Maria Maxwell has shown me how, by looking at the stamens, I can tell if the flower is newly opened, for by picking only such they will last two full days. How lasting are youthful impressions! She remembers all these things, though she has had no very own garden these ten years and more. Will the Infant remember creeping into my cot in these summer mornings, cuddling and being crooned to like a veritable nestling, until her father gains sufficient consciousness to take his turn and delight her by the whistled imitation of a few simple bird songs? Yes, I think so, and I would rather give her this sort of safeguard to keep off harmful thoughts and influences than any worldly wisdom.
The poppies I arranged in my smallest frosted-white and cut-glass vases in two rows on the mantel-shelf, before the quaint old oblong mirror, making it look like a miniature shrine. Celia Thaxter had this way of using them, if I remember rightly, the reflection in the glass doubling the beauty and making the frail things seem alive!
For the library, where oak and blue are the prevailing tints, I filled a silver tankard with a big bunch of blue cornflowers, encircled by the leaves of "dusty miller," and placed it on the desk.
The dining-room walls are of deep dark red that must be kept cool in summer. At all seasons I try to have the table decorations low enough not to oblige us to peer at one another through a green mist, and to-day I made a wreath of hay-scented ferns and ruby-spotted Japan lilies (Speciosum rubrum, the tag says - they were sent as extras with my seeds), by combining two half-moon dishes, and in the middle set a slender, finely cut, flaring vase holding two perfect stems, each bearing half a dozen lily buds and blossoms. These random bulbs are the first lilies of my own planting. There are a few stalks of the white Madonna lilies in the grass of the old garden and a colony of tiger lilies and an upright red lily with different sort of leaves, all clustered at the root, following the tumble-down wall, the rockery to be. I am fascinated by these Japanese lilies and desire more, each stalk is so sturdy, each flower so beautifully finished and set with jewels and then powdered with gold, as it were. Pray tell me something about the rest of the family! Do they come within my range and pocket, think you? The first cost of a fair-sized bed would be considerable, but if they are things that by care will endure, it is something to save up for, when the rose bed is completed - take note of that!
When Bart came home this afternoon, he walked through the rooms before going out and commented on the different flowers, entirely simple in arrangement, and lingered over them, touching and taking pleasure in them in a way wholly different from last week, when each room was a jungle and I was fairly suffering from flower surfeit.
Now I find myself taking note of happy combinations of colour in other people's gardens and along the highways for further experiments. I seem to remember looking over a list of flower combinations and suggestions in your garden book. Will you lend it to me?
By the way, opal effects seem to circle about the place this season - the sunsets, the farm-house windows, and finally that rainy night when we were playing whist, when The Man, taking a pencil from his pocket, pulled out a little chamois bag that, being loose at one end, shed a shower of the unset stones upon the green cloth, where they lay winking and blinking like so many fiery coals.
"Are you a travelling jeweler's shop?" quizzed Bart.
"No," replied The Man, watching the stones where they lay, but not attempting to pick them up; "the opal is my birth stone, and I've always had a fancy for picking them up at odd times and carrying them with me for luck!"
"I thought that they are considered unlucky," said Maria, holding one in the palm of her hand and watching the light play upon it.
"That is as one reads them," said The Man; "to me they are occasionally contradictory, that is all; otherwise they represent adaptation to circumstances, and inexpensive beauty, which must always be a consolation."
Then he gave us each one, "to start a collection," he said. I shall have mine set as a talisman for the Infant. I like this new interpretation of the stone, for to divine beauty in simple things is a gift equal to genius.
Maria, however, insisted upon giving an old-fashioned threepenny bit, kept as a luck penny in the centre of her purse, in exchange. How can any woman be so devoid of even the little sentiment of gifts as she is?
A moment later The Man from Everywhere electrified us by saying, in the most casual manner, "Now that we are on the subject of opals, did I tell you that, being in some strange manner drawn to the place, I have made Opie an offer for the Opal Farm?"
"Good enough! but what for?" exclaimed Bart, nearly exposing a very poor hand.
"How splendid!" I cried, checking an impulse to throw my arms around his neck so suddenly that I shied my cards across the room - "Then the meadow need never be cut again!"
"What a preposterous idea! Did he accept the offer?" jerked Maria Maxwell, with a certain eagerness.
The Man's face, already of a healthy outdoor hue, took a deeper colour above the outline of his closely cropped black beard, which he declined to shave, in spite of prevailing custom.
"I'm afraid my popularity as a neighbour is a minor quality, when even my Lady Lazy makes it evident that her enthusiasm is for meadow weeds and not myself!"
"When would you live there?" asked practical Bart.
"All the time, when I'm not elsewhere!" said The Man. "No, seriously, I want permanent headquarters, a house to keep my traps in, and it can easily be somewhat remodelled and made comfortable. I want to own a resting-place for the soles of my feet when they are tired, and is it strange that I should pitch my tent near two good friends?"
It was a good deal for The Man to say, and instantly there was hand-shaking and back-clapping between Bart and himself, and the game became hopelessly mixed.
As for Maria, she as nearly sniffed audibly at the idea as a well-bred woman could. It is strange, I had almost fancied during the course of the past month, and especially this evening, that The Maris glance, when toward her, held a special approval of a different variety than it carried to Bart and me! If Maria is going to worry him, she shall go back to her flat! I've often heard Bart say that men's feelings are very woundable at forty, while at twenty-five a hurt closes up like water after a pebble has been dropped in it.
Yes, Maria has been rude to The Man, and in my house, too, where she represents me! Anastasia told me! I suppose I really ought not to have listened, but it was all over before I realized what she was saying.
"Yes, mem, for all Miss Marie do be fixed out, so tasty and pleasant like to everybody, and so much chicked up by the country air, she's no notion o' beaus or of troubling wid the men!"
"What do you mean, Anastasia?" said I, in perfect innocence. "Of course Miss Maria is not a young girl to go gadding about!"
"It's not gadding I mean, mem, but here on the porch, one foine night, jest before the last time Mister Blake went off fer good, they was sat there some toime, so still that, says I to meself, 'When they do foind spach, it'll be something worth hearing!'
" 'Do I annoy you by staying here? Would you prefer I went elsewhere?' says he, and well I moind the words, for Oi thought an offer was on the road, and as 'twas the nearest I'd been to wan, small wonder I got ex-coited! Then Miss Marie spoke up, smooth as a knife cutting ice cream, - 'To speak frankly,' says she, 'you do not exactly annoy me, but I'd much rather you went elsewhere!' Och, but it broke me heart, the sound of it!"