(Mary Penrose to Barbara Campbell)
June 21. The rosary has been duly surveyed, staked actording to the plan, and the border lines fixed with the garden line dipped in whitewash, so that if we only plant a bed at a time, our ambition will always be before us. But as yet no man cometh to dig. This process is of greater import than it may seem, because with the vigorous three-year-old sod thus obtained do we purpose to turf the edges of the beds for hardy and summer flowers that border the squares of the vegetable garden. These strips now crumble earth into the walks, and the slightest footfall is followed by a landslide. We had intended to use narrow boards for edging, but Bart objects, like the old retainer in Kipling's story of An Habitation Enforced, on the ground that they will deteriorate from the beginning and have to be renewed every few years, whereas the turf will improve, even if it is more trouble to care for.
At present the necessity of permanence is one of the things that is impressing us both, for after us - the Infant! Until a year ago I had a positive dread of being so firmly fixed anywhere that to spread wings and fly here and there would be difficult, but now it seems the most delightful thing to be rooted like the old apple tree on the side hill, the last of the old orchard, that has leaned against the upland winds so many years that it is well-nigh bent double, yet the root anchors hold and it is still a thing of beauty, like rosy-cheeked old folk with snowy hair. I do not think that I ever realized this in its fulness until I left the house and came out, though but a short way, to live with and in it all.
You were right in thinking that Barney would not encourage innovations, - he does not! He says that turf lifted in summer always lies uneasy and breeds worms.
This seems to be an age for the defiance of horticultural tradition, for we are finding out every day that you can "lift" almost anything of herbaceous growth at any time and make it live, if you are willing to take pains enough, though of course transplanting is done with less trouble and risk at the prescribed seasons.
The man-with-the-shovel question is quite a serious one hereabouts at present, for the Water Company has engaged all the rough-and-ready labourers for a long season and that has raised both the prices and the noses of the wandering accommodators in the air. Something will probably turn up. Now we are transplanting hardy ferns; for though the tender tops break, there is yet plenty of time for a second growth and rooting before winter.
Copyright, 1903 H. Hendrickson.
The last of the old orchard.
Meanwhile there is a leisurely old carpenter who recently turned up as heir of the Opal Farm, Amos Opie by name, who is thinking of living there, and has signified his willingness to undertake the pergola by hour's work, "if he is not hustled," as soon as the posts arrive.
The past ten days have been full of marvellous discoveries for the "peculiar Penroses," as Maria Maxwell heard us called down at the Golf Club, where she represented me at the mid-June tea, which I had wholly forgotten that I had promised to manage when I sent out those P. P. C. cards and stopped the clocks!
It seems that the first impression was that financial disaster had overtaken us, when instead of vanishing in a touring car preceded by tooting and followed by a cloud of oil-soaked steam, we took to our own woods, followed by Barney with our effects in a wheelbarrow. It is a very curious fact - this attributing of every action a bit out of the common to the stress of pocket hunger. It certainly proves that advanced as we are supposed to be to-day as links in the evolutionary chain, we have partially relapsed and certainly show strong evidences of sheep ancestry.
Haven't you noticed, Mrs. Evan, how seldom people are content to accept one's individual tastes or desire to do a thing without a good and sufficient reason therefor? It seems incomprehensible to them that any one should wish to do differently from his neighbour unless from financial incapacity; the frequency with which one is suspected of being in this condition strongly points to the likelihood that the critics themselves chronically live beyond their means and in constant danger of collapse.
If this was thought of us a few weeks ago, it seems to have been sidetracked by Maria Maxwell's contribution to, and management of, the golf tea. She is said not only to have compounded viands that are ordinarily sold in exchange for many dollars by New York confectioners, but she certainly made more than a presentable appearance as "matron" of the receiving committee of young girls. Certainly Maria with a music roll, a plain dark suit, every hair tethered fast, and common-sense shoes, plodding about her vocation in snow and mud, and Maria "let loose," as Bart calls it, are a decided contrast. Except that she has not parted with her sunny common-sense, she is quite a new person. Of course I could not have objected to it, but I was afraid that she might take it into her head to instruct the Infant in vocal music after the manner of the locustlike sounds that you hear coming over the lowered tops of school windows as soon as the weather grows warm, or else take to practising scales herself, for we had only known the technical part of her calling. In short, we feared that we should be do-re-mi-ou'd past endurance. Instead of which, scraps of the gayest of ballads float over the knoll in the evening, and the Infant's little shrill pipe is being inoculated with real music, via Mother Goose melodies sung in a delightfully subdued contralto.
From the third day after her arrival people began to call upon Maria. I made such a positive declaration of surrender of all matters pertaining to the household, including curiosity, when Maria took charge, - and she in return promised that we should not be bothered with anything not "of vital importance to our interests," - that, unless she runs through the housekeeping money before the time, I haven't a ghost of an excuse for asking questions, - but I do wonder how she manages! Also, to whom the shadows belong that cross the south piazza at night or intercept the rays of the dining-room lamp, our home beacon of dark nights.