(Mary Penrose to Barbara Campbell)
Woodridge, October 10. Nearly a month of pen silence on my part, during which I have felt many times as if I must go from one to another of our chosen trees in the river woods and shake the leaves down so that the transplanting might proceed forthwith, lest the early winter that Amos Opie predicts both by a goose bone and certain symptoms of his own shall overtake us. Be this as it may, the leaves thus far prefer their airy quarters to huddling upon the damp ground.
However, there is another reason for haste more urgent than the fear of frost - the melancholy vein that you predicted we should find in Meyer is fast developing, and as we wish to have him leave us in a perfectly natural way, we think it best that his stay shall not be prolonged. At first he seemed not only absorbed by his work and to enjoy the garden and especially the river woods, but the trees and water rushing by.
A week ago a change came over him; he became morose and silent, and yesterday when I was admiring, half aloud, the reflection of a beautiful scarlet oak mirrored in the still backwater of the river, he paused in the kneeling position in which he was loosening the grasp of a white flowering dogwood, and first throwing out his arms and then beating his chest with them, exclaimed - "Other good have trees and water than for the eye to see; they can surely hang and drown the man the heart of whom holds much sorrow, and that man is I!"
Of course I knew that it was something a little out of the ordinary state of affairs that had sent a man of his capability to tramp about as a vagrant sort of labourer, but I had no previous idea that melancholy had taken such a grip upon him. Much do I prefer Larry, with periods of hilarity ending in peaceful "shlape." Certain peoples have their peculiar racial characteristics, but after all, love of an occasional drink seems a more natural proposition than a tendency to suicide, while as to the relative value of the labour itself, that is always an individual not a racial matter.
I too am feeling the domestic lure of cooler weather. All the day I wish to be in the open, but when the earlier twilight closes in, the house, with its lamps, hearth fires, and voices, weaves a new spell about me, though having once opened wide the door of outdoors it can never be closed.
Do you remember the Masque of Pandora, and the mysterious chest?
"Pandora Hast thou never Lifted the lid?
Epimetheus The oracle forbids. Safely concealed there from all mortal eyes Forever sleeps the secret of the Gods. Seek not to know what they have hidden from thee Till they themselves reveal it."
Bart was reading it aloud to me last night. Prose read aloud always frets me, because one's mind travels so much faster than the spoken words and arrives at the conclusion, even if not always the right one, long before the printed climax is reached; but with good poetry it is different - the thoughts are so crystallized that the sound of a melodious voice liberates them more swiftly.
Verily Pandora's Chest has been opened this season here in the garden; the gods were evidently not unwilling and turned the lock for me, though perhaps I have thrown back the cover too rashly, for out has flown, instead of dire disaster, ambition in a flock of winged ideals, hopes, and wishes masquerading cleverly as necessities, that will keep me alert in trying to overtake and capture them all my life long.
Last night, once again comfortably settled in the den, we took inventory of the season's doings, and unlike most ventures, find there is nothing to write upon the nether page that records loss. Of the money set aside for the improvement of the knoll half yet remains, allowing for the finishing of the tree transplanting. Into this remainder we are preparing to tuck the filling for the rose bed, a goodly store of lily bulbs, some flowering shrubs, an openwork wire fence to be a vine-covered screen betwixt us and the road, instead of the broken rattling pickets, a new harness for Romeo to wear when he returns home, as a thank offering for his comfortable services (really the bridle of the old one is quite scratched to bits upon the various trees and rough fence rails to which he has been tethered), and last of all, what do you think? Three guesses may be easily wasted without hitting the mark, for instead of, as we expected, tearing down the old barn, our summer camp, we are going to remodel it to be a permanent outdoor shelter. It is to have a wide chimney and fireplace at one end, before which our beds may be drawn campfire fashion if it is too cool, and adjustable shutters so that it may be either merely a roof or a fairly substantial cabin and at all possible seasons a study and playroom for us all. Then too we shall overlook "Maria Maxwell's Experiment," as Bart calls her scheme of running the Opal Farm. We were heartily glad to know that she had leased and not bought it, but we were much surprised to learn, first through the village paper, and not the man and woman concerned, that "Mr. Ross Blake, the engineer in charge of the construction of the new reservoir, believing in the future of the real-estate boom in Woodridge (we didn't know there was one), has recently purchased the Amos Opie farm as an investment, the deed being to-day recorded in the town house. He has already leased it for a young ladies' seminary, pending its remodelling, for which he himself is drawing the plans."
Dear Man from Everywhere! much as I like Maria, I think he would be the more restful neighbour of the two. What a complete couple they might have made, but that is a bit of drift thought that I have put out of my head, for if any two people ever had a chance this summer to fall in love if they had the capacity, it was Maria and The Man, and the strange part of it is that as far as may be known neither is nourishing the sentiment of a melancholy past and no other present man or woman stands between; perhaps it is some uncanny Opal spell that stays them. Yet even as it is, in this farm restoration both are unconsciously preparing to take a peep into Pandora's Chest full of the unknown, so let us hope the gods are willing.
Hallowe'en. The Infant and Anastasia, her memories revived by Larry's voluble and personally adapted folk-lore, are preparing all sorts of traps and feasts for good luck and fairies, while Lady Lazy, is content to look at the log fire and plan for putting the garden to sleep. Yesterday I finished taking up my collection of peonies, Iris, and hardy chrysanthemums that had been "promised" at various farm gardens beyond the river woods, and duly cleared off my indebtednesses for the same with a varied assortment of articles ranging from gladioli bulbs, which seem to multiply by cube root here, to a pair of curling tongs, an article long coveted by a simple-minded woman of more than middle age, for the resuscitation of her Sunday front locks, and which though willing to acquire by barter she, as a deacon's wife, had a prejudice against buying openly over the counter.
Meyer has gone, having relapsed into comparative cheerfulness a few days before his departure on the receipt of a bulky letter which, in spite of the wear and tear of travel, remained heavily scented, coupled with Bart's assurance that he could remain in America another four weeks and still be at a certain Baltic town of an unpronounceable name in time for Christ-mas.
In spite of heavy frosts my pansies are a daily cheer, but it is really of no use for even the flowers of very hardy plants to struggle on against nature's decree of a winter sleeping time; the wild animals all come more or less under its spell, and the dogs, the nearest creatures of all to man, as soon as snow covers the ground and they have their experience of ice-cut feet, drowse as near the fire as possible and in case of a stove almost under it. I wonder if nature did not intend that we also should have at least a half-drowsy brooding time, instead of making the cold season so often a period of stress and strain and short days stretched into long nights. If so, we have taken the responsibility of acting for ourselves, of flying in nature's face in this as in many other ways.
Does it ever seem to you strange that our contrariness began within the year of our legendary creation, when Eve came to misery not by gazing in a bonnet shop, but when innocently wandering in her garden, the most beautiful of earth? By which we women gardeners should all take warning, for though the Tree of Life may be found in every garden,
"Yet sin and sorrow's pedigree Spring from a garden and a tree."
December 10. Snow a month earlier than last year, but we rejoice in it, for it will keep the winds from the roots of the trees not yet wholly settled and comfortable in their new homes. The young hemlocks are bewitching in their wreaths and garlands, and one or two older trees give warmth to the woods beyond the Opal Farm and sweep the low, snow-covered meadow, that looks like a crystal lake, with their feathery branches. The cedars were beautiful in the May woods and so are they now, where I see them through the gap standing sentinels against the white of the brush lot. It seems to me that we cannot have too many evergreens any more than we can have too much cheerfulness.
There are no paths in the garden now, a hint that our feet must travel elsewhere for a time, and I confess that Lady Lazy has not yet redeemed herself, and at present likes her feet to fall upon soft rugs. The Infant's gray squirrels, Punch and Judy, and the persistent sparrows have found their way to the house, taking their daily rations from the roof of the shed. Punch, stuffed to repletion, has a cache under the old syringa bushes, the sparrows seeming to escort him in his travels to and fro, but whether for companionship or in hope of gain, who can say?
Copyright, 1902, H Hendrickson.
"The low, snow-covered meadow that looks like a crystal, lake.'
The plans for the remodelling of Opal Farm-house are really very attractive and yet it will be delightfully simple to care for. Maria and The Man have agreed better about them than over anything I have ever heard them discuss; but then, as it is purely a business arrangement, I suppose that Maria feels free from her usual pernickety restraint.
We surmise that either she has much more laid by than we supposed or she is waxing extravagant, for she has had the opal, that The Man gave her once in exchange for an old coin, surrounded with very good diamonds and set as a ring! Really I never before noticed what fine strong white hands she has.
I shall ask Father Penrose for the Cyclopaedia - it has a substantial sound that may soften his suspicion that we are not practical and were not properly grieved over the loss of the hens!