The Garden of Survival
THIS, then, was somewhat my state of mind, when, after our late tea on the verandah, I strolled
out on to the lawn to enjoy my pipe in the quiet of the garden paths. I felt dissatisfied and
disappointed, yet knew not entirely perhaps, the reason. I wished to be alone, but was hungry for
companionship as well. Mother saw me go and watched attentively, but said no word, merely
following me a moment with her eyes above the edge of the Times she read, as of old, during the
hours between tea and dinner. The Spectator, her worldly Bible, lay ready to her hand when the
Times should have been finished. They were, respectively, as always, her dictionary of opinion,
and her medicine-chest. Before I had gone a dozen yards, her head disappeared behind the
printed sheet again. The roses flowed between us.
I felt her following glance, as I felt also its withdrawal. Then I forgot her. . . . A touch of
melancholy stole on me, as the garden took me in its charge. For a garden is a ghostly place, and
an old-world garden, above all, leads thought backwards among vanished memories rather than
forward among constructive hopes and joys.
I yielded, in any case, a little to this subtle pressure from the past, and I must have strolled
among the lilac and laburnums for a longer time than I knew, since the gardener who had been
trimming the flower-beds with a hand lawn-mower was gone, and dusk already veiled the cedars,
when I found myself leaning against the wooden gate that opened into the less formal part
beyond the larches.
The house was not visible from where I stood. I smelt the May, the lilac, the heavy perfume
everywhere of the opening year; it rose about me in waves, as though full-bosomed summer lay
breathing her great promises close at hand, while spring, still lingering, with bright eyes of dew,'
watched over her. Then, suddenly, behind these richer scents, I caught a sweeter, wilder tang
than anything they contained, and turning, saw that the pines were closer than I knew. A waft of
something purer, fresher, reached my nostrils on a little noiseless wind, as, leaning across the
gate, I turned my back upon the cultivated grounds and gazed into a region of more natural,
The change was sudden. It was exquisite, sharp and unexpected, too, as with a little touch of
wonder. There was surprise in it. For the garden, you will remember, melts here insensibly into a
stretch of scattered pines, where heather and bracken cover wide reaches of unreclaimed and
useless land. Irregular trails of whitish sand gleamed faintly before the shadows swallowed them,
and in the open patches I saw young silver-birches that made me think of running children
arrested in mid-play. They stood outlined very tenderly against the sky; their slender forms still
quivered; their feathery hair fell earthwards as they drew themselves together, bending their
wayward little heads before the approaching night. Behind them, framed by the darker pines into
a glowing frieze, the west still burned with the last fires of the sunset; I could see the heather,
rising and falling like a tumbled sea against the horizon, where the dim heave of distant
moorland broke the afterglow.