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The Rose Garden






Mr and Mrs Anstruther were at breakfast in the parlour of Westfield Hall,
in the county of Essex. They were arranging plans for the day.

'George,' said Mrs Anstruther, 'I think you had better take the car to
Maldon and see if you can get any of those knitted things I was speaking
about which would do for my stall at the bazaar.'

'Oh well, if you wish it, Mary, of course I can do that, but I had half
arranged to play a round with Geoffrey Williamson this morning. The
bazaar isn't till Thursday of next week, is it?'

'What has that to do with it, George? I should have thought you would
have guessed that if I can't get the things I want in Maldon I shall have
to write to all manner of shops in town: and they are certain to send
something quite unsuitable in price or quality the first time. If you
have actually made an appointment with Mr Williamson, you had better keep
it, but I must say I think you might have let me know.'

'Oh no, no, it wasn't really an appointment. I quite see what you mean.
I'll go. And what shall you do yourself?'

'Why, when the work of the house is arranged for, I must see about laying
out my new rose garden. By the way, before you start for Maldon I wish
you would just take Collins to look at the place I fixed upon. You know
it, of course.'

'Well, I'm not quite sure that I do, Mary. Is it at the upper end,
towards the village?'

'Good gracious no, my dear George; I thought I had made that quite clear.
No, it's that small clearing just off the shrubbery path that goes
towards the church.'

'Oh yes, where we were saying there must have been a summer-house once:
the place with the old seat and the posts. But do you think there's
enough sun there?'

'My dear George, do allow me _some_ common sense, and don't credit me
with all your ideas about summer-houses. Yes, there will be plenty of sun
when we have got rid of some of those box-bushes. I know what you are
going to say, and I have as little wish as you to strip the place bare.
All I want Collins to do is to clear away the old seats and the posts and
things before I come out in an hour's time. And I hope you will manage to
get off fairly soon. After luncheon I think I shall go on with my sketch
of the church; and if you please you can go over to the links, or--'

'Ah, a good idea--very good! Yes, you finish that sketch, Mary, and I
should be glad of a round.'

'I was going to say, you might call on the Bishop; but I suppose it is no
use my making _any_ suggestion. And now do be getting ready, or half the
morning will be gone.'

Mr Anstruther's face, which had shown symptoms of lengthening, shortened
itself again, and he hurried from the room, and was soon heard giving
orders in the passage. Mrs Anstruther, a stately dame of some fifty
summers, proceeded, after a second consideration of the morning's
letters, to her housekeeping.

Within a few minutes Mr Anstruther had discovered Collins in the
greenhouse, and they were on their way to the site of the projected rose
garden. I do not know much about the conditions most suitable to these
nurseries, but I am inclined to believe that Mrs Anstruther, though in
the habit of describing herself as 'a great gardener', had not been well
advised in the selection of a spot for the purpose. It was a small, dank
clearing, bounded on one side by a path, and on the other by thick
box-bushes, laurels, and other evergreens. The ground was almost bare of
grass and dark of aspect. Remains of rustic seats and an old and
corrugated oak post somewhere near the middle of the clearing had given
rise to Mr Anstruther's conjecture that a summer-house had once stood
there.

Clearly Collins had not been put in possession of his mistress's
intentions with regard to this plot of ground: and when he learnt them
from Mr Anstruther he displayed no enthusiasm.

'Of course I could clear them seats away soon enough,' he said. 'They
aren't no ornament to the place, Mr Anstruther, and rotten too. Look
'ere, sir,'--and he broke off a large piece--'rotten right through. Yes,
clear them away, to be sure we can do that.'

'And the post,' said Mr Anstruther, 'that's got to go too.'

Collins advanced, and shook the post with both hands: then he rubbed his
chin.

'That's firm in the ground, that post is,' he said. 'That's been there a
number of years, Mr Anstruther. I doubt I shan't get that up not quite so
soon as what I can do with them seats.'

'But your mistress specially wishes it to be got out of the way in an
hour's time,' said Mr Anstruther.

Collins smiled and shook his head slowly. 'You'll excuse me, sir, but you
feel of it for yourself. No, sir, no one can't do what's impossible to
'em, can they, sir? I could git that post up by after tea-time, sir, but
that'll want a lot of digging. What you require, you see, sir, if you'll
excuse me naming of it, you want the soil loosening round this post 'ere,
and me and the boy we shall take a little time doing of that. But now,
these 'ere seats,' said Collins, appearing to appropriate this portion of
the scheme as due to his own resourcefulness, 'why, I can get the barrer
round and 'ave them cleared away in, why less than an hour's time from
now, if you'll permit of it. Only--'

'Only what, Collins?'

'Well now, ain't for me to go against orders no more than what it is for
you yourself--or anyone else' (this was added somewhat hurriedly), 'but
if you'll pardon me, sir, this ain't the place I should have picked out
for no rose garden myself. Why look at them box and laurestinus, 'ow they
reg'lar preclude the light from--'

'Ah yes, but we've got to get rid of some of them, of course.'

'Oh, indeed, get rid of them! Yes, to be sure, but--I beg your pardon, Mr
Anstruther--'

'I'm sorry, Collins, but I must be getting on now. I hear the car at the
door. Your mistress will explain exactly what she wishes. I'll tell her,
then, that you can see your way to clearing away the seats at once, and
the post this afternoon. Good morning.'

Collins was left rubbing his chin. Mrs Anstruther received the report
with some discontent, but did not insist upon any change of plan.

By four o'clock that afternoon she had dismissed her husband to his golf,
had dealt faithfully with Collins and with the other duties of the day,
and, having sent a campstool and umbrella to the proper spot, had just
settled down to her sketch of the church as seen from the shrubbery, when
a maid came hurrying down the path to report that Miss Wilkins had
called.

Miss Wilkins was one of the few remaining members of the family from whom
the Anstruthers had bought the Westfield estate some few years back. She
had been staying in the neighbourhood, and this was probably a farewell
visit. 'Perhaps you could ask Miss Wilkins to join me here,' said Mrs
Anstruther, and soon Miss Wilkins, a person of mature years, approached.

'Yes, I'm leaving the Ashes to-morrow, and I shall be able to tell my
brother how tremendously you have improved the place. Of course he can't
help regretting the old house just a little--as I do myself--but the
garden is really delightful now.'

'I am so glad you can say so. But you mustn't think we've finished our
improvements. Let me show you where I mean to put a rose garden. It's
close by here.'

The details of the project were laid before Miss Wilkins at some length;
but her thoughts were evidently elsewhere.

'Yes, delightful,' she said at last rather absently. 'But do you know,
Mrs Anstruther, I'm afraid I was thinking of old times. I'm _very_ glad
to have seen just this spot again before you altered it. Frank and I had
quite a romance about this place.'

'Yes?' said Mrs Anstruther smilingly; 'do tell me what it was. Something
quaint and charming, I'm sure.'

'Not so very charming, but it has always seemed to me curious. Neither of
us would ever be here alone when we were children, and I'm not sure that
I should care about it now in certain moods. It is one of those things
that can hardly be put into words--by me at least--and that sound rather
foolish if they are not properly expressed. I can tell you after a
fashion what it was that gave us--well, almost a horror of the place when
we were alone. It was towards the evening of one very hot autumn day,
when Frank had disappeared mysteriously about the grounds, and I was
looking for him to fetch him to tea, and going down this path I suddenly
saw him, not hiding in the bushes, as I rather expected, but sitting on
the bench in the old summer-house--there was a wooden summer-house here,
you know--up in the corner, asleep, but with such a dreadful look on his
face that I really thought he must be ill or even dead. I rushed at him
and shook him, and told him to wake up; and wake up he did, with a
scream. I assure you the poor boy seemed almost beside himself with
fright. He hurried me away to the house, and was in a terrible state all
that night, hardly sleeping. Someone had to sit up with him, as far as I
remember. He was better very soon, but for days I couldn't get him to say
why he had been in such a condition. It came out at last that he had
really been asleep and had had a very odd disjointed sort of dream. He
never _saw_ much of what was around him, but he _felt_ the scenes most
vividly. First he made out that he was standing in a large room with a
number of people in it, and that someone was opposite to him who was
"very powerful", and he was being asked questions which he felt to be
very important, and, whenever he answered them, someone--either the
person opposite to him, or someone else in the room--seemed to be, as he
said, making something up against him. All the voices sounded to him very
distant, but he remembered bits of the things that were said: "Where were
you on the 19th of October?" and "Is this your handwriting?" and so on. I
can see now, of course, that he was dreaming of some trial: but we were
never allowed to see the papers, and it was odd that a boy of eight
should have such a vivid idea of what went on in a court. All the time he
felt, he said, the most intense anxiety and oppression and hopelessness
(though I don't suppose he used such words as that to me). Then, after
that, there was an interval in which he remembered being dreadfully
restless and miserable, and then there came another sort of picture, when
he was aware that he had come out of doors on a dark raw morning with a
little snow about. It was in a street, or at any rate among houses, and
he felt that there were numbers and numbers of people there too, and that
he was taken up some creaking wooden steps and stood on a sort of
platform, but the only thing he could actually see was a small fire
burning somewhere near him. Someone who had been holding his arm left
hold of it and went towards this fire, and then he said the fright he was
in was worse than at any other part of his dream, and if I had not
wakened him up he didn't know what would have become of him. A curious
dream for a child to have, wasn't it? Well, so much for that. It must
have been later in the year that Frank and I were here, and I was sitting
in the arbour just about sunset. I noticed the sun was going down, and
told Frank to run in and see if tea was ready while I finished a chapter
in the book I was reading. Frank was away longer than I expected, and the
light was going so fast that I had to bend over my book to make it out.
All at once I became conscious that someone was whispering to me inside
the arbour. The only words I could distinguish, or thought I could, were
something like "Pull, pull. I'll push, you pull."

'I started up in something of a fright. The voice--it was little more
than a whisper--sounded so hoarse and angry, and yet as if it came from a
long, long way off--just as it had done in Frank's dream. But, though I
was startled, I had enough courage to look round and try to make out
where the sound came from. And--this sounds very foolish, I know, but
still it is the fact--I made sure that it was strongest when I put my ear
to an old post which was part of the end of the seat. I was so certain of
this that I remember making some marks on the post--as deep as I could
with the scissors out of my work-basket. I don't know why. I wonder, by
the way, whether that isn't the very post itself.... Well, yes, it might
be: there _are_ marks and scratches on it--but one can't be sure. Anyhow,
it was just like that post you have there. My father got to know that
both of us had had a fright in the arbour, and he went down there himself
one evening after dinner, and the arbour was pulled down at very short
notice. I recollect hearing my father talking about it to an old man who
used to do odd jobs in the place, and the old man saying, "Don't you fear
for that, sir: he's fast enough in there without no one don't take and
let him out." But when I asked who it was, I could get no satisfactory
answer. Possibly my father or mother might have told me more about it
when I grew up, but, as you know, they both died when we were still quite
children. I must say it has always seemed very odd to me, and I've often
asked the older people in the village whether they knew of anything
strange: but either they knew nothing or they wouldn't tell me. Dear,
dear, how I have been boring you with my childish remembrances! but
indeed that arbour did absorb our thoughts quite remarkably for a time.
You can fancy, can't you, the kind of stories that we made up for
ourselves. Well, dear Mrs Anstruther, I must be leaving you now. We shall
meet in town this winter, I hope, shan't we?' etc., etc.

The seats and the post were cleared away and uprooted respectively by
that evening. Late summer weather is proverbially treacherous, and during
dinner-time Mrs Collins sent up to ask for a little brandy, because her
husband had took a nasty chill and she was afraid he would not be able to
do much next day.

Mrs Anstruther's morning reflections were not wholly placid. She was sure
some roughs had got into the plantation during the night. 'And another
thing, George: the moment that Collins is about again, you must tell him
to do something about the owls. I never heard anything like them, and I'm
positive one came and perched somewhere just outside our window. If it
had come in I should have been out of my wits: it must have been a very
large bird, from its voice. Didn't you hear it? No, of course not, you
were sound asleep as usual. Still, I must say, George, you don't look as
if your night had done you much good.'

'My dear, I feel as if another of the same would turn me silly. You have
no idea of the dreams I had. I couldn't speak of them when I woke up, and
if this room wasn't so bright and sunny I shouldn't care to think of them
even now.'

'Well, really, George, that isn't very common with you, I must say. You
must have--no, you only had what I had yesterday--unless you had tea at
that wretched club house: did you?'

'No, no; nothing but a cup of tea and some bread and butter. I should
really like to know how I came to put my dream together--as I suppose one
does put one's dreams together from a lot of little things one has been
seeing or reading. Look here, Mary, it was like this--if I shan't be
boring you--'

'I _wish_ to hear what it was, George. I will tell you when I have had
enough.'

'All right. I must tell you that it wasn't like other nightmares in one
way, because I didn't really _see_ anyone who spoke to me or touched me,
and yet I was most fearfully impressed with the reality of it all. First
I was sitting, no, moving about, in an old-fashioned sort of panelled
room. I remember there was a fireplace and a lot of burnt papers in it,
and I was in a great state of anxiety about something. There was someone
else--a servant, I suppose, because I remember saying to him, "Horses, as
quick as you can," and then waiting a bit: and next I heard several
people coming upstairs and a noise like spurs on a boarded floor, and
then the door opened and whatever it was that I was expecting happened.'

'Yes, but what was that?'

'You see, I couldn't tell: it was the sort of shock that upsets you in a
dream. You either wake up or else everything goes black. That was what
happened to me. Then I was in a big dark-walled room, panelled, I think,
like the other, and a number of people, and I was evidently--'

'Standing your trial, I suppose, George.'

'Goodness! yes, Mary, I was; but did you dream that too? How very odd!'

'No, no; I didn't get enough sleep for that. Go on, George, and I will
tell you afterwards.'

'Yes; well, I _was_ being tried, for my life, I've no doubt, from the
state I was in. I had no one speaking for me, and somewhere there was a
most fearful fellow--on the bench I should have said, only that he seemed
to be pitching into me most unfairly, and twisting everything I said, and
asking most abominable questions.'

'What about?'

'Why, dates when I was at particular places, and letters I was supposed
to have written, and why I had destroyed some papers; and I recollect his
laughing at answers I made in a way that quite daunted me. It doesn't
sound much, but I can tell you, Mary, it was really appalling at the
time. I am quite certain there was such a man once, and a most horrible
villain he must have been. The things he said--'

'Thank you, I have no wish to hear them. I can go to the links any day
myself. How did it end?'

'Oh, against me; _he_ saw to that. I do wish, Mary, I could give you a
notion of the strain that came after that, and seemed to me to last for
days: waiting and waiting, and sometimes writing things I knew to be
enormously important to me, and waiting for answers and none coming, and
after that I came out--'

'Ah!'

'What makes you say that? Do you know what sort of thing I saw?'

'Was it a dark cold day, and snow in the streets, and a fire burning
somewhere near you?'

'By George, it was! You _have_ had the same nightmare! Really not? Well,
it is the oddest thing! Yes; I've no doubt it was an execution for high
treason. I know I was laid on straw and jolted along most wretchedly, and
then had to go up some steps, and someone was holding my arm, and I
remember seeing a bit of a ladder and hearing a sound of a lot of people.
I really don't think I could bear now to go into a crowd of people and
hear the noise they make talking. However, mercifully, I didn't get to
the real business. The dream passed off with a sort of thunder inside my
head. But, Mary--'

'I know what you are going to ask. I suppose this is an instance of a
kind of thought-reading. Miss Wilkins called yesterday and told me of a
dream her brother had as a child when they lived here, and something did
no doubt make me think of that when I was awake last night listening to
those horrible owls and those men talking and laughing in the shrubbery
(by the way, I wish you would see if they have done any damage, and speak
to the police about it); and so, I suppose, from my brain it must have
got into yours while you were asleep. Curious, no doubt, and I am sorry
it gave you such a bad night. You had better be as much in the fresh air
as you can to-day.'

'Oh, it's all right now; but I think I _will_ go over to the Lodge and
see if I can get a game with any of them. And you?'

'I have enough to do for this morning; and this afternoon, if I am not
interrupted, there is my drawing.'

'To be sure--I want to see that finished very much.'

No damage was discoverable in the shrubbery. Mr Anstruther surveyed with
faint interest the site of the rose garden, where the uprooted post still
lay, and the hole it had occupied remained unfilled. Collins, upon
inquiry made, proved to be better, but quite unable to come to his work.
He expressed, by the mouth of his wife, a hope that he hadn't done
nothing wrong clearing away them things. Mrs Collins added that there was
a lot of talking people in Westfield, and the hold ones was the worst:
seemed to think everything of them having been in the parish longer than
what other people had. But as to what they said no more could then be
ascertained than that it had quite upset Collins, and was a lot of
nonsense.

Recruited by lunch and a brief period of slumber, Mrs Anstruther settled
herself comfortably upon her sketching chair in the path leading through
the shrubbery to the side-gate of the churchyard. Trees and buildings
were among her favourite subjects, and here she had good studies of both.
She worked hard, and the drawing was becoming a really pleasant thing to
look upon by the time that the wooded hills to the west had shut off the
sun. Still she would have persevered, but the light changed rapidly, and
it became obvious that the last touches must be added on the morrow. She
rose and turned towards the house, pausing for a time to take delight in
the limpid green western sky. Then she passed on between the dark
box-bushes, and, at a point just before the path debouched on the lawn,
she stopped once again and considered the quiet evening landscape, and
made a mental note that that must be the tower of one of the Roothing
churches that one caught on the sky-line. Then a bird (perhaps) rustled
in the box-bush on her left, and she turned and started at seeing what at
first she took to be a Fifth of November mask peeping out among the
branches. She looked closer.

It was not a mask. It was a face--large, smooth, and pink. She remembers
the minute drops of perspiration which were starting from its forehead:
she remembers how the jaws were clean-shaven and the eyes shut. She
remembers also, and with an accuracy which makes the thought intolerable
to her, how the mouth was open and a single tooth appeared below the
upper lip. As she looked the face receded into the darkness of the bush.
The shelter of the house was gained and the door shut before she
collapsed.

Mr and Mrs Anstruther had been for a week or more recruiting at Brighton
before they received a circular from the Essex Archaeological Society,
and a query as to whether they possessed certain historical portraits
which it was desired to include in the forthcoming work on Essex
Portraits, to be published under the Society's auspices. There was an
accompanying letter from the Secretary which contained the following
passage: 'We are specially anxious to know whether you possess the
original of the engraving of which I enclose a photograph. It represents
Sir ---- ----, Lord Chief Justice under Charles II, who, as you doubtless
know, retired after his disgrace to Westfield, and is supposed to have
died there of remorse. It may interest you to hear that a curious entry
has recently been found in the registers, not of Westfield but of Priors
Roothing to the effect that the parish was so much troubled after his
death that the rector of Westfield summoned the parsons of all the
Roothings to come and lay him; which they did. The entry ends by saying:
"The stake is in a field adjoining to the churchyard of Westfield, on the
west side." Perhaps you can let us know if any tradition to this effect
is current in your parish.'

The incidents which the 'enclosed photograph' recalled were productive of
a severe shock to Mrs Anstruther. It was decided that she must spend the
winter abroad.

Mr Anstruther, when he went down to Westfield to make the necessary
arrangements, not unnaturally told his story to the rector (an old
gentleman), who showed little surprise.

'Really I had managed to piece out for myself very much what must have
happened, partly from old people's talk and partly from what I saw in
your grounds. Of course we have suffered to some extent also. Yes, it was
bad at first: like owls, as you say, and men talking sometimes. One night
it was in this garden, and at other times about several of the cottages.
But lately there has been very little: I think it will die out. There is
nothing in our registers except the entry of the burial, and what I for a
long time took to be the family motto: but last time I looked at it I
noticed that it was added in a later hand and had the initials of one of
our rectors quite late in the seventeenth century, A. C.--Augustine
Crompton. Here it is, you see--_quieta non movere_. I suppose-- Well, it
is rather hard to say exactly what I do suppose.'





Next: The Tractate Middoth

Previous: A School Story



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