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“Everyone,” remarks Tristram Shandy, “will speak of the fair as his own market has gone in it.”

It came near being a sorry fair for me on the afternoon following my parting with the amiable brush-peddler. The plain fact is, my success at the Stanleys’, and the easy manner in which I had fallen in with Mr. Canfield, gave me so much confidence in myself as a sort of Master of the Road that I proceeded with altogether too much assurance.

I am firmly convinced that the prime quality to be cultivated by the pilgrim is humility of spirit; he must be willing to accept Adventure in whatever garb she chooses to present herself. He must be able to see the shining form of the unusual through the dull garments of the normal.

The fact is, I walked that afternoon with my head in air and passed many a pleasant farmstead where men were working in the fields, and many an open doorway, and a mill or two, and a town—always looking for some Great Adventure.

Somewhere upon this road, I thought to myself, I shall fall in with a Great Person, or become a part of a Great Incident. I recalled with keen pleasure the experience of that young Spanish student of Carlyle writes in one of his volumes, who, riding out from Madrid one day, came unexpectedly upon the greatest man in the world. This great man, of whom Carlyle observes (I have looked up the passage since I came home), “a kindlier, meeker, braver heart has seldom looked upon the sky in this world,” had ridden out from the city for the last time in his life “to take one other look at the azure firmament and green mosaic pavements and the strange carpentry and arras work of this noble palace of a world.”

As the old story has it, the young student “came pricking on hastily, complaining that they went at such a pace as gave him little chance of keeping up with them. One of the party made answer that the blame lay with the horse of Don Miguel de Cervantes, whose trot was of the speediest. He had hardly pronounced the name when the student dismounted and, touching the hem of Cervantes’ left sleeve, said, ‘Yes, yes, it is indeed the maimed perfection, the all-famous, the delightful writer, the joy and darling of the Muses! You are that brave Miguel.’”

It may seem absurd to some in this cool and calculating twentieth century that any one should indulge in such vain imaginings as I have described—and yet, why not? All things are as we see them. I once heard a man—a modern man, living to-day—tell with a hush in his voice, and a peculiar light in his eye, how, walking in the outskirts of an unromantic town in New Jersey, he came suddenly upon a vigorous, bearded, rather rough-looking man swinging his stick as he walked, and stopping often at the roadside and often looking up at the sky. I shall never forget the curious thrill in his voice as he said:

“And THAT was Walt Whitman.”

And thus quite absurdly intoxicated by the possibilities of the road, I let the big full afternoon slip by—I let slip the rich possibilities of half a hundred farms and scores of travelling people—and as evening began to fall I came to a stretch of wilder country with wooded hills and a dashing stream by the roadside. It was a fine and beautiful country—to look at—but the farms, and with them the chances of dinner, and a friendly place to sleep, grew momentarily scarcer. Upon the hills here and there, indeed, were to be seen the pretentious summer homes of rich dwellers from the cities, but I looked upon them with no great hopefulness.

“Of all places in the world,” I said to myself, “surely none could be more unfriendly to a man like me.”

But I amused myself with conjectures as to what might happen (until the adventure seemed almost worth trying) if a dusty man with a bag on his back should appear at the door of one of those well-groomed establishments. It came to me, indeed, with a sudden deep sense of understanding, that I should probably find there, as everywhere else, just men and women. And with that I fell into a sort of Socratic dialogue with myself:

ME: Having decided that the people in these houses are, after all, merely men and women, what is the best way of reaching them?

MYSELF: Undoubtedly by giving them something they want and have not.

ME: But these are rich people from the city; what can they want that they have not?

MYSELF: Believe me, of all people in the world those who want the most are those who have the most. These people are also consumed with desires.

ME: And what, pray, do you suppose they desire?

MYSELF: They want what they have not got; they want the

unattainable: they want chiefly the rarest and most precious of all things—a little mystery in

their lives.

“That’s it!” I said aloud; “that’s it! Mystery—the things of the spirit, the things above ordinary living—is not that the essential thing for which the world is sighing, and groaning, and longing—consciously, or unconsciously?”

I have always believed that men in their innermost souls desire the highest, bravest, finest things they can hear, or see, or feel in all the world. Tell a man how he can increase his income and he will be grateful to you and soon forget you; but show him the highest, most mysterious things in his own soul and give him the word which will convince him that the finest things are really attainable, and he will love and follow you always.

I now began to look with much excitement to a visit at one of the houses on the hill, but to my disappointment I found the next two that I approached still closed up, for the spring was not yet far enough advanced to attract the owners to the country. I walked rapidly onward through the gathering twilight, but with increasing uneasiness as to the prospects for the night, and thus came suddenly upon the scene of an odd adventure.

From some distance I had seen a veritable palace set high among the trees and overlooking a wonderful green valley—and, drawing nearer, I saw evidences of well-kept roadways and a visible effort to make invisible the attempt to preserve the wild beauty of the place. I saw, or thought I saw, people on the wide veranda, and I was sure I heard the snort of a climbing motor-car, but I had scarcely decided to make my way up to the house when I came, at the turning of the country road, upon a bit of open land laid out neatly as a garden, near the edge of which, nestling among the trees, stood a small cottage. It seemed somehow to belong to the great estate above it, and I concluded, at the first glance, that it was the home of some caretaker or gardener.

It was a charming place to see, and especially the plantation of trees and shrubs. My eye fell instantly upon a fine magnolia—rare in this country—which had not yet cast all its blossoms, and I paused for a moment to look at it more closely. I myself have tried to raise magnolias near my house, and I know how difficult it is.

As I approached nearer to the cottage, I could see a man and woman sitting on the porch in the twilight and swaying back and forth in rocking-chairs. I fancied— it may have been only a fancy—that when I first saw them their hands were clasped as they rocked side by side.

It was indeed a charming little cottage. Crimson ramblers, giving promise of the bloom that was yet to come, climbed over one end of the porch, and there were fine dark-leaved lilac-bushes near the doorway: oh, a pleasant, friendly, quiet place!

I opened the front gate and walked straight in, as though I had at last reached my destination. I cannot give any idea of the lift of the heart with which I entered upon this new adventure. Without the premeditation and not knowing what I should say or do, I realized that everything dependedupon a few sentences spoken within the next minute or two. Believe me, this experience to a man who does not know where his next meal is coming from, nor where he is to spend the night, is well worth having. It is a marvellous sharpener of the facts.

I knew, of course, just how these people of the cottage would ordinarily regard an intruder whose bag and clothing must infallibly class him as a follower of the road. And so many followers of the road are—well—

As I came nearer, the man and woman stopped rocking, but said nothing. An old dog that had been sleeping on the top step rose slowly and stood there.

“As I passed your garden,” I said, grasping desperately for a way of approach, “I saw your beautiful specimen of the magnolia tree—the one still in blossom. I myself have tried to grow magnolias—but with small success—and I’m making bold to inquire what variety you are so successful with.”

It was a shot in the air—but I knew from what I had seen that they must be enthusiastic gardeners. The man glanced around at the magnolia with evident pride, and was about to answer when the woman rose and with a pleasant, quiet cordiality said:

“Won’t you step up and have a chair?”

I swung my bag from my shoulder and took the proffered seat. As I did so I saw, on the table just behind me a number magazines and books—books of unusual sizes and shapes, indicating that they were not mere summer novels.

“They like books!” I said to myself, with a sudden rise of spirits.

“I have tried magnolias, too,” said the man, “but this is the only one that has been really successful. It is a Chinese white magnolia.”

“The one Downing describes?” I asked.

This was also a random shot, but I conjectured that if they loved both books gardens they would know Downing—Bible of the gardener. And if they did, we belonged to the same church.

“The very same,” exclaimed the woman; “it was Downing’s enthusiasm for the Chinese magnolia which led us first to try it.”

With that, like true disciples, we fell into great talk of Downing, at first all in praise of him, and later—for may not the faithful be permitted latitude in their comments so long as it is all within the cloister?—we indulged in a bit of higher criticism.

“It won’t do,” said the man, “to follow too slavishly every detail of practice as recommended by Downing. We have learned a good many things since the forties.”

“The fact is,” I said, “no literal-minded man should be trusted with Downing.”

“Any more than with the Holy Scriptures,” exclaimed the woman.

“Exactly!” I responded with the greatest enthusiasm; “exactly! We go to him for inspiration, for fundamental teachings, for the great literature and poetry of the art. Do you remember,” I asked, “that passage in which Downing quotes from some old Chinaman upon the true secret of the pleasures of a garden—?”

“Do we?” exclaimed the man, jumping up instantly; “do we? Just let me get the book—”

With that he went into the house and came back immediately bringing a lamp in one hand— for it had grown pretty dark—and a familiar, portly, blue-bound book in the other. While he was gone the woman said:

“You have touched Mr. Vedder in his weakest spot.”

“I know of no combination in this world,” said I, “so certain to produce a happy heart as good books and a farm or garden.”

Mr. Vedder, having returned, slipped on his spectacles, sat forward on the edge of his rocking-chair, and opened the book with pious hands.

“I’ll find it,” he said. “I can put my finger right on it.”

“You’ll find it,” said Mrs. Vedder, “in the chapter on ‘Hedges.’”

“You are wrong, my dear,” he responded, “it is in ‘Mistakes of Citizens in Country Life.’”

He turned the leaves eagerly.

“No,” he said, “here it is in ‘Rural Taste.’ Let me read you the passage, Mr.—”


“—Mr. Grayson. The Chinaman’s name was Lieu-tscheu. ‘What is it,’ asks this old Chinaman, ‘that we seek in the pleasure of a garden? It has always been agreed that these plantations should make men amends for living at a distance from what would be their more congenial and agreeable dwelling-place—in the midst of nature, free and unrestrained.’”

“That’s it,” I exclaimed, “and the old Chinaman was right! A garden excuses civilization.”

“It’s what brought us here,” said Mrs. Vedder.

With that we fell into the liveliest discussion of gardening and farming and country life in all their phases, resolving that while there were bugs and blights, and droughts and floods, yet upon the whole there was no life so completely satisfying as life in which one may watch daily the unfolding of natural life.

A hundred things we talked about freely that had often risen dimly in my own mind almost to the point—but not quite—of spilling over into articulate form. The marvellous thing about good conversation is that it brings to birth so many half-realized thoughts of our own—besides sowing the seed of innumerable other thought-plants. How they enjoyed their garden, those two, and not only the garden itself, but all the lore and poetry of gardening!

We had been talking thus an hour or more when, quite unexpectedly, I had what was certainly one of the most amusing adventures of my whole life. I can scarcely think of it now without a thrill of pleasure. I have had pay for my work in many but never such a reward as this.

“By the way,” said Mr. Vedder, “I have recently come across a book which is full of the spirit of the garden as we have long known it, although the author is not treating directly of gardens, but of farming and of human nature.”

“It is really all one subject,” I interrupted.

“Certainly,” said Mr. Vedder, “but many gardeners are nothing but gardeners. Well, the book to which I refer is called ‘Adventures in Contentment,’ and is by—Why, a man of your own name!”

With that Mr. Vedder reached for a book—a familiar-looking book—on the table, but Mrs. Vedder looked at me. I give you my word, my heart turned entirely over, and in a most remarkable way righted itself again; and I saw Roman candles and Fourth of July rockets in front of my eyes. Never in all my experience was I so completely bowled over. I felt like a small boy who has been caught in the pantry with one hand in the jam-pot—and plenty of jam on his nose. And like that small boy I enjoyed the jam, but did not like being caught at it.

Mr. Vedder had no sooner got the book in his hand than I saw Mrs. Vedder rising as though she had seen a spectre, and pointing dramatically at me, she exclaimed:

“You are David Grayson!”

I can say truthfully now that I know how the prisoner at the bar must feel when the judge, leaning over his desk, looks at him sternly and says:

“I declare you guilty of the offence as charged, and sentence you—” and so on, and so on.

Mr. Vedder stiffened up, and I can see him yet looking at me through his glasses. I must have looked as foolishly guilty as any man ever looked, for Mr. Vedder said promptly:

“Let me take you by the hand, sir. We know you, and have known you for a long time.”

I shall not attempt to relate the conversation which followed, nor tell of the keen joy I had in it—after the first cold plunge. We found that we had a thousand common interests and enthusiasms. I had to tell them of my farm, and why I had left it temporarily, and of the experiences on the road. No sooner had I related what had befallen me at the Stanleys’ than Mrs. Vedder disappeared into the house and came out again presently with a tray loaded with cold meat, bread, a pitcher of fine milk, and other good things.

“I shall not offer any excuses,” said I, “I’m hungry,” and with that I laid in, Mr. Vedder helping with the milk, and all three of us talking as fast as ever we could.

It was nearly midnight when at last Mr. Vedder led the way to the immaculate little bedroom where I spent the night.

The next morning I awoke early, and quietly dressing, slipped down to the garden and walked about among the trees and the shrubs and the flower-beds. The sun was just coming up over the hill, the air was full of the fresh odours of morning, and the orioles and cat-birds were singing.

In the back of the garden I found a charming rustic arbour with seats around a little table. And here I sat down to listen to the morning concert, and I saw, cut or carved upon the table, this verse, which so pleased me that I copied it in my book:

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!

Rose plot,

Fringed pool,

Ferned grot—

The veriest school of peace; and yet

the fool

Contends that God is not—

Not God! in gardens? when the even

is cool?

Nay, but I have a sign,

‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

I looked about after copying this verse, and said aloud:

“I like this garden: I like these Vedders.”

And with that I had a moment of wild enthusiasm.

“I will come,” I said, “and buy a little garden next them, and bring Harriet, and we will live here always. What’s a farm compared with a friend?”

But with that I thought of the Scotch preacher, and of Horace, and Mr. and Mrs. Starkweather, and I knew I could never leave the friends at home.

“It’s astonishing how many fine people there are in this world,” I said aloud; “one can’t escape them!”

“Good morning, David Grayson,” I heard some one saying, and glancing up I saw Mrs. Vedder at the doorway. “Are you hungry?”

“I am always hungry,” I said.

Mr. Vedder came out and linking his arm in mine and pointing out various spireas and Japanese barberries, of which he was very proud, we walked into the house together.

I did not think of it especially at time—Harriet says I never see anything really worth while, by which she means dishes, dresses, doilies, and such like but as I remembered afterward the table that Mrs. Vedder set was wonderfully dainty—dainty not merely with flowers (with which it was loaded), but with the quality of the china and silver. It was plainly the table of no ordinary gardener or caretaker—but this conclusion did not come to me until afterward, for as I remember it, we were in a deep discussion of fertilizers.

Mrs. Vedder cooked and served breakfast herself, and did it with a skill almost equal to Harriet’s—so skillfully that the talk went on and we never once heard the machinery of service.

After breakfast we all went out into the garden, Mrs. Vedder in an old straw hat and a big apron, and Mr. Vedder in a pair of old brown overalls. Two men had appeared from somewhere, and were digging in the vegetable garden. After giving them certain directions Mr. Vedder and I both found five-tined forks and went into the rose garden and began turning over the rich soil, while Mrs. Vedder, with pruning-shears, kept near us, cutting out the dead wood.

It was one of the charming forenoons of my life. This pleasant work, spiced with the most interesting conversation and interrupted by a hundred little excursions into other parts of the garden, to see this or that wonder of vegetation, brought us to dinner-time before we fairly knew it.

About the middle of the afternoon I made the next discovery. I heard first the choking cough of a big motor-car in the country road, and a moment later it stopped at our gate. I thought I saw the Vedders exchanging significant glances. A number of merry young people tumbled out, and an especially pretty girl of about twenty came running through the garden.

“Mother,” she exclaimed, “you MUST come with us!”

“I can’t, I can’t,” said Mrs. Vedder, “the roses MUST be pruned—and see! The azaleas are coming into bloom.”

With that she presented me to her daughter.

And, then, shortly, for it could no longer be concealed, I learned that Mr. and Mrs. Vedder were not the caretakers but the owners of the estate and of the great house I had seen on the hill. That evening, with an air almost of apology, they explained to me how it all came about.

“We first came out here,” said Mrs. Vedder, “nearly twenty years ago, and built the big house on the hill. But the more we came to know of country life the more we wanted to get down into it. We found it impossible up there—so many unnecessary things to see to and care for—and we couldn’t—we didn’t see—”

“The fact is,” Mr. Vedder put in, “we were losing touch with each other.”

“There is nothing like a big house,” said Mrs. Vedder, “to separate a man and his wife.”

“So we came down here,” said Mr. Vedder, “built this little cottage, and developed this garden mostly with our own hands. We would have sold the big house long ago if it hadn’t been for our friends. They like it.”

“I have never heard a more truly romantic story,” said I.

And it WAS romantic: these fine people escaping from too many possessions, too much property, to the peace and quietude of a garden where they could be lovers again.

“It seems, sometimes,” said Mrs. Vedder, “that I never really believed in God until we came down here—”

“I saw the verse on the table in the arbour,” said I.

“And it is true,” said Mr. Vedder. “We got a long, long way from God for many years: here we seem to get back to Him.”

I had fully intended to take the road again that afternoon, but how could any one leave such people as those? We talked again late that night, but the next morning, at the leisurely Sunday breakfast, I set my hour of departure with all the firmness I could command. I left them, indeed, before ten o’clock that forenoon. I shall never forget the parting. They walked with me to the top of the hill, and there we stopped and looked back. We could see the cottage half hidden among the trees, and the little opening that the precious garden made. For a time we stood there quite silent.

“Do you remember,” I said presently, “that character in Homer who was a friend of men and lived in a house by the side of the road? I shall always think of you as friends of men— you took in a dusty traveller. And I shall never forget your house by the side of the road.”

“The House by the Side of the Road—you have christened it anew, David Grayson,” exclaimed Mrs. Vedder.

And so we parted like old friends, and I left them to return to their garden, where “’tis very sure God walks.”


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