After the first hard frost we quite gave up playing at the Earthly Paradise; first, because there was nothing we could do, and, secondly, because a lot of snow fell, and Arthur had a grand idea of making snow statues all along the terrace, so that Mother could see them from the drawing-room windows. We worked very hard, and it was very difficult to manage legs without breaking; so we made most of them Romans in togas, and they looked very well from a distance, and lasted a long time, because the frost lasted.
And, by degrees, I almost forgot that terrible afternoon in Mary’s Meadow. Only when Saxon came to see us I told him that I was very glad that no one understood his bark, so that he could not let out what had become of the hose-in-hose.
But when the winter was past, and the snowdrops came out in the shrubbery, and there were catkins on the nut trees, and the missel-thrush we had been feeding in the frost sat out on mild days and sang to us, we all of us began to think of our gardens again, and to go poking about “with our noses in the borders,” as Arthur said, “as if we were dogs snuffing after truffles.” What we really were “snuffing after” were the plants we had planted in autumn, and which were poking and sprouting, and coming up in all directions.
Arthur and Harry did real gardening in the Easter holidays, and they captured Adela now and then, and made her weed. But Christopher’s delight was to go with me to the waste places and hedges, where I had planted things as Traveller’s Joy, and to get me to show them to him where they had begun to make a Spring start, and to help him to make up rambling stories, which he called “Supposings,” of what the flowers would be like, and what this or that traveller would say when he saw them. One of his favourite supposings was—“Supposing a very poor man was coming along the road, with his dinner in a handkerchief; and supposing he sat down under the hedge to eat it; and supposing it was cold beef, and he had no mustard; and supposing there was a seed on your nasturtium plants, and he knew it wouldn’t poison him; and supposing he ate it with his beef, and it tasted nice and hot, like a pickle, wouldn’t he wonder how it got there?”
But when the primroses had been out a long time, and the cowslips were coming into bloom, to my horror Christopher began “supposing” that we should find hose-in-hose in some of the fields, and all my efforts to put this idea out of his head, and to divert him from the search, were utterly in vain.
Whether it had anything to do with his having had water on the brain I do not know, but when once an idea got into Christopher’s head there was no dislodging it. He now talked of hose-in-hose constantly. One day he announced that he was “discontented” once more, and should remain so till he had “found a hose-in-hose.” I enticed him to a field where I knew it was possible to secure an occasional oxlip, but he only looked pale, shook his head distressingly, and said, “I don’t think nothin’ of Oxlips.” Coloured primroses would not comfort him. He professed to disbelieve in the time-honoured prescription, “Plant a primrose upside down, and it will come up a polyanthus,” and refused to help me to make the experiment. At last the worst came. He suddenly spoke, with smiles—“I know where we’ll find hose-in-hose! In Mary’s Meadow. It’s the fullest field of cowslips there is. Hurrah! Supposing we find hose-in-hose, and supposing we find green cowslips, and supposing we find curled cowslips or galligaskins, and supposing —”
But I could not bear it. I fairly ran away from him, and shut myself up in my room and cried. I knew it was silly, and yet I could not bear the thought of having to satisfy everybody’s curiosity, and describe that scene in Mary’s Meadow, which had wounded me so bitterly, and explain why I had not told of it before.
I cried, too, for another reason. Mary’s Meadow had been dear to us all, ever since I could remember. It was always our favourite field. We had coaxed our nurses there, when we could induce them to leave the high-road, or when, luckily for us, on account of an epidemic, or for some reason or another, they were forbidden to go gossiping into the town. We had “pretended” fairies in the nooks of the delightfully neglected hedges, and we had found fairy-rings to prove our pretendings true. We went there for flowers; we went there for mushrooms and puff-balls; we went there to hear the nightingale. What cowslip balls and what cowslip tea-parties it had afforded us! It is fair to the Old Squire to say that we were sad trespassers, before he and Father quarrelled and went to law. For Mary’s Meadow was a field with every quality to recommend it to childish affections.
And now I was banished from it, not only by the quarrel, of which we had really not heard much, or realized it very fully, but by my own bitter memories. I cried afresh to think I should never go again to the corner where I always found the earliest violets; and then I cried to think that the nightingale would soon be back, and how that very morning, when I opened my window, I had heard the cuckoo, and could tell that he was calling from just about Mary’s Meadow.
I cried my eyes into such a state, that I was obliged to turn my attention to making them fit to be seen; and I had spent quite half-an-hour in bathing them and breathing on my handkerchief, and dabbing them, which is more soothing, when I heard Mother calling me. I winked hard, drew a few long breaths, rubbed my cheeks, which were so white they showed up my red eyes, and ran down-stairs. Mother was coming to meet me. She said—“Where is Christopher?”
It startled me. I said, “He was with me in the garden, about—oh, about an hour ago; have you lost him? I’ll go and look for him.”
And I snatched up a garden hat, which shaded my swollen eyelids, and ran out. I could not find him anywhere, and becoming frightened, I ran down the drive, calling him as I went, and through the gate, and out into the road.
A few yards farther on I met him.
That child is most extraordinary. One minute he looks like a ghost; an hour later his face is beaming with a radiance that seems absolutely to fatten him under your eyes. That was how he looked just then as he came towards me, smiling in an effulgent sort of way, as if he were the noonday sun—no less, and carrying a small nosegay in his hand.
When he came within hearing he boasted, as if he had been Casar himself—“I went; I found it. I’ve got them.” And as he held his hand up, and waved the nosegay—I knew all. He had been to Mary’s Meadow, and the flowers between his fingers were hose-in-hose.