On each side of the long walk in the kitchen garden there are flowers between you and the vegetables, herbaceous borders, with nice big clumps of things that have suckers, and off-shoots and seedlings at their feet.
“The Long Walk’s the place to steal from if I wasn’t an honest Root-gatherer,” said Harry.
John had lovely poppies there that summer. When I read about the poppies Alphonse Karr sowed in the wild nooks of his native country, it made me think of John’s French poppies, and paeony poppies, and ranunculus poppies, and carnation poppies, some very large, some quite small, some round and neat, some full and ragged like Japanese chrysanthemums, but all of such beautiful shades of red, rose, crimson, pink, pale blush, and white, that if they had but smelt like carnations instead of smelling like laudanum when you have the toothache, they would have been quite perfect.
In one way they are nicer than carnations. They have such lots of seed, and it is so easy to get. I asked John to let me have some of the heads. He could not possibly want them all, for each head has enough in it to sow two or three yards of a border. He said I might have what seeds I liked, if I used scissors, and did not drag things out of the ground by pulling. But I was not to let the young gentlemen go seed gathering. “Boys be so destructive,” John said.
After a time, however, I persuaded him to let Harry transplant seedlings of the things that sow themselves and come up in the autumn, if they came up a certain distance from the parent plants. Harry got a lot of things for our Paradise in this way; indeed, he would not have got much otherwise, except wild flowers; and, as he said, “How can I be your Honest Root-gatherer if I mayn’t gather anything up by the roots?
I can’t help laughing sometimes to think of the morning when he left off being our Honest Root-gatherer. He did look so funny, and so like Chris.
A day or two before, the Scotch Gardener had brought Saxon to see us, and a new kind of mouldiness that had got into his grape vines to show to John.
He was very cross with Saxon for walking on my garden. (And I am sure I quite forgave him, for I am so fond of him, and he knew no better, poor dear!) But, though he kicked Saxon, the Scotch Gardener was kind to us. He told us that the reason our gardens do not do so well as the big garden, and that my Jules Margottin has not such big roses as John’s Jules Margottin is because we have never renewed the soil.
Arthur and Harry got very much excited about this. They made the Scotch Gardener tell them what good soil ought to be made of, and all the rest of the day they talked of nothing but compost. Indeed Arthur would come into my room and talk about compost after I had gone to bed.
Father’s farming man was always much more good-natured to us than John ever was. He would give us anything we wanted. Warm milk when the cows were milked, or sweet-pea sticks, or bran to stuff the dolls’ pillows. I’ve known him take his hedging-bill, in his dinner-hour, and cut fuel for our beacon-fire, when we were playing at a French Invasion. Nothing could be kinder.
Perhaps we do not tease him so much as we tease John. But when I say that, Arthur says, “Now, Mary, that’s just how you explain away things. The real difference between John and Michael is, that Michael is good-natured and John is not. Catch John showing me the duck’s nest by the pond, or letting you into the cow-house to kiss the new calf between the eyes—if he were farm man instead of gardener!”
And the night Arthur sat in my room, talking about compost, he said, “I shall get some good stuff out of Michael, I know; and Harry and I see our way to road-scrapings if we can’t get sand; and we mean to take precious good care John doesn’t have all the old leaves to himself. It’s the top-spit that puzzles us, and loam is the most important thing of all.”
“’What is top-spit?” I asked.
“It’s the earth you get when you dig up squares of grass out of a field like the paddock. The new earth that’s just underneath. I expect John got a lot when he turfed that new piece by the pond, but I don’t believe he’d spare us a flower-pot full to save his life.”
“Don’t quarrel with John, Arthur. It’s no good.”
“I won’t quarrel with him if he behaves himself,” said Arthur, “but we mean to have some top-spit somehow.”
“If you aggravate him he’ll only complain of us to Father.”
“I know,” said Arthur hotly, “and beastly mean of him, too, when he knows what Father is about this sort of thing.”
“I know it’s mean. But what’s the good of fighting when you’ll only get the worst of it?”
“Why, to show that you’re in the right, and that you know you are,” said Arthur. “Good-night, Mary. We’ll have a compost heap of our own this autumn, mark my words.”
Next day, in spite of my remonstrances, Arthur and Harry came to open war with John, and loudly and long did they rehearse their grievances, when we were out of Father’s hearing.
“Have we ever swept our own walks, except that once, long ago, when the German women came round with threepenny brooms?” asked Arthur, throwing out his right arm, as if he were making a speech. “And think of all the years John has been getting leaf mould for himself out of our copper beech leaves, and now refuses us a barrow-load of loam!”
The next morning but one Harry was late for breakfast, and then it seemed that he was not dressing; he had gone out,—very early, one of the servants said. It frightened me, and I went out to look for him.
When I came upon him in our gardens, it was he who was frightened.
“Oh, dear,” he exclaimed, “I thought you were John.”
I have often seen Harry dirty—very dirty,—but from the mud on his boots to the marks on his face where he had pushed the hair out of his eyes with earthy fingers, I never saw him quite so grubby before. And if there had been a clean place left in any part of his clothes well away from the ground, that spot must have been soiled by a huge and very dirty sack, under the weight of which his poor little shoulders were bent nearly to his knees.
“What are you going, Honest Root-gatherer?” I asked; “are you turning yourself into a humpbacked dwarf?”
“I’m not honest, and I’m not a Root-gatherer just now,” said Harry, when he had got breath after setting down his load. He spoke shyly and a little surlily, like Chris when he is in mischief.
“Harry, what’s that?”
“It’s a sack I borrowed from Michael. It won’t hurt it, it’s had mangel-wurzels in already.”
“What have you got in it now? It looks dreadfully heavy.”
“It is heavy, I can tell you,” said Harry, with one more rub of his dirty fingers over his face.
“You look half dead. What is it?”
“It’s top-spit;” and Harry began to discharge his load on to the walk.
“Oh, Harry; where did you get it?”
“Out of the paddock. I’ve been digging up turfs and getting this out, and putting the turfs back, and stamping them down not to show, ever since six o’clock. It was hard work; and I was so afraid of John coming. Mary, you won’t tell tales?”
“No, Harry. But I don’t think you ought to have taken it without Mother’s leave.”
“I don’t think you can call it stealing,” said Harry. “Fields are a kind of wild places anyhow, and the paddock belongs to Father, and it certainly doesn’t belong to John.”
“No,” said I, doubtfully.
“I won’t get any more; it’s dreadfully hard work,” said Harry, but as he shook the sack out and folded it up, he added (in rather a satisfied tone), “I’ve got a good deal.”
I helped him to wash himself for breakfast, and half-way through he suddenly smiled and said, “John Parkinson will be glad when he sees you-know-what, Mary, whatever the other John thinks of it.”
But Harry did not cut any more turfs without leave, for he told me that he had a horrid dream that night of waking up in prison with a warder looking at him through a hole in the door of his cell, and finding out that he was in penal servitude for stealing top-spit from the bottom of the paddock, and Father would not take him out of prison, and that Mother did not know about it.
However, he and Arthur made a lot of compost. They said we couldn’t possibly have a Paradise without it.
It made them very impatient. We always want the spring and summer and autumn and winter to get along faster than they do. But this year Arthur and Harry were very impatient with summer.
They were nearly caught one day by Father coming home just as they had got through the gates with Michael’s old sack full of road-scrapings, instead of sand (we have not any sand growing near us, and silver sand is rather dear), but we did get leaves together and stacked them to rot into leaf mould.
Leaf mould is splendid stuff, but it takes a long time for the leaves to get mouldy, and it takes a great many too. Arthur is rather impatient, and he used to say—“I never saw leaves stick on to branches in such a way. I mean to get into some of these old trees and give them a good shaking to remind them what time of year it is. If I don’t we shan’t have anything like enough leaves for our compost.”