I believe I interrupted myself in the midst of a visit to one of the gardens of the “better-class people” who live in the purely residential end of the High Street. These are the people whose fathers and grandfathers lived in the same houses and took a prominent part in preparing the beacons which were to spread far and wide the news that Bonaparte had succeeded in landing on their coast with that marvellous flotilla of his. And from these very gardens more than two hundred and fifty years earlier the still greater grandfathers had seen the blazing beacons that sent the news flying northward that the Invincible Armada of Spain was plunging and rolling up the Channel, which can be faintly seen by the eye of faith from the tower of the Church of St. Mary sub-Castro, at the highest part of the High Street. The Invincible Armada! If I should ever organise an aggressive enterprise, I certainly would not call it “Invincible.” It is a name of ill omen. I cannot for the life of me remember where I read the story of the monarch who was reviewing the troops that he had equipped very splendidly to go against the Romans. When his thousand horsemen went glittering by with polished steel cuirasses and plumed helmets—they must have been the Household Cavalry of the period—his heart was lifted up in pride, and he called out tauntingly to his Grand Vizier, who was a bit of a cynic,—

“Ha, my friend, don't you think that these will be enough for the Romans?”

“Sure,” was the reply. “Oh, yes, they will be enough, avariciuus though the Romans undoubtedly are.”

This was the first of the Invincible enterprises. The next time I saw the word in history was in association with the Spanish Armada, and to-day, over a door in my house, I have hung the carved ebony ornament that belonged to a bedstead of one of the ships that went ashore at Spanish Point on the Irish coast. Later still, there was a gang of murderers who called themselves “Invincibles,” and I saw the lot of them crowded into a police-court dock whence they filed out to their doom. And what about the last of these ruffians that challenged Fate with that arrogant word? What of Hindenburg's Invincible Line that we heard so much about a few months ago? “Invincible!” cried the massacre-monger, and the word was repeated by the arch-liar of the mailed fist in half a dozen speeches. Within a few months the beaten mongrels were whimpering, not like hounds, but like hyenas out of whose teeth their prey is plucked. I dare say that Achilles, who made brag a speciality, talked through his helmet about that operation on the banks of the Styx, and actually believed himself to be invincible because invulnerable; but his mother, who had given him the bath that turned his head, would not have recognised him when Paris had done with him.


The funny part of the Hindenburg cult—I suppose it should be written “Kult”—was that there was no one to tell the Germans that they were doing the work of necromancy in hammering those nails into his wooden head. Everybody knows that the only really effective way of finishing off an enemy is to make a wooden effigy of him and hammer nails into it (every sensible person knows that as the nails are hammered home the original comes to grief). The feminine equivalent of this robust operation is equally effective, though the necromancers only recommended it for the use of schools. The effigy is made of wax, and you place it before a cheerful fire and stick pins into it. It has the advantage of being handy and economical, for there are few households that cannot produce an old doll of wax which would otherwise be thrown away and wasted.

But the Germans pride themselves on having got rid of their superstition, and when people have got rid of their superstition they have got rid of their sense of humour. If they had not been so hasty in naming their invincible lines after Wagner's, operas they would surely have remembered that with the Siegfried, the Parsifal, and the rest there was bound to be included Der Fliegende Hollander, the pet name of the German Cavalry: they were the first to fly when the operatic line was broken; and then—Gôtterdàmmerung Hellroter!

And why were the Bolsheviks so foolish as to forget that the Czar was “Nicky” to their paymaster, William, and that that name is the Greek for “Victory”?

Having destroyed Nicky, how could they look for anything but disaster?

The connection of these jottings with our gardens may not be apparent to every one who reads them. But though the sense of liberty is so great in our Garden of Peace that I do not hold myself bound down to any of the convenances of composition, and though I cultivate rather than uproot even the most flagrant forms of digression in this garden, yet it so happens that when I begin to write of the most distinguished of the gardens of Yardley Parva, I cannot avoid recalling that lovely Saturday when we were seated among its glorious roses, eating peaches that had just been plucked from the wall. We were a large and chatty company, and among the party that were playing clock golf on a part of a lovely lawn of the purest emerald, there did not seem to be one who had read the menace of the morning papers. Our host was a soldier, and his charming wife was the daughter of a distinguished Admiral. At the other side of the table where the dish of peaches stood there was another naval officer, and while we were swapping stories of the Cape, the butler was pointing us out to a telegraph messenger who had come through the French window. The boy made his way to us, taking the envelope from his belt. He looked from one of us to the other, saying the name of my vis-a-vis—“Commander A————?”

“I'm Commander A————” said he, taking the despatch envelope and tearing it open. He gave a whistle, reading his message, and rose.

“No reply,” he told the messenger, and then turned to me.

“Great King Jehoshaphat!” he said in a low tone. “There is to be no demobilisation of the Fleet, and all leave is stopped. I'm ordered to report. And you said just now that nothing was going to happen. Good-bye, old chap! I've got to catch the 6.20 for Devonport!”

We had been talking over the morning's news, and I had said that the Emperor was a master of bluff, not business.

“I'm off,” he said. “You needn't say anything that I've told you. After all, it may only be a precautionary measure.”

He went off; and I never saw him again.

The precautionary measure that saved England from the swoop that Germany hoped to bring off as successfully as Japan did hers at Port Arthur in 1904, was taken not by the First Lord of the Admiralty, but by Prince Louis of Battenberg, who was hounded out of the Service by the clamorous gossip of a few women who could find no other way of proving their power.

And the First Lord of the Admiralty let him go; while he himself returned to his “gambling”—he so designated the most important—the most disastrous—incident of his Administration—“a legitimate gamble.” A legitimate gamble that cost his country over fifty thousand lives!

Within a month of the holding of that garden party our host had marched away with his men, and within another month our dear hostess was a widow.

That garden, I think, has a note of distinction about it that is not shared by any other within the circle taken by the walls of the little town, several interesting fragments of which still remain. The house by which it was once surrounded before the desire for “short cuts” caused a road to be made through it, is by far the finest type of a minor Elizabethan mansion to be found in our neighbourhood. It is the sort of house that the house-agents might, with more accuracy than is displayed in many of their advertisements, describe as “a perfect gem.” It has been kept in good repair both as regards its stone walls and its roof of stone slabs during the three hundred—or most likely four hundred years of its existence, and it has not suffered from that form of destruction known as restoration. It had some narrow escapes in its time, however. An old builder who had been concerned in some of the repairs shook his head sadly when he assured me that a more pigheaded gentleman than the owner of the house at that time he had never known.

“He would have it done with the old material,” he explained sadly. “That's how it comes to be like what it is to-day.” And he nodded in the direction of the exquisitely-weathered old Caen blocks with the great bosses of house-leek covering the coping. “It was no use my telling him that I could run up a nine-inch brick wall with proper coping tiles that would have a new look for years if no creepers were allowed on it, for far less money; he would have the old stone, and those squared flints that you see there.”

“Some people are very obstinate, thank God!” said I.

“I could have made as good a job of it as I did of St. Anthony's Church—you know the new aisle in St. Anthony's, sir,” said he.

I certainly did know the new aisle in St. Anthony's; but I did not say that I did in the tone of voice in which I write. It is the most notorious example of what enormities could be perpetrated in the devastating fifties and sixties, when a parson and his churchwardens could do anything they pleased to their churches.

In a very different spirit was the Barbican of the old Castle of Yardley repaired under the care of a reverential, but not Reverend, director. Every stone was numbered and put back into its place when the walls were made secure.

The gardens and orchards and lawns behind the walls which were reconstructed by the owner whose obstinacy the builder was lamenting, must extend over three or four acres. Such a space allows for a deep enough fringe of noble trees, giving more than a suggestion of a park-land which had once had several vistas after the most approved eighteenth century type, but which have not been maintained by some nineteenth century owners who were fearful of being accused of tolerating anything so artificial as design in their gardens. But the “shrubberies” have been allowed to remain pretty much as they were planted, with magnificent masses of pink may and innumerable lilacs. The rose-gardens and the mixed borders are chromatic records of the varying tastes of generations.

What made the strongest appeal to me when I was wandering through the grounds a year or two before that fatal August afternoon was the beauty of the anchusas. I thought that I had never seen finer specimens or a more profuse variety of their blues. One might have been looking down into the indigo of the water under the cliffs of Capri in one place, and into the delicate ultramarine spaces of the early morning among the islands of the Ægean in another.

I congratulated one of the gardeners upon his anchusas, and he smiled in an eminently questionable way.

“Maybe I'm wrong in talking to you about them,”

I said, looking for an explanation of his smile. “Perhaps it is not you who are responsible for this bit.”

“It's not that, sir,” he said, still smiling. “I'm ready to take all the responsibility. You see, sir, I was brought up among anchusas: I was one of the gardeners at Dropmore.”

I laughed.

“If I want to know anything about growing anchusas I'll know where to come for information,” I said.

The great charm about these gardens, as well as those of the Crusaders' planting now enjoyed by the people of the High Street, is that among the mystery of their shady places one would not be surprised or alarmed to come suddenly upon a nymph or a satyr, or even old Pan himself. It does not require one to be

“A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,”

to have such an impression conveyed to one, any more than it is necessary for one to be given over exclusively to a diet of nuts and eggs to enjoy, as I hope we all do, a swing on a bough, or, as we grow old, alas! on one of those patent swings made in Paris, U.S.A., where one gets all the exuberance of the oscillation without the exertion. Good old Pan is not dead yet, however insistently the poet may announce his decease. He will be the last of all the gods to go. We have no particular use for Jove, except as the mildest form of a swear word, nor for Neptune, unless we are designing a fountain or need to borrow an emblem of the Freedom of the Seas—we can even carry on a placid existence though Mercury has fallen so low as to be opposite “rain and stormy” on the barometric scale, but we cannot do without our Pan—the jolly, wicked old fellow whom we were obliged to incorporate in our new theological system under the name of Diabolus. It was he, and not the much-vaunted Terpsichore, who taught the infant world to dance, to gambol, and to riot in the woodland. He is the patron of the forest lovers still, as he was when he first appeared in the shape of an antelope skipping from rock to rock while our arboreal ancestors applauded from their boughs and were tempted to give over their ridiculous swinging by their hands and tails and emulate him on our common mother Earth.

Is there any one of us to-day, I wonder, who has not felt as Wordsworth did, that the world of men and cities is too much with us, and that the shady arbours hold something that we need and that we cannot find otherwhere? The claims of the mysterious brotherhood assert themselves daily when we return to our haunts of a hundred thousand years ago: we can still enjoy a dance on a woodland clearing, and a plunge into the sparkling lake by which we dwelt for many thousand years before some wretch found that the earth could be built up into caves instead of dug into for domestic shelter.

Let any one glance over the illustrated advertisements in Country Life and see how frequently the “old world gardens” are set forth as an irresistible attraction of “a desirable residence.” The artful advertisers know that the appeal of the old world is still all-powerful, especially with those who have been born in a city and have lived in a city for years. Around Yardley there has sprung up quite recently a colony of red-brick and, happily, red-roofed villas. Nearly all have been admirably constructed, and with an appreciation of the modern requirements in which comfort and economy are combined. They have all gardens, and no two are alike in every particular; but all are trim and easily looked after. They produce an abundance of flowers, and they are embowered in flowering shrubs, every one of which seems to me to be a specimen. More cheerful living-places could not be imagined; but it is not in these gardens that you need look for the cloven vestiges of a faun or the down brushed from the butterfly wings of a fairy. Nobody wants them there, and there is no chance of any of these wary folk coming where they are not wanted. If old Pan were to climb over one of these walls and his footprints were discovered in the calceolaria bed, the master of the house would put the matter in the hands of the local police, or write a letter signed “Ratepayer” to the local Chronicle, inquiring how long were highly-taxed residents to be subjected to such incursions, and blaming the “authorities” for their laxity.

But there is, I repeat, no chance of the slumbers of any of the ratepayers being disturbed by a blurred vision of Proteus rising from the galvanised cistern, or by the blast of Triton's wreathed horn. They will not be made to feel less forlorn by a glimpse of the former, and they would assuredly mistake the latter for the hooter of Simpson's saw-mill.

“The authorities” look too well after the villas, and the very suggestion of “authorities” would send Proteus and Triton down to the deepest depths they had ever sounded. They only come where they are wanted and waited for. It takes at least four generations of a garden's growth to allow of the twisted boughs of the oak or the chestnut turning into the horns of a satyr, or of the gnarled roots becoming his dancing shanks.

It was one of the most intelligent of the ratepayers of these bright and well-kept “residences” who took me to task for a very foolish statement he had found in a novel of mine (6d. edition) which he said he had glanced at for a few minutes while he was waiting for a train. I had been thoughtless enough to make one of the personages, an enterprising stockbroker, advocate the promotion of a company for the salvage of the diamonds which he had been told Queen Guinevere flung into the river before the appearance of the barge with the lily maid of Astolat drifting to the landing-place below the terrace.

“But you know they were not real diamonds—only the diamonds of the poet's imagination,” he said.

“I do believe you are right,” said I, when I saw that he was in earnest. And then the mongoose story came to my mind. “They were not real diamonds,” I said. “But then the man wasn't a real company promoter.”

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