The facts of the matter are simple enough in their way. Each of the ladies occupies a small house of her own, fully, and not semi-detached, with a small patch of green in front and a small garden at the back; but the combined needs of front and back are not considered sufficiently great to take up all the time of a gardener working six days in the week during the summer. There is enough work, however, to take up three days of the six, with window-cleaning thrown in, in slack seasons. As the conditions of labour are identical in the case of the gardens of both ladies—only Miss Mercer throws in the washing of her pug to balance Mrs. Lingard's window-cleaning—John Bingham, the jobbing gardener of Thurswell, suggested several years ago that he should divide his time between the two gardens, and this plan, to all appearances, worked very satisfactorily in regard to every one concerned.


Only John Bingham was aware of the trouble involved in keeping both gardens on precisely the same level of “getting on”—only John Bingham was aware of the difficulty of preventing either of the ladies from seeing that anything in the garden of the other was “getting on” better than the same thing in her own patch. It might have been fancied that as they were in complete agreement respecting the necessity for a strict censorship upon the visiting lists of the neighbourhood as regards strangers, there could not possibly exist any rivalry between them on so insignificant a matter as the growth of a petunia or the campanile of a campanula; but John Bingham knew better. It had been his task year by year to minimise to the one lady his success with the garden of the other—to say a word of disparagement on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays of all that he had been praising on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. But sometimes Nature is stronger even than her greatest enemy, a jobbing gardener, and so it was that when Mrs. Lingard chanced to pay a visit to Miss Mercer on a Thursday, she found the garden of the latter, just recovering from the hand of John Bingham's attention on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, obviously superior in some respects to her own, and John found his diplomatic resources quite unable to meet with the demand for an explanation when she got home. It was in vain that he tried to make her understand, what she certainly should have known already from her experience of the ministrations of John—namely, that not he, but the superior soil and aspect of Miss Mercer's herbaceous border, should be regarded accountable for the marvellous growths which had attracted her attention in the garden of her rival. His Thursday, Friday, and Saturday patron declared herself far from satisfied with such an explanation. Soil! Had she ever shown herself to be close-fisted in the matter of soil? she inquired. And as for aspect—had he not chosen the aspect of the herbaceous border at which he was now working? No, she knew very well, she affirmed, that what made a garden beautiful was loving care. She professed herself unable to understand why John should lavish all his affection upon Miss Mercer's border rather than upon her own; all that she could do was to judge by results, and, viewed from this basis, it could not but be apparent to every unprejudiced observer that he had been giving Miss Mercer's borders such loving touches as he had never bestowed upon her own: the flowers spoke for themselves.

John had heard of the Language of Flowers, but he had never mastered the elements of their speech. As a matter of fact, he took no interest in flowers or their habits. He had “dratted” them times without number for their failure to do all that the illustrated catalogues declared they would do, and now he found reason to drat those of Miss Mercer for having done much more than he had meant them to do. It was with a view to restore the balance of mediocrity between the gardens, which had been through no fault of his, disturbed by a sudden outbreak of “Blushing Brides” in Miss Mercer's parterre, that he gave some extra waterings to Mrs. Lingard's verbinas, trusting to convince her that he was a thoroughly disinterested operator in both the gardens—which was certainly a fact. But in that arid summer the response of the verbinas was but too rapid, and Miss Mercer, calling upon her friend (and rival), was shown the bed with the same pride that she had displayed when exhibiting her petunias.

She said nothing—the day was Saturday—but she perceived, with that unerring intuition which in some persons almost takes the place of genius, that petunias had been supplanted (literally) by verbinas in the affections of John Bingham.

She spent the Sunday rehearsing an interview which she had arranged in her mind to have with John Bingham when he should arrive the next day.

But Monday came, and John Bingham failed to arrive. She waited at the back entrance to the garden until ten o'clock, but still he did not appear. Then she sent a messenger to his cottage to inquire the cause of his absence. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were her days for his services, and never once had he failed her. She could not guess what was the matter. She had always regarded him as a sober man and one for whom Monday morning had no terrors. The mystery of his first failure was rendered all the more unfathomable when the tweeny maid returned saying that Mrs. Bingham had told her positive that John had gone out to work as usual that same morning, and that Mrs. Bingham had taken it for granted that he was in Miss Mercer's garden.

For a quarter of an hour Miss Mercer pondered over the whole incident, and then she suddenly put on another hat, discarding the garden specimen with which she had begun the day, and went down the road and round by the Moated Manor House to where Mrs. Lingard's villa was situated, just beyond the knoll of elms. The hall door was wide open to the morning air, and through the glass door at the farther end of the hall she distinctly saw Mrs. Lingard standing on the edge of one of the beds of the garden with John Bingham kneeling at her feet.

And this on a Monday morning!

John Bingham had actually attended morning ser-vice in the church the day before—Miss Mercer had seen him there—and yet on Monday he had broken faith with her, and now, at ten-thirty, he was engaged in planting out the contents of the capacious basket which Mrs. Lingard was doling out to him.

And Mrs. Lingard was wearing her garden hat just as if the day was Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, when she was entitled to his services.

And Mrs. Lingard had also been at church the previous day and had repeated the responses in her ordinary tone of voice, and without faltering, though beyond a doubt her heart had been full of this scheme of suborning a faithful, if somewhat weak, servant from his allegiance to the mistress who had an undisputed claim to his services the next day!

Without a moment's hesitation Miss Mercer passed into the hall, opened the glass door beyond, and stood beside the guilty pair before either of them was aware of her presence. She saw that the man was planting asters—the finest aster cuttings she had ever seen.

“John Bingham, are you aware that this is Monday morning?” she said in an accusing voice, and so suddenly that a cry of surprise—it may have been with guilt—came from Mrs. Lingard, and John Bingham let drop his trowel and wiped his forehead.

“Good gracious, Lucy! Where did you drop from without warning?” cried the lady in the garden hat.

“I am addressing John Bingham, madam,” said Miss Mercer in icy tones. “And once again I ask John Bingham what he means by being here when his place should be in my garden.”

“I can easily explain, my good woman,” said Mrs. Lingard, lapsing, under the “madam” of the other, into the tone of voice she had found effective with the native servants in the West Indian island of St. Lucia when her husband had been stationed there.

“I am not addressing you, madam,” said Miss Mercer hotly: her glacial period had passed and had given place to the volcanic—the suppressed volcanic. “I wish to be informed why this man—this traitor—this—this——”

“Don't be a greater fool than you are by nature, my good creature,” said Mrs. Lingard. “But I might have known that you could be disagreeable over even such a trifle as my sending to John Bingham to assist me for an hour in planting out the asters which were only delivered this morning when they should have been here on Saturday. If I had not begged him to come to my help for a couple of hours the lot would have been spoiled. In justice to him I will say that he was very unwilling to come.”

“And what does that mean, pray?” asked Miss Mercer sneeringly.

“It means that he knew you better than I did,” responded Mrs. Lingard. “He has had more experience of your narrow-mindedness than I have had. Now, go on with your work, John. Don't mind her.”

But John did not go on with his work. He touched his forehead with the drooping aster that he held rather limply, saying, in the direction of Miss Mercer—“I can easy make up the extra however, ma'am—mortal easy, in the evenin', and so I thought or I wouldn't be here now.”

“There, let that satisfy you, make your mind easy; you'll not be defrauded of the shilling for his two hours,” said Mrs. Lingard.

“You will be good enough to dictate to your inferiors, if such exist, madam; you need not dictate to me. You may keep your John Bingham now that you have him; I have made other arrangements for the future of my garden.”

She turned with a mock courtesy. Mrs. Lingard also turned.

“Lucy Mercer, go back to your—your—your hen-run,” she cried, pointing dramatically to the place of exit. “Go on with your work, John Bingham. Mrs. Hopewell will only be too glad to take on your Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. She has a garden—a garden.”

That is the true and circumstantial account of how Mrs. Lingard and Miss Mercer ceased to be on speaking terms, and that is how it is that many people are becoming more hopeful of the future of Thurswell as the centre of a social neighbourhood. Each lady still arrogates to herself the right of veto in respect of the claims of any strange family to be visited on taking up their residence within reasonable visiting distance of Thurswell; but the people who formerly had been ready to accept the dictum of the two in such social matters are now beginning not only to assert their own independence of action, but even to dictate to others on all points on which they themselves had been dictated to—in no mild way—by Mrs. Lingard and Miss Mercer. But a mistake that was recently made by one of these immature dictators has done much to chasten their longing to take up the responsibilities attached to such a position. She had spoken with that definiteness which marks the amateur on the subject of the visiting of a certain Mrs. Judson Hyphen Marks who had taken Higham Lodge for a year, and accordingly quite a number of people left cards upon her. But suddenly the name of Judson Hyphen Marks appeared rather prominently in the columns devoted to the Law Court proceedings in the daily papers, and some curious information respecting the ménage of the Judson Hyphen Marks was brought under the notice of the people of Thurswell and, indeed, of England generally; and those who had left cards upon them consulted together as to whether it was possible or not for them to ask for their cards to be returned to them.

The general opinion that prevailed after several long discussions on this question was that no social machinery existed by which so desirable an object might be effected, and no move was made in that direction; but ever afterward the dictation of the feeble amateur who thought to take the social reins out of the hands of Mrs. Lingard and Miss Mercer when it was found that they were pulling them in opposite directions, threatening to upset the social apple-cart, was received for what it was worth, not for what it claimed to be worth.

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