The Strand Magazine/Volume 4/Issue 19/A Garden of Roses

A Garden of Roses.

By Harry How.

I T was a settled thing in the minds of the villagers of Bracebridge that old Holloway was "all alone in the world." None came to visit him, and during the two years he had lived at Bracebridge he had never been absent from home for a day. His declining years—for he was well past the sixties—denied him recreation, though on wet days he would occasionally put his mackintosh over his shoulders and perch himself beside the pool—for which Bracebridge was famous—and patiently watch the float for hours at a time. It is probable, however, that had it been sunshine every day of the year the fish would have been minus one enemy. For the sunshine brought the children out to play, the sunshine allowed him to walk in the paths of his garden and watch the growth of his roses. On wet days he had neither children nor flowers, so he went to the fish for consolation.

"He would watch the float for hours."

Old Holloway had two sources of happiness. His tiny cottage was known as "Rose Glen." If you ever went to Bracebridge you would never dream of going away without looking over the wicket gate and inhaling the sweet perfume of the old man's roses. They lined the gravel pathway, for all the world like floral sentries, as their owner passed between them to the porch. Rose-trees were everywhere, and every single blossom was as familiar to him as the seals on his watch chain, and he patiently followed the progress of each petal and the unfolding of every bud with as much pride and care as he would that of the growth of his own child. Yes, the flowers brought old Holloway happiness.

But he loved the children more. He once said that, when their tiny faces were looking up at him and smiling, they, too, were flowers. Every child in Bracebridge knew old Holloway. They called him grandfather. You never met him in the lanes without a child hanging to his hand or his coat-tails. Why, the dear old fellow would make a point of passing by the school just when the children were coming out. Then he would let them play on the grass of his garden. Let them? Nay, he would play with them, and his laughter seemed as free as theirs, his shouts of merriment as joyously innocent. Then when the sun began to edge the hills with gold and crimson, he would merrily drive them out of his floral domains, and watch them wave their hands as they turned the pathway at the top of the hill which led to the village. As he retraced his steps to the porch he would sometimes stand beside a tree of roses great crimson blossoms—more beautiful than all the others. Their colour was richer than the sweetest of the blossoms on the neighbouring bushes, their perfume more fragrant. It grew apart from them, too, on the lawn. He would look at the name on the wooden tablet and read the simple word, "Marion." That was the name he had given to his favourite tree—"Marion"; and murmuring the word he would enter the house very quietly.

One evening the children had all gone—he had bid them "good-bye" as usual. He turned to enter the house. A whole week had passed since he had examined his favourite rose-tree. Crossing the grassy lawn he came to "the Marion." One of the great blossoms was drooping, but just from the same green stalk a fresh bud was shooting forth. The old man took out his knife and cut off the faded flower. He looked at the bud thoughtfully. He seemed to read a story amongst the roses—a story that went to his heart. He looked again at the dead blossom in his hand. Then his eye wandered towards the bud. He burst into tears, and quickly turned away.

"My daughter, my darling Marion! I was cruel to send you away, very cruel. A father's love for you made me think it impossible for even a husband to love you as I did. Shall I ever see you again, or shall I see you dead—dead as this once beautiful blossom, which can never again help to sweeten my days and brighten an old man's life? Oh, come back to life again, and bring your little one with you. Come—come—come!"

He entered the house weeping.

"A woman sat on a grassy mound."

It was the morning of the next day, and the children were on their way to school. They always passed "Rose Glen," and old Holloway would invariably be at the gate. But this morning the children seemed more excited than usual; something had evidently happened, or was about to happen, which made their little hearts beat faster than ever. They had started earlier than was their wont, for somehow they had got to know that it was "Grandfather's" birthday, and each wanted to be there first. On, on they went, laughing, shouting, and clapping their hands in delight. What was there to stop the happy ripple of their little tongues? It would seem—nothing. They were children—little children—and were as free as the birds which were singing in the trees and on the hedgerows about them. But, as they turned the road at the top of the hill which led down to the home of the roses, their laughter became silent, and their lips ceased to move. They gathered together in a bunch, not in affright, but more in childish sympathy at the sight before them. A woman sat on a grassy mound. Her face was pale, her cheeks pinched, her eyes looked as though they had shed many tears; but yet how pretty she was! She was dressed all in black—there was crape on her cloak and bonnet. She held something muffled up in her arms. The children looked, and guessed it was a baby. The woman smiled, and seemed to invite them to come nearer. Then one of the children gave the woman some flowers, and a flush of happiness came into her poor wan face.

"Would you like to see my little boy?" she asked. And all the children gathered round whilst the mother drew aside the scarf from round her baby's neck, so that they might see it the better. It, too, had tiny black bows on its little hat.

"Oh, how grandfather would love to see him!" cried one of the children.

"May we take him to grandfather? It's his birthday today. It would make him so happy."

"And who is grandfather?" she asked.

"You don't live here, do you?" questioned one of the youngsters.

"No," the woman answered. "I am quite a stranger here. But why do you ask?"

"Because you don't know grandfather," came the logical reply,

"Well, tell me who he is."

Then one of the children took the woman by the hand, and led her to the corner from whence the hill started towards the spot where the roses grew. The cottage was pointed out to her.

"That's Rose Glen."

"That's Rose Glen," the child said.

"Yes, I can smell the roses here. Oh, how sweet!" the woman murmured, looking at the cottage.

"That's where he lives," the little one went on.

"Yes," said a child than the others, "Mr. Holloway—"

The woman wild gave a scream, which almost made the children run from her in dismay. She had nearly fallen to the ground. But she was herself in a moment.

"Oh! my my children, children," she cried pitifully, "don't turn from me—don't be frightened—don't be afraid of me! I love you every one. Come nearer to me. Oh! come nearer to me. That's right. I love you every one. I know—I know it is his birthday today. And would he—would he love to see my little one, would it make him happy? Do you think he would kiss it just as he does you, and give it a smile the same as he gives you? Would he take it in his arms like the tiniest of you?"

She had won the sympathy of the children about her, and they all cried out, "Yes, yes, let us take it to him."

A wild gladness overspread her face. Her lips quivered, her eyes sparkled. Some sudden resolve had come to her. She drew her hand nervously across her eyes; then, turning to the little ones about her quickly, she asked—

"And if I let you take my child, to him—what will you do?"

They were quiet for a moment. Then the elder child, who had spoken before, said:

"I will carry him ever so careful. You can come too."

"I can come, too," she murmured; "I can come, too!"

Silently she placed her baby in the little girl's arms. The children trooped down the hill towards the house, the woman following them with hesitating steps. The children had reached the cottage gate, and the woman stayed without, looking through the hedgerow, and watching her little one with anxious care. One of the children, carrying the baby in her arms, crossed the lawn towards old Holloway's favourite rose-tree, "Marion." There was just room for the child to stand beneath the great covering of green leaves and flowers. Then the other children ran to the porch. They cried out, "Grandfather! grandfather! Many happy returns of the day! many happy returns of the day!"

The old man heard their voices and came to the door. How those children danced and shouted! They got hold of both of his hands and his coat, and, with merry laughter, pulled him across the lawn to his favourite tree. Then every little tongue became still, as though waiting for him to speak. He looked at the picture before him. There, beneath the cover of blossoms, stood a little girl, looking up at him with a face lit up with smiles. She held out to him a baby. Scarcely knowing what he did he took the child from her arms into his own, and covered its tiny face with kisses. He looked round about him, not knowing what to do or whither to turn, but his lips were muttering one name. Again the children took hold of him and pulled him along the path towards the wicket gate. They opened it, and the woman was still standing there, her pale face now flushed, her once dim eyes brighter still.

"Marion! Marion!" the old man cried. She fell on his shoulder, with her arms about his neck. Just then the school bell rang out, and away the children ran up the hill, their voices shouting all the way, "Many happy returns of the day, grandfather! many happy returns of the day!"

The old man, caressing the child as he carried it close to his breast, with his daughter's arms still clinging to his neck, walked up the pathway. The bud on the rose-tree seemed to peep out from all the other crimson blossoms. They entered the house together.