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    Ch. 5 - An Old Scotch Gardener

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    Chapter 6
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    I THINK I might almost have said the last: somewhere, indeed, in
    the uttermost glens of the Lammermuir or among the southwestern
    hills there may yet linger a decrepid representative of this bygone
    good fellowship; but as far as actual experience goes, I have only
    met one man in my life who might fitly be quoted in the same breath
    with Andrew Fairservice, - though without his vices. He was a man
    whose very presence could impart a savour of quaint antiquity to
    the baldest and most modern flower-plots. There was a dignity
    about his tall stooping form, and an earnestness in his wrinkled
    face that recalled Don Quixote; but a Don Quixote who had come
    through the training of the Covenant, and been nourished in his
    youth on WALKER'S LIVES and THE HIND LET LOOSE.

    Now, as I could not bear to let such a man pass away with no sketch
    preserved of his old-fashioned virtues, I hope the reader will take
    this as an excuse for the present paper, and judge as kindly as he
    can the infirmities of my description. To me, who find it so
    difficult to tell the little that I know, he stands essentially as
    a GENIUS LOCI. It is impossible to separate his spare form and old
    straw hat from the garden in the lap of the hill, with its rocks
    overgrown with clematis, its shadowy walks, and the splendid
    breadth of champaign that one saw from the north-west corner. The
    garden and gardener seem part and parcel of each other. When I
    take him from his right surroundings and try to make him appear for
    me on paper, he looks unreal and phantasmal: the best that I can
    say may convey some notion to those that never saw him, but to me
    it will be ever impotent.

    The first time that I saw him, I fancy Robert was pretty old
    already: he had certainly begun to use his years as a stalking
    horse. Latterly he was beyond all the impudencies of logic,
    considering a reference to the parish register worth all the
    reasons in the world, "I AM OLD AND WELL STRICKEN IN YEARS," he was
    wont to say; and I never found any one bold enough to answer the
    argument. Apart from this vantage that he kept over all who were
    not yet octogenarian, he had some other drawbacks as a gardener.
    He shrank the very place he cultivated. The dignity and reduced
    gentility of his appearance made the small garden cut a sorry
    figure. He was full of tales of greater situations in his younger
    days. He spoke of castles and parks with a humbling familiarity.
    He told of places where under-gardeners had trembled at his looks,
    where there were meres and swanneries, labyrinths of walk and
    wildernesses of sad shrubbery in his control, till you could not
    help feeling that it was condescension on his part to dress your
    humbler garden plots. You were thrown at once into an invidious
    position. You felt that you were profiting by the needs of
    dignity, and that his poverty and not his will consented to your
    vulgar rule. Involuntarily you compared yourself with the
    swineherd that made Alfred watch his cakes, or some bloated citizen
    who may have given his sons and his condescension to the fallen
    Dionysius. Nor were the disagreeables purely fanciful and
    metaphysical, for the sway that he exercised over your feelings he
    extended to your garden, and, through the garden, to your diet. He
    would trim a hedge, throw away a favourite plant, or fill the most
    favoured and fertile section of the garden with a vegetable that
    none of us could eat, in supreme contempt for our opinion. If you
    asked him to send you in one of your own artichokes, "THAT I WULL,
    MEM," he would say, "WITH PLEASURE, FOR IT IS MAIR BLESSED TO GIVE
    THAN TO RECEIVE." Ay, and even when, by extra twisting of the
    screw, we prevailed on him to prefer our commands to his own
    inclination, and he went away, stately and sad, professing that
    "OUR WULL WAS HIS PLEASURE," but yet reminding us that he would do
    it "WITH FEELIN'S," - even then, I say, the triumphant master felt
    humbled in his triumph, felt that he ruled on sufferance only, that
    he was taking a mean advantage of the other's low estate, and that
    the whole scene had been one of those "slights that patient merit
    of the unworthy takes."

    In flowers his taste was old-fashioned and catholic; affecting
    sunflowers and dahlias, wallflowers and roses and holding in
    supreme aversion whatsoever was fantastic, new-fashioned or wild.
    There was one exception to this sweeping ban. Foxgloves, though
    undoubtedly guilty on the last count, he not only spared, but
    loved; and when the shrubbery was being thinned, he stayed his hand
    and dexterously manipulated his bill in order to save every stately
    stem. In boyhood, as he told me once, speaking in that tone that
    only actors and the old-fashioned common folk can use nowadays, his
    heart grew "PROUD" within him when he came on a burn-course among
    the braes of Manor that shone purple with their graceful trophies;
    and not all his apprenticeship and practice for so many years of
    precise gardening had banished these boyish recollections from his
    heart. Indeed, he was a man keenly alive to the beauty of all that
    was bygone. He abounded in old stories of his boyhood, and kept
    pious account of all his former pleasures; and when he went (on a
    holiday) to visit one of the fabled great places of the earth where
    he had served before, he came back full of little pre-Raphaelite
    reminiscences that showed real passion for the past, such as might
    have shaken hands with Hazlitt or Jean-Jacques.

    But however his sympathy with his old feelings might affect his
    liking for the foxgloves, the very truth was that he scorned all
    flowers together. They were but garnishings, childish toys,
    trifling ornaments for ladies' chimney-shelves. It was towards his
    cauliflowers and peas and cabbage that his heart grew warm. His
    preference for the more useful growths was such that cabbages were
    found invading the flower-pots, and an outpost of savoys was once
    discovered in the centre of the lawn. He would prelect over some
    thriving plant with wonderful enthusiasm, piling reminiscence on
    reminiscence of former and perhaps yet finer specimens. Yet even
    then he did not let the credit leave himself. He had, indeed,
    raised "FINER O' THEM;" but it seemed that no one else had been
    favoured with a like success. All other gardeners, in fact, were
    mere foils to his own superior attainments; and he would recount,
    with perfect soberness of voice and visage, how so and so had
    wondered, and such another could scarcely give credit to his eyes.
    Nor was it with his rivals only that he parted praise and blame.
    If you remarked how well a plant was looking, he would gravely
    touch his hat and thank you with solemn unction; all credit in the
    matter falling to him. If, on the other hand, you called his
    attention to some back-going vegetable, he would quote Scripture:
    "PAUL MAY PLANT AND APOLLOS MAY WATER;" all blame being left to
    Providence, on the score of deficient rain or untimely frosts.

    There was one thing in the garden that shared his preference with
    his favourite cabbages and rhubarb, and that other was the beehive.
    Their sound, their industry, perhaps their sweet product also, had
    taken hold of his imagination and heart, whether by way of memory
    or no I cannot say, although perhaps the bees too were linked to
    him by some recollection of Manor braes and his country childhood.
    Nevertheless, he was too chary of his personal safety or (let me
    rather say) his personal dignity to mingle in any active office
    towards them. But he could stand by while one of the contemned
    rivals did the work for him, and protest that it was quite safe in
    spite of his own considerate distance and the cries of the
    distressed assistant. In regard to bees, he was rather a man of
    word than deed, and some of his most striking sentences had the
    bees for text. "THEY ARE INDEED WONDERFUL CREATURES, MEM," he said
    once. "THEY JUST MIND ME O' WHAT THE QUEEN OF SHEBA SAID TO
    SOLOMON - AND I THINK SHE SAID IT WI' A SIGH, - 'THE HALF OF IT
    HATH NOT BEEN TOLD UNTO ME.'"

    As far as the Bible goes, he was deeply read. Like the old
    Covenanters, of whom he was the worthy representative, his mouth
    was full of sacred quotations; it was the book that he had studied
    most and thought upon most deeply. To many people in his station
    the Bible, and perhaps Burns, are the only books of any vital
    literary merit that they read, feeding themselves, for the rest, on
    the draff of country newspapers, and the very instructive but not
    very palatable pabulum of some cheap educational series. This was
    Robert's position. All day long he had dreamed of the Hebrew
    stories, and his head had been full of Hebrew poetry and Gospel
    ethics; until they had struck deep root into his heart, and the
    very expressions had become a part of him; so that he rarely spoke
    without some antique idiom or Scripture mannerism that gave a
    raciness to the merest trivialities of talk. But the influence of
    the Bible did not stop here. There was more in Robert than quaint
    phrase and ready store of reference. He was imbued with a spirit
    of peace and love: he interposed between man and wife: he threw
    himself between the angry, touching his hat the while with all the
    ceremony of an usher: he protected the birds from everybody but
    himself, seeing, I suppose, a great difference between official
    execution and wanton sport. His mistress telling him one day to
    put some ferns into his master's particular corner, and adding,
    "Though, indeed, Robert, he doesn't deserve them, for he wouldn't
    help me to gather them," "EH, MEM," replies Robert, "BUT I WOULDNAE
    SAY THAT, FOR I THINK HE'S JUST A MOST DESERVIN' GENTLEMAN."
    Again, two of our friends, who were on intimate terms, and
    accustomed to use language to each other, somewhat without the
    bounds of the parliamentary, happened to differ about the position
    of a seat in the garden. The discussion, as was usual when these
    two were at it, soon waxed tolerably insulting on both sides.
    Every one accustomed to such controversies several times a day was
    quietly enjoying this prize-fight of somewhat abusive wit - every
    one but Robert, to whom the perfect good faith of the whole quarrel
    seemed unquestionable, and who, after having waited till his
    conscience would suffer him to wait no more, and till he expected
    every moment that the disputants would fall to blows, cut suddenly
    in with tones of almost tearful entreaty: "EH, BUT, GENTLEMEN, I
    WAD HAE NAE MAIR WORDS ABOUT IT!" One thing was noticeable about
    Robert's religion: it was neither dogmatic nor sectarian. He never
    expatiated (at least, in my hearing) on the doctrines of his creed,
    and he never condemned anybody else. I have no doubt that he held
    all Roman Catholics, Atheists, and Mahometans as considerably out
    of it; I don't believe he had any sympathy for Prelacy; and the
    natural feelings of man must have made him a little sore about
    Free-Churchism; but at least, he never talked about these views,
    never grew controversially noisy, and never openly aspersed the
    belief or practice of anybody. Now all this is not generally
    characteristic of Scotch piety; Scotch sects being churches
    militant with a vengeance, and Scotch believers perpetual crusaders
    the one against the other, and missionaries the one to the other.
    Perhaps Robert's originally tender heart was what made the
    difference; or, perhaps, his solitary and pleasant labour among
    fruits and flowers had taught him a more sunshiny creed than those
    whose work is among the tares of fallen humanity; and the soft
    influences of the garden had entered deep into his spirit,

    "Annihilating all that's made
    To a green thought in a green shade."

    But I could go on for ever chronicling his golden sayings or
    telling of his innocent and living piety. I had meant to tell of
    his cottage, with the German pipe hung reverently above the fire,
    and the shell box that he had made for his son, and of which he
    would say pathetically: "HE WAS REAL PLEASED WI' IT AT FIRST, BUT
    I THINK HE'S GOT A KIND O' TIRED O' IT NOW" - the son being then a
    man of about forty. But I will let all these pass. "'Tis more
    significant: he's dead." The earth, that he had digged so much in
    his life, was dug out by another for himself; and the flowers that
    he had tended drew their life still from him, but in a new and
    nearer way. A bird flew about the open grave, as if it too wished
    to honour the obsequies of one who had so often quoted Scripture in
    favour of its kind. "Are not two sparrows sold for one farthing,
    and yet not one of them falleth to the ground."

    Yes, he is dead. But the kings did not rise in the place of death
    to greet him "with taunting proverbs" as they rose to greet the
    haughty Babylonian; for in his life he was lowly, and a peacemaker
    and a servant of God.
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