Frank Frankfort Moore.

A garden of peace, a medley in quietude online

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Two hundred years is not a -long time to look back
upon in the history of Yardley Parva: but it must
have been about two hundred years ago that there
were in the High Street some houses of distinction.
They belonged to noblemen who had also mansions
in the county, but who were too sociable and not
sufficiently fond of books to be resigned to such iso-
lation from their order as a mansion residence made
compulsory. In the little town they were in touch
with society of a sort: they could have their whist or
piquet or faro with their own set every afternoon,
and compare their thirsts at dinner later in the day.

One of these modest residences of a ducal family
faces the street to-day, after suffering many vicissi-
tudes, but with the character of its faade unimpaired.
The spacious ground-floor has been turned into shops
it would be more correct to say that the shops had
been turned into the ground-floor, for structurally
there has been no drastic removal of walls or beams.
It has not been subjected to any violent evisceration,
only to a minor gastric operation say for appendi-
citis. On the upper floors the beautiful proportions
of the rooms remain uninjured, and the mantelpieces
and the cornices have also been preserved.



The back of this house gives on to a part of the
dry moat from which the screen-wall of our Castle
rises, for Yardley had once a Castle of its own, and
picturesque remnants of the Keep, the great gate-
way, and the walls remain with us. Forty feet from
the bed of the moat on this side the walls rise, and
the moat must have been the site of the gardens of
the ducal house, curving to right and left for a couple
of hundred yards, and his lordship saw his chance for
indulging in one of the most transfiguring fads of
his day by making two high and broad terraces against
the walls, thereby creating an imposing range of those
hanging gardens that we hear so much of in old gar-
dening books. The Oriental tradition of hanging
gardens may have been brought to Europe with one
of those wares of Orientalism that were the result of
the later crusades; for assuredly at one time the re-
ported splendours of Babylon, Nineveh, and Eck-
batana in this direction were emulated by the great
in many places of the West, where the need for the
protection of the great Norman castles was begin-
ning to wane, and the high, bare walls springing from
the fosses, dry and flooded, looked gaunt and grim
just where people wanted a more genial outlook.

Powis Castle is the best example I can think of in
this connection. No one who has seen the hanging
gardens of these old walls can fail to appreciate how
splendidly effective must have been the appearance
of the terraces of Yardley when viewed from the moat
below. But in the course of time, as the roads im-
proved, making locomotion easier, the ducal mansion


was abandoned in favour of another some miles nearer
the coast, and the note of exclusiveness being gone
from the shadow of the Castle walls, the terraces
ceased to be cultivated ; the moat being on a level with
the High Street, it became attractive as a site of every-
day houses, until in the course of time there sprang
up a row, and then a public-house or two, and cor-
porate offices and law-courts that only required a
hanging garden at assize times, when smugglers and
highwaymen were found guilty of crimes that made
such a place desirable all these backed themselves
into the moat until it had to be recognised as a public
lane though a cul-de-sac as it is to-day. At the foot
of the once beautiful terraces outhouses and stables
were built as they were needed, with the happiest
irregularity, but joined by a flint wall over which
the straggling survivors of the trees and fruits of the
days gone by hang skeleton branches. One doorway
between two of the stables opens upon a fine stair-
way made of solid blocks of Portland stone, leading
into a gap in the screen-wall of the Castle, the ter-
race being to right and left, and giving access to the
grounds beyond, the appreciative possessor of which
writes these lines. Sic transit gloria. Another stone
stairway serves the same purpose at a different place ;
but all the other ascents are of brick and probably
only date back to the eighteenth century. They lead
to some elevated but depressing chicken-runs.

I called the attention of our chief local antiquarian
to the succession of broad terraces and suggested their
decorative origin. He shook his head and assured


me that they were ages older than the ducal residence
in the High Street. They belonged to the Norman
period and were coeval with the Castle walls. When
I told him that I was at a loss to know why the Nor-
man builder should first raise a screen-wall forty feet
up from a moat, to make it difficult for an enemy to
scale, and then go to an amazing amount of trouble
to make it easily accessible to quite a large attacking
force by a long range of terraces, he smiled the smile
of the local antiquarian a kindly toleration of the
absurdities of the tyro saying,

"My dear sir, they would not mind such an attack.
They could always repel it by throwing stones down
from the top it's ten feet thick there yes, heavy
stones, and melted lead, and boiling water."

I did not want to throw cold water upon his re-
searches as to the defence of a mediaeval stronghold,
so I thanked him for his information. He disclaimed
all pretensions to exclusive knowledge, and said that
he would be happy to tell me anything else that I
wanted to learn about such things.

I could not resist expressing my fear to him, as we
were parting, that the Water Company would not
sanction the domestic supply from the kitchen boiler
being used outside the house for defensive purposes;
but he stilled my doubts by an assurance that in those
days there was no Water Company. This was well
enough so far as it went, but when I asked where the
Castle folk got their water if there was no Company
to supply it, he was slightly staggered, I could see;
but, recovering himself, he said there would certainly


have been a Sussex dew-pond within the precincts,
and, as every one knew, this was never known to dry


I did not say that in this respect they had something
in common with local antiquarians; but asked him if
it was true that swallows spent the winter in the mud
at the bottom of these ponds. He told me gravely
that he doubted if this could be; for there was not
enough mud in even the largest dew-pond to accom-
modate all the swallows. So I saw that he was as
sound a naturalist as he was an antiquarian.

By the way, I wonder how White of Selborne got
that idea about the swallows hibernating in the mud
at the bottom of ponds. When so keen a naturalist
as White could believe that, one feels tempted to ask
what is truth, and if it really is to be found, as the
swallows are not, at the bottom of a well. One could
understand Dr. Johnson's crediting the swallow the-
ory, and discrediting the story of the great earth-
quake at Lisbon, for he had his own lines of credence
and incredulity, and he was what somebody called " a
harbitrary gent " ; but for White to have accepted and
promulgated such an absurdity is indeed an amazing

But, for that matter, who, until trustworthy evi-
dence was forthcoming a few months ago, ever
fancied that English swallows went as far south as
the Cape of Good Hope? This is now, however, an
established fact; but I doubt if White of Selborne
would have accepted it, no matter what evidence was
claimed for its accuracy. Several times when aboard


ship off the Cape I have made pets of swallows that
came to us and remained in the chief saloon so long
as there was a fly to be found ; and once in the month
of October, on the island of St. Helena, I watched
the sudden appearance of a number of the same birds ;
but it was never suggested that they had come from
England. I think I have seen them at Madeira in
the month of January, but I am not quite certain
about my dates in regard to this island; but I know
that when riding through Baines' Kloof in South
Africa, quite early in January, swallows were flying
about me in scores.

What a pity it seems that people with a reputation
for wisdom were for so long content to think of the
swallows only as the messengers of a love poem: the
" swallow sister oh, fleet, sweet swallow," or the
" swallow, swallow, flying, flying south " instead of
piling up data respecting the wonder of their ways!
The same may be said of the nightingale, and may
the Lord have mercy on the souls of those who say it !

Are we to be told to be ready to exchange Itylus
for a celluloid tab with a date on it? or Keats's Ode
for a corrected notation of the nightingale's trills?
At the same time might not a poet now and again
take to heart the final lines the summing up of the
next most beautiful Ode in the language

" Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty "?

Every fact in Nature seems to me to lead in the
direction of poetry, and to increase the wonder of
that of which man is but an insignificant part. We


are only beginning to know a little about the part
we were designed to play in Nature, but the more we
know the more surprised, and, indeed, alarmed, we
must be when by a revelation its exact position is
made known to us. We have not yet learned to live.
We have been fools enough to cultivate the forgetting
of how to do things that we were able to do thou-
sands of years ago. The half of our senses have been
atrophied. It is many years since we first began to
take leave of our senses and we have been at it ever
since. It is about time that we started recognising
that an acquaintance with the facts of Nature is the
beginning of wisdom. We crystallised our ignorance
in phrases that have been passed on from father to
son, and quoted at every opportunity. We refer to
people being " blind as a bat," and to others being
as " bold as a lion," or " harmless as a dove." Did
it never strike the inventor of any of these similes
that it would be well before scattering them abroad
to find out if they were founded on fact? The eye-
sight of the bat is a miracle. How such a creature
can get a living for the whole year during the sum-
mer months is amazing. The lion is a cowardly brute
that runs away yelling at the sight of a rhinoceros
and submits without complaint to the insults of the
elephant. A troop of doves will do more harm to
a wheat-field in an hour than does a thunderstorm.

And the curious thing is that in those quarters
where one would expect to find wisdom respecting
such incidents of Nature one finds foolishness. Ten
centuries of gamekeepers advertise their ignorance in


documentary evidence nailed to the barn doors; they
have been slaughtering their best friends all these
years and they continue doing so.

After formulating this indictment I opened my
Country Life, and found in its pages a confirmation
of my evidence by my friend F. C. G., who is prov-
ing himself in his maturity as accomplished a Natur-
alist as, in his adolescence, he was a caricaturist in the
Westminster Gazette. These are his lines :


Two stoats, a weasel, and a jay,

In varied stages of decay,

Are hanging on the gibbet-tree

For all the woodland folk to see,

And tattered rags swing to and fro

Remains of what was once a crow.

What were their crimes that when they died

The Earth was not allowed to hide

Their mangled corpses out of sight,

Instead of dangling in the light?

They didn't sin against the Law

Of " Nature red in tooth and claw,"

But 'gainst the edicts of the keeper

Who plays the part of Death the Reaper,

And doth with deadly gun determine

What creatures shall be classed as vermin.

Whether we gibbets find, or grace,

Depends on accident of place,

For what is vice in Turkestan

May be a virtue in Japan.

F. C. G.


And what about gardeners? Why, quite recently
I was solemnly assured by one of the profession that
I should " kill without mercy " those were his words
every frog or toad I found in a greenhouse !

But for that matter, don't we remember the harsh
decrees of our pastors and masters when as children
we yielded to an instinct that had not yet been atro-
phied, and slaughtered all the flies that approached us.
I remember that, after a perceptor's reasoning with
me through the medium of a superannuated razor-
strop, I was told that to kill a bluebottle was a sin.
Now science has come to the rescue of the new gen-
eration from the consequences of the ignorance of the
old, and the boy who kills most flies in the course of
a season is handsomely rewarded. What is pro-
nounced a sin in one generation is looked on as a vir-
tue in the next.

I recollect seeing it stated in a Zoology for the Use
of Schools, compiled by an F.R.S., with long quota-
tions from Milton at the head of every chapter, that
the reason why some fishes of the Tropics were so
gorgeously coloured was to enable them to be more
easily seen by the voracious enemy that was pursu-
ing them. That was why God had endowed the glow-
worm with his glow to give him a better chance of
attracting the attention of the nightingale or any
other bird that did not go to roost before dark! And
God had also given the firefly its spark that it might
display its hospitality to the same birds that had been
entertained by the glow-worm! My informant had
not mastered the alphabet of Nature.


Long after I had tried to see things through Dar
win's eyes I was perplexed by watching a cat trying
to get the better of a sparrow in the garden. I no-
ticed that every time it had crouched to make its
pounce the cat waved its tail. Why on earth it should
try to make itself conspicuous in this way when it was
flattening itself into the earth that was nearest to it
in colour, and writhing towards its prey, seemed to
me remarkable. Once, however, I was able to watch
the cat approach when I was seated beyond where
the sparrow was digging up worms, and the cat had
slipped among the lower boughs of an ash covered
with trembling leaves.

There among the trembling leaves I saw another
trembling leaf the soothing, swaying end of my
cat's tail; but if I had not known that it was there
I should not have noticed it apart from the moving
leaves. The bird with all its vigilance was deceived,
and it was in the cat's jaws in another moment.

And I had been calling that cat and, incidentally,
Darwin a fool for several years! I do not know
what my Zoologist " for the Use of Schools " would
have made of the transaction. Would he have said
that a cat abhorred the sin of lying, and scorned to
take advantage of the bird, but gave that graceful
swing to its tail to make the bird aware of its men-
acing proximity?

I lived for eleven years in a house in Kensington
with quite a spacious garden behind it, and was blest
for several years by the company of a pair of black-
birds that made their nest among the converging twigs


of a high lilac. No cat could climb that tree in spring,
as I perceived when I had watched the frustrated at-
tempts of the splendid blue Persian who was my con-
stant companion. Of course I lived in that garden
for hours every day during the months of April, May,
June, and July, and we guarded the nest very closely,
even going so far as to disturb the balance of Nature
by sending the cat away on a visit when the young
birds were being fledged. But one month of May
arrived, and though I noticed the parent blackbirds
occasionally among the trees and shrubs, I never once
saw them approaching the old nest, which, as in pre-
vious seasons, was smothered out of sight in the fol-
iage about it, for a poplar towered above the lilac,
and was well furnished.

I remarked to my man that I was afraid our black-
birds had deserted us this year, and he agreed with
me. But one day early in June I saw the cat look
wistfully up the lilac.

" He hasn't forgotten the nest that was there," I
said. " But I'm sure he'll find out in which of the
neighbouring gardens the new one has been built."

But every day he came out and gazed up as if into
the depths of the foliage above our heads.

" Ornithology is his hobby," said I, " but he's not
so smart as I fancied, or he would be hustling around
the other gardens where he should know murder can
be done with impunity."

The next day my man brought out a pair of steps,
and placing them firmly under the lilac, ascended to
the level of where the nest had been in former years.


At once there came the warning chuckle of the black-
birds from the boughs of the poplar.

" Why, bless my soul ! There are four young ones
in the nest, and they're nearly ready to fly," sang out
the investigator from above, and the parents cor-
roborated every word from the poplar.

I was amazed. It seemed impossible that I could
have sat writing under that tree day after day for two
months, watching for signs that the birds were there,
and yet fail to notice them at their work either of
hatching or feeding. It was not carelessness or in-
difference they had eluded; it was vigilance. I had
looked daily for their coming, and there was no fine
day in which I was not in the garden for four hours,
practically immovable, and the nest was not more
than ten feet from the ground, yet I had remained
in ignorance of all that was going on above my head !

With such an experience I do not think that it
becomes me to sneer too definitely at the stupidity
of gamekeepers or farmers. It is when I read as I
do from week to week in Country Life of the labor-
ious tactics of those photographers who have brought
us into closer touch with the secret life of birds than
all the preceding generations of naturalists succeeded
in doing, that I feel more charitably disposed toward
the men who mistake friends for foes in the air.

Every year I give prizes to the younger members
of our household to induce them to keep their eyes
and their ears open to their fellow-creatures who may
be seen and heard at times. The hearing of the
earliest cuckoo meets with its reward, quite apart


from the gratifying of an aesthetic sense by the quot-
ing of Wordsworth. The sighting of the first swal-
lows is quoted somewhat lower on the chocolate ex-
change, but the market recovers almost to a point
of buoyancy on hearing the nightingale. The cuckoo
is an uncertain customer and requires some looking
after; but the swallows are marvellously punctual.
We have never seen them in our neighbourhood be-
fore April the nineteenth. For five years the Twenty-
first is recorded as their day. The nightingale does
not visit our garden, which is practically in the middle
of the town ; but half a mile away one is heard almost
every year. Upon one happy occasion it was seen as
well as heard, which constituted a standard of recog-
nition not entertained before.

I asked for an opinion of the bird from the two
girls who had had this stroke of luck.

Each took a different standpoint in regard to its

" I never heard anything so lovely in all my life,"
said Rosamund, aged ten. " It made you long to
to I don't know what. It was lovely."

" And what was your opinion, Olive? " I asked of
the second little girl.

My Olive branch looked puzzled for a few min-
utes, but she had the sense to perceive that compara-
tive criticism is safe, when a departure from the
beaten track is contemplated. Her departure was

;< I didn't think it half as pretty a bird as Miss
Midleton's parrot," she said with conviction.


Miss Midleton's parrot is a gorgeous conglomera-
tion of crimson and blue, like the 'at of 'arriet, that
should be looked at through smoked glasses and heard
not at all.

I think that I shall have Olive educated to take her
place in a poultry run; while Rosamund looks after
the rose garden.


My antiquary came to me early on the day after
I had asked him for information about the hanging

" I've been talking to my friend Thompson on the
subject of those hanging gardens of the Duke's," said
he ; " and I thought that you would like to hear what
he says. He agrees with me I fancied he would.
The Duke had no power to hang any one in his gar-
dens, Thompson says ; and even if he had the power,
the pear-trees that we see there now weren't big
enough to hang a man on."

" A man a man ! My dear sir, I wasn't thinking
of his hanging men there: it was clothes clothes
linen pants shirts pajamas, and the like."

" Oh, that's quite another matter," said he.

I agreed with him.


IN a foregoing page I brought those who are ready
to submit to my guidance up to the boundary wall of
my Garden of Peace by the stone staircases sloping
between the terraces of the old hanging gardens of
the Castle moat. With apologies for such a furtive
approach I hasten to admit them through the entrance
that is in keeping with their rank and station. I bow
them through the Barbican Entrance, which is of it-
self a stately tower, albeit on the threshold of mod-
ernity, having been built in the reign of Edward II.,
really not more than six hundred years ago. I feel
inclined to apologise for mentioning this structure of
yesterday when I bring my friends on a few yards to
the real thing the true Castle gateway, gloriously
gaunt and grim, with the grooves for the portcullis
and the hinges on which the iron-barbed gate once
swung. There is no suggestion in its architecture of
that effeminacy of the Perpendicular Period, which
may be seen in the projecting parapet of the Barbi-
can, pierced to allow of the molten lead of my an-
tiquary being ladled out over the enemy who has not
been baffled by the raising of the drawbridge. Molten
lead is well enough in its way, and no doubt, when
brought up nice and warm from the kitchen, and al-



lowed to drop through the apertures, it was more or
less irritating as it ran off the edge of the helmets
below and began to trickle down the backs of an
attacking party. The body-armour was never skin-
tight, and molten lead has had at all times an annoy-
ing way of finding out the joinings in a week-day coat
of mail; we know how annoying the drip of a neigh-
bour's umbrella can be when it gets through the de-
fence of one's mackintosh collar and meanders down
one's back. No, not a word should be said against
molten lead as a sedative; but even its greatest ad-
mirers must allow that as a medium of discourage-
ment to an enemy of ordinary sensitiveness it lacked
the robustness of the falling Rock.

iThe Decorative note of the Perpendicular period
may have been in harmony with such trifling as is
incidental to molten lead, but the stern and uncom-
promising Early Norman gate would defend itself
only with the Rock. That was its character; and
when a few hundredweight of solid unsculptured stone
were dropped from its machicolated parapet upon
the armed men who were riddling with the lock of the
gate below, the people in the High Street could hardly
have heard themselves chatting across that thorough-
fare on account of the noise, and tourists must have
fancied that there was a boiler or two being repaired
by a conscientious staff anxious to break the riveting

Everything remains of the Castle gateway except
the Gate. The structure is some forty feet high and
twelve feet thick. The screen- wall was joined to it


on both sides, and when you pass under the arch and
through a more humble doorway in the wall you are
at the entrance to my Garden of Peace.

This oaken door has a little history of its own. For
several years after I came to Yardley Parva I used
to stand opposite to it in one of the many narrow lanes
leading to the ramparts of the town. I knew that the
building to which it belonged, and where some humble
industry was carried on, embodied the ancient church
of Ste. Ursula-in-Foro. The stone doorway is illus-
trated in an old record of the town, and I saw where
the stone had been worn away by the Crusaders sharp-
ening the barbs of their arrows on it for luck. I had
three carefully thought-out plans for acquiring this
door and doorway; but on consideration I came to the
conclusion that they were impracticable, unless an-
other Samson were to come among us with all the ex-

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Online LibraryFrank Frankfort MooreA garden of peace, a medley in quietude → online text (page 3 of 18)