"OH, Mother, look! Look what Uncle Dick has given me!"
Mervyn burst into the room with such violence that his mother glanced up in surprise, which deepened when she saw what he carried so joyfully in his arms.
"Not that, surely, Mervyn? Not his beautiful hyacinth?"
"Yes, Mummy! Really and truly! He says it will be good for me to have something really valuable of my own--not money valuable he doesn't mean quite, but--but--what's the word, Mummy?"
"Unique?" she suggested.
"Yes, that's it! And he says I'm such a flower-and-garden-lover he knows I shall appreciate it. And he's going to show me how to take care of it, and teach me all he knows about flowers!"
Looking at her boy's glowing face as he bent over the lovely bloom, Mrs. Hallet thought that perhaps after all Uncle Dick's gift was not misplaced. But all she said was:
"All he knows about flowers? Then your little mind will be fully occupied, Sonnie! Uncle Dick is quite famous on garden lore, you know."
"Yes, I know, Mother. And isn't it just ripping of him to give me this that he's spent such a lot of trouble on?"
"It is, indeed," agreed his mother. "Take great care of it, darling, and don't put it within reach of Marjorie's little fingers, or there may be an accident."
But Mervyn was already out of the room and hardly heard her. He made his way carefully up to the nursery to show his treasure to Nurse and Miss Geoffrey, the governess, before putting it, as he meant to, in his mother's own room, which would be much the safest place for it. She would like to have it there, he knew, and he could steal in and out whenever he liked to have a peep at it.
Miss Geoffrey was not there, but Nurse was, and the fat little Marjorie, whose mop of golden curls and blue eyes, dancing with fun, were such a contrast to the usually staid Mervyn, with his dark colouring and thoughtful face.
"Oh, Boy! What a lovely flower!" she cried, running towards him.
"Isn't it jolly? Take care, Marjorie, don't touch! It's awfully precious. There isn't another like it in the world! Uncle Dick's taken ever such a lot of trouble growing it."
"Never seen one that colour before," remarked Marjorie, walking critically round it, one stumpy finger laid on her lip.
"Course you haven't! There isn't another. Uncle Dick's going to tell me how to look after the bulb when the flower's over, and--no, you're not to touch, Marjorie!" he added, sharply, as a little fat hand was reaching out towards it.
She drew back, pouting.
"All right! Take your old flower, then! It's not nearly so pretty, anyway, as the blue and white ones in the drawing-room!"
Mervyn took his treasure down to his mother's room, and carefully selected a spot where it would be well seen and at the same time safe from accidents and Marjorie's inquisitive fingers. Then, with a last loving look, he went out into the garden.
It was a thing of beauty, that garden, and a source of never-failing delight to the boy who loved every tiny corner of it. His home was set in one of the loveliest spots of Worcestershire, and house and grounds were in perfect harmony with each other, and with the boy, who never seemed so intensely alive as when wandering about them at his own sweet will. He knew every plant in the garden as a personal friend, though he might not know its name--knew all the trees and rejoiced in their strength--knew their moods and shared them. When they were glad, he was happy. When they were sorry, he went about more pensively than usual
He and the Spirit of the Garden were one.
And here and there between the trees and shrubs might be caught glimpses of far-off beauty that seemed to charm the heart out of his body at times. He might be found, on occasion, long after the luncheon hour, lying face downwards on a favourite mound under a big oak-tree, his chin propped on his hands, his mind evidently roaming among the beauties spread out before him.
He was only nine, and most people thought him a shy, rather dull, little boy, but a few--his mother and Uncle Dick amongst them--realized that uncommon gifts had been given him.
He threw himself on the ground in the warm spring sunshine, and lay there dreaming till the lunch-bell rang. When he entered the dining-room, his mother and uncle were already at table.
"Where is Marjorie?"
"I don't know," he answered carelessly. "I've been in the garden."
She came in just then and silently took her usual place by her mother, but she seemed embarrassed and ill at ease, and as the meal went on, unenlightened by her usual chatter, Uncle Dick began to tease, and presently, Mervyn's attention was drawn to her.
"Where have you been, Marjorie?" he demanded.
"In the garden."
"Left your tongue there, Ladybird?" inquired her uncle.
"Fancy being late for lunch!" jeered Mervyn. "You! Why, you generally sit on the door-mat waiting for the first dish to appear!"
His mother saw signs of tears and interposed.
"Don't be unkind, Mervyn." And then, suddenly, Marjorie flung herself into her. arms, sobbing: "I didn't mean it, Mummy! I didn't! I didn't! It just tumbled down, and it's all deaded--and I've buried it--and--and--don't let Mervyn be cross with me, and I'll save up" but her sobs choked the rest.
Mervyn lifted a white face to his mother.
"Mother, does she mean--she's broken my flower?" "I'm afraid so," she answered, looking gravely at Uncle Dick.
For one inarticulate moment the boy glared at his little sister, and then dashed from the room.
It was, alas, too true. Marjorie, finding herself alone in her mother's room, had been unable to resist the temptation to have a close look at the wonderful flower, and reaching on tip-toe to draw it towards her, had pulled it over, together with various other things, and it had been hopelessly damaged. In her dismay, her first thought was to put it out of sight, and she hastened to bury it in a lonely spot in the garden. Asked to show where she had put it, she led them to what she declared was the place, but the ground was very soft and recently dug up all round, and they were unable to find any trace of it. Mervyn, indeed, was too sick at heart with disappointment to look far.
He soon forgave Marjorie, for his little sister was very dear to him, and he couldn't bear to see tears in her blue eyes, but the incident hurt him badly. Why should his lovely flower be killed like that? Why should anything die? What was death, anyway, and what business had it in this lovely world at all? These, and many more questions tormented his poor little mind for days after.
Through the long summer days that followed Mervyn grew more and more in love with life and beauty, but his body did not keep pace with his mind and imagination. He had never been very strong, and when the winter came again, he grew frailer and more delicate, though nothing particular seemed to be the matter. As usual, the family left their lovely country home in October and went up to London for the winter. This was always a trial to Mervyn. He could not bear the sight of rows of brick buildings in place of the hills and fields he loved so well, though, to be sure, there were compensations. There were delightful hours spent in the parks, and walks and drives along the Embankment, which were always a joy. Still, he grew thinner and paler as the weeks wore on, till a cold caught at a Christmas party brought on a serious illness.
After the first sharp attack was over, this was not such a trial as one might have supposed for a boy of his age, for he had plenty of books and pictures to amuse him, and his room was always full of lovely flowers, put there by his mother, who knew very well the way to her boy's heart. Indeed, she thought he seemed too content, for he made no effort to get well. Day after day, he would lie reading and thinking, or rather dreaming, of the garden at "home," which always meant his country home.
March came and he was still no better. Easter fell early that year, and though it had been arranged that the family should stay in town over the festival, a burst of warm spring weather made Mrs. Hallett suddenly decide to take her boy home to see what the freshness and beauty of the country would do for him. The doctors talked vaguely of his being "better when the summer came," but all the time she felt they were not telling her all the truth, and her heart was heavy with anxiety.
And her fears were justified.
She travelled down with Mervyn and his nurse on Holy Thursday, leaving Marjorie to follow with Miss Geoffrey the next week, and on Saturday the kind old doctor who had known him all his life came over to see the boy.
When he left her, the mother wandered out into the garden alone, and all her grief was not for herself, but her boy. What could she say to him? How could she tell him that he, with his passionate love of the beautiful world, was to die? Easter would be here to-morrow, with all its hope and promise, but would a little boy of ten really understand? He would see the trees and flowers he loved bursting into bud, but long before the summer--he would be away.
She wanted to put it off, but he asked so many questions that at last she took him in her arms and told him.
It was Easter morning, and though still only March, spring seemed to have come at a bound. Mervyn lay, well wrapped up, in an invalid chair on his favourite little mound in the garden. Overhead, the branches of the tree were bursting into bud (he fancied sometimes he could hear them growing and breaking open to meet the hot sunshine). The flower-beds were a mass of daffodils and crocuses, but just now he had no eyes for them. He knew he had to leave them before long, and since he had to leave them, he didn't love them any more. It didn't matter--nothing mattered.
His mother had tried to tell him of the Resurrection and what it meant to Christians, but he had not understood. Perhaps it was true, but how was he to know that it was? And anyway, it seemed cold comfort to this little ten-year-old.
Instinctively, his lips formed a prayer. "Dear God, give me a sign--show me some way--any way--that I shan't die really--that t isn't going to be all dark and cold."
His eyes closed presently and he fell asleep.
He woke with a start as something small and soft fell on his face. He was about to throw it away, when his attention was caught by the colour. Where had he seen that peculiar shade of red before? He held it up for closer inspection. As he did so, a picture flashed before his mind.
He saw little Marjorie sobbing in her mother's arms: "It was deaded--quite deaded--and I buried it!" He remembered in a sudden rush, that dreadful day a year ago, and his grief over the beautiful flower his uncle had given him, and yet--and yet--surely this was a bit of the very same flower he was holding in his hand? It was just two little florets of a hyacinth flower, of exactly the same peculiar colour as the flower he had lost.
"Mother! Mother!" he raised himself to call excitedly. "Come and look!"
She came, and looked, and wondered. Glancing up into the tree, she said it must have been dropped by a bird.
"But, Mummy! Where did the bird get it?"
"It's very wonderful, darling, but I think your bulb was not destroyed, after all, and has flowered again where Marjorie buried it. I'll go and see."
It was indeed so, and the plant was found in a sheltered nook with two lovely blooms: one perfect-- the other, apparently pecked by some mischievous bird. It was carefully taken up, put in a pot, and placed by Mervyn's side.
In the afternoon he lay out in the warm sunshine again, and all the bitterness had gone from him now. The wonderful "resurrection" of his hyacinth had brought home to him the truth his mother's words had failed to convey. He had always known the flowers came up again, year after year, of course, but he had never realized the wonder of it before.
He knew now that it was all right.
If the flowers did not die when winter came, but only slept, surely it was true that in the Land of Everlasting Spring a little boy would live and love again?
"He didn't mind my asking for a sign," he murmured, as he lay looking now with loving eyes at the flowers about him. "He died Himself once. . . . He knows it seems all dark and cold and lonely at first. But I don't mind now."
He closed his eyes quietly, then opened them suddenly and half sat up.
Who was this coming to him across the sunlit garden, with all the glory of the spring-time in His love-lit eyes? Was this the dreaded enemy? Were these the arms of Death stretched out so lovingly to him?
And then he saw the marks in the Palms of the out-stretched Hands and understood.
Death, after all, was only the beginning of Life with the Risen Lord.