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An Odd Lot by A. A. Milne

 

THE COMING OF THE CROCUS

"IT'S a bootiful day again, Sir," said my gardener, James, looking in at the study window.

"Bootiful, James, bootiful," I said, as I went on with my work.

"You might almost say as spring was here at last, like."

"Cross your fingers quickly, James, and touch wood. Look here, I'll be out in a minute and give you some orders, but I'm very busy just now."

"Thought praps you'd like to know there's eleven crocuses in the front garden."

"Then send them away—we've got nothing for them."

"Crocuses," shouted James.

I jumped up eagerly, and climbed through the window.

"My dear man," I said, shaking him warmly by the hand, "this is indeed a day. Crocuses! And in the front gar—on the south lawn! Let us go and gaze at them."

There they were—eleven of them. Six golden ones, four white, and a little mauve chap.

"This is a triumph for you, James. It's wonderful. Has anything like this ever happened to you before?"

"There'll be some more up to-morrow, I won't say as not."

"Those really are growing, are they? You haven't been pushing them in from the top? They were actually born on the estate?"

"There'll be a fine one in the back bed soon," said James proudly.

"In the back—my dear James! In the spare bed on the north-east terrace, I suppose you mean. And what have we in the Dutch Ornamental Garden?"

"If I has to look after ornamental gardens and south aspics and all, I ought to have my salary raised," said James, still harping on his one grievance.

"By all means raise some celery," I said coldly.

"Take a spade and raise some for lunch. I shall be only too delighted."

"This here isn't the season for celery, as you know well. This here's the season for crocuses, as anyone can see if they use their eyes."

"James, you're right. Forgive me. It is no day for quarrelling."

It was no day for working either. The sun shone upon the close-cropped green of the deer park, the sky was blue above the rose garden, in the tapioca grove a thrush was singing. I walked up and down my estate and drank in the good fresh air.

"James!" I called to my head gardener.

"What is it now?" he grumbled.

"Are there no daffodils to take the winds of March with beauty?"

"There's these eleven croc—"

"But there should be daffodils too. Is not this March?"

"It may be March, but 'tisn't the time for daffodils—not on three shillings a week."

"Do you only get three shillings a week? I thought it was three shillings an hour."

"Likely an hour!"

"Ah well, I knew it was three shillings. Do you know, James, in the Scilly Islands there are fields and fields and fields of nodding daffodils out now."

"Lor'!" said James.

"Did you say 'lor'' or 'liar'?" I asked suspiciously.

"To think of that now," said James cautiously.

He wandered off to the tapioca grove, leant against it in thought for a moment, and came back to me.

"What's wrong with this little bit of garden—this here park," he began, "is the soil. It's no soil for daffodils. Now what daffodils like is clay."

"Then for Heaven's sake get them some clay. Spare no expense. Get them anything they fancy."

"It's too alloovial—that's what's the matter. Too alloovial. Now, crocuses like a bit of alloovial. That's where you have it."

The matter with James is that he hasn't enough work to do. The rest of the staff is so busily employed that it is hardly ever visible. William, for instance, is occupied entirely with what I might call the poultry; it is his duty, in fact, to see that there are always enough ants' eggs for the goldfish. All these prize Leghorns you hear about are the merest novices compared with William's protegees. Then John looks after the staggery; Henry works the coloured fountain; and Peter paints the peacocks' tails. This keeps them all busy, but James is for ever hanging about.

"Almost seems as if they were yooman," he said, as we stood and listened to the rooks.

"Oh, are you there, James? It's a beautiful day. Who said that first? I believe you did."

"Them there rooks always make a place seem so home-like. Rooks and crocuses, I say—and you don't want anything more."

"Yes; well, if the rooks want to build in the raspberry canes this year, let them, James. Don't be inhospitable."

"Course, some do like to see primroses, I don't say. But—"

"Primroses—I knew there was something. Where are they?"

"It's too early for them," said James hastily. "You won't get primroses now before April."

"Don't say 'now,' as if it were my fault. Why didn't you plant them earlier? I don't believe you know any of the tricks of your profession, James. You never seem to graft anything or prune anything, and I'm sure you don't know how to cut a slip. James, why don't you prune more? Prune now—I should like to watch you. Where's your pruning-hook? You can't possibly do it with a rake."

James spends most of his day with a rake—sometimes leaning on it, sometimes working with it. The beds are always beautifully kept. Only the most hardy annual would dare to poke its head up and spoil the smooth appearance of the soil. For those who like circles and rectangles of unrelieved brown, James is undoubtedly the man.

As I stood in the sun I had a brilliant idea.

"James," I said, "we'll cut the croquet lawn this afternoon."

"You can't play croquet to-day, it's not warm enough."

"I don't pay you to argue, but to obey. At the same time I should like to point out that I never said I was going to play croquet. I said that we, meaning you, would cut the lawn."

"What's the good of that?"

"Why, to encourage the wonderful day, of course. Where is your gratitude, man? Don't you want to do something to help? How can we let a day like this go past without some word of welcome? Out with the mower, and let us hail the passing of winter."

James looked at me in disgust.

"Gratitude!" he said indignantly to Heaven. "And there's my eleven crocuses in the front all a-singing together like anything on three bob a week!"

 
 
 

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