WHERE THE GARDEN ENDS
She was doing it again!
"Grandmother!" Flora said impatiently. For a moment the old woman did not seem to hear, but rather kept staring off into the distance. Finally, with a sigh, Grandmother brought her attention back to her granddaughter, and the cup of tea in front of her.
"So sorry," she mumbled, "just… remembering…"
Flora was getting impatient. This had happened all of her life, even when she was very little. Now, a dashing young woman of eleven years, she noticed that Grandmother was doing it more often.
She put down her own teacup and looked at the direction her Grandmother had been staring at. It was a long expanse of beautiful garden, now blazing with summer glory. Despite being located in Dartmoor, the garden on the Darkstone Manor was in the French, not the English style. Here there were rows upon rows of brilliant flowers, all arranged in their own little sections, properly separated by flagstone walks. There were fountains and statues of strange mythological beasts (Flora loved the unicorn best) and marble benches that were beautiful to look at in the afternoon sunlight but not really too comfortable to sit upon.
Beyond the garden was a dense forest, leading to the hills and marshes of the Dartmoor countryside. This was worlds away from the sophistication and glamour of London, an old land famous for legends and bandits. Outside of the stone walls of the manor the world seemed a bit primeval and chaotic. The countryside was sometimes rocky, at times almost mountainous with high hills and deep crags, all rising up out of boggy land. Flora looked back at her grandmother, for after following her gaze it seemed that that was exactly where she was looking.
"Ah yes," said Grandmother, composing herself completely to the real world, "Where were we?"
The two women were sitting in the gazebo in the very center of the garden. It was an ornate round structure that could comfortably accommodate twenty people. But this morning, like so many, it was just Flora and her Grandmother.
"You know your father may get orders soon," she said, sipping her tea from a delicate cup that had come all of the way from China. "He may have to go to India for a while. Some terrible business about a mutiny or some such nonsense."
"Yes," mumbled Flora, "Mother was talking about that. I think she was going to cry…"
"Oh. Nothing to worry about. Your father is a good soldier, and an officer. Naturally, he won't be doing the fighting himself. He'll tell others what to do. It's their place, you know."
Flora did not want to discuss what had been gnawing away at her mind ever since she heard the news. Instead she asked what she had wanted to ask for years. She felt that somehow if she did not ask it now, she would never have another chance.
"What were you staring at, Grandmother?"
Grandmother smiled for a moment, as though she were again about to go into the reverie. Thankfully she did not, and said simply, "Oh, the forest, the woods, the hedges, and all that is beyond. Yes, I was looking for what is… out there."
Flora gave her a weird look, then she too gazed over the garden to the forest beyond. What did she keep looking at over there? There was nothing but woods and bushes and thorns, and beyond that the hills, bogs and crags of Dartmoor.
"Here, here now!" said Grandmother in a far more familiar and authoritative tone, "Sit up straight, will you! And look how you're holding that teacup! Put your pinky out… ah yes, that's more like it. Some day there will be some young lieutenant from a good family who will want to dance with you at a ball, or perhaps just escort you to get a cup of punch. Do you want to look like some Cheapside ruffian?"
Was she just correcting her, as she so very often did, or was she trying to change the subject? Flora wanted to whine, but decided on a more clever approach.
Using her finest Darkstone voice, the sophisticated tone that she heard her mother using quite often, Flora said in a polite but firm way, "Grandmother, I do not believe that you have answered my question."
This worked. Her Grandmother gave her a surprised look with a slight hint of a smile.
"Well," she said, sipping her tea again, pinky out as was proper, "Perhaps you are learning after all."
"Than teach me," she giggled. "Tell me, and tell me honestly: what are you looking at out there? You always do it when we have our teas out here. Your mind drifts off, like your dreaming."
"Not dreaming," said Grandmother in a distant voice. "Remembering."
Grandmother set her teacup down and looked at Flora carefully. "I don't know," she muttered, "You may still be too young."
"I am not!" Flora exploded, then quickly added, ""Too young for what?"
"I don't know if you are old enough for me to tell you yet. In many ways you are still a little girl…"
Well, after being told that there was no way that Grandmother would be able to have a moment's peace until she confided whatever secret she was carrying. Flora was about to start pestering right away, but noticed that her grandmother was not just looking towards her, but once again staring at her- mostly at her chest! This certainly did not make her feel comfortable!
"Yes," she sighed, "I guess you are growing up. All little girls do. And after all, I won't be around forever…"
Flora did not like this kind of talk at all! What on earth was going on? Maybe she should not have asked…
"You'll be around for a long, long time… now what is it that you won't tell me?"
Grandmother sighed and smiled. "Very well. But mind you: this is between the two of us. You tell no one else. You don't even ask anyone about it. Some things are so wonderful that they must not be analyzed, studied, discussed or categorized. They must exist in their beauty, and in their own way."
"I promise," said Flora, sitting up straight, holding her teacup again without extending her pinky. Grandmother cleared her throat and nodded to it. Flora corrected the mistake instantly and sat silently.
Grandmother sighed, took a sip of tea, then told her tale. And this is the story that she told:
Look at that garden my dear. Is it not beautiful? If you say that it is, then you are wrong. The rows upon rows of carefully manicured plants, all trimmed to our specifications, each arranged in a proper order within a confined boundary of decorative stone, separated from each other by a flagstone walkway. No, this is not beauty- it is an obscenity. In our arrogance we have imposed our human order upon the will of God.
Now raise your eyes and look beyond the garden. There the plants run in what many think to be chaos, but everything there is also in its own order. Roots and vines and weeds and trees with wild branches, old trees that go back to the time of Arthur. Here are animals wandering about as they were intended, not caged or tamed or trained to do tricks. No, they live as they were created to live, and their life is a constant and unending prayer, giving glory to the One who put them there.
And he is out there. No, he is not in the forest- he is the forest! He is the wildness that our ancestors knew, and worshipped, and sometimes feared, and sometimes prayed to. As we become more civilized and impose our order on his world, he becomes further away, like a receding shore seen from a departing ship. But he is still there, and I know, because I saw him. I cavorted with him.
It was many years ago, oh yes- I remember every small detail, every minuscule sensation. I was just a little bit older than you are now, let me see, ah yes, thirteen I believe. Yes, it had to be thirteen. I, too, was rather becoming a young woman and did not understand any of it or what was happening to me. Oh what confusion! Everything was the same and everything was different, all at the same time. It was a marvelous time- at least as I remember it now. Truth is, it was probably all very confusing and scary. Oh, but it was marvelous and exciting too!
We were here in the manor for the summer. The building was a bit different then, ah but I won't go into all of that now. Father was very often off to some country or in London dealing with some business or government matter, but that year he was home for a long time. And we had a great party one night in July. It was one of the biggest parties of the season. The year was 1800; George was the king, and there was some talk that even he might attend our family's gala, but he did not attend. Oh it was such a marvelous affair. Prince Edward, who was then the Duke of Kent, was the main guest of honor, and there were all kinds of dukes and lords and fine ladies, and many officers from both the army and the navy. Yes, things were quite extravagant at that party!
Of course I knew nothing and cared less of the business and politics being discussed at the party. I only remember my mother rushing about giving orders to all of the servants and being in a terrible tizzy. I distinctly remember that there were two servants, one young woman and an old one, who dressed me for the party. It took hours for everything. I remember the old one looking at me when I was undressed and commenting on what a woman I was becoming. She was lucky that there was nothing nearby that I could have hit her in her ugly head with!
Finally I was able to go to the party. Oh, it was marvelous beyond belief! The house was blazing with light; there were two orchestras. The music never stopped; when one stopped playing the other began. There were waltzes and young men in dashing uniforms. And yes, a few of them danced with me, just once of course. I now know that they were trying to impress my father, or attract his attention by impressing my mother. I did not know the way of politics at the time, and I didn't care. I was dancing on air. The problem with the party was that it never ended.
The older men, including my father, with their beards and their stiff collars, stood on the sidelines, smoking cigars and holding glasses that I noticed that they rarely ever drank from. I imagine that this was where the important business of state and commerce was being enacted. Trade agreements, political maneuvers, even out and out wars were being implemented in front of me, yet I knew and cared nothing.
After some time of this I was getting sleepy, tired, bored and impatient. A party was a party, and it was absolutely marvelous- but there was no one even close to my age beyond some servant girls, who were too busy to talk to me and not from my class anyway.
The air became hot and close in the big hall with all of the lights. When no one was paying attention to me, which was most of the time, I wandered to the great doors leading to the veranda. I went outside in the beautiful summer night to get just a bit of air.
Or so I thought. Oh, I got much more than that!
I walked out into the night air, and to my surprise there was an utterly huge white owl flying directly towards me! I was about to scream and run back in, but instead turned around, ducked and put my hands over my head to keep the unwelcome bird out of my hair. When nothing happened I stood up and looked back at the garden.
The owl was gone- there was no trace of it. But now there was a lady standing there! I was certain that this lady was not there before when I first came out. I would have noticed her for certain: she was lovely- holding a glass of champagne and was dressed in an elegant, flowing gown of pure white. Both her gown and her long, streaming hair, were all exactly the same color as the white owl, which was now nowhere to be seen.
The mysterious lady, who, as I said, was certainly not out there when I first came out, smiled at me in a rather sinister manner. Her eyes were rather large and quite colorful, seeming to reflect all of the light from the party inside. Then she spoke, in a voice that sounded like distant bells underwater.
"Can you not hear it?" was all that she said. She pointed towards the garden.
I looked to where she was pointing but heard nothing. I looked back to ask her what it was that I was supposed to hear, but she was gone. She had not walked back into the party, for I turned and looked in that direction. No, she was just not there anymore. I quickly looked back to the garden, and once again saw the white owl, now flying away from me, back into the darkness it had come from.
I must have been dreaming, yes, that was it! At least that is what I told myself. This was like something out of those fairy tale books that I so loved, but I knew that it was nearly time for me to put them away from my life. I knew that my place was not out here, but inside, learning how to be a lady in proper society.
But I did not go back inside. Oh no. I walked further out onto the veranda, and only when I had gone out far enough, I could indeed hear something.
It was a flute!
For a few moments the sound of the flute in the garden clashed with the music from the orchestra inside of the manor and the laughing and talking and false mirth of the guests. Angered at the interruption, I walked off of the veranda and into the garden. The further I moved away from the house, the louder and clearer was the flute music.
Soon, when I could hear it clearer, I understood that it was not a regular flute like in the orchestra back in the manor. It was a hollow, wooden sound, primitive and wild. I must confess that the music did very strange things to me. I began to have feelings that a proper woman should not have!
I walked out further and further, almost to this gazebo. A young soldier came in my direction, walking hand in hand with a young lady. They were so busy in their conversation that they did not even notice me.
That was good. I did not want to be noticed. I did not want to make small talk. I wanted only to find the source of that fascinating music.
I moved down that pathway right over there, just past the statue of Diana. Suddenly, from behind one of the hedges that separates one kind of flower garden from another, he leaped up.
He? Or should I say 'it'?
You may think that I am a foolish old woman who is losing her mind as the years gather behind her, but I promise you with all of my heart and soul, it was not a human that leaped up.
It was a creature, very large, perhaps a head taller than my father who was himself taller than most men. It was much like a man, but it was in no way like a man. He wore no shirt, was quite hairy on the chest. From the top of his head curled two rather large horns. His ears were pointed upwards. His eyes shown with brightness that no human eyes could possess.
But the most amazing ting was the bottom half of him. It was a goat! Yes, he was standing on the hindquarters of a goat, with cloven hooves. I swear he even had a goat's tail!
I knew immediately what it was- it was a satyr! Yes, I had seen things like this in my father's dusty old books on mythology. It was not supposed to exist, but here it was, leaping about the garden like a wild monkey, playing that haunting and fascinating music from a reed pipe. It hopped about riotously, playing that music, living with wild abandon. For just the slightest moment it paused, looked straight at me, then leaped and bounded away, across the garden, into the hedge, and in a flash it was gone. It simply passed through the thick hedge without even rustling the branches!
It had gone beyond where the garden ends.
I don't know why I was following it, in my ball gown and unsteady shoes. But I ran after it, desperate and frantic, knowing instinctively that if I let that creature go away without me the rest of my life would be little more than a sham. Here was a real meaning to my existence that I could not find inside of the hall- or even in the garden for that matter.
It was impossible, of course, but as soon as I approached the hedge where the satyr had passed through, the sides of the hedge separated, as though invisible hands had pulled them back giving me passage. I did not take time to marvel at this, but leaped through the opening, and ran out into the forest.
Thank goodness- the satyr was still there, playing his wild pipe, leaping about. I believe that he had been waiting just for me. When he saw that I had followed, he smiled, but never missed a note of his gay tune. In the light of the full moon the two of us ran together through the forest. Sometimes I was running, sometimes I was dancing, spinning about madly and wildly. Never in my life had I felt so much alive! Not on my wedding, not on my wedding night, not on the birth of my children… these things were wonderful in their own way but different. What I experienced that night was pure life flowing through my veins! I did not feel that I was dancing in a forest, I felt as though somehow I had become part of the forest!
And the forest itself had changed. Everything seemed to glow in its own colors, some colors I had never seen before. It pulsed as though breathing, with a strange light that was never the same. Amidst the eerie luminescence were small balls of dazzling, sparkling light, zipping about, floating, whirling in pairs, dashing about. There seemed to be other things moving about, dancing to the satyr's pipe: maidens and men, some beautiful beyond measure, some very small, others, well, not human in the least. They would appear for a few seconds, dance about, then fade away from my sight. I knew that they were still there, dancing, but I could not see them.
I followed the satyr to the top of a rocky bluff. When I ran up behind him, my strength gave out at last, and I fell on my back on the moss-covered rock. He took the reed pipe from his mouth, and I saw that he was about to step off of the rock into the air.
"No," I gasped, trying to find my breath, "Please! Don't leave me! Please… Don't ever leave me."
He spoke in a gentle yet authoritative voice. "Oh, my little daughter, have you not heard?" Then he bent down over me. All that I could see was his face. Suddenly his eyes became glowing crimson, like fireplace coals on a winter night. His voice became sinister and dark. In a menacing tone, he declared, "The great god Pan is dead."
Then, to my shock, his face somehow changed, and it was not the satyr. It was old Ben, the man who oversees the gardeners! He didn't speak, but rose up and shouted out, "Here she is! I found her! She's over here!"
What happened next was a mass of confusion. Men came with torches. My father was there, still in his party uniform. Many of the soldiers who had been at the party were there as well. All of the men servants and even some folks I had never seen were there, carrying torches and lanterns.
Old Ben lifted me up in his strong arms and started to carry me towards the others. Another man put a cloak over me, covering me. It was then that I noticed that one of the young soldiers was carrying my party dress over his shoulder! I realized that I had become somehow rather undressed in the midst of the dance. Thank goodness it was only old Ben who had seen me in such a state! It could have been a scandal!
When we got back to the manor, I noticed that the sun had started to rise. I thought that I had only danced with the satyr for a few minutes Apparently it had been hours, and at some point in the festivities my disappearance was noticed and the alarm had been called. I guess I rather made a mess of that big party.
I was put to bed. A doctor was sent for and my mother came to tend me, still dressed in her elegant ball gown. She asked me what had happened, why I had suddenly got it into my head to go wandering off into the wilderness.
Oh, I so wanted to tell her about the satyr, the lovely the music, the dancing, the forest glowing with its strange colors. Instead… instead I just told her that I had followed a deer.
I rather don't think that she believed me. But she gave me the obligatory lecture about not going beyond the garden, how dangerous it was with bogs and rocks, and wild animals, and who knows what kind of vagrants would be hiding about out there.
Well, there was not much more to say. Life went on, as it always does, despite the fact that sometimes we may want it to slow down and rest for a moment. I met your grandfather at a dance, oh he was so dashing in his uniform- and much later, after a proper courtship that I thought would never end, we were wed. We rather made up for all of that waiting, for soon after I had your father. I had a choice few of your uncles and aunts as well, and day-by-day I grew just a little bit older. Then your grandfather died one winter night, and now here I am, having tea with my favorite granddaughter.
I never told anyone what had really happened that night. But, you know, even though I grew up, I have never stopped listening for that pipe. He is still out there, and I feel certain in my heart that some day I shall once again join him in that wild dance. One day I shall go once more beyond where the garden ends, out to where it is wild and free and natural. And, one more time, I shall dance with frenzied abandon.
And that, my dear, is why I look out beyond our false and imposed order. That is why I look beyond where the garden ends.
Flora's father was indeed soon summoned for something concerning the mutiny in India- but he got no further than London. There was a great deal of excitement and all kinds of activity. Flora and her mother moved to a house in the city, but they did not see much of him for a long while.
When the problems in India were solved, Flora was taken to the continent. Every so often she would hear whispers that her grandmother's health was not too good, and that she was "deteriorating quickly". Flora did not want to hear this, and kept telling herself that Grandmother would get better soon, and they would be back to having tea in the gazebo.
As she was being shuffled from one old city to the next, seeing castles and museums and hearing concerts, Flora began to feel that she was purposely being kept away from the manor.
She was in Hanover when word came. Grandmother was dead.
It took more than a year before she was brought back to the manor in Dartmoor. Flora was older now, and without a doubt becoming quite the pretty young woman. Young men would often turn their heads when she walked by, and old women of the upper class whispered, speculating on her match.
As soon as she arrived at the manor she did not even walk in the front door. As tired as she was, and uncomfortable in her riding cl0thes, she literally leaped out of the carriage, turned away from the manor with the servants rushing out to assist them, and walked instead across the lawn. She passed the old tool building with the chipping yellow paint, followed the gravel walkway to the little iron fence with the rusty gate- the family cemetery.
There she saw her grandmother's grave for the first time. Somehow it had not been completely real to her until she saw that piece of sandstone, already blackening under the brutal Dartmoor weather.
A few days later she got up very early, dressed in one of her finest white dresses and walked out to the gazebo. The servant brought her tea, as she had requested, then left her alone. For a long time Flora just sat, listening to the bird songs, remembering her grandmother, and looking out at the garden bursting forth in spring beauty.
Then she heard it!
At first she wondered if it might be the call of some marsh bird, or one of the farmers calling in the fields. But no, there was no mistaking it. It was the unmistakable sound of a reed pipe, playing a merry and wild tune.
She looked out beyond the garden, to the dense forest just past their land. Amidst the trees and bushes she could definitely see a large shadow, something like a man, dancing about. Just behind that shadow was a second, somewhat like a woman, apparently dancing with him.
It was only there for the briefest moment, then the sound and the shadows merged with the forest, and it was gone.
"Good by, Grandmother," sobbed Flora, holding her teacup up with her pinky out.
Steven J. Rolfes