Read Chapter II - Under the Earth of Bulbs and Blossoms , free online book, by Amy Le Feuvre, on

The next day was still colder, but the children, in company with their nurse, found a delightful retreat in the garden, and this was in the conservatory.  James, the old gardener, was always glad of some one to talk to, and he and nurse were soon fast friends.  He took them into the vinery, then into the fern house, and lastly into the conservatory next the house, which was a brilliant mass of bloom and blossoms.

Olive clapped her hands in delight.

‘We are back in India, Roly.  Oh, how nice and warm!’

‘We will always come and play here,’ said Roland.  Then, looking up at the old gardener, he said, —

‘You never let winter come here, do you?’

‘Not if I can help it,’ said James with a dry chuckle.  ’Me and Jack Frost have had many a fight, but I gets the better of him generally.’

‘Who is Jack Frost?’

‘Ha! ha!  Not heerd o’ Jack Frost?  Well, unless I’m much mistaken he’ll pay us a visit to-night, and then you’ll feel him as well as see him.’

Olive looked puzzled, but Roland’s mind was working too busily to heed Jack Frost.  He walked round and round the flowers, then he remarked abruptly, ’If you don’t have winter here, you won’t have a Easter — Mr. Bob said so!’

‘Oh, there!’ said nurse with a laugh, ’don’t heed his curious talk, Mr. Jenkins; he’s such a dreadful child for arguing.’

She and James continued their chat, and the children sat down on a low wicker seat, playing with the fallen fuchsia buds, and comparing their present life with the one they had so lately left.

‘I wish Mr. Bob had a nice glass house like this,’ said Olive thoughtfully.  ‘Why doesn’t he, Roly?’

‘We’ll ask him next time we see him.  I expect he is too poor.’

’And, Roly, do you think Jack Frost is a thief who tries to steal James’s flowers?’

‘I don’t know.’

A little later, when nurse was taking them into the house, Olive inquired again, rather anxiously, ’Nurse, I hope Jack Frost won’t come to us when we’re in bed; James seemed to think we should feel him.’

’No, no, Miss Olive; I’ll tuck you up too warm for that.  There will be no Jack Frost in our nursery, I can tell you.  I keep too big a fire.’

But the little girl was anxious and ill at ease, till at last she unburdened her mind to Miss Sibyl, when she went to wish her ‘good-night’ in the drawing-room.

’Why, Olive dear, Jack Frost isn’t a man; that is only a joke.  When it is very cold the air freezes, and the pretty dew-drops on the grass and flowers all turn to ice.  Have you never seen a frost?’

‘No, never.’

’Frosts kill all the flowers — that is why James does not like it coming; but it is the flowers out of doors that feel it most.’

‘But,’ said Roland, edging up to his aunt, ’there are no flowers to kill; there are only bare, dried-up trees and dark bushes.  Mr. Bob told us they had all gone to sleep under the ground.’

‘So they have, but it is frost and cold that has killed them off.’

‘I don’t like England,’ said little Olive mournfully; and when she was comfortably tucked up in bed that night, she said sleepily, ’If I had a nice garden of flowers, I wouldn’t leave them all out in the cold and dark to die, and I’ll never live in England when I grow up, for winter is a dreadful thing!’

The children soon found out what frost and cold meant; but the novelty of the small icicles outside their windows, and the beauty of the hoar frost glittering on the trees and bushes in the sunshine, more than compensated for the uncomfortable experience of cold hands and feet.

They soon paid a visit to old Bob again, and this time he took them into the old-fashioned churchyard, which lay just outside the lodge gates on the other side of the road.

‘This is my other garden,’ he said gravely, ’for I gets so much from the rector every year for keeping the ground tidy.’

Roland and Olive looked round them with much interest.

Old Bob took them to a quiet corner soon, and pointed out five grassy mounds all in a row.

‘There!’ he said, his old face quivering all over; ’underneath them mounds are my dear wife and four children, all taken from me in less than one month.’

‘Did they die?’ asked Roland with solemn eyes.

’The Lord took ’em.  ‘Twas the scarlet fever was ragin’ in our village; little Bessie, our baby, was the first one to take it.  She were only five year old, and as merry as a cricket; then Rob and Harry, big lads o’ twelve and thirteen, were stricken next, and then Nellie, her mother’s right hand; and the poor wife nursed ’em all through herself, and just lived to see the last o’ the four buried, and then she follered them, and I were left in the empty house alone.’

Little Olive squeezed the old man’s hand tightly.

‘I feel as if I was going to cry,’ she said.  ’Why did God make them die, Mr. Bob?’

Bob raised his face to the sky above him.

‘He didn’t tell me why,’ he said; ’but He’ll tell me one day.  ’Twas just at this time o’ year they were taken.  Ah, dear!  That were a terrible winter for me!  It all seemed dark and drear, and not a gleam of sunshine in sight.  But thank the good Lord I got my bit o’ cheer when Easter came.  And it have come reg’lar and fresh like every Easter since.  Do you mind them “ugly pots” in my window?  Now you come back with me, and I’ll tell you their story.  ‘Tis too cold for us to be standin’ here, but don’t forget my five grassy mounds in this corner when I tells the tale!’

As the children turned away to follow him, Roland said thoughtfully, ‘They’re all under the ground, just like you say the flowers are!’

Old Bob smiled.

’That’s it, Master Roland!  That’s my comfort.  You’ve hit upon the very thing I was agoin’ to explain!’

And then a few minutes after, taking little Olive upon his knees, and making Roland sit in a small chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, the old man began, —

‘My dear wife were powerful fond o’ flowers, and she were quite as clever at rearing ’em as ever I were.  She would get cuttin’s from James Green up at the house, and in summer our garden was just a pictur.’  Just before she were a taken ill, James had sent her down a lily bulb, a beautiful pure white one, and she’d put it in a pot in our cellar, and says she to me, “Bob, I means to bring that lily out by Easter; with care I’m sure I shall do it!” Then when she were near her end, and she seed me a-frettin’ my heart out, she calls me to her bed.  “Bob,” says she, “take care o’ my lily, and, Bob dear, when Easter comes and you see it a-burstin’ out in all its beauty, then think o’ me and the children.”  “So also is the resurrection of the dead....  It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.”  “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him!” Them were the very two tex’s she said to me, and then she says:  “The nex’ time you’ll see me, Bob, will be in my body o’ glory!  Unless you foller me first, but I can’t help thinking,” she says, “that the Resurrection mayn’t be far off!” And so she left me!’

There was a pause.  Bob wiped his eyes with his handkerchief, then put
Olive down from his knees and walked across to his flower-pots.

The children followed him silently, and peeped over the edge of the pots, only to see bare brown earth, and their faces fell at the sight.

Bob turned to them with a smile:  ’This here big pot in the middle is my wife’s lily; I set to work when she went, and got four other o’ the same kind o’ bulb and planted them in these smaller pots.  This one is Bessie’s, that one is Nellie’s, and the others are just Bob’s and Harry’s.  Well, all that winter I goes to my graves in the churchyard, and comes back to these pots, and I shakes my head over them all, and couldn’t get no comfort nohow.  But shall I ever forget a-comin’ into my kitchen on Easter Sunday, and seein’ the sun shine in upon five pure white lilies!  I just fell a-sobbin’ on my knees beside them.  “Lord,” I says, “I knows as certain sure as I sees these lilies now, and remembers all the silence and darkness that came upon them from the time they were put in the earth, that Thou wilt give me back my dear ones ten thousand times more beautiful than ever I saw ’em here!  And if their Easter will come a little later, ’tis just as sure!” Ay, little ones, and for three years the Lord has delighted my soul by bringin’ up these lilies at Easter time, just to tell me that my graves is goin’ to be opened like the Lord’s Himself, and I’m a-goin’ to see my family again.  The devil himself may tempt and try one in the winter, but away he goes in the spring, when every bit o’ this blessed earth is preaching the resurrection to us!’

Much of this was above the children’s heads, but Roland said, after a minute’s thought, ’Will dead people come up out of the ground like the flowers?’

’Ay, Master Roland, the flowers are a very poor picture of the glorified body.’

‘And they go to sleep in the winter time?’ the boy went on; ’and how often does Easter come?’

’The flowers have their Easter every year, but we have to wait a little longer for ours.  I ofttimes think that when the Lord do come down from heaven with a shout, He will choose Easter Sunday to wake the dead, for ‘tis the day He rose Himself!’

Old Bob did not say much more, and Roland and Olive went back to the house thinking busily.

The next day was Sunday, and they went to church with their aunts; but directly the service was over, Roland, who was walking with Miss Hester, pulled her by the hand towards Bob’s five graves in the corner.

’Do just let me look at them again!  Have you got any graves here, Aunt Hester?  I wish I had some.  Poor Bob has too many, hasn’t he?’

Miss Hester gave a little shiver.

’What an extraordinary child you are!  You don’t know the meaning of graves, or you wouldn’t talk so!’

‘Yes, I do,’ said Roland earnestly; ’the earth is full of graves in winter; these graves in the churchyard belong to dead people, but the dead flowers are everywhere, and they’re all coming up at Easter — Mr. Bob said so.’

‘Bob fills your head with a lot of nonsense; come along.’

The boy felt snubbed, and said no more; but that afternoon, when he and his little sister came down to the drawing-room, the subject was opened afresh.

Their aunts found Sunday afternoon long and tedious, especially as now a heavy downpour of sleet and rain had set in, and it was in the hope of being amused that Miss Hunter sent for the children.

Miss Hester was on one of the sofas half asleep; Miss Amabel standing on the hearthrug with her back to the fire; whilst Miss Sibyl and Miss Hunter were both trying to read books of a religious character, and feeling very dull and bored.

‘Now come and talk to us,’ said Miss Amabel briskly, as the children appeared; ‘we are all bored to death, and we want you to entertain us.’

Roland sat down on a footstool, and clasped his knees in an old-fashioned way.  Olive ran to Miss Hunter and climbed into her lap.  She was accustomed to be petted, and looked upon grown-up people’s knees as her rightful privilege.

‘What shall we talk about?’ asked Roland.

‘Let’s ask Aunt Marion to tell us the story of Easter Sunday,’ suggested Olive.

‘Yes, nurse doesn’t know it properly — she makes it so short.’

Miss Hunter looked helplessly at her sisters.

‘I’m not good at Bible stories,’ she said; ‘I forget them so.’

‘You tell us what you know about it,’ said Miss Amabel.

Roland puckered his brows for a moment, then he began, —

’Jesus was dead — quite, quite dead.  He had been hung on the cross, and killed by wicked, cruel men; and all His friends were crying and sobbing, and He was put in a grave, and soldiers stood outside.’

‘All His friends were crying and sobbing,’ repeated Olive, shaking her little head mournfully at Miss Hunter, ’and they thought they were never going to see Him again; never, never!’

‘And then,’ continued Roland, ’suddenly, bang! bang! the great stone grave broke open, and two beautiful angels flew down from heaven, and Jesus Christ came rising up from the grave quite well and strong again, and the soldiers ran away, and the good women came near.’

‘And the good women were sobbing and crying,’ put in Olive again, ’and they thought they were never going to see Him again, never!’

’And then one of them, called Mary, saw some one in the garden, and she didn’t quite know who it was; and then He called out her name, and then she saw it was Jesus Himself.’

‘Jesus Himself, quite well and strong, and wasn’t she glad!’ repeated little Olive.

‘And that’s what happened on Easter Sunday,’ said Roland.

There was silence.  The children’s soft, earnest voices and the sweet Bible story touched the hearts of those who heard it.

‘And how long will it be before Easter?’ asked Olive, after a pause.

’Oh, a long, long time.  Why, we haven’t come to Christmas!  We don’t want Easter to come yet.’

’Mr. Bob says Easter is the happiest time in all the year; he likes it better than Christmas.’

’Yes, and so will we, when we see the dead flowers come up, and all the dead people too!’

‘Oh, don’t get them on the subject of “dead people” and graves,’ murmured Miss Hester sleepily; ’they can talk of nothing else at present.’

‘Tell us about your life in India, Roland,’ said Miss Hunter, quite willing to change the subject; and the boy instantly obeyed, whilst his little sister, with knitted brows, was trying to puzzle out in her small mind why Aunt Hester did not like graves.

But when they left the drawing-room an hour afterwards, she said to her brother, ’All our aunties like the winter.  It is only Mr. Bob who says Easter is best.’

‘They haven’t got any graves like Mr. Bob,’ responded Roland thoughtfully, ’nor lilies buried in flower-pots.  If they had, they would like Easter quite as much as he does.’