Lovey Mary by Alice Hegan Rice
Chapter VIII. A Denominational Gardbn
"Oh, mickle is the powerful grace that lies In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities; For naught so vile that on the earth doth live But to the earth some special good doth give."
The following Sunday being decidedly cooler, Lovey Mary was started off to Miss Viny's in quest of yellowroot. She had protested that she was not sick, but Miss Hazy, backed by Mrs. Wiggs, had insisted.
"If you git down sick, it would be a' orful drain on me," was Miss Hazy's final argument, and the point was effective.
As Lovey Mary trudged along the railroad-tracks, she was unconscious of the pleasant changes of scenery. The cottages became less frequent, and the bare, dusty commons gave place to green fields. Here and there a tree spread its branches to the breezes, and now and then a snatch of bird song broke the stillness. But Lovey Mary kept gloomily on her way, her eyes fixed on the cross-ties. The thoughts surging through her brain were dark enough to obscure even the sunshine. For three nights she had cried herself to sleep, and the "nervous sensations" were getting worse instead of better.
"Just two months since Kate was hurt," she said to herself. "Soon as she gets out the hospital she'll be trying to find us again. I believe she was coming to the factory looking for me when she got run over. She'd just like to take Tommy away and send me to jail. Oh, I hate her worse all the time! I wish she was--"
The wish died on her lips, for she suddenly realized that it might already have been fulfilled. Some one coughed near by, and she started guiltily.
"You seem to be in a right deep steddy," said a voice on the other side of the fence.
Lovey Mary glanced up and saw a queer-looking old woman smiling at her quizzically. A pair of keen eyes twinkled under bushy brows, and a fierce little beard bristled from her chin. When she smiled it made Lovey Mary think of a pebble dropped in a pool, for the wrinkles went rippling off from her mouth in ever-widening circles until they were lost in the gray hair under her broad-brimmed hat.
"Are you Miss Viny?" asked Lovey Mary, glancing at the old-fashioned flower-garden beyond.
"Well, I been that fer sixty year'; I ain't heared of no change," answered the old lady.
"Miss Hazy sent me after some yellowroot," said Lovey Mary, listlessly.
Miss Viny took a pair of large spectacles from her pocket, put them on the tip of her nose, and looked over them critically at Lovey Mary.
"Stick out yer tongue."
Lovey Mary obeyed.
"Uh-huh. It's a good thing I looked. You don't no more need yallerroot than a bumblebee. You come in here on the porch an' tell me what's ailin' you, an' I'll do my own prescriptin'."
Lovey Mary followed her up the narrow path, that ran between a mass of flowers. Snowy oleanders, yellow asters, and purple phlox crowded together in a space no larger than Miss Hazy's front yard. Lovey Mary forgot her troubles in sheer delight in seeing so many flowers together.
"Do you love 'em, too?" asked Miss Viny, jerking her thumb over her shoulder.
"I guess I would if I had a chance. I never saw them growing out of doors like this. I always had to look at them through the store windows."
"Oh, law, don't talk to me 'bout caged-up flowers! I don't b'lieve in shuttin' a flower up in a greenhouse any more 'n I b'lieve in shuttin' myself up in one church."
Lovey Mary remembered what Miss Hazy had told her of Miss Viny's pernicious religious views, and she tried to change the subject. But Miss Viny was started upon a favorite theme and was not to be diverted.
"This here is a denominational garden, an' I got every congregation I ever heared of planted in it. I ain't got no faverite bed. I keer fer 'em all jes alike. When you come to think of it, the same rule holds good in startin' a garden as does in startin' a church. You first got to steddy what sort of soil you goin' to work with, then you have to sum up all the things you have to fight ag'inst. Next you choose what flowers are goin' to hold the best places. That's a mighty important question in churches, too, ain't it? Then you go to plantin', the thicker the better, fer in both you got to allow fer a mighty fallin' off. After that you must take good keer of what you got, an' be sure to plant something new each year. Once in a while some of the old growths has to be thinned out, and the new upstarts an' suckers has to be pulled up. Now, if you'll come out here I'll show you round."
She started down the path, and Lovey Mary, somewhat overwhelmed by this oration, followed obediently.
"These here are the Baptists," said Miss Viny, waving her hand toward a bed of heliotrope and flags. "They want lots of water; like to be wet clean through. They sorter set off to theyselves an' tend to their own business; don't keer much 'bout minglin' with the other flowers."
Lovey Mary did not understand very clearly what Miss Viny was talking about, but she was glad to follow her in the winding paths, where new beauties were waiting at every turn.
"These is geraniums, ain't they? One of the girls had one, once, in a flower-pot when she was sick."
"Yes," said Miss Viny; "they're Methodist. They fall from grace an' has to be revived; they like lots of encouragement in the way of sun an' water. These phlox are Methodist, too; no set color, easy to grow, hardy an' vigorous. Pinchin' an' cuttin' back the shoots makes it flower all the better; needs new soil every few years; now ain't that Methodist down to the ground?"
"Are there any Presbyterians?" asked Lovey Mary, beginning to grasp Miss Viny's meaning.
"Yes, indeed; they are a good, old, reliable bed. Look at all these roses an' tiger-lilies an' dahlias; they all knew what they was goin' to be afore they started to grow. They was elected to it, an' they'll keep on bein' what they started out to be clean to the very end."
"I know about predestination," cried Lovey Mary, eagerly. "Miss Bell used to tell us all those things."
Lovey Mary flushed crimson. "A lady I used to know," she said evasively.
Miss Viny crossed the garden, and stopped before a bed of stately lilies and azaleas. "These are 'Piscopals," she explained. "Ain't they tony? Jes look like they thought their bed was the only one in the garden. Somebody said that a lily didn't have no pore kin among the flowers. It ain't no wonder they 'most die of dignity. They're like the 'Piscopals in more ways 'n one; both hates to be disturbed, both likes some shade, an'"--confidentially--"both air pretty pernickity. But to tell you the truth, ain't nothin' kin touch 'em when it comes to beauty! I think all the other beds is proud of 'em, if you'd come to look into it. Why, look at weddin's an' funerals! Don't all the churches call in the 'Piscopals an' the lilies on both them occasions?"
Lovey Mary nodded vaguely.
"An' here," continued Miss Viny, "are the Unitarians. You may be s'prised at me fer havin' 'em in here, 'long with the orthodox churches; but if the sun an' the rain don't make no distinction, I don't see what right I got to put 'em on the other side of the fence. These first is sweet-william, as rich in bloom as the Unitarian is in good works, a-sowin' theyselves constant, an' every little plant a- puttin' out a flower."
"Ain't there any Catholics?" asked Lovey Mary.
"Don't you see them hollyhawks an' snowballs an' laylacs? All of them are Catholics, takin' up lots of room an' needin' the prunin'-knife pretty often, but bringin' cheer and brightness to the whole garden when it needs it most. Yes, I guess you'd have trouble thinkin' of any sect I ain't got planted. Them ferns over in the corner is Quakers. I ain't never seen no Quakers, but they tell me that they don't b'lieve in flowerin' out; that they like coolness an' shade an' quiet, an' are jes the same the year round. These colea plants are the apes; they are all things to all men, take on any color that's round 'em, kin be the worst kind of Baptists or Presbyterians, but if left to theyselves they run back to good-fer-nothin's. This here everlastin' is one of these here Christians that's so busy thinkin' 'bout dyin' that he fergits to live."
Miss Viny chuckled as she crumbled the dry flower in her fingers.
"See how different this is," she said, plucking a sprig of lemon- verbena. "This an' the mint an' the sage an' the lavender is all true Christians; jes by bein' touched they give out a' influence that makes the whole world a sweeter place to live in. But, after all, they can't all be alike! There's all sorts of Christians: some stands fer sunshine, some fer shade; some fer beauty, some fer use; some up high, some down low. There's jes one thing all the flowers has to unite in fightin' ag'inst--that's the canker-worm, Hate. If it once gits in a plant, no matter how good an' strong that plant may be, it eats right down to its heart."
"How do you get it out, Miss Viny?" asked Lovey Mary, earnestly.
"Prayer an' perseverance. If the Christian'll do his part, God'll do his'n. You see, I'm tryin' to be to these flowers what God is to his churches. The sun, which answers to the Sperrit, has to shine on 'em all, an' the rain, which answers to God's mercy, has to fall on 'em all. I jes watch 'em, an' plan fer 'em, an' shelter 'em, an' love 'em, an' if they do their part they're bound to grow. Now I'm goin' to cut you a nice bo'quet to carry back to the Cabbage Patch."
So engrossed were the two in selecting and arranging the flowers that neither thought of the yellowroot or its substitute. Nevertheless, as Lovey Mary tramped briskly back over the railroad-ties with her burden of blossoms, she bore a new thought in her heart which was destined to bring about a surer cure than any of Miss Viny's most efficient herbs.