Brambles and Apple-Trees

"The worst of gardening," said Mrs. Miniver, lying along one of the upper boughs of an apple-tree and reaching out to snip with a satisfying crunch through a half-inch-thick bramble, "is that it's so full of metaphors one hardly knows where to begin."

"I know," said Clem from the ground below. He severed the root of the bramble with a billhook and began to haul it down hand over hand like a rope. "This is a prize one. It must have been about thirty feet long when it was whole."

They had just bought the tiny white weather-boarded cottage on the far side of Starlings Wood, which had been standing empty ever since old Parsloe, the hurdle-maker, had died there a year ago. For at least two years before that he had been almost bedridden, so that the little garden and orchard had become a wilderness. The Minivers had bought it partly because they were afraid that Bateman, the local builder, might get hold of it first and spoil it, and partly because, having made Starlings as nearly perfect as they could, they were both filled with a restless longing for new material: a state of mind which is as natural in the sphere of house-property as it is in that of human relationships, but which those who do not share it are apt to mistake for inconstancy. Of this there was no question, for they both adored Starlings and would not have exchanged it for any other house in England: but just at the moment they were frankly enjoying a pretty shameless flirtation with old Parsloe's cottage. When it was finished, as Clem said, they would probably marry it off to one of their friends; in the meanwhile it was the making of the Easter holidays. They came over with the children nearly every day, working indoors when the weather was bad, and out of doors when it was fine: painting and whitewashing and carpentering and digging and weeding and planting, without too deeply inquiring why, and for whom, they were doing it.

Beyond the potato-patch, close under the high-banked hedge which separated the garden from Carter's Lane, there stood three apple-trees. These, during the last few years, had been stealthily but steadily invaded by an army of brambles. Some had pressed downwards from the bank in a solid phalanx, smothering the hinder branches almost to death; others had thrust upwards from the ground, looping themselves over the topmost boughs and falling to take root again on the other side, so that the trees were bound to the earth with criss-cross cords, like haystacks on a windy headland. The job of rescuing them -- combining as it did all the most attractive features of a crusade and a demolition contract -- was one which the Minivers particularly enjoyed. Constructive destruction is one of the most delightful employments in the world, and in civilized life the opportunities for it are only too rare. Also, a bonfire is always fun; and here was an excellent excuse for the children to keep one going all day and every day, piling it high with Clem's big bramble-faggots and roasting potatoes (very unevenly) in the intervals. As for Mrs. Miniver herself, she only regretted that circumstances had never before led her to discover that the way to spend the spring was up an apple-tree, in daily intimacy with its bark, leaves, and buds. In early spring, as in the early years of children, there are times when the clock races, the film runs in swift motion, and the passionate watcher does not dare to glance away for fear he should miss some lovely and fleeting phase. The present week was one of those times. She looked, and the buds were as tightly, rosily clenched as a baby's fist; she looked again, and they were half uncurled. To-morrow they would be nearly open; the next day, perhaps, in full bloom, like those of the pear-tree on the other side of the garden, which towered up in the sunlight as tall, rounded and dazzling as a cumulus cloud.

"Time for beer," said Clem, and went into the cottage to get it.

Mrs. Miniver stuck her secateurs into her belt and disposed herself more comfortably among the branches. She was determined not to come down to earth before she need ; if possible, never. Peering downwards through the young leaves, she could see Toby making an elaborate entanglement with twigs and cotton over some newly sown grass. He trod on the seeds a good deal, because his soul was bent on getting the pattern of the network symmetrical. Vin and Judy were eating potatoes and racing snails up the gate-posts. In the field beyond, two lambs -- the only living creatures which never fail to come up to expectation -- were authentically gambolling. Their whiteness rivalled the pear-blossom’s. The smoke of the bonfire drifted. blue and sweet, across the potato-patch. An invisible, indefatigable blackbird went on saying "Doh-mi! " from somewhere on the other side of Carter's Lane; he had made this remark so many hundreds of times every day that they were all beginning to ignore it.

Clem, coming out of the cottage, paused for a moment to take a critical look at what they had done.

"We've made a lot of difference to-day," he said, as he handed her glass up to her through the branches. "One is really beginning to see the shape of the trees."

"I suppose," said Mrs. Miniver between gulps, "the brambles would try to make out that the apple-trees had been practising encirclement."

"That reminds me," said Clem. "We ought to be getting home pretty soon if we don't want to be late for the news."


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