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An essay by Richard Le Gallienne

Spring By Parcel Post

Title:     Spring By Parcel Post
Author: Richard Le Gallienne [More Titles by Le Gallienne]

They've taken all the spring from the country to the town--
Like the butter and the eggs, and the milk from the cow....

So began to jig and jingle my thoughts as in my letters and newspapers this morning I read, buried alive among the solitary fastnesses of the Surrey hills, the last news from town. The news I envied most was that spring had already reached London. 'Now,' ran a pretty article on spring fashions, 'the sunshine makes bright the streets, and the flower-baskets, like huge bouquets, announce the gay arrival of spring.' I looked up and out through my hillside window. The black ridge on the other side of the valley stood a grim wall of burnt heather against the sky--which sky, like the bullets in the nursery rhyme, was made unmistakably of lead; a close rain was falling methodically, and, generally speaking, the world looked like a soaked mackintosh. It wasn't much like the gay arrival of spring, and grimly I mused on the advantages of life in town.

Certainly, it did seem hard, I reflected, that town should be ahead of us even in such a country matter as spring. Flower-baskets indeed! Why, we haven't as much as a daisy for miles around. It is true that on the terrace there the crocuses blaze like a street on fire, that the primroses thicken into clumps, lying among their green leaves like pounds of country butter; it is true that the blue cones of the little grape hyacinth are there, quaintly formal as a child's toy-flowers; yes! and the big Dutch hyacinths are already shamelessly _enceinte_ with their buxom waxen blooms, so fat and fragrant--(one is already delivered of a fine blossom. Well, that is a fine baby, to be sure! say the other hyacinths, with babes no less bonny under their own green aprons--all waiting for the doctor sun). Then among the blue-green blades of the narcissus, here and there you see a stem topped with a creamish chrysalis-like envelope, from which will soon emerge a beautiful eye, rayed round with white wings, looking as though it were meant to fly, but remaining rooted--a butterfly on a stalk; while all the beds are crowded with indeterminate beak and blade, pushing and elbowing each other for a look at the sun, which, however, sulkily declines to look at them. It is true there is spring on the terrace, but even so it is spring imported from the town--spring bought in Holborn, spring delivered free by parcel post; for where would the terrace have been but for the city seedsman--that magician who sends you strangely spotted beans and mysterious bulbs in shrivelled cerements, weird little flower-mummies that suggest centuries of forgotten silence in painted Egyptian tombs. This strange and shrivelled thing can surely never live again, we say, as we hold it in our hands, seeing not the glowing circles of colour, tiny rings of Saturn, packed so carefully inside this flower-egg, the folds of green and silver silk wound round and round the precious life within.

But, of course, this is all the seedsman's cunning, and no credit to Nature; and I repeat, that were it not for railways and the parcel post--goodness knows whether we should ever get any spring at all in the country! Think of the days when it had to travel down by stage-coach. For, left to herself, what is the best Nature can do for you with March well on the way? Personally, I find the face of the country practically unchanged. It is, to all intents and purposes, the same as it has been for the last three or four months--as grim, as unadorned, as bleak, as draughty, and generally as comfortless as ever. There isn't a flower to be seen, hardly a bird worth listening to, not a tree that is not winter-naked, and not a chair to sit down upon. If you want flowers on your walks you must bring them with you; songs, you must take a poet under your arm; and if you want to rest, lean laboriously on your stick--or take your chance of rheumatism.

Of course your specialists, your botanists, your nature-detectives, will tell you otherwise. They have surprised a violet in the act of blossoming; after long and excited chase have discovered a clump of primroses in their wild state; seen one butterfly, heard one cuckoo. But as one swallow does not make a summer, it takes more than one cuckoo to make a spring. I confess that only yesterday I saw three sulphur butterflies, with my own eyes; I admit the catkins, and the silver-notched palm; and I am told on good colour-authority that there is a lovely purplish bloom, almost like plum-bloom, over certain copses in the valley; by taking thought, I have observed the long horizontal arms of the beech growing spurred with little forked branches of spear-shaped buds, and I see little green nipples pushing out through the wolf-coloured rind of the dwarf fir-trees. Spring is arming in secret to attack the winter--that is sure enough, but spring in secret is no spring for me. I want to see her marching gaily with green pennons, and flashing sun-blades, and a good band.

I want butterflies as they have them at the Lyceum--'butterflies all white,' 'butterflies all blue,' 'butterflies of gold,' and I should particularly fancy 'butterflies all black.' But there, again, you see,--you must go to town, within hearing of Mrs. Patrick Campbell's _voix d'or_. I want the meadows thickly inlaid with buttercups and daisies; I want the trees thick with green leaves, the sky all larks and sunshine; I want hawthorn and wild roses--both at once; I want some go, some colour, some warmth in the world. Oh, where are the pipes of Pan?

The pipes of Pan are in town, playing at street corners and in the centres of crowded circuses, piled high with flower-baskets blazing with refulgent flowery masses of white and gold. Here are the flowers you can only buy in town; simple flowers enough, but only to be had in town. Here are fragrant banks of violets every few yards, conflagrations of daffodils at every crossing, and narcissus in scented starry garlands for your hair.

You wander through the Strand, or along Regent Street, as through the meadows of Enna--sweet scents, sweet sounds, sweet shapes, are all about you; the town-butterflies, white, blue, and gold, 'wheel and shine' and flutter from shop to shop, suddenly resurgent from their winter wardrobes as from a chrysalis; bright eyes flash and flirt along the merry, jostling street, while the sun pours out his golden wine overhead, splashing it about from gilded domes and bright-faced windows--and ever are the voices at the corners and the crossings calling out the sweet flower-names of the spring!

* * * * *

But here in the country it is still all rain and iron. I am tired of waiting for this slow-moving provincial spring. Let us to the town to meet the spring--for:

They've taken all the spring from the country to the town--
Like the butter and the eggs, and the milk from the cow;
And if you want a primrose, you write to London now,
And if you need a nightingale, well,--Whiteley sends it down.

[The end]
Richard Le Gallienne's essay: Spring By Parcel Post