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XIII

The Grand Tour of the Gardens



You must see for yourselves that it will be difficult to follow
our adventures unless you are familiar with the Kensington
Gardens, as they now became known to David. They are in London,
where the King lives, and you go to them every day unless you are
looking decidedly flushed, but no one has ever been in the whole
of the Gardens, because it is so soon time to turn back. The
reason it is soon time to turn back is that you sleep from twelve
to one. If your mother was not so sure that you sleep from
twelve to one, you could most likely see the whole of them.

The Gardens are bounded on one side by a never-ending line of
omnibuses, over which Irene has such authority that if she holds
up her finger to any one of them it stops immediately. She then
crosses with you in safety to the other side. There are more
gates to the Gardens than one gate, but that is the one you go in
at, and before you go in you speak to the lady with the balloons,
who sits just outside. This is as near to being inside as she
may venture, because, if she were to let go her hold of the
railings for one moment, the balloons would lift her up, and she
would be flown away. She sits very squat, for the balloons are
always tugging at her, and the strain has given her quite a red
face. Once she was a new one, because the old one had let go, and
David was very sorry for the old one, but as she did let go, he
wished he had been there to see.

The Gardens are a tremendous big place, with millions and
hundreds of trees, and first you come to the Figs, but you scorn
to loiter there, for the Figs is the resort of superior little
persons, who are forbidden to mix with the commonalty, and is so
named, according to legend, because they dress in full fig.
These dainty ones are themselves contemptuously called Figs by
David and other heroes, and you have a key to the manners and
customs of this dandiacal section of the Gardens when I tell you
that cricket is called crickets here. Occasionally a rebel Fig
climbs over the fence into the world, and such a one was Miss
Mabel Grey, of whom I shall tell you when we come to Miss Mabel
Grey's gate. She was the only really celebrated Fig.

We are now in the Broad Walk, and it is as much bigger than the
other walks as your father is bigger than you. David wondered if
it began little, and grew and grew, till it was quite grown up,
and whether the other walks are its babies, and he drew a
picture, which diverted him very much, of the Broad Walk giving a
tiny walk an airing in a perambulator. In the Broad Walk you
meet all the people who are worth knowing, and there is usually a
grown-up with them to prevent their going on the damp grass, and
to make them stand disgraced at the corner of a seat if they have
been mad-dog or Mary-Annish. To be Mary-Annish is to behave like
a girl, whimpering because nurse won't carry you, or simpering
with your thumb in your mouth, and it is a hateful quality, but
to be mad- dog is to kick out at everything, and there is some
satisfaction in that.

If I were to point out all the notable places as we pass up the
Broad Walk, it would be time to turn back before we reach them,
and I simply wave my stick at Cecco's Tree, that memorable spot
where a boy called Cecco lost his penny, and, looking for it,
found twopence. There has been a good deal of excavation going
on there ever since. Farther up the walk is the little wooden
house in which Marmaduke Perry hid. There is no more awful story
of the Gardens by day than this of Marmaduke Perry, who had been
Mary- Annish three days in succession, and was sentenced to
appear in the Broad Walk dressed in his sister's clothes. He hid
in the little wooden house, and refused to emerge until they
brought him knickerbockers with pockets.

You now try to go to the Round Pond, but nurses hate it, because
they are not really manly, and they make you look the other way,
at the Big Penny and the Baby's Palace. She was the most
celebrated baby of the Gardens, and lived in the palace all
alone, with ever so many dolls, so people rang the bell, and up
she got out of her bed, though it was past six o'clock, and she
lighted a candle and opened the door in her nighty, and then they
all cried with great rejoicings, "Hail, Queen of England!" What
puzzled David most was how she knew where the matches were kept.
The Big Penny is a statue about her.

Next we come to the Hump, which is the part of the Broad Walk
where all the big races are run, and even though you had no
intention of running you do run when you come to the Hump, it is
such a fascinating, slide-down kind of place. Often you stop
when you have run about half-way down it, and then you are lost,
but there is another little wooden house near here, called the
Lost House, and so you tell the man that you are lost and then he
finds you. It is glorious fun racing down the Hump, but you
can't do it on windy days because then you are not there, but the
fallen leaves do it instead of you. There is almost nothing that
has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf.

From the Hump we can see the gate that is called after Miss Mabel
Grey, the Fig I promised to tell you about. There were always
two nurses with her, or else one mother and one nurse, and for a
long time she was a pattern-child who always coughed off the
table and said, "How do you do?" to the other Figs, and the only
game she played at was flinging a ball gracefully and letting the
nurse bring it back to her. Then one day she tired of it all and
went mad-dog, and, first, to show that she as really was mad-dog,
she unloosened both her boot-laces and put out her tongue east,
west, north, and south. She then flung her sash into a puddle
and danced on it till dirty water was squirted over her frock,
after which she climbed the fence and had a series of incredible
adventures, one of the least of which was that she kicked off
both her boots. At last she came to the gate that is now called
after her, out of which she ran into streets David and I have
never been in though we have heard them roaring, and still she
ran on and would never again have been heard of had not her
mother jumped into a bus and thus overtaken her. It all
happened, I should say, long ago, and this is not the Mabel Grey
whom David knows.

Returning up the Broad Walk we have on our right the Baby Walk,
which is so full of perambulators that you could cross from side
to side stepping on babies, but the nurses won't let you do it.
From this walk a passage called Bunting's Thumb, because it is
that length, leads into Picnic Street, where there are real
kettles, and chestnut-blossom falls into your mug as you are
drinking. Quite common children picnic here also, and the
blossom falls into their mugs just the same.

Next comes St. Govor's Well, which was full of water when Malcolm
the Bold fell into it. He was his mother's favourite, and he let
her put her arm round his neck in public because she was a widow,
but he was also partial to adventures and liked to play with a
chimney-sweep who had killed a good many bears. The sweep's name
was Sooty, and one day when they were playing near the well,
Malcolm fell in and would have been drowned had not Sooty dived
in and rescued him, and the water had washed Sooty clean and he
now stood revealed as Malcolm's long-lost father. So Malcolm
would not let his mother put her arm round his neck any more.

Between the well and the Round Pond are the cricket-pitches, and
frequently the choosing of sides exhausts so much time that there
is scarcely any cricket. Everybody wants to bat first, and as
soon as he is out he bowls unless you are the better wrestler,
and while you are wrestling with him the fielders have scattered
to play at something else. The Gardens are noted for two kinds
of cricket: boy cricket, which is real cricket with a bat, and
girl cricket, which is with a racquet and the governess. Girls
can't really play cricket, and when you are watching their futile
efforts you make funny sounds at them. Nevertheless, there was a
very disagreeable incident one day when some forward girls
challenged David's team, and a disturbing creature called Angela
Clare sent down so many yorkers that--However, instead of telling
you the result of that regrettable match I shall pass on
hurriedly to the Round Pond, which is the wheel that keeps all
the Gardens going.

It is round because it is in the very middle of the Gardens, and
when you are come to it you never want to go any farther. You
can't be good all the time at the Round Pond, however much you
try. You can be good in the Broad Walk all the time, but not at
the Round Pond, and the reason is that you forget, and, when you
remember, you are so wet that you may as well be wetter. There
are men who sail boats on the Round Pond, such big boats that
they bring them in barrows and sometimes in perambulators, and
then the baby has to walk. The bow-legged children in the
Gardens are these who had to walk too soon because their father
needed the perambulator.

You always want to have a yacht to sail on the Round Pond, and in
the end your uncle gives you one; and to carry it to the Pond the
first day is splendid, also to talk about it to boys who have no
uncle is splendid, but soon you like to leave it at home. For
the sweetest craft that slips her moorings in the Round Pond is
what is called a stick-boat, because she is rather like a stick
until she is in the water and you are holding the string. Then
as you walk round, pulling her, you see little men running about
her deck, and sails rise magically and catch the breeze, and you
put in on dirty nights at snug harbours which are unknown to the
lordly yachts. Night passes in a twink, and again your rakish
craft noses for the wind, whales spout, you glide over buried
cities, and have brushes with pirates and cast anchor on coral
isles. You are a solitary boy while all this is taking place,
for two boys together cannot adventure far upon the Round Pond,
and though you may talk to yourself throughout the voyage, giving
orders and executing them with dispatch, you know not, when it is
time to go home, where you have been or what swelled your sails;
your treasure-trove is all locked away in your hold, so to speak,
which will be opened, perhaps, by another little boy many years
afterward.

But those yachts have nothing in their hold. Does anyone return
to this haunt of his youth because of the yachts that used to
sail it? Oh, no. It is the stick-boat that is freighted with
memories. The yachts are toys, their owner a fresh-water
mariner, they can cross and recross a pond only while the stick-
boat goes to sea. You yachtsmen with your wands, who think we
are all there to gaze on you, your ships are only accidents of
this place, and were they all to be boarded and sunk by the ducks
the real business of the Round Pond would be carried on as usual.

Paths from everywhere crowd like children to the pond. Some of
them are ordinary paths, which have a rail on each side, and are
made by men with their coats off, but others are vagrants, wide
at one spot and at another so narrow that you can stand astride
them. They are called Paths that have Made Themselves, and David
did wish he could see them doing it. But, like all the most
wonderful things that happen in the Gardens, it is done, we
concluded, at night after the gates are closed. We have also
decided that the paths make themselves because it is their only
chance of getting to the Round Pond.

One of these gypsy paths comes from the place where the sheep get
their hair cut. When David shed his curls at the hair-dresser's,
I am told, he said good-bye to them without a tremor, though Mary
has never been quite the same bright creature since, so he
despises the sheep as they run from their shearer and calls out
tauntingly, "Cowardy, cowardy custard!" But when the man grips
them between his legs David shakes a fist at him for using such
big scissors. Another startling moment is when the man turns
back the grimy wool from the sheeps' shoulders and they look
suddenly like ladies in the stalls of a theatre. The sheep are
so frightened by the shearing that it makes them quite white and
thin, and as soon as they are set free they begin to nibble the
grass at once, quite anxiously, as if they feared that they would
never be worth eating. David wonders whether they know each
other, now that they are so different, and if it makes them fight
with the wrong ones. They are great fighters, and thus so unlike
country sheep that every year they give Porthos a shock. He can
make a field of country sheep fly by merely announcing his
approach, but these town sheep come toward him with no promise of
gentle entertainment, and then a light from last year breaks upon
Porthos. He cannot with dignity retreat, but he stops and looks
about him as if lost in admiration of the scenery, and presently
he strolls away with a fine indifference and a glint at me from
the corner of his eye.

The Serpentine begins near here. It is a lovely lake, and there
is a drowned forest at the bottom of it. If you peer over the
edge you can see the trees all growing upside down, and they say
that at night there are also drowned stars in it. If so, Peter
Pan sees them when he is sailing across the lake in the Thrush's
Nest. A small part only of the Serpentine is in the Gardens, for
soon it passes beneath a bridge to far away where the island is
on which all the birds are born that become baby boys and girls.
No one who is human, except Peter Pan (and he is only half
human), can land on the island, but you may write what you want
(boy or girl, dark or fair) on a piece of paper, and then twist
it into the shape of a boat and slip it into the water, and it
reaches Peter Pan's island after dark.

We are on the way home now, though, of course, it is all pretence
that we can go to so many of the places in one day. I should
have had to be carrying David long ago and resting on every seat
like old Mr. Salford. That was what we called him, because he
always talked to us of a lovely place called Salford where he had
been born. He was a crab-apple of an old gentleman who wandered
all day in the Gardens from seat to seat trying to fall in with
somebody who was acquainted with the town of Salford, and when we
had known him for a year or more we actually did meet another
aged solitary who had once spent Saturday to Monday in Salford.
He was meek and timid and carried his address inside his hat, and
whatever part of London he was in search of he always went to the
General Post-office first as a starting-point. Him we carried in
triumph to our other friend, with the story of that Saturday to
Monday, and never shall I forget the gloating joy with which Mr.
Salford leapt at him. They have been cronies ever since, and I
notice that Mr. Salford, who naturally does most of the talking,
keeps tight grip of the other old man's coat.

The two last places before you come to our gate are the Dog's
Cemetery and the chaffinch's nest, but we pretend not to know
what the Dog's Cemetery is, as Porthos is always with us. The
nest is very sad. It is quite white, and the way we found it was
wonderful. We were having another look among the bushes for
David's lost worsted ball, and instead of the ball we found a
lovely nest made of the worsted, and containing four eggs, with
scratches on them very like David's handwriting, so we think they
must have been the mother's love-letters to the little ones
inside. Every day we were in the Gardens we paid a call at the
nest, taking care that no cruel boy should see us, and we dropped
crumbs, and soon the bird knew us as friends, and sat in the nest
looking at us kindly with her shoulders hunched up. But one day
when we went, there were only two eggs in the nest, and the next
time there were none. The saddest part of it was that the poor
little chaffinch fluttered about the bushes, looking so
reproachfully at us that we knew she thought we had done it, and
though David tried to explain to her, it was so long since he had
spoken the bird language that I fear she did not understand. He
and I left the Gardens that day with our knuckles in our eyes.