Beside a winding creek of the Lynher River, and not far from the Cornish borough of Saltash, you may find a roofless building so closely backed with cherry-orchards that the trees seem by their slow pressure to be thrusting the mud-walls down to the river’s brink, there to topple and fall into the tide. The old trees, though sheeted with white blossom in the spring, bear little fruit, and that of so poor a flavour as to be scarcely worth picking. They have, in fact, almost reverted to savagery, even as the cottage itself is crumbling back to the earth out of which it was built. On the slope above the cherry-orchards, if you moor your boat at the tumble-down quay and climb by half-obliterated pathways, you will come to a hedge of brambles, and to a broken gate with a well beside it; and beyond the gate to an orchard of apple-trees, planted in times when, regularly as Christmas Eve came round, Aunt Barbree Furnace, her maid Susannah, and the boy Nandy, would mount by this same path with a bowl of cider, and anoint the stems one by one, reciting–
Here’s to thee, good apple-tree–
Pockets full, hats full, great bushel-bags full!
Amen, an’ vire off the gun!
–Whereupon Nandy, always after a caution to be extry-careful, would shut his eyes, pull the trigger of his blunderbuss, and wake all the echoes of the creek in an uproar which, as Susannah never failed to remark, was fit to frighten every war-ship down in Hamoaze. The trees, grey with lichen, sprawl as they have fallen under the weight of past crops. They go on blossoming, year after year; even those that lie almost horizontally remember their due season and burst into blowth, pouring (as it were) in rosy-white cascades down the slope and through the rank grasses. But as often as not the tenant neglects to gather the fruit. Nor is it worth his while to grub up the old roots; for you cannot plant a new orchard where an old one has decayed. One of these days (he tells me) he means to do something with the wisht old place: meanwhile I doubt if he sets foot in it once a year.
For me, I find it worth visiting at least twice a year: in spring when the Poet’s Narcissus flowers in great clumps under the north hedge, and the columbines grow breast-high–pink, blue, and blood-red; and again in autumn, for the sake of an apple which we call the gillyflower–small and shy, but of incomparable flavour–and for a gentle melancholy which haunts the spot like–yes, like a human face, and with faint companionable smiles and murmurs of dead-and-gone laughter.
The tenant was right: it was a wisht old place, and the more wisht because it lies so near to a world that has forgotten it. Above, if you row past the bend of the creek, you will come upon trim villas with well-kept gardens; below, and beyond the entrance to the creek, you look down a broad river to the Hamoaze, crowded with torpedo-boats, powder-hulks, training-ships, and great vessels of war. Around and behind Merry-Garden–for that is its name–stretches a parish given up to the cultivation of fruit and flowers; and across the creek another parish ‘clothed’–I quote the local historian–‘in flowers like a bride’; and both parishes learned their prosperity from Merry-Garden the now deserted. In mazzard time (‘mazzards’ are sweet black cherries) the sound of young laughter floats across Merry-Garden; but the girls and boys who make the laughter seldom, wander that way. No longer to its quay come boats with holiday-parties from the Fleet and the Garrison at Plymouth, as they came by scores a hundred years ago.