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Truly Rural
by [?]


5 & 6 Wm. IV., cap. 50, sect. 65.


“I am directed to call your attention to the present condition of trees within your premises, which now overhang the public footpath adjoining, and thereby cause considerable inconvenience to the public. I shall be glad if you will kindly give the matter your best attention, with a view to lopping or cutting the trees in such a manner as to obviate the inconvenience at present complained of.

“Yours obediently,
Engineer to the Board.”

Amid the cosmopolitan medley of letters on my metropolitan breakfast-table–the long and formal-looking, the fat and foreign, and the over-scrawled and the underpaid (the last mainly requests for autographs)–this delightful home-grown epistle came with refreshing piquancy. It brought a breath of summer into the grey chillness of a London winter, a suggestion of rustling foliage about the chandelier, and the scent of the hay over the gaslights. “My dear!” I exclaimed to the partner of my bosom (a tame white rat that likes to perch there), “Have we any trees?”

My partner gave a little plaintive squeak. That is her idea of conversation. She screams at everything. She would scream at the sight of a mouse.

I pushed away my plate. I had sat down hungry as a hunter, and had had two helpings of everything; but now I could eat no more. Excitement had taken away my appetite. The prospect of rural discoveries agitated me. I hastened to the window and looked at the front garden. To my astonishment and joy there was vegetation in it. There was a dwarf evergreen bush and a fragment of vine stretching itself sleepily, and a tall thin tree–they might all have got comfortably into one bed, but they had been planted in three far apart, and this gave the garden a desolate Ramsgate-in-winter air of “Beds to let.” The tall thin tree was absolutely naked, without an inch of foliage to cover its wooden limbs; a mere mass of dry sticks. I looked hard at the tree to see where it offended, determined to pluck it out. But it returned my gaze with the stolidity of conscious innocence–it held up its wooden arms in deprecation. I re-read Mr. P. Leonardo Macready’s letter. “Which now overhang the public footpath”! Ah! that was what was the matter with my trees. It was raining, but I am an Englishman and the law is sacred, and I went outside into the public highway and looked at the tall thin tree from the new point of view. Sure enough–very far up–there was a bough overhanging the public footpath.

I looked up at it and shook my fist menacingly, but it waved its twigs in response with an irritating amiability. I began to understand what an annoyance it must be to have a bough up there that you couldn’t flick at with your stick as you passed by, and that even when weighed down by its summer greenery would bemock you if you made a casual clutch at its foliage, and laugh at you in its leaves. I went inside and returned with a step-ladder and an umbrella and a carving-knife, and I stood on the summit of the ladder and made abortive slashes at space with my right hand, while the open umbrella in my left made equally abortive efforts to soar with me skywards. After nearly stabbing the partner of my bosom I went in, both of us wet like drowned rats, and as I settled myself again to coffee and correspondence, I could not help wishing that Chang, the Chinese giant, had remained alive to triumph over my tantalising trees. Nor could I help wishing that the activity of the local engineers and surveyors had been directed by His Gracious Majesty King William IV. into quite a contrary channel.