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The Ordeal By Fire
by [?]

They laughed. They thought I was joking.

“Well, we’re going to plant it now, anyhow,” said Miss Atherley. “Come along and help us.”

We went out, six of us, Mrs Atherley carrying the precious thing; and we gathered round an old tree trunk in front of the house.

“It would look rather pretty here,” said Mrs Atherley. “Don’t you think?”

I gave a great groan.

“You–you–you’re all wrong again,” I said in despair. “You don’t put a flame-flower in a place where you think it will look pretty; you try in all humility to find a favoured spot where it will be pleased to grow. There may be such a spot in your garden or there may not. Until I know you better I cannot say. But it is extremely unlikely to be here, right in front of the window.”

They laughed again, and began to dig up the ground. I turned my back in horror; I could not watch. And at the last moment some qualms of doubt seized even them. They spoke to me almost humbly.

“How would YOU plant it?” they asked.

It was my last chance of making them realize their responsibility.

“I cannot say at this moment,” I began, “exactly how the ceremony should be performed, but I should endeavour to think of something in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion. It may be that Mrs Atherley and I would take the flower and march in procession round the fountain, singing a suitable chant, while Bob and Archie with shaven heads prostrated themselves before the sundial. Miss Atherley might possibly dance the Fire-dance upon the east lawn, while Mr Atherley stood upon one foot in the middle of the herbaceous border and played upon her with the garden hose. These or other symbolic rites we should perform, before we planted it in a place chosen by Chance. Then leaving a saucer of new milk for it lest it should thirst in the night we would go away, and spend the rest of the week in meditation.”

I paused for breath.

“That might do it,” I added, “or it might not. But at least that is the sort of spirit that you want to show.”

Once more they laughed … and then they planted it.

. . . . . . . .

These have been two difficult years for me. There have been times when I have almost lost faith, and not even the glories of our own flame-flower could cheer me. But at last the news came. I was at home for the week-end and, after rather a tiring day showing visitors the north-east end of the pergola, I went indoors for a rest. On the table there was a letter for me. It was from Mrs Atherley.


“By the way”!

But even if they had taken the business seriously, even if they had understood fully what a great thing it was they were attempting–even then I think they would have failed.

For, though I like the Atherleys very much, though I think them all extremely jolly … yet–I doubt, you know, if they are QUITE the family to have a flame-flower growing in their garden.


“KNOW thyself,” said the old Greek motto. (In Greek–but this is an English book.) So I bought a little red volume called, tersely enough, WERE YOU BORN IN JANUARY? I was; and, reassured on this point, the author told me all about myself.

For the most part he told me nothing new. “You are,” he said in effect, “good-tempered, courageous, ambitious, loyal, quick to resent wrong, an excellent raconteur, and a leader of men.” True. “Generous to a fault”–(Yes, I was overdoing that rather)–“you have a ready sympathy with the distressed. People born in this month will always keep their promises.” And so on. There was no doubt that the author had the idea all right. Even when he went on to warn me of my weaknesses he maintained the correct note. “People born in January,” he said, “must be on their guard against working too strenuously. Their extraordinarily active brains–” Well, you see what he means. It IS a fault perhaps, and I shall be more careful in future. Mind, I do not take offence with him for calling my attention to it. In fact, my only objection to the book is its surface application to ALL the people who were born in January. There should have been more distinction made between me and the rabble.