Things grow in gardens, whether we would have them there or not. In an abandoned garden, there are weeds. In a tended garden, every plant is intentionally placed. In the garden of a Mrs. Fidelia Malmsey, only the most delicate, sweet-smelling roses bloomed. In that garden, a little stone path ran down the slope and wound in between rose bushes until it reached a rather large stone circle.
That stone circle was home to Mrs. Malmsey’s prized, rose-set, wrought iron patio chairs and table. There every Tuesday morning she would parade in with her group of amateur writers behind her, traipsing in their spring frocks and each carrying a cup of tea, a plate of biscuits, and a book serving as the tray for the former two items. There they would sit daintily and carefully, discussing the importance of literature and sharing their own small works so far. This club was proudly proclaimed and generally known as Mrs. Malmsey’s Afternoon Tea Garden Circle. Miss Minerva Smith, a talkative but tentative young woman living with the butcher and his wife on 3rd Street, was known to begin the conversation with a soft, “Shall we begin? I have questions.” And all the rest would nod in agreement, some waiting to answer the questions, and others ready to hear the answers, although every week hardly brought either right away, for Miss Smith would start on a roll of noticings of the week--which another young lady would pick up once the former grew tired. This young woman was usually a Miss Leta Gerwig, the postmaster’s daughter.
Miss Gerwig of course was the leading authority on all amateur writers--finding interest in any new books or material that came through her father’s business--and gossips. She took great pride in knowing what everybody who was anybody was doing, even if they were nobody. Miss Angel Saffron, probably the most level-headed of the group,and a teacher in the town school, once claimed that if you climbed into the attic, shut the door behind you, hid behind a dressing screen and sneezed, Leta would know about it.
Miss Permilia Myrhe was what Mrs. Malmsey called a lamb; gentle in temperament and sweet in spirit, Miss Myrhe found some way to direct every gossipy conversation to the delicate lightness of the atmosphere around them. So it was that on May 28, 1912, the five ladies filed onto that round slab of rock and seated themselves quite comfortably on Mrs. Malmsey’s patio set with only the roses and the sparrows listening.
“Well then,” began Miss Smith, “Shall we begin? I have questions.” The hum of agreement filled that little airy space for a moment before she continued. “Last Wednesday the picket fence by the Brukheimer’s was knocked down by their cow. It was called Letty, and what a dumb thing it was, too. It was very curious that one should see that spotted and stupid of a cow in one’s life, do you not think, Leta?” Miss Gerwig nodded and let her eyes wander away boredly, as if the retelling of what she already knew would put her to sleep. But something this time nipped the gossip of that day in the bud, for just as Miss Smith was about to begin, Miss Saffron, the teacher, cleared her throat and proposed with all the inclination of determination, “Miss Smith, did you have any questions? Perhaps any material for us to read over at the start of our meeting? Girls, let’s not forget that this is an author’s circle, to let us grow in what ways we can while we are still young. Gossip any other time, but it would be so much better to use this time in production.” Miss Smith ever-so-slightly backed away, and Mrs. Malmsey nodded in approval. “Hear, hear! The schoolma'm is right. Miss Myrhe, did you bring anything you would like to share?” The older lady looked at the younger fondly as the latter repositioned her tea and plate of biscuits in order to display the notebook. Though it was quite obvious to the other ladies--and none of them minded, really--Mrs. Malmsey favoured “her lamb” and delighted in watching her sparkle in the spotlight.
“I do. This is something I began to write quite a while ago. It’s some poetry… I thought it described this garden perfectly.”
“Go on, dear,” Mrs. Malmsey encouraged. So Permilia Myrhe opened her notebook and gently leafed through until apparently she had found the place she was looking for, and began to read in a silky, watery cool voice. Angel closed her eyes and pictured with ease the bubbling brook that wound itself at one point around those very rose hedges. Permilia’s depiction was nearly perfect in every sense; the dew droplets falling from rose petal to leaf, the vibrant fragrance that was carried by the wind. The soft chatter and tingle of all the ladies’ voices as the roses listened, and the occasional birdsong that would ring brightly and blithely through the circle.
When Miss Myrhe ended, the faces of those in the circle had been altered so significantly that her eyes widened for a moment before she smiled. The Misses Smith and Gerwig were silent, their expressions thoughtful for once. Angel’s face did indeed look angelic, as her eyes seemed distant and far away. And Mrs. Malmsey was looking at one of her scarlet-lipped roses as if it could hear and did hear them speaking to it as Permilia had proposed in her verses.
“Dear,” she began quietly. “What have we been missing out on? Indeed this has changed too much into gossip and less into improvement as Miss Saffron has said. But that bit of poetry there doesn’t seem to need anything else, just maybe a bit more of attention.”
Permilia blushed and glanced at the others for approval. They subconsciously nodded, the regular gossips still deep in thought as Angel smiled and complimented, “Permilia, it was fantastic. I hope you can give the rest of us advice; I know I have been working on a poem here--” she motioned to her makeshift tray, “and it would be lovely to have you look over it. I think if we started every meeting this way with our minds set in the mood, it would help us better achieve our goal. Girls?”
Miss Smith and Miss Gerwig looked up, knowing the attention had been cast to them. “I do think it would be a better thing to discuss… though the routine I know I have begun will be hard to break.” Miss Smith tentatively stated. Miss Gerwig only nodded and added, “I do so relish in… well you know that. But I suppose there are better times for it anyhow, and the progression of my work will be impressive hopefully to Papa.”
Mrs. Malmsey chuckled and reclined in her seat, contented at last to know that her idea of an amatuer writing club was finally going somewhere. Looking around her at the carefully placed roses, she said aloud, “Permilia, you have given me an idea about this tea-rose garden.” All the girls turned their attention to her.
“Oh, someday you’ll see…” the elder trailed mysteriously creeping back into her own mind and leaving the misses each to finish the thought for themselves. That gave them an idea, and almost immediately each of them slid their notebook from under their treats, picked up their pens, and began to scribble. In the top corner of Angel’s paper, the title was written in a fine, flowing hand: The Tea-Rose Garden and What it Heard. Then below, she wrote a quick note: The writing club--tended or abandoned, restoration, building relationships, What grows in my garden? Yes, this would make fine material for her students next Monday.