On a wild night three winters ago the wind Euroclydon tore it from the chimney top, and sent it clattering down the slates. It plunged like a Bulwan shell into a huge laurel bush in the garden, and there W.V. and I found it in the morning, unbroken, in a litter of snow and shredded branches.
Neither in shape nor in colour was it a pretty specimen of the potter's craft; but it had been clay, and all clay appeals to humanity. As I looked at it, it seemed to deserve a better fate than the dustman's cart, so, to Winifred's great delight, I dug a hole for it in one of the flower-beds that catch a little of the sun, set it on end, and filled it with stones and soil, in which something might be planted.
This is Nature's way; when she lets her volcanic fires smoulder to ashes she lays out the crater in grass and wild flowers. And this appeared to be the proper way of treating this old retainer which had served so staunchly on the ridge of the roof; which had never plagued us with smoke, whatever the wind or the weather.
We were puzzled what to plant till I recollected London Pride, which, I pointed out to Winifred, is a true roof flower. You find it, no doubt, in gardens little above sea level, but in Kerry, in Spain, its natural place is on the roof of the hills. An 'ice-plant,' the country people call it, I believe; and that too was appropriate to the hollow of the cylinder through which no fire would ever again send its familiar smoke.
Wherefore we planted London Pride in the old chimney-pot, and masked its plainness with ferns.
To-day the feathery fronds hide all but the thick blackened rim; behind it a rose-bush, trained against the dark paling, shows four crimson buds; in the crater itself the space is filled with green rosettes, and a score of stalks send up stars of pink-and-white blossom.
As I pass by in my walk I think of all the comfortable fires that have burned on the hearth beneath it; of the murmur of pleasant talk, of the laughter of children; of the sound of music and singing, of the fragrance of tobacco, that have floated up to it and through it on the current of warm air. In a way it has shared our joy and our sorrow, our merriment and our cares, and it, too, can thrill with 'the sense of tears in human things.'
I recall especially one March night. The rain from the roof is splashing from the gorged gutters; all are in bed save a restless four-months child - 'the Fretful Porcupine,' W.V. flippantly calls him - who is asleep in his cradle in a shadow of the room. His little socks are on the fender. About midnight he will awake and cry for food, and I shall take him upstairs. Meanwhile I read and write. Raindrops fall and hiss on the glowing coal.
How long ago it seems!
The other day I saw a blackbird light on the rim of the chimney-pot, and make a dab with his yellow beak among the rosettes. In the old time, on the roof, sparrows used to alight there, possibly for the sake of the warmth; so I am glad the blackbird came.
I wonder, in an absurd way, whether it misses the wreaths of homely smoke. Perhaps it has forgotten them - it is the nature of clay to forget easily; perhaps it remembers, but is reconciled, feeling dimly (as I do) that flower and leaf are only another and less fleeting form of the old-time smoke and flame and warmth - are indeed the original form, the beautiful form which they wore in the far-off days when the coal murmured and tossed in the green forests which murmured and tossed in the sunshine.
April 10th 2004