She is curled up on an old faded rug by the fire, sipping a cup of steaming tea. There are no walls to this place, so the chill early morning breeze saunters through, stirring the dark curls framing her pale face, rustling the pages of the book. Once, twice, the wind snatches the feather quill from her hand, which takes to the wind as if remembering the thrill of flight– but each time she need only reach out her hand, and the quill flits obediently back.
She smiles softly as you enter and says not a word… but turns the book to you, so you can see what she has written…
A young miss once owned a parcel of land in Caledon, on the seaside. It was a pretty parcel, but a little one. There was a great old oak tree, gnarled and comfy as a grandpa. There were wildflowers, bright blooms in blue and red and yellow. And there was just enough room for her little cottage, with a little pot-belly stove to boil the water for her tea.
The young miss had tried to coax the garden into what she thought a garden should be, which was of respectable roses and violets, all in rows. But the earth was dry, and the wildflowers brambly, and each time she thought she had some cleared away, those behind her would start to swallow her roses. Some days she felt it took all her effort just to keep the sea from eating away at the land.
Wearied of working so hard, she took to sitting on the little porch with her tea, and gazing out over the water. There was an island out there, an island several times larger than her little parcel. It had great grand trees that scraped the sky, rolling hills of green grass and moss, and a little pond filled by the rain.
The young miss spent less and less time on her garden, and more and more time looking out at this island, and daydreaming how much nicer it would be to live there.
Slowly, the wildflowers began again to encroach on her rows of roses and violets.
After many days of watching the island and seeing no one on it, she borrowed a little boat from her neighbor, and traveled over the water to it. As she walked across it, she fancied the air was sweeter here, the sun brighter. The earth was rich and dark, and everything that grew here (seemingly wild) was lush and healthy.
The young miss knew that the island was owned by a strange Lady, but she never saw her, or any evidence of her passing. After several days passed, she became sure the Lady must not ever visit the island, indeed must be so rich she might not even remember it was hers.
So the young miss began spending most of her time on the island; she would brew a large flask of tea on her own little stove in her own little cottage, then take the neighbor’s boat out to the island. There she would spend most of the day, strolling about and enjoying how much better the island was than her own land. At first, when she got hungry she would take the boat back to her cottage and get a little food, then come back. In later days, she would bring a basket with her bread and cheese and tea for her all-day trips.
Eventually, she grew so confident that the island was neglected by the Lady, that she took her meals from the isle itself; the plump fruit that hung so heavily in the trees, the numerous berries and nuts, and even the quick silver fish swimming in the lagoon.
The young miss thought, That Lady does not need or even want this land; I, whose parcel is so tiny and poor, should have this island. Perhaps I will apply to the Guvnah to sell my parcel and buy this one. I have a little money saved, she thought, and thereby I might trade up, and be happier here.
And so her days from that point were happy, mostly, because she could never quite shake the feeling that some day the Lady might indeed land on the beach and demand what she thought she was doing there. So she would always take care to look as if she were only visiting, with her basket lunch, and hid the weeds that she pulled and branches she trimmed inside.
Well, as so often happens, when we worry about a thing, eventually it comes to pass. One day, the young miss stayed later than usual, and was just walking through the blue twilight to her, er the neighbor’s boat, when a strange sound made her turn. There stood the Lady of the isle, dressed and tressed in rich dark velvet. The young miss held her breath in fright, for the Lady was stranger even than the stories had told, having arrived without boat or airship, with bright tiny stars caught up in her hair and eyes.
The young miss froze in fear as the Lady walked towards her, smiling. But rather than words of condemnation, the Lady made a warm greeting to her, and said what a lovely night it was going to be. She stammered an agreement, then an awkward compliment on what a pretty island it was.
The Lady smiled warmly and thanked the miss for her compliment, and made a light lament that she could not spend more time there.
“But so very fond of this place, oh, I am indeed,” smiled the Lady. “When I am done with a long day, tis here that I know I will find my rest. Shall we go down to the beach? The silver fish are less plentiful than they once were, so it will take some time to catch my dinner.”
But the young miss, mortified, stumbled through an apology and a curtsey, and said that she really should be getting back home.
As she pulled the neighbor’s boat onto the beach, she looked at her little parcel in the moonlight, and tried to remember how safe she’d once felt under that grandfatherly tree’s branches. Her cottage was cold, and it took three attempts with shaking hands to get the fire lit. As she curled up on her narrow bed, she resolved never to go back to the island, at least not until her own garden was just right.
But in the morning, when the young miss stepped out onto the porch, she saw that her neat little rows had been engulfed by thorny wildflowers, and that much of the garden had slid into the sea! Now her little parcel was even littler, and she had a great deal of work ahead of her.
Now, I do not write this parable because you have come to my island, for you are very welcome here. No, I write this because I once coveted something seemingly grand that was not mine, and neglected the fine thing I had, not seeing it through the work that it required.
I hope to remember this, and never make the same mistake again. For now, I have a beautiful garden, made even more precious for the work put into it.