While she was working she heard the tramp of a horse's hoofs, and looking up saw the big bluff Squire riding toward her. The big Squire was very fond of children, and whenever he rode near the little white cottage he stopped to have a word with Mary. He was old and bald-headed, and he had side-whiskers that were very red in color and very short and stubby; but there was ever a merry twinkle in his blue eyes, and Mary well knew him for her friend.
Now, when she looked up and saw him coming toward her flower-garden, she nodded and smiled to him, and the big bluff Squire rode up to her side, and looked down with a smile at her flowers.
Then he said to her in rhyme (for it was a way of speaking the jolly Squire had),
"Mistress Mary, so contrary, How does your garden grow? With dingle-bells and cockle-shells And cowslips all in a row!"
And Mary, being a sharp little girl, and knowing the Squire's queer ways, replied to him likewise in rhyme, saying,
"I thank you, Squire, that you enquire How well the flowers are growing; The dingle-bells and cockle-shells And cowslips all are blowing!"
The Squire laughed at this reply, and patted her upon her head, and then he continued,
"'T is aptly said. But prithee, maid, Why thus your garden fill When ev'ry field the same flowers yield To pluck them as you will?"
"That is a long story, Squire," said Mary; "but this much I may tell you,
"The cockle-shell is father's flower, The cowslip here is Robart, The dingle-bell, I now must tell, I 've named for Brother Hobart
"And when the flowers have lived their lives In sunshine and in rain, And then do fade, why, papa said He 'd sure come home again."
"Oh, that 's the idea, is it?" asked the big bluff Squire, forgetting his poetry. "Well, it 's a pretty thought, my child, and I think because the flowers are strong and hearty that you may know your father and brothers are the same; and I 'm sure I hope they 'll come back from their voyage safe and sound. I shall come and see you again, little one, and watch the garden grow." And then he said "gee-up" to his gray mare, and rode away.
The very next day, to Mary's great surprise and grief; she found the leaves of the dingle-bells curling and beginning to wither.
"Oh, mamma," she called, "come quick! Something is surely the matter with brother Hobart!"
"The dingle-bells are dying," said her mother, after looking carefully at the flowers; "but the reason is that the cold winds from the sea swept right over your garden last night, and dingle-bells are delicate flowers and grow best where they are sheltered by the woods. If you had planted them at the side of the house, as I wished you to, the wind would not have killed them."
Mary did not reply to this, but sat down and began to weep, feeling at the same time that her mother was right and it was her own fault for being so contrary.
While she sat thus the Squire rode up, and called to her
"Fie, Mary, fie! Why do you cry; And blind your eyes to knowing How dingle-bells and cockle-shells And cowslips all are growing?"
"Oh, Squire!" sobbed Mary, "I am in great trouble "Each dingle-bell I loved so well Before my eyes is dying, And much I fear my brother dear In sickness now is lying!"
"Nonsense!" said the Squire; "because you named the flowers after your brother Hobart is no reason he should be affected by the fading of the dingle-bells. I very much suspect the real reason they are dying is because the cold sea wind caught them last night. Dingle-bells are delicate. If you had scattered the cockle-shells and cowslips all about them, the stronger plants would have protected the weaker; but you see, my girl, you planted the dingle-bells all in a row, and so the wind caught them nicely."
Again Mary reproached herself for having been contrary and refusing to listen to her mother's advice; but the Squire's words comforted her, nevertheless, and made her feel that brother Hobart and the flowers had really nothing to do with each other.