Three Peach Stones

Observe a child; any one will do. You will see that not a day passes in which he does not find something or other to make him happy, though he may be in tears the next moment. Then look at a man; any one of us will do. You will notice that weeks and months can pass in which day is greeted with nothing more than resignation, and endure with every polite indifference. Indeed, most men are as miserable as sinners, though they are too bored to sin-perhaps their sin is their indifference. But it is true that they so seldom smile that when they do we do not recognize their face, so distorted is it from the fixed mask we take for granted. And even then a man can not smile like a child, for a child smiles with his eyes, whereas a man smiles with his lips alone. It is not a smile; but a grin; something to do with humor, but little to do with happiness. And then, as anyone can see, there is a point (but who can define that point?) when a man becomes an old man, and then he will smile again.

It would seem that happiness is something to do with simplicity, and that it is the ability to extract pleasure form the simplest things-such as a peach stone, for instance.

It is obvious that it is nothing to do with success. For Sir Henry Stewart was certainly successful. It is twenty years ago since he came down to our village from London , and bought a couple of old cottages, which he had knocked into one. He used his house a s weekend refuge. He was a barrister. And the village followed his brilliant career with something almost amounting to paternal pride.

I remember some ten years ago when he was made a King's Counsel, Amos and I, seeing him get off the London train, went to congratulate him. We grinned with pleasure; he merely looked as miserable as though he'd received a penal sentence. It was the same when he was knighted; he never smiled a bit, he didn't even bother to celebrate with a round of drinks at the "Blue Fox". He took his success as a child does his medicine. And not one of his achievements brought even a ghost of a smile to his tired eyes.

I asked him one day, soon after he'd retired to potter about his garden,8 what is was like to achieve all one's ambitions. He looked down at his roses and went on watering them. Then he said "The only value in achieving one's ambition is that you then realize that they are not worth achieving." Quickly he moved the conversation on to a more practical level, and within a moment we were back to a safe discussion on the weather. That was two years ago.

I recall this incident, for yesterday, I was passing his house, and had drawn up my cart just outside his garden wall. I had pulled in from the road for no other reason than to let a bus pass me. As I set there filling my pipe, I suddenly heard a shout of sheer joy come from the other side of the wall.

I peered over. There stood Sir Henry doing nothing less than a tribal war dance of sheer unashamed ecstasy. Even when he observed my bewildered face staring over the wall he did not seem put out or embarrassed, but shouted for me to climb over.

"Come and see, Jan. Look! I have done it at last! I have done it at last!"

There he was, holding a small box of earth in his had. I observed three tiny shoots out of it.

"And there were only three!" he said, his eyes laughing to heaven.

"Three what?" I asked.

"Peach stones", he replied. "I've always wanted to make peach stones grow, even since I was a child, when I used to take them home after a party, or as a man after a banquet. And I used to plant them, and then forgot where I planted them. But now at last I have done it, and, what's more, I had only three stones, and there you are, one, two, three shoots," he counted.

And Sir Henry ran off, calling for his wife to come and see his achievement-his achievement of simplicity.


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