Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell, the Gardener, Mrs. Searsworth and George Turrell
“The Gardener” is a beautifully written story. Kipling contempts/despises the so-called civilized society for its shallowness of feeling, dead habits and lack of respect for the individual emotions and feelings. The story presents the fact that an individual is caught between two fires: world of emotion and the world of social rules or norms and values. If he engrossed in things pleasant to the senses and sensuality, they may lead him to doom.
And life cannot be lived in the absence of a true friend, and one cannot get delight unless one confesses one’s guilt /grief. Last but not least, life without telling lies cannot be imagined. Let alone living happily.
While living at her home at Lancashire in England, 35 year old Helen Turrell became pregnant; she was ashamed because she was not formally married. Therefore, she left her home pretending to be suffering from lung trouble to begat her baby in Marseilles, in the south of France. When she returned to England she pretended that the boy was really her brother’s son born out of his love affair with an Indian girl. The brother, George, lived in India and died falling of horse. Her parents had already been dead. This meant she had to raise the child. Helen told neighbors other lies too. She said she had to go to Marseilles for medical treatment. She said the child had been born in India, and had been brought to France by an Indian nurse. She had dismissed the nurse when the child became ill due to her negligence. She said that she had given the child’s mother some money, and had managed to have the baby.
She baptized the child in France. He was called Michael. Helen told Michael that she was not his real mother. She said she was her aunt, and that he was her nephew. However, if he liked, he would call her mother only at bed time. She raised him well, and in the course of time, he was sent to private school. At school other boys told him that was out of illicit relationship. It hurt him very much.
After having completed his schooling, Michael did go to a university although he was given a scholarship. Instead he joined the British army as a soldier to fight in the First World War. Because of his ability he was commissioned to Lieutenant. Although he did not have to do much fighting, one cool morning he was killed somewhere in France by an exploding shell. The next shell uprooted a wall of the store house and lay over his dead body and buried him completely.
The army headquarter sent Helen a letter, telling that he had been missing. It said they had been searching for him. Helen waited, hoping against hope. She sought for the help of many charity organizations for Michael’s whereabouts, but all went in vain. His absence in her life brought her a complete gloom. Thus she became passive and began to live in isolation. She was sure Michael had been no more alive.
After the truce, a letter was sent to Helen by army office. It said that Michael had been killed in the war. They had identified his dead body and buried it at Hegenzeel Third Military Cemetery in Belgium. The letter duly contained the row and grave’s numbers.
Helen decided to visit Michael’s grave. On her way to the cemetery, she met a woman called Mrs. Searsworth said she had been visiting graves for her friends who could not come themselves. She took photographs of the graves for them. She called these visits, “commissions”.
Both of them stayed at the same hotel. Late at night Mrs. Searsworth came into Helen’s room. She said she had told her lies. Her real reason for visiting the cemetery was to visit the grave of her lover. She revealed it because she wanted to be true and faithful at least to him.
On the next morning, Helen visited the cemetery. It was huge; there were 21 thousand graves of the dead soldiers. All looked the same. The cemetery was still in making. Helen could not find the grave of her nephew, and approached the gardener for help. The gardener did not salute her but looked at her with infinite compassion. He told her to follow him, and he would she her where her son lay. Helen looked at the grave, and left the cemetery. In the distance she saw the man planting new plants. She still supposed him to be a gardener.
Who is the Gardener?
The real identification of the gardener is not possible because the story does not include sufficient facts on him. However, he can be a real gardener, ghost of Michael himself, Jesus Christ or an angel. He can be a real gardener because he is a sympathetic man. He knew that Helen was Michael’s mother. Probably many women came to the cemetery pretending that they were looking for their “nephews” when they were actually looking for their sons. This is possible because it was considered to be bad to give birth to a child before being married.
In the earlier part of the story, Michael knows that Helen is his real mother. He insisted on calling her “mummy” when he was 6 years old. When he was about to join the army, he said that he never believed what Helen said.
The Gardener can be Jesus or an angel. God appeared in the appearance of a gardener just too help the confused woman like Helen Turrell. He knew that Michael was son to Helen because the God is omnipotent and omnipresence. He knows everything. Moreover, the gardener looked at the Helen with “infinite compassion”. It is the limitless affection of God, he did not prelude or salute Helen because as he was the God or angel.