Transcribed from the 1911 Duckworth and Co. edition by David Price,
I have attained my ideal: I am a roadmender, some say
stonebreaker. Both titles are correct, but the one is more
pregnant than the other. All day I sit by the roadside on a
stretch of grass under a high hedge of saplings and a tangle of
traveller's joy, woodbine, sweetbrier, and late roses. Opposite me
is a white gate, seldom used, if one may judge from the trail of
honeysuckle growing tranquilly along it: I know now that whenever
and wherever I die my soul will pass out through this white gate;
and then, thank God, I shall not have need to undo that trail.
In our youth we discussed our ideals freely: I wonder how many
beside myself have attained, or would understand my attaining.
After all, what do we ask of life, here or indeed hereafter, but
leave to serve, to live, to commune with our fellowmen and with
ourselves; and from the lap of earth to look up into the face of
God? All these gifts are mine as I sit by the winding white road
and serve the footsteps of my fellows. There is no room in my life
for avarice or anxiety; I who serve at the altar live of the altar:
I lack nothing but have nothing over; and when the winter of life
comes I shall join the company of weary old men who sit on the
sunny side of the workhouse wall and wait for the tender mercies of
Just now it is the summer of things; there is life and music
everywhere--in the stones themselves, and I live to-day beating out
the rhythmical hammer-song of The Ring. There is real physical joy
in the rise and swing of the arm, in the jar of a fair stroke, the
split and scatter of the quartz: I am learning to be ambidextrous,
for why should Esau sell his birthright when there is enough for
both? Then the rest-hour comes, bringing the luxurious ache of
tired but not weary limbs; and I lie outstretched and renew my
strength, sometimes with my face deep-nestled in the cool green
grass, sometimes on my back looking up into the blue sky which no
wise man would wish to fathom.
The birds have no fear of me; am I not also of the brown brethren
in my sober fustian livery? They share my meals--at least the
little dun-coated Franciscans do; the blackbirds and thrushes care
not a whit for such simple food as crumbs, but with legs well apart
and claws tense with purchase they disinter poor brother worm,
having first mocked him with sound of rain. The robin that lives
by the gate regards my heap of stones as subject to his special
inspection. He sits atop and practises the trill of his summer
song until it shrills above and through the metallic clang of my
strokes; and when I pause he cocks his tail, with a humorous
twinkle of his round eye which means--"What! shirking, big
brother?"--and I fall, ashamed, to my mending of roads.
The other day, as I lay with my face in the grass, I heard a gentle
rustle, and raised my head to find a hedge-snake watching me
fearless, unwinking. I stretched out my hand, picked it up
unresisting, and put it in my coat like the husbandman of old. Was
he so ill-rewarded, I wonder, with the kiss that reveals secrets?
My snake slept in peace while I hammered away with an odd
quickening of heart as I thought how to me, as to Melampus, had
come the messenger--had come, but to ears deafened by centuries of
misrule, blindness, and oppression; so that, with all my longing, I
am shut out of the wondrous world where walked Melampus and the
Saint. To me there is no suggestion of evil in the little silent
creatures, harmless, or deadly only with the Death which is Life.
The beasts who turn upon us, as a rule maul and tear
unreflectingly; with the snake there is the swift, silent strike,
the tiny, tiny wound, then sleep and a forgetting.
My brown friend, with its message unspoken, slid away into the
grass at sundown to tell its tale in unstopped ears; and I, my task
done, went home across the fields to the solitary cottage where I
lodge. It is old and decrepit--two rooms, with a quasi-attic over
them reached by a ladder from the kitchen and reached only by me.
It is furnished with the luxuries of life, a truckle bed, table,
chair, and huge earthenware pan which I fill from the ice-cold well
at the back of the cottage. Morning and night I serve with the
Gibeonites, their curse my blessing, as no doubt it was theirs when
their hearts were purged by service. Morning and night I send down
the moss-grown bucket with its urgent message from a dry and dusty
world; the chain tightens through my hand as the liquid treasure
responds to the messenger, and then with creak and jangle--the
welcome of labouring earth--the bucket slowly nears the top and
disperses the treasure in the waiting vessels. The Gibeonites were
servants in the house of God, ministers of the sacrament of service
even as the High Priest himself; and I, sharing their high office
of servitude, thank God that the ground was accursed for my sake,
for surely that curse was the womb of all unborn blessing.
The old widow with whom I lodge has been deaf for the last twenty
years. She speaks in the strained high voice which protests
against her own infirmity, and her eyes have the pathetic look of
those who search in silence. For many years she lived alone with
her son, who laboured on the farm two miles away. He met his death
rescuing a carthorse from its burning stable; and the farmer gave
the cottage rent free and a weekly half-crown for life to the poor
old woman whose dearest terror was the workhouse. With my shilling
a week rent, and sharing of supplies, we live in the lines of
comfort. Of death she has no fears, for in the long chest in the
kitchen lie a web of coarse white linen, two pennies covered with
the same to keep down tired eyelids, decent white stockings, and a
white cotton sun-bonnet--a decorous death-suit truly--and enough
money in the little bag for self-respecting burial. The farmer
buried his servant handsomely--good man, he knew the love of
reticent grief for a 'kind' burial--and one day Harry's mother is
to lie beside him in the little churchyard which has been a
cornfield, and may some day be one again.
On Sundays my feet take ever the same way. First my temple
service, and then five miles tramp over the tender, dewy fields,
with their ineffable earthy smell, until I reach the little church
at the foot of the grey-green down. Here, every Sunday, a young
priest from a neighbouring village says Mass for the tiny hamlet,
where all are very old or very young--for the heyday of life has no
part under the long shadow of the hills, but is away at sea or in
service. There is a beautiful seemliness in the extreme youth of
the priest who serves these aged children of God. He bends to
communicate them with the reverent tenderness of a son, and reads
with the careful intonation of far-seeing love. To the old people
he is the son of their old age, God-sent to guide their tottering
footsteps along the highway of foolish wayfarers; and he, with his
youth and strength, wishes no better task. Service ended, we greet
each other friendly--for men should not be strange in the acre of
God; and I pass through the little hamlet and out and up on the
grey down beyond. Here, at the last gate, I pause for breakfast;
and then up and on with quickening pulse, and evergreen memory of
the weary war-worn Greeks who broke rank to greet the great blue
Mother-way that led to home. I stand on the summit hatless, the
wind in my hair, the smack of salt on my cheek, all round me
rolling stretches of cloud-shadowed down, no sound but the shrill
mourn of the peewit and the gathering of the sea.
The hours pass, the shadows lengthen, the sheep-bells clang; and I
lie in my niche under the stunted hawthorn watching the to and fro
of the sea, and AEolus shepherding his white sheep across the blue.
I love the sea with its impenetrable fathoms, its wash and
undertow, and rasp of shingle sucked anew. I love it for its
secret dead in the Caverns of Peace, of which account must be given
when the books are opened and earth and heaven have fled away. Yet
in my love there is a paradox, for as I watch the restless,
ineffective waves I think of the measureless, reflective depths of
the still and silent Sea of Glass, of the dead, small and great,
rich or poor, with the works which follow them, and of the Voice as
the voice of many waters, when the multitude of one mind rends
heaven with alleluia: and I lie so still that I almost feel the
kiss of White Peace on my mouth. Later still, when the flare of
the sinking sun has died away and the stars rise out of a veil of
purple cloud, I take my way home, down the slopes, through the
hamlet, and across miles of sleeping fields; over which night has
thrown her shifting web of mist--home to the little attic, the
deep, cool well, the kindly wrinkled face with its listening eyes--
peace in my heart and thankfulness for the rhythm of the road.
Monday brings the joy of work, second only to the Sabbath of rest,
and I settle to my heap by the white gate. Soon I hear the distant
stamp of horsehoofs, heralding the grind and roll of the wheels
which reaches me later--a heavy flour-waggon with a team of four
great gentle horses, gay with brass trappings and scarlet ear-caps.
On the top of the craftily piled sacks lies the white-clad
waggoner, a pink in his mouth which he mumbles meditatively, and
the reins looped over the inactive whip--why should he drive a
willing team that knows the journey and responds as strenuously to
a cheery chirrup as to the well-directed lash? We greet and pass
the time of day, and as he mounts the rise he calls back a warning
of coming rain. I am already white with dust as he with flour,
sacramental dust, the outward and visible sign of the stir and beat
of the heart of labouring life.
Next to pass down the road is an anxious ruffled hen, her speckled
breast astir with maternal troubles. She walks delicately, lifting
her feet high and glancing furtively from side to side with comb
low dressed. The sight of man, the heartless egg-collector, from
whose haunts she has fled, wrings from her a startled cluck, and
she makes for the white gate, climbs through, and disappears. I
know her feelings too well to intrude. Many times already has she
hidden herself, amassed four or five precious treasures, brooding
over them with anxious hope; and then, after a brief desertion to
seek the necessary food, she has returned to find her efforts at
concealment vain, her treasures gone. At last, with the courage of
despair she has resolved to brave the terrors of the unknown and
seek a haunt beyond the tyranny of man. I will watch over her from
afar, and when her mother-hope is fulfilled I will marshal her and
her brood back to the farm where she belongs; for what end I care
not to think, it is of the mystery which lies at the heart of
things; and we are all God's beasts, says St Augustine.
Here is my stone-song, a paraphrase of the Treasure Motif.
[Music score which cannot be reproduced. It is F# dotted crotchet,
F# quaver, F# quaver, F# dotted crotchet, D crotchet, E crotchet.
This bar is then repeated once more.]
What a wonderful work Wagner has done for humanity in translating
the toil of life into the readable script of music! For those who
seek the tale of other worlds his magic is silent; but earth-
travail under his wand becomes instinct with rhythmic song to an
accompaniment of the elements, and the blare and crash of the
bottomless pit itself. The Pilgrim's March is the sad sound of
footsore men; the San Graal the tremulous yearning of servitude for
richer, deeper bondage. The yellow, thirsty flames lick up the
willing sacrifice, the water wails the secret of the river and the
sea; the birds and beasts, the shepherd with his pipe, the
underground life in rocks and caverns, all cry their message to
this nineteenth-century toiling, labouring world--and to me as I
mend my road.
Two tramps come and fling themselves by me as I eat my noonday
meal. The one, red-eyed, furtive, lies on his side with restless,
clutching hands that tear and twist and torture the living grass,
while his lips mutter incoherently. The other sits stooped, bare-
footed, legs wide apart, his face grey, almost as grey as his
stubbly beard; and it is not long since Death looked him in the
eyes. He tells me querulously of a two hundred miles tramp since
early spring, of search for work, casual jobs with more kicks than
halfpence, and a brief but blissful sojourn in a hospital bed, from
which he was dismissed with sentence passed upon him. For himself,
he is determined to die on the road under a hedge, where a man can
see and breathe. His anxiety is all for his fellow; HE has said he
will "do for a man"; he wants to "swing," to get out of his "dog's
life." I watch him as he lies, this Ishmael and would-be Lamech.
Ignorance, hunger, terror, the exhaustion of past generations, have
done their work. The man is mad, and would kill his fellowman.
Presently we part, and the two go, dogged and footsore, down the
road which is to lead them into the great silence.
Yesterday was a day of encounters.
First, early in the morning, a young girl came down the road on a
bicycle. Her dressguard was loose, and she stopped to ask for a
piece of string. When I had tied it for her she looked at me, at
my worn dusty clothes and burnt face; and then she took a Niphetos
rose from her belt and laid it shyly in my dirty disfigured palm.
I bared my head, and stood hat in hand looking after her as she
rode away up the hill. Then I took my treasure and put it in a
nest of cool dewy grass under the hedge. Ecce ancilla Domini.
My next visitor was a fellow-worker on his way to a job at the
cross-roads. He stood gazing meditatively at my heap of stones.
"Ow long 'ave yer bin at this job that y'ere in such a hurry?"
I stayed my hammer to answer--"Four months."
"Seen better days?"
"Never," I said emphatically, and punctuated the remark with a
stone split neatly in four.
The man surveyed me in silence for a moment; then he said slowly,
"Mean ter say yer like crackin' these blamed stones to fill 'oles
some other fool's made?"
"Well, that beats everything. Now, I 'AVE seen better days; worked
in a big brewery over near Maidstone--a town that, and something
doing; and now, 'ere I am, 'ammering me 'eart out on these blasted
stones for a bit o' bread and a pipe o' baccy once a week--it ain't
good enough." He pulled a blackened clay from his pocket and began
slowly filling it with rank tobacco; then he lit it carefully
behind his battered hat, put the spent match back in his pocket,
rose to his feet, hitched his braces, and, with a silent nod to me,
went on to his job.
Why do we give these tired children, whose minds move slowly, whose
eyes are holden that they cannot read the Book, whose hearts are
full of sore resentment against they know not what, such work as
this to do--hammering their hearts out for a bit of bread? All the
pathos of unreasoning labour rings in these few words. We fit the
collar on unwilling necks; and when their service is over we bid
them go out free; but we break the good Mosaic law and send them
away empty. What wonder there is so little willing service, so few
ears ready to be thrust through against the master's door.
The swift stride of civilisation is leaving behind individual
effort, and turning man into the Daemon of a machine. To and fro
in front of the long loom, lifting a lever at either end, paces he
who once with painstaking intelligence drove the shuttle. THEN he
tasted the joy of completed work, that which his eye had looked
upon, and his hands had handled; now his work is as little finished
as the web of Penelope. Once the reaper grasped the golden corn
stems, and with dexterous sweep of sickle set free the treasure of
the earth. Once the creatures of the field were known to him, and
his eye caught the flare of scarlet and blue as the frail poppies
and sturdy corn-cockles laid down their beauty at his feet; now he
sits serene on Juggernaut's car, its guiding Daemon, and the field
is silent to him.
As with the web and the grain so with the wood and stone in the
treasure-house of our needs. The ground was accursed FOR OUR SAKE
that in the sweat of our brow we might eat bread. Now the many
live in the brain-sweat of the few; and it must be so, for as
little as great King Cnut could stay the sea until it had reached
the appointed place, so little can we raise a barrier to the wave
of progress, and say, "Thus far and no further shalt thou come."
What then? This at least; if we live in an age of mechanism let us
see to it that we are a race of intelligent mechanics; and if man
is to be the Daemon of a machine let him know the setting of the
knives, the rise of the piston, the part that each wheel and rod
plays in the economy of the whole, the part that he himself plays,
co-operating with it. Then, when he has lived and served
intelligently, let us give him of our flocks and of our floor that
he may learn to rest in the lengthening shadows until he is called
to his work above.
So I sat, hammering out my thoughts, and with them the conviction
that stonebreaking should be allotted to minor poets or vagrant
children of nature like myself, never to such tired folk as my poor
mate at the cross-roads and his fellows.
At noon, when I stopped for my meal, the sun was baking the hard
white road in a pitiless glare. Several waggons and carts passed,
the horses sweating and straining, with drooping, fly-tormented
ears. The men for the most part nodded slumberously on the shaft,
seeking the little shelter the cart afforded; but one shuffled in
the white dust, with an occasional chirrup and friendly pressure on
the tired horse's neck.
Then an old woman and a small child appeared in sight, both with
enormous sun-bonnets and carrying baskets. As they came up with me
the woman stopped and swept her face with her hand, while the
child, depositing the basket in the dust with great care, wiped her
little sticky fingers on her pinafore. Then the shady hedge
beckoned them and they came and sat down near me. The woman looked
about seventy, tall, angular, dauntless, good for another ten years
of hard work. The little maid--her only grandchild, she told me--
was just four, her father away soldiering, and the mother died in
childbed, so for four years the child had known no other guardian
or playmate than the old woman. She was not the least shy, but had
the strange self-possession which comes from associating with one
who has travelled far on life's journey.
"I couldn't leave her alone in the house," said her grandmother,
"and she wouldn't leave the kitten for fear it should be lonesome"-
-with a humorous, tender glance at the child--"but it's a long
tramp in the heat for the little one, and we've another mile to
"Will you let her bide here till you come back?" I said. "She'll
be all right by me."
The old lady hesitated.
"Will 'ee stay by him, dearie?" she said.
The small child nodded, drew from her miniature pocket a piece of
sweetstuff, extracted from the basket a small black cat, and
settled in for the afternoon. Her grandmother rose, took her
basket, and, with a nod and "Thank 'ee kindly, mister," went off
down the road.
I went back to my work a little depressed--why had I not white
hair?--for a few minutes had shown me that I was not old enough for
the child despite my forty years. She was quite happy with the
little black cat, which lay in the small lap blinking its yellow
eyes at the sun; and presently an old man came by, lame and bent,
with gnarled twisted hands, leaning heavily on his stick.
He greeted me in a high, piping voice, limped across to the child,
and sat down. "Your little maid, mister?" he said.
"Ah," he said, "I've left a little darlin' like this at 'ome. It's
'ard on us old folks when we're one too many; but the little mouths
must be filled, and my son, 'e said 'e didn't see they could keep
me on the arf-crown, with another child on the way; so I'm tramping
to N-, to the House; but it's a 'ard pinch, leavin' the little
I looked at him--a typical countryman, with white hair, mild blue
eyes, and a rosy, childish, unwrinkled face.
"I'm eighty-four," he went on, "and terrible bad with the
rheumatics and my chest. Maybe it'll not be long before the Lord
The child crept close and put a sticky little hand confidingly into
the tired old palm. The two looked strangely alike, for the world
seems much the same to those who leave it behind as to those who
have but taken the first step on its circular pathway.
"'Ook at my kitty," she said, pointing to the small creature in her
lap. Then, as the old man touched it with trembling fingers she
went on--"'Oo isn't my grandad; he's away in the sky, but I'll kiss
I worked on, hearing at intervals the old piping voice and the
child-treble, much of a note; and thinking of the blessings
vouchsafed to the simple old age which crowns a harmless working-
life spent in the fields. The two under the hedge had everything
in common and were boundlessly content together, the sting of the
knowledge of good and evil past for the one, and for the other
still to come; while I stood on the battlefield of the world, the
flesh, and the devil, though, thank God, with my face to the foe.
The old man sat resting: I had promised him a lift with my friend
the driver of the flour-cart, and he was almost due when the
child's grandmother came down the road.
When she saw my other visitor she stood amazed.
"What, Richard Hunton, that worked with my old man years ago up at
Ditton, whatever are you doin' all these miles from your own
"Is it Eliza Jakes?"
He looked at her dazed, doubtful.
"An' who else should it be? Where's your memory gone, Richard
Hunton, and you not such a great age either? Where are you
Shame overcame him; his lips trembled, his mild blue eyes filled
with tears. I told the tale as I had heard it, and Mrs Jakes's
indignation was good to see.
"Not keep you on 'alf a crown! Send you to the House! May the
Lord forgive them! You wouldn't eat no more than a fair-sized cat,
and not long for this world either, that's plain to see. No,
Richard Hunton, you don't go to the House while I'm above ground;
it'd make my good man turn to think of it. You'll come 'ome with
me and the little 'un there. I've my washin', and a bit put by for
a rainy day, and a bed to spare, and the Lord and the parson will
see I don't come to want."
She stopped breathless, her defensive motherhood in arms.
The old man said quaveringly, in the pathetic, grudging phrase of
the poor, which veils their gratitude while it testifies their
independence, "Maybe I might as well." He rose with difficulty,
picked up his bundle and stick, the small child replaced the kitten
in its basket, and thrust her hand in her new friend's.
"Then 'oo IS grandad tum back," she said.
Mrs Jakes had been fumbling in her pocket, and extracted a penny,
which she pressed on me.
"It's little enough, mister," she said.
Then, as I tried to return it: "Nay, I've enough, and yours is
poor paid work."
I hope I shall always be able to keep that penny; and as I watched
the three going down the dusty white road, with the child in the
middle, I thanked God for the Brotherhood of the Poor.
Yesterday a funeral passed, from the work-house at N-, a quaint
sepulture without solemnities. The rough, ungarnished coffin of
stained deal lay bare and unsightly on the floor of an old market-
cart; a woman sat beside, steadying it with her feet. The husband
drove; and the most depressed of the three was the horse, a broken-
kneed, flea-bitten grey. It was pathetic, this bringing home in
death of the old father whom, while he lived, they had been too
poor to house; it was at no small sacrifice that they had spared
him that terror of old age, a pauper's grave, and brought him to
lie by his wife in our quiet churchyard. They felt no emotion,
this husband and wife, only a dull sense of filial duty done,
respectability preserved; and above and through all, the bitter but
necessary counting the cost of this last bed.
It is strange how pagan many of us are in our beliefs. True, the
funeral libations have made way for the comfortable bake-meats;
still, to the large majority Death is Pluto, king of the dark
Unknown whence no traveller returns, rather than Azrael, brother
and friend, lord of this mansion of life. Strange how men shun him
as he waits in the shadow, watching our puny straining after
immortality, sending his comrade sleep to prepare us for himself.
When the hour strikes he comes--very gently, very tenderly, if we
will but have it so--folds the tired hands together, takes the way-
worn feet in his broad strong palm; and lifting us in his wonderful
arms he bears us swiftly down the valley and across the waters of
Very pleasant art thou, O Brother Death, thy love is wonderful,
passing the love of women.
* * * * * *
To-day I have lived in a whirl of dust. To-morrow is the great
annual Cattle Fair at E-, and through the long hot hours the beasts
from all the district round have streamed in broken procession
along my road, to change hands or to die. Surely the lordship over
creation implies wise and gentle rule for intelligent use, not the
pursuit of a mere immediate end, without any thought of community
in the great sacrament of life.
For the most part mystery has ceased for this working Western
world, and with it reverence. Coventry Patmore says: "God clothes
Himself actually and literally with His whole creation. Herbs take
up and assimilate minerals, beasts assimilate herbs, and God, in
the Incarnation and its proper Sacrament, assimilates us, who, says
St Augustine, 'are God's beasts.'" It is man in his blind self-
seeking who separates woof from weft in the living garment of God,
and loses the more as he neglects the outward and visible signs of
a world-wide grace.
In olden days the herd led his flock, going first in the post of
danger to defend the creatures he had weaned from their natural
habits for his various uses. Now that good relationship has ceased
for us to exist, man drives the beasts before him, means to his
end, but with no harmony between end and means. All day long the
droves of sheep pass me on their lame and patient way, no longer
freely and instinctively following a protector and forerunner, but
DRIVEN, impelled by force and resistless will--the same will which
once went before without force. They are all trimmed as much as
possible to one pattern, and all make the same sad plaint. It is a
day on which to thank God for the unknown tongue. The drover and
his lad in dusty blue coats plod along stolidly, deaf and blind to
all but the way before them; no longer wielding the crook,
instrument of deliverance, or at most of gentle compulsion, but
armed with a heavy stick and mechanically dealing blows on the
short thick fleeces; without evil intent because without thought--
it is the ritual of the trade.
Of all the poor dumb pilgrims of the road the bullocks are the most
terrible to see. They are not patient, but go most unwillingly
with lowered head and furtive sideways motion, in their eyes a
horror of great fear. The sleek cattle, knee deep in pasture,
massed at the gate, and stared mild-eyed and with inquiring bellow
at the retreating drove; but these passed without answer on to the
Unknown, and for them it spelt death.
Behind a squadron of sleek, well-fed cart-horses, formed in fours,
with straw braid in mane and tail, came the ponies, for the most
part a merry company. Long strings of rusty, shaggy two-year-olds,
unbroken, unkempt, the short Down grass still sweet on their
tongues; full of fun, frolic, and wickedness, biting and pulling,
casting longing eyes at the hedgerows. The boys appear to
recognise them as kindred spirits, and are curiously forbearing and
patient. Soon both ponies and boys vanish in a white whirl, and a
long line of carts, which had evidently waited for the dust to
subside, comes slowly up the incline. For the most part they carry
the pigs and fowls, carriage folk of the road. The latter are hot,
crowded, and dusty under the open netting; the former for the most
part cheerfully remonstrative.
I drew a breath of relief as the noise of wheels died away and my
road sank into silence. The hedgerows are no longer green but
white and choked with dust, a sight to move good sister Rain to
welcome tears. The birds seem to have fled before the noisy
confusion. I wonder whether my snake has seen and smiled at the
clumsy ruling of the lord he so little heeds? I turned aside
through the gate to plunge face and hands into the cool of the
sheltered grass that side the hedge, and then rested my eyes on the
stretch of green I had lacked all day. The rabbits had apparently
played and browsed unmindful of the stir, and were still flirting
their white tails along the hedgerows; a lark rose, another and
another, and I went back to my road. Peace still reigned, for the
shadows were lengthening, and there would be little more traffic
for the fair. I turned to my work, grateful for the stillness, and
saw on the white stretch of road a lone old man and a pig. Surely
I knew that tall figure in the quaint grey smock, surely I knew the
face, furrowed like nature's face in springtime, and crowned by a
round, soft hat? And the pig, the black pig walking decorously
free? Ay, I knew them.
In the early spring I took a whole holiday and a long tramp; and
towards afternoon, tired and thirsty, sought water at a little
lonely cottage whose windows peered and blinked under overhanging
brows of thatch. I had, not the water I asked for, but milk and a
bowl of sweet porridge for which I paid only thanks; and stayed for
a chat with my kindly hosts. They were a quaint old couple of the
kind rarely met with nowadays. They enjoyed a little pension from
the Squire and a garden in which vegetables and flowers lived side
by side in friendliest fashion. Bees worked and sang over the
thyme and marjoram, blooming early in a sunny nook; and in a homely
sty lived a solemn black pig, a pig with a history.
It was no common utilitarian pig, but the honoured guest of the old
couple, and it knew it. A year before, their youngest and only
surviving child, then a man of five-and-twenty, had brought his
mother the result of his savings in the shape of a fine young pig:
a week later he lay dead of the typhoid that scourged Maidstone.
Hence the pig was sacred, cared for and loved by this Darby and
"Ee be mos' like a child to me and the mother, an' mos' as sensible
as a Christian, ee be," the old man had said; and I could hardly
credit my eyes when I saw the tall bent figure side by side with
the black pig, coming along my road on such a day.
I hailed the old man, and both turned aside; but he gazed at me
I spoke of the pig and its history. He nodded wearily. "Ay, ay,
lad, you've got it; 'tis poor Dick's pig right enow."
"But you're never going to take it to E--?"
"Ay, but I be, and comin' back alone, if the Lord be marciful. The
missus has been terrible bad this two mouths and more; Squire's in
foreign parts; and food-stuffs such as the old woman wants is hard
buying for poor folks. The stocking's empty, now 'tis the pig must
go, and I believe he'd be glad for to do the missus a turn; she
were terrible good to him, were the missus, and fond, too. I
dursn't tell her he was to go; she'd sooner starve than lose poor
Dick's pig. Well, we'd best be movin'; 'tis a fairish step."
The pig followed comprehending and docile, and as the quaint couple
passed from sight I thought I heard Brother Death stir in the
shadow. He is a strong angel and of great pity.
There is always a little fire of wood on the open hearth in the
kitchen when I get home at night; the old lady says it is "company"
for her, and sits in the lonely twilight, her knotted hands lying
quiet on her lap, her listening eyes fixed on the burning sticks.
I wonder sometimes whether she hears music in the leap and lick of
the fiery tongues, music such as he of Bayreuth draws from the
violins till the hot energy of the fire spirit is on us, embodied
Surely she hears some voice, that lonely old woman on whom is set
the seal of great silence?
It is a great truth tenderly said that God builds the nest for the
blind bird; and may it not be that He opens closed eyes and unstops
deaf ears to sights and sounds from which others by these very
senses are debarred?
Here the best of us see through a mist of tears men as trees
walking; it is only in the land which is very far off and yet very
near that we shall have fulness of sight and see the King in His
beauty; and I cannot think that any listening ears listen in vain.
The coppice at our back is full of birds, for it is far from the
road and they nest there undisturbed year after year. Through the
still night I heard the nightingales calling, calling, until I
could bear it no longer and went softly out into the luminous dark.
The little wood was manifold with sound, I heard my little brothers
who move by night rustling in grass and tree. A hedgehog crossed
my path with a dull squeak, the bats shrilled high to the stars, a
white owl swept past me crying his hunting note, a beetle boomed
suddenly in my face; and above and through it all the nightingales
The night wind bent the listening trees, and the stars yearned
earthward to hear the song of deathless love. Louder and louder
the wonderful notes rose and fell in a passion of melody; and then
sank to rest on that low thrilling call which it is said Death once
heard, and stayed his hand.
They will scarcely sing again this year, these nightingales, for
they are late on the wing as it is. It seems as if on such nights
they sang as the swan sings, knowing it to be the last time--with
the lavish note of one who bids an eternal farewell.
At last there was silence. Sitting under the big beech tree, the
giant of the coppice, I rested my tired self in the lap of mother
earth, breathed of her breath and listened to her voice in the
quickening silence until my flesh came again as the flesh of a
little child, for it is true recreation to sit at the footstool of
God wrapped in a fold of His living robe, the while night smoothes
our tired face with her healing hands.
The grey dawn awoke and stole with trailing robes across earth's
floor. At her footsteps the birds roused from sleep and cried a
greeting; the sky flushed and paled conscious of coming splendour;
and overhead a file of swans passed with broad strong flight to the
reeded waters of the sequestered pool.
Another hour of silence while the light throbbed and flamed in the
east; then the larks rose harmonious from a neighbouring field, the
rabbits scurried with ears alert to their morning meal, the day had
I passed through the coppice and out into the fields beyond. The
dew lay heavy on leaf and blade and gossamer, a cool fresh wind
swept clear over dale and down from the sea, and the clover field
rippled like a silvery lake in the breeze.
There is something inexpressibly beautiful in the unused day,
something beautiful in the fact that it is still untouched,
unsoiled; and town and country share alike in this loveliness. At
half-past three on a June morning even London has not assumed her
responsibilities, but smiles and glows lighthearted and smokeless
under the caresses of the morning sun.
Five o'clock. The bell rings out crisp and clear from the
monastery where the Bedesmen of St Hugh watch and pray for the
souls on this labouring forgetful earth. Every hour the note of
comfort and warning cries across the land, tells the Sanctus, the
Angelus, and the Hours of the Passion, and calls to remembrance and
When the wind is north, the sound carries as far as my road, and
companies me through the day; and if to His dumb children God in
His mercy reckons work as prayer, most certainly those who have
forged through the ages an unbroken chain of supplication and
thanksgiving will be counted among the stalwart labourers of the
house of the Lord.
Sun and bell together are my only clock: it is time for my water
drawing; and gathering a pile of mushrooms, children of the night,
I hasten home.
The cottage is dear to me in its quaint untidiness and want of
rectitude, dear because we are to be its last denizens, last of the
long line of toilers who have sweated and sown that others might
reap, and have passed away leaving no trace.
I once saw a tall cross in a seaboard churchyard, inscribed, "To
the memory of the unknown dead who have perished in these waters."
There might be one in every village sleeping-place to the
unhonoured many who made fruitful the land with sweat and tears.
It is a consolation to think that when we look back on this stretch
of life's road from beyond the first milestone, which, it is
instructive to remember, is always a grave, we may hope to see the
work of this world with open eyes, and to judge of it with a due
sense of proportion.
A bee with laden honey-bag hummed and buzzed in the hedge as I got
ready for work, importuning the flowers for that which he could not
carry, and finally giving up the attempt in despair fell asleep on
a buttercup, the best place for his weary little velvet body. In
five minutes--they may have been five hours to him--he awoke a new
bee, sensible and clear-sighted, and flew blithely away to the hive
with his sufficiency--an example this weary world would be wise to
My road has been lonely to-day. A parson came by in the afternoon,
a stranger in the neighbourhood, for he asked his way. He talked
awhile, and with kindly rebuke said it was sad to see a man of my
education brought so low, which shows how the outside appearance
may mislead the prejudiced observer. "Was it misfortune?" "Nay,
the best of good luck," I answered, gaily.
The good man with beautiful readiness sat down on a heap of stones
and bade me say on. "Read me a sermon in stone," he said, simply;
and I stayed my hand to read.
He listened with courteous intelligence.
"You hold a roadmender has a vocation?" he asked.
"As the monk or the artist, for, like both, he is universal. The
world is his home; he serves all men alike, ay, and for him the
beasts have equal honour with the men. His soul is 'bound up in
the bundle of life' with all other souls, he sees his father, his
mother, his brethren in the children of the road. For him there is
nothing unclean, nothing common; the very stones cry out that they
Parson nodded his head.
"It is all true," he said; "beautifully true. But need such a view
of life necessitate the work of roadmending? Surely all men should
O wise parson, so to read the lesson of the road!
"It is true," I answered; "but some of us find our salvation in the
actual work, and earn our bread better in this than in any other
way. No man is dependent on our earning, all men on our work. We
are 'rich beyond the dreams of avarice' because we have all that we
need, and yet we taste the life and poverty of the very poor. We
are, if you will, uncloistered monks, preaching friars who speak
not with the tongue, disciples who hear the wise words of a silent
"Robert Louis Stevenson was a roadmender," said the wise parson.
"Ay, and with more than his pen," I answered. "I wonder was he
ever so truly great, so entirely the man we know and love, as when
he inspired the chiefs to make a highway in the wilderness. Surely
no more fitting monument could exist to his memory than the Road of
Gratitude, cut, laid, and kept by the pure-blooded tribe kings of
"He knew that the people who make no roads are ruled out from
intelligent participation in the world's brotherhood." He filled
his pipe, thinking the while, then he held out his pouch to me.
"Try some of this baccy," he said; "Sherwood of Magdalen sent it me
from some outlandish place."
I accepted gratefully. It was such tobacco as falls to the lot of
He rose to go.
"I wish I could come and break stones," he said, a little
"Nay," said I, "few men have such weary roadmending as yours, and
perhaps you need my road less than most men, and less than most
We shook hands, and he went down the road and out of my life.
He little guessed that I knew Sherwood, ay, and knew him too, for
had not Sherwood told me of the man he delighted to honour.
Ah, well! I am no Browning Junior, and Sherwood's name is not
A while ago I took a holiday; mouched, played truant from my road.
Jem the waggoner hailed me as he passed--he was going to the mill--
would I ride with him and come back atop of the full sacks?
I hid my hammer in the hedge, climbed into the great waggon white
and fragrant with the clean sweet meal, and flung myself down on
the empty flour bags. The looped-back tarpaulin framed the long
vista of my road with the downs beyond; and I lay in the cool dark,
caressed by the fresh breeze in its thoroughfare, soothed by the
strong monotonous tramp of the great grey team and the music of the
Jem walked at the leaders' heads; it is his rule when the waggon is
empty, a rule no "company" will make him break. At first I
regretted it, but soon discovered I learnt to know him better so,
as he plodded along, his thickset figure slightly bent, his hands
in his pockets, his whip under one arm, whistling hymn tunes in a
low minor, while the great horses answered to his voice without
touch of lash or guiding rein.
I lay as in a blissful dream and watched my road unfold. The sun
set the pine-boles aflare where the hedge is sparse, and stretched
the long shadows of the besom poplars in slanting bars across the
white highway; the roadside gardens smiled friendly with their
trim-cut laurels and rows of stately sunflowers--a seemly proximity
this, Daphne and Clytie, sisters in experience, wrapped in the warm
caress of the god whose wooing they need no longer fear. Here and
there we passed little groups of women and children off to work in
the early cornfields, and Jem paused in his fond repetition of "The
Lord my pasture shall prepare" to give them good-day.
It is like Life, this travelling backwards--that which has been,
alone visible--like Life, which is after all, retrospective with a
steady moving on into the Unknown, Unseen, until Faith is lost in
Sight and experience is no longer the touchstone of humanity. The
face of the son of Adam is set on the road his brothers have
travelled, marking their landmarks, tracing their journeyings; but
with the eyes of a child of God he looks forward, straining to
catch a glimpse of the jewelled walls of his future home, the city
"Eternal in the Heavens."
Presently we left my road for the deep shade of a narrow country
way where the great oaks and beeches meet overhead and no hedge-
clipper sets his hand to stay nature's profusion; and so by
pleasant lanes scarce the waggon's width across, now shady, now
sunny, here bordered by thickset coverts, there giving on fruitful
fields, we came at length to the mill.
I left Jem to his business with the miller and wandered down the
flowery meadow to listen to the merry clack of the stream and the
voice of the waters on the weir. The great wheel was at rest, as I
love best to see it in the later afternoon; the splash and churn of
the water belong rather to the morning hours. It is the chief
mistake we make in portioning out our day that we banish rest to
the night-time, which is for sleep and recreating, instead of
setting apart the later afternoon and quiet twilight hours for the
stretching of weary limbs and repose of tired mind after a day's
toil that should begin and end at five.
The little stone bridge over the mill-stream is almost on a level
with the clear running water, and I lay there and gazed at the huge
wheel which, under multitudinous forms and uses, is one of the
world's wonders, because one of the few things we imitative
children have not learnt from nature. Is it perchance a memory out
of that past when Adam walked clear-eyed in Paradise and talked
with the Lord in the cool of the day? Did he see then the flaming
wheels instinct with service, wondrous messengers of the Most High
vouchsafed in vision to the later prophets?
Maybe he did, and going forth from before the avenging sword of his
own forging to the bitterness of an accursed earth, took with him
this bright memory of perfect, ceaseless service, and so fashioned
our labouring wheel--pathetic link with the time of his innocency.
It is one of many unanswered questions, good to ask because it has
no answer, only the suggestion of a train of thought: perhaps we
are never so receptive as when with folded hands we say simply,
"This is a great mystery." I watched and wondered until Jem
called, and I had to leave the rippling weir and the water's side,
and the wheel with its untold secret.
The miller's wife gave me tea and a crust of home-made bread, and
the miller's little maid sat on my knee while I told the sad tale
of a little pink cloud separated from its parents and teazed and
hunted by mischievous little airs. To-morrow, if I mistake not,
her garden will be wet with its tears, and, let us hope, point a
moral; for the tale had its origin in a frenzied chicken driven
from the side of an anxious mother, and pursued by a sturdy,
relentless figure in a white sun-bonnet.
The little maid trotted off, greatly sobered, to look somewhat
prematurely for the cloud's tears; and I climbed to my place at the
top of the piled-up sacks, and thence watched twilight pass to
starlight through my narrow peep, and, so watching, slept until
Jem's voice hailed me from Dreamland, and I went, only half awake,
across the dark fields home.
Autumn is here and it is already late. He has painted the hedges
russet and gold, scarlet and black, and a tangle of grey; now he
has damp brown leaves in his hair and frost in his finger-tips.
It is a season of contrasts; at first all is stir and bustle, the
ingathering of man and beast; barn and rickyard stand filled with
golden treasure; at the farm the sound of threshing; in wood and
copse the squirrels busied 'twixt tree and storehouse, while the
ripe nuts fall with thud of thunder rain. When the harvesting is
over, the fruit gathered, the last rick thatched, there comes a
pause. Earth strips off her bright colours and shows a bare and
furrowed face; the dead leaves fall gently and sadly through the
calm, sweet air; grey mists drape the fields and hedges. The
migratory birds have left, save a few late swallows; and as I sit
at work in the soft, still rain, I can hear the blackbird's
melancholy trill and the thin pipe of the redbreast's winter song--
the air is full of the sound of farewell.
Forethought and preparation for the Future which shall be;
farewell, because of the Future which may never be--for us; "Man,
thou hast goods laid up for many years, and it is well; but,
remember, this night THY soul may be required"; is the unvoiced
lesson of autumn. There is growing up among us a great fear; it
stares at us white, wide-eyed, from the faces of men and women
alike--the fear of pain, mental and bodily pain. For the last
twenty years we have waged war with suffering--a noble war when
fought in the interest of the many, but fraught with great danger
to each individual man. It is the fear which should not be, rather
than the 'hope which is in us,' that leads men in these days to
drape Death in a flowery mantle, to lay stress on the shortness of
parting, the speedy reunion, to postpone their good-byes until the
last moment, or avoid saying them altogether; and this fear is a
poor, ignoble thing, unworthy of those who are as gods, knowing
good and evil. We are still paying the price of that knowledge;
suffering in both kinds is a substantial part of it, and brings its
own healing. Let us pay like men, our face to the open heaven,
neither whimpering like children in the dark, nor lulled to
unnecessary oblivion by some lethal drug; for it is manly, not
morbid, to dare to taste the pungent savour of pain, the lingering
sadness of farewell which emphasises the aftermath of life; it
should have its place in all our preparation as a part of our
inheritance we dare not be without.
There is an old couple in our village who are past work. The
married daughter has made shift to take her mother and the parish
half-crown, but there is neither room nor food for the father, and
he must go to N-. If husband and wife went together, they would be
separated at the workhouse door. The parting had to come; it came
yesterday. I saw them stumbling lamely down the road on their last
journey together, walking side by side without touch or speech,
seeing and heeding nothing but a blank future. As they passed me
the old man said gruffly, "'Tis far eno'; better be gettin' back";
but the woman shook her head, and they breasted the hill together.
At the top they paused, shook hands, and separated; one went on,
the other turned back; and as the old woman limped blindly by I
turned away, for there are sights a man dare not look upon. She
passed; and I heard a child's shrill voice say, "I come to look for
you, gran"; and I thanked God that there need be no utter
loneliness in the world while it holds a little child.
Now it is my turn, and I must leave the wayside to serve in the
sheepfolds during the winter months. It is scarcely a farewell,
for my road is ubiquitous, eternal; there are green ways in
Paradise and golden streets in the beautiful City of God.
Nevertheless, my heart is heavy; for, viewed by the light of the
waning year, roadmending seems a great and wonderful work which I
have poorly conceived of and meanly performed: yet I have learnt
to understand dimly the truths of three great paradoxes--the
blessing of a curse, the voice of silence, the companionship of
solitude--and so take my leave of this stretch of road, and of you
who have fared along the white highway through the medium of a
Farewell! It is a roadmender's word; I cry you Godspeed to the
next milestone--and beyond.
OUT OF THE SHADOW
I am no longer a roadmender; the stretch of white highway which
leads to the end of the world will know me no more; the fields and
hedgerows, grass and leaf stiff with the crisp rime of winter's
breath, lie beyond my horizon; the ewes in the folding, their
mysterious eyes quick with the consciousness of coming motherhood,
answer another's voice and hand; while I lie here, not in the
lonely companionship of my expectations, but where the shadow is
bright with kindly faces and gentle hands, until one kinder and
gentler still carries me down the stairway into the larger room.
But now the veil was held aside and one went by crowned with the
majesty of years, wearing the ermine of an unstained rule, the
purple of her people's loyalty. Nations stood with bated breath to
see her pass in the starlit mist of her children's tears; a
monarch--greatest of her time; an empress--conquered men called
mother; a woman--Englishmen cried queen; still the crowned captive
of her people's heart--the prisoner of love.
The night-goers passed under my window in silence, neither song nor
shout broke the welcome dark; next morning the workmen who went by
were strangely quiet.
'VICTORIA DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REGINA.'
Did they think of how that legend would disappear, and of all it
meant, as they paid their pennies at the coffee-stall? The feet
rarely know the true value and work of the head; but all Englishmen
have been and will be quick to acknowledge and revere Victoria by
the grace of God a wise woman, a great and loving mother.
Years ago, I, standing at a level crossing, saw her pass. The
train slowed down and she caught sight of the gatekeeper's little
girl who had climbed the barrier. Such a smile as she gave her!
And then I caught a quick startled gesture as she slipped from my
vision; I thought afterwards it was that she feared the child might
fall. Mother first, then Queen; even so rest came to her--not in
one of the royal palaces, but in her own home, surrounded by the
immediate circle of her nearest and dearest, while the world kept
watch and ward.
I, a shy lover of the fields and woods, longed always, should a
painless passing be vouchsafed me, to make my bed on the fragrant
pine needles in the aloneness of a great forest; to lie once again
as I had lain many a time, bathed in the bitter sweetness of the
sun-blessed pines, lapped in the manifold silence; my ear attuned
to the wind of Heaven with its call from the Cities of Peace. In
sterner mood, when Love's hand held a scourge, I craved rather the
stress of the moorland with its bleaker mind imperative of
sacrifice. To rest again under the lee of Rippon Tor swept by the
strong peat-smelling breeze; to stare untired at the long cloud-
shadowed reaches, and watch the mist-wraiths huddle and shrink
round the stones of blood; until my sacrifice too was accomplished,
and my soul had fled. A wild waste moor; a vast void sky; and
naught between heaven and earth but man, his sin-glazed eyes
seeking afar the distant light of his own heart.
With years came counsels more profound, and the knowledge that man
was no mere dweller in the woods to follow the footsteps of the
piping god, but an integral part of an organised whole, in which
Pan too has his fulfilment. The wise Venetians knew; and read
pantheism into Christianity when they set these words round
Ezekiel's living creatures in the altar vault of St Mark's:-
QUAEQUE SUB OBSCURIS DE CRISTO DICTA FIGURIS HIS APERIRE DATUR ET
IN HIS, DEUS IPSE NOTATUR.
"Thou shalt have none other gods but me." If man had been able to
keep this one commandment perfectly the other nine would never have
been written; instead he has comprehensively disregarded it, and
perhaps never more than now in the twentieth century. Ah, well!
this world, in spite of all its sinning, is still the Garden of
Eden where the Lord walked with man, not in the cool of evening,
but in the heat and stress of the immediate working day. There is
no angel now with flaming sword to keep the way of the Tree of
Life, but tapers alight morning by morning in the Hostel of God to
point us to it; and we, who are as gods knowing good and evil,
partake of that fruit "whereof whoso eateth shall never die"; the
greatest gift or the most awful penalty--Eternal Life.
I then, with my craving for tree and sky, held that a great capital
with its stir of life and death, of toil and strife and pleasure,
was an ill place for a sick man to wait in; a place to shrink from
as a child shrinks from the rude blow of one out of authority. Yet
here, far from moor and forest, hillside and hedgerow, in the
family sitting-room of the English-speaking peoples, the London
much misunderstood, I find the fulfilment by antithesis of all
desire. For the loneliness of the moorland, there is the warmth
and companionship of London's swift beating heart. For silence
there is sound--the sound and stir of service--for the most part
far in excess of its earthly equivalent. Against the fragrant
incense of the pines I set the honest sweat of the man whose
lifetime is the measure of his working day. "He that loveth not
his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath
not seen?" wrote Blessed John, who himself loved so much that he
beheld the Lamb as it had been slain from the beginning when Adam
fell, and the City of God with light most precious. The burden of
corporate sin, the sword of corporate sorrow, the joy of corporate
righteousness; thus we become citizens in the Kingdom of God, and
companions of all his creatures. "It is not good that the man
should be alone," said the Lord God.
I live now as it were in two worlds, the world of sight, and the
world of sound; and they scarcely ever touch each other. I hear
the grind of heavy traffic, the struggle of horses on the frost-
breathed ground, the decorous jolt of omnibuses, the jangle of cab
bells, the sharp warning of bicycles at the corner, the swift
rattle of costers' carts as they go south at night with their
shouting, goading crew. All these things I hear, and more; but I
see no road, only the silent river of my heart with its tale of
wonder and years, and the white beat of seagulls' wings in strong
Sometimes there is naught to see on the waterway but a solitary
black hull, a very Stygian ferry-boat, manned by a solitary figure,
and moving slowly up under the impulse of the far-reaching sweeps.
Then the great barges pass with their coffined treasure, drawn by a
small self-righteous steam-tug. Later, lightened of their load,
and waiting on wind and tide, I see them swooping by like birds set
free; tawny sails that mind me of red-roofed Whitby with its
northern fleet; black sails as of some heedless Theseus; white
sails that sweep out of the morning mist "like restless
gossameres." They make the bridge, which is just within my vision,
and then away past Westminster and Blackfriars where St Paul's
great dome lifts the cross high over a self-seeking city; past
Southwark where England's poet illuminates in the scroll of divine
wisdom the sign of the Tabard; past the Tower with its haunting
ghosts of history; past Greenwich, fairy city, caught in the meshes
of riverside mist; and then the salt and speer of the sea, the
companying with great ships, the fresh burden.
At night I see them again, silent, mysterious; searching the
darkness with unwinking yellow stare, led by a great green light.
They creep up under the bridge which spans the river with its
watching eyes, and vanish, crying back a warning note as they make
the upper reach, or strident hail, as a chain of kindred phantoms
passes, ploughing a contrary tide.
Throughout the long watches of the night I follow them; and in the
early morning they slide by, their eyes pale in the twilight; while
the stars flicker and fade, and the gas lamps die down into a dull
yellow blotch against the glory and glow of a new day.
February is here, February fill-dyke; the month of purification, of
cleansing rains and pulsing bounding streams, and white mist
clinging insistent to field and hedgerow so that when her veil is
withdrawn greenness may make us glad.
The river has been uniformly grey of late, with no wind to ruffle
its surface or to speed the barges dropping slowly and sullenly
down with the tide through a blurring haze. I watched one
yesterday, its useless sails half-furled and no sign of life save
the man at the helm. It drifted stealthily past, and a little
behind, flying low, came a solitary seagull, grey as the river's
haze--a following bird.
Once again I lay on my back in the bottom of the tarry old fishing
smack, blue sky above and no sound but the knock, knock of the
waves, and the thud and curl of falling foam as the old boat's
blunt nose breasted the coming sea. Then Daddy Whiddon spoke.
"A follerin' burrd," he said.
I got up, and looked across the blue field we were ploughing into
white furrows. Far away a tiny sail scarred the great solitude,
and astern came a gull flying slowly close to the water's breast.
Daddy Whiddon waved his pipe towards it.
"A follerin' burrd," he said, again; and again I waited; questions
were not grateful to him.
"There be a carpse there, sure enough, a carpse driftin' and
shiftin' on the floor of the sea. There be those as can't rest,
poor sawls, and her'll be mun, her'll be mun, and the sperrit of
her is with the burrd."
The clumsy boom swung across as we changed our course, and the
water ran from us in smooth reaches on either side: the bird flew
"What will the spirit do?" I said.
The old man looked at me gravely.
"Her'll rest in the Lard's time, in the Lard's gude time--but now
her'll just be follerin' on with the burrd."
The gull was flying close to us now, and a cold wind swept the
sunny sea. I shivered: Daddy looked at me curiously.
"There be reason enough to be cawld if us did but knaw it, but I he
mos' used to 'em, poor sawls." He shaded his keen old blue eyes,
and looked away across the water. His face kindled. "There be a
skule comin', and by my sawl 'tis mackerel they be drivin'."
I watched eagerly, and saw the dark line rise and fall in the
trough of the sea, and, away behind, the stir and rush of tumbling
porpoises as they chased their prey.
Again we changed our tack, and each taking an oar, pulled lustily
for the beach.
"Please God her'll break inshore," said Daddy Whiddon; and he
shouted the news to the idle waiting men who hailed us.
In a moment all was stir, for the fishing had been slack. Two
boats put out with the lithe brown seine. The dark line had
turned, but the school was still behind, churning the water in
clumsy haste; they were coming in.
Then the brit broke in silvery leaping waves on the shelving beach.
The threefold hunt was over; the porpoises turned out to sea in
search of fresh quarry; and the seine, dragged by ready hands, came
slowly, stubbornly in with its quivering treasure of fish. They
had sought a haven and found none; the brit lay dying in flickering
iridescent heaps as the bare-legged babies of the village gathered
them up; and far away over the water I saw a single grey speck; it
was the following bird.
The curtain of river haze falls back; barge and bird are alike
gone, and the lamplighter has lit the first gas-lamp on the far
side of the bridge. Every night I watch him come, his progress
marked by the great yellow eyes that wake the dark. Sometimes he
walks quickly; sometimes he loiters on the bridge to chat, or stare
at the dark water; but he always comes, leaving his watchful
deterrent train behind him to police the night.
Once Demeter in the black anguish of her desolation searched for
lost Persephone by the light of Hecate's torch; and searching all
in vain, spurned beneath her empty feet an earth barren of her
smile; froze with set brows the merry brooks and streams; and smote
forest, and plain, and fruitful field, with the breath of her last
despair, until even Iambe's laughing jest was still. And then when
the desolation was complete, across the wasted valley where the
starveling cattle scarcely longed to browse, came the dreadful
chariot--and Persephone. The day of the prisoner of Hades had
dawned; and as the sun flamed slowly up to light her thwarted eyes
the world sprang into blossom at her feet.
We can never be too Pagan when we are truly Christian, and the old
myths are eternal truths held fast in the Church's net. Prometheus
fetched fire from Heaven, to be slain forever in the fetching; and
lo, a Greater than Prometheus came to fire the cresset of the
Cross. Demeter waits now patiently enough. Persephone waits, too,
in the faith of the sun she cannot see: and every lamp lit carries
on the crusade which has for its goal a sunless, moonless, city
whose light is the Light of the world.
"Lume e lassu, che visibile face
lo creatore a quella creatura,
che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace."
Immediately outside my window is a lime tree--a little black
skeleton of abundant branches--in which sparrows congregate to
chirp and bicker. Farther away I have a glimpse of graceful
planes, children of moonlight and mist; their dainty robes, still
more or less unsullied, gleam ghostly in the gaslight athwart the
dark. They make a brave show even in winter with their feathery
branches and swinging tassels, whereas my little tree stands stark
and uncompromising, with its horde of sooty sparrows cockney to the
last tail feather, and a pathetic inability to look anything but
black. Rain comes with strong caressing fingers, and the branches
seem no whit the cleaner for her care; but then their glistening
blackness mirrors back the succeeding sunlight, as a muddy pavement
will sometimes lap our feet in a sea of gold. The little wet
sparrows are for the moment equally transformed, for the sun turns
their dun-coloured coats to a ruddy bronze, and cries Chrysostom as
it kisses each shiny beak. They are dumb Chrysostoms; but they
preach a golden gospel, for the sparrows are to London what the
rainbow was to eight saved souls out of a waste of waters--a
perpetual sign of the remembering mercies of God.
Last night there was a sudden clatter of hoofs, a shout, and then
silence. A runaway cab-horse, a dark night, a wide crossing, and a
heavy burden: so death came to a poor woman. People from the
house went out to help; and I heard of her, the centre of an
unknowing curious crowd, as she lay bonnetless in the mud of the
road, her head on the kerb. A rude but painless death: the misery
lay in her life; for this woman--worn, white-haired, and wrinkled--
had but fifty years to set against such a condition. The policeman
reported her respectable, hard-working, living apart from her
husband with a sister; but although they shared rooms, they "did
not speak," and the sister refused all responsibility; so the
parish buried the dead woman, and thus ended an uneventful tragedy.
Was it her own fault? If so, the greater pathos. The lonely souls
that hold out timid hands to an unheeding world have their meed of
interior comfort even here, while the sons of consolation wait on
the thresh-hold for their footfall: but God help the soul that
bars its own door! It is kicking against the pricks of Divine
ordinance, the ordinance of a triune God; whether it be the dweller
in crowded street or tenement who is proud to say, "I keep myself
to myself," or Seneca writing in pitiful complacency, "Whenever I
have gone among men, I have returned home less of a man." Whatever
the next world holds in store, we are bidden in this to seek and
serve God in our fellow-men, and in the creatures of His making
whom He calls by name.
It was once my privilege to know an old organ-grinder named
Gawdine. He was a hard swearer, a hard drinker, a hard liver, and
he fortified himself body and soul against the world: he even
drank alone, which is an evil sign.
One day to Gawdine sober came a little dirty child, who clung to
his empty trouser leg--he had lost a limb years before--with a
persistent unintelligible request. He shook the little chap off
with a blow and a curse; and the child was trotting dismally away,
when it suddenly turned, ran back, and held up a dirty face for a
Two days later Gawdine fell under a passing dray which inflicted
terrible internal injuries on him. They patched him up in
hospital, and he went back to his organ-grinding, taking with him
two friends--a pain which fell suddenly upon him to rack and rend
with an anguish of crucifixion, and the memory of a child's
upturned face. Outwardly he was the same save that he changed the
tunes of his organ, out of long-hoarded savings, for the jigs and
reels which children hold dear, and stood patiently playing them in
child-crowded alleys, where pennies are not as plentiful as
He continued to drink; it did not come within his new code to stop,
since he could "carry his liquor well;" but he rarely, if ever,
swore. He told me this tale through the throes of his anguish as
he lay crouched on a mattress on the floor; and as the grip of the
pain took him he tore and bit at his hands until they were maimed
and bleeding, to keep the ready curses off his lips.
He told the story, but he gave no reason, offered no explanation:
he has been dead now many a year, and thus would I write his
He saw the face of a little child and looked on God.
"Two began, in a low voice, 'Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this
here ought to have been a RED rose-tree, and we put a white one in
As I look round this room I feel sure Two, and Five, and Seven,
have all been at work on it, and made no mistakes, for round the
walls runs a frieze of squat standard rose-trees, red as red can
be, and just like those that Alice saw in the Queen's garden. In
between them are Chaucer's name-children, prim little daisies,
peering wideawake from green grass. This same grass has a history
which I have heard. In the original stencil for the frieze it was
purely conventional like the rest, and met in spikey curves round
each tree; the painter, however, who was doing the work, was a
lover of the fields; and feeling that such grass was a travesty, he
added on his own account dainty little tussocks, and softened the
hard line into a tufted carpet, the grass growing irregularly, bent
at will by the wind.
The result from the standpoint of conventional art is indeed
disastrous; but my sympathy and gratitude are with the painter. I
see, as he saw, the far-reaching robe of living ineffable green, of
whose brilliance the eye never has too much, and in whose weft no
two threads are alike; and shrink as he did from the
conventionalising of that windswept glory.
The sea has its crested waves of recognisable form; the river its
eddy and swirl and separate vortices; but the grass! The wind
bloweth where it listeth and the grass bows as the wind blows--
"thou canst not tell whither it goeth." It takes no pattern, it
obeys no recognised law; it is like a beautiful creature of a
thousand wayward moods, and its voice is like nothing else in the
wide world. It bids you rest and bury your tired face in the green
coolness, and breathe of its breath and of the breath of the good
earth from which man was taken and to which he will one day return.
Then, if you lend your ear and are silent minded, you may hear
wondrous things of the deep places of the earth; of life in mineral
and stone as well as in pulsing sap; of a green world as the stars
saw it before man trod it under foot--of the emerald which has its
place with the rest in the City of God.
"What if earth
Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein,
Each to each other like, more than on earth to thought?"
It is a natural part of civilisation's lust of re-arrangement that
we should be so ready to conventionalise the beauty of this world
into decorative patterns for our pilgrim tents. It is a phase, and
will melt into other phases; but it tends to the increase of
artificiality, and exists not only in art but in everything. It is
no new thing for jaded sentiment to crave the spur of the
unnatural, to prefer the clever imitation, to live in a Devachan
where the surroundings appear that which we would have them to be;
but it is an interesting record of the pulse of the present day
that 'An Englishwoman's Love Letters' should have taken society by
storm in the way it certainly has.
It is a delightful book to leave about, with its vellum binding,
dainty ribbons, and the hallmark of a great publisher's name. But
when we seek within we find love with its thousand voices and
wayward moods, its shy graces and seemly reticences, love which has
its throne and robe of state as well as the garment of the beggar
maid, love which is before time was, which knew the world when the
stars took up their courses, presented to us in gushing
outpourings, the appropriate language of a woman's heart to the
boor she delights to honour.
"It is woman who is the glory of man," says the author of 'The
House of Wisdom and Love,' "Regina mundi, greater, because so far
the less; and man is her head, but only as he serves his queen."
Set this sober aphorism against the school girl love-making which
kisses a man's feet and gaily refuses him the barren honour of
having loved her first.
There is scant need for the apologia which precedes the letters; a
few pages dispels the fear that we are prying into another's soul.
As for the authorship, there is a woman's influence, an artist's
poorly concealed bias in the foreign letters; and for the rest a
man's blunders--so much easier to see in another than to avoid
oneself--writ large from cover to cover. King Cophetua, who sends
"profoundly grateful remembrances," has most surely written the
letters he would wish to receive.
"Mrs Meynell!" cries one reviewer, triumphantly. Nay, the saints
be good to us, what has Mrs Meynell in common with the
"Englishwoman's" language, style, or most unconvincing passion?
Men can write as from a woman's heart when they are minded to do so
in desperate earnestness--there is Clarissa Harlowe and Stevenson's
Kirstie, and many more to prove it; but when a man writes as the
author of the "Love Letters" writes, I feel, as did the painter of
the frieze, that pattern-making has gone too far and included that
which, like the grass, should be spared such a convention.
"I quite agree with you," said the Duchess, "and the moral of that
is--'Be what you would seem to be'--or, if you'd like to put it
more simply--'never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what
it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was
not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to
be otherwise.'" And so by way of the Queen's garden I come back to
my room again.
My heart's affections are still centred on my old attic, with
boarded floor and white-washed walls, where the sun blazoned a
frieze of red and gold until he travelled too far towards the
north, the moon streamed in to paint the trees in inky wavering
shadows, and the stars flashed their glory to me across the years.
But now sun and moon greet me only indirectly, and under the red
roses hang pictures, some of them the dear companions of my days.
Opposite me is the Arundel print of the Presentation, painted by
the gentle "Brother of the Angels." Priest Simeon, a stately
figure in green and gold, great with prophecy, gazes adoringly at
the Bambino he holds with fatherly care. Our Lady, in robe of red
and veil of shadowed purple, is instinct with light despite the
sombre colouring, as she stretches out hungering, awe-struck hands
for her soul's delight. St Joseph, dignified guardian and
servitor, stands behind, holding the Sacrifice of the Poor to
redeem the First-begotten.
St Peter Martyr and the Dominican nun, gazing in rapt contemplation
at the scene, are not one whit surprised to find themselves in the
presence of eternal mysteries. In the Entombment, which hangs on
the opposite wall, St Dominic comes round the corner full of
grievous amaze and tenderest sympathy, but with no sense of shock
or intrusion, for was he not "famigliar di Cristo"? And so he
takes it all in; the stone bed empty and waiting; the Beloved
cradled for the last time on His mother's knees to be washed,
lapped round, and laid to rest as if He were again the Babe of
Bethlehem. He sees the Magdalen anointing the Sacred Feet; Blessed
John caring for the living and the Dead; and he, Dominic--hound of
the Lord--having his real, living share in the anguish and hope,
the bedding of the dearest Dead, who did but leave this earth that
He might manifest Himself more completely.
Underneath, with a leap across the centuries, is Rossetti's
picture; Dante this time the onlooker, Beatrice, in her pale
beauty, the death-kissed one. The same idea under different
representations; the one conceived in childlike simplicity, the
other recalling, even in the photograph, its wealth of colour and
imagining; the one a world-wide ideal, the other an individual
expression of it.
Beatrice was to Dante the inclusion of belief. She was more to him
than he himself knew, far more to him after her death than before.
And, therefore, the analogy between the pictures has at core a
common reality. "It is expedient for you that I go away," is
constantly being said to us as we cling earthlike to the outward
expression, rather than to the inward manifestation--and blessed
are those who hear and understand, for it is spoken only to such as
have been with Him from the beginning. The eternal mysteries come
into time for us individually under widely differing forms. The
tiny child mothers its doll, croons to it, spends herself upon it,
why she cannot tell you; and we who are here in our extreme youth,
never to be men and women grown in this world, nurse our ideal,
exchange it, refashion it, call it by many names; and at last in
here or hereafter we find in its naked truth the Child in the
manger, even as the Wise Men found Him when they came from the East
to seek a great King. There is but one necessary condition of this
finding; we must follow the particular manifestation of light given
us, never resting until it rests--over the place of the Child. And
there is but one insurmountable hindrance, the extinction of or
drawing back from the light truly apprehended by us. We forget
this, and judge other men by the light of our own soul.
I think the old bishop must have understood it. He is my friend of
friends as he lies opposite my window in his alabaster sleep, clad
in pontifical robes, with unshod feet, a little island of white
peace in a many-coloured marble sea. The faithful sculptor has
given every line and wrinkle, the heavy eyelids and sunken face of
tired old age, but withal the smile of a contented child.
I do not even know my bishop's name, only that the work is of the
thirteenth century; but he is good to company with through the day,
for he has known darkness and light and the minds of many men; most
surely, too, he has known that God fulfils Himself in strange ways,
so with the shadow of his feet upon the polished floor he rests in
On Sunday my little tree was limned in white and the sparrows were
craving shelter at my window from the blizzard. Now the mild thin
air brings a breath of spring in its wake and the daffodils in the
garden wait the kisses of the sun. Hand-in-hand with memory I slip
away down the years, and remember a day when I awoke at earliest
dawn, for across my sleep I had heard the lusty golden-throated
trumpeters heralding the spring.
The air was sharp-set; a delicate rime frosted roof and road; the
sea lay hazy and still like a great pearl. Then as the sky stirred
with flush upon flush of warm rosy light, it passed from misty
pearl to opal with heart of flame, from opal to gleaming sapphire.
The earth called, the fields called, the river called--that pied
piper to whose music a man cannot stop his ears. It was with me as
with the Canterbury pilgrims:-
"So priketh hem nature in hir corages;
Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages."
Half an hour later I was away by the early train that carries the
branch mails and a few workmen, and was delivered at the little
wayside station with the letters. The kind air went singing past
as I swung along the reverberating road between the high tree-
crowned banks which we call hedges in merry Devon, with all the
world to myself and the Brethren. A great blackbird flew out with
a loud "chook, chook," and the red of the haw on his yellow bill.
A robin trilled from a low rose-bush; two wrens searched diligently
on a fallen tree for breakfast, quite unconcerned when I rested a
moment beside them; and a shrewmouse slipped across the road
followed directly by its mate. March violets bloomed under the
sheltered hedge with here and there a pale primrose; a frosted
bramble spray still held its autumn tints clinging to the semblance
of the past; and great branches of snowy blackthorn broke the
barren hedgeway as if spring made a mock of winter's snows.
Light of heart and foot with the new wine of the year I sped on
again, stray daffodils lighting the wayside, until I heard the
voice of the stream and reached the field gate which leads to the
lower meadows. There before me lay spring's pageant; green pennons
waving, dainty maids curtseying, and a host of joyous yellow
trumpeters proclaiming 'Victory' to an awakened earth. They range
in serried ranks right down to the river, so that a man must walk
warily to reach the water's edge where they stand gazing down at
themselves in fairest semblance like their most tragic progenitor,
and, rising from the bright grass in their thousands, stretch away
until they melt in a golden cloud at the far end of the misty mead.
Through the field gate and across the road I see them, starring the
steep earth bank that leads to the upper copse, gleaming like pale
flames against the dark tree-boles. There they have but frail
tenure; here, in the meadows, they reign supreme.
At the upper end of the field the river provides yet closer
sanctuary for these children of the spring. Held in its embracing
arms lies an island long and narrow, some thirty feet by twelve, a
veritable untrod Eldorado, glorious in gold from end to end, a
fringe of reeds by the water's edge, and save for that--daffodils.
A great oak stands at the meadow's neck, an oak with gnarled and
wandering roots where a man may rest, for it is bare of daffodils
save for a group of three, and a solitary one apart growing close
to the old tree's side. I sat down by my lonely little sister,
blue sky overhead, green grass at my feet decked, like the pastures
of the Blessed, in glorious sheen; a sea of triumphant, golden
heads tossing blithely back as the wind swept down to play with
them at his pleasure.
It was all mine to have and to hold without severing a single
slender stem or harbouring a thought of covetousness; mine, as the
whole earth was mine, to appropriate to myself without the burden
and bane of worldly possession. "Thou sayest that I am--a King,"
said the Lord before Pilate, and "My kingdom is not of this world."
We who are made kings after His likeness possess all things, not
after this world's fashion but in proportion to our poverty; and
when we cease to toil and spin, are arrayed as the lilies, in a
glory transcending Solomon's. Bride Poverty--she who climbed the
Cross with Christ--stretched out eager hands to free us from our
chains, but we flee from her, and lay up treasure against her
importunity, while Amytas on his seaweed bed weeps tears of pure
pity for crave-mouth Caesar of great possessions.
Presently another of spring's lovers cried across the water
"Cuckoo, cuckoo," and the voice of the stream sang joyously in
unison. It is free from burden, this merry little river, and
neither weir nor mill bars its quick way to the sea as it completes
the eternal circle, lavishing gifts of coolness and refreshment on
the children of the meadows.
It has its birth on the great lone moor, cradled in a wonderful
peat-smelling bog, with a many-hued coverlet of soft mosses--pale
gold, orange, emerald, tawny, olive and white, with the red stain
of sun-dew and tufted cotton-grass. Under the old grey rocks which
watch it rise, yellow-eyed tormantil stars the turf, and bids
"Godspeed" to the little child of earth and sky. Thus the journey
begins; and with ever-increasing strength the stream carves a way
through the dear brown peat, wears a fresh wrinkle on the patient
stones, and patters merrily under a clapper bridge which spanned
its breadth when the mistletoe reigned and Bottor, the grim rock
idol, exacted the toll of human life that made him great. On and
on goes the stream, for it may not stay; leaving of its freshness
with the great osmunda that stretches eager roots towards the
running water; flowing awhile with a brother stream, to part again
east and west as each takes up his separate burden of service--my
friend to cherish the lower meadows in their flowery joyance--and
so by the great sea-gate back to sky and earth again.
The river of God is full of water. The streets of the City are
pure gold. Verily, here also having nothing we possess all things.
The air was keen and still as I walked back in the early evening,
and a daffodil light was in the sky as if Heaven mirrored back
earth's radiance. Near the station some children flitted past,
like little white miller moths homing through the dusk. As I
climbed the hill the moon rode high in a golden field--it was
daffodils to the last.
The seagulls from the upper reaches pass down the river in sober
steady flight seeking the open sea. I shall miss the swoop and
circle of silver wings in the sunlight and the plaintive call which
sounds so strangely away from rock and shore, but it is good to
know that they have gone from mudbank and murky town back to the
free airs of their inheritance, to the shadow of sun-swept cliffs
and the curling crest of the wind-beaten waves, to brood again over
the great ocean of a world's tears.
My little tree is gemmed with buds, shy, immature, but full of
promise. The sparrows busied with nest-building in the
neighbouring pipes and gutters use it for a vantage ground, and
crowd there in numbers, each little beak sealed with long golden
straw or downy feather.
The river is heavy with hay barges, the last fruits of winter's
storehouse; the lengthening days slowly and steadily oust the dark;
the air is loud with a growing clamour of life: spring is not only
proclaimed, but on this Feast she is crowned, and despite the
warring wind the days bring their meed of sunshine. We stand for a
moment at the meeting of the ways, the handclasp of Winter and
Spring, of Sleep and Wakening, of Life and Death; and there is
between them not even the thin line which Rabbi Jochanan on his
death-bed beheld as all that divided hell from heaven.
"Sphaera cujus centrum ubique, circumferentia nullibus," was said
of Mercury, that messenger of the gods who marshalled reluctant
spirits to the Underworld; and for Mercury we may write Life with
Death as its great sacrament of brotherhood and release, to be
dreaded only as we dread to partake unworthily of great benefits.
Like all sacraments it has its rightful time and due solemnities;
the horror and sin of suicide lie in the presumption of free will,
the forestalling of a gift,--the sin of Eve in Paradise, who took
that which might only be given at the hand of the Lord. It has too
its physical pains, but they are those of a woman in travail, and
we remember them no more for joy that a child-man is born into the
world naked and not ashamed: beholding ourselves as we are we
shall see also the leaves of the Tree of Life set for the healing
of the nations.
We are slowly, very slowly, abandoning our belief in sudden and
violent transitions for a surer and fuller acceptance of the
doctrine of evolution; but most of us still draw a sharp line of
demarcation between this world and the next, and expect a radical
change in ourselves and our surroundings, a break in the chain of
continuity entirely contrary to the teaching of nature and
experience. In the same way we cling to the specious untruth that
we can begin over and over again in this world, forgetting that
while our sorrow and repentance bring sacramental gifts of grace
and strength, God Himself cannot, by His own limitation, rewrite
the Past. We are in our sorrow that which we have made ourselves
in our sin; our temptations are there as well as the way of escape.
We are in the image of God. We create our world, our undying
selves, our heaven, or our hell. "Qui creavit te sine te non
salvabit te sine te." It is stupendous, magnificent, and most
appalling. A man does not change as he crosses the threshold of
the larger room. His personality remains the same, although the
expression of it may be altered. Here we have material bodies in a
material world--there, perhaps, ether bodies in an ether world.
There is no indecency in reasonable speculation and curiosity about
the life to come. One end of the thread is between our fingers,
but we are haunted for the most part by the snap of Atropos'
Socrates faced death with the magnificent calm bred of dignified
familiarity. He had built for himself a desired heaven of colour,
light, and precious stones--the philosophic formula of those who
set the spiritual above the material, and worship truth in the
beauty of holiness. He is not troubled by doubts or regrets, for
the path of the just lies plain before his face. He forbids
mourning and lamentations as out of place, obeys minutely and
cheerily the directions of his executioner, and passes with
unaffected dignity to the apprehension of that larger truth for
which he had constantly prepared himself. His friends may bury him
provided they will remember they are not burying Socrates; and that
all things may be done decently and in order, a cock must go to
Long before, in the days of the Captivity, there lived in godless,
blood-shedding Nineveh an exiled Jew whose father had fallen from
the faith. He was a simple man, child-like and direct; living the
careful, kindly life of an orthodox Jew, suffering many
persecutions for conscience' sake, and in constant danger of death.
He narrates the story of his life and of the blindness which fell
on him, with gentle placidity, and checks the exuberance of his
more emotional wife with the assurance of untroubled faith.
Finally, when his pious expectations are fulfilled, his sight
restored, and his son prosperously established beside him, he
breaks into a prayer of rejoicing which reveals the secret of his
confident content. He made use of two great faculties: the sense
of proportion, which enabled him to apprise life and its accidents
justly, and the gift of in-seeing, which led Socrates after him,
and Blessed John in lonely exile on Patmos, to look through the
things temporal to the hidden meanings of eternity.
"Let my soul bless God the great King," he cries; and looks away
past the present distress; past the Restoration which was to end in
fresh scattering and confusion; past the dream of gold, and
porphyry, and marble defaced by the eagles and emblems of the
conqueror; until his eyes are held by the Jerusalem of God, "built
up with sapphires, and emeralds, and precious stones," with
battlements of pure gold, and the cry of 'Alleluia' in her streets.
Many years later, when he was very aged, he called his son to him
and gave him as heritage his own simple rule of life, adding but
one request: "Keep thou the law and the commandments, and shew
thyself merciful and just, that it may go well with thee. . . .
Consider what alms doeth, and how righteousness doth deliver. . . .
And bury me decently, and thy mother with me." Having so said, he
went his way quietly and contentedly to the Jerusalem of his heart.
It is the simple note of familiarity that is wanting in us; that by
which we link world with world. Once, years ago, I sat by the
bedside of a dying man in a wretched garret in the East End. He
was entirely ignorant, entirely quiescent, and entirely
uninterested. The minister of a neighbouring chapel came to see
him and spoke to him at some length of the need for repentance and
the joys of heaven. After he had gone my friend lay staring
restlessly at the mass of decrepit broken chimney pots which made
his horizon. At last he spoke, and there was a new note in his
"Ee said as 'ow there were golding streets in them parts. I ain't
no ways particler wot they're made of, but it'll feel natral like
if there's chimleys too."
The sun stretched a sudden finger and painted the chimney pots red
and gold against the smoke-dimmed sky, and with his face alight
with surprised relief my friend died.
We are one with the earth, one in sin, one in redemption. It is
the fringe of the garment of God. "If I may but touch the hem,"
said a certain woman.
On the great Death-day which shadows the early spring with a shadow
of which it may be said Umbra Dei est Lux, the earth brought gifts
of grief, the fruit of the curse, barren thorns, hollow reed, and
the wood of the cross; the sea made offering of Tyrian purple; the
sky veiled her face in great darkness, while the nation of priests
crucified for the last time their Paschal lamb. "I will hear,
saith the Lord; I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the
earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and wine and oil, and they
shall hear Jezreel, and I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I
will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy, and I will
say unto them which were not my people, 'Thou art my people,' and
they shall say 'Thou art my God.'"
The second Adam stood in the garden with quickening feet, and all
the earth pulsed and sang for joy of the new hope and the new life
quickening within her, to be hers through the pains of travail, the
pangs of dissolution. The Tree of Life bears Bread and Wine--food
of the wayfaring man. The day of divisions is past, the day of
unity has dawned. One has risen from the dead, and in the Valley
of Achor stands wide the Door of Hope--the Sacrament of Death.
Scio Domine, et vere scio . . . quia non sum dignus accedere ad
tantum mysterium propter nimia peccata mea et infinitas
negligentias meas. Sed scio . . . quia tu potes me facere dignum.
"Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me," said
Socrates; and Governor Sancho, with all the itch of newly-acquired
authority, could not make the young weaver of steel-heads for
lances sleep in prison. In the Vision of Er the souls passed
straight forward under the throne of necessity, and out into the
plains of forgetfulness, where they must severally drink of the
river of unmindfulness whose waters cannot be held in any vessel.
The throne, the plain, and the river are still here, but in the
distance rise the great lone heavenward hills, and the wise among
us no longer ask of the gods Lethe, but rather remembrance.
Necessity can set me helpless on my back, but she cannot keep me
there; nor can four walls limit my vision. I pass out from under
her throne into the garden of God a free man, to my ultimate
beatitude or my exceeding shame. All day long this world lies open
to me; ay, and other worlds also, if I will but have it so; and
when night comes I pass into the kingdom and power of the dark.
I lie through the long hours and watch my bridge, which is set with
lights across the gloom; watch the traffic which is for me but so
many passing lamps telling their tale by varying height and
brightness. I hear under my window the sprint of over-tired
horses, the rattle of uncertain wheels as the street-sellers hasten
south; the jangle of cab bells as the theatre-goers take their
homeward way; the gruff altercation of weary men, the unmelodious
song and clamorous laugh of women whose merriment is wearier still.
Then comes a time of stillness when the light in the sky waxes and
wanes, when the cloud-drifts obscure the stars, and I gaze out into
blackness set with watching eyes. No sound comes from without but
the voice of the night-wind and the cry of the hour. The clock on
the mantelpiece ticks imperatively, for a check has fallen on the
familiarity which breeds a disregard of common things, and a reason
has to be sought for each sound which claims a hearing. The pause
is wonderful while it lasts, but it is not for long. The working
world awakes, the poorer brethren take up the burden of service;
the dawn lights the sky; remembrance cries an end to forgetting.
Sometimes in the country on a night in early summer you may shut
the cottage door to step out into an immense darkness which palls
heaven and earth. Going forward into the embrace of the great
gloom, you are as a babe swaddled by the hands of night into
helpless quiescence. Your feet tread an unseen path, your hands
grasp at a void, or shrink from the contact they cannot realise;
your eyes are holden; your voice would die in your throat did you
seek to rend the veil of that impenetrable silence.
Shut in by the intangible dark, we are brought up against those
worlds within worlds blotted out by our concrete daily life. The
working of the great microcosm at which we peer dimly through the
little window of science; the wonderful, breathing earth; the
pulsing, throbbing sap; the growing fragrance shut in the calyx of
to-morrow's flower; the heart-beat of a sleeping world that we
dream that we know; and around, above, and interpenetrating all,
the world of dreams, of angels and of spirits.
It was this world which Jacob saw on the first night of his exile,
and again when he wrestled in Peniel until the break of day. It
was this world which Elisha saw with open eyes; which Job knew when
darkness fell on him; which Ezekiel gazed into from his place among
the captives; which Daniel beheld as he stood alone by the great
river, the river Hiddekel.
For the moment we have left behind the realm of question and
explanation, of power over matter and the exercise of bodily
faculties; and passed into darkness alight with visions we cannot
see, into silence alive with voices we cannot hear. Like helpless
men we set our all on the one thing left us, and lift up our
hearts, knowing that we are but a mere speck among a myriad worlds,
yet greater than the sum of them; having our roots in the dark
places of the earth, but our branches in the sweet airs of heaven.
It is the material counterpart of the 'Night of the Soul.' We have
left our house and set forth in the darkness which paralyses those
faculties that make us men in the world of men. But surely the
great mystics, with all their insight and heavenly love, fell short
when they sought freedom in complete separateness from creation
instead of in perfect unity with it. The Greeks knew better when
they flung Ariadne's crown among the stars, and wrote Demeter's
grief on a barren earth, and Persephone's joy in the fruitful
field. For the earth is gathered up in man; he is the whole which
is greater than the sum of its parts. Standing in the image of
God, and clothed in the garment of God, he lifts up priestly hands
and presents the sacrifice of redeemed earth before the throne of
the All-Father. "Dust and ashes and a house of devils," he cries;
and there comes back for answer, "Rex concupiscet decorem tuam."
The Angel of Death has broad wings of silence and mystery with
which he shadows the valley where we need fear no evil, and where
the voice which speaks to us is as the "voice of doves, tabering
upon their breasts." It is a place of healing and preparation, of
peace and refreshing after the sharply-defined outlines of a garish
day. Walking there we learn to use those natural faculties of the
soul which are hampered by the familiarity of bodily progress, to
apprehend the truths which we have intellectually accepted. It is
the place of secrets where the humility which embraces all
attainable knowledge cries "I know not"; and while we proclaim from
the house-tops that which we have learnt, the manner of our
learning lies hid for each one of us in the sanctuary of our souls.
The Egyptians, in their ancient wisdom, act in the desert a great
androsphinx, image of mystery and silence, staring from under level
brows across the arid sands of the sea-way. The Greeks borrowed
and debased the image, turning the inscrutable into a semi-woman
who asked a foolish riddle, and hurled herself down in petulant
pride when OEdipus answered aright. So we, marring the office of
silence, question its mystery; thwart ourselves with riddles of our
own suggesting; and turn away, leaving our offering but half
consumed on the altar of the unknown god. It was not the theft of
fire that brought the vengeance of heaven upon Prometheus, but the
mocking sacrifice. Orpheus lost Eurydice because he must see her
face before the appointed time. Persephone ate of the pomegranate
and hungered in gloom for the day of light which should have been
The universe is full of miracle and mystery; the darkness and
silence are set for a sign we dare not despise. The pall of night
lifts, leaving us engulphed in the light of immensity under a
tossing heaven of stars. The dawn breaks, but it does not surprise
us, for we have watched from the valley and seen the pale twilight.
Through the wondrous Sabbath of faithful souls, the long day of
rosemary and rue, the light brightens in the East; and we pass on
towards it with quiet feet and opening eyes, bearing with us all of
the redeemed earth that we have made our own, until we are
fulfilled in the sunrise of the great Easter Day, and the peoples
come from north and south and east and west to the City which lieth
foursquare--the Beatific Vision of God.
Vere Ierusalem est illa civitas
Cuius pax iugis et summa iucunditas;
Ubi non praevenit rem desiderium,
Nec desiderio minus est praemium.
AT THE WHITE GATE
A great joy has come to me; one of those unexpected gifts which
life loves to bestow after we have learnt to loose our grip of her.
I am back in my own place very near my road--the white gate lies
within my distant vision; near the lean grey Downs which keep watch
and ward between the country and the sea; very near, nay, in the
lap of Mother Earth, for as I write I am lying on a green carpet,
powdered yellow and white with the sun's own flowers; overhead a
great sycamore where the bees toil and sing; and sighing shimmering
poplars golden grey against the blue. The day of Persephone has
dawned for me, and I, set free like Demeter's child, gladden my
eyes with this foretaste of coming radiance, and rest my tired
sense with the scent and sound of home. Away down the meadow I
hear the early scythe song, and the warm air is fragrant with the
fallen grass. It has its own message for me as I lie here, I who
have obtained yet one more mercy, and the burden of it is life, not
I remember when, taking a grace from my road, I helped to mow
Farmer Marler's ten-acre field, rich in ripe upstanding grass. The
mechanism of the ancient reaper had given way under the strain of
the home meadows, and if this crop was to be saved it must be by
hand. I have kept the record of those days of joyous labour under
a June sky. Men were hard to get in our village; old Dodden, who
was over seventy, volunteered his services--he had done yeoman work
with the scythe in his youth--and two of the farm hands with their
master completed our strength.
We took our places under a five o'clock morning sky, and the larks
cried down to us as we stood knee-deep in the fragrant dew-steeped
grass, each man with his gleaming scythe poised ready for its
sweeping swing. Old Dodden led by right of age and ripe
experience; bent like a sickle, brown and dry as a nut, his face a
tracery of innumerable wrinkles, he has never ailed a day, and the
cunning of his craft was still with him. At first we worked
stiffly, unreadily, but soon the monotonous motion possessed us
with its insistent rhythm, and the grass bowed to each sibilant
swish and fell in sweet-smelling swathes at our feet. Now and then
a startled rabbit scurried through the miniature forest to vanish
with white flick of tail in the tangled hedge; here and there a
mother lark was discovered sitting motionless, immovable upon her
little brood; but save for these infrequent incidents we paced
steadily on with no speech save the cry of the hone on the steel
and the swish of the falling swathes. The sun rose high in the
heaven and burnt on bent neck and bare and aching arms, the blood
beat and drummed in my veins with the unwonted posture and
exercise; I worked as a man who sees and hears in a mist. Once, as
I paused to whet my scythe, my eye caught the line of the
untroubled hills strong and still in the broad sunshine; then to
work again in the labouring, fertile valley.
Rest time came, and wiping the sweat from brow and blade we sought
the welcome shadow of the hedge and the cool sweet oatmeal water
with which the wise reaper quenches his thirst. Farmer Marler
hastened off to see with master-eye that all went well elsewhere;
the farm men slept tranquilly, stretched at full length, clasped
hands for pillow; and old Dodden, sitting with crooked fingers
interlaced to check their trembling betrayal of old age, told how
in his youth he had "swep" a four-acre field single-handed in three
days--an almost impossible feat--and of the first reaping machine
in these parts, and how it brought, to his thinking, the ruin of
agricultural morals with it. "'Tis again nature," he said, "the
Lard gave us the land an' the seed, but 'Ee said that a man should
sweat. Where's the sweat drivin' round wi' two horses cuttin' the
straw down an' gatherin' it again, wi' scarce a hand's turn i' the
Old Dodden's high-pitched quavering voice rose and fell, mournful
as he surveyed the present, vehement as he recorded the heroic
past. He spoke of the rural exodus and shook his head mournfully.
"We old 'uns were content wi' earth and the open sky like our
feythers before us, but wi' the children 'tis first machines to
save doin' a hand's turn o' honest work, an' then land an' sky
ain't big enough seemin'ly, nor grand enough; it must be town an' a
paved street, an' they sweat their lives out atwixt four walls an'
call it seein' life--'tis death an' worse comes to the most of 'em.
Ay, 'tis better to stay by the land, as the Lard said, till time
comes to lie under it." I looked away across the field where the
hot air throbbed and quivered, and the fallen grass, robbed already
of its freshness, lay prone at the feet of its upstanding fellows.
It is quite useless to argue with old Dodden; he only shakes his
head and says firmly, "An old man, seventy-five come Martinmass
knows more o' life than a young chap, stands ter reason"; besides,
his epitome of the town life he knows nothing of was a just one as
far as it went; and his own son is the sweeper of a Holborn
crossing, and many other things that he should not be; but that is
the parson's secret and mine.
We took rank again and swept steadily on through the hot still
hours into the evening shadows, until the sinking sun set a Gloria
to the psalm of another working day. Only a third of the field lay
mown, for we were not skilled labourers to cut our acre a day; I
saw it again that night under the moonlight and the starlight,
wrapped in a shroud of summer's mist.
The women joined us on the third day to begin haymaking, and the
air was fragrant of tossed and sun-dried grass. One of them walked
apart from the rest, without interest or freedom of movement; her
face, sealed and impassive, was aged beyond the vigour of her
years. I knew the woman by sight, and her history by hearsay. We
have a code of morals here--not indeed peculiar to this place or
people--that a wedding is 'respectable' if it precedes child-birth
by a bare month, tolerable, and to be recognised, should it succeed
the same by less than a year (provided the pair are not living in
the same village); but the child that has never been 'fathered' and
the wife without a ring are 'anathema,' and such in one was
Elizabeth Banks. She went away a maid and came back a year ago
with a child and without a name. Her mother was dead, her father
and the village would have none of her: the homing instinct is
very strong, or she would scarcely have returned, knowing the
traditions of the place. Old Dodden, seeing her, grumbled to me in
the rest-time.--"Can't think what the farmer wants wi' Lizzie Banks
in 'is field." "She must live," I said, "and by all showing her
life is a hard one." "She 'ad the makin' of 'er bed," he went on,
obstinately. "What for do she bring her disgrace home, wi' a
fatherless brat for all folks to see? We don't want them sort in
our village. The Lord's hand is heavy, an' a brat's a curse that
cannot be hid."
When tea-time came I crossed the field to look for a missing hone,
and saw Elizabeth Banks far from the other women, busied with a
bundle under the hedge. I passed close on my search, and lo! the
bundle was a little boy. He lay smiling and stretching, fighting
the air with his small pink fists, while the wind played with his
curls. "A curse that cannot be hid," old Dodden had said. The
mother knelt a moment, devouring him with her eyes, then snatched
him to her with aching greed and covered him with kisses. I saw
the poor, plain face illumined, transfigured, alive with a mother's
love, and remembered how the word came once to a Hebrew prophet:-
Say unto your brethren Ammi, and to your sisters Ruhamah.
The evening sky was clouding fast, the sound of rain was in the
air; Farmer Marler shook his head as he looked at the grass lying
in ordered rows. I was the last to leave, and as I lingered at the
gate drinking in the scent of the field and the cool of the coming
rain, the first drops fell on my upturned face and kissed the poor
dry swathes at my feet, and I was glad.
David, child of the fields and the sheepfolds, his kingship laid
aside, sees through the parted curtain of the years the advent of
his greater Son, and cries in his psalm of the hilltops, his last
He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass.
Even so He came, and shall still come. Three days ago the field,
in its pageant of fresh beauty, with shimmering blades and tossing
banners, greeted sun and shower alike with joy for the furtherance
of its life and purpose; now, laid low, it hears the young grass
whisper the splendour of its coming green; and the poor swathes are
glad at the telling, but full of grief for their own apparent
failure. Then in great pity comes the rain, the rain of summer,
gentle, refreshing, penetrating, and the swathes are comforted, for
they know that standing to greet or prostrate to suffer, the
consolations of the former and the latter rain are still their own,
with tender touch and cool caress. Then, once more parched by the
sun, they are borne away to the new service their apparent failure
has fitted them for; and perhaps as they wait in the dark for the
unknown that is still to come they hear sometimes the call of the
distant rain, and at the sound the dry sap stirs afresh--they are
not forgotten and can wait.
"Say unto your sisters Ruhamah," cries the prophet.
"He shall come down like rain on the mown grass," sang the poet of
"My ways are not your ways, saith the Lord."
I remember how I went home along the damp sweet-scented lanes
through the grey mist of the rain, thinking of the mown field and
Elizabeth Banks and many, many more; and that night, when the sky
had cleared and the nightingale sang, I looked out at the moon
riding at anchor, a silver boat in a still blue sea ablaze with the
headlights of the stars, and the saying of the herdsman of Tekoa
came to me--as it has come oftentimes since:-
Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the
shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with
night; that calleth for the waters of the sea and poureth them out
upon the face of earth; the Lord is His name.
This garden is an epitome of peace; sun and wind, rain, flowers,
and birds gather me into the blessedness of their active harmony.
The world holds no wish for me, now that I have come home to die
with my own people, for verify I think that the sap of grass and
trees must run in my veins, so steady is their pull upon my heart-
strings. London claimed all my philosophy, but the country gives
all, and asks of me only the warm receptivity of a child in its
When I lie in my cool light room on the garden level, I look across
the bright grass--il verde smalto--to a great red rose bush in
lavish disarray against the dark cypress. Near by, amid a tangle
of many-hued corn-flowers I see the promise of coming lilies, the
sudden crimson of a solitary paeony; and in lowlier state against
the poor parched earth glow the golden cups of the eschseholtzias.
Beyond the low hedge lies pasture bright with buttercups, where the
cattle feed. Farther off, where the scythe has been busy, are
sheep, clean and shorn, with merry, well-grown lambs; and in the
farthest field I can see the great horses moving in slow steady
pace as the farmer turns his furrow.
The birds are noisy comrades and old friends, from the lark which
chants the dew-steeped morning, to the nightingale that breaks the
silence of the most wonderful nights. I hear the wisdom of the
rooks in the great elms; the lifting lilt of the linnet, and the
robin's quaint little summer song. The starlings chatter
ceaselessly, their queer strident voices harsh against the
melodious gossip of the other birds; the martins shrill softly as
they swoop to and fro busied with their nesting under the caves;
thrush and blackbird vie in friendly rivalry like the Meister-
singer of old; sometimes I hear the drawling cry of a peacock
strayed from the great house, or the laugh of the woodpecker; and
at night the hunting note of the owl reaches me as he sweeps by in
search of prey.
To-day I am out again; and the great sycamore showers honey and
flowers on me as I lie beneath it. Sometimes a bee falls like an
over-ripe fruit, and waits awhile to clean his pollen-coated legs
ere he flies home to discharge his burden. He is too busy to be
friendly, but his great velvety cousin is much more sociable, and
stays for a gentle rub between his noisy shimmering wings, and a
nap in the hollow of my hand, for he is an idle friendly soul with
plenty of time at his own disposal and no responsibilities.
Looking across I can watch the martins at work; they have a
starling and a sparrow for near neighbours in the wooden gutter.
One nest is already complete all but the coping, the other two are
a-building: I wonder whether I or they will be first to go south
through the mist.
This great tree is a world in itself, and the denizens appear full
of curiosity as to the Gulliver who has taken up his abode beneath
it. Pale green caterpillars and spiders of all sizes come spinning
down to visit me, and have to be persuaded with infinite difficulty
to ascend their threads again. There are flies with beautiful
iridescent wings, beetles of all shapes, some of them like tiny
jewels in the sunlight. Their nomenclature is a sealed book to me;
of their life and habits I know nothing; yet this is but a little
corner of the cosmos I am leaving, and I feel not so much desire
for the beauty to come, as a great longing to open my eyes a little
wider during the time which remains to me in this beautiful world
of God's making, where each moment tells its own tale of active,
progressive life in which there is no undoing. Nature knows naught
of the web of Penelope, that acme of anxious pathetic waiting, but
goes steadily on in ever widening circle towards the fulfilment of
the mystery of God.
There are, I take it, two master-keys to the secrets of the
universe, viewed sub specie aeternitatis, the Incarnation of God,
and the Personality of Man; with these it is true for us as for the
pantheistic little man of contemptible speech, that "all things are
ours," yea, even unto the third heaven.
I have lost my voracious appetite for books; their language is less
plain than scent and song and the wind in the trees; and for me the
clue to the next world lies in the wisdom of earth rather than in
the learning of men. "Libera me ab fuscina Hophni," prayed the
good Bishop fearful of religious greed. I know too much, not too
little; it is realisation that I lack, wherefore I desire these
last days to confirm in myself the sustaining goodness of God, the
love which is our continuing city, the New Jerusalem whose length,
breadth, and height are all one. It is a time of exceeding peace.
There is a place waiting for me under the firs in the quiet
churchyard; thanks to my poverty I have no worldly anxieties or
personal dispositions; and I am rich in friends, many of them
unknown to me, who lavishly supply my needs and make it ideal to
live on the charity of one's fellow-men. I am most gladly in debt
to all the world; and to Earth, my mother, for her great beauty.
I can never remember the time when I did not love her, this mother
of mine with her wonderful garments and ordered loveliness, her
tender care and patient bearing of man's burden. In the earliest
days of my lonely childhood I used to lie chin on hand amid the
milkmaids, red sorrel, and heavy spear-grass listening to her many
voices, and above all to the voice of the little brook which ran
through the meadows where I used to play: I think it has run
through my whole life also, to lose itself at last, not in the
great sea but in the river that maketh glad the City of God.
Valley and plain, mountain and fruitful field; the lark's song and
the speedwell in the grass; surely a man need not sigh for greater
loveliness until he has read something more of this living letter,
and knelt before that earth of which he is the only confusion.
It is a grave matter that the word religion holds such away among
us, making the very gap seem to yawn again which the Incarnation
once and for ever filled full. We have banished the protecting
gods that ruled in river and mountain, tree and grove; we have
gainsayed for the most part folk-lore and myth, superstition and
fairy-tale, evil only in their abuse. We have done away with
mystery, or named it deceit. All this we have done in an
enlightened age, but despite this policy of destruction we have
left ourselves a belief, the grandest and most simple the world has
ever known, which sanctifies the water that is shed by every
passing cloud; and gathers up in its great central act vineyard and
cornfield, proclaiming them to be that Life of the world without
which a man is dead while he liveth. Further, it is a belief whose
foundations are the most heavenly mystery of the Trinity, but whose
centre is a little Child: it sets a price upon the head of the
sparrow, and reckons the riches of this world at their true value;
it points to a way of holiness where the fool shall not err, and
the sage may find the realisation of his far-seeking; and yet,
despite its inclusiveness, it is a belief which cannot save the
birds from destruction, the silent mountains from advertisement, or
the stream from pollution, in an avowedly Christian land. John
Ruskin scolded and fought and did yeoman service, somewhat hindered
by his over-good conceit of himself; but it is not the worship of
beauty we need so much as the beauty of holiness. Little by little
the barrier grows and 'religion' becomes a RULE of life, not life
itself, although the Bride stands ready to interpret, likened in
her loveliness to the chief treasures of her handmaid-Earth. There
is more truth in the believing cry, "Come from thy white cliffs, O
Pan!" than in the religion that measures a man's life by the letter
of the Ten Commandments, and erects itself as judge and ruler over
him, instead of throwing open the gate of the garden where God
walks with man from morning until morning.
As I write the sun is setting; in the pale radiance of the sky
above his glory there dawns the evening star; and earth like a
tired child turns her face to the bosom of the night.
Once again I have paid a rare visit to my tree to find many things
changed since my last sojourn there. The bees are silent, for the
honey-laden flowers of the sycamore are gone and in their place
hang dainty two-fold keys. The poplar has lost its metallic
shimmer, the chestnut its tall white candles; and the sound of the
wind in the fully-leaved branches is like the sighing of the sea.
The martins' nests are finished, and one is occupied by a shrill-
voiced brood; but for the most part the birds' parental cares are
over, and the nestlings in bold flight no longer flutter on
inefficient wings across the lawn with clamorous, open bill. The
robins show promise of their ruddy vests, the slim young thrush is
diligently practising maturer notes, and soon Maid June will have
It is such a wonderful world that I cannot find it in my heart to
sigh for fresh beauty amid these glories of the Lord on which I
look, seeing men as trees walking, in my material impotence which
awaits the final anointing. The marigolds with their orange suns,
the lilies' white flame, the corncockle's blue crown of many
flowers, the honeysuckle's horn of fragrance--I can paraphrase
them, name, class, dissect them; and then, save for the purposes of
human intercourse, I stand where I stood before, my world bounded
by my capacity, the secret of colour and fragrance still kept. It
is difficult to believe that the second lesson will not be the
sequence of the first, and death prove a "feast of opening eyes" to
all these wonders, instead of the heavy-lidded slumber to which we
so often liken it. "Earth to earth?" Yes, "dust thou art, and
unto dust thou shalt return," but what of the rest? What of the
folded grave clothes, and the Forty Days? If the next state be, as
it well might, space of four dimensions, and the first veil which
will lift for me be the material one, then the "other" world which
is hidden from our grosser material organism will lie open, and
declare still further to my widening eyes and unstopped ears the
glory and purpose of the manifold garment of God. Knowledge will
give place to understanding in that second chamber of the House of
Wisdom and Love. Revelation is always measured by capacity: "Open
thy mouth wide," and it shall be filled with a satisfaction that in
itself is desire.
There is a child here, a happy quiet little creature holding gently
to its two months of life. Sometimes they lay it beside me, I the
more helpless of the two--perhaps the more ignorant--and equally
dependent for the supply of my smallest need. I feel indecently
large as I survey its minute perfections and the tiny balled fist
lying in my great palm. The little creature fixes me with the wise
wide stare of a soul in advance of its medium of expression; and I,
gazing back at the mystery in those eyes, feel the thrill of
contact between my worn and sustained self and the innocence of a
little white child. It is wonderful to watch a woman's rapturous
familiarity with these newcomers. A man's love has far more awe in
it, and the passionate animal instinct of defence is wanting in
him. "A woman shall be saved through the child-bearing," said St
Paul; not necessarily her own, but by participation in the great
act of motherhood which is the crown and glory of her sex. She is
the "prisoner of love," caught in a net of her own weaving; held
fast by little hands which rule by impotence, pursued by feet the
swifter for their faltering.
It seems incredible that this is what a woman will barter for the
right to "live her own life"--surely the most empty of desires.
Man--vir, woman--femina, go to make up THE man--homo. There can be
no comparison, no rivalry between them; they are the complement of
each other, and a little child shall lead them. It is easy to
understand that desire to shelter under the dear mantle of
motherhood which has led to one of the abuses of modern Romanism.
I met an old peasant couple at Bornhofen who had tramped many weary
miles to the famous shrine of Our Lady to plead for their only son.
They had a few pence saved for a candle, and afterwards when they
told me their tale the old woman heaved a sigh of relief, "Es wird
bald gut gehen: Die da, Sie versteht," and I saw her later paying
a farewell visit to the great understanding Mother whom she could
trust. Superstitious misapprehension if you will, but also the
recognition of a divine principle.
It was Behmen, I believe, who cried with the breath of inspiration,
"Only when I know God shall I know myself"; and so man remains the
last of all the riddles, to be solved it may be only in Heaven's
perfection and the light of the Beatific Vision. "Know thyself" is
a vain legend, the more so when emphasised by a skull; and so I
company with a friend and a stranger, and looking across at the
white gate I wonder concerning the quiet pastures and still waters
that lie beyond, even as Brother Ambrose wondered long years ago in
the monastery by the forest.
The Brother Ambrose was ever a saintly man approved of God and
beloved by the Brethren. To him one night, as he lay abed in the
dormitory, came the word of the Lord, saying, "Come, and I will
show thee the Bride, the Lamb's wife." And Brother Ambrose arose
and was carried to a great and high mountain, even as in the Vision
of Blessed John. 'Twas a still night of many stars, and Brother
Ambrose, looking up, saw a radiant path in the heavens; and lo! the
stars gathered themselves together on either side until they stood
as walls of light, and the four winds lapped him about as in a
mantle and bore him towards the wondrous gleaming roadway. Then
between the stars came the Holy City with roof and pinnacle aflame,
and walls aglow with such colours as no earthly limner dreams of,
and much gold. Brother Ambrose beheld the Gates of Pearl, and by
every gate an angel with wings of snow and fire, and a face no man
dare look on because of its exceeding radiance.
Then as Brother Ambrose stretched out his arms because of his great
longing, a little grey cloud came out of the north and hung between
the walls of light, so that he no longer beheld the Vision, but
only heard a sound as of a great multitude crying 'Alleluia'; and
suddenly the winds came about him again, and lo! he found himself
in his bed in the dormitory, and it was midnight, for the bell was
ringing to Matins; and he rose and went down with the rest. But
when the Brethren left the choir Brother Ambrose stayed fast in his
place, hearing and seeing nothing because of the Vision of God; and
at Lauds they found him and told the Prior.
He questioned Brother Ambrose of the matter, and when he heard the
Vision bade him limn the Holy City even as he had seen it; and the
Precentor gave him uterine vellum and much fine gold and what
colours he asked for the work. Then Brother Ambrose limned a
wondrous fair city of gold with turrets and spires; and he inlaid
blue for the sapphire, and green for the emerald, and vermilion
where the city seemed aflame with the glory of God; but the angels
he could not limn, nor could he set the rest of the colours as he
saw them, nor the wall of stars on either hand; and Brother Ambrose
fell sick because of the exceeding great longing he had to limn the
Holy City, and was very sad; but the Prior bade him thank God, and
remember the infirmity of the flesh, which, like the little grey
cloud, veiled Jerusalem to his sight.
As I write the monastery bell hard by rings out across the lark's
song. They still have time for visions behind those guarding
walls, but for most of us it is not so. We let slip the ideal for
what we call the real, and the golden dreams vanish while we clutch
at phantoms: we speed along life's pathway, counting to the full
the sixty minutes of every hour, yet the race is not to the swift
nor the battle to the strong. Lying here in this quiet backwater
it is hard to believe that the world without is turbulent with
storm and stress and the ebb and flow of uncertain tides. The
little yellow cat rolling on its back among the daisies, the staid
tortoise making a stately meal off the buttercups near me, these
are great events in this haven of peace. And yet, looking back to
the working days, I know how much goodness and loving kindness
there is under the froth and foam. If we do not know ourselves we
most certainly do not know our brethren: that revelation awaits
us, it may be, first in Heaven. To have faith is to create; to
have hope is to call down blessing; to have love is to work
miracles. Above all let us see visions, visions of colour and
light, of green fields and broad rivers, of palaces laid with fair
colours, and gardens where a place is found for rosemary and rue.
It is our prerogative to be dreamers, but there will always be men
ready to offer us death for our dreams. And if it must be so let
us choose death; it is gain, not loss, and the gloomy portal when
we reach it is but a white gate, the white gate maybe we have known
all our lives barred by the tendrils of the woodbine.
Rain, rain, rain: the little flagged path outside my window is a
streaming way, where the coming raindrops meet again the grey
clouds whose storehouse they have but just now left. The grass
grows greener as I watch it, the burnt patches fade, a thousand
thirsty beads are uplifted for the cooling draught.
The great thrush that robs the raspberry canes is busy; yesterday
he had little but dust for his guerdon, but now fresh, juicy fruit
repays him as he swings to and fro on the pliant branches. The
blackbirds and starlings find the worms an easy prey--poor brother
worm ever ready for sacrifice. I can hear the soft expectant
chatter of the family of martins under the roof; there will be good
hunting, and they know it, for the flies are out when the rain is
over, and there are clamorous mouths awaiting. My little brown
brothers, the sparrows, remain my chief delight. Of all the birds
these nestle closest to my heart, be they grimy little cockneys or
their trim and dainty country cousins. They come day by day for
their meed of crumbs spread for them outside my window, and at this
season they eat leisurely and with good appetite, for there are no
hungry babies pestering to be fed. Very early in the morning I
hear the whirr and rustle of eager wings, and the tap, tap, of
little beaks upon the stone. The sound carries me back, for it was
the first to greet me when I rose to draw water and gather kindling
in my roadmender days; and if I slip back another decade they
survey me, reproving my laziness, from the foot of the narrow bed
in my little attic overseas.
Looking along the roadway that we have travelled we see the
landmarks, great and small, which have determined the direction of
our feet. For some those of childhood stand out above all the
rest; but I remember few notable ones, and those few the emphatic
chord of the universe, rather than any commerce with my fellows.
There was the night of my great disappointment, when I was borne
from my comfortable bed to see the wonders of the moon's eclipse.
Disappointment was so great that it sealed my lips; but, once back
on my pillow, I sobbed for grief that I had seen a wonder so far
below my expectation. Then there was a night at Whitby, when the
wind made speech impossible, and the seas rushed up and over the
great lighthouse like the hungry spirits of the deep. I like
better to remember the scent of the first cowslip field under the
warm side of the hedge, when I sang to myself for pure joy of their
colour and fragrance. Again, there were the bluebells in the
deserted quarry like the backwash of a southern sea, and below them
the miniature forest of sheltering bracken with its quaint
conceits; and, crowned above all, the day I stood on Watcombe Down,
and looked across a stretch of golden gorse and new-turned blood-
red field, the green of the headland, and beyond, the sapphire sea.
Time sped, and there came a day when I first set foot on German
soil and felt the throb of its paternity, the beat of our common
Life. England is my mother, and most dearly do I love her swelling
breasts and wind-swept, salt-strewn hair. Scotland gave me my
name, with its haunting derivation handed down by brave men; but
Germany has always been to me the Fatherland par excellence. True,
my love is limited to the southern provinces, with their medieval
memories; for the progressive guttural north I have little
sympathy, but the Rhine claimed me from the first, calling,
calling, with that wonderful voice which speaks of death and life,
of chivalry and greed of gold. If you would have the river's
company you should wander, a happy solitary, along its banks,
watching its gleaming current in the early morning, its golden
glory as it answers the farewell of parting day. Then, in the
silence of the night, you can hear the wash and eddy calling one to
another, count the heart-beats of the great bearer of burdens, and
watch in the moonlight the sisters of the mist as they lament with
wringing hands the days that are gone.
The forests, too, are ready with story hid in the fastness of their
solitude, and it is a joy to think that those great pines, pointing
ever upwards, go for the most part to carry the sails of great
ships seeking afar under open sky. The forest holds other wonders
still. It seems but last night that I wandered down the road which
led to the little unheeded village where I had made my temporary
home. The warm-scented breath of the pines and the stillness of
the night wrapped me in great content; the summer lightning leapt
in a lambent arch across the east, and the stars, seen dimly
through the sombre tree crests, were outrivalled by the glow-worms
which shone in countless points of light from bank and hedge; even
two charcoal-burners, who passed with friendly greeting, had
wreathed their hats with the living flame. The tiny shifting lamps
were everywhere; pale yellow, purely white, or green as the
underside of a northern wave. By day but an ugly, repellent worm;
but darkness comes, and lo, a star alight. Nature is full for us
of seeming inconsistencies and glad surprises. The world's asleep,
say you; on your ear falls the nightingale's song and the stir of
living creatures in bush and brake. The mantle of night falls, and
all unattended the wind leaps up and scatters the clouds which veil
the constant stars; or in the hour of the great dark, dawn parts
the curtain with the long foregleam of the coming day. It is hard
to turn one's back on night with her kiss of peace for tired eye-
lids, the kiss which is not sleep but its neglected forerunner. I
made my way at last down to the vine-girt bridge asleep under the
stars and up the winding stairs of the old grey tower; and a
stone's-throw away the Rhine slipped quietly past in the midsummer
moonlight. Switzerland came in its turn, unearthly in its white
loveliness and glory of lake and sky. But perhaps the landmark
which stands out most clearly is the solitary blue gentian which I
found in the short slippery grass of the Rigi, gazing up at the sky
whose blue could not hope to excel it. It was my first; and what
need of another, for finding one I had gazed into the mystery of
all. This side the Pass, snow and the blue of heaven; later I
entered Italy through fields of many-hued lilies, her past glories
blazoned in the flowers of the field.
Now it is a strangely uneventful road that leads to my White Gate.
Each day questions me as it passes; each day makes answer for me
"not yet." There is no material preparation to be made for this
journey of mine into a far country--a simple fact which adds to the
'unknowableness' of the other side. Do I travel alone, or am I one
of a great company, swift yet unhurried in their passage? The
voices of Penelope's suitors shrilled on the ears of Ulysses, as
they journeyed to the nether-world, like nocturnal birds and bats
in the inarticulateness of their speech. They had abused the gift,
and fled self-condemned. Maybe silence commends itself as most
suitable for the wayfarers towards the sunrise--silence because
they seek the Word--but for those hastening towards the confusion
they have wrought there falls already the sharp oncoming of the
While we are still here the language of worship seems far, and yet
lies very nigh; for what better note can our frail tongues lisp
than the voice of wind and sea, river and stream, those grateful
servants giving all and asking nothing, the soft whisper of snow
and rain eager to replenish, or the thunder proclaiming a majesty
too great for utterance? Here, too, stands the angel with the
censer gathering up the fragrance of teeming earth and forest-tree,
of flower and fruit, and sweetly pungent herb distilled by sun and
rain for joyful use. Here, too, come acolytes lighting the dark
with tapers--sun, moon, and stars--gifts of the Lord that His
sanctuary may stand ever served.
It lies here ready to our hand, this life of adoration which we
needs must live hand in hand with earth, for has she not borne the
curse with us? But beyond the white gate and the trail of woodbine
falls the silence greater than speech, darkness greater than light,
a pause of "a little while"; and then the touch of that healing
garment as we pass to the King in His beauty, in a land from which
there is no return.
At the gateway then I cry you farewell.