Michael Fairless.

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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
printed page.

Farewell! It is a roadmender's word; I cry you Godspeed to the
next milestone - and beyond.



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.


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:-


"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
inquiring flight.

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
steadily on.

"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
by mistake.'"

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

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Online LibraryMichael FairlessThe Roadmender → online text (page 3 of 6)