The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft
Part 4 out of 4
In the falling of a summer night, I walk by Ullswater. The sky is
still warm with the afterglow of sunset, a dusky crimson smouldering
above the dark mountain line. Below me spreads a long reach of the
lake, steel-grey between its dim colourless shores. In the profound
stillness, the trotting of a horse beyond the water sounds strangely
near; it serves only to make more sensible the repose of Nature in
this her sanctuary. I feel a solitude unutterable, yet nothing akin
to desolation; the heart of the land I love seems to beat in the
silent night gathering around me; amid things eternal, I touch the
familiar and the kindly earth. Moving, I step softly, as though my
footfall were an irreverence. A turn in the road, and there is
wafted to me a faint perfume, that of meadow-sweet. Then I see a
light glimmering in the farmhouse window--a little ray against the
blackness of the great hillside, below which the water sleeps. . . .
A pathway leads me by the winding of the river Ouse. Far on every
side stretches a homely landscape, tilth and pasture, hedgerow and
clustered trees, to where the sky rests upon the gentle hills.
Slow, silent, the river lapses between its daisied banks, its grey-
green osier beds. Yonder is the little town of St. Neots. In all
England no simpler bit of rural scenery; in all the world nothing of
its kind more beautiful. Cattle are lowing amid the rich meadows.
Here one may loiter and dream in utter restfulness, whilst the great
white clouds mirror themselves in the water as they pass above. . .
I am walking upon the South Downs. In the valleys, the sun lies
hot, but here sings a breeze which freshens the forehead and fills
the heart with gladness. My foot upon the short, soft turf has an
unwearied lightness; I feel capable of walking on and on, even to
that farthest horizon where the white cloud casts its floating
shadow. Below me, but far off, is the summer sea, still, silent,
its ever-changing blue and green dimmed at the long limit with
luminous noontide mist. Inland spreads the undulant vastness of the
sheep-spotted downs, beyond them the tillage and the woods of Sussex
weald, coloured like to the pure sky above them, but in deeper tint.
Near by, all but hidden among trees in yon lovely hollow, lies an
old, old hamlet, its brown roofs decked with golden lichen; I see
the low church-tower, and the little graveyard about it. Meanwhile,
high in the heaven, a lark is singing. It descends; it drops to its
nest, and I could dream that half the happiness of its exultant song
was love of England. . . .
It is all but dark. For a quarter of an hour I must have been
writing by a glow of firelight reflected on to my desk; it seemed to
me the sun of summer. Snow is still falling. I see its ghostly
glimmer against the vanishing sky. To-morrow it will be thick upon
my garden, and perchance for several days. But when it melts, when
it melts, it will leave the snowdrop. The crocus, too, is waiting,
down there under the white mantle which warms the earth.
Time is money--says the vulgarest saw known to any age or people.
Turn it round about, and you get a precious truth--money is time. I
think of it on these dark, mist-blinded mornings, as I come down to
find a glorious fire crackling and leaping in my study. Suppose I
were so poor that I could not afford that heartsome blaze, how
different the whole day would be! Have I not lost many and many a
day of my life for lack of the material comfort which was necessary
to put my mind in tune? Money is time. With money I buy for
cheerful use the hours which otherwise would not in any sense be
mine; nay, which would make me their miserable bondsman. Money is
time, and, heaven be thanked, there needs so little of it for this
sort of purchase. He who has overmuch is wont to be as badly off in
regard to the true use of money, as he who has not enough. What are
we doing all our lives but purchasing, or trying to purchase, time?
And most of us, having grasped it with one hand, throw it away with
The dark days are drawing to an end. Soon it will be spring once
more; I shall go out into the fields, and shake away these thoughts
of discouragement and fear which have lately too much haunted my
fireside. For me, it is a virtue to be self-centred; I am much
better employed, from every point of view, when I live solely for my
own satisfaction, than when I begin to worry about the world. The
world frightens me, and a frightened man is no good for anything. I
know only one way in which I could have played a meritorious part as
an active citizen--by becoming a schoolmaster in some little country
town, and teaching half a dozen teachable boys to love study for its
own sake. That I could have done, I daresay. Yet, no; for I must
have had as a young man the same mind that I have in age, devoid of
idle ambitions, undisturbed by unattainable ideals. Living as I do
now, I deserve better of my country than at any time in my working
life; better, I suspect, than most of those who are praised for busy
Not that I regard my life as an example for any one else; all I say
is, that it is good for me, and in so far an advantage to the world.
To live in quiet content is surely a piece of good citizenship. If
you can do more, do it, and God-speed! I know myself for an
exception. And I ever find it a good antidote to gloomy thoughts to
bring before my imagination the lives of men, utterly unlike me in
their minds and circumstances, who give themselves with glad and
hopeful energy to the plain duties that lie before them. However
one's heart may fail in thinking of the folly and baseness which
make so great a part of to-day's world, remember how many bright
souls are living courageously, seeing the good wherever it may be
discovered, undismayed by portents, doing what they have to do with
all their strength. In every land there are such, no few of them, a
great brotherhood, without distinction of race or faith; for they,
indeed, constitute the race of man, rightly designated, and their
faith is one, the cult of reason and of justice. Whether the future
is to them or to the talking anthropoid, no one can say. But they
live and labour, guarding the fire of sacred hope.
In my own country, dare I think that they are fewer than of old?
Some I have known; they give me assurance of the many, near and far.
Hearts of noble strain, intrepid, generous; the clear head, the keen
eye; a spirit equal alike to good fortune and to ill. I see the
true-born son of England, his vigour and his virtues yet unimpaired.
In his blood is the instinct of honour, the scorn of meanness; he
cannot suffer his word to be doubted, and his hand will give away
all he has rather than profit by a plebeian parsimony. He is frugal
only of needless speech. A friend staunch to the death; tender with
a grave sweetness to those who claim his love; passionate, beneath
stoic seeming, for the causes he holds sacred. A hater of confusion
and of idle noise, his place is not where the mob presses; he makes
no vaunt of what he has done, no boastful promise of what he will
do; when the insensate cry is loud, the counsel of wisdom overborne,
he will hold apart, content with plain work that lies nearest to his
hand, building, strengthening, whilst others riot in destruction.
He was ever hopeful, and deems it a crime to despair of his country.
"Non, si male nunc, et olim sic erit." Fallen on whatever evil days
and evil tongues, he remembers that Englishman of old, who, under
every menace, bore right onwards; and like him, if so it must be,
can make it his duty and his service to stand and wait.
Impatient for the light of spring, I have slept lately with my blind
drawn up, so that at waking, I have the sky in view. This morning,
I awoke just before sunrise. The air was still; a faint flush of
rose to westward told me that the east made fair promise. I could
see no cloud, and there before me, dropping to the horizon,
glistened the horned moon.
The promise held good. After breakfast, I could not sit down by the
fireside; indeed, a fire was scarce necessary; the sun drew me
forth, and I walked all the morning about the moist lanes,
delighting myself with the scent of earth.
On my way home, I saw the first celandine.
So, once more, the year has come full circle. And how quickly;
alas, how quickly! Can it be a whole twelvemonth since the last
spring? Because I am so content with life, must life slip away, as
though it grudged me my happiness? Time was when a year drew its
slow length of toil and anxiety and ever frustrate waiting. Further
away, the year of childhood seemed endless. It is familiarity with
life that makes time speed quickly. When every day is a step in the
unknown, as for children, the days are long with gathering of
experience; the week gone by is already far in retrospect of things
learnt, and that to come, especially if it foretell some joy,
lingers in remoteness. Past mid-life, one learns little and expects
little. To-day is like unto yesterday, and to that which shall be
the morrow. Only torment of mind or body serves to delay the
indistinguishable hours. Enjoy the day, and, behold, it shrinks to
I could wish for many another year; yet, if I knew that not one more
awaited me, I should not grumble. When I was ill at ease in the
world, it would have been hard to die; I had lived to no purpose,
that I could discover; the end would have seemed abrupt and
meaningless. Now, my life is rounded; it began with the natural
irreflective happiness of childhood, it will close in the reasoned
tranquillity of the mature mind. How many a time, after long labour
on some piece of writing, brought at length to its conclusion, have
I laid down the pen with a sigh of thankfulness; the work was full
of faults, but I had wrought sincerely, had done what time and
circumstance and my own nature permitted. Even so may it be with me
in my last hour. May I look back on life as a long task duly
completed--a piece of biography; faulty enough, but good as I could
make it--and, with no thought but one of contentment, welcome the
repose to follow when I have breathed the word "Finis."
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