I arrived back in London at a quarter to twelve, with the firm but erroneous conviction that the last train left Fenchchurch Street at midnight. When I emerged from Tower Hill Underground there were four minutes to go, and I started to run as fast as I could towards the station. Other travellers, ambling their leisurely way towards the train, disturbed by my evident haste, began to run also. Behind me, as I reached the top of the station steps, came a veritable thundering of feet, pounding up the stairs on to the platform. Then, the girl at the barrier looked at my ticket and said calmly, “Train leaves at twelve-twenty.” I dared not look behind me.
We stopped at Barking for a while, and in a velvet sky the stars winked lazily, and later there was moonlight on the qiuet waters of the Thames where little boats rocked slumberously and a belated gull slid from the bank and floated smoothly into the long shadows of the neighbouring island.
It was at Barking that Bishop Erkconwald founded the nunnery from which comes the peaceful story of a dying nun who refused the candle with which a kindly sister would have illuminated her cell. “Put it out, put it out,” she cried; “I tell you I see this house full of such a light that your lamp troubles me with its obscure glimmer,”
The Church of Saxon Britain was a poetic Church, dreaming the vision of a lovable and loving Christ, charged with a great enthusiasm to lay at His eternal throne the tributes which He most desires: the affection of the heart, the body disciplined and shorn of the trappings of poor worldliness, the energies directed with superb abandon towards the attainment of the soul`s salvation and the brotherhood of men re-bound in bonds of charity and peace. The worship, art, scholarship and organization of the Church were all expressions of the dominating aim, to give illumination to the beauty of God reflected imly in created things, but in reality far surpassing all imagination.
The monasteries which swept into their attractive walls the noblest and the humblest in the land, the priests who tramped the wild and savage forests, vales and moors, the solitaries who hungered after God in loneliness and oft-interrupted isolation, the sailor-monks who spurned the dangers of tempestuous seas all these combined to give value, character, and vocation to peoples who, divided into warring tribes, unlettered and untamed, had had none of these but for the motherly guidance and ministration of the Church.
The church, then as now, found room and use for characters of great diversity, for talents and abilities of every hue, bringin to fruition in each a full-blossomed personality which stamped its impression on the Saxon race as no pagan leandership could ever have done. These were not perfect men, nor had they necessarily much in common with ine another. Columba, Aidan, Theodore, Aldhelm, Ninian, Hilda, Cuthbert . . . What mutual strain illuminates them all, other than their abilities upon the pursuit of Love? They walked seeing such a light proceeding from the living beauty of Jesus that all lights which sprang from lesser inspirations appeared irrelevant and obscure except in so far as they might reflect the greater light from God. The secret of their triumph and success was the overpowering love which they loosed upon their generation.
The key to human happiness is that man should crowd every talent, every desire, every deed, in the pursuit of a single high and worthy aim. The Saxon Church buily about it a golden age of spiritual heroism because, by example more often than by word, it taught men to give all for love.
“Back again, sir,” said the porter, as I surrendered my ticket in the early hours of a new day, and the ancient Parish Church, soft grey in the moonlight, seemed to smile its welcome too.
Up the long path of my garden, past the lawn where the noble chestnut held yellow candles to the stars, where in May the lilac, heavy-scented, hangs in low arches of white and green and mauve, the silent house winked its dark windows and from the orchard an owl hooted and was still. In my garden primroses had flowered beneath the William pear, and there were violets, rich and fragrant, and graceful daffodils. Two green woodpeckers, scarlet-created, had nested in the tree which shades the winding drive. But these were secrets waiting the discovery of morning, and now there was moonlight in my study, caressing the motley colours of the books 0 good companions of another winter. It was good to be home again and I was glad my pilgrimage was done. I would go no more roving. . . . Well, not for a month or two.
What shall I remember most kindly of all these my adventures? – so much discovered and explored, so many little and endearing incidents which cannot claim the permanence of print, but lie cosily in my rememberence. I shall remember angry clouds above the black-silver of Pegwell Bay, the grey, warm street of Whithorn, wandering towards the sea, the scent of heather on Llanmadoc hill, the silences of Beverley and the sound of water beside the road to Lastingham. I shall remember the beauty of Tchaikowsky trembling through the smoke-haze at the lodging-house at Aberford, the singing of a vesper hymn as eventide came softly to St. David`s Head, the rich chuckle of the farmer who drove mme into Ripon, the laughter of a little girl against the cry of sea and wind as we crossed Iona Sound. . . . All these and many things beside.
But always in my dreams I shall be haunted and disturbed by the memory of a pink rock set in a sapphire sae and girt with silver sands, the music of Gaelic softly spoken, the whisper of the night-breeze through the ruined nunnery, the anguished cry of gulls above the Martyrs` Bay and the lowing of cattle beside the Port-na-Curaich. “Hoch! not good-bye. Mon, for we say on the island that if ye came once ye`ll come twice more before ye dee.” Iona! Bewitched, entrancing, magical Iona! Surely I shall return to you.