THE GREY BRETHREN AND OTHER FRAGMENTS IN PROSE AND VERSE
THE GREY BRETHREN AND OTHER FRAGMENTS IN PROSE AND VERSE
The Grey Brethren
A Song of Low Degree
A German Christmas Eve
A Christmas Idyll
All Souls' Day in a German Town
By Rivers and Streams
A Lark's Song
Four Stories Told To Children:
The Dreadful Griffin
The Discontented Daffodils
The Fairy Fluffikins
The Story of the Tinkle-Tinkle
The Grey Brethren
Some of the happiest remembrances of my childhood are of days spent
in a little Quaker colony on a high hill.
The walk was in itself a preparation for the hill was long and
steep and at the mercy of the north-east wind; but at the top
sheltered by a copse and a few tall trees stood a small house
reached by a flagged pathway skirting one side of a bright trim
I with my seven summers of lonely delicate childhood felt when
I gently closed the gate behind me that I shut myself into Peace.
The house was always somewhat dark and there were no domestic
sounds. The two old ladies sisters both born in the last
century sat in the cool dim parlour netting or sewing. Rebecca
was small with a nut-cracker nose and chin; Mary tall and
dignified needed no velvet under the net cap. I can feel now the
touch of the cool dove-coloured silk against my cheek as I sat on
the floor watching the nimble fingers with the shuttle and
listened as Mary read aloud a letter received that morning
describing a meeting of the faithful and the 'moving of the Spirit'
among them. I had a mental picture of the 'Holy Heavenly Dove'
with its wings of silvery grey hovering over my dear old ladies;
and I doubt not my vision was a true one.
Once as I watched Benjamin the old gardener--a most 'stiff-backed
Friend' despite his stoop and his seventy years--putting scarlet
geraniums and yellow fever-few in the centre bed I asked awe-
struck whether such glowing colours were approved; and Rebecca
smiled and said--"Child dost thee not think the Lord may have His
glories?" and I looked from the living robe of scarlet and gold to
the dove-coloured gown and said: "Would it be pride in thee to
wear His glories?" and Mary answered for her--"The change is not
yet; better beseems us the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
The 'change from glory to glory' has come to them both long since
but it seems to me as if their robes must still be Quaker-grey.
Upstairs was the invalid daughter and niece. For years she had
been compelled to lie on her face; and in that position she had
done wonderful drawings of the High Priest the Ark of the
Covenant and other Levitical figures. She had a cageful of tame
canary-birds which answered to their names and fed from her plate
at meal-times. Of these I remember only Roger a gorgeous fellow
with a beautiful voice and strong will of his own who would
occasionally defy his mistress from the secure fastness of a high
picture-frame but always surrendered at last and came to listen
to his lecture with drooping wings.
A city of Peace this little house for the same severely-gentle
decorum reigned in the kitchen as elsewhere: and now where is
such a haunt to be found?
In the earlier part of this century the Friends bore a most
important witness. They were a standing rebuke to rough manners
rude speech and to the too often mere outward show of religion.
No one could fail to be impressed by the atmosphere of peace
suggested by their bearing and presence; and the gentle sheltered
contemplative lives lived by most of them undoubtedly made them
unusually responsive to spiritual influence. Now the young birds
have left the parent nest and the sober plumage and soft speech;
they are as other men; and in a few short years the word Quaker
will sound as strange in our ears as the older appellation Shaker
This year I read for the first time the Journal of George Fox. It
is hard to link the rude turbulent son of Amos with the denizens
in my city of Peace; but he had his work to do and did it letting
breezy truths into the stuffy 'steeple-houses' of the 'lumps of
"Come out from among them and be ye separate; touch not the
accursed thing!" he thundered; and out they came obedient to his
stentorian mandate; but alack how many treasures in earthen
vessels did they overlook in their terror of the curse! The good
people made such haste to flee the city that they imagined
themselves as having already in the spirit reached the land that
is very far off; and so they cast from them the outward and visible
signs which are vehicles in this material world of inward graces.
Measureless are the uncovenanted blessings of God; and to these the
Friends have ever borne a witness of power; but now the Calvinist
intruder no longer divides the sheep from the goats in our
churches; now the doctrine of universal brotherhood and the respect
due to all men are taught much more effectively than when George
Fox refused to doff his hat to the Justice; the quaint old speech
has lost its significance the dress would imply all the vainglory
that the wearer desires to avoid; the young Quakers of this
generation are no longer 'disciplined' in matters of the common
social life; yet still they remain separate.
We of the outward and visible covenant need them with their
inherited mysticism ordered contemplation and spiritual vision;
we need them for ourselves. The mother they have left yearns for
them and with all her faults--faults the greater for their
absence--and with the blinded eyes of their recognition she is
their mother still. "What advantage then hath the Jew?" asked St
Paul and answered in the same breath--"Much every way chiefly
because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." What
advantage then has the Churchman? is the oft repeated question
today; and the answer is still the answer of St Paul.
The Incarnation is the sum of all the Sacraments the crown of the
material revelation of God to man the greatest of outward and
visible signs "that which we have heard which we have seen with
our eyes which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of
the word of life." A strange beginning truly to usher in a purely
spiritual dispensation; but beautifully fulfilled in the taking up
of the earthly into the heavenly--Bread and Wine the natural
fruits of the earth sanctified by man's toil a sufficiency for
his needs; and instinct with Divine life through the operation of
the Holy Ghost.
"In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread."
"Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood ye
have no life in you"
"And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
From Genesis to the Revelation of the Divine reaches the rainbow of
the Sacramental system--outward and visible signs of inward and
The sacrament of purging purifying labour to balance and control
the knowledge of good and evil:-
The sacrament of life divine life with the outward body of
humiliation bread and wine fruit of the accursed ground but
useless without man's labour; and St Paul caught up into the third
heaven and St John with his wide-eyed vision of the Lamb must
eat this bread and drink this cup if they would live:-
The sacrament of healing the restoring of the Image of God in
The Church is one society nay the world is one society for man
without his fellow-men is not; and into the society both of the
Church and the world are inextricably woven the most social
Herein is great purpose we say bending the knee; and with deep
consciousness of sins and shortcomings we stretch out longing
welcoming hands to our grey brethren with their inheritance of
faithfulness and steadfastness under persecution and their many
gifts and graces; and we cry in the words of the Song of Songs
which is Solomon's: "O my dove that art in the clefts of the
rock in the secret places of the stairs let me see thy
countenance let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy
countenance is comely." "Rise up my love my fair one and come
away. For lo the winter is past the rain is over and gone."
A Song of Low Degree
Lord I am small and yet so great
The whole world stands to my estate
And in Thine Image I create.
The sea is mine; and the broad sky
Is mine in its immensity:
The river and the river's gold;
The earth's hid treasures manifold;
The love of creatures small and great
Save where I reap a precious hate;
The noon-tide sun with hot caress
The night with quiet loneliness;
The wind that bends the pliant trees
The whisper of the summer breeze;
The kiss of snow and rain; the star
That shines a greeting from afar;
All all are mine; and yet so small
Am I that lo I needs must call
Great King upon the Babe in Thee
And crave that Thou would'st give to me
The grace of Thy humility.
A German Christmas Eve
It was intensely cold; Father Rhine was frozen over so he may
speak for it; and for days we had lived to the merry jangle and
clang of innumerable sleigh bells in a white and frost-bound
world. As I passed through the streets crowded with stolidly
admiring peasants from the villages round I caught the dear
remembered 'Gruss Gott!' and 'All' Heil!' of the countryside which
town life quickly stamps out along with many other gentle
"Gelobt sei Jesu Christ!" cried little Sister Hilarius coming on
me suddenly at a corner her round face aglow with the sharp air
her arms filled with queer-shaped bundles. She begs for her sick
poor as she goes along--meat here some bread there a bottle of
good red wine: I fancy few refuse her. She nursed me once the
good little sister with unceasing care and devotion and all the
dignity of a scant five feet. "Ach Du lieber Gott such gifts!"
she added with a radiant smile and vanished up a dirty stairway.
In the Quergasse a jay fell dead at my feet--one of the many birds
which perished thus--he had flown townwards too late. Up at the
Jagdschloss the wild creatures crying a common truce of hunger
trooped each day to the clearing by the Jager's cottage for the
food spread for them. The great tusked boar of the Taunus with his
brother of Westphalia the timid roe deer with her scarcely braver
mate foxes hares rabbits feathered game and tiny songbirds of
the woods gathered fearlessly together and fed at the hand of
their common enemy--a millennial banquet truly.
The market-place was crowded and there were Christmas trees
everywhere crying aloud in bushy nakedness for their rightful
fruit. The old peasant women rolled in shawls with large
handkerchiefs tied over their caps warmed their numb and withered
hands over little braziers while they guarded the gaily decked
treasure-laden booths from whose pent-roofs Father Winter had hung
a fringe of glittering icicles.
Many of the stalls were entirely given over to Christmas-tree
splendours. Long trails of gold and silver Engelshaar piles of
candles--red yellow blue green violet and white--a rainbow of
the Christian virtues and the Church's Year; boxes of frost and
snow festoons of coloured beads fishes with gleaming scales
glass-winged birds Santa Klaus in frost-bedecked mantle and
scarlet cap angels with trumpets set to their waxen lips; and
everywhere and above all the image of the Holy Child. Sometimes it
was the tiny waxen Bambino in its pathetic helplessness; sometimes
the Babe Miraculous standing with outstretched arms awaiting the
world's embrace--Mary's Son held up in loving hands to bless; or
the Heavenly Child-King with crown and lily sceptre borne high by
Joseph that gentle faithful servitor. It was the festival of
Bethlehem feast of never-ending keeping which has its crowning
splendour on Christmas Day.
A Sister passed with a fat rosy little girl in either hand; they
were chattering merrily of the gift they were to buy for the dear
Christkind the gift which Sister said He would send some ragged
child to receive for Him. They came back to the poor booth close
to where I was standing. It was piled with warm garments; and
after much consultation a little white vest was chosen--the elder
child rejected pink she knew the Christkind would like white best-
-then they trotted off down a narrow turning to the church and I
The Creche stood without the chancel between the High Altar and
that of Our Lady of Sorrows. It was very simple. A blue paper
background spangled with stars; a roughly thatched roof supported
on four rude posts; at the back ox and ass lying among the straw
with which the ground was strewn. The figures were life-size of
carved and painted wood: Joseph tall and dignified stood as
guardian leaning on his staff; Mary knelt with hands slightly
uplifted in loving adoration; and the Babe lay in front on a truss
of straw disposed as a halo. It was the World's Child and the
position emphasised it. Two or three hard-featured peasants knelt
telling their beads; and a group of children with round blue eyes
and stiff flaxen pigtails had gathered in front and were
pointing and softly whispering. My little friends trotted up
crossed themselves; it was evidently the little one's first visit.
"Guck! guck mal an" she cried clapping her fat gloved hands
"sieh mal an das Wickelkind!"
"Dass ist unser Jesu" said the elder and the little one echoed
"Unser Jesu unser Jesu!"
Then the vest was brought out and shown--why not it was the
Christchild's own?--and the pair trotted away again followed by the
bright patient Sister. Presently everyone clattered out and I
was left alone at the crib of Bethlehem the gate of the Kingdom of
It was my family my only family; but like the ever-widening circle
on the surface of a lake into which a stone has been flung here
from this great centre spread the wonderful ever-widening
relationship--the real brotherhood of the world. It is at the Crib
that everything has its beginning not at the Cross; and it is only
as little children that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
When I went out again into the streets it was nearly dark. Anxious
mothers hurried past on late mysterious errands; papas who were
not wanted until the last moment chatted gaily to each other at
street corners and exchanged recollections; maidservants hastened
from shop to shop with large baskets already heavily laden; and the
children were everywhere important with secrets comfortably
secure in the knowledge of a tree behind the parlour doors and a
kindly generous Saint who knew all their wants and needed no rod
One little lad with a pinched white face and with only an empty
certainty to look forward to was singing shrilly in the sharp
still air "Zu Bethlehem geboren ist uns ein Kindelein" as he
gazed wistfully at a shop window piled high with crisp gingerbread
marzipan chocolate under every guise and tempting cakes. A great
rough peasant coming out saw him turned back and a moment later
thrust a gingerbread Santa Klaus with currant eyes and sugar
trimming to his coat and cap into the half-fearful little hands.
"Hab' ebenso ein Kerlchen zu Haus'" he said to me apologetically
as he passed.
I waited to see Santa Klaus disappear; but no the child looked at
the cake sighed deeply with the cruel effort of resistance and
refrained. It was all his Christmas and he would keep it. He
gazed and gazed then a smile rippled across the wan little face
and he broke out in another carol "Es kam ein Engel hell und klar
vom Himmel zu der Hirten Schaar" and hugging his Santa Klaus
carefully wandered away down the now brilliant streets: he did
not know he was hungry any more; the angel had come with good
As I passed along the streets I could see through the uncurtained
windows that in some houses Christmas had begun already for the
little ones. Then the bells rang out deep-mouthed carrying the
call of the eager Church to her children far up the valley and
across the frozen river. And they answered; the great church was
packed from end to end and from my place by the door I saw that
two tiny Christmas trees bright with coloured candles burnt either
side of the Holy Child.
A blue-black sky ablaze with stars for His glory a fresh white
robe for stained and tired earth; so we went to Bethlehem in the
rare stillness of the early morning. The Church having no stars
had lighted candles; and we poor sinful men having no white robes
of our own had craved them of the Great King at her hands.
And so in the stillness with tapers within and stars alight
without with a white-clad earth and souls forgiven the Christ
Child came to those who looked for His appearing.
A Christmas Idyll
The Child with the wondering eyes sat on the doorstep on either
side of her a tramp cat in process of becoming a recognised member
of society. On the flagged path in front the brown brethren were
picking up crumbs. The cats' whiskers trembled but they sat
still proudly virtuous and conscious each of a large saucer of
warm milk within.
"What" said the Child "is a symbol?"
The cats looked grave.
The Child rose went into the house and returned with a well-
thumbed brown book. She turned the pages thoughtfully and read
aloud presumably for the benefit of the cats: "In a symbol there
is concealment yet revelation the infinite is made to blend with
the finite to stand visible and as it were attainable there."
The Child sighed "We had better go to the Recluse" she said. So
the three went.
It was a cold clear bright day a typical Christmas Eve. There
was a carpet of crisp snow on the ground and a fringe of icicles
hung from every vantage-point. The cats not having been
accustomed to the delights of domesticity trotted along cheerfully
despite the chill to their toes; and they soon came to the forest
which all three knew very well indeed. It was a beautiful forest
like a great cathedral with long aisles cut between the splendid
upstanding pine trees. The green-fringed boughs were heavy with
snow the straight strong stems caught and reflected the stray sun
rays and looking up through the arches and delicate tracery and
interlaced branches the eye caught the wonderful blue of the great
domed roof overhead. The cats walked delicately fearful of
temptation in the way of rabbits or frost-tamed birds and the
Child lilted a quaint German hymn to a strange old tune:-
"Ein Kind gebor'n zu Bethlehem.
Dess freuet sich Jerusalem
The Recluse was sitting on a bench outside his cave. He was
dressed in a brown robe his eyes were like stars wrapped in brown
velvet his face was strong and gentle his hair white although he
looked quite young. He greeted the Child very kindly and stroked
"You have come to ask me a question Child?"
"If you please" said the Child "what is a symbol?"
"Ah" said the Recluse "I might have known you would ask me that."
"The Sage says" went on the Child "that it is concealment yet
The Recluse nodded.
"Just as a mystery that we cannot understand is the greatest
possible wisdom. Go in and sit by my fire Child; there are
chestnuts on the hearth and you will find milk in the brown jug.
I will show you a symbol presently."
The Child and the two cats went into the cave and sat down by the
fire. It was warm and restful after the biting air. The cats
purred pleasantly the Child sat with her chin in her hand watching
the glowing wood burn red and white on the great hearthstone.
"The Recluse generally answers my questions by showing me something
I have seen for a long time but never beheld or heard and never
lent ear. I wonder what it will be this time" she said to
The grateful warmth made the Child sleepy and she gave a start
when she found the Recluse standing by her with outstretched hand.
"Come dear Child" he said; and leaving the sleeping cats she
followed him her hand in his.
The air was full of wonderful sound voices and song and the cry
of the bells.