This is a story told along the frosted edges of the last leaves of autumn…
When the landlord arrived for his tale, the Old Chapel burbled with talk of Winter. Some said the snow had already visited up-country. Some said it would soon come as far south as the Downs. Children whooped at that idea – and older souls said it looked best through a window.
The Pilgrim Woman sat beside the fire.
‘I will tell you a tale from the North Country, from the lands I left behind yet can never forget,’ she began.
There was once a poor lad who loved to paint the beauty of the remote hills – but he earned his living by sign-writing. His day work was bold and neat and sought-after. Yet still he yearned to gather the wilderness on paper. Every spare moment he would go and sketch or paint.
One late autumn evening, a rich man came with a contract. He had a fleet of lorries and he wanted all the cabs coach-lined in the old way. There would be white roses and scrolls and names for each lorry – painted on like ships and fairgrounds. It would give the lad great wealth – and take up all his time.
The lad was torn. The haulier’s task was good – a different design for each cab, his work seen up and down the roads of the county, and beyond. Yet the hills called to him in the settling dusk.
‘Let me sleep on it,’ he asked.
‘Aye,’ said the haulier, ‘but I’ll have thi answer tomorrow, then.’
He left and the lad went to bed. He dreamed that a woman clad all in white came and spoke to him.
‘Will this be the last season we are together, my love? I am sad for that.
So much swift loveliness in these short days – so little time to savour it. How I love the speed your hands work at. How they fight off the cold and briskly sweep colours across paper.
Huddled up in layers, lapped around with cloth, you stand at your easel to capture shifting moods. Your breath mists at twilight, yet you do not retreat to warmer rooms where I cannot come until nightfall.
I wait in the star-scattered darkness, or in the cold, rainy, haily night. I count these amongst my garments – the snow and the fog, the storm and the cold crisp air.
Nothing delights me more than your eagerness. I want to give you the best. Yet your kind cannot bear my art for too long.
Your people wipe away the scrolls I paint upon their window panes. They scatter salt on my sculptures, and shove millions aside with ploughshares and engines. Few care for my sunsets though their colours outdo those of my three siblings. They cannot stand my fierce and icy breath.
Only your little ones play with my gifts, examine the white miniatures, break the ice with dancing. Every year, I offer my love to those who still have the child in their souls.
Will you not come with me?’
The lad gave his reply in the dream.
And when the haulier came the next morning, there was no sign of him. Falling snow had covered two sets of footprints.
Hm’, said the Landlord. ‘All very romantic and what-not. But what happened to the sign-writer lad – did he die out on the pitiless fells?’
The Pilgrim Woman poked the fire.
‘No,’ she said. ‘He went on to be a much-loved artist. And Winter is still is his mistress.’