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A WAYSIDE RECORD
attention from its size, so we pulled up the better to examine it, and found this legend plainly painted thereon :
at the age of 56,
As, nowadays, people mostly travel by rail, this record of a past performance is wasting its information in the wilderness for want of readers, so I have been tempted to repeat the account of Mr. Henry Girdlestone's feat here.
Our road was an uneventful one; the scenery it provided was somewhat monotonous, but there was a certain inexplicable fascination about its monotony as there is in that of the sea. It had the peculiar quality of being monotonous without being wearisome. As in our drive to Crowland, what especially struck us in our drive therefrom was the sense of silence, space, and solitude. Spread out around us were leagues upon leagues of level land, like a petrified sea, that melted away imperceptibly into a palpitating blueness in which all things became blended, indistinct, or wholly lost. Leagues of grass lands and marshes, splashed here and there with vivid colour, and enlivened ever and again by the silvery gleam of still, or the sunlit sparkle of wind-stirred water; its flatness accentuated, now and again, by a solitary uprising poplar, or a lonely, lofty windmill — built high to catch every wind — and
these served to emphasise the general solitude: the prevailing silence was made the more striking by the infrequent peevish cry of some stray bird that seemed strangely loud upon the quiet air.
The scenery could not be called picturesque, yet it possessed the rarer quality of quaintness, and it therefore interested us. In a manner it was beautiful on account of its colour, and the sky-scape overhead was grand because so wide, whilst it flooded the vast breadth of unshaded land with a wealth of light. After all, let mountain lovers say what they will, a flat land has its charms; it may not be “sweetly pretty," but it is blessed with an abundance of light, and light begets cheerfulness; and its cloud-scapes, sunrises, and sunsets, that compel you to notice them, are a revelation in themselves. A Dutch artist once told me, when I was pointing out to him what I considered the paintable qualities of the South Downs, that he honestly considered hills and mountains a fraud, as they hid so much of the sky, which, to him, appeared infinitely more beautiful and changeful both in form and colour. “There is a fashion in scenery,” said he; "mountain lands have been fortunate in their poets and writers; some day a poet or great writer may arise who will sing or describe for us the littleheeded beauties of the lowlands, and the hills will go out of fashion. The public simply admire what they are told to admire." If Ruskin had only been born in the lowlands of Lincolnshire, then might we have had some chapters in his works enlarging upon their peculiar beauties! Truly Tennyson was
A NOVEL EXPERIENCE
born in Lincolnshire, but he was born in the Wolds surrounded by woods and hills. Even so, Tennyson has not done for the Wolds what Scott has done for the Scotch Highlands ; the scenery of the Wolds has its special charms, but it is no tourist-haunted land, yet none the less beautiful on that account, and selfishly I am thankful that there are such spacious beauty spots still left to us in England unknown to, and unregarded by, the cheap-tripper. Let us hope that no popular guide-book will be written about certain districts to needlessly call his attention to them.
This corner of England that we were traversing has an unfamiliar aspect to the average Englishman; the buildings and people therein truly are English, intensely English, but, these apart, the country looks strange and foreign. It is a novel experience to drive for miles along an embanked road looking down upon all the landscape, just as it is equally curious, on the other hand, to drive along a road below an embanked river! Keen and fresh came the breezes to us from over the mighty fens, for they were unrestrained even by a hedge; pleasantly refreshing and scented were they with the cool odours of marsh flowers, plants, and reeds. The fields being divided by dykes and ditches, in place of hedges, the landscape gained in breadth, for the sweep of the eye was not continually arrested by the bounding hedges that but too often cut up the prospect of the English country-side, chess-board fashion.
At one spot low down to the right of our way was a swampy bit of ground, half land, half water, if anything more water than land; here tall reeds were bending and tossing about before the wild wind, and the pools of water were stirred by mimic waves, and in the heart of all this was a notice-board inscribed “Trespassers will be prosecuted”! Somehow this simple and familiar warning in such a position brought to mind the comic side of life and aroused much merriment, for who in the wide world would wish to trespass there? We were in such good humour with ourselves and all things that we were easily amused : our superabundance of health begot a mirthful spirit readily provoked and difficult to damp. I verily believe that when trifles went wrong on the journey, which by the way they very seldom did, then we were the merriest, as though to show that nothing could depress us. I remember on a former tour that we got caught in a heavy storm of rain when crossing an open moor; the storm came up suddenly from behind and took us quite by surprise, so that we got pretty well wet before we could get our mackintoshes out; shelter was there none, and the result was that, after a couple of hours' driving along an exposed road, we arrived at a little country inn positively drenched through to the skin, the water running off the dogcart in streams, and all things damp and dripping, yet in spite of our sorry plight we felt “as jolly as a sandboy,” and could not restrain our laughter at the dismal picture we presented as we drove into the stable-yard ; indeed, we treated the matter as a huge joke, and I thought to myself, “ Now if only Charles A LEANING TOWER
Keene were here to sketch us arriving thus, what an excellent subject we should make for a Punch picture with the legend below “The pleasures of a driving tour!'” So excellent did the joke appear to us that we had changed our saturated clothing and put on dry things, and had warmed ourselves before a roaring wood fire which the kind-hearted landlady had lighted for us, and had further refreshed ourselves with the best the house could provide, before our merry spirits quieted down. So it took some time to quiet them down!
Now this digression has taken us to the village of Cowbit, a dreary, forsaken-looking place, desolate enough, one would imagine, to disgust even a recluse. Here we noticed the dilapidated church tower was leaning very much on one side, owing doubtless to the uncertain foundation afforded by the marshy soil ; indeed, it leaned over to such an extent as to suggest toppling down altogether before long, so much so that it gave us the unpleasant feeling that it might untowardly collapse when we were there. It may be that the tower will stand thus for years; all the same, did I worship in that fane I feel sure I should ever be thinking rather about the stability of the fabric than of the prayers or of the sermon !
Leaving this forsaken spot — where we saw neither man, woman, nor child, not even a stray dog or odd chicken about to lessen its forlorn look-a short way ahead we discovered that our way was blocked by a broken-down traction engine, a hideous black iron monster of large proportions,