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reeds and coarse grasses, whilst it bent into a great curve the solitary tall poplar that alone stood out in relief against the stormy sky
For leagues no other tree did mark
There was plenty of movement everywhere, for the strong breeze made waves of the long lank grass, as it makes waves of the sea; but there were no signs of life except for a few stray storm-loving seagulls that, for reasons best known to themselves, were whirling about thus far inland, uttering peevish cries the while, apparently as much out of their element as a sailor of the old school ashore.
A strange, weird world this English Fenland seems to unfamiliar eyes, especially when seen under a brooding sky; and there is a peculiar quality of mystery, that baffles description and cannot be analysed, in the deep blue-gray palpitating gloom that gathers over the Fenland distances when they lie under the threatening shadow of some coming storm. Under such conditions the scenery of the Fens is pronouncedly striking, but even under ordinary circumstances a man can have but little poetry in his soul who cannot admire its wild beauties, its vast breadths of luxuriant greenery over which the eye can range unrestrained for leagues upon leagues on every side, its spaceexpressing distances and its mighty cloud-scapes, for the sky-scape is a feature in the Fenland prospect not to be overlooked ; in fact, I am inclined to think that its sky scenery—if I may be allowed the term
—is the finest and most wonderful in the world. It is worth a long journey to the district if only to behold one of its gorgeous sunsets, when you look upon a moist atmosphere saturated with colour so that it becomes opalescent, and the sinking sun seen through the vibrating air is magnified to twice its real size as it sets in a world of melting rubies and molten gold: from the western slopes of far-off California I have looked down upon the sun dipping into the wide Pacific amidst a riot of colour, but nothing like this! It is not always necessary to leave England in search of the strange and beautiful; the more I travel abroad, the more I am convinced of this !
It almost seemed to us, as we drove along, that somehow we must be travelling in a foreign land, so un-English and unfamiliar did the prospect appear! I have long studied the scenery of Mars through the telescope, have in the silent hours of the night wandered thus over the mighty, water-intersected plains of that distant planet, and had only the vegetation of the Fens been red instead of green, we might in imagination well have fancied ourselves touring in Mars! Truly this may be considered a rather too far-fetched phantasy, but as Bernard Barton, the East Anglian poet, says
There is a pleasure now and then, in giving
Then suddenly, so suddenly as to be almost startling, one of those scenic revelations and surprises that this singular land abounds in, took place. Low down A TRANSFORMATION
there came a long rift in the cheerless, gray, vapoury canopy above, followed by a suspicion of warm light, after which slowly the round red sun peeped forth embroidering the edges of the clouds around him with fringes of fire, and sending forth throbbing trails of burning orange everywhere over the sky; then the landscape below became reflective and receptive, and was changed from grave to gay as though by magic, the dull, leaden-hued waters of the stagnant dykes and dreary pools became liquid gold all glowing with light and brightness, and the damp, dismal swamp grasses were transformed into waving masses of translucent yellow-green; the distance became a wonderfully pure transparent blue, and colour, tender, rich, or glowing, was rampant everywhere : yet five minutes had wrought this marvellous change from depressing gloominess to cheerful gaiety! The English climate has its faults as well as its virtues, but it cannot fairly be charged with monotony, nor does it ever fail to interest the quiet observer. As we live in a land of such fine and changeful sky-scapes, I wonder we do not study them a little more; they are often as worthy of note as the scenery. Where would be the beauty of most of Turner's or Constable's landscapes without their skies ? A well-known artist told me that a good sky was the making of a picture, and that, as a matter of fact, he gave more time and study to it than to any other part of his work. “I never miss,” said he, “when out of doors making a sketch of a fine cloud effect, and I have found these studies of the utmost value; you cannot invent clouds success
fully, whatever else you may do.” One day when I was looking at a half-finished picture of his, and wondering why it had remained so long in that condition, he exclaimed, in response to my inquiring glance, “Oh! I'm waiting for a suitable sky!”
The last four or five miles of our road into Bourn was a perfectly straight stretch, its parallel lines lessening as they receded till lost in a point on the horizon-a grand object lesson in perspective! A road level and direct enough to delight the heart of a railway engineer, with everything plainly revealed for miles ahead and no pleasant surprises therefore possible. I am afraid I am a little fastidious in the matter of roads; I like a winding one, and within reasonable limits the more it winds the better I like it, so that at every fresh bend before me, I am kept in a state of delightful expectancy as to what new and probably wholly unexpected beauty will be presented to my eyes : thus I am enticed on and on from early morning till the evening, never disappointed and never satiated.
On either side of our present road ran a wide dyke as usual by way of fence, crossed by frequent bridges giving access to fields, footpaths, and narrow by-roads. It appeared to us a very simple and easy matter for a careless whip on a dark night to drive right into this dyke, which, judging from the dark look of its water, was fairly deep; you need a sober coachman for these open Fenland roads! Even a cyclist would be wise to proceed with caution along them after sundown, or a sudden bath in dirty water might be the result. Indeed, as
AN AMUSING INCIDENT
we drove on we observed that a poor cow had somehow managed to slip down the steep bank into the dyke, and there she was swimming up and down it apparently on the outlook for an easy spot to climb out, but her struggles to gain a footing on the slippery earth were alas! in vain ; three men followed the unfortunate animal up and down, and at every attempt she made to reach terra firma they commenced prodding her behind with long sticks and shouting violently, by way of encouragement, we presumed; but prods and shouts were unavailing, the final result always being that the cow slipped quietly down into the dyke again and recommenced her swimming. Had we not felt sorry for the poor bewildered creature we should have laughed outright, for there was something very ludicrous about the whole proceeding. The men told us that they had been “two mortal hours a-trying to get the daft beast out, but we bain't no forrader than when we begun. We shall have to go back home and get a rope and tie it round her horns and haul her out." Why they had not done this long before when they found their other method of help was unavailing I could not understand, nor could the men explain. How the amusing episode ended I cannot say, as we felt we could not afford to wait till the rope appeared.
At Bourn we found comfortable quarters at the Angel ; this little market town—described by Kingsley as lying “ between the forest and the Fen” -though clean and neat, is more interesting historically than picturesquely. Bourn claims to be the birthplace of that Saxon patriot Hereward the Wake,