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A PASTORAL LAND
forms and outlines of the country were more familiar, but it seemed a little wanting in colour after the rich tints of the lowlands; by contrast it all appeared too green: green fields, green trees, green crops, for these, with the winding road, chiefly composed the prospect. Moreover, we missed the constant and enlivening accompaniment of water that we had become so accustomed to, with its soft, silvery gleaming under cloud and its cheerful glittering under sun. Water is to the landscape what the eye is to the human face; it gives it the charm of expression and vivacity. At first, also, our visions seemed a little cramped after the wide and unimpeded prospects of the Fens; and the landscape struck us as almost commonplace compared with that we had so lately passed through, which almost deserved the epithet of quaint, at least to non-Dutch eyes. There was no special feature in the present scenery beyond its leafy loveliness. Truly it might be called typically English, but there was nothing to show that it belonged to any particular portion of England—no distant peep of downs, or hills, or moors, that seems so little, but which to the experienced traveller means so much, as by the character and contour of distant hill, or moor, or down he can tell fairly well whether he be in the north or south, the east or west, and may even shrewdly guess the very county he is traversing.
It was, however, a lovely country, full of pastoral peacefulness, sunshine, and grateful sylvan shadiness, lovely yet lonely—a loneliness that aroused within us a feeling akin to melancholy : it may
have been our mood that saw it so that day, and that the fault lay in ourselves and not in the landscape. Does not the poet say, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”? So may not the sweetest scenery, in certain minds, and under certain conditions, arouse a sentiment of sadness? There is a peacefulness that is restful beyond words, especially to the town-wearied brain ; but there is also a peacefulness so deep as to become actually oppressive. However, all the feelings of loneliness and melancholy vanished, like the mist before the sun, at the sight of an old-fashioned windmill painted a cheerful white and picturesquely situated at the top of a knoll by the side of our road, its great sails whirling round and round with a mighty sweep and a swishing sound as they rushed through the air in their never-completed journey. This busy mill gave just the touch of needful life to the prospect ; we hailed it as we would have hailed an old friend, and at once our spirits rose to a gleesome point. What trifles may thus suddenly change the current of thought and feeling! It may even be so small a matter as the scent of a wild flower, or the sound of the wind in the trees, recalling past days and far-away scenes. So this old mill brought up before us a rush of pleasant memories, the poetry of many a rural ramble, of chats with merry meal-covered millers, for millers I have ever found to be the merriest of men, and never yet have I come upon a crusty one. Al those to whom I have talked, and they have not been few, without exception appeared to take a rosy view
A DOUBTFUL PLEASURE
of life, not even grumbling with cause. I wish I knew the miller's secret of happiness!
It was whilst watching the hurtling sails of the creaking mill that it occurred to us why the country seemed so dull that day; it was the absence of movement, we had the road all to ourselves. There was no flowing river or running stream, and the cattle in the fields were lazy and placid, seemingly as immovable as those in pictures; not even troubling to whisk their tails at real or imaginary flies. Even the birds appeared too indolent to fly; at least they were strangely invisible. An air of solemn repose pervaded the whole countryside until that cheery windmill came into view. It was curious that at the moment the only life in the landscape should be given to it by a building! for the mind pictures a building as a substantial thing not given to any movement.
Shortly after this we reached the pretty and picturesquely situated village of Aslackby-shortened to Asby by a native of whom we asked its nameeven the rustic has come into line with the late nineteenth century, so far as not to waste breath or words. The straggling village was situated in a wooded hollow a little below our road; its ancient church and cottages, half drowned in foliage, formed a charming picture. The church looked interesting, but we found the door carefully locked, and not feeling just then our archæological and antiquarian zeal sufficient to induce us to go a-clerk-hunting, a doubtful joy at the best, we quietly, and, I fear, unregretfully, resumed our seats in the dog-cart, for the soft sunshine and sweet air were grateful to our senses, and it pleased us to be out in the open.
Just beyond Aslackby a wayside inn ycleped - The Robin Hood " invited us with the following lines on its sign-board, though unavailingly, to stop and refresh ourselves there :
Gentlemen if you think good,
Pray take a glass with Little John. Noting us stop to take down the inscription, and possibly mistaking our motive, the familiar incident once more took place—a beery-looking passer-by approached us and remarked that he could recommend the tap. We thanked him for his kindness, and jokingly responded that we did not happen to be thirsty just then, but we would bear in mind his recommendation should we ever again be in the neighbourhood. “Not thirsty on such a day as this,” he exclaimed with an air of surprise ; "why, I be as thirsty as a fish” ; but we did not rise to the occasion, and as we drove away the man glanced reproachfully after us, then he disappeared within the building. Perhaps we might have parted with the customary twopence, for the man was civilmannered, but why should the wanderer by road in England be so frequently expected to have his health drunk by utter strangers ? The number of twopences I have already expended for this purpose since I first started my driving tours must be considerable!
Some way farther on our road we chanced upon
still another ancient wooden mill busily at work like the former one. It was a picturesque mill of a primitive type that is fast disappearing from the land; the whole structure being supported on a great central post that acts as a pivot, and is bodily turned on this by a long projecting beam acting as a lever, so that the sails can be made to face the wind from whichever quarter it may come; but this arrangement, of course, needs constant watchfulness.
We pulled up here in order to make a sketch of the old mill, that looked almost too quaint and picturesque to be real, giving one a sort of impression that it must have come out of some painting, an artist's ideal realised. The worthy miller watched our proceeding with manifest interest from his doorway above, and when we had finished he asked us if we would care to take a glance inside. We did care, and likewise were not averse to have the opportunity of a chat so that we might gather his view of the world and of things in general, for naturally everybody sees the former from his own centre, and through his own glasses. We had to mount a number of rickety steps that communicated with the creaking mill above which oscillated unpleasantly, for the sails were spinning round apace before the breeze, causing the ancient structure to tremble and its timbers to groan like those of a ship in a gale; indeed, when we had safely surmounted the flight of shaking steps we felt that we sadly needed our “sea-legs” to stand at all, and the latter are not always immediately at command when cruising on land. “She's running a bit free to-day,” exclaimed