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CHAPTER XIV

Wind-blown trees — Marshlands - September weather — Wainfleet

An ancient school — The scent of the sea--The rehabilitation of the old-fashioned ghost-A Lincolnshire mystery-A vain search

-Too much alike-Delightfully indefinite-Halton HolgateIn quest of a haunted house.

Our

LEAVING Wrangle, the country to our right became still more open; for the rest of our way we followed the changeful line of the sea-coast at a distance of about a mile or more inland. The wind, coming unrestrained from the seaward over the flat marsh-like meadow lands, bore to us the unmistakable flavour of the “briny,” its bracing and refreshing salt breath, cool and tonic-laden, was very grateful to our lungs after the soft, soothing country airs that we had been so long accustomed to. The trees here, what few trees there existed that is, were stunted, tortured, and wind-blown to one side ; but strangely enough, not as is usually the case, bent inward from the sea but towards it, plainly proving that the strong gales and prevailing winds in this quarter are from the land side, thus reversing the general order of things on our coasts.

Another notable feature of our road-in marked contrast with the early portion of our stage out from Boston—was the fact that for the next nine miles or A LONELY COUNTRY

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so on to our night's destination at Wainfleet we passed no villages and saw no churches. It was a lonely stretch of road; for company we had, besides the stunted trees, only the wide earth and open sky; but such loneliness has its charms to the vigorous mind, it was all so suggestive of space and freedom, begetful of broad thinking and expanded views. To look upon Nature thus is to make one realise the littleness of the minor worries of life. The mind is too apt to get cramped at times by cramped surroundings, the vision impresses the brain more than most people are aware. The wild, far-reaching marshlands to our right had a peculiarly plaintive look. Across them the mighty gleams of golden sunlight swept in utter silence, succeeded by vast purple-gray shadows blown out into the eternity of blue beyond : movement of mighty masses but no sound, yet one is so accustomed in this world to associate movement with sound that the ear waits for the latter as something that should follow though it comes not. The prospect was to a certain extent desolate, yet not dreary; the golden green of the long autumn grasses tossing in the wind, the many bright-hued marsh-flowers made the wild waste look almost gay, so splashed with colour was it over all! The vast level landscape stretching away and away to the vague far-off horizon that seemed to fade there into a mystic nothingness-neither earth, nor sea, nor sky-excited within us a sentiment of vastness that words are inadequate to convey, a sentiment very real yet impossible wholly to analyse. One cannot describe the indescribable, and of such moods of the mind one feels the truth of the poet's dictum that “What's worth the saying can't be said.”

Nature here wore an unfamiliar aspect to us; the wide marshland was beautiful, but beautiful with a strange and novel beauty. Now and then were infrequent sign-posts, old and leaning, each with one solitary arm pointing eastward, laconically inscribed “To the Sea,” not to any house or hamlet be it noticed. They might as well have been inscribed, it seemed to us in our philosophy, “To the World's end!” Here the black sleek rooks and restless white-winged gulls appeared to possess a common meeting ground; the rooks for a wonder were quiet, being silently busy, presumably intent after worms; not so the gulls, for ever and again some of them would rise and whirl round and round, restlessly uttering peevish cries the while Neither the cry of gull nor caw of rook are musical ; in truth, they are grating and harsh, yet they are suggestive of the open air, and are, therefore, pleasing to the ear of the town-dweller, and lull him to rest in spite of their discordance with a sense of deep refreshment.

Shakespeare sings of “the uncertain glory of an April day.” He might, even with greater truth, have written September in place of April ; for in the former month the weather is just as changeful, and the skies are finer with more vigorous cloud-scapes; then, too, the fields and foliage “have put their glory on,” and at times under a sudden sun-burst, especially in the clear air that comes after rain, the many-tinted woods become a miracle of colour such that the painter with the richest palette cannot realise. We

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WILD WEATHER

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were reminded of “the uncertain glory of a September day” by a sudden, wholly unexpected, and unwelcome change that had taken place in the weather. In front of us were gradually gathering great banks of sombre clouds that might mean rain ; the wind as suddenly had lost its gentleness and blew wild and fitfully, but still the sun was shining brightly all around, converting the winding water-ways and reed-encircled pools of the marshlands into glowing gold. The strong effect of the sunlight on the landscape contrasting with the low-toned gray sky ahead was most striking. But the outlook suggested to us that it would be wiser to hasten on than to loiter about admiring the prospect, for it was a shelterless region. So we sped along to the merry music of the jingling harness, and the measured clatter of our horses' hoofs on the hard roadway, rounding the many corners with a warning note from the horn, and a pleasant swing of the dog-cart that showed the pace we were going.

A low, gray sky, a freshing wind,

A cold scent of the misty sea
Before, the barren dunes; behind,

The level meadows far and free. The approach to Wainfleet was very pretty ; just before the town a welcome wood came into sight, then a stream of clear running water crossed by a footbridge, next a tall windmill which we passed close by, so close that we could hear the swish, swish, swish of its great sails as they went hurtling round and round in mighty sweeps ; at that moment the rain came down, and, though we reached our inn directly after

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wards we managed to get pretty wet outwardly during the few minutes' interval. However, the good-hearted landlady greeted her dripping guests with a ready smile, and ushered us into a tiny, cosy sitting-room, wherein she soon had a wood fire blazing a cheery and ruddy welcome, “just to warm us up a bit.” Thoughtful and kindly landlady, may you prosper and live long to welcome hosts of other travellers! Then "to keep out the cold” (we had no fear of cold, but no matter), a hot cup of tea with cream, rich country cream and buttered toast, made its unexpected but not unwelcome appearance, so though our hostel was small and primitive in keeping with the town, we felt that we might have fared much worse in far more pretentious quarters. Looking round our chamber we observed that the door opened with a latch instead of a handle, a trifle that somehow pleased us, one so seldom comes upon that kind of fastening nowadays, even in remote country places.

Soon the storm cleared away, and the sun shone forth quite cheerily again, and though now low in the yellowing western sky, still it shone brilliantly enough to entice us out of doors. We discovered Wainfleet to be a sleepy little market-town, and a decayed seaport-a town with some quaint buildings of past days, not exactly a picturesque place but certainly an interesting one. Wainfleet is a spot where the hand of Time seems not only to be stayed but put back long years; it should be dear to the heart of an antiquary, for it looks so genuinely ancient, so far removed from the modern world and

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