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seems to have an irresistible attraction for country people. He opened up a conversation by admiring our sketch, though in a qualified manner. He was pleased to say that it was “mighty" pretty, only he preferred a photograph to a drawing any day. He had had a photograph taken of his house lately, and on the photograph you could count every brick on the walls and every tile on the roofs. “Now, that's what I call a proper kind of picture,—not but that yours is very nice for hand-work”!
This is a very fair specimen of the criticisms that the long-enduring landscape painter has frequently to put up with when at work in the open.
Next our art - critic and photograph - admirer presumed that we must be strangers, as he knew most of the folk round about, but did not remember having “sighted us afore." We replied that we were. “Now, do you know," responded he, “ I was sure of that”; and seeing no advantage in further continuing the conversation, we hastened off to our inn—and breakfast.
In spite of our early rising, it was ten o'clock before we got “under weigh,” but when one sets out exploring and sketching, to say nothing of gossiping, time flies.
It was one of those rare and perfect days that come only now and then in the year, which, when they come, linger lovingly in the memory for long after. A stilly day of soft sunshine wherein is no glare; overhead great rounded clouds of golden white, shading off into a tender pearly-gray, were sailing slowly across a sea of pure, pale blue, -clouds
ever varying in size and form, so that the eye was involuntarily attracted to the scenery of the sky, as well as to that of the land; for the changeful skyscape—as Turner, Constable, and other painters have shown—lends a wonderful charm to our English scenery,-clouds that caused vast cool-gray shadows to chase each other in endless succession over the wide countryside, till, space-diminished, the shadows vanished into infinity, where the circling gray of the dim horizon melted into a misty nothingness.
The warmth of the cheerful sunshine was tempered by a soothing southerly wind—a lazy wind that came to us laden with a mingling of fragrant country odours distilled from flower, field, tree, and countless green growing things as it lightly passed them by. It was a day inspiriting enough, one would have imagined, to convert even a confirmed pessimist into a cheerful optimist, and for us it made the fact of simply existing a something to be thankful for!
Manifestly the Fates were kindly disposed towards us. It was no small matter to start forth thus in the fulness and freshness of such a morning, free as the air we breathed, with our holiday only just beginning, its pleasures barely tasted, and positively no solicitude whatever except to reach an inn for the night; in truth, there was no room for the demon Care in our dog-cart, so he was compelled to stay behind “out of sight” and “out of mind.” We were purely on pleasure bent, and we managed very successfully to maintain that part of our programme from the beginning to the end of our tour. Good health means good spirits, and being out so much in
the open air, we laid in a plentiful stock of the former. An out-of-door life, such as the one we led, without fatigue, and with a sufficiency of interest to pleasurably engage the attention, is the finest tonic in the world, I verily believe, for mind and body, bracing both up; so that the answer of the happy driving. tourist to the doleful query, “ Is life worth living ?” would be, to employ the schoolboy's expressive slang, “Very much so."
After Stevenage we entered upon a pleasantly undulating and purely agricultural and pastoral country, with nothing noteworthy till we came to a neat little village that we made out from our map to be Graveley. Here an unpretending inn, the “George and Dragon ” to wit, boasted of a fine wrought-iron support for its sign, doubtless a relic of a past prosperity when this was a much-travelled highway, and the hostelries on the road had the benefit of many customers. We noticed that the painting of the sign, at least in our estimation, was sadly inferior in artistic spirit to the clever craftsmanship displayed in the iron-work supporting it ; possibly the sign-board was of old as artistically limned as its support was wrought, but the weathering of years would efface the drawing and colouring, and later and less skilful hands may have renewed the design, whilst, of course, the more enduring iron would still retain its ancient charm of form unimpaired.
The gracefulness and bold curving and twisting of the metal-work that supports and upholds the sign of many an ancient coaching inn had a peculiar fascination for us, and frequently brought our pencil
into requisition to record their varied outlines and quaint conceits, that truly splendid specimen of the “ Bell” at Stilton—about which I shall have more to say when we arrive there—especially delighting us. At the sign of a certain “White Hart" elsewhere we could not but imagine that the open iron-work above it in the shape of a heart was not accidental, but intended as a play on words in metal, if the expression may be allowed.
After Graveley the road plucked up a little spirit and the scenery improved, just as though it were doing its best to please us. At one point there suddenly opened a fine view to the left, reaching over a vast extent of country bounded by an uneven horizon of wooded hills—hills that showed as a long, low undulating line, deeply blue, but enlivened · by touches of greeny-gold where the sunshine rested for a moment here and there; it was as if Nature in one of her lavish moods had washed the horizon over with a tint of ultramarine, " for who can paint like Nature?"-little she recks the quantity or the rarity of the hues she employs, miles upon miles oftentimes, and that for a mere transient effect ! To our right also our charmed visions ranged over a wide expanse of wooded plain, so space-expressing in its wealth of distances, the blue of which made us realise the ocean of air that lay between us and the remote horizon, the reality of the invisible!
After the confined limits of the house-bound streets of town, our eyes positively rejoiced in the unaccustomed freedom of roving unrestrained over so much space-a sudden change from yards to
miles! I have found from experience what a relief it is for the eye to be able thus to alter its focus from the near to the far-away: the vision like the mind is apt to become cramped by not being able to take a broad view of things. I verily believe that the eyes are strengthened by having the daily opportunity of exercising their full functions ; this may be a fanciful belief on my part, but I hold it and write advisedly.
Gradually, as we proceeded, our road widened out, and was bounded on either hand by pleasant grassy margins, that, had we been on a riding instead of a driving tour, would certainly have tempted us to indulge in a canter. These grassy margins used to form part of the hard, well-kept highway when there was room for four coaches abreast at one time thereon. I wonder whether these spare spaces will ever be utilised for cycle tracks ?
What, I further wonder, would our ancestorscould they come back to life again, and travel once more along the old familiar roads—think of the new steel-steed, and what would they make of the following notice, appended to the sign of an old inn on the way, which we deemed worthy of being copied ?-
Cyclists and Motorists. This brings to mind the truth that lies in the old Latin saying, Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis.