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Stormy Weather and Stony Roads-Over Croxton Heath-The Making of a Highwayman-Thetford-An Old-time HostelAncient Earthworks-On the Wrong Road-The Charms of the Unknown--A Relic of the Coaching Age-A Gipsie's Encampment-An extraordinary Photographic Result-Ingham-'Trespassers will be Persecuted'!—The Pleasures of Photography.
THE little town of Watton left behind, we soon entered upon a wild wooded country, a country where the signs of human habitations were few and far between. Trees bounded our roadway on either side, the wind stirred and rustled their branches and leaves with a continual sur, sur, sur.' A wild warm wind it was, blowing in fitful gusts, now just bending the tops of the trees, now roaring and whistling through the stems, now falling almost altogether away. The dark, drifting, lowering clouds foreboded rain; all Nature seemed in a state of unrest. There was a kind of mild excitement in driving on such a day through a strange country; the air was so invigorating, the effects of light and shade over the landscape were so peculiar and powerful. Away in front of us the horizon was of the darkest indigo, just above it the sky was of a wan yellow, and towards us great grey clouds drooping with aqueous vapour travelled apace. Now and again slanting lines of rain revealed where a storm was sweeping along,
CAUGHT IN A STORM.
and now and again the distance would be sponged out by a passing shower. Rain storms (to parody the poet laureate) to the right of us, rain storms to the left of us, rain storms in front of us, but so far, by curious good fortune, we had escaped without a single drop, and as we drove along we watched with unabated interest the ever changing cloud forms, great banks of cumulus, gathering fold upon fold in ominous grandeur, their forms and outlines ever changing; anon a momentary gleam of sunlight would gild their wreathing crests, then all would be grey and gloom again, and a dreariness would be cast over the landscape. As the wind freshened an extra gust would ever and again drive a fir cone or a portion of a branch right into the phaeton. One great piece of dead wood crashed down on to the road just after we had passed; had we been a few seconds earlier, it might have brought our journey to an unpleasant ending; and we were not sorry in time to get away from the trees into a more open heath land, though the further we progressed the rougher became our way. The surface of the road was of soft sand, making travelling heavy, and there was a plentiful supply of stones about, of all sizes and shapes, from that of a miniature boulder to a moderate-sized flint. But though the road was bad -wretchedly bad, to use no worse an adjective—we felt that we could hardly complain, as it was really the only bit of bad road we had experienced since we left home, and what better had we a right to expect over a bleak untravelled moorland?
We had escaped the wandering storms so far in
a wonderful manner, but as we progressed the road showed signs of heavy rain; great pools of water stood in the ruts, the surface was soft and running with moisture, on either side the streams were swollen into tiny torrents. Just as we were congratulating ourselves upon our escaping the wet, down came the rain in a regular deluge, or rather a combination of rain and hail; it rebounded from off the road, and the horses, stung by the icy darts, pranced about so that, what with the blinding rain and our struggling steeds, it was as much as we could manage to keep on the road. The water ran off our aprons on either side of the phaeton in miniature cascades, and tested the weatherproof qualities of our mackintoshes to the utmost. It was a wild wet drive-we were passing through a vast unenclosed heath, of shelter there was none, a few wind-blown trees here and there, and that was all-but because of its very wildness we enjoyed the drive exceedingly. It was worth even the risk of a wetting to watch the storm sweep along, bending the trees before it. The landscape had a dark dreary look, brightened only by lonely pools on the moorland; then as the storm spent its fury, the cloud above us seemed to lift, the horizon in front grew lighter, the air became warmer, the sun suddenly burst forth, and the long grasses and fir trees seemed as though they were sprinkled with diamonds, as the sun's rays caught the countless raindrops thereon and converted them into glowing jewels. The effect was striking as we looked back and saw the dark purple cloud gradually dispersing in rain, with the sun glorifying it (it is almost worth
A REMINDER OF AMERICA.
while to live for a time in a wet, stormy climate, such as the Western Highlands, if only to study the magnificent cloud and atmospheric effects), and for the rare beauty of that moment we rejoiced in the wet.
By our lonely road at one spot we came to a solitary wooden shanty that would not have disgraced America. Indeed the wild desolate-looking country around, the rough roadway, and the primitive dwelling, reminded us much of somewhat similar homes, set in similar scenery, we had beheld in the Western territories of America.
The warm cheerful sunshine, the golden lights and purple-grey shadows, came as a great contrast with the dreary grey world we had so lately traversed ; the wild waste looked even lovely, the lonely leaden pools had become golden, the gloomy greys had turned to purples, and the landscape was full of colour.
Uphill now our road led us towards the setting sun, and on the crest of the rise stood out, almost black against the luminous sky, a clump of Scotch firs. This lonely, darksome group of trees impressed us; if the sky was clear, the wind still blew, and as it soughed through their branches eerily, it seemed almost as though the very spot were haunted by the spirits of long-departed highwaymen, who ended their exciting career on the gibbet that formerly stood here. For in the good old times' this farspreading heath was a favourite resort of such men, and doubtless nervous travellers blessed their stars when they were safely over it without any misadventure. An old writer relates, à propos of high
waymen and gibbets, that two certain famous knights of the road' once met beneath one of these latter structures. 'Ah!' said the first, what a fine profession ours would be, if there were no gibbets !' 'Fool!' replied the other; 'gibbets are the making of us, for if there were no gibbets, everyone would be a highwayman, and where then should we be?' Anyway it is well that both gibbets and highwaymen are things of the past. A gibbet could not have been a pleasant sight to come suddenly upon, driving along alone in the olden days.
Gaining the top of the hill, a glorious prospect opened out before us; a vast far-spreading landscape of hill and dale, of wood and river. A grand panorama it was, stretching away from green to grey and grey to blue. A sense of mystery lay over it seen in the half light of the solemn uncertain gloaming, for the evening was coming on; a shadowy land, uncertain and undefined, it was like those one sees in dreams. A feeling came over us, not to be analysed nor set into mere words, as though we were just about to descend and explore a new country---the unknown is full of possibilities. Not a house nor a building of any kind was to be seen from our vantage height, only woods, hills, and a winding river threading its way through the mystic landscape like a ribbon of gold. We might have been about to enter upon an uninhabited country. There was a certain feeling of fascination in letting our romantic imaginings, for once, have full play: half of the beauties of a landscape consist in the poetry we put into it. As we look at Nature so she looks