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by [?]

I will put another little sketch side by side with the last, for the sake of contrast; I think it is hardly possible within the compass of a few days to have seen two scenes of such minute and essential difference. At Cerne I had the tranquil loneliness of the countryside, the silent valley, the long faintly-tinted lines of pasture, space and stillness; the hamlets nestled among trees in the dingles of the down. To-day I went south along a dusty road; at first there were quiet ancient sights enough, such as the huge grass-grown encampment of Maiden Castle, now a space of pasture, but still guarded by vast ramparts and ditches, dug in the chalk, and for a thousand years or more deserted. The downs, where they faced the sea, were dotted with grassy barrows, air-swept and silent. We topped the hill, and in a moment there was a change; through the haze we saw the roofs of Weymouth laid out like a map before us, with the smoke drifting west from innumerable chimneys; in the harbour, guarded by the slender breakwaters, floated great ironclads, black and sinister bulks; and beyond them frowned the dark front of Portland. Very soon the houses began to close in upon the road,–brick-built, pretentious, bow-windowed villas; then we were in the streets, showing a wholesome antiquity in the broad-windowed mansions of mellow brick, which sprang into life when the honest king George III. made the quiet port fashionable by spending his simple summers there. There was the king’s lodging itself, Gloucester House, now embedded in a hotel, with the big pilastered windows of its saloons giving it a faded courtly air. Soon we were by the quays, with black red-funnelled steamers unloading, and all the quaint and pretty bustle of a port. We went out to a promontory guarded by an old stone fort, and watched a red merchant steamer roll merrily in, blowing a loud sea-horn. Then over a low-shouldered ridge, and we were by the great inner roads, full of shipping; we sat for a while by the melancholy walls of an ancient Tudor castle, now crumbling into the sea; and then across the narrow causeway that leads on to Portland. On our right rose the Chesil Bank, that mysterious mole of orange shingle, which the sea, for some strange purpose of its own, has piled up, century after century, for eighteen miles along the western coast. And then the grim front of Portland Island itself loomed out above us. The road ran up steeply among the bluffs, through line upon line of grey-slated houses; to the left, at the top of the cliff, were the sunken lines of the huge fort, with the long slopes of its earthworks, the glacis overgrown with grass, and the guns peeping from their embrasures; to the left, dipping to the south, the steep grey crags, curve after curve. The streets were alive with an abundance of merry young sailors and soldiers, brisk, handsome boys, with the quiet air of discipline that converts a country lout into a self-respecting citizen. An old bronzed sergeant led a child with one hand, and with the other tried to obey her shrill directions about whirling a skipping-rope, so that she might skip beside him; he looked at us with a half-proud, half-shamefaced smile, calling down a rebuke for his inattention from the girl.

We wound slowly up the steep roads smothered in dust; landwards the view was all drowned in a pale haze, but the steep grey cliffs by Lulworth gleamed with a tinge of gold across the sea.

At the top, one of the dreariest landscapes I have ever seen met the sight. The island lies, so to speak, like a stranded whale, the great head and shoulders northwards to the land. The moment you surmount the top, the huge, flat side of the monster is extended before you, shelving to the sea. Hardly a tree grows there; there is nothing but a long perspective of fields, divided here and there by stone walls, with scattered grey houses at intervals. There is not a feature of any kind on which the eye can rest. In the foreground the earth is all tunnelled and tumbled; quarries stretch in every direction, with huge, gaunt, straddling, gallows-like structures emerging, a wheel spinning at the top, and ropes travelling into the abyss; heaps of grey debris, interspersed with stunted grass, huge excavations, ugly ravines with a spout of grim stone at the seaward opening, like the burrowings of some huge mole. The placid green slopes of the fort give an impression of secret strength, even grandeur. Otherwise it is but a ragged, splashed aquarelle of grey and green. Over the debris appear at a distance the blunt ominous chimneys of the convict prison, which seems to put the finishing touch on the forbidding character of the scene.

To-day the landward view was all veiled in haze, which seemed to shut off the sad island from the world. On a clear day, no doubt, the view must be full of grandeur, the inland downs, edged everywhere with the tall scarped cliffs, headland after headland, with the long soft line of the Chesil Bank below them. But on a day of sea mist, it must be, I felt, one of the saddest and most mournful regions in the world, with no sound but the wail of gulls, and the chafing of the surge below.