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by [?]

Yesterday was a day of brisk airs. The wind was at work brushing great inky clouds out of the sky. They came sailing up, those great rounded masses of dark vapour, like huge galleons driving to the West, spilling their freight as they came. The air would be suddenly full of tall twisted rain-streaks, and then would come a bright burst of the sun.

But a secret change came in the night; some silent power filled the air with warmth and balm. And to-day, when I walked out of the town with an old and familiar friend, the spring had come. A maple had broken into bloom and leaf; a chestnut was unfolding his gummy buds; the cottage gardens were full of squills and hepatica; and the mezereons were all thick with damask buds. In green and sheltered underwoods there were bursts of daffodils; hedges were pricked with green points; and a delicate green tapestry was beginning to weave itself over the roadside ditches.

The air seemed full of a deep content. Birds fluted softly, and the high elms which stirred in the wandering breezes were all thick with their red buds. There was so much to look at and to point out that we talked but fitfully; and there was, too, a gentle languor abroad which made us content to be silent.

In one village which we passed, a music-loving squire had made a concert for his friends and neighbours, and doubtless, too, for our vagrant delight; we stood uninvited to listen to a tuneful stir of violins, which with a violoncello booming beneath, broke out very pleasantly from the windows of a village school-room.

When body and mind are fresh and vigorous, these outside impressions often lose, I think, their sharp savours. One is preoccupied with one’s own happy schemes and merry visions; the bird sings shrill within its cage, and claps its golden wings. But on such soft and languorous days as these days of early spring, when the body is unstrung, and the bonds and ties that fasten the soul to its prison are loosened and unbound, the spirit, striving to be glad, draws in through the passages of sense these swift impressions of beauty, as a thirsty child drains a cup of spring-water on a sun-scorched day, lingering over the limpid freshness of the gliding element. The airy voices of the strings being stilled, with a sort of pity for those penned in the crowded room, interchanging the worn coinage of civility, we stood a while looking in at a gate, through which we could see the cool front of a Georgian manor-house, built of dusky bricks, with coigns and dressings of grey stone. The dark windows with their thick white casements, the round-topped dormers, the steps up to the door, and a prim circle of grass which seemed to lie like a carpet on the pale gravel, gave the feeling of a picture; the whole being framed in the sombre yews of shrubberies which bordered the drive. It was hard to feel that the quiet house was the scene of a real and active life; it seemed so full of a slumberous peace, and to be tenanted only by soft shadows of the past. And so we went slowly on by the huge white-boarded mill, its cracks streaming with congealed dust of wheat, where the water thundered through the sluices and the gear rattled within.

We crossed the bridge, and walked on by a field-track that skirted the edge of the wold. How thin and clean were the tints of the dry ploughlands and the long sweep of pasture! Presently we were at the foot of a green drift-road, an old Roman highway that ran straight up into the downs. On such a day as this, one follows a spirit in one’s feet, as Shelley said; and we struck up into the wold, on the green road, with its thorn-thickets, until the chalk began to show white among the ruts; and we were soon at the top. A little to the left of us appeared, in the middle of the pasture, a tiny round-topped tumulus that I had often seen from a lower road, but never visited. It was fresher and cooler up here. On arriving at the place we found that it was not a tumulus at all, but a little outcrop of the pure chalk. It had steep, scarped sides with traces of caves scooped in them. The grassy top commanded a wide view of wold and plain.