I walked to-day down by the river side. The Cam is a stream much slighted by the lover of wild and romantic scenery; and its chief merit, in the eyes of our boys, is that it approaches more nearly to a canal in its straightness and the deliberation of its slow lapse than many more famous floods—and is therefore more adapted for the maneuvres of eight-oared boats! But it is a beautiful place, I am sure; and my ghost will certainly walk there, “if our loves remain,” as Browning says, both for the sake of old memories and for the love of its own sweet peaceableness. I passed out of the town, out of the straggling suburbs, away from tall, puffing chimneys, and under the clanking railway bridge; and then at once the scene opens, wide pasture-lands on either side, and rows of old willows, the gnarled trunks holding up their clustered rods. There on the other side of the stream rises the charming village of Fen Ditton, perched on a low ridge near the water, with church and vicarage and irregular street, and the little red-gabled Hall looking over its barns and stacks. More and more willows, and then, lying back, an old grange, called Poplar Hall, among high-standing trees; and then a little weir, where the falling water makes a pleasant sound, and a black-timbered lock, with another old house near by, a secluded retreat for the bishops of Ely in medieval times. The bishop came thither by boat, no doubt, and abode there for a few quiet weeks, when the sun lay hot over the plain; and a little farther down is a tiny village called Horningsea, with a battlemented church among orchards and thatched houses, with its own disused wharf—a place which gives me the sense of a bygone age as much as any hamlet I know. Then presently the interminable fen stretches for miles and miles in every direction; you can see, from the high green flood-banks of the river, the endless lines of watercourses and far-off clumps of trees leagues away, and perhaps the great tower of Ely, blue on the horizon, with the vast spacious sky over-arching all. If that is not a beautiful place in its width, its greenness, its unbroken silence, I do not know what beauty is! Nothing that historians call an event has ever happened there. It is a place that has just drifted out of the old lagoon life of the past, the life of reed-beds and low-lying islands, of marsh-fowl and fishes, into a hardly less peaceful life of cornfield and pasture. No one goes there except on country business, no armies ever marshalled or fought there. The sun goes down in flame on the far horizon; the wild duck fly over and settle in the pools, the flowers rise to life year by year on the edges of slow watercourses; the calm mystery of it can be seen and remembered; but it can hardly be told in words.
Now side by side with that I will set another picture of a different kind.