The occasion is a large annual gathering, held in a beautiful park in a fav. ored corner of a southern county. It is a fine July afternoon, and a brilliant sun beams down upon a gay scene of white tents and rainbow flags, bright dresses and brighter faces, and is reflected off the brazen instruments of the military band and the polished metal of the scores of bicycles that twist and wind in and out in graceful evolutions to the time of the music.

A fringe of tall elm-trees borders the enclosure in which this féte is taking place, and in one corner, sheltered by the tallest of them, a huge, striped, red and yellow mushroom of silk and cordage is gradually rising from the grass, and filling out its loose folds in obedience to stream of gas entering through a long snake-like tube.

At present the growing monster is held to the ground by a heavy ring of sand-bags hung upon the meshes of the network. These have continually to be shited as the silk lifts, and the task is being swiftly and deftly accomplished by our aeronaut, who, in his blue jacket and gold-laced cap, looks every inch the sailor he has good reason to consider himself, for he sails his craft over an ocean whose bounding shores man may never reach. And a right noble ship she is, holding in her shapely form 56,000 cubic feet of gas. And when at length the filling is completed, and she rears her stately height into the air, swaying gracefully from side to side with the fresh breeze that sweeps the field, and straining and tugging at her moorings, impatient to be off, her captain may well eye her with pride and satisfaction as a craft well worthy of his command.

And now the heavy ring is attached to the conmplicated cordage, and the bal

loon drawn out into the open while the car is brought forward and securely affixed. Then comes the cry for the passengers to take their places, and we rush forward between the swaying ropes and jump into the wicker basket which, for the next couple of hours. will constitute our little world. The wind is rising, and the balloon rolls and tugs yet more lently; but a score of strong arms are holding us down, while the captain stands paying out the sand-bags-till the exact lifting power is reached. “One more bag out. Now! Let her go!" And with one bound, amid the cheering of the crowd, we make a sudden plunge upwards, and rise swiftly a thousand feet into the summer sky.

How strange it seems! A minute ago we were clinging to the jolting car upon the ground, the shouts of the people ringing in our ears, the network straining over our heads; and now, in an instant, the field has sunk to insigniticance below us, a wide and glorious prospect has unfolded itself beneath our wondering gaze, in which the tents and the crowd are but pin-points rapidly lessening from view, and the cheers have died away into a silence so sudden and profound that, for a moment, it is almost appalling. And yet in ourselves there is no change. To us in the car it seems as if we did not more. Surely we have remained stationary, only the earth has fallen away beneath us with a mighty swoop, and now is rolling backwards with a speed wellnigh bewildering.

But the stillness, the sudden calm and peace! A strange fancy strikes

Is it like this to die in action? To the soldier slain in the height of battle must there not come a silence, sudden and complete as this, as the


shouting and the din of war melt away vision dawns on our astonished sight! into the hush of eternity, and the re- Seen from the earth, clouds have ever leased spirit rises into the fuller life, seemed to us among the fairest forms the freer world? A curious thought of God's creation; but now, instead of and a fleeting one, for impressions suc- being beneath them looking up, we are ceed each other quickly; and as the above and looking down upon them as landscape opens into one vast pano- they hang between us and the ground. ramic sheet, familiar objects present We are level with others, and see their themselves in most unfamiliar aspects, fleecy masses from a height equal to and we strive to identify each as seen their own, and surely in all our expefrom this new and delightful point of rience a sight more glorious, more wonview.

derful and enchanting, has never beThere is the town, with its forest of fore gladdened our eyes! chimneys scarcely dimmed by the light

Around us rise range upon range of veil of smoke hanging over it. There mountains, Alps and Andes and Himathe river, reflecting the rays of the layas, of shimmering white, with soarsun off its sinuous course with such ing peaks and shadowy valleys-but dazzling brilliance. There the grand with this difference (one might almost Elizabethan House, its trim gardens, say improvement) upon their terresvelvet lawns, and noble avenue of elm- trial prototypes: Instead of being sharp trees. There-but where are we? Where and jagged in their forms, with hard is the earth? Where is the sky? What and rigid outlines, these mountain is this sudden pall that has all at once shapes are soft and “fluffy," and their enveloped us in its stifling folds, and delicate mouldings are ever changing, hidden the world from our eyes?

melting and reforming, ever new, yet We soon learn. We have entered the ever constant in their heavenly lovelisummer cloud that, three minutes ago, ness of spotless white and purple shade. from the ground seemed nearer to us Oh, for the brush of some inspired arthan the rest, though far, far away in tist to perpetuate in softest coloring the vault of the blue. Its damp cling- their incomparable beauty! But, in ing arms are round us; they have di- truth, look where we will, the prospect minished the light, and the air is thick, is equally enchanting. To be sure we and hot, and moist. We feel strangely see nothing directly overhead, except alone in our tiny car with the swelling the open mouth of the balloon, and the roof of the silk above. No sound gaudy silk through the transparent gas, reaches us from the void below; no sign but below us the scene, flecked here of life, no glimpse of earth; and though and there with patches of fleecy vapor, we know we are really hastening on- is as varied as it is extensive, and as wards to the east with the speed of an beautiful as it is strange. express train, yet the balloon seems to Although we are familiar with the hang absolutely stationary, and not a country over which we are passing, we breath fans our cheeks.

find it curiously difficult to identify the The experience is curious, if some- well-known features. This arises chiefly what depressing, but it does not last from the fact that, by reason of our long. More light begins to penetrate height, hills and vales appear to us as the mist, and presently, looking down, one dead level, as flat as a map. Everywe catch momentary glimpses of the where are harvest fields, golden and earth between masses of vapor. Soon ripe for the sickle, or with the corn alwe have left the cloud altogether be- ready standing in shocks that look inhind us--and then what a fairy-like significant indeed from 3,000 feet up,

[ocr errors]


as we



for to that altitude we have now at- villages where Flower Shows and Galas tained. There are stretches of open are in progress; and through fieldcommon, with straight white roads in- glasses we notice how every neck is tersecting each other like a complicated craned upwards to watch puzzle. There are patchwork patterns pass, and sometimes we fancy we hear of woods and meadows, over which the cheer with which we are hailed. floats the shadow of the balloon as we We are conscious of interrupting the speed by. There are country houses play of some score of cricket matches, standing in well-wooded parks, and or- and adding a new excitement to namental water on which we can just dozen of merry school treats. Some. distinguish the dots take to be times a child's shrill voice reaches our swans or wild-fowl.

giddy height, and once, when the balHere and there a little village or quiet loon has fallen somewhat, the notes of townlet clusters around its gray church, a strident piano-organ bear aloft in whose churchyard the grave- familiar tune. stones gleam white. The river winds We enter no more clouds, though they in glittering curves through what we are piled thick around us and occasionmust suppose to be the valley, while ally obtrude filmy filaments between us across the face of the country runs the and the earth. The sun shines upon us broad straight track of the Great West- hotly, and suddenly one of our comern Railway, spanned occasionally by panions in the car utters a delighted Lilliputian bridges, and bordered by exclamation, and we turn to observe a tiny white signal-posts that look like strange and lovely phenomenon. Just very diminutive child's toys-belonging, level with us is the broad bulk of a perhaps to that small Noah's Ark to snow-white cloud, and upon it the sinkwhich those ridiculously minute horses ing sun has cast a perfect shadow of and cattle grazing in the fields apper- our balloon, sharp and well-defined. tain. Down the railway track we catch But around this shadow-framing it, as occasionally a puff of smoke, as a train it were, in a fairy frame-is a lovely creeps along like some strange species rainbow ring of brightest colors, a halo of caterpillar, and perhaps the faint such as is rarely seen on earth, and not echo of its whistle penetrates up to us often in the skies. We are favored, inevery now and then. Save for this and deed, on this occasion, and even our the occasional bark of a dog or report aeronaut allows that in all his many of a gun, no sound soever reaches us. hundreds of ascents he has rarely ex

A large town lies now to the left, with perienced one in which so many beautall chimneys rising above its sea of tiful effects have been combined. roofs. This is Reading and its fac- The sun is hastening westward now, tories, and beyond it we catch the glint and evening lights begin to intensifyof Father Thames. We are heading if that be possible--the grandeur of the for Sandhurst, and presently pass di- scene. The cooler air is causing the rectly over the well-known buildings of balloon to descend, and we fly within the Royal Military College. Soon Al- only a few hundred feet of the earth; dershot comes in view, its outlying so close that we can see the country. camps of white tents plainly discern- folk rushing out of their cottages to ible. Below us are Bisley and Pir- look at us, and watch the consternation bright with the rifle ranges, and farther which our near approach excites in a on Woking and the white stones of the flock of sheep. great cemetery. In our flight, this But the surrounding country is corfine July afternoon, we sail over many ered with dense belts of pine-trees awkward to land in, and we have still fencing boundary, and plunge straight a couple of bags of ballast left. So down for a field of standing corn. over goes a shower of sand, and swiftly "Smash!” falls the anchor, but the we mount, up and up, till we attain to ground is hard as iron and it fails to a higher elevation than we have yet catch. "Now for a bump,” cries the reached, and now we find we are in aeronaut, and we get it too, as the car sunshine again, for though on the earth strikes the earth and turns over on its the sun has set, yet from this great side, every twig of the wickerwork altitude he still seems well above the creaking with the strain. “Hold on horizon.

tight!" and we do, with might and The wind is fresh as ever, and we are main, while the wind catches the dying soon beyond the pine-woods, and towns giant, and sweeps it onward over the and villages succeed each other in quick field, the car bounding merrily after. succession. They are somewhat diffi- It may be doubted whether we are docult to identify, but Weybridge and ing much good to the corn, but it is Walton-on-Thames are discernible, and certainly helping us, for the springy the racecourse stamps Epsom beyond a stalks offer plenty of resistance and doubt. There is a wonderful feeling of serve to break the force of the frequent exhilaration in this calm though rapid bumps. Right across the field we go, flight, the immense height, the sense of leaving a broad track behind us; but freedom, and the pure unbreathed air. the captain, though tumbled over on, We wish our voyage might be extended his back and his cap gone, keeps firm for hours yet into the peaceful evening hold on the valve line, and our pace is sky. But the sun has gone for good slackening. Soon we hear shouts, and now, and our balloon is falling fast. a party of countrymen, hot and pantOur last bag of ballast must be kept ing, are upon us, and hold the car firm for the descent, now close at hand. while we scramble out, somewhat di

Lower we swoop, and lower, and our shevelled but quite unhurt. Ready captain, with practised eye, is looking helpers crowd in on every side, and in ahead for a safe landing-place, no very an inconceivably short space of time easy task considering the stiffness of the gas is all out of the balloon, and the wind.

the silk and cordage is folded up and He has already unshipped the heavy packed into the car, the whole is hoisted grapnel, ready to drop it at an instant's on a cart, and we make for the nearest notice, and has let down the long trail railway station through the gathering rope whose end is now sweeping the dusk, well satisfied with our aftermeadows to the vast astonishment of noon's adventure. the grazing cattle. We pass yet an- And surely, too, we are the better, other cricket match, and interrupt it both physically and morally, for our this time in good earnest, for the bats- brief visit to cloudland. Better for the men drop their bats and join with the pure air and exhilarating experience, whole field in chase of the monster and better also for our widened view whose voyage is now so nearly over. into God's universe and the glories

Look out for that tree," shouts our lavished so freely around us, whether captain, as the top of a big elm looms we see them or no. We have been in the way.

We “duck" hastily, and lifted, if only for an hour or two, into the branches sweep the underside of realms of peace and rest. We bave the car as we pass. Beyond the tree is realized, perhaps more fully thau ever a house, and a garden with green

before, the vastness of the surroundhouses, but we clear these and a wire- ings in which our little lives are cast; CAT AND DOG LIFE.

how small a part we each individually play in the great scheme of creation. And our hearts must be dull indeed, and our eyes be dim, if the grandeur and beauty of the scene so lately wil.

nessed have not filled us with thankfulness, and with an overwhelming sense of the might, majesty and power of the beneficent Giver of All.

Gertrude Bacon.

The Leisure Hour.

It is time that the controversy concerning the superiority of cat or dog should be discussed on some more general ground than that of British feeling or human egotism. The case is prejudged, if we are to weigh the cat's merits on practical grounds, for the cat is essentially dramatic; or if we are to estimate ber character from the Western point of view, for the cat is an Oriental; or, finally, if we

are to consider the moral qualities of the cat solely in relation to the desires of the human being. In all such cases the vulgar estimate of the cat would be the true one, and, according to this vulgar estimate, the cat is a domestic, comfortable animal, usually found curled up like ammonite; essentially selfish, essentially cruel, and apart from these two drawbacks, essentially feminine. “The cat is selfish and the dog is faithful.” This sums up a judgment founded wilful denseness and gross egotism. In respect to what is the dog faithful and the cat selfish? The judgment rests on this, that the human being is a very little portion of the cat's world, but is the all-absorbing object of the dog. Here plainly Greek meets Greek, and we had better let the accusation of egotism alone.

But apart from egotism, the above summary of the cat's nature and habits is about as true as the following summary of the sportsman's na


ture and habit from the cat's point of view:—"The sportsman is a quiet and lazy creature, singularly domestic, fond of armchairs and smoking. He eats less often, but more largely than other men. The only thing that interferes with his domesticity is his tendency to absent himself from the house for hours together, missing thus his proper meal times, and driven by a madness which is quite foreign to his nature. If you come upon him at such times he is engaged in a prosaic kind of wholesale slaughter; he displays little strategy, no agility in this pursuit, neither runs nor pounces, but kills his game at a distance through an unpleasant, noisy instrument. The sportsman, too, is absolutely dangerous to life at such a time, and we have known cats fall victims to his madness, whereas if you meet him at ordinary times he is quiet and tame, both to 'birds and animals. can be safely left in the room with the kit. tens, and has never been known to kill a caged bird. The keeper is a very dangerous sort of sportsman, and must be regarded as radically unsafe. The difference is the same as that between the rogue elephant and the elephant of uncertain temper." The fact is that the usual judgment of cats rests on a total misapprehension of the scope of a cat's life. The cat is above all things a dramatist; its life is an endless romance. The drama is

[ocr errors]


« 前へ次へ »