Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Hampshire Days
Author: W. H. Hudson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700741.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: May 2007
Date most recently updated: May 2007

This eBook was produced by: Michael Dalling

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Hampshire Days
Author: W. H. Hudson





HAMPSHIRE DAYS
BY
W. H. HUDSON

AUTHOR OF
"BIRDS AND MAN," "NATURE IN DOWNLAND," ETC.




INSCRIBED

TO
SIR EDWARD AND LADY GREY

NORTHUMBRIANS
WITH HAMPSHIRE WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS




The greater part of the matter contained in this volume has not
appeared before. In the first half of the book use has been made of an
article on "Summer in the Forest" from Longman's Magazine; in the
second half I have drawn on articles from the same periodical, on
"Wolmer Forest," "A Summers End on the Itchen" and "Selborne
Revisited"; and I have also made use of an article entitled "A More or
Less Happy Family" from the Badminton Magazine.




CONTENTS



CHAPTER I

Autumn in the New Forest--Red colour in mammals--November mildness--A
house by the Boldre--An ideal spot for small birds--Abundance of
nests--Small mammals and the weasel's part--Voles and mice--Hornet and
bank-vole--Young shrews--A squirrel's visit--Green woodpecker's
drumming-tree--Drumming of other species--Beauty of great spotted
woodpecker--The cuckoo controversy--A cuckoo in a robin's
nest--Behaviour of the cuckoo--Extreme irritability--Manner of
ejecting eggs and birds from the nest--Loss of
irritability--Insensibility of the parent robins--Discourse on
mistaken kindness, pain and death in nature, the annual destruction of
bird life, and the young cuckoo's instinct



CHAPTER II

Between the Boldre and the Exe--Abuse of the New Forest--Character of
the population--New Forest code and conscience--A radical change
foreshadowed--Tenacity of the Forest fly--Oak woods of
Beaulieu--Swallow and pike--Charm of Beaulieu--Instinctive love of
open spaces--A fragrant
heath--Nightjars--Snipe--Redshanks--Peewits--Cause of sympathy with
animals--Grasshopper and spider--A rapacious fly--Melancholy
moods--Evening on the heath--"World-strangeness"--Pixie mounds--Death
and burial--The dead in the barrows--The dead and the living



CHAPTER III

A favourite New Forest haunt--Summertide--Young blackbird's
call--Abundance of blackbirds and thrushes and destruction of
young--Starlings breeding--The good done by starlings--Perfume of the
honeysuckle--Beauty of the hedge rose--Cult of the rose--Lesser
whitethroat--His low song--Common and lesser whitethroat--In the
woods--A sheet of bracken--Effect of broken surfaces--Roman mosaics at
Silchester--Why mosaics give pleasure--Woodland birds--Sound of insect
life--Abundance of flies--Sufferings of cattle--Dark Water--Biting and
teasing flies--Feeding the fishes and fiddlers with flies



CHAPTER IV

The stag-beetle--Evening flight--Appearance on the wing--Seeking a
mate--Stag and doe in a hedge--The ploughman and the beetle--A
stag-beetle's fate--Concerning tenacity of life--Life appearances
after death--A serpent's skin--A dead glow-worm's light--Little summer
tragedies--A snaky spot--An adder's basking place--Watching
adders--The adder's senses--Adder's habits not well known--A pair of
anxious peewits--A dead young peewit--Animals without knowledge of
death--Removal of the dead by ants--Gould's observations on ants



CHAPTER V

Cessation of song--Oak woods less silent than others--Mixed gatherings
of birds in oak woods--Abundance of caterpillars--Rapacious
insects--Wood ants--Alarm cries of woodland birds--Weasel and small
birds--Fascination--Weasel and short-tailed vole--Account of Egyptian
cats fascinated by fire--Rabbits and stoats--Mystery of
fascination--Cases of pre-natal suggestion--Hampshire pigs fascinated
by fire--Conjectures as to the origin of fascination--A dead
squirrel--A squirrel's fatal leap--Fleas large and small--Shrew and
fleas--Fleas in woods--The squirrel's disposition--Food-hiding habit
in animals--Memory in squirrels and dogs--The lower kind of memory



CHAPTER VI

Insects in Britain--Meadow ants--The indoor view of insect
life--Insects in visible nature--The humming-bird hawk-moth, and the
parson Lepidopterist--Rarity of death's-head moth--Hawk-moth and
meadow-pipit--Silver-washed fritillaries on bracken--Flight of the
white admiral butterfly--Dragon-flies--Want of English names--A
water-keeper on dragon-flies--Moses Harris--Why moths have English
names--Origin of the dragon-fly's bad reputation--Cordulegaster
annulatus--Calopteryx virgo--Dragon-flies
congregated--Glow-worm--Firefly and glow-worm compared--Variability in
light--The insect's attitude when shining--Supposed use of the
light--Hornets--A long-remembered sting--The hornet local in
England--A splendid insect--Insects on ivy blossoms in autumn



CHAPTER VII

Great and greatest among insects--Our feeling for insect
music--Crickets and grasshoppers--Cicada anglica--Locusta
viridissima--Character of its music--Colony of green
grasshoppers--Harewood Forest--Purple emperor--Grasshoppers' musical
contests--The naturalist mocked--Female viridissima--Over-elaboration
in the male--Habits of female--Wooing of the male by the female



CHAPTER VIII

Hampshire, north and south--A spot abounding in life--Lyndhurst--A
white spider--Wooing spider's antics--A New Forest little boy--Blonde
gipsies--The boy and the spider--A distant world of spiders--Selborne
and its visitors--Selborne revisited--An owl at Alton--A wagtail at
the Wakes--The cockerel and the martin--Heat at Selborne--House
crickets--Gilbert White on crickets--A colony of field crickets--Water
plants--Musk mallow--Cirl buntings at Selborne--Evening gatherings of
swifts at Selborne--Locustidae--Thamnotrizon cinereus--English names
wanted--Black grasshopper's habits and disposition--Its abundance at
Selborne



CHAPTER IX

The Selborne atmosphere--Unhealthy faces--Selborne common--Character
of scenery--Wheatham Hill--Hampshire village churches--Gilbert White's
strictures--Churches big and little--The peasants' religious
feeling--Charm of old village churches--Seeking Priors Dean--Privett
Church--Blackmoor Church--Churchyards--Change in gravestones--Beauty
of old gravestones--Red alga on gravestones--Yew trees in
churchyards--British dragon-tree--Farringdon village and
yew--Crowhurst yew--Hurst bourne Priors yew--How yew trees are injured



CHAPTER X

Wolmer Forest--Charm of contrast and novelty in scenery--Aspect of
Wolmer--Heath and pine--Colour of water and soil--An old woman's
recollections--Story of the "Selborne mob"--Past and present times
compared--Hollywater Clump--Age of trees--Bird life in the
forest--Teal in their breeding haunts--Boys in the forest--Story of
the horn-blower



CHAPTER XI

The Hampshire people--Racial differences in neighbouring counties--A
neglected subject--Inhabitants of towns--Gentry and peasantry--Four
distinct types--The common blonde type--Lean women--Deleterious
effects of tea-drinking--A shepherd's testimony--A mixed race--The
Anglo-Saxon--Case of reversion of type--Un-Saxon character of the
British--Dark-eyed Hampshire people--Racial feeling with regard to
eye-colours--The Iberian type--Its persistence--Character of the small
dark man--Dark and blonde children--A dark village child



CHAPTER XII

Test and Itchen--Vegetation--Riverside villages--The cottage by the
river--Itchen valley--Blossoming limes--Bird visitors--Goldfinch--Cirl
bunting--Song--Plumage--Three common river birds--Coots--Moor-hen and
nest--Little grebes' struggles--Male grebe's devotion--Parent coot's
wisdom--A more or less happy family--Dogged little grebes--Grebes
training their young--Fishing birds and fascination



CHAPTER XIII

Morning in the valley--Abundance of swifts--Unlikeness to other
birds--Mayfly and swallows--Mayfly and swift--Bad weather and
hail--Swallows in the rain--Sand martins--An orphaned blackbird--Tamed
by feeding--Survival of gregarious instinct in young
blackbirds--Blackbird's good-night--Cirl buntings--Breeding habits and
language--Habits of the young--Reed bunting--Beautiful weather--The
oak in August



CHAPTER XIV

Yellow flowers--Family likeness in flavours and scents--Mimulus
luteus--Flowers in church decoration--Effect of association--Mimulus
luteus as a British plant--A rule as to naturalised plants wanted--A
visit to Swarraton--Changes since Gilbert White's day--"Wild
musk"--Bird life on the downs--Turtle-dove nestlings--Blue skin in
doves--A boy naturalist--Birds at the cottage--The wren's
sun-bath--Wild fruits ripen--An old chalk pit--Birds and
elderberries--Past and present times compared--Calm days--Migration of
swallows--Conclusion





HAMPSHIRE DAYS



CHAPTER I

Autumn in the New Forest--Red colour in mammals--November mildness--A
house by the Boldre--An ideal spot for small birds--Abundance of
nests--Small mammals and the weasel's part--Voles and mice--Hornet and
bank-vole--Young shrews--A squirrel's visit--Green woodpecker's
drumming-tree--Drumming of other species--Beauty of great spotted
woodpecker--The cuckoo controversy--A cuckoo in a robin's
nest--Behaviour of the cuckoo--Extreme irritability--Manner of
ejecting eggs and birds from the nest--Loss of
irritability--Insensibility of the parent robins--Discourse on
mistaken kindness, pain and death in nature, the annual destruction of
bird life, and the young cuckoo's instinct.

HERE, by chance, in the early days of December 1902, at the very spot
where my book begins, I am about to bring it to an end.

A few days ago, coming hither from the higher country at Silchester,
where the trees were already nearly bare, I was surprised to find the
oak woods of this lower southern part of the New Forest still in their
full autumnal foliage. Even now, so late in the year, after many
successive days and nights of rain and wind, they are in leaf still:
everywhere the woods are yellow, here where the oak predominates; the
stronger golden red and russet tints of the beech are vanished. We
have rain and wind on most days, or rather mist and rain by day and
wind with storms of rain by night; days, too, or parts of days, when
it is very dark and still, and when there is a universal greyness in
earth and sky. At such times, seen against the distant slaty darkness
or in the blue-grey misty atmosphere, the yellow woods look almost
more beautiful than in fine weather.

The wet woodland roads and paths are everywhere strewn, and in places
buried deep in fallen leaves--yellow, red, and russet; and this colour
is continued under the trees all through the woods, where the dead
bracken has now taken that deep tint which it will keep so long as
there is rain or mist to wet it for the next four or five months. Dead
bracken with dead leaves on a reddish soil; and where the woods are
fir, the ground is carpeted with lately-fallen needles of a chestnut
red, which brightens almost to orange in the rain. Now, at this
season, in this universal redness of the earth where trees and bracken
grow, we see that Nature is justified in having given that colour--red
and reddish-yellow--to all or to most of her woodland mammals. Fox and
foumart and weasel and stoat; the hare too; the bright squirrel; the
dormouse and harvest-mouse; the bank-vole and the wood-mouse. Even the
common shrew and lesser shrew, though they rarely come out by day,
have a reddish tinge on their fur. Water-shrew and water-vole inhabit
the banks of streams, and are safer without such a colour; the dark
grey badger is strictly a night rover.

Sometimes about noon the clouds grow thin in that part of the sky, low
down, where the sun is, and a pale gleam of sunlight filters through;
even a patch of lucid blue sky sometimes becomes visible for a while:
but the light soon fades; after mid-day the dimness increases, and
before long one begins to think that evening has come. Withal it is
singularly mild. One could almost imagine in this season of mist and
wet and soft airs in late November that this is a land where days grew
short and dark indeed, but where winter comes not, and the sensation
of cold is unknown. It is pleasant to be out of doors in such weather,
to stand in the coloured woods listening to that autumn sound of tits
and other little birds wandering through the high trees in straggling
parties, talking and calling to one another in their small sharp
voices. Or to walk by the Boldre, or, as some call it, the Lymington,
a slow, tame stream in summer, invisible till you are close to it; but
now, in flood, the trees that grow on its banks and hid it in summer
are seen standing deep in a broad, rushing, noisy river.

The woodpecker's laugh has the same careless happy sound as in summer:
it is scarcely light in the morning before the small wren pours out
his sharp bright lyric outside my window; it is time, he tells me, to
light my candle and get up. The starlings are about the house all day
long, vocal even in the rain, carrying on their perpetual starling
conversation--talk and song and recitative; a sort of bird-Yiddish,
with fluty fragments of melody stolen from the blackbird, and whistle
and click and the music of the triangle thrown in to give variety. So
mild is it that in the blackness of night I sometimes wander into the
forest paths and by furzy heaths and hedges to listen for the delicate
shrill music of our late chirper in the thickets, our Thamnotrizon,
about which I shall write later; and look, too, for a late glow-worm
shining in some wet green place. Late in October I found one in
daylight, creeping about in the grass on Selborne Hill; and some few,
left unmarried, may shine much later. And as to the shade-loving
grasshopper or leaf cricket, he sings, we know, on mild evenings in
November. But I saw no green lamp in the herbage, and I heard only
that nightly music of the tawny owl, fluting and hallooing far and
near, bird answering bird in the oak woods all along the swollen
stream from Brockenhurst to Boldre.

This race of wood owls perhaps have exceptionally strong voices: Wise,
in his book on the New Forest, says that their hooting can be heard on
a still autumn evening a distance of two miles. I have no doubt they
can be heard a good mile.

But it is of this, to a bird lover, delectable spot in the best
bird-months of April, May, and June that I have to write. The house,
too, that gave me shelter must be spoken of; for never have I known
any human habitation in a land where people are discovered dwelling in
so many secret, green, out-of-the-world places, which had so much of
nature in and about it. Grown-up and young people were in it, and
children too, but they were girls, and had always quite spontaneously
practised what I had preached--pet nothing and persecute nothing.
There was no boy to disturb the wild creatures with his hunting
instincts and loud noises; no dog, no cat, nor any domestic creature
except the placid cows and fowls which supplied the household with
milk and eggs. A small old picturesque red-brick house with
high-pitched roof and tall chimneys, a great part of it overrun with
ivy and creepers, the walls and tiled roof stained by time and
many-coloured lichen to a richly variegated greyish red. The date of
the house, cut in a stone tablet in one of the rooms, was 1692. In
front there was no lawn, but a walled plot of ground with old once
ornamental trees and bushes symmetrically placed--yews, both spreading
and cypress-shaped Irish yew, and tall tapering juniper, and arbor
vitae; it was a sort of formal garden which had long thrown off its
formality. In a corner of the ground by the side of these dark plants
were laurel, syringa, and lilac bushes, and among these such wildings
as thorn, elder, and bramble had grown up, flourishing greatly, and
making of that flowery spot a tangled thicket. At the side of the
house there was another plot of ground, grass-grown, which had once
been the orchard, and still had a few ancient apple and pear trees,
nearly past bearing, with good nesting-holes for the tits and
starlings in their decayed mossy trunks. There were also a few old
ivied shade-trees--chestnuts, fir, and evergreen oak.

Best of all (for the birds) were the small old half-ruined outhouses
which had remained from the distant days when the place, originally a
manor, had been turned into a farm-house. They were here and there,
scattered about, outside the enclosure, ivy-grown, each looking as old
and weather-stained and in harmony with its surroundings as the house
itself--the small tumble-down barns, the cow-sheds, the pig-house, the
granary with open door and the wooden staircase falling to pieces. All
was surrounded by old oak woods, and the river was close by. It was an
ideal spot for small birds. I have never in England seen so many
breeding close together. The commoner species were extraordinarily
abundant. Chaffinch and greenfinch; blackbird, throstle, and
missel-thrush; swallow and martin, and common and lesser whitethroat;
garden warbler and blackcap; robin, dunnock, wren, flycatcher, pied
wagtail, starling, and sparrow;--one could go round and put one's hand
into half-a-dozen nests of almost any of these species. And very many
of them had become partial to the old buildings: even in closed rooms
where it was nearly dark, not only wrens, robins, tits, and wagtails,
but blackbirds and throstles and chaffinches were breeding, building
on beams and in or on the old nests of swallows and martins. The
hawfinch and bullfinch were also there, the last rearing its brood
within eight yards of the front door. One of his two nearest
neighbours was a gold-crested wren. When the minute bird was sitting
on her eggs, in her little cradle-nest suspended to a spray of the
yew, every day I would pull the branch down so that we might all enjoy
the sight of the little fairy bird in her fairy nest which she refused
to quit. The other next-door neighbour of the bullfinch was the
long-tailed tit, which built its beautiful little nest on a terminal
spray of another yew, ten or twelve yards from the door; and this
small creature would also let us pull the branch down and peep into
her well-feathered interior.

It seemed that from long immunity from persecution, all these small
birds had quite lost their fear of human beings; but in late May and
in June, when many young birds were out of the nest, one had to walk
warily in the grass for fear of putting a foot on some little speckled
creature patiently waiting to be visited and fed by its parents.

Nor were there birds only. Little beasties were also quite abundant;
but they were of species that did no harm (at all events there), and
the weasel would come from time to time to thin them down. Money is
paid to mole-catcher and rat-catcher; the weasel charges you nothing:
he takes it out in kind. And even as the jungle tiger, burning bright,
and the roaring lion strike with panic the wild cattle and antelopes
and herds of swine, so does this miniature carnivore, this fairy tiger
of English homesteads and hedges, fill with trepidation the small deer
he hunts and slays with his needle teeth--Nature's scourge sent out
among her too prolific small rodents; her little blood-letter who
relieves her and restores the balance. And therefore he, too, with his
flat serpent head and fiery killing soul, is a "dear" creature, being,
like the poet's web-footed beasts of an earlier epoch, "part of a
general plan."

The most abundant of the small furred creatures were the two
short-tailed voles--field-vole and bank-vole; the last, in his bright
chestnut-red, the prettiest. Whenever I sat down for a few minutes in
the porch I would see one or more run across the stones from one side,
where masses of periwinkle grew against the house, to the other side,
where Virginia creeper, rose, and an old magnolia tree covered the
wall. One day at the back of the house by the scullery door I noticed
a swaying movement in a tall seeded stem of dock, and looking down
spied a wee harvest-mouse running and climbing nimbly on the slender
branchlets, feeding daintily on the seed, and looking like a miniature
squirrel on a miniature bush.

Just there, close to the door, was a wood-pile, and the hornets had
made their nest in it. The year before they had made it in a loft in
the house, and before that in the old barn. The splendid insects were
coming and going all day, interfering with nobody and nobody
interfering with them; and when I put a plate of honey for them on the
logs close to their entrance they took no notice of it; but by-and-by
bank-voles and wood-mice came stealing out from among the logs and fed
on it until it was all gone.

I was surprised, and could only suppose that the hornets did not
notice or discover the honey, because no such good thing was looked
for so close to their door. Away from home the hornet was quick to
discover anything sweet to the taste, and very ready to resent the
presence of any other creature at the table.

At the riverside, a few hundred yards from the house, I was sitting in
the shade of a large elm tree one day when I was visited by a big
hornet, who swept noisily down and settled on the trunk, four or five
feet above the ground. A quantity of sap had oozed out into a deep
cleft of the rough bark and had congealed there, and the hornet had
discovered it. Before he had been long feeding on it I saw a little
bank-vole come out from the roots of the tree and run up the trunk,
looking very pretty in his bright chestnut fur as he came into the
sunlight. Stealing up to the lower end of the cleft full of thickened
sap he too began feeding on it. The hornet, who was at the upper end
of the cleft, quite four inches apart from the vole, at once stopped
eating and regarded the intruder for some time, then advanced towards
him in a threatening attitude. The vole was frightened at this,
starting and erecting his hair, and once or twice he tried to recover
his courage and resume his feeding, but the hornet still keeping up
his hostile movements, he eventually slipped quietly down and hid
himself at the roots. When the hornet departed he came out again and
went to the sap.

Wishing to see more, I spent most of that day and the day following at
the spot, and saw hornet and vole meet many times. If the vole was at
the sap when the hornet came he was at once driven off, and when the
hornet was there first the vole was never allowed to feed, although on
every occasion he tried to do so, stealing to his lower place in the
gentlest way in order not to give offence, and after beginning to feed
affecting not to see that the other had left off eating, and with
raised head was regarding him with jealous eyes.

Rarely have I looked on a prettier little comedy in wild life.

But to return to the house. There was quite a happy family at that
spot by the back door where the hornets were. A numerous family of
shrews were reared, and the young, when they began exploring the
world, used to creep over the white stone by the threshold. The girls
would pick them up to feel their soft mole-like fur: the young shrew
is a gentle creature and does not attempt to bite. Some of the more
adventurous ones were always blundering into the empty flower-pots
heaped against the wall, and there they would remain imprisoned until
some person found and took them out.

One morning, at half-past four o'clock, when I was lying awake
listening to the blackbird, a lively squirrel came dancing into the
open window of my bedroom on the first floor. There were writing
materials, flowers in glasses, and other objects on the ledge and
dressing-table there, and he frisked about among them, chattering,
wildly excited at seeing so many curious and pretty things, but he
upset nothing; and by-and-by he danced out again into the ivy covering
the wall on that side, throwing the colony of breeding sparrows into a
great state of consternation.

The river was quite near the house--not half a minute from the front
door, though hidden from sight by the trees on its banks. Here, at the
nearest point, there was an old half-dead dwarf oak growing by the
water and extending one horizontal branch a distance of twenty feet
over the stream. This was the favourite drumming-tree of a green
woodpecker, and at intervals through the day he would visit it and
drum half-a-dozen times or so. This drumming sounded so loud that,
following the valley down, I measured the distance it could be heard
and found it just one-third of a mile. At that distance I could hear
it distinctly; farther on, not at all. It seemed almost incredible
that the sound produced by so small a stick as a woodpecker's beak
striking a tree should be audible at that distance.

It is hardly to be doubted that the drumming is used as a love-call,
though it is often heard in late summer. It is, however, in early
spring and in the breeding season that it is oftenest heard, and I
have found that a good imitation of it will sometimes greatly excite
the bird. The same bird may be heard drumming here, there, and
everywhere in a wood or copse, the sound varying somewhat in character
and strength according to the wood; but each bird as a rule has a
favourite drumming-tree, and it probably angers him to hear another
bird at the spot. On one occasion, finding that a very large, old, and
apparently dying cedar in a wood was constantly used by a woodpecker,
I went to the spot and imitated the sound. Very soon the bird came and
began drumming against me, close by. I responded, and again he
drummed; and becoming more and more excited he flew close to me, and
passing from tree to tree drummed at every spot he lighted on.

The other species have the same habit of drumming on one tree. I have
noticed it in the small spotted, or banded, woodpecker; and have
observed that invariably after he had drummed two or three times the
female has come flying to him from some other part of the wood, and
the two birds have then both together uttered their loud chirping
notes and flown away.

On revisiting the spot a year after I had heard the green woodpecker
drumming every day in the oak by the river, I found that he had
forsaken it, and that close by, on the other side of the stream, a
great spotted woodpecker had selected as his drumming-tree a very big
elm growing on the bank. He drummed on a large dead branch about forty
feet from the ground, and the sound he made was quite as loud as that
of the green bird. It may be that the two big woodpeckers, who play
equally well on the same instrument, are intolerant of one another's
presence, and that in this case the spotted bird had driven the larger
yaffle from his territory.

One of the prettiest spots by the water was that very one where the
spotted bird was accustomed to come, and I often went there at noon
and sat for an hour on the grassy bank in the shade of the
drumming-tree. The river was but thirty to forty feet wide at that
spot, with masses of water forget-me-not growing on the opposite bank,
clearly reflected in the sherry-coloured sunlit current below. The
trees were mostly oaks, in the young vivid green of early June
foliage. And one day when the sky, seen through that fresh foliage,
was without a stain of vapour in its pure azure, when the wood was
full of clear sunlight--so clear that silken spider webs, thirty or
forty feet high in the oaks, were visible as shining red and blue and
purple lines--the bird, after drumming high above my head, flew to an
oak tree just before me, and clinging vertically to the bark on the
high part of the trunk, remained there motionless for some time. His
statuesque attitude, as he sat with his head thrown well back, the
light glinting on his hard polished feathers, black and white and
crimson, the setting in which he appeared of greenest translucent
leaves and hoary bark and open sunlit space, all together made him
seem not only our handsomest woodpecker, but our most beautiful bird.
I had seen him at his best, and sitting there motionless amid the
wind-fluttered leaves, he was like a bird-figure carved from some
beautiful vari-coloured stone.

The most interesting events in animal life observed at this spot
relate to the cuckoo in the spring of 1900. Some time before this Dr.
Alfred Russel Wallace said, in the course of a talk we had, that he
very much wanted me to find out exactly what happened in a nest in
which a young cuckoo was hatched. It was, I replied, an old, old
story--what could I see, supposing I was lucky enough to find a nest
where I could observe it properly, more than Jenner, Hancock, Mrs.
Hugh Blackburn, and perhaps other writers, had told us? Yes, it was an
old story, he said, and he wanted it told again by some one else.
People had lately been discrediting Jenner's account, and as to the
other chief authority I had named, one writer, a Dr. Creighton, had
said, "As for artists like Mrs. Blackburn, they can draw what they
please--all out of their own brains: we can't trust them, or such as
them." Sober-minded naturalists had come to regard the habit and
abnormal strength attributed to the newly-hatched cuckoo as "not
proven" or quite incredible; thus Seebohm had said, "One feels
inclined to class these narratives with the equally well-authenticated
stories of ghosts and other apparitions which abound."

Since my conversation with Dr. Wallace we have had more of these
strange narratives--the fables and ghost stories which the unbelievers
are compelled in the end to accept and all that Dr. Jenner or his
assistant saw others have seen, and some observers have even taken
snapshots of the young cuckoo in the act of ejecting his
fellow-nestling. But it appears from all the accounts which I have so
far read, that in every case the observer was impatient and interfered
in the business by touching and irritating the young cuckoo, by
putting eggs and other objects on his back, and making other
experiments. In the instance I am about to give there was no
interference by me or by the others who at intervals watched with me.

A robin's nest with three robin's eggs and one of the cuckoo was found
in a low bank at the side of the small orchard on May 19, 1900. The
bird was incubating, and on the afternoon of May 27 the cuckoo hatched
out. Unfortunately I did not know how long incubation had been going
on before the 19th, but from the fact that the cuckoo was first out,
it seems probable that the parasite has this further advantage of
coming first from the shell. Long ago I found that this was so in the
case of the parasitical Troupials of the genus Molothrus in South
America.

I kept a close watch on the nest for the rest of that afternoon and
the whole of the following day (the 28th), during which the young
cuckoo was lying in the bottom of the nest, helpless as a piece of
jelly with a little life in it, and with just strength enough in his
neck to lift his head and open his mouth; and then, after a second or
two, the wavering head would drop again. At eight o'clock next morning
(29th), I found that one robin had come out of the shell, and one egg
had been ejected and was lying a few inches below the nest on the
sloping bank. Yet the young cuckoo still appeared a weak, helpless,
jelly-like creature, as on the previous day. But he had increased
greatly in size. I believe that in forty-eight hours from the time of
hatching he had quite doubled his bulk, and had grown darker, his
naked skin being of a bluish-black colour. The robin, thirty or more
hours younger, was little more than half his size, and had a pale,
pinkish-yellow skin, thinly clothed with a long black down. The cuckoo
occupied the middle of the deep, cup-shaped nest, and his broad back,
hollow in the middle, formed a sort of false bottom; but there was a
small space between the bird's sides and the nest, and in this space
or interstice the one unhatched egg that still remained and the young
robin were lying.

During this day (29th) I observed that the pressure of the egg and
young robin against his sides irritated the cuckoo: he was continually
moving, jerking and wriggling his lumpish body this way and that, as
if to get away from the contact. At intervals this irritation would
reach its culminating point, and a series of mechanical movements
would begin, all working blindly but as surely towards the end as if
some devilish intelligence animated the seemingly helpless infant
parasite.

Of the two objects in the nest the unhatched egg irritated him the
most. The young robin was soft, it yielded when pressed, and could be
made somehow to fit into the interstice; but the hard, round shell,
pressing against him like a pebble, was torture to him, and at
intervals became unendurable. Then would come that magical change in
him, when he seemed all at once to become possessed of a preternatural
power and intelligence, and then the blind struggle down in the nest
would begin. And after each struggle--each round it might be
called--the cuckoo would fall back again and lie in a state of
collapse, as if the mysterious virtue had gone out of him. But in a
very short time the pressure on his side would again begin to annoy
him, then to torment him, and at last he would be wrought up to a
fresh effort. Thus in a space of eight minutes I saw him struggle four
separate times, with a period of collapse after each, to get rid of
the robin's egg; and each struggle involved a long series of movements
on his part. On each of these occasions the egg was pushed or carried
up to the wrong or upper side of the nest, with the result that when
the bird jerked the egg from him it rolled back into the bottom of the
nest. The statement is therefore erroneous that the cuckoo knows at
which side to throw the egg out. Of course he knows nothing, and, as a
fact, he tries to throw the egg up as often as down the slope.

The process in each case was as follows:--The pressure of the egg
against the cuckoo's side, as I have said, was a constant irritation;
but the irritability varied in degree in different parts of the body.
On the under parts it scarcely existed; its seat was chiefly on the
upper surface, beginning at the sides and increasing towards the
centre, and was greatest in the hollow of the back. When, in moving,
the egg got pushed up to the upper edge of his side, he would begin to
fidget more and more, and this would cause it to move round, and so to
increase the irritation by touching and pressing against other parts.
When all the bird's efforts to get away from the object had only made
matters worse, he would cease wriggling and squat down lower and lower
in the bottom of the nest, and the egg, forced up, would finally roll
right into the cavity in his back--the most irritable part of all.
Whenever this occurred, a sudden change that was like a fit would
seize the bird; he would stiffen, rise in the nest, his flabby muscles
made rigid, and stand erect, his back in a horizontal position, the
head hanging down, the little naked wings held up over the back. In
that position he looked an ugly, lumpish negro mannikin, standing on
thinnest dwarf legs, his back bent, and elbows stuck up above the
hollow flat back.

Once up on his small stiffened legs he would move backwards, firmly
grasping the hairs and hair-like fibres of the nest-lining, and never
swerving, until the rim of the cup-like structure was reached; and
then standing, with feet sometimes below and in some cases on the rim,
he would jerk his body, throwing the egg off or causing it to roll
off. After that he would fall back into the nest and lie quite
exhausted for some time, his jelly-like body rising and falling with
his breathing.

These changes in the bird strongly reminded me of a person with an
epileptic fit, as I had been accustomed to see it on the pampas,
where, among the gauchos, epilepsy is one of the commonest
maladies;--the sudden rigidity of muscle in some weak, sickly,
flabby-looking person, the powerful grip of the hand, the strength in
struggling, exceeding that of a man in perfect health, and finally,
when this state is over, the weakness of complete exhaustion.

I witnessed several struggles with the egg, but at last, in spite of
my watchfulness, I did not see it ejected. On returning after a very
short absence, I found the egg had been thrown out and had rolled down
the bank, a distance of fourteen inches from the nest.

The young cuckoo appeared to rest more quietly in the nest now, but
after a couple of hours the old fidgeting began again, and increased
until he was in the same restless state as before. The rapid growth of
the birds made the position more and more miserable for the cuckoo,
since the robin, thrust against the side of the nest, would throw his
head and neck across the cuckoo's back, and he could not endure being
touched there. And now a fresh succession of struggles began, the
whole process being just the same as when the egg was struggled with.
But it was not so easy with the young bird, not because of its greater
weight, but because it did not roll like the egg and settle in the
middle of the back; it would fall partly on to the cuckoo's back and
then slip off into the nest again. But success came at last, after
many failures. The robin was lying partly across the cuckoo's neck,
when, in moving its head, its little curved beak came down and rested
on the very centre of that irritable hollow in the back of its
foster-brother. Instantly the cuckoo pressed down into the nest,
shrinking away as if hot needles had pricked him, as far as possible
from the side where the robin was lying against him, and this movement
of course brought the robin more and more over him, until he was
thrown right upon the cuckoo's back.

Instantly the rigid fit came on, and up rose the cuckoo, as if the
robin weighed no more than a feather on him; and away backwards he
went, right up the nest, without a pause, and standing actually on the
rim, jerked his body, causing the robin to fall off, clean away from
the nest. It fell, in fact, on to a large dock leaf five inches below
the rim of the nest, and rested there.

After getting rid of his burden the cuckoo continued in the same
position, perfectly rigid, for a space of five or six seconds, during
which it again and again violently jerked its body, as if it had the
feeling of the burden on it still. Then, the fit over, it fell back,
exhausted as usual.

I had been singularly fortunate in witnessing the last scene and
conclusion of this little bloodless tragedy in a bird's nest, with
callow nestlings for _dramatis personae_, this innocent crime and
wrong, which is not a wrong since the cuckoo doesn't think it one. It
is a little curious to reflect that a similar act takes place annually
in tens of thousands of small birds' nests all over the country, and
that it is so rarely witnessed.

Marvellous as the power of the young cuckoo is when the fit is on him,
it is of course limited, and when watching his actions I concluded
that it would be impossible for him to eject eggs and nestlings from
any thrush's nest. The blackbird's would be too deep, and as to the
throstle's, he could not move backwards up the sides of the cup-like
cavity on account of the smooth plastered surface.

After having seen the young robin cast out I still refrained from
touching the nest, as there were yet other things to observe. One was
the presence, very close to the nest, of the ejected nestling what
would the parents do in the case? Before dealing with that matter I
shall conclude the history of the young cuckoo.

Having got the nest to himself he rested very quietly, and it was not
till the following day (July 1st) that I allowed myself to touch him.
He was, I found, still irritable, and when I put back the eggs he had
thrown out he was again miserable in the nest, and the struggle with
the eggs was renewed until he got rid of them as before. The next day
the irritability had almost gone, and in the afternoon he suffered an
egg or a pebble to remain in the nest with him without jerking and
wriggling about, and he made no further attempt to eject it. This
observation--the loss of irritability on the fifth day after
hatching--agrees with that of Mr. Craig, whose account was printed in
the _Feathered World_, July 14, 1899.

The young cuckoo grew rapidly and soon trod his nest into a broad
platform, on which he reposed, a conspicuous object in the scanty
herbage on the bank. We often visited and fed him, when he would puff
up his plumage and strike savagely at our hands, but at the same time
he would always gobble down the food we offered. In seventeen days
after being hatched he left the nest and took up his position in an
oak tree growing on the bank, and there the robins continued feeding
him for the next three days, after which we saw no more of him.

I may add that in May 1901 a pair of robins built on the bank close to
where the nest had been made the previous year, and that in this nest
a cuckoo was also reared. The bird, when first seen, was apparently
about four or five days old, and it had the nest to itself. Three
ejected robin's eggs were lying on the bank a little lower down.

It is hardly to be doubted that the robins were the same birds that
had reared the cuckoo in the previous season; and it is highly
probable that the same cuckoo had returned to place her egg in their
nest.

The end of the little history--the fate of the ejected nestling and
the attitude of the parent robins--remains to be told. When the young
cuckoo throws out the nestlings from nests in trees, hedges, bushes,
and reeds, the victims, as a rule, fall some distance to the ground,
or in the water, and are no more seen by the old birds. Here the young
robin, when ejected, fell a distance of but five or six inches, and
rested on a broad, bright green leaf, where it was an exceedingly
conspicuous object; and when the mother robin was on the nest--and at
this stage she was on it a greater part of the time--warming that
black-skinned, toad-like, spurious babe of hers, her bright,
intelligent eyes were looking full at the other one, just beneath her,
which she had grown in her body and had hatched with her warmth, and
was her very own. I watched her for hours; watched her when warming
the cuckoo, when she left the nest and when she returned with food,
and warmed it again, and never once did she pay the least attention to
the outcast lying there so close to her. There, on its green leaf, it
remained, growing colder by degrees, hour by hour, motionless, except
when it lifted its head as if to receive food, then dropped it again,
and when, at intervals, it twitched its body as if trying to move.
During the evening even these slight motions ceased, though that
feeblest flame of life was not yet extinguished; but in the morning it
was dead and cold and stiff; and just above it, her bright eyes on it,
the mother robin sat on the nest as before, warming her cuckoo.

How amazing and almost incredible it seems that a being such as a
robin, intelligent above most birds as we are apt to think, should
prove in this instance to be a mere automaton! The case would, I
think, have been different if the ejected one had made a sound, since
there is nothing which more excites the parent bird, or which is more
instantly responded to, than the cry of hunger or distress of the
young. But at this early stage the nestling is voiceless--another
point in favour of the parasite. The sight of its young, we see,
slowly and dumbly dying, touches no chord in the parent: there is, in
fact, no recognition; once out of the nest it is no more than a
coloured leaf, or a bird-shaped pebble, or fragment of clay.

It happened that my young fellow-watchers, seeing that the ejected
robin if left there would inevitably perish, proposed to take it in to
feed and rear it--to _save_ it, as they said; but I advised them not
to attempt such a thing, but rather to _spare_ the bird. To spare it
the misery they would inflict on it by attempting to fill its parents'
place. They had, so far, never kept a caged bird, nor a pet bird, and
had no desire to keep one; all they desired to do in this case was to
save the little outcast from death--to rear it till it was able to fly
away and take care of itself. That was a difficult, a well-nigh
impossible task. The bird, at this early stage, required to be fed at
short intervals for about sixteen hours each day on a peculiar kind of
food, suited to its delicate stomach--chiefly small caterpillars found
in the herbage; and it also needed a sufficient amount by day and
night of that animal warmth which only the parent bird could properly
supply. They, not being robins, would give it unsuitable food, feed it
at improper times, and not keep it at the right temperature, with the
almost certain result that after lingering a few days it would die in
their hands. But if by giving a great deal of time and much care they
should succeed in rearing it, their foundling would start his
independent life so handicapped, weakened in constitution by an indoor
artificial bringing up, without the training which all young birds
receive from their parents after quitting the nest, that it would be
impossible for him to save himself. If by chance he should survive
until August, he would then be set upon and killed by one of the adult
robins already in possession of the ground. Now, when a bird at
maturity perishes, it suffers in dying sometimes very acutely; but if
left to grow cold and fade out of life at this stage it can hardly be
said to suffer. It is no more conscious than a chick in the shell;
take from it the warmth that keeps it in being, and it drops back into
nothingness without knowing and, we may say, without feeling anything.
There may indeed be an incipient consciousness in that small, soft
brain in its early vegetative stage, a first faint glimmer of a bright
light to be, and a slight sensation of numbness may be actually felt
as the body grows cold, but that would be all.

Pain is so common in the world; and, owing to the softness and
sensitiveness induced in us by an indoor artificial life since that
softness of our bodies reacts on our minds we have come to a false or
an exaggerated idea of its importance, its _painfulness_, to put it
that way; and we should therefore be but making matters worse, or
rather making ourselves more miserable, by looking for and finding it
where it does not exist.

The power to feel pain in any great degree comes into the bird's life
after this transitional period, and is greatest at maturity, when
consciousness and all the mental faculties are fully developed,
particularly the passion of fear, which plays continually on the
strings of the wild creature's heart with an ever varying touch,
producing the feeling in all degrees from the slight disquiet, which
is no sooner come than gone, to extremities of agonising terror. It
would perhaps have a wholesome effect on their young minds, and save
them from grieving overmuch at the death of a newly-hatched robin, if
they would consider this fact of the pain that is and must be. Not the
whole subject--the fact that as things are designed in this world of
sentient life there can be no good, no sweetness or pleasure in life,
nor peace and contentment and safety, nor happiness and joy, nor any
beauty or strength or lustre, nor any bright and shining quality of
body or mind, without pain, which is not an accident nor an incident,
nor something ancillary to life, but is involved in and a part of
life, of its very colour and texture. That would be too long to speak
about; all I meant was to consider that small part of the fact, the
necessary pain to and destruction of the bird life around them and in
the country generally.

Here, for instance, without going farther than a hundred yards from
the house in any direction, they could put their hands in nests in
trees and bushes, and on the ground, and in the ivy, and in the old
outhouses, and handle and count about one hundred and thirty young
birds not yet able to fly. Probably more than twice that number would
be successfully reared during the season. How many, then, would be
reared in the whole parish! How many in the entire New Forest
district, in the whole county of Hampshire, in the entire kingdom! Yet
when summer came round again they would find no more birds than they
had now. And so it would be in all places; all that incalculable
increase would have perished. Many millions would be devoured by
rapacious birds and beasts; millions more would perish of hunger and
cold; millions of migrants would fall by the way, some in the sea and
some on land; those that returned from distant regions would be but a
remnant, and the residents that survived through the winter, these,
too, would be nothing but a remnant. It is not only that this
inconceivable amount of bird life must be destroyed each year, but we
cannot suppose that death is not a painful process. In a vast majority
of cases, whether the bird slowly perishes of hunger and weakness, or
is pursued and captured by birds and beasts of prey, or is driven by
cold adverse winds and storms into the waves, the pain, the agony must
be great. The least painful death is undoubtedly that of the bird
that, weakened by want of sustenance, dies by night of cold in severe
weather. It is indeed most like the death of the nestling, but a few
hours out of the shell, which has been thrown out of the nest, and
which soon grows cold, and dozes its feeble, unconscious life away.

We may say, then, that of all the thousand forms of death which Nature
has invented to keep her too rapidly multiplying creatures within
bounds, that which is brought about by the singular instinct of the
young cuckoo in the nest is the most merciful or the least painful.

I am not sure that I said all this, or marshalled fact and argument in
the precise order in which they are here set down. I fancy not, as it
seems more than could well have been spoken while we were standing
there in the late evening sunlight by that primrose bank, looking down
on the little flesh-coloured mite in its scant clothing of black down,
fading out of life on its cold green leaf. But what was said did not
fail of its effect, so that my young tender-hearted hearers, who had
begun to listen with moist eyes, secretly accusing me perhaps of want
of feeling, were content in the end to let it be--to go away and leave
it to its fate in that mysterious green world we, too, live in and do
not understand, in which life and death and pleasure and pain are
inter-woven light and shade.



CHAPTER II

Between the Boldre and the Exe--Abuse of the New Forest--Character of
the population--New Forest code and conscience--A radical change
foreshadowed--Tenacity of the Forest fly--Oak woods of
Beaulieu--Swallow and pike--Charm of Beaulieu--Instinctive love of
open spaces--A fragrant
heath--Nightjars--Snipe--Redshanks--Peewits--Cause of sympathy with
animals--Grasshopper and spider--A rapacious fly--Melancholy
moods--Evening on the heath--"World-strangeness"--Pixie mounds--Death
and burial--The dead in the barrows--The dead and the living.

BETWEEN the Boldre and the Exe, or Beaulieu river, there is a stretch
of country in most part flat and featureless. It is one of those parts
of the Forest which have a bare and desolate aspect; here in places
you can go a mile and not find a tree or bush, where nothing grows but
a starved-looking heath, scarcely ankle-deep. Wild life in such places
is represented by a few meadow pipits and small lizards. There is no
doubt that this barrenness and naked appearance is the result of the
perpetual cutting of heath and gorse, and the removal of the thin
surface soil for fuel.

Those who do not know the New Forest, or know it only as a collecting
or happy hunting-ground of eggers and "lepidopterists," or as artists
in search of paintable woodland scenery know it, and others who make
it a summer holiday resort, may say that this abuse is one which might
and should be remedied. They would be mistaken. What I and a few
others who use their senses see and hear in this or that spot, is, in
every case, a very small matter, a visible but an infinitesimal part
of that abuse of the New Forest which is old and chronic, and operates
always, and is common to the whole area, and, as things are,
irremediable. To discover and denounce certain things which ought not
to be, to rail against Verderers, who are after all what they cannot
help being, is about as profitable as it would be to "damn the nature
of things."

It must be borne in mind that the Forest area has a considerable
population composed of commoners, squatters, private owners, who have
inherited or purchased lands originally filched from the Forest; and
of a large number of persons who reside mostly in the villages, and
are private residents, publicans, shopkeepers, and lodging-house
keepers. All these people have one object in common--to get as much as
they can out of the Forest. It is true that a large proportion of
them, especially those who live in the villages, which are now rapidly
increasing their populations, are supposed not to have any Forest
rights; but they do as a fact get something out of it; and we may say
that, generally, all the people in the Forest dine at one table, and
all get a helping out of most of the dishes going, though the first
and biggest helpings are for the favoured guests.

Those who have inherited rights have indeed come to look on the Forest
as in a sense their property. What is given or handed over to them is
not in their view their proper share: they take this openly, and get
the balance the best way they can--in the dark generally. It is not
dishonest to help yourself to what belongs to you; and they must live
must have their whack. They have, in fact, their own moral code, their
New Forest conscience, just as other men--miners, labourers on the
land, tradesmen, gamekeepers, members of the Stock Exchange, for
instance--have each their corporate code and conscience. It may not be
the general or the ideal or speculative conscience, but it is what may
be called their working conscience. One proof that much goes on in the
dark, or that much is winked at, is the paucity of all wild life which
is worth any man's while to take in a district where pretty well
everything is protected on paper. Game, furred and feathered, would
not exist at all but for the private estates scattered through the
Forest, in which game is preserved, and from which the depleted Forest
lands are constantly being restocked. Again, in all this most
favourable country no rare or beautiful species may be found: it would
be safer for the hobby, the golden oriole, the hoopoe, the harrier, to
nest in a metropolitan park than in the loneliest wood between the
Avon and Southampton Water. To introduce any new species, from the
biggest--the capercailzie and the great bustard--to the smallest
quail, or any small passerine bird with a spot of brilliant colour on
its plumage, would be impossible.

The New Forest people are, in fact, just what circumstances have made
them. Like all organised beings, they are the creatures of, and
subject to, the conditions they exist in; and they cannot be other
than they are--namely, parasites on the Forest. And, what is more,
they cannot be educated, or preached, or worried out of their
ingrained parasitical habits and ways of thought. They have had
centuries--long centuries--of practice to make them cunning, and the
effect of more stringent regulations than those now in use would only
be to polish and put a better edge on that weapon which Nature has
given them to fight with.

This being the conclusion, namely, that "things are what they are, and
the consequences of them will be what they will be," some of my
readers, especially those in the New Forest, may ask, Why, then, say
anything about it? why not follow the others who have written books
and books and books about the New Forest, books big and books little,
from Wise, his classic, and the Victoria History, down to the long row
of little rosy guide-books? They saw nothing of all this; or if they
saw unpleasant things they thought it better to hold their tongues, or
pens, than to make people uncomfortable.

I confess it would be a mistake, a mere waste of words, to bring these
hidden things to light if it could be believed that the New Forest, in
its condition and management, will continue for any length of time to
be what it is and has been--just that and nothing more. A district in
England, it is true, but out of the way, remote, a spot to be visited
once or twice in a lifetime just to look at the scenery, like Lundy or
the Scilly Isles or the Orkneys. But it cannot be believed. The place
itself, its curious tangle of ownership; government by and rights of
the crown, of private owners, commoners, and the public, is what it
has always been; but many persons have now come to think and to
believe that the time is approaching when there will be a
disentanglement and a change.

The Forest has been known and loved by a limited number of persons
always; the general public have only discovered it in recent years.
For one visitor twenty years ago there are scores, probably hundreds,
to-day. And year by year, as motoring becomes more common, and as
cycling from being general grows, as it will, to be universal, the
flow of visitors to the Forest will go on at an ever-increasing rate,
and the hundreds of to-day will be thousands in five years' time. With
these modern means of locomotion, there is no more attractive spot
than this hundred and fifty square miles of level country which
contains the most beautiful forest scenery in England. And as it grows
in favour in all the country as a place of recreation and refreshment,
the subject of its condition and management, and the ways of its
inhabitants, will receive an increased attention. The desire will grow
that it shall not be spoilt, either by the authorities or the
residents, that it shall not be turned into townships and plantations,
nor be starved, nor its wild life left to be taken and destroyed by
any one and every one. It will be seen that the "rights" I have spoken
of, with the unwritten laws and customs which are kept more or less in
the dark, are in conflict with the better and infinitely more
important rights of the people generally--of the whole nation. Once
all this becomes common knowledge, that which some now regard as a
mere dream, a faint hope, something too remote for us to concern
ourselves about, will all at once appear to us as a practical object
something to be won by fighting, and certainly worth fighting for.

It may be said at once, and I fancy that any one who knows the inner
life of the Forest people will agree with me, that so long as these
are in possession (and here all private owners are included) there can
be no great change, no permanent improvement made in the Forest. That
is the difficulty, but it is not an insuperable one. Public opinion,
and the desire of the people for anything, is a considerable force
to-day; so that, inspired by it, the most timid and conservative
governments are apt all at once to acquire an extraordinary courage.
Sustained by that outside force, the most tender-hearted and sensitive
Prime Minister would not in the least mind if some persons were to dub
him a second and worse William the Bastard.

The people in this district have a curious experiment to show the
wonderful power of the Forest fly in retaining its grasp. A man takes
the fly between his finger and thumb, and with the other hand holds a
single hair of a cow or horse for it to seize, then gently pulls hair
and fly apart. The fly does not release his hold--he splits the hair,
or at any rate shaves a piece off right down to the fine end with his
sharp, grasping claw. Doubtless the human parasite will, when his time
comes, show an equal tenacity; he will embrace the biggest and oldest
oak he knows, and to pluck him from his beloved soil it will be
necessary to pull up the tree by its roots. But this is a detail, and
may be left to the engineers.

Beyond that starved, melancholy wilderness, the sight of which has led
me into so long a digression, one comes to a point which overlooks the
valley of the Exe; and here one pauses long before going down to the
half-hidden village by the river. Especially if it is in May or June,
when the oak is in its "glad light grene," for that is the most vivid
and beautiful of all vegetable greens, and the prospect is the
greenest and most soul-refreshing to be found in England. The valley
is all wooded and the wood is all oak--a continuous oakwood stretching
away on the right, mile on mile, to the sea. The sensation experienced
at the sight of this prospect is like that of the traveller in a dry
desert when he comes to a clear running stream and drinks his fill of
water and is refreshed. The river is tidal, and at the full of the
tide in its widest part beside the village its appearance is of a
small inland lake, grown round with oaks--old trees that stretch their
horizontal branches far out and wet their lower leaves in the salt
water. The village itself that has this setting, with its ancient
water-mill, its palace of the Montagus, and the Abbey of Beaulieu, a
grey ivied ruin, has a distinction above all Hampshire villages, and
is unlike all others in its austere beauty and atmosphere of old-world
seclusion and quietude. Above all, is that quality which the mind
imparts--the expression due to romantic historical associations.

One very still, warm summer afternoon I stood on the margin, looking
across the sheet of glassy water at a heron on the farther side,
standing knee-deep in the shallow water patiently watching for a fish,
his grey figure showing distinctly against a background of bright
green sedges. Between me and the heron scores of swallows and martins
were hawking for flies, gliding hither and thither a little above the
glassy surface, and occasionally dropping down to dip and wet their
under plumage in the water. And all at once, fifty yards out from the
margin, there was a great splash, as if a big stone had been flung out
into the lake; and then two or three moments later out from the
falling spray and rocking water rose a swallow, struggling laboriously
up, its plumage drenched, and flew slowly away. A big pike had dashed
at and tried to seize it at the moment of dipping in the water, and
the swallow had escaped as by a miracle. I turned round to see if any
person was near, who might by chance have witnessed so strange a
thing, in order to speak to him about it. There was no person within
sight, but if on turning round my eyes had encountered the form of a
Cistercian monk, returning from his day's labour in the fields, in his
dirty black-and-white robe, his implements on his shoulders, his face
and hands begrimed with dust and sweat, the apparition on that day, in
the mood I was in, would not have greatly surprised me.

The atmosphere, the expression of the past may so attune the mind as
almost to produce the illusion that the past is now.

But more than old memories, great as their power over the mind is at
certain impressible moments, and more than Beaulieu as a place where
men dwell, is that ineffable freshness of nature, that verdure that
like the sunlight and the warmth of the sun penetrates to the inmost
being. Here I have remembered the old ornithologist Willughby's
suggestion, which no longer seemed fantastic, that the furred and
feathered creatures inhabiting arctic regions have grown white by
force of imagination and the constant intuition of snow. And here too
I have recalled that modern fancy that the soul in man has its proper
shape and colour, and have thought that if I came hither with a grey
or blue or orange or brown soul, its colour had now changed to green.
The pleasure of it has detained me long days in spring, often straying
by the river at its full, among the broadly-branching oaks, delighting
my sight with the new leaves

    against the sun shene,
    Some very red, and some a glad light grene.

Yet these same oak woods, great as their charm is, their green
everlasting gladness, have a less enduring hold on the spirit than the
open heath, though this may look melancholy and almost desolate on
coming to it from those sunlit emerald glades with a green thought in
the soul. It seems enough that it is open, where the wind blows free,
and there is nothing between us and the sun. It is a passion, an old
ineradicable instinct in us: the strongest impulse in children, savage
or civilised, is to go out into some open place. If a man be capable
of an exalted mood, of a sense of absolute freedom, so that he is no
longer flesh and spirit but both in one, and one with nature, it comes
to him like some miraculous gift on a hill or down or wide open heath.
"You never enjoy the earth aright," wrote Thomas Traherne in his
_Divine Raptures_, "until the sun itself floweth through your veins,
till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars, and
perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world."

It may be observed that we must be out and well away from the woods
and have a wide horizon all around in order to feel the sun flowing
through us. Many of us have experienced these "divine raptures," this
sublimated state of feeling; and such moments are perhaps the best in
our earthly lives; but it is mainly the Trahernes, the Silurist
Vaughans, the Newmans, the Frederic Myers, the Coventry Patmores, the
Wordsworths, that speak of them, since such moods best fit, or can be
made to fit in with their philosophy, or mysticism, and are, to them,
its best justification.

This wide heath, east of Beaulieu, stretching miles away towards
Southampton Water, looks level to the eye. But it is not so; it is
grooved with long valley-like depressions with marshy or boggy
bottoms, all draining into small tributaries of the Dark Water, which
flows into the Solent near Lepe. In these bottoms and in all the wet
places the heather and furze mixes with or gives place to the bog
myrtle, or golden withy; and on the spongiest spots the fragrant
yellow stars of the bog asphodel are common in June. These spots are
exceedingly rich in colour, with greys and emerald greens and orange
yellows of moss and lichen, flecked with the snow-white of
cotton-grass.

Here, then, besides that cause of contentment which we find in
openness, there is fragrance in fuller measure than in most places.
One may wade through acres of myrtle, until that subtle delightful
odour is in one's skin and clothes, and in the air one breathes, and
seems at last to penetrate and saturate the whole being, and smell
seems to be for a time the most important of the senses.

Among the interesting birds that breed on the heath, the nightjar is
one of the commonest. A keen naturalist, Mr. E. A. Bankes, who lived
close by, told me that he had marked the spot where he had found a
pair of young birds, and that each time he rode over the heath he had
a look at them, and as they remained there until able to fly, he
concluded that it is not true that the parent birds remove the young
when the nest has been discovered.

I was not convinced, as it did not appear that he had handled the
young birds: he had only looked at them while sitting on his horse.
The following summer I found a pair of young not far from the same
spot: they were half-fledged and very active, running into the heath
and trying to hide from me, but I caught and handled them for some
minutes, the parent bird remaining near, uttering her cries. I marked
the spot and went back next day, only to find that the birds had
vanished.

The snipe, too, is an annual breeder, and from what I saw of it on the
heath I think we have yet something to learn concerning the breeding
habits of that much-observed bird. The parent bird is not so wise as
most mothers in the feathered world, since her startling cry of alarm,
sounding in a small way like the snort of a frightened horse, will
attract a person to the spot where she is sheltering her young among
the myrtle. She will repeat the cry at intervals a dozen times without
stirring or attempting to conceal the young. But she does not always
act in the same way. Sometimes she has risen to a great height and
begun circling above me, the circles growing smaller or larger as I
came nearer or went farther from the spot where the young were
lurking.

It was until recently a moot question as to whether or not the female
snipe made the drumming or bleating sound; some of the authorities say
that this sound proceeds only from the male bird. I have no doubt that
both birds make the sound. Invariably when I disturbed a snipe with
young, and when she mounted high in the air, to wheel round and round,
uttering her anxious cries, she dashed downwards at intervals, and
produced the bleating or drumming which the male birds emit when
playing about the sky.

In all cases where I have found young snipe there was but one old
bird, the female, no doubt. In some instances I have spent an hour
with the young birds by me, or in my hands, waiting for the other
parent to appear; and I am almost convinced that the care of the young
falls wholely on the female.

The redshank, that graceful bird with a beautiful voice, breeds here
in most years, and is in a perpetual state of anxiety so long as a
human figure remains in sight. A little while ago the small
vari-coloured stonechat or fuzz-jack, with red breast, black head and
white collar, sitting upright and motionless, like a painted image of
a bird, on the topmast spray of a furze bush, then flitting to perch
on another bush, then to another; for ever emitting those two little
contrasted sounds--the gutteral chat and the clear, fretful pipe--had
seemed to me the most troubled and full of care and worries of all
Nature's feathered children so sorrowful, in spite of his pretty
harlequin dress! Now his trouble seems a small thing, and not to be
regarded in the presence of the larger, louder redshank. As I walk he
rises a long way ahead, and wheeling about comes towards me--he and
she, and by-and-by a second pair, and perhaps a third; they come with
measured pulsation of the long, sharp, white-banded wings; and the
first comer sweeps by and returns again to meet the others, clamouring
all the time, calling on them to join in the outcry until the whole
air seems full of their trouble. To and fro he flies, to this side and
that; and finally, as if in imitation of the small, fretful stonechat,
he sweeps down to alight on the topmost spray of some small tree or
tall bush not a furze but a willow; and as it is an insecure stand for
a bird of his long thin wading legs, he stands lightly, balancing
himself with his wings; beautiful in his white and pale-grey plumage,
and his slender form, on that airy perch of the willow in its
grey-green leaves and snow-white catkins; and balanced there, he still
continues his sorrowful anxious cries--ever crying for me to go--to go
away and leave him in peace. I leave him reluctantly, and have my
reward, for no sooner does he see me going than his anxious cries
change to that beautiful wild pipe, unrivalled except by the curlew
among shore birds.

Worst of all birds that can have no peace in their lives so long as
you are in sight is the peewit. The harsh wailing sound of his crying
voice as he wheels about overhead, the mad downward rushes, when his
wings creak as he nears you, give the idea that he is almost crazed
with anxiety; and one feels ashamed at causing so much misery. Oh,
poor bird! is there no way to make you understand without leaving the
ground, that your black-spotted, olive-coloured eggs are perfectly
safe; that a man can walk about on the heath and be no more harmful to
you than the Forest ponies, and the ragged donkey browsing on a furze
bush, and the cow with her tinkling bell? I stand motionless, looking
the other way; I sit down to think; I lie flat on my back with hands
clasped behind my head, and gaze at the sky, and still the trouble
goes on he will not believe in me, nor tolerate me. There is nothing
to do but get up and go away out of sight and sound of the peewits.

It appears to me that this sympathy for the lower animals is very much
a matter of association--an overflow of that regard for the rights of
and compassion for others of our kind which are at the foundations of
the social instinct. The bird is a red- and a warm-blooded being--we
have seen that its blood is red, and when we take a living bird in our
hands we feel its warmth and the throbbing of its breast: therefore
birds are related to us, and with that red human blood they have human
passions. Witness the peewit--the mother bird, when you have
discovered or have come near her downy little one--could any human
mother, torn with the fear of losing her babe, show her unquiet and
disturbed state in a plainer, more understandable way! But in the case
of creatures of another division in the kingdom of
life--non-vertebrates, without sensible heat, and with a thin
colourless fluid instead of red blood, as if like plants they had only
a vegetative life--this sympathy is not felt as a rule. When, in some
exceptional case, the feeling is there, it is because some human
association has come into the mind in spite of the differences between
insect and man.

Walking on this heath I saw a common green grasshopper, disturbed at
my step, leap away, and by chance land in a geometric web in a small
furze bush. Caught in the web, it began kicking with its long hind
legs, and would in three seconds have made its escape. But mark what
happened. Directly over the web, and above the kicking grasshopper,
there was a small, web-made, thimble-shaped shelter, mouth down,
fastened to a spray, and the spider was sitting in it. And looking
down it must have seen and known that the grasshopper was far too big
and strong to be held in that frailest snare, that it would be gone in
a moment and the net torn to pieces. It also must have seen and known
that it was no wasp nor dangerous insect of any kind; and so,
instantly, straight and swift as a leaden plummet, it dropped out of
the silvery bell it lived in on to the grasshopper and attacked it at
the head. The falces were probably thrust into the body between the
head and prothorax, for almost instantly the struggle ceased, and in
less than three seconds the victim appeared perfectly dead.

What interested me in this sight was the spider, an Epeira of a
species I had never closely looked at before, a little less in size
than our famous Epeira diadema--our common garden spider, with the
pretty white diadem on its velvety, brown abdomen. This heath spider
was creamy-white in colour, the white deepening to warm buff all round
at the sides, and to a deeper tint on the under surface. It was
curiously and prettily coloured; and, being new to me, its image was
vividly impressed on my mind.

As to what had happened, that did not impress me at all. I could not,
like the late noble poet who cherished an extreme animosity against
the spider, and inveighed against it in brilliant, inspired verse,
remember and brood sadly on the thought of the fairy forms that are
its victims--

    The lovely births that winnow by,
    Twin-sisters of the rainbow sky:
    Elf-darlings, fluffy, bee-bright things,
    And owl-white moths with mealy wings.

Nor could I, like him, break the creature's toils, nor take the dead
from its gibbet, nor slay it on account of its desperate wickedness.
These are mere house-bred feelings and fancies, perhaps morbid; he who
walks out-of-doors with Nature, who sees life and death as sunlight
and shadow, on witnessing such an incident wishes the captor a good
appetite, and, passing on, thinks no more about it. For any day in
summer, sitting by the water, or in a wood, or on the open heath, I
note little incidents of this kind; they are always going on in
thousands all about us, and one with trained eye cannot but see them;
but no feeling is excited, no sympathy, and they are no sooner seen
than forgotten. But, as I said, there are exceptional cases, and here
is one which refers to an even more insignificant creature than a
field grasshopper--a small dipterous insect--and yet I was strangely
moved by it.

The insect was flying rather slowly by me over the heath--a thin,
yellow-bodied, long-legged creature, a Tipula, about half as big as
our familiar crane-fly. Now, as it flew by me about on a level with my
thighs, up from the heath at my feet shot out a second insect, about
the same size as the first, also a Dipteron, but of another
family--one of the Asilidse, which are rapacious. The Asilus was also
very long-legged, and seizing the other with its legs, the two fell
together to the ground. Stooping down, I witnessed the struggle. They
were locked together, and I saw the attacking insect raise his head
and the forepart of his body so as to strike, then plunge his rostrum
like a dagger in the soft part of his victim's body. Again and again
he raised and buried his weapon in the other, and the other still
refused to die or to cease struggling. And this little light and
struggle of two flies curiously moved me, and for some time I could
not get over the feeling of intense repugnance it excited. This
feeling was wholly due to association: the dagger-like weapon and the
action of the insect were curiously human-like, and I had seen just
such a combat between two men, one fallen and the other on him,
raising and striking down with his knife. Had I never witnessed such
an incident, the two flies struggling, one killing the other, would
have produced no such feeling, and would not have been remembered.

We live in thoughts and feelings, not in days and years--

    In feelings, not in figures on a dial,

as some poet has said, and, recalling an afternoon and an evening
spent on this heath, it does not seem to my mind like an evening
passed alone in a vacant place, in the usual way, watching and
listening and thinking of nothing, but an eventful period, which
deeply moved me, and left an enduring memory.

The sun went down, and though the distressed birds had cried till they
were weary of crying, I did not go away. Something on this occasion
kept me, in spite of the gathering gloom and a cold wind--bitterly
cold for June--which blew over the wide heath. Here and there the rays
from the setting sun fell upon and lit up the few mounds that rise
like little islands out of the desolate brown waste. These are the
Pixie mounds, the barrows raised by probably prehistoric men, a people
inconceivably remote in time and spirit from us, whose memory is pale
in our civilised days.

There are times and moods in which it is revealed to us, or to a few
among us, that we are a survival of the past, a dying remnant of a
vanished people, and are like strangers and captives among those who
do not understand us, and have no wish to do so; whose language and
customs and thoughts are not ours. That "world-strangeness," which
William Watson and his fellow-poets prattle in rhyme about, those, at
all events, who have what they call the "note of modernity" in their
pipings, is not in me as in them. The blue sky, the brown soil
beneath, the grass, the trees, the animals, the wind, and rain, and
sun, and stars are never strange to me; for I am in and of and am one
with them; and my flesh and the soil are one, and the heat in my blood
and in the sunshine are one, and the winds and tempests and my
passions are one. I feel the "strangeness" only with regard to my
fellow-men, especially in towns, where they exist in conditions
unnatural to me, but congenial to them; where they are seen in numbers
and in crowds, in streets and houses, and in all places where they
gather together; when I look at them, their pale civilised faces,
their clothes, and hear them eagerly talking about things that do not
concern me. They are out of my world--the real world. All that they
value, and seek and strain after all their lives long, their works and
sports and pleasures, are the merest baubles and childish things; and
their ideals are all false, and nothing but by-products, or growths,
of the artificial life--little funguses cultivated in heated cellars.

In such moments we sometimes feel a kinship with, and are strangely
drawn to, the dead, who were not as these; the long, long dead, the
men who knew not life in towns, and felt no strangeness in sun and
wind and rain. In such a mood on that evening I went to one of those
lonely barrows; one that rises to a height of nine or ten feet above
the level heath, and is about fifty yards round. It is a garden in the
brown desert, covered over with a dense growth of furze bushes, still
in flower, mixed with bramble and elder and thorn, and heather in
great clumps, blooming, too, a month before its time, the fiery
purple-red of its massed blossoms, and of a few tall, tapering spikes
of foxglove, shining against the vivid green of the young bracken.

All this rich wild vegetation on that lonely mound on the brown heath!

Here, sheltered by the bushes, I sat and saw the sun go down, and the
long twilight deepen till the oak woods of Beaulieu in the west looked
black on the horizon, and the stars came out: in spite of the cold
wind that made me shiver in my thin clothes, I sat there for hours,
held by the silence and solitariness of that mound of the ancient
dead.

Sitting there, profoundly sad for no apparent cause, with no conscious
thought in my mind, it suddenly occurred to me that I knew that spot
from of old, that in long past forgotten years I had often come there
of an evening and sat through the twilight, in love with the
loneliness and peace, wishing that it might be my last resting-place.
To sleep there for ever--the sleep that knows no waking! We say it,
but do not mean--do not believe it. Dreams do come to give us pause;
and we know that we have lived. To dwell alone, then, with this memory
of life in such a spot for all time! There are moments in which the
thought of death steals upon and takes us as it were by surprise, and
it is then exceeding bitter. It was as if that cold wind blowing over
and making strange whispers in the heather had brought a sudden
tempest of icy rain to wet and chill me.

This miserable sensation soon passed away, and, with quieted heart, I
began to grow more and more attracted by the thought of resting on so
blessed a spot. To have always about me that wildness which I best
loved--the rude incult heath, the beautiful desolation; to have harsh
furze and ling and bramble and bracken to grow on me, and only wild
creatures for visitors and company. The little stonechat, the tinkling
meadow pipit, the excited whitethroat to sing to me in summer; the
deep-burrowing rabbit to bring down his warmth and familar smell among
my bones; the heat-loving adder, rich in colour, to find when summer
is gone a dry safe shelter and hibernaculum in my empty skull.

So beautiful did the thought appear that I could have laid down my
life at that moment, in spite of death's bitterness, if by so doing I
could have had my desire. But no such sweet and desirable a thing
could be given me by this strange people and race that possess the
earth, who are not like the people here with me in the twilight on the
heath. For I thought, too, of those I should lie with, having with
them my after life; and thinking of them I was no longer alone. I
thought of them not as others think, those others of a strange race.
What _do_ they think? They think so many things! The materialist, the
scientist, would say: They have no existence; they ceased to be
anything when their flesh was turned to dust, or burned to ashes, and
their minds, or souls, were changed to some other form of energy, or
motion, or affection of matter, or whatever they call it. The believer
would not say of them, or of the immaterial part of them, that they
had gone into a world of light, that in a dream or vision he had seen
them walking in an air of glory; but he might hold that they had been
preached to in Hades some nineteen centuries ago, and had perhaps
repented of their barbarous deeds. Or he might think, since he has
considerable latitude allowed him on the point, that the imperishable
parts of them are here at this very spot, tangled in dust that was
once flesh and bones, sleeping like chrysalids through a long winter,
to be raised again at the sound of a trumpet blown by an angel to a
second conscious life, happy or miserable as may be willed.

I imagine none of these things, for they were with me in the twilight
on the barrow in crowds, sitting and standing in groups, and many
lying on their sides on the turf below, their heads resting in their
hands. They, too, all had their faces turned towards Beaulieu. Evening
by evening for many and many a century they had looked to that point,
towards the black wood on the horizon, where there were people and
sounds of human life. Day by day for centuries they had listened with
wonder and fear to the Abbey bells, and to the distant chanting of the
monks. And the Abbey has been in ruins for centuries, open to the sky
and overgrown with ivy; but still towards that point they look with
apprehension, since men still dwell there, strangers to them, the
little busy eager people, hateful in their artificial indoor lives,
who do not know and who care nothing for them, who worship not and
fear not the dead that are underground, but dig up their sacred places
and scatter their bones and ashes, and despise and mock them because
they are dead and powerless.

It is not strange that they fear and hate. I look at them--their dark,
pale, furious faces--and think that if they could be visible thus in
the daylight, all who came to that spot or passed near it would turn
and fly with a terrifying image in their mind which would last to the
end of life. But they do not resent my presence, and would not resent
it were I permitted to come at last to dwell with them for ever.
Perhaps they know me for one of their tribe,--know that what they feel
I feel, would hate what they hate.

Has it not been said that love itself is an argument in favour of
immortality? All love--the love of men and women, of a mother for her
child, of a friend for a friend--the love that will cause him to lay
down his life for another. Is it possible to believe, they say, that
this beautiful sacred flame can be darkened for ever when soul and
body fall asunder? But love without hate I do not know and cannot
conceive; one implies the other. No good and no bad quality or
principle can exist (for me) without its opposite. As old Langland
wisely says--

    For by luthere men know the good;
	And whereby wiste men which were white
    If all things black were?



CHAPTER III

A favourite New Forest haunt--Summertide--Young blackbird's
call--Abundance of blackbirds and thrushes and destruction of
young--Starlings breeding--The good done by starlings--Perfume of the
honeysuckle--Beauty of the hedge rose--Cult of the rose--Lesser
whitethroat--His low song--Common and lesser whitethroat--In the
woods--A sheet of bracken--Effect of broken surfaces--Roman mosaics at
Silchester--Why mosaics give pleasure--Woodland birds--Sound of insect
life--Abundance of flies--Sufferings of cattle--Dark Water--Biting and
teasing flies--Feeding the fishes and fiddlers with flies.

LOOKING away from Beaulieu towards Southampton Water there is seen on
the border of the wide brown heath a long line of tall firs, a vast
dark grove forming the horizon on that side. This is the edge of an
immense wood, and beyond the pines which grow by the heath, it is
almost exclusively oak with an undergrowth of holly. It is low-lying
ground with many streams and a good deal of bog, and owing to the
dense undergrowth and the luxuriance of vegetation generally this part
of the forest has a ruder, wilder appearance than at any other spot.
Here, too, albeit the nobler bird and animal forms are absent, as is
indeed the case in all the New Forest district, animal life generally
is in greatest profusion and variety. This wood with its surrounding
heaths, bogs, and farm lands, has been my favourite summer resort and
hunting ground for some years past. With a farm-house not many
minutes' walk from the forest for a home, I have here spent long weeks
at a time, rambling in the woods every day and all day long, for the
most time out of sight of human habitations, and always with the
feeling that I was in my own territory, where everything was as Nature
made it and as I liked it to be. Never once in all my rambles did I
encounter that hated being, the collector, with his white, spectacled
town face and green butterfly net. In this out-of-the-way corner of
the Forest one could imagine the time come when this one small piece
of England which lies between the Avon and Southampton Water will be a
sanctuary for all rare and beautiful wild life and a place of
refreshment to body and soul for all men.

The richest, fullest time of the year is when June is wearing to an
end, when one knows without the almanac that spring is over and gone.
Nowhere in England is one more sensible of the change to fullest
summer than in this low-lying, warmest corner of Hampshire.

The cuckoo ceases to weary us with its incessant call, and the
nightingale sings less and less frequently. The passionate season is
well-nigh over for the birds; their fountain of music begins to run
dry. The cornfields and waste grounds are everywhere splashed with the
intense scarlet of poppies. Summer has no rain in all her wide, hot
heavens to give to her thirsty fields, and has sprinkled them with the
red fiery moisture from her own veins. And as colour changes, growing
deeper and more intense, so do sounds change: for the songs of
yesterday there are shrill hunger-cries.

One of the oftenest heard in all the open woods, in hedges, and even
out in the cornfields is the curious musical call of the young
blackbird. It is like the chuckle of the adult, but not so loud, full,
happy, and prolonged; it is shriller, and drops at the end to a
plaintive, impatient sound, a little pathetic--a cry of the young bird
to its too long absent mother. When very hungry he emits this shrill
musical call at intervals of ten to fifteen seconds; it may be heard
distinctly a couple of hundred yards away.

The numbers of young blackbirds and throstles apparently just out of
the nest astonish one. They are not only in the copses and hedges, and
on almost every roadside tree, but you constantly see them on the
ground in the lanes and public roads, standing still, quite
unconscious of danger. The poor helpless bird looks up at you in a
sort of amazement, never having seen men walking or riding on
bicycles; but he hesitates, not knowing whether to fly away or stand
still. Thrush or blackbird, he is curiously interesting to look at.
The young thrush, with his yellowish-white spotty breast, the remains
of down on his plumage, his wide yellow mouth, and raised head with
large, fixed, toad-like eyes, has a distinctly reptilian appearance.
Not so the young blackbird, standing motionless on the road, in doubt
too as to what you are; his short tail raised, giving him an incipient
air of blackbird jauntiness; his plumage not brown, indeed, as we
describe it, but rich chestnut black, like the chestnut-black hair of
a beautiful Hampshire girl of that precious type with oval face and
pale dark skin. A pretty creature, rich in colour, with a musical,
pathetic voice, waiting so patiently to be visited and fed, and a
weasel perhaps watching him from the roadside grass with hungry,
bright little eyes!

How they die--thrushes and blackbirds--at this perilous period in
their lives! I sometimes see what looks like a rudely-painted figure
of a bird on the hard road: it is a young blackbird that had not the
sense to get out of the way of a passing team, and was crushed flat by
a hoof or wheel. It is but one in a thousand that perishes in that
way. One has to remember that these two species of thrush--throstle
and blackbird--are in extraordinary abundance, that next to starlings
and chaffinches they abound over all species; that they are
exceedingly prolific, beginning to lay in this southern county in
February, and rearing at least three broods in the season; and that
when winter comes round again the thrush and blackbird population will
be just about what it was before.

Fruit-eating birds do not much vex the farmer in this almost fruitless
country. Thrushes and finches and sparrows are nothing to him: the
starling, if he pays any attention to the birds, he looks on as a good
friend.

At the farm there are two very old yew trees growing in the back-yard,
and one of these, in an advanced state of decay, is full of holes and
cavities in its larger branches. Here about half-a-dozen pairs of
starlings nest every year, and by the middle of June there are several
broods of fully-fledged young. At this time it was amusing to watch
the parent birds at their task, coming and going all day long, flying
out and away straight as arrows to this side and that, every bird to
its own favourite hunting-ground. Some had their grounds in the
meadow, just before the house where the cows and geese were, and it
was easy to watch their movements. Out of the yew the bird would
shoot, and in ten or twelve seconds would be down walking about in
that busy, plodding, rook-like way the starling has when looking for
something; and presently, darting his beak into the turf, he would
drag out something large, and back he wquld fly to his young with a
big, conspicuous, white object in his beak. These white objects which
he was busily gathering every day, from dawn to dark, were full-grown
grubs of the cockchafer. When watching these birds at their work it
struck me that the enormous increase of starlings all over the country
in recent years may account for the fact that great cockchafer years
do not now occur. In former years these beetles were sometimes in such
numbers that they swarmed in the air in places, and stripped the oaks
of their leaves in midsummer. It is now more than ten years since I
saw cockchafers in considerable numbers, and for a long time past I
have not heard of their appearance in swarms anywhere.

The starling is in some ways a bad bird, a cherry thief, and a robber
of other birds' nesting-places; yaffle and nuthatch must hate him, but
if his ministrations have caused an increase of even one per cent, in
the hay crop, and the milk and butter supply, he is, from our point of
view, not wholly bad.

In late June the unkept hedges are in the fulness of their midsummer
beauty. After sunset the fragrance of the honeysuckle is almost too
much: standing near the blossom-laden hedge when there is no wind to
dissipate the odour, there is a heaviness in it which makes it like
some delicious honeyed liquor which we are drinking in. The
honeysuckle is indeed first among the "melancholy flowers" that give
out their fragrance by night. In the daytime, when the smell is faint,
the pale sickly blossoms are hardly noticed even where they are seen
in masses and drape the hedges. Of all the hedge-flowers, the rose
alone is looked at, its glory being so great as to make all other
blooms seem nothing but bleached or dead discoloured leaves in
comparison.

He would indeed be a vainly ambitious person who should attempt to
describe this queen of all wild flowers, joyous or melancholy; but
substituting flower for fruit, and the delight of the eye for the
pleasure of taste, we may in speaking of it quote the words of a
famous old writer, used in praise of the strawberry. He said that
doubtless God Almighty could have made a better berry if He had been
so minded, but doubtless God Almighty never did.

I esteem the rose not only for that beauty which sets it highest among
flowers, but also because it will not suffer admiration when removed
from its natural surroundings. In this particular it resembles certain
brilliant sentient beings that languish and lose all their charms in
captivity. Pluck your rose and bring it indoors, and place it side by
side with other blossoms--yellow flag and blue periwinkle, and shining
yellow marsh-marigold, and poppy and cornflower--and it has no lustre,
and is no more to the soul than a flower made out of wax or paper.
Look at it here, in the brilliant sunlight and the hot wind, waving to
the wind on its long thorny sprays all over the vast disordered
hedges; here in rosy masses, there starring the rough green tangle
with its rosy stars--a rose-coloured cloud on the earth and Summer's
bridal veil--and you will refuse to believe (since it will be beyond
your power to imagine) that anywhere on the earth, in any hot or
temperate climate, there exists a more divinely beautiful sight.

If among the numberless cults that flourish in the earth we could
count a cult of the rose, to this spot the votaries of the flower
might well come each midsummer to hold their festival. They would be
youthful and beautiful, their lips red, their eyes full of laughter;
and they would be arrayed in light silken garments of delicate
colour--green, rose, and white; and their arms and necks and foreheads
would shine with ornaments of gold and precious stones. In their hands
would be musical instruments of many pretty shapes with which they
would sweetly accompany their clear voices as they sat or stood
beneath the old oak trees, and danced in sun and shade, and when they
moved in bright procession along the wide grass-grown roads, through
forest and farm-land.

In the summer of 1900 I found the lesser whitethroat--the better
whitethroat I should prefer to call it--in extraordinary abundance in
the large unkept hedges east of the woods in the parishes of Fawley
and Exbury. Hitherto I had always found this species everywhere thinly
distributed; here it was as abundant as the reed-warblers along the
dykes in the flat grasslands on the Somerset coast, and like the
reed-warblers in the reed and sedge-grown ditches and streams, each
pair of whitethroats had its own part of the hedge; so that in walking
in a lane when you left one singing behind you heard his next
neighbour singing at a distance of fifteen or twenty yards farther on,
and from end to end of the great hedge you had that continuous
beautiful low warble at your side, and sometimes on both sides. The
loud brief song of this whitethroat, which resembles the first part of
a chaffinch's song, is a pleasant sound and nothing more; the low
warbling, which runs on without a break for forty or fifty seconds, or
longer, is the beautiful song, and resembles the low continuous warble
of the blackcap, but is more varied, and has one sound which is unique
in the songs of British birds. This is a note repeated two or three
times at intervals in the course of the song, of an excessive
sharpness, unlike any other bird sound, but comparable to the silvery
shrilling of the great green grasshopper--excessively sharp, yet
musical. The bird emits this same silver shrill note when angry and
when fighting, but it is then louder and not so musical, and resembles
the sharpest sounds made by bats and other small mammals when excited.

One day I sat down near a hedge, where an old half-dead oak stood
among the thorns and brambles, and just by the oak a lesser
whitethroat was moving about and singing. Out among the furze-bushes
at some distance from the hedge a common whitethroat was singing,
flitting and darting from bush to bush, rising at intervals into the
air and dropping again into the furze; but by-and-by he rose to a
greater height to pour out his mad confused strain in the air, then
sloped away to the hedge and settled, still singing, on a dead branch
of the oak. Up rose the lesser whitethroat and attacked it with
extreme fury, rising to a height of two or three feet and dashing
repeatedly at it, looking like a miniature kestrel or hobby; and every
time it descended the other ducked his head and flattened himself on
the branch, only to rise again, crest erect and throat puffed out,
still pouring forth its defiant song. As long as this lasted the
attacking bird emitted his piercing metallic anger-note, rapidly and
continuously, like the clicking of steel machinery.

Alas! I fear I shall not again see the lesser white-throat as I saw
him in that favoured year: in 1901 he came not, or came in small
numbers; and it was the same in the spring of 1902. The spring was
cold and backward in both years, and the bitter continuous east winds
which prevailed in March and April probably proved fatal to large
numbers of the more delicate migrants.

In this low, level country, sheltered by woods and hedgerows, we feel
the tremendous power of the sun even before the last week in June. It
is good to feel, to bathe in the heat all day long; but at noon one
sometimes finds it too hot even on the open heath, and is forced to
take shelter in the woods. It was always coolest on the high ground
among the pines, where the trees are very tall and there is no
underwood. In spring it was always pleasant to walk here on the thick
carpet of fallen needles and old dead fern; now, in a very short time,
the young bracken has sprung up as if by miracle to a nearly uniform
height of about four feet. It spreads all around me for many acres an
unbroken sea of brilliant green, out of which rise the tall red
columns of the pines supporting the dark woodland roof.

Why is it, when in June the luxuriant young bracken first drops its
fully-developed fronds, so that frond touches frond, many overlapping,
forming a billowy expanse of vivid green, hiding, or all but hiding,
the brown or red soil beneath--why is it the eyes rest with singular
satisfaction on it? It is not only because of the colour, nor the
beauty of contrast where the red floor of last year's beech leaves is
seen through the fresh verdure, and of dark red-boled pines rising
from the green sea of airy fronds. Colours and contrasts more
beautiful may be seen, and the pleasure they give is different in
kind.

Here standing amid the fern, where it had at last formed that waving
surface and was a little above my knees, it seemed to me that the
particular satisfaction I experienced was due to the fine symmetrical
leafing of the surface, the minute subdivision of parts which produced
an effect similar to that of a mosaic floor. When I consider other
surfaces, on land or water, I find the same gratification in all cases
where it is broken or marked out or fretted in minute, more or less
orderly subdivisions. The glass-like or oily surface of water, where
there are no reflections to bring other feelings in, does not hold or
attract but rather wearies the sight; but it is no sooner touched to a
thousand minute crinkles by the wind, than it is looked at with
refreshment and pleasure. The bed of a clear stream, with its pavement
of minute variegated pebbles and spots of light and shade, pleases in
the same way. The sight rests with some satisfaction even on a
stagnant pond covered with green duckweed; but the satisfaction is
less in this case on account of the extreme minuteness of the parts
and the too great smoothness. The roads and open spaces in woods in
October and November are delightful to walk in when they are like
richly variegated floors composed of small pieces, and like dark
floors inlaid with red and gold of beech and oak leaves. Numberless
instances might be given, and we see that the effect is produced even
in small objects, as, for instance, in scaly fishes and in serpents.
It is the minutely segmented texture of the serpent which, with the
colour, gives it its wonderful richness. For the same reason a
crocodile bag is more admired than one of cowhide, and a book in
buckram looks better than one in cloth or even vellum.

The old Romans must have felt this instinctive pleasure of the eye
very keenly when they took such great pains over their floors. I was
strongly impressed with this fact at Silchester when looking at the
old floors of rich and poor houses alike which have been uncovered
during the last two or three years. They seem to have sought for the
effect of mosaic even in the meaner habitations, and in passages and
walks, and when tesserae could not be had they broke up common tiles
into small square fragments, and made their floors in that way. Even
with so poor a material, and without any ornamentation, they did get
the effect sought, and those ancient fragments of floors made of
fragments of tiles, unburied after so many centuries, do actually more
gratify the sight than the floors of polished oak or other expensive
material which are seen in our mansions and palaces.

There is doubtless a physiological reason for this satisfaction to the
eye, as indeed there is for so many of the pleasurable sensations we
experience in seeing. We may say that the vision flies over a
perfectly smooth plain surface, like a ball over a sheet of ice, and
rests nowhere; but that in a mosaic floor the segmentation of the
surface stays and rests the sight. To go no farther than that, which
is but a part of the secret, the sheet of fern fronds, on account of
this staying effect on the vision, increases what we see, so that a
surface of a dozen square yards of fern seems more in extent than half
an acre of smooth-shaven lawn, or the large featureless floor of a
skating-rink or ball-room.

On going or wading through the belt of bracken under the tall
firs--that billowy sea of fronds in the midst of which I have so long
detained my patient reader--into the great oak wood beyond and below
it, on each successive visit during the last days of June, the
harshening of the bird voices became more marked. Only the wren and
wood-wren and willow-wren uttered an occasional song, but the bigger
birds made most of the sound. Families of young jays were then just
out of the nest, crying with hunger, and filling the wood with their
discordant screams when the parent birds came with food. A pair of
kestrels, too, with a nestful of young on a tall fir incessantly
uttered their shrill reiterated cries when I was near; and one pair of
green woodpeckers, with young out of the breeding-hole but not yet
able to fly, were half crazed with anxiety. Around me and on before me
they flitted from tree to tree and clung to the bark, wings spread out
and crest raised, their loud laugh changed to a piercing cry of anger
that pained the sense.

They were now moved only by solicitude and anger: all other passion
and music had gone out of the bird and into the insect world. The oak
woods were now full of a loud continuous hum like that of a distant
threshing-machine; an unbroken deep sound composed of ten thousand
thousand small individual sounds conjoined in one, but diffused and
flowing like water over the surface, under the trees, and the rough
bushy tangle. The incredible number and variety of blood-sucking flies
makes this same low hot part of the Forest as nearly like a transcript
of tropical nature in some damp, wooded district as may be found in
England. But these Forest flies, even when they came in legions about
me, were not able to spoil my pleasure. It was delightful to see so
much life--to visit and sit down with them in their own domestic
circle.

In other days, in a distant region, I have passed many a night out of
doors in the presence of a cloud of mosquitoes; and when during
restless sleep I have pulled the covering from my face, they had me at
their mercy. For the smarts they inflicted on me then I have my
reward, since the venom they injected into my veins has proved a
lasting prophylactic. But to the poor cattle this place must be a very
purgatory, a mazy wilderness swarming with minute hellish imps that
mock their horns and giant strength, and cannot be shaken off. While
sitting on the roots of a tree in the heart of the wood, I heard the
heavy tramping and distressed bellowings of several beasts coming at a
furious rate towards me, and presently half-a-dozen heifers and young
bulls burst through the bushes; and catching sight of me at a distance
of ten or twelve yards, they suddenly came to a dead stop, glaring at
me with strange, mad, tortured eyes; then swerving aside, crashed away
through the undergrowth in another direction.

In this wood I sought and found the stream well named the Dark Water;
here, at all events, it is grown over with old ivied oaks, with
brambles and briars that throw long branches from side to side, making
the almost hidden current in the deep shade look black; but when the
sunlight falls on it the water is the colour of old sherry from the
red soil it flows over. No sooner had I sat down on the bank, where I
had a little space of sunlit water to look upon, than the flies
gathered thick about and on me, and I began to pay some attention to
individuals among them. Those that came to suck blood, and settled at
once in a business-like manner on my legs, were some hairy and some
smooth, and of various colours--grey, black, steel-blue, and barred
and ringed with bright tints; and with these distinguished guests came
numberless others, small lean gnats mostly, without colour, and of no
consideration.

I did not so much mind these as the others that simply buzzed round
without an object flies that have no beauty, no lancet to stab you
with, and no distinction of any kind, yet will persist in forcing
themselves on your attention. They buzz and buzz, and are loudest in
your ear when you are most anxious to listen to some distant faint
sound. If a blood-sucker hurts you, you can slap him to death, and
there's an end of the matter; but slap at one of these idle, aimless,
teasing flies as hard as you like, and he is gone like quicksilver
through your fingers. He is buzzing derisively in your ears: "Slap
away as much as you like it pleases you and doesn't hurt me." And then
down again in the same place!

When the others--the serious flies on business bent--got too numerous,
I began to slap my legs, killing one or two of the greediest at each
slap, and to throw their small corpses on the sunlit current. These
slain flies were not wasted, for very soon I had quite a number of
little minnows close to my feet, eager to seize them as they fell.
And, by-and-by, three fiddlers, or pond-skaters, "sagacious of their
quarry from afar," came skating into sight on the space of bright
water; and to these mysterious, uncanny-looking creatures insect
ghosts that walk on the water, but with very unghost-like appetites I
began tossing some of the flies; and each time a fiddler seized a
floating fly he skated away into the shade with it to devour it in
peace and quiet all alone by himself. For a fiddler with a fly is like
a dog with a bone among other hungry dogs. When I had finished feeding
my ghosts and little fishes, I got up and left the place, for the sun
was travelling west and the greatest heat was over.



CHAPTER IV

The stag-beetle--Evening flight--Appearance on the wing--Seeking a
mate--Stag and doe in a hedge--The ploughman and the beetle--A
stag-beetle's fate--Concerning tenacity of life--Life appearances
after death--A serpent's skin--A dead glow-worm's light--Little summer
tragedies--A snaky spot--An adder's basking place--Watching
adders--The adder's senses--Adder's habits not well known--A pair of
anxious peewits--A dead young peewit--Animals without knowledge of
death--Removal of the dead by ants--Gould's observations on ants.

DURING the last week in June we can look for the appearance of our
most majestical insect; he is an evening flyer, and a little before
sunset begins to show himself abroad. He is indeed a monarch among
hexapods, with none to equal him save, perhaps, the great goblin moth;
and in shape and size and solidity he bears about the same relation to
pretty bright flies as a horned rhinoceros does to volatile squirrels
and monkeys and small barred and spotted felines. This is the
stag-beetle--"stags and does" is the native name for the two sexes; he
is probably more abundant in this corner of Hampshire than in any
other locality in England, and among the denizens of the Forest there
are few more interesting. About four or five o'clock in the afternoon,
the ponderous beetle wakes out of his long siesta, down among the
roots and dead vegetable matter of a thorny brake or large hedge, and
laboriously sets himself to work his way out. He is a slow, clumsy
creature, a very bad climber; and small wonder, when we consider how
he is impeded by his long branched horns when endeavouring to make his
way upwards through a network of interlacing stems.

As you walk by the hedgeside a strange noise suddenly arrests your
attention; it is the buzz of an insect, but loud enough to startle
you; it might be mistaken for the reeling of a nightjar, but is
perhaps more like the jarring hum of a fast driven motor-car. The
reason of the noise is that the beetle has with great pains climbed up
a certain height from the ground, and, in order to ascertain whether
he has got far enough, he erects himself on his stand, lifts his
wing-cases, shakes out his wings, and begins to agitate them
violently, turning this way and that to make sure that he has a clear
space. If he then attempts to fly--it is one of his common
blunders--he instantly strikes against some branch or cluster of
leaves, and is thrown down. The tumble does not hurt him in the least,
but so greatly astonishes him that he remains motionless a good while;
then recovering his senses, he begins to ascend again. At length,
after a good many accidents and adventures by the way, he gets to a
topmost twig, and, after some buzzing to get up steam, launches
himself heavily on the air and goes away in grand style.

Hugh Miller, in his autobiography, tells of the discovery he made of a
curiously striking resemblance in shape between our most elegantly
made carriages and the bodies of wasps, the resemblance being
heightened by a similarity of colouring seen in the lines and bands of
vivid yellows and reds on a polished black ground. This likeness
between insect and carriage does not appear so striking at this day
owing to a change in the fashion towards a more sombre colour in the
vehicles; their funeral blacks, dark blues, and greens being now
seldom relieved with bright yellows and reds. The stag-beetle, too,
when he goes away with heavy flight always gives one the idea of some
kind of machine or vehicle, not like the aerial phaeton of the wasp or
hornet, with its graceful lines and strongly-contrasted colours, but
an oblong, ponderous, armour-plated car, furnished with a beak, and
painted a deep uniform brown.

Birds, especially the more aerial insectivorous kinds, have the habit
of flying at and teasing any odd or grotesque-looking creature they
may see on the wing--as a bat, for instance. I have seen small birds
dart at a passing stag, but on coming near they turn tail and fly from
him, frightened perhaps at his formidable appearance and loud noise.

Notwithstanding his lumbering, blundering ways, when the stag is
abroad in search of the doe, you may see that he is endowed with a
sense and faculty so exquisite as to make it appear almost miraculous
in the sureness of its action. The void air, as he sweeps droning
through it, is peopled with subtle intelligences, which elude and mock
and fly from him, and which he pursues until he finds out their
secret. They mock him most, or, to drop the metaphor, he is most at
fault, on a still sultry day when not a breath of air is stirring. At
times he catches what, for want of better knowledge, we must call a
scent, and in order to fix the direction it comes from he goes through
a series of curious movements. You will see him rise above a thorny
thicket, or a point where two hedges intersect at right angles, and
remain suspended on his wings a few inches above the hedge-top for one
or two minutes, loudly humming, and turning by a succession of jerks
all round, pausing after each turn, until he has faced all points of
the compass.

This failing, he darts away and circles widely round, then returning
to the central point suspends himself as before. After spending
several minutes in this manner, he once more resumes his wanderings.
Several males are sometimes attracted to the same spot, but they pass
and repass without noticing one another. You will see as many as three
or four or half-a-dozen majestically moving up and down at a hedge
side or in a narrow path in a hazel copse, each beetle turning when he
gets to the end and marching back again; and altogether their
measured, stately, and noisy movements are a fine spectacle.

A slight wind makes a great difference to him: even a current of air
so faint as not to be felt on the face will reveal to him the exact
distant spot in which the doe is lurking. The following incident will
serve to show how perfect and almost infallible the sense and its
correlated instinct are, and at the same time what a clumsy,
blundering creature this beetle is.

Hearing a buzzing noise in a large unkept hedge, I went to the spot
and found a stag trying to extricate himself from some soft fern
fronds growing among the brambles in which he had got entangled. In
the end he succeeded, and, finally gaining a point where there was
nothing to obstruct his flight, he launched himself on the air and
flew straight away to a distance of fifty yards; then he turned and
commenced flying backwards and forwards, travelling forty or fifty
yards one way and as many the other, until he made a discovery; and
struck motionless in his career, he remained suspended for a moment or
two, then flew swiftly and straight as a bullet back to the hedge from
which he had so recently got away. He struck the hedge where it was
broadest, at a distance of about twenty yards or more from the point
where I had first found him, and running to the spot, I saw that he
had actually alighted within four or five inches of a female concealed
among the clustering leaves. On his approaching her she coyly moved
from him, climbing up and down and along the branchlets, but for some
time he continued very near her. So far he had followed on her track,
or by the same branches and twigs over which she had passed, but on
her getting a little farther away and doubling back, he attempted to
reach her by a series of short cuts, over the little bridges formed by
innumerable slender branches, and his short cuts in most cases brought
him against some obstruction; or else there was a sudden bend in the
branch, and he was taken farther away. When he had a chain of bridges
or turnings, he seemed fated to take the wrong one, and in spite of
all his desperate striving to get nearer, he only increased the
distance between them. The level sun shone into the huge tangle of
bramble, briar, and thorn, with its hundreds of interlacing branches
and stringy stems, so that I was able to keep both beetles in sight;
but after I had watched them for three-quarters of an hour, the sun
departed, and I too left them. They were then nearly six feet apart;
and seeing what a labyrinth they were in, I concluded that, strive how
the enamoured creature might, they would never, from the stag-beetle
point of view, be within measurable distance of one another.

Something in the appearance of the big beetle, both flying and when
seen on the ground in his wrathful, challenging attitude, strikes the
rustics of these parts as irresistibly comic. When its heavy flight
brings it near the labourer in the fields, he knocks it down with his
cap, then grins at the sight of the maltreated creature's amazement
and indignation. However weary the ploughman may be when he plods his
homeward way, he will not be too tired to indulge in this ancient
practical joke. When the beetle's flight takes him by village or
hamlet, the children, playing together in the road, occupied with some
such simple pastime as rolling in the dust or making little miniature
hills of loose sand, are suddenly thrown into a state of wild
excitement, and, starting to their feet, they run whooping after the
wanderer, throwing their caps to bring him down.

One evening at sunset, on coming to a forest gate through which I had
to pass, I saw a stag-beetle standing in his usual statuesque, angry
or threatening attitude in the middle of the road close to the gate.
Doubtless some labourer who had arrived at the gate earlier in the
evening had struck it down for fun and left it there. By-and-by. I
thought, he will recover from the shock to his dignity and make his
way to some elevated point, from which he will be able to start afresh
in his wanderings in search of a wife. But it was not to be as I
thought, for next morning, on going by the same gate I found the
remains of my beetle just where I had last seen him the legs,
wing-cases, and the big, broad head with horns attached. The poor
thing had remained motionless too long, and had been found during the
evening by a hedgehog and devoured, all but the uneatable parts. On
looking closely, I found that the head was still alive; at a touch the
antennae--those mysterious jointed rods, toothed like a comb at their
ends--began to wave up and down, and the horns opened wide, like the
jaws of an angry crab. On placing a finger between them they nipped it
as sharply as if the creature had been whole and uninjured. Yet the
body had been long devoured and digested; and there was only this
fragment left, and, torn off with it, shall we say? a fragment of
intelligent life!

We always look on this divisibility of the life-principle in some
creatures with a peculiar repugnance; and, like all phenomena that
seem to contradict the regular course of nature, it gives a shock to
the mind. We do not experience this feeling with regard to plant life,
and to the life of some of the lower animal organisms, because we are
more familiar with the sight in these cases. The trouble to the mind
is in the case of the higher life of sentient and intelligent beings
that have passions like our own. We see it even in some vertebrates,
especially in serpents, which are most tenacious of life. Thus, there
is a recorded case of a pit viper, the head of which was severed from
the body by the person who found it. When the head was approached the
jaws opened and closed with a vicious snap, and when the headless
trunk was touched it instantly recoiled and struck at the touching
object.

Such cases are apt to produce in some minds a sense as of something
unfamiliar and uncanny behind nature that mocks us. But even those who
are entirely free from any such animistic feeling are strangely
disturbed at the spectacle, not only because it is opposed to the
order of nature (as the mind apprehends it), but also because it
contradicts the old fixed eternal idea we all have, that life is
compounded of two things--the material body and the immaterial spirit,
which leavens and, in a sense, re-creates and shines in and through
the clay it is mixed with; and that you cannot destroy the body
without also destroying or driving out that myssterious, subtle
principle. Life was thus anciently likened to a seal, which is two
things in one--the wax and the impression on it. You cannot break the
seal without also destroying the impression, any more than you can
break a pitcher without spilling the liquor in it. In such cases as
those of the beetle and the serpent, it would perhaps be better to
liken life to a red, glowing ember, which may be broken into pieces,
and each piece still burn and glow with its own portion of the
original heat.

The survival after death of something commonly supposed to be
dependent on vitality is another phenomenon which, like that of the
divisibility of the life-principle, affects us disagreeably. The
continued growth of the hair of dead men is an instance in point. It
is, we know, an error, caused by the shrinking of the flesh; and as
for the accounts of coffins being found full of hair when opened, they
are inventions, though still believed in by some persons. Another
instance, which is not a fable, is that of a serpent's skin. When
properly and quickly dried after removal, it will retain its bright
colours for an indefinite time--in some cases for many years. But at
intervals the colours appear to fade, or become covered with a misty
whiteness; and the cause, as one may see when the skin is rubbed or
shaken, is that the outer scales are being shed. They come off
separately, and are very much thinner than when the living serpent
sheds his skin, and they grow thinner with successive sheddings until
they are scarcely visible. But at each shedding the skin recovers its
brightness. One in my possession continued shedding its scale films in
this way for about ten years. I used it as a book-marker and often had
it in my hands, but not until it ceased shedding its scale-coverings,
and its original bright green colour turned to dull blackish-green,
did I get rid of the feeling that it had some life in it.

But the most striking instance of the continuance or survival long
after death of what has seemed an attribute or manifestation of life
remains to be told.

One cloudy, very dark night at Boldre, I was going home across a heath
with some girls from a farmhouse where we had been visiting, when one
of my young companions cried out that she could see a spark of fire on
the road before us. We then all saw it--a small, steady, green
light--but on lighting a match and looking closely at the spot,
nothing could we see except the loose soil in the road. When the match
went out the spark of green fire was there still, and we searched
again, turning the loose soil with our fingers until we discovered the
dried and shrunken remains of a glow-worm of the previous year. It had
been trodden into the sand, and the sand driven into it, until it was
hard to make out any glow-worm shape or appearance in it. It was like
a fragment of dry earth, and yet, so long as it was in the dark, the
small, brilliant green light continued to shine from one end of it.
Yet this dried old case must have been dead and blown about in the
dust for at least seven or eight months.

On going up to London I carried it with me in a small box: there in a
dark room it shone once more, but the light was now much fainter, and
on the following evening there was no light. For some days I tried, by
moistening it, by putting it out in the sun and wind, and in other
ways, to bring back the light, but did not succeed; and, convinced at
length that it would shine no more, I had the feeling that life had at
last gone out of that dry, dusty fragment.

The little summer tragedies in Nature which we see or notice are very
few--not one in a thousand of those that actually take place about us
in a spot like this, teeming with midsummer life. A second one, which
impressed me at the time, had for its scene a spot not more than eight
minutes' walk from that forest gate where the stag-beetle, too long in
cooling his wrath, had been overtaken by so curious a destiny. But
before I relate this other tragedy, I must describe the place and some
of the creatures I met there. It was a point where heath and wood
meet, but do not mingle; where the marshy stream that drains the heath
flows down into the wood, and the boggy ground sloping to the water is
overgrown with a mixture of plants of different habits--lovers of a
dry soil and of a wet--heather and furze, coarse and fine grasses,
bracken and bog myrtle; and in the wettest spots there were patches
and round masses of rust-red and orange-yellow and pale-grey lichen,
and a few fragrant, shining, yellow stars of the bog asphodel,
although its flowering season was nearly over. It was a perfect
wilderness, as wild a bit of desert as one could wish to be in, where
a man could spy all day upon its shy inhabitants, and no one would
come and spy upon him.

Here, if anywhere, was my exulting thought when I first beheld it,
there should be adders for me. There was a snakiness in the very look
of the place, and I could almost feel by anticipation the delightful
thrill in my nerves invariably experienced at the sight of a serpent.
And as I went very cautiously along, wishing for the eyes of a
dragon-fly so as to be able to see all round me, a coil of black and
yellow caught my sight at a distance of a few yards ahead, and was no
sooner seen than gone. The spot from which the shy creature had
vanished was a small, circular, natural platform on the edge of the
bank, surrounded with grass and herbage, and a little dwarf, ragged
furze; the platform was composed of old, dead bracken and dry grass,
and had a smooth, flat surface, pressed down as if some creature used
it as a sleeping-place. It was, I saw, the favourite sleeping- or
basking-place of an adder, and by-and-by, or in a few hours' time, I
should be able to get a good view of the creature. Later in the day,
on going back to the spot, I did find my adder on its platform, and
was able to get within three or four yards, and watch it for some
minutes before it slipped gently down the bank and out of sight.

This adder was a very large (probably gravid) female, very bright in
the sunshine, the broad, zigzag band, an inky black, on a
straw-coloured ground. On my third successful visit to the spot I was
agreeably surprised to find that my adder had not been widowed by some
fatal accident, nor left by her wandering mate to spend the summer
alone; for now there were two on the one platform, slumbering
peacefully side by side. The new-comer, the male, was a couple of
inches shorter and a good deal slimmer than his mate, and differed in
colour; the zigzag mark was intensely black, as in the other, but the
ground colour was a beautiful copper red; he was, I think, the
handsomest red adder I have seen.

On my subsequent visits to the spot I found sometimes one and
sometimes both; and I observed them a good deal at different
distances. One way was to look at them from a distance of fifteen to
twenty yards through a binocular magnifying nine diameters, which
produced in me the fascinating illusion of being in the presence of
venomous serpents of a nobler size than we have in this country. The
glasses were for pleasure only. When I watched them for profit with my
unaided eyes, I found it most convenient to stand at a distance of
three or four yards; but often I moved cautiously up to the raised
platform they reposed on, until, by bending a little forward, I could
look directly down upon them.

When we first catch sight of an adder lying at rest in the sun, it
strikes us as being fast asleep, so motionless is it; but that it ever
does really sleep with the sun shining into its round, lidless,
brilliant eyes is hardly to be believed. The immobility which we note
at first does not continue long; watch the adder lying peacefully in
the sun, and you will see that at intervals of a very few minutes, and
sometimes as often as once a minute, he quietly changes his position.
Now he draws his concentric coils a little closer, now spreads them
more abroad; by-and-by the whole body is extended to a sinuous band,
then disposed in the form of a letter S, or a simple horseshoe figure,
and sometimes the head rests on the body and sometimes on the ground.
The gentle, languid movements of the creature changing his position at
intervals are like those of a person in a reclining hot bath, who
occasionally moves his body and limbs to renew and get the full
benefit of the luxurious sensation.

That the two adders could see me when I stood over them, or at a
distance of three or four yards, or even more, is likely; but it is
certain that they did not regard me as a living thing, or anything to
be disturbed at, but saw me only as a perfectly motionless object
which had grown imperceptibly on their vision, and was no more than a
bush, or stump, or tree. Nevertheless, I became convinced that always
after standing for a time near them my presence produced a disturbing
effect. It is, perhaps, the case that we are not all contained within
our visible bodies, but have our own atmosphere about us--something of
us which is outside of us, and may affect other creatures. More than
that, there may be a subtle current which goes out and directly
affects any creature (or person), which we regard for any length of
time with concentrated attention. This is one of the things about
which we know nothing, or, at all events, learn nothing from our
masters, and most scientists would say that it is a mere fancy; but in
this instance it was plain to see that always after a time _something_
began to produce a disturbing effect on the adders. This would first
show itself in a slight restlessness, a movement of the body as if it
had been breathed upon, increasing until they would be ill at ease all
the time, and at length they would slip quietly away to hide under the
bank.

The following incident will show that they were not disturbed at
seeing me standing near, assuming that they could or did see me. On
one of my visits I took some pieces of scarlet ribbon to find out by
an experiment if there was any truth in the old belief that the sight
of scarlet will excite this serpent to anger. I approached them in the
usual cautious way, until I was able, bending forward, to look down
upon them reposing unalarmed on their bed of dry fern; then, gradually
putting one hand out until it was over them, I dropped from it first
one then another piece of silk so that they fell gently upon the edge
of the platform. The adders must have seen these bright objects so
close to them, yet they did not suddenly draw back their heads, nor
exsert their tongues, nor make the least movement, but it was as if a
dry, light, dead leaf, or a ball of thistledown, had floated down and
settled near them, and they had not heeded it.

In the same way they probably saw me, and it was as if they had seen
me not, since they did not heed my motionless figure; but that they
always _felt_ my presence after a time I felt convinced, for not only
when I stood close to and looked down upon them, but also at a
distance of four to eight yards, after gazing fixedly at them for some
minutes, the change, the tremor, would appear, and in a little while
they would steal away.

Enough has been said to show how much I liked the company of these
adders, even when I knew that my presence disturbed their placid lives
in some indefinable way. They were indeed more to me than all the
other adders, numbering about a score, which I had found at their
favourite basking places in the neighbourhood. For they were often to
be found in that fragrant, sequestered spot where their home was; and
they were two together, of different types, both beautiful, and by
observing them day by day I increased my knowledge of their kind. We
do not know very much about "the life and conversation" of adders,
having been too much occupied in "bruising" their shining beautiful
bodies beneath our ironshod heels, and with sticks and stones, to
attend to such matters. So absorbed was I in contemplating or else
thinking about them at that spot that I was curiously indifferent to
the other creatures--little lizards, and butterflies, and many young
birds brought by their parents to the willows and alders that shaded
the stream. All day the birds dozed on their gently-swaying perches,
chirping at intervals to be fed; and near by a tree-pipit had his
stand, and sang and sang when most songsters were silent, but I paid
no attention even to his sweet strains. Two or three hundred yards
away, up the stream on a boggy spot, a pair of peewits had their
breeding-place. They were always there, and invariably on my
appearance they rose up and came to me, and, winnowing the air over my
head, screamed their loudest. But I took no notice, and was not
annoyed, knowing that their most piercing cries would have no effect
on the adders, since their deaf ears heard nothing, and their
brilliant eyes saw next to nothing of all that was going on about
them. After vexing their hearts in vain for a few minutes the peewits
would go back to their own ground, then peace would reign once more.

One day I was surprised and a little vexed to find that the peewits
had left their own ground to come and establish themselves on the bog
within forty yards of the spot where I was accustomed to take my stand
when observing the adders. Their anxiety at my presence had now become
so intensified that it was painful to witness. I concluded that they
had led their nearly grown-up young to that spot, and sincerely hoped
that they would be gone on the morrow. But they remained there five
days; and as their solicitude and frantic efforts to drive me away
were renewed on each visit, they were a source of considerable
annoyance. On the fourth day I accidentally discovered their secret.
If I had not been so taken up with the adders, I might have guessed
it. Going over the ground I came upon a dead full-grown young peewit,
raised a few inches above the earth by the heather it rested on, its
head dropped forward, its motionless wings partly open.

Usually at the moment of death a bird beats violently with its wings,
and after death the wings remain half open. This was how the peewit
had died, the wings half folded. Picking it up, I saw that it had been
dead several days, though the carrion beetles had not attacked it,
owing to its being several inches above the ground. It had, in fact,
no doubt been already dead when I first found the old peewits settled
at that spot; yet during those four hot, long summer days they had
been in a state of the most intense anxiety for the safety of these
dead remains! This is to my mind not only a very pathetic spectacle,
but one of the strangest facts in animal life. The reader may say that
it is not at all strange, since it is very common. It is most strange
to me because it is very common, since if it were rare we could say
that it was due to individual aberration, or resulted through the
bluntness of some sense or instinct. What is wonderful and almost
incredible is that the higher vertebrates have no instinct to guide
them in such a case as I have described, and no inherited knowledge of
death. To make of Nature a person, we may see that in spite of her
providential care for all her children, and wise ordering of their
lives down to the minutest detail, she has yet failed in this one
thing. Her only provision is that the dead shall be speedily devoured;
but they are not thus removed in numberless instances; a very familiar
one is the sight of living and dead young birds, the dead often in a
state of decay, lying together in one nest: and here we cannot but see
that the dead become a burden and a danger to the living. Birds and
mammals are alike in this. They will call, and wait for, and bring
food to, and try to rouse the dead young or mate; day and night they
will keep guard over it and waste themselves in fighting to save it
from their enemies. Yet we can readily believe that an instinct fitted
to save an animal from all this vain excitement, and labour, and
danger, would be of infinite advantage to the species that possessed
it.

In some social hymenopterous insects we see that the dead are removed;
it would be impossible for ants to exist in communities numbering many
thousands and tens of thousands of members crowded in a small space
without such a provision. The dead ant is picked up by the first
worker that happens to come that way and discovers it, and carried out
and thrown away. Probably some chemical change which takes place in
the organism on the cessation of life and makes it offensive to the
living has given rise to this healthy instinct. The dead ant is not
indeed seen as a dead fellow-being, but as so much rubbish, or "matter
in the wrong place," and is accordingly removed. We can confidently
say that this is not a knowledge of death, from what has been observed
of the behaviour of ants on the death of some highly regarded
individual in the nest--a queen, for instance. On this point I will
quote a passage from the Rev. William Gould's _Account of English
Ants_, dated 1747. His small book may be regarded as a classic, at all
events by naturalists; albeit the editors of our _Dictionary of
National Biography_ have not thought proper to give him a place in
that work, in which so many obscurities, especially of the nineteenth
century, have had their little lives recorded.

It may be remarked in passing that the passage to be quoted is a very
good sample of the style of our oldest entomologist, the first man in
England to observe the habits of insects. His small volume dates many
years before the _Natural History of Selborne_, and his style, it will
be seen, is very different from that of Gilbert White. We know from
Lord Avebury's valuable book on the habits of ants that Gould was not
mistaken in these remarkable observations.

"In whatever Apartment a Queen Ant condescends to be present, she
commands Obedience and Respect. An universal Gladness spreads itself
through the whole Cell, which is expressed by particular Acts of Joy
and Exultation. They have a peculiar Way of skipping, leaping, and
standing upon their Hind Legs, and prancing with the others. These
Frolicks they make use of, both to congratulate each other when they
meet, and to show their regard for the Queen. ... However Fantastick
this Description may appear, it may easily be proved by an obvious
Experiment. If you place a Queen Ant with her Retinue under a Glass,
you will in a few Moments be convinced of the Honour they pay, and
Esteem they Entertain for her. There cannot be a more remarkable
historic than what happened to a Black Queen the beginning of last
Spring. I had placed her with a bare Retinue in a sliding Box, in the
cover of which was an opening sufficient for the workers to pass to
and fro, but so narrow as to confine the Queen. A Corps was constantly
in waiting and surrounded her, whilst others went out in search of
Provisions. By some Misfortune she died: the Ants, as if not apprised
of her Death, continued their Obedience. They even removed her from
one part of the Box to another, and treated her with the same Court
and Formality as if she had been alive. This lasted two Months, at the
end of which, the Cover being open, they forsook the Box, and carried
her off."

Two days after I found the dead peewit the parent birds disappeared;
and a little later I paid my last visit to the adders, and left them
with the greatest reluctance, for they had not told me a hundredth
part of their unwritten history.



CHAPTER V

Cessation of song--Oak woods less silent than others--Mixed gatherings
of birds in oak woods--Abundance of caterpillars--Rapacious
insects--Wood ants--Alarm cries of woodland birds--Weasel and small
birds--Fascination--Weasel and short-tailed vole--Account of Egyptian
cats fascinated by fire--Rabbits and stoats--Mystery of
fascination--Cases of pre-natal suggestion--Hampshire pigs fascinated
by fire--Conjectures as to the origin of fascination--A dead
squirrel--A squirrel's fatal leap--Fleas large and small--Shrew and
fleas--Fleas in woods--The squirrel's disposition--Food-hiding habit
in animals--Memory in squirrels and dogs--├čThe lower kind of memory.

THE nightingale ceases singing about June 18 or 20. A bird here and
there may sing later; I occasionally hear one as late as the first
days of July. And because the nightingale is not so numerous as the
other singers, and his song attracts more attention, we get the idea
that his musical period is soonest over. Yet several other species
come to the end of their vocal season quite as early, or but little
later. If it be an extremely abundant species, as in the case of the
willow-wren, we will hear a score or fifty sing for every nightingale.
Blackcap and garden warbler, whitethroat and lesser whitethroat, are
nearly silent, too, at the beginning of July; and altogether it seems
to be the rule that the species oftenest heard after June are the most
abundant.

The woodland silence increases during July and August, not only
because the singing season is ended, but also because the birds are
leaving the woods: that darkness and closeness which oppress us when
we walk in the deep shade is not congenial to them; besides, food is
less plentiful than in the open places, where the sun shines and the
wind blows.

Woods, again, vary greatly in character and the degree of
attractiveness they have for birds: the copse and spinney keep a part
of their population through the hottest months; and coming to large
woods the oak is never oppressive like the beech and other deciduous
trees. It spreads its branches wide, and has wide spaces which let in
the light and air; grass and undergrowth flourish beneath it, and,
better than all, it abounds in bird food on its foliage above all
trees.

My favourite woods were almost entirely of oak with, a holly
undergrowth, and at some points oaks were mixed with firs. They were
never gloomy nor so silent as most woods; but in July, as a rule, one
had to look for the birds, since they were no longer distributed
through the wood as in the spring and early summer, but were
congregated at certain points.

Most persons are familiar with those companies of small birds which
form in woods in winter, composed of tits of all species, with
siskins, goldcrests, and sometimes other kinds. The July gatherings
are larger, include more species, and do not travel incessantly like
the winter companies. They are composed of families--parent birds and
their young, lately out of the nest, brought to the oaks to be fed on
caterpillars. It may be that their food is more abundant at certain
points, but it is also probable that their social disposition causes
them to congregate. Walking in the silent woods you begin to hear them
at a considerable distance ahead a great variety of sounds, mostly of
that shrill, sharp, penetrative character which is common to many
young passerine birds when calling to be fed. The birds will sometimes
be found distributed over an acre of ground, a family or two occupying
every large oak tree--tits, finches, warblers, the tree-creeper,
nut-hatch, and the jay. What, one asks, is the jay doing in such
company? He is feeding at the same table, and certainly not on them.
All, jays included, are occupied with the same business, minutely
examining each cluster of leaves, picking off every green caterpillar;
and extracting the chrysalids from every rolled up leaf. The airy
little leaf warblers and the tits do this very deftly; the heavier
birds are obliged to advance with caution along the twig until by
stretching the neck they can reach their prey lurking in the green
cluster, and thrust their beaks into each little green web-fastened
cylinder. But all are doing the same thing in pretty much the same
way. While the old birds are gathering food, the young, sitting in
branches close by, are incessantly clamouring to be fed, their various
calls making a tempest of shrill and querulous sounds in the wood. And
the shrillest of all are the long-tailed tits; these will not sit
still and wait like the others, but all, a dozen or fifteen to a
brood, hurry after their busy parents, all the time sending out those
needles of sound in showers. Of hard-billed birds the chaffinch, as
usual, was the most numerous, but there were, to my surprise, many
yellow-hammers; all these, like the rest, with their newly brought out
young. The presence of the hawfinch was another surprise; and here I
noticed that the hunger call of the young hawfinch is the loudest of
all--a measured, powerful, metallic chirp, heard high above the shrill
hubbub.

Watching one of these busy companies of small birds at work one is
amazed at the thought of the abundance of larval insect life in these
oak woods. The caterpillars must be devoured in tens of thousands
every day for some weeks, yet when the time comes one is amazed again
at the numbers that have survived to know a winged life. On July
evenings with the low sun shining on the green oaks at this place I
have seen the trees covered as with a pale silvery mist a mist
composed of myriads of small white and pale-grey moths fluttering
about the oak foliage. Yet it is probable that all the birds eat is
but a small fraction of the entire number destroyed. The rapacious
insects are in myriads too, and are most of them at war with the
soft-bodied caterpillars. The earth under the bed of dead leaves is
full of them, and the surface is hunted over all day by the wood or
horse ants--Formica rufa. One day, standing still to watch a number of
these ants moving about in all directions over the ground, I saw a
green geometer caterpillar fall from an oak leaf above to the earth,
and no sooner had it dropped than an ant saw and attacked it, seizing
it at one end of its body with his jaws. The caterpillar threw itself
into a horseshoe form and then violently jerking its body round flung
the ant away to a distance of a couple of inches. But the attack was
renewed, and three times the ant was thrown violently off; then
another ant came, and he, too, was twice thrown off; then a third ant
joined in the fight, and when all three had fastened their jaws on
their victim the struggle ceased, and the caterpillar was dragged
away. That is the fate of most caterpillars that come to the ground.
But the ants ascend the trees; you see them going up and coming down
in thousands, and you find on examination that they distribute
themselves over the whole tree, even to the highest and farthest
terminal twigs. And their numbers are incalculable--here in the
Forest, at all events. Not only are their communities large, numbering
hundreds of thousands in a nest, but their nests here are in hundreds,
and it is not uncommon to find them in groups, three or four up to
eight or ten, all within a distance of a few yards of one another.

I had thought to write more, a whole chapter in fact, on this
fascinating and puzzling insect--our "noble ant," as our old ant lover
Gould called it; but I have had to throw out that and much besides in
order to keep this book within reasonable dimensions.

There is another noise of birds in all woods and copses in the silent
season which is familiar to every one--the sudden excited cries they
utter at the sight of some prowling animal--fox, cat, or stoat. Even
in the darkest, stillest woods these little tempests of noise
occasionally break out, for no sooner does one bird utter the alarm
cry than all within hearing hasten to the spot to increase the tumult.
These tempests are of two kinds--the greater and lesser; in the first
jays, blackbirds, and missel-thrushes take part, the magpie, too, if
he is in the wood, and almost invariably the outcry is caused by the
appearance of one of the animals just named. In the smaller outbreaks,
which are far more frequent, none of these birds take any part, not
even the excitable blackbird, in spite of his readiness to make a
noise on the least provocation. Only the smaller birds are concerned
here, from the chaffinch down; and the weasel is, I believe, almost
always the exciting cause. If it be as I think, a curious thing is
that birds like the chaffinch and the tits, which have their nests
placed out of its reach, should be so overcome at the sight of this
minute creature which hunts on the ground, and which blackbirds and
jays refuse to notice in spite of the outrageous din of the finches.
The chaffinch is invariably first and loudest in these outbreaks; a
dozen or twenty times a day, even in July and August, you will hear
his loud passionate pink-pink calling on all of his kind to join him,
and by-and-by, if you can succeed in getting to the spot, you will
hear other species joining in--the girding of ox-eye and blue-tit, the
angry, percussive note of the wren, the low wailing of the robin, and
the still sadder dunnock, and the small plaintive cries of the tree
warblers.

What an idle demonstration, what a fuss about nothing it seems! The
minute weasel is on the track of a vole or a wood-mouse and cannot
harm the birds. Yes, he can take the nestlings from the robin's and
willow-wren's nests, and from other nests built on the ground, but
what has the chaffinch to do with it all? Can it be that there is some
fatal weakness in birds, in spite of their wings, in this bird
especially, such as exists in voles, and mice, and rabbits, and in
frogs and lizards, which brings them down to destruction, and of which
they are in some way conscious? Some months ago there was a
correspondence in the _Field_ which touched upon this very subject.
One gentleman wrote that he had found three freshly-killed adult cock
chaffinches in a weasel's nest, and he asked in consequence how this
small creature that hunts on the ground could be so successful in
capturing so alert and vigorous a bird as this finch?

For a long time before this correspondence appeared I had been trying
to find out the secret of the matter, but the weasel has keen senses,
and it is hard to see and follow his movements in a copse without
alarming him. One day, over a year ago, near Boldre, I was fortunate
enough to hear a commotion of the lesser kind at a spot where I could
steal upon without alarming the little beast. There was an oak tree,
with some scanty thorn-bushes growing beside the trunk, and stealing
quietly to the spot I peeped through the screening thorns, and saw a
weasel lying coiled round, snakewise, at the roots of the oak in a bed
of dead leaves. He was grinning and chattering at the birds, his whole
body quivering with excitement. Close to him on the twigs above the
birds were perched, and fluttering from twig to twig--chaffinches,
wrens, robins, dunnocks, ox-eyes, and two or three willow-wrens and
chiffchaffs. The chaffinches were the most excited, and were nearest
to him. Suddenly, after a few moments, the weasel began wriggling and
spinning round with such velocity that his shape became
indistinguishable, and he appeared as a small round red object
violently agitated, his rapid motions stirring up the dead leaves so
that they fluttered about him. Then he was still again, but chattering
and quivering, then again the violent motion, and each time he made
this extraordinary movement the excitement and cries of the birds
increased and they fluttered closer down on the twigs. Unluckily, just
when I was on the point of actually witnessing the end of this strange
little drama--a chaffinch, I am sure, would have been the victim--the
little flat-headed wretch became aware of my presence, not five yards
from him, and springing up he scuttled into hiding.

If, as I think, certain species of birds are so thrown off their
mental balance by the sight of this enemy as to come in their frenzy
down to be taken by him, it is clear that he fascinates--to use the
convenient old word in two different ways, or that his furred and
feathered victims are differently affected. In the case of the rabbits
and of the small rodents, we see that they recognise the dangerous
character of their pursuer and try their best to escape from him, but
that they cannot attain their normal speed they cannot run as they do
from a man, or dog, or other enemy, or as they run ordinarily when
chasing one another. Yet it is plain to any one who has watched a
rabbit followed by a stoat that they strain every nerve to escape,
and, conscious of their weakness, are on the brink of despair and
ready to collapse. The rabbit's appearance when he is being followed,
even when his foe is at a distance behind, his trembling frame, little
hopping movements, and agonising cries, which may be heard distinctly
three or four hundred yards away, remind us of our own state in a bad
dream, when some terrible enemy, or some nameless horror, is coming
swiftly upon us; when we must put forth our utmost speed to escape
instant destruction, yet have a leaden weight on our limbs that
prevents us from moving.

I have often watched rabbits hunted by stoats, and recently, at
Beaulieu, I watched a vole hunted by a weasel, and it was simply the
stoat and rabbit hunt in little.

It is a typical case, and I will describe just what I saw, and saw
very well. I was on the hard, white road between Beaulieu village and
Hilltop, when the little animal--a common field vole--came out from
the hedge and ran along the road, and knowing from his appearance that
he was being pursued, I stood still to see the result. He had a very
odd look: instead of a smooth-haired little mouse-like creature
running smoothly and swiftly over the bare ground, he was all hunched
up, his hair standing on end like bristles, and he moved in a series
of heavy painful hops. Before he had gone half-a-dozen yards, the
weasel appeared at the point where the vole had come out, following by
scent, his nose close to the ground; but on coming into the open road
he lifted his head and caught sight of the straining vole, and at once
dashed at and overtook him. A grip, a little futile squeal, and all
was over, and the weasel disappeared into the hedge. But his mate had
crossed the road a few moments before--I had seen her run by me--and
he wanted to follow her, and so presently he emerged again with the
vole in his mouth, and plucking up courage ran across close to me. I
stood motionless until he was near my feet, then suddenly stamped on
the hard road, and this so startled him that he dropped his prey and
scuttled into cover. Very soon he came out again, and, seeing me so
still, made a dash to recover his vole, when I stamped again, and he
lost it again and fled; but only to return for another try, until he
had made at least a dozen attempts. Then he gave it up, and peering at
me in a bird-like way from the roadside grass began uttering a series
of low, sorrowful sounds, so low indeed that if I had been more than
six yards from him they would have been inaudible--low, and soft, and
musical, and very sad, until he quite melted my heart, and I turned
away, leaving him to his vole, feeling as much ashamed of myself as if
I had teased a pretty bright-eyed little child by keeping his cake or
apple until I had made him cry.

With regard to these fatal weaknesses in birds, mammals, and reptiles,
which we see are confined to certain species, they always strike us as
out of the order of nature, or as abnormal, if the word may be used in
such a connection. Perhaps it can be properly used. I remember that
Herodotus, in his _History of Egypt_, relates that when a fire broke
out in any city in that country, the people did not concern themselves
about extinguishing it; their whole anxiety was to prevent the cats
from rushing into the flames and destroying themselves. To this end
the people would occupy all the approaches to the burning building,
forming a cordon, as it were, to keep the cats back; but in spite of
all they could do, some of them would get through, and rush into the
flames and die. The omniscient learned person may tell me that
Herodotus is the Father of Lies, if he likes, and is anxious to say
something witty and original; but I believe this story of the cats,
since not Herodotus, nor any Egyptian who was his informant, would or
could have invented such a tale. Believing it, I can only explain it
on the assumption that this Egyptian race of cats had become subject
to a fatal weakness, a hypnotic effect caused by the sight of a great
blaze. In like manner, if our chaffinch gets too much excited and
finally comes down to be destroyed by a weasel, when he catches sight
of that small red animal, or sees him going through that strange antic
performance which I witnessed, it does not follow that the weakness or
abnormality is universal in the species. It may be only in a race.

Again, with regard to rabbits: when hunted by a stoat they endeavour
to fly, but cannot, and are destroyed owing to that strange--one might
almost say unnatural--weakness; but I can believe that if a colony of
British rabbits were to inhabit, for a good many generations, some
distant country where there are no stoats, this weakness would be
outgrown. It is probable that, even in this stoat-infested country,
not all individuals are subject to such a failing, and that in those
which have it, it differs in degree. If it is a weakness, a something
inimical, then it is reasonable to believe that nature works to
eliminate it, whether by natural selection or some other means.

The main point is the origin of this flaw in certain races, and
perhaps species. How comes it that certain animals should, in certain
circumstances, act in a definite way, as by instinct, to the detriment
of their own and the advantage of some other species--in this case
that of a direct and well-known enemy? It is a mystery, one which, so
far as I know, has not yet been looked into. A small ray of light may
be thrown on the matter, if we consider the fact of those strange
weaknesses and mental abnormalities in our own species, which are
supposed to have their origin in violent emotional and other peculiar
mental states in one of our parents. The fathers have eaten sour
grapes, and their children's teeth are set on edge, is one of the old
proverbs quoted by Ezekiel. I know of one unfortunate person who, if
he but sees a lemon squeezed, or a child biting an unripe-looking
fruit, has his teeth so effectually set on edge, that he cannot put
food into his mouth for some time after. Here is a farmer, a big,
strong, healthy man, who himself works on his farm like any labourer,
who, if he but catches sight of any ophidian--adder, or harmless grass
snake, or poor, innocent blindworm--instantly lets fall the implements
from his hands, and stands trembling, white as a ghost, for some time;
then, finally, he goes back to the house, slowly and totteringly, like
some very aged, feeble invalid, and dropping on to a bed, he lies
nerveless for the rest of that day. Night and sleep restore him to his
normal state.

I give this one of scores of similar cases which I have found. Such
things are indeed very common. But how does the fact of pre-natal
suggestion help us to get at the true meaning of such a phenomenon as
fascination? It does not help us if we consider it by itself. It is a
fact that "freaks" of this kind, mental and physical, are
transmissible, but that helps us little--the abnormal individual has
the whole normal race against him. Thus, in reference to the cat story
in Herodotus, here in a Hampshire village, a mile or two from where I
am writing this chapter, a cottage took fire one evening, and when the
villagers were gathered on the spot watching the progress of the fire,
some pigs--a sow with her young ones--appeared on the scene and dashed
into the flames. The people rushed to the rescue, and with some
difficulty pulled the pigs out; and finally hurdles had to be brought
and placed in the way of the sow to prevent her getting back, so
anxious was she to treat the villagers to roast pig.

This is a case of the hypnotic effect of fire on animals, and perhaps
many similar cases would be found if looked for. We know that most
animals are strangely attracted by fire at night, but they fear it
too, and keep at a proper distance. It draws and disturbs but does not
upset their mental balance. But how it came about that a whole race of
cats in ancient Egypt were thrown off their balance and were always
ready to rush into destruction like the Hampshire pigs, is a mystery.

To return to fascination. Let us (to personify) remember that Nature
in her endeavours to safeguard all and every one of her creatures has
given them the passion of fear in various degrees, according to their
several needs, and in the greatest degree to her persecuted weaklings;
and that this emotion, to be efficient, must be brought to the extreme
limit, beyond which it becomes debilitating and is a positive danger,
even to betraying to destruction the life it was designed to save. Let
us consider this fact in connection with that of pre-natal
suggestion--of weak species frequently excited to an extremity of fear
at the sight, familiar to them, of some deadly enemy, and the possible
effect of that constantly recurring violent disturbance and image, of
terror on the young that are to be.

The guess may go for what it is worth. We know that the susceptibility
of certain animals--the vole and the frog, let us say--to fascination,
is like nothing else in animal life, since it is a great disadvantage
to the species, a veritable weakness, which might even be called a
disease; and that it must therefore have its cause in too great a
strain on the system somewhere; and we know, too, that it is
inheritable. But the facts are too few, since no one has yet taken the
pains to collect data on the matter. There is a good deal of material
lying about in print; and I am astonished at many things I hear from
intelligent keepers, and other persons who see a good deal of wild
life, bearing on this subject. But I do not now propose to follow it
any further.

I went into the oak wood one morning, and, finding it unusually still,
betook myself to a spot where I had often found the birds gathered. It
was a favourite place, where there was running water and very large
trees standing wide apart, with a lawn-like green turf beneath them.
This green space was about half an acre in extent, and was surrounded
by a thicker wood of oak and holly, with an undergrowth of brambles.
Here I found a dead squirrel lying on the turf under one of the
biggest oaks, looking exceedingly conspicuous with the bright morning
sun shining on him.

A poor bag! the reader may say, but it was the day of small things at
the end of July, and this dead creature gave me something to think
about. How in the name of wonder came it to be dead at that peaceful
place, where no gun was fired! I could not believe that he had died,
for never had I seen a finer, glossier-coated,
better-nourished-looking squirrel. "Whiter than pearls are his teeth,"
were Christ's words in the legend when His followers looked with
disgust and abhorrence at a dead dog lying in the public way. This
dead animal had more than pearly teeth to admire; he was actually
beautiful to the sight, lying graceful in death on the moist green
sward in his rich chestnut reds and flower-like whiteness. The wild,
bright-eyed, alert little creature--it seemed a strange and unheard of
thing that he, of all the woodland people, should be lying there,
motionless, not stiffened yet and scarcely cold.

A keeper in Hampshire told me that he once saw a squirrel accidentally
kill itself in a curious way. The keeper was walking on a hard road,
and noticed the squirrel high up in the topmost branches of the trees
overhead, bounding along from branch to branch before him, and
by-and-by, failing to grasp the branch it had aimed at, it fell fifty
or sixty feet to the earth, and was stone dead when he picked it up
from the road. But such accidents must be exceedingly rare in the
squirrel's life.

Looking closely at my dead squirrel to make sure that he had no
external hurt, I was surprised to find its fur peopled with lively big
black fleas, running about as if very much upset at the death of their
host. These fleas were to my eyes just like pulex irritans--our own
flea; but it is doubtful that it was the same, as we know that a great
many animals have their own species to tease them. Now, I have noticed
that some very small animals have very small fleas; and that, one
would imagine, is as it should be, since fleas are small to begin
with, because they cannot afford to be large, and the flea that would
be safe on a dog would be an unsuitable parasite for so small a
creature as a mouse. The common shrew is an example. It has often
happened that when in an early morning walk I have found one lying
dead on the path or road and have touched it, out instantly a number
of fleas have jumped. And on touching it again, there may be a second
and a third shower. These fleas, parasitical on so minute a mammal,
are themselves minute--pretty sherry-coloured little creatures, not
half so big as the dog's flea. It appears to be a habit of some wild
fleas, when the animal they live on dies and grows cold, to place
themselves on the surface of the fur and to hop well away when shaken.
But we do not yet know very much about their lives. Huxley once said
that we were in danger of being buried under our accumulated
monographs. There is, one is sorry to find, no monograph on the fleas;
a strange omission, when we consider that we have, as the life-work of
an industrious German, a big handsome quarto, abundantly illustrated,
on the more degraded and less interesting _Pedicularia_.

The multitude of fleas, big and black, on my dead squirrel, seemed a
ten times bigger puzzle than the one of the squirrel's death. For how
had they got there? They were not hatched and brought up on the
squirrel: they passed their life as larvae on the ground, among the
dead leaves, probably feeding on decayed organic matter. How did so
many of them succeed in getting hold of so very sprightly and
irritable a creature, who lives mostly high up in the trees, and does
not lie about on the ground? Can it be that fleas--those proper to the
squirrel--swarm on the ground in the woods, and that without feeding
on mammalian blood they are able to propagate and keep up their
numbers? These questions have yet to be answered.

It struck me at last that these sprightly parasites might have been
the cause of the squirrel's coming to grief; that, driven to
desperation by their persecutions, he had cast himself down from some
topmost branch, and so put an end to the worry with his life.

Squirrels abound in these woods, and but for parasites and their own
evil tempers they might be happy all the time. But they are explosive
and tyrannical to an almost insane degree; and this may be an effect
of the deleterious substances they are fond of eating. They will feast
on scarlet and orange agarics lovely things to look at, but deadly to
creatures that are not immune. A prettier spectacle than two squirrels
fighting is not to be seen among the oaks. So swift are they, so
amazingly quick in their doublings, in feints, attack, flight, and
chase; moving not as though running on trees and ground, but as if
flying and gliding; and so rarely do they come within touching
distance of one another, that the delighted looker-on might easily
suppose that it is all in fun. In their most truculent moods, in their
fiercest fights, they cannot cease to be graceful in all their
motions.

A common action of squirrels, when excited, of throwing things down,
has been oddly misinterpreted by some observers who have written about
it. Here I have often watched a squirrel, madly excited at my presence
when I have stopped to watch him, dancing about and whisking his tail,
scolding in a variety of tones, and emitting that curious sound which
reminds one of the chattering cry of fieldfares when alarmed; and
finally tearing off the loose bark with his little hands and teeth,
and biting, too, at twigs and leaves so as to cause them to fall in
showers. The little pot boils over in that way, and that's all there
is to be said about it.

Walking among the oaks one day in early winter when the trees were
nearly leafless, I noticed a squirrel sitting very quietly on a
branch; and though he did not get excited, he began to move away
before me, stopping at intervals and sitting still to watch me for a
few moments. He was a trifle suspicious, and nothing more. In this way
he went on for some distance, and by-and-by came to a long horizontal
branch thickly clothed with long lichen on its upper sides, and
instantly his demeanour changed. He was all excitement, and bounding
along the branch he eagerly began to look for something, sniffing and
scratching with his paws, and presently he pulled out a nut which had
been concealed in a crevice under the lichen, and sitting up, he began
cracking and eating it, taking no further notice of me. The sudden
change in him, the hurried search for something, and the result,
seemed to throw some light on the question of the animal's memory with
reference to his habit of hiding food. It is one common to a great
number of rodents, and to many of the higher mammals--Canidae and
Felidae, and to many birds, including most, if not all, the Corvidae.

When the food is hidden away here, there, and everywhere, we know from
observation that in innumerable instances it is never found, and
probably never looked for again; and of the squirrel we are accustomed
to say that he no sooner hides a nut than he forgets all about it.
Doubtless he does, and yet something may bring it back to his mind. In
this matter I think there is a considerable difference between the
higher mammals, cats and dogs, for instance, and the rodents; I think
the dog has a better or more highly developed memory. Thus, I have
seen a dog looking enviously at another who had got a bone, and after
gazing at him with watering mouth for some time, suddenly turn round
and go off at a great pace to a distant part of the ground, and there
begin digging, and presently pull out a bone of his own, which he had
no doubt forgotten all about until he was feelingly reminded of it. I
doubt if a squirrel would ever rise to this height; but on coming by
chance to a spot with very marked features, where he had once hidden a
nut, then I think the sight of the place might bring back the old
impression.

I have often remarked when riding a nervous horse, that he will
invariably become alarmed, and sometimes start at nothing, on arriving
at some spot where something had once occurred to frighten him. The
sight of the spot brings up the image of the object or sound that
startled him; or, to adopt a later interpretation of memory, the past
event is reconstructed in his mind. Again, I have noticed with dogs,
when one is brought to a spot where on a former occasion he has
battled with or captured some animal, or where he has met with some
exciting adventure, he shows by a sudden change in his manner, in eyes
and twitching nose, that it has all come back to him, and he appears
as if looking for its instant repetition.

We see that we possess this lower kind of memory ourselves--that its
process is the same in man and dog and squirrel. I am, for instance,
riding or walking in a part of the country which all seems unfamiliar,
and I have no recollection of ever having passed that way before; but
by-and-by I come to some spot where I have had some little adventure,
some mishap, tearing my coat or wounding my hand in getting through a
barbed wire fence; or where I had discovered that I had lost
something, or left something behind at the inn where I last stayed; or
where I had a puncture in my tyre; or where I first saw a rare and
beautiful butterfly, or bird, or flower, if I am interested in such
things; and the whole scene--the fields and trees, and hedges and
farm-house, or cottage below--is all as familiar as possible. But it
is the scene that brings back the event. The scene was impressed on
the mind at the emotional moment, and is instantly recognised, and at
the moment of recognition the associated event is remembered.



CHAPTER VI

Insects in Britain--Meadow ants--The indoor view of insect
life--Insects in visible nature--The humming-bird hawk-moth, and the
parson Lepidopterist--Rarity of death's-head moth--Hawk-moth and
meadow-pipit--Silver-washed fritillaries on bracken--Flight of the
white admiral butterfly--Dragon-flies--Want of English names--A
water-keeper on dragon-flies--Moses Harris--Why moths have English
names--Origin of the dragon-fly's bad reputation--Cordulegaster
annulatus--Calopteryx virgo--Dragon-flies
congregated--Glow-worm--Firefly and glow-worm compared--Variability in
light--The insect's attitude when shining--Supposed use of the
light--Hornets--A long-remembered sting--The hornet local in
England--A splendid insect--Insects on ivy blossoms in autumn.

THE successive Junes, Julys, and Augusts spent in this low-lying, warm
forest country have served to restore in my mind the insect world to
its proper place in the scheme of things. In recent years, in this
northern land, it had not seemed so important a place as at an earlier
period of my life in a country nearer to the sun. Our insects, less
numerous, smaller in size, more modest in colouring, and but rarely
seen in swarms and clouds and devastating multitudes, do not force
themselves on our attention, as is the case in many other regions of
the earth. Here, for instance, where I am writing this chapter, there
is a stretch of flat, green, common land by the Test, and on this
clouded afternoon, at the end of summer, while sitting on one of the
innumerable little green hillocks covering the common, it seemed to me
that I was in a vacant place where animal life had ceased to be. Not
an insect hummed in that quiet, still atmosphere, nor could I see one
tiny form on the close-cropped turf at my feet. Yet I was sitting on
one of their populous habitations. Cutting out a section of the
cushion-like turf of grass and creeping thyme that covered the hill
and made it fragrant, I found the loose, dry earth within teeming with
minute yellow ants, and many of the hillocks around were occupied by
thousands upon thousands of the same species. Indeed, I calculated
that in a hundred square yards at that spot the ant inhabitants alone
numbered not less than about two hundred thousand.

It is partly on account of this smallness and secretiveness of most of
our insects--of our seeing so little of insect life generally except
during the summer heats in a few favourable localities, and partly an
effect of our indoor life, that we think and care so little about
them. The important part they play, if it is taught us, fades out of
knowledge: we grow in time to regard them as one of the superfluities
in which nature abounds despite the ancient saying to the contrary. Or
worse, as nothing but pests. What good are they to us indeed! Very
little. The silkworm and the honey-bee have been in a measure
domesticated, and rank with, though a long way after, our cattle, our
animal pets and poultry.

But wild insects! There is the turnip-fly, and the Hessian-fly, and
botfly, and all sorts of worrying, and blood-sucking, and
disease-carrying flies, in and out of houses; and gnats and midges,
and fleas in seaside lodgings, and wasps, and beetles, such as the
cockchafer and blackbeetle are not these all pests? This is the indoor
mind--its view of external nature--which makes the society of indoor
people unutterably irksome to me, unless (it will be understood) when
I meet them in a house, in a town, where they exist in some sort of
harmony, however imperfect, with their artificial environment.

I am not concerned now with the question of the place which insects
occupy in the scale of being and their part in the natural economy,
but solely with their effect on the nature-lover with or without the
"curious mind"--in fact, with insects as part of this visible and
audible world. Without them, this innumerable company that each "deep
in his day's employ" are ever moving swiftly or slowly about me, their
multitudinous small voices united into one deep continuous Aeolian
sound, it would indeed seem as if some mysterious malady or sadness
had come upon Nature. Rather would I feel them alive, teasing,
stinging, and biting me; rather would I walk in all green and flowery
places with a cloud of gnats and midges ever about me. Nor do I wish
to write now about insect life generally: my sole aim in this chapter
is to bring before the reader some of the most notable species seen in
this place--those which excel in size or beauty, or which for some
other reason are specially attractive. For not only is this corner of
Hampshire most abounding in insect life, but here, with a few
exceptions, the kings and nobles of the tribe may be met with.

Merely to see these nobler insects as one may see them here, as
objects in the scene, and shining gems in nature's embroidery, is a
delight. And here it may be remarked that the company of the
entomologist is often quite as distasteful to me out of doors as that
of the indoor-minded person who knows nothing about insects except
that they are a "nuisance." Entomologist generally means collector,
and his the entomologist's admiration has suffered inevitable decay,
or rather has been starved by the growth of a more vigorous plant--the
desire to possess, and pleasure in the possession of, dead insect
cases.

One summer afternoon I was visiting at a parsonage in a small New
Forest village in this low district, when my host introduced me to a
friend of his, the vicar of a neighbouring parish, remarking when he
did so that I would be delighted to know him as he was a great
naturalist. The gentleman smiled, and said he was not a "great
naturalist," but only a "Lepidopterist." Now it happened that just
then I had a lovely picture in my mind, the vivid image of a
humming-bird hawk-moth seen suspended on his misty wings among the
tall flowers in the brilliant August sunshine. I had looked on it but
a little while ago, and thought it one of the most beautiful things in
nature; naturally on meeting a Lepidopterist I told him what I had
seen, and something of the feeling the sight had inspired in me. He
smiled again, and remarked that the season had not proved a very good
one for the Macroglossa stellatarum. He had, so far, seen only three
specimens; the first two he had easily secured, as he fortunately had
his butterfly net when he saw them. But the third!--he hadn't his net
then; he was visiting one of his old women, and was sitting in her
garden behind the cottage talking to her when the moth suddenly made
its appearance, and began sucking at the flowers within a yard of his
chair. He knew that in a few moments it would be gone for ever, but
fortunately from long practice, and a natural quickness and dexterity,
he could take any insect that came within reach of his hand, however
wild and swift it might be. "So!"--the parson Lepidopterist explained,
suddenly dashing out his arm, then slowly opening his closed hand to
exhibit the imaginary insect he had captured. Well, he got the moth
after all! And thus owing to his quickness and dexterity all three
specimens had been secured.

I, being no entomologist but only a simple person whose interest and
pleasure in insect life the entomologist would regard as quite
purposeless I felt like a little boy who had been sharply rebuked or
boxed on the ear. This same Lepidopterist may be dead now, although a
couple of summers ago he looked remarkably well and in the prime of
life; but I see that some one else is now parson of his parish. I have
not taken the pains to inquire; but, dead or alive, I cannot imagine
him in that beautiful country of the Future which he perhaps spoke
about to the old cottage woman. I cannot imagine him in white raiment,
with a golden harp in his hand; for if here, in _this_ country, he
could see nothing in a humming-bird hawk-moth among the flowers in the
sunshine but an object to be collected, what in the name of wonder
will he have to harp about!

The humming-bird hawk, owing to its diurnal habits, may be seen by any
one at its best; but as to the other species that equal and surpass it
in lustre, their beauty, so far as man is concerned, is all wasted on
the evening gloom. They appear suddenly, are vaguely seen for a few
moments, then vanish; and instead of the clear-cut, beautiful form,
the rich and delicate colouring and airy, graceful motions, there is
only a dim image of a moving grey or brown something which has passed
before us. And some of the very best are not to be seen even as vague
shapes and as shadows. What an experience it would be to look on the
death's-head moth in a state of nature, feeding among the flowers in
the early evening, with some sunlight to show the delicate grey-blue
markings and mottlings of the upper- and the indescribable yellow of
the under-wings--is there in all nature so soft and lovely a hue? Even
to see it alive in the only way we are able to do, confined in a box
in which we have hatched it from a chrysalis dug up in the potato
patch and bought for sixpence from a workman, to look on it so and
then at its portrait--for artists and illustrators have been trying to
do it these hundred years--is almost enough to make one hate their
art.

My ambition has been to find this moth free, in order to discover, if
possible, whether or no it ever makes its mysterious squeaking sound
when at liberty. But I have not yet found it, and Lepidopterists I
have talked to on this subject, some who have spent their lives in
districts where the insect is not uncommon, have assured me that they
have never seen, and never expect to see, a death's-head which has not
been artificially reared. Yet moths there must be, else there would be
no caterpillars and no chrysalis.

One evening, in a potato patch, I witnessed a large hawk-moth meet his
end in a way that greatly surprised me. I was watching and listening
to the shrilling of a great green grasshopper, or leaf cricket, that
delightful insect about which I shall have to write at some length in
another chapter, when the big moth suddenly appeared at a distance of
a dozen yards from where I stood. It was about the size of a
privet-moth, and had not been many moments suspended before a spray of
flowers, when a meadow-pipit, which had come there probably to roost,
dashed at and struck it down, and then on the ground began a curious
struggle. The great moth, looking more than half as big as the
aggressor, beat the pipit with his strong wings in his efforts to free
himself; but the other had clutched the soft, stout body in its claws,
and standing over it with wings half open and head feathers raised,
struck repeatedly at it with the greatest fury until it was killed.
Then, in the same savage hawk-like manner, the dead thing was torn up,
the pipit swallowing pieces so much too large for it that it had the
greatest trouble to get them down. The gentle, timid, little bird had
for the moment put on the "rage of the vulture."

In the southern half of the New Forest, that part of the country where
insects of all kinds most abound, the moths and butterflies are
relatively less important as a feature of the place, and as things of
beauty, than some other kinds. The purple emperor is very rarely seen,
but the silver-washed fritillary, a handsome, conspicuous insect, is
quite common, and when several of these butterflies are seen at one
spot playing about the bracken in some open sunlit space in the oak
woods, opening their orange-red spotty wings on the broad vivid green
fronds they produce a strikingly beautiful effect. It is like a mosaic
of minute green tesserae adorned with red and black butterfly shapes,
irregularly placed.

But here the most charming butterfly to my mind is the white admiral,
when they are seen in numbers, as in the abundant season of 1901, when
the oak woods were full of them. Here is a species which, seen in a
collection, is of no more value aesthetically than a dead leaf or a
frayed feather dropped in the poultry-yard, or an old postage stamp in
an album, without a touch of brilliance on its dull blackish-brown and
white wings; yet which alive pleases the eye more than the splendid
and larger kinds solely because of its peculiarly graceful flight. It
never flutters, and as it sweeps airily hither and thither, now high
as the tree-tops, now close to the earth in the sunny glades and open
brarnbly places in the oak woods, with an occasional stroke of the
swift-gliding wings, it gives you the idea of a smaller, swifter more
graceful swallow, and sometimes of a curiously-marked, pretty
dragon-fly.

When we think of the bright colours of insects, the dragon-flies
usually come next to butterflies in the mind, and here in the warmer,
well-watered parts of the Forest they are in great force. The noble
Anax imperator is not uncommon; but though so great, exceeding all
other species in size, and so splendid in his "clear plates of
sapphire mail," with great blue eyes, he is surpassed in beauty by a
much smaller kind, the _Libellula virgo alis erectus coloratis_ of
Linnaeus, now called Calopteryx virgo. And just as the great imperator
is exceeded in beauty by the small virgo, so is he surpassed in that
other chief characteristic of all dragon-flies to the unscientific or
natural mind, their uncanniness, by another quite common species, a
very little less than the imperator in size--the Cordulegaster
annulatus.

These names are a burden, and a few words must be said on this point
lest the reader should imagine that he has cause to be offended with
me personally.

Is it not amazing that these familar, large, showy, and
striking-looking insects have no common specific names with us? The
one exception known to me is the small beautiful virgo just spoken of,
and this is called in books "Demoiselle" and "King George," but
whether these names are used by the people anywhere or not, I am
unable to say. On this point I consulted an old water-keeper of my
acquaintance on the Test. He has been keeper for a period of forty-six
years, and is supposed to be very intelligent, and to know everything
about the creatures that exist in those waters and water-meadows. He
assured me that he never heard the names of Demoiselle and King
George. "We calls them dragons and horse-stingers," he said. "And they
do sting, and no mistake, both horse and man." He then explained that
the dragon-fly dashes at its victim, inflicts its sting, and is gone
so swiftly that it is never detected in the act; but the pain is
there, and sometimes blood is drawn.

Nor had the ancient water-keeper ever heard another vernacular name
given by Moses Harris for this same species--kingfisher, to wit. Moses
Harris, one of our earliest entomologists, wrote during the last half
of the eighteenth century, but the date of his birth and the facts of
his life are not known. He began to publish in 1766, his first work
being on butterflies and moths. One wonders if the unforgotten and
at-no-time-neglected Gilbert White never heard of his contemporary
Moses, and never saw his beautiful illustrations of British insects,
many of which still keep their bright colours and delicate shadings
undimmed by time in his old folios. In one of his later works, _An
Exposition of English Insects_, dated 1782, he describes and figures
some of our dragon-flies. It was the custom of this author to give the
vernacular as well as the scientific names to his species, and in
describing the virgo, he says:--"These ... on account of the
brilliancy and richness of the colouring are called kingfishers." But
he had no common name for the others, which seemed to trouble him, and
at last in desperation after describing a certain species, he says
that it is "vulgarly called the dragon-fly!"

I pity old Moses and I pity myself. Why should we have so many
suitable and often pretty names for moths and butterflies, mostly
small obscure creatures, and none for the well-marked,
singular-looking, splendid dragon-flies? The reason is not far to
seek. When men in search of a hobby to occupy their leisure time look
to find it in some natural history subject, as others find it in
postage stamps and a thousand other things, they are, like children,
first attracted by those brilliant hues which they see in butterflies.
Moreover, these insects when preserved keep their colours, unlike
dragon-flies and some others, and look prettiest when arranged with
wings spread out in glass cases. Moths being of the same order are
included, and so we get the collector of moths and butterflies and the
Lepidopterist. So exceedingly popular is this pursuit, and the little
creatures collected so much talked and written about, that it has been
found convenient to invent English names for them, and thus we have,
in moths, wood-tiger, leopard, goat, gipsy, ermine, wood-swift,
vapourer, drinker, tippet, lappet, puss, Kentish glory, emperor,
frosted green, satin carpet, coronet, marbled beauty, rustic wing and
rustic shoulder-knot, golden ear, purple cloud, and numberless others.
In fact, one could not capture the obscurest little miller that
flutters round a reading-lamp which the Lepidopterist would not be
able to find a pretty name for.

The dragon-flies, being no man's hobby, are known only by the old
generic English names of dragons, horse-stingers, adder-stingers, and
devil's darning-needles. Adder-stinger is one of the commonest names
in the New Forest, but it is often simply "adder." One day while
walking with a friend on a common near Headley, we asked some boys if
there were any adders there. "Oh yes," answered a little fellow, "you
will see them by the stream flying up and down over the water." The
name does not mean that dragon-flies sting adders, but that, like
adders, they are venomous creatures. This very common and wide-spread
notion of the insect's evil disposition and injuriousness is due to
its shape and appearance--the great fixed eyes, bright and sinister,
and the long snake-like plated or scaly body which, when the insect is
seized, curls round in such a threatening manner. The colouring, too,
may have contributed towards the evil reputation; at all events, one
of our largest species has a remarkably serpent-like aspect due to its
colour scheme--shining jet black, banded and slashed with wasp-yellow.
This is the magnificent Cordulegaster annulatus, little inferior to
the Anax imperator in size, and a very common species in the southern
part of the New Forest in July. But how astonishing and almost
incredible that this singular-looking, splendid, most dragon-like of
the dragon-flies should have no English name!

Something remains to be said of the one dragon-fly which has got a
name, or names, although these do not appear to be known to the
country people. Mr. W. T. Lucas in his useful monograph on the British
dragon-flies, writes enthusiastically of this species, Calopteryx
virgo, that it is "the most resplendent of our dragon-flies, if not of
all British insects." It is too great praise; nevertheless the virgo
is very beautiful and curious, the entire insect, wings included,
being of an intense deep metallic blue, which glistens as if the
insect had been newly dipped in its colour-bath. Unlike other
dragon-flies, it flutters on the wing like a butterfly with a weak,
uncertain flight, and, again like a butterfly, holds its blue wings
erect when at rest. It is one of the commonest as well as the most
conspicuous dragon-flies on the Boldre, the Dark Water, and other slow
and marshy streams in the southern part of the Forest.

In South America I was accustomed to see dragon-flies in rushing
hordes and clouds, and in masses clinging like swarming bees to the
trees; here we see them as single insects, but I once witnessed a
beautiful effect produced by a large number of the common turquoise
blue dragon-fly gathered at one spot, and this was in Hampshire. I was
walking, and after passing a night at a hamlet called Buckhorn Oak, in
Alice Holt Forest, I went next morning, on a Sunday, to the nearest
church, at the small village of Rutledge. It was a very bright windy
morning in June, and the oak woods had been stripped of their young
foliage by myriads of caterpillars, so that the sunlight fell
untempered through the seemingly dead trees on the bracken that
covered the ground below. Now, at one spot over an area of about half
an acre, the bracken was covered with the common turquoise blue
dragon-fly, clinging to the fronds, their heads to the wind, their
long bodies all pointing the same way. They were nowhere close
together, but very evenly distributed, about three to six inches
apart, and the sight of the numberless slips of gem-like blue
sprinkled over the billowy vivid green fern was a rare and exceedingly
lovely one.

After writing of the lovely haunters of the twilight, and that noblest
one of all--

    The great goblin moth who bears
    Between his wings the ruined eyes of death,

and the angel butterfly, and the uncanny dragon-flies--the flying
serpents in their splendour--it may seem a great descent to speak of
such a thing as a glow-worm, that poor grub-like, wingless,
dull-coloured crawler on the ground, as little attractive to the eye
as the centipede, or earwig, or the wood-louse which it resembles. Nor
is the glow-worm a southern species, since it is no more abundant in
the warmest district of Hampshire than in many other parts of the
country. Nevertheless, when treating of the Insect Notables of these
parts, this species which we call a "worm" cannot be omitted, since it
produces a loveliness surpassing that of all other kinds.

Here it may be remarked that all the most beautiful living things,
from insect to man, like all the highest productions of human genius,
produce in us a sense of the supernatural. If any reader should say in
his heart that I am wrong, that it is not so, that he experiences no
such feeling, I can but remind him that not all men possess all human
senses and faculties. Some of us--many of us--lack this or that sense
which others have. I have even met a man who was without the sense of
humour. In the case of our "worm," unbeautiful in itself, yet the
begetter of so great a beauty, the sense of something outside of
nature which shines on us through nature, even as the sun shines in
the stained glass of a church window, is more distinctly felt than in
the case of any other insect in our country, because of the rarity of
such a phenomenon. It is, with us, unique; but many of us know the
winged luminous insects of other lands.

Both are beautiful, both mysterious--the winged and the wingless; but
one light differs from another in glory even as the stars. The
fire-fly is more splendid, more surprising, in its flashes. It flashes
and is dark, and we watch, staring at the black darkness, for the
succeeding flash. It is like watching for rockets to explode in the
dark sky: there is an element of impatience which interferes with the
pleasure. To admire and have a perfect satisfaction, the insects must
be in numbers, in multitudes, sparkling everywhere in the darkness, so
that no regard is paid to any individual light, but they are seen as
we see snowflakes.

I fancy that Dante, in describing the appearance of glorified souls in
heaven, unless he took it all from Ezekiel, had the fire-fly in his
mind--

    From the bosom
    Of that effulgence quivers a sharp flash
    Sudden and frequent in the guise of lightning.

Of all who have attempted to describe and compare the two
insects--fire-fly and glow-worm--Thomas Lovell Beddoes is the best.
Beddoes himself, in those sudden brilliant letters to his friend
Kelsall, of Fareham, in this county, was a sort of human fire-fly. In
a letter to Proctor, from Milan, 1824, he wrote: "And what else have I
seen? A beautiful and far-famed insect--do not mistake, I mean neither
the Emperor, nor the King of Sardinia, but a much finer specimen--the
fire-fly. Their bright light is evanescent, and alternates with the
darkness, as if the swift whirling of the earth struck fire out of the
black atmosphere; as if the winds were being set upon that planetary
grindstone, and gave out such momentary sparks from their edges. Their
silence is more striking than their flashes, for sudden phenomena are
almost invariably attended with some noise, but these little jewels
dart along the dark as softly as butterflies. For their light, it is
not nearly so beautiful and poetical as our still companion of the
dew, the glow-worm, with his drop of moonlight."

I agree with Beddoes, but his pretty description of our insect is not
quite accurate, as I saw this evening, when, after copious rain, the
sky cleared and a full moon shone on a wet, dusky-green earth. The
light of the suspended glow-worm was of an exquisite golden green,
and, side by side with it, the moonlight on the wet surface of a
polished leaf was shining silver-white.

The light varies greatly in power, according, I suppose, to the degree
of excitement of the insect and to the atmospheric conditions.
Occasionally you will discover a light at a distance shining with a
strange glory, a light which might be mistaken for a will-o'-the-wisp,
and on a close view you will probably find that a male is on the
scene, and the female, aware of his presence though he may be at some
distance from her, invisible in the darkness, has been wrought up to
the highest state of excitement. You will find her clinging to a stem
or leaf, her luminous part raised, and her whole body swaying in a
measured way from side to side. If the insect happens to be a foot or
two above the ground, in a tangle of bramble and bracken, with other
plants with slender stems and deep-cut leaves, the appearance is
singularly beautiful. The light looks as if enclosed within an
invisible globe, which may be as much as fifteen inches in diameter,
and within its circle the minutest details of the scene are clear to
the vision, even to the finest veining of the leaves, the leaves
shining a pure translucent green, while outside the mystic globe of
light all is in deep shadow and in blackness.

With regard to the attitude of the glow-worm when displaying its
light, we see how ignorant of the living creature the illustrators of
natural history books have been. In scores of works on our shelves,
dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the glow-worm is
depicted giving out its light while crawling on the ground, and in
many illustrations the male is introduced, and is shown flying down to
its mate. They drew their figures not from life, but from specimens in
a cabinet, only leaving out the pins. But the glow-worm is not perhaps
a very well-known creature. A lady in Hampshire recently asked me if
it was a species of mole that came out of its run to exhibit its light
in the darkness. The insect invariably climbs up and suspends itself
by clinging to a stem or blade or leaf, and the hinder part of the
body curls up until its under surface, the luminous part, is
uppermost, thus making the light visible from the air above. In thick
hedges I often find the light four or even five feet above the ground.
Occasionally a glow-worm will shine from a flat surface, usually a big
leaf on to which it has crawled when climbing. Resting horizontally on
the leaf, it curls its abdomen up and over its body after the manner
of the earwig, until the light is in the right position.

When we consider these facts--the way in which the body is curved and
twisted about in order (as it seems) to exhibit the light to an insect
flying through the air above, and the increase in the light when the
sexual excitement is at its greatest--the conclusion seems unavoidable
that the light has an important use, namely, to attract the male.
Unavoidable, I say, and yet I am not wholly convinced. The fire-flies
of diurnal habits may be seen flying about, feeding and pairing, by
day; yet when evening comes they fly abroad again, exhibiting their
light. What the function of the light is, or of what advantage it is
to the insect, we do not know. Again, it has seemed to me that the
male of the glow-worm, even when attracted to the female, fears the
light. Thus, when the excitement of the shining glow-worm has caused
me to look for the male, I have found him, not indeed in but outside
of the circle of light, keeping close to its borders, moving about on
feet and wings in the dark herbage and on the ground. I know very well
that not a few observations made by one person, but many--hundreds if
possible--by different observers, are needed before we can say
positively that the male glow-worm fears or is repelled by the light.
But some of my observations make me think that the male of the
glow-worm, like the males of many other species in different orders
that fly by night, is drawn to the female by the scent, and that the
light is a hindrance instead of a help, although in the end he is
drawn into it. We always find it exceedingly hard to believe that
anything in nature is without a use; but we need not go very far--not
farther than our own bodies, to say nothing of our minds--before we
are compelled to believe that it is so. We may yet find that the
beautiful light of our still companion of the dew is of no more use to
it than the precious jewel in the toad's head is to the toad.

The hornet, one of my first favourites, has, to our minds, nothing
mysterious like our glow-worm, and nothing serpentine or supernatural
in him, but he is a nobler, more powerful, and splendid creature than
any dragon-fly. I care not to look at a vulgar wasp nor at any diurnal
insect, however fine, when he is by, or his loud, formidable buzzing
hum is heard. As he comes out of the oak tree shade and goes swinging
by in his shining golden red armature, he is like a being from some
other hotter, richer land, thousands of miles away from our cold,
white cliffs and grey seas. Speaking of that, our hornet, which is at
the head of the family and genus of true wasps in Britain and Europe,
is not only large and splendid for a northern insect, since he is not
surpassed in lustre by any of his representatives in other parts of
the globe.

I admire and greatly respect him, this last feeling dating back to my
experience of wasps during my early life in South America. When a boy
I was one summer day in the dining-room at home by myself, when in at
the open door flew a grand wasp of a kind I had never seen before, in
size and form like the hornet, but its colour was a uniform cornelian
red without any yellow. Round the room it flew with a great noise,
then dashed against a window-pane, and I, greatly excited and fearing
it would be quickly gone if not quickly caught, flew to the window,
and dashing out my hand, like the wonderfully clever parson-collector,
I grasped it firmly by the back with finger and thumb. Now, I had been
accustomed to seize wasps and bees of many kinds in this way without
getting stung, but this stranger was not like other wasps, and quickly
succeeded in curling his abdomen round, and planting his long sting in
the sensitive tip of my forefinger. Never in all my experience of
stings had I suffered such pain! I dropped my wasp like the hottest of
coals, and saw him fling himself triumphantly out of the room, and
never again beheld one of his kind. Even now when I stand and watch
English hornets at work on their nests, coming and going, paying no
attention to me, a memory of that hornet of a distant land returns to
my mind; and it is like a twinge, and I venture on no liberties with
Vespa crabro.

The hornet is certainly not an abundant insect, nor very generally
distributed. One may spend years in some parts of the country and
never see it. I was lately asked by friends in Kent, who have their
lonely house in a wooded and perhaps the wildest spot in the county,
if the hornet still existed in England, or really was an English
insect, as they had not seen one in several years. Now in the woods I
frequent in the Forest I see them every day, and the abundance of the
hornet is indeed for me one of the attractions of the place. His nests
are rarely found in old trees, but are common about habitations, in
wood-piles, and old, little-used outhouses. I have heard farmers say
in this place that they would not hurt a hornet, but regard it as a
blessing. So it is, and so is every insect that helps to keep down the
everlasting plague of cattle-worrying and crop-destroying flies and
grubs and caterpillars.

But I am speaking of the hornet merely as an Insect Notable, a spot of
brilliant colour in the scene, one of the shining beings that inhabit
these green mansions. He is magnificent, and it is perhaps partly due
to his vivid and lustrous red and gold colour, his noisy flight, and
fierce hostile attitudes, and partly to the knowledge of his angry
spirit and venomous sting, which makes him look twice as big as he
really is.

One of the most impressive sights in insect life is, strange to say,
in the autumn, when cold rains and winds and early frosts have already
brought to an end all that seemed best and brightest in that fairy
world.

This is where an ancient or large ivy grows in some well-sheltered
spot on a wall or church, or on large old trees in a wood, and flowers
profusely, and when on a warm bright day in late September or in
October all the insects which were not wholly dead revive for a
season, and are drawn by the ivy's sweetness from all around to that
one spot. There are the late butterflies, and wasps and bees of all
kinds, and flies of all sizes and colours--green and steel-blue, and
grey and black and mottled, in thousands and tens of thousands. They
are massed on the clustered blossoms, struggling for a place; the air
all about the ivy is swarming with them, flying hither and thither,
and the humming sound they produce may be heard fifty yards away like
a high wind. One cannot help a feeling of melancholy at this animated
scene; but they are anything but melancholy. Their life has been a
short and a merry one, and now that it is about to end for ever they
will end it merrily, in feasting and revelry.

And never does the hornet look greater, the king and tyrant of its
kind, than on these occasions. It swings down among them with a sound
that may be heard loud and distinct above the universal hum, and
settles on the flowers, but capriciously, staying but a moment or two
in one place, then moving to another, the meaner insects all
expeditiously making room for it. And after tasting a few flowers here
and there it takes its departure. These large-sized October hornets
are all females, wanderers from ruined homes, in search of sheltered
places where, foodless and companionless, and in a semi-torpid
condition, each may live through the four dreary months to come. In
March the winter of their discontent will be over, and they will come
forth with the primrose and sweet violet to be founders and mothers of
new colonies--the brave and splendid hornets of another year;
builders, fighters, and foragers in the green oak-woods; a strenuous
hungry and thirsty people, honey-drinkers, and devourers of the flesh
of naked white grubs and caterpillars, black and brown and green and
gold, and barred and quaintly-coloured swift aerial flies.



CHAPTER VII

Great and greatest among insects--Our feeling for insect
music--Crickets and grasshoppers--Cicada anglica--Locusta
viridissima--Character of its music--Colony of green
grasshoppers--Harewood Forest--Purple emperor--Grasshoppers' musical
contests--The naturalist mocked--Female viridissima--Over-elaboration
in the male--Habits of female--Wooing of the male by the female.

I HAD thought to include all or most of the greatest of the insects
known in these parts in the last chapter, but the hornet, and the
vision it called up of that last revel in the late blossoming ivy on
the eve of winter and cold death seemed to bring that part of the book
to an end. The hornet was the greatest in the sense that a strong man
and conqueror is the greatest among ourselves, as the lion or wolf
among mammals, and that feathered thunderbolt and scourge, the
peregrine falcon among birds. But there are great and greatest in
other senses; and just as there are singers, big and little, as well
as warriors among the "insect tribes of human kind," so there are
among these smaller men of the mandibulate division of the class
Insecta. And their singers, when not too loud and persistent, as they
are apt to be in warmer lands than ours, are among the most agreeable
of the inhabitants of the earth. They are less to us than to the
people of the southern countries of Europe--infinitely less than they
were to some of the civilised nations of antiquity, and than they are
to the Japanese of to-day. This is, I suppose, on account of their
rarity with us, for our best singers are certainly somewhat rare or
else exceedingly local. The field-cricket, which must be passed over
in this chapter to be described later on, is an instance in point. The
universal house-cricket is known to and in some degree loved by all or
most persons; it is the cricket on the hearth, that warm, bright,
social spot when the world outside is dark and cheerless; the lively,
companionable sound endears itself to the child, and later in life is
dear because of its associations. The field-grasshopper, too, is
familiar to every one in the summer pastures; but the best of our
insect musicians, the great green grasshopper, appears to be almost
unknown to the people. Here, for instance, where I am writing, there
is one on the table which stridulates each afternoon, and in the
evening when the lamp is lighted. The sustained bright shrilling
penetrates to all parts of the house, and in the tap-room of the inn,
two rooms away, the villagers, coming in for their evening beer and
conversation, are startled at the unfamiliar, sharp, silvery sound,
and ask if it is a bird.

Probably it is owing to this rarity of our best insect singers, and
partly, too, perhaps to the disagreeable effect on our ears of the
loud cicadas heard during our southern travels, that an idea is
produced in us of something exotic, or even fantastic, in a taste for
insect music. We wonder at the ancient Greeks and the modern Japanese.
But it should be borne in mind that the sounds had and have for them
an expression they cannot have for us--the expression which comes of
association.

If the insects named as our best are rare and local, or at all events
not common, what shall we say of our cicada? Can we call him a singer
at all? or if he be not silent, as some think, will he ever be more to
us than a figure and descriptive passage in a book--a mere cicada of
the mind? He is the most local, or has the most limited range, of all,
being seldom found out of the New Forest district. He was discovered
there about seventy years ago, and Curtis, who gave him the proud name
of Cicada anglica, expressed the opinion that he had no song. And many
others have thought so too, because, they have been unable to hear
him. Others, from Kirby and Spence to our time, have been of a
contrary opinion. So the matter stands. A. H. Swinton, in his work on
_Insect Variety and Propagation_, 1885, relates that he tried in vain
to hear Cicada anglica before going to France and Italy, to make a
study of the cicada music; and he writes:--"In northern England their
woodland melody has not yet fallen on the ear of the entomologist, but
it must not therefore be inferred that these musicians are wholly
absent, for among the rich and bounteous southern fauna of Hampshire
and Surrey we still retain one outlying waif of the cigales. ...
Cicada anglica, seemingly the montana of Scopoli, if not Haematodes in
_propria persona_. The male, usually beaten in June from blossoming
hawthorn in the New Forest, is provided with instruments of music, and
the female, more terrestrial, is often observed wandering with a
whirring sound among bracken wastes, where she is thought to deposit
her ova."

It struck me some time ago that some of the disappointed entomologists
may have heard the sound they were listening for without knowing it.
In seeking for an object--some rare little flower, let us say, or a
chipped flint, or a mushroom--we set out with an image of it in the
mind, and unless the object sought for corresponds to its mental
prototype, we in many cases fail to recognise it and pass on. And it
is the same with sounds. The listeners perhaps heard a sound so unlike
their idea, or image, of a cicada's song, or so like the sound of some
other quite different insect, that they paid no attention to it, and
so missed what they sought for. At all events, I can say that unless
we have some Orthopterous insect of a species unknown to me, which
sings in trees, then our cicada does sing, and I have heard it. The
sound which I heard, and which was new to me, came from the upper
foliage of a large thorn-tree in the New Forest, but unfortunately it
ceased on my approach, and I failed to find the singer. The
entomologist may say that the question remains as it was, but my
experience may encourage him to try again. Had I not been expecting to
hear an insect singing high up in the trees, I should have said at
once that this was a grasshopper's music, though unlike that of any of
the species I am accustomed to hear. It was a sustained sound, like
that of the great green grasshopper, but not of that excessively
bright, subtle, penetrative quality: it was a lower sound, not shrill,
and distinctly slower--in other words, the beats or drops of sound
which compose the grasshopper's song, and run in a stream, were more
distinct and separate, giving it a trilling rather than a reeling
character. Had we, in England, possessed a stridulating mantis, which
is capable of a slower, softer sound than any grasshopper, I should
have concluded that I was listening to one; but there was not, in this
New Forest music, the slightest resemblance to the cicada sounds I had
heard in former years. The cicadas may be a "merry people," and they
certainly had the prettiest things said of them by the poets of
Greece, but I do not like their brain-piercing, everlasting whirr;
this sound of the English cicada, assuming that I heard that insect,
was distinctly pleasing.

But more than cicada, or field-cricket, or any other insect musician
in the land, is our great green grasshopper, or leaf-cricket, Locusta
viridissima. I have been accustomed to hear him in July and August, in
hedges, gardens, and potato patches at different points along the
south coast and at some inland spots, always in the evening. It is
easy, even after dark, to find him by following up the sound, when he
may be seen moving excitedly about on the topmost sprays or leaves,
pausing at intervals to stridulate, and occasionally taking short
leaps from spray to spray. He belongs to a family widely distributed
on the earth, and in La Plata I was familiar with two species which in
form and colour--a uniform vivid green--were just like our
viridissima, but differed in size, one being smaller and the other
twice as large. The smaller species sang by day, all day long, among
water-plants growing in the water; the large species stridulated only
by night, chiefly in the maize fields, and was almost as loud and
harsh as the cicadas of the same region. I distinctly remember the
sounds emitted by these two species, and by several other grasshoppers
and leaf-crickets, but none of their sounds came very near in
character to that of viridissima. This is a curious, and to my sense a
very beautiful sound; and when a writer describes it as "harsh," which
we not unfrequently find, I must conclude either that one of us hears
wrongly, or not as the world hears, or that, owing to poverty, he is
unable to give a fit expression. It is a sustained sound, a current of
brightest, finest, bell-like strokes or beats, lasting from three or
four to ten or fifteen seconds, to be renewed again and again after
short intervals; but when the musician is greatly excited, the pauses
last only for a moment--about half a second, and the strain may go on
for ten minutes or longer before a break of any length. But the
quality is the chief thing; and here we find individual differences,
and that some have a lower, weaker note, in which may be detected a
buzz, or sibilation, as in the field-grasshopper; but, as a rule, it
is of a shrillness and musicalness which is without parallel. The
squealings of bats, shrews, and young mice are excessively sharp, and
are aptly described as "needles of sound," but they are not musical.
The only bird I know which has a note comparable to the viridissima is
the lesser whitethroat--the excessively sharp, bright sound emitted
both as an anger-note and in that low and better song described in a
former chapter. It is this musical sharpness which pleases in the
insect, and makes it so unlike all other sounds in a world so full of
sound. Its incisiveness produces a curious effect: sitting still and
listening for some time at a spot where several insects are
stridulating, certain nerves throb with the sound until it seems that
it is in the brain, and is like that disagreeable condition called
"ringing in the ears" made pleasant. Almost too fine and sharp to be
described as metallic, perhaps it comes nearer to the familiar sound
described by Henley--

    Of ice and glass the tinkle,
    Pellucid, crystal-shrill.

Crystal beads dropped in a stream down a crystal stair would produce a
sound somewhat like the insect's song, but duller. We may, indeed, say
that this grasshopper's sounding instrument is glass; it is a shining
talc-like disc, which may be seen with the unaided sight by raising
the elytra.

Some time ago, in glancing through some copies of Newman's monthly
_Entomologist_, 1836, I came upon an account of a numerous colony of
the great green grasshopper, which the writer found by chance at a
spot on the Cornish coast. The effect produced by the stridulating of
a large number of these insects was very curious. I envied the old
insect-hunter his experience. A colony of viridissima--what a
happiness it would be to discover such a thing! And now, late in the
summer of 1902, I have found one, and though a very thinly populated
one compared to his, it has given me a long-coveted opportunity of
watching and listening to the little green people to my heart's
content.

The happy spot was in Harewood Forest, a dense oak-wood covering an
area of about two thousand acres, a few miles from Andover. I had
haunted it for some days, finding little wild life to interest me
except the jays, which seemed to be the principal inhabitants. In the
middle of this forest or wood, among the oak trees there stands a tall
handsome granite cross about thirty feet high, placed to mark the
exact spot, known as "Deadman's Plack," where over nine centuries ago
King Edgar, with his own hand, slew his friend and favourite, Earl
Athelwold. The account which history gives of this pious monarch,
called the Peaceable, despite his volcanic disposition where women
were concerned, especially his affair with Elfrida, who was also pious
and volcanic as well as beautiful, reads in these dull, proper times
like a tale from another hotter, fiercer world. It is not strange that
many persons find their way through the thick forest by the narrow
track to this place or "Plack"; and there too I went on several days,
and sat by the hour and meditated. It had struck me as a suitable spot
to watch for the purple emperor; but I saw him not, and once only I
caught sight of his bride to be--a big black-looking butterfly which
rose from the top of an oak, took a short flight, and returned to
settle once more on the highest leaves in the same place. This vain
hunt for the purple king of the butterflies--to see him, not to
"take"--led to the discovery of the green minstrels. Near the cross,
or "monument," as it is called, there is an open place occupying a
part of the top and a slope of a down, as pretty a bit of wild heath
as may be found in the county. Stony and barren in places, it is in
other parts clothed in ling, purple with bloom at this season, with a
few pretty little birches and clumps of tangled thorn and bramble
scattered about. But the feature which gives a peculiar charm to the
spot is the false brome grass which flourishes on the slope, growing
in large patches, and on the borders of these mixing its vivid
light-green tussocks with the purple-flowered heath. It is the species
called (in books) heath false brome grass, but as lips of man refuse
to pronounce these four ponderous monosyllables, the invention of some
dreary botanist, that follow and jolt against each other, I will
venture to rename it good-for-nothing grass. For it is useless to the
farmer, since no domestic herbivore will touch it; its sole
justification is its exceeding beauty. It grows as high as a man's
knees, or higher, and even in the driest, hottest season keeps its
wonderfully vivid fresh green, as near a brilliant colour as any green
leaf can be; and the stalks and graceful spikes after the flowering
time are pale yellow-brown, and have a golden lustre in the bright
August and September sunlight. Could our poetical viridissima have a
more suitable home! And here, coming out from the thick oaks and
sauntering about the heath I caught the sound of his delicate
shrilling, and to my delight found myself in the midst of a colony.
They were not abundant, and one could not experience the sensation
produced by many stridulating at a time: they were thinly scattered
over two or three acres of ground, but at some points I could hear
several of them shrilling together at different distances, and it was
not difficult to keep two or three in sight at one time.

Hitherto I had known this insect as an evening musician, beginning as
a rule after sunset and continuing till about eleven o'clock. Here he
made his music only during the daylight hours, from about ten or
eleven in the morning until five or six o'clock in the afternoon,
becoming silent at noon when it was hot. But it was late in the season
when I found him, on August 26, and after much rain the weather had
become exceptionally cool for the time of year.

When stridulating it appeared to be the ambition of every male
grasshopper to get up as high as he could climb on the stiff blades
and thin stalks of the grass; and there, very conspicuous in his
uniform green colour which in a strong sunlight looked like the green
of verdigris, his translucent overwings glistening like a dragon-fly's
wings, he would shrill and make the grass to which he was clinging
tremble to his rapidly vibrating body. Then he would listen to the
shrill response of some other singer not far off, and then sing and
listen again, and yet again; then all at once in a determined manner
he would set out to find his rival, travelling high up through the
grass, climbing stems and blades until they bent enough for him to
grasp others and push on, reminding one of a squirrel progressing
through the thin highest branches of a hazel copse. After covering the
distance in this manner, with a few short pauses by the way to shrill
back an answering challenge, he would find a suitable place near to
the other, still in his place high up in the grass; and then the two,
a foot or so, sometimes three or four inches, apart, would begin a
regular duel in sound at short range. Each takes his turn, and when
one sings the other raises one of his forelegs to listen; one may say
that in lifting a leg he "cocks an ear." The attitude of the insects
is admirably given in the accompanying drawing from life. This contest
usually ends in a real fight: one advances, and when at a distance of
five or six inches makes a leap at his adversary, and the other,
prepared for what is coming and in position, leaps too at the same
moment, so that they meet midway, and strike each other with their
long spiny hind legs. It is done so quickly that the movements cannot
be followed by the eye, but that they do hit hard is plain, as in many
cases one is knocked down or flung to some distance away. Thus ends
the round; the beaten one rushes off as quickly as he can, as if hurt,
but soon pulls up, and lowering his head, begins defiantly
stridulating as before. The other follows him up, shrills at and
attacks him again; and you may see a dozen or twenty such encounters
between the same two in the course of half-an-hour. Occasionally when
the blow is struck they grasp each other and fall together; and it is
hardly to be doubted that they not only kick, like French wrestlers
and bald-headed coots, but also make wicked use of their powerful
black teeth. Some of the fighters I examined had lost a portion of one
of the forelegs--one had lost portions of two--and these had evidently
been bitten off. Perhaps they inflict even worse injuries. Hearing two
shrilling against each other at a spot where there was a large clump
of heath between them, I dropped down close by to listen and watch,
when I discovered a third grasshopper sitting midway between the
others in the centre of the heath bush. This one appeared more excited
than the others, keeping his wings violently agitated almost without a
pause, and yet not the faintest sound proceeded from him. It proved on
examination that one of his stiff overwings had been bitten or torn
off at the base, so that he had but half of his sounding apparatus
left, and no music could his most passionate efforts ever draw from
it, and, silent, he was no more in the world of green grasshoppers
than a bird with a broken wing in the world of birds.

For it cannot be doubted that his own music is the greatest, the one
all-absorbing motive and passion of his little soul. This may seem to
be saying too much--to attribute something of human feelings to a
creature so immeasurably far removed from us. Fantastic in shape, even
among beings invertebrate and unhuman, one that indeed sees with opal
eyes set in his green goat-like mask, but who hears with his forelegs,
breathes through spiracles set in his sides, whipping the air for
other sense impressions and unimaginable sorts of knowledge with his
excessively long limber horns, or antennae, just as a dry fly fisher
whips the crystal stream for speckled trout; and, finally, who wears
his musical apparatus (his vocal organs) like an electric shield or
plaster on the small of his back. Nevertheless it is impossible to
watch their actions without regarding them as creatures of like
passions with ourselves. The resemblance is most striking when we
think not of what we, hard Saxons, are in this cold north, but of the
more fiery, music-loving races in warmer countries. I remember in my
early years, before the advent of "Progress" in those outlying realms,
that the ancient singing contests still flourished among the gauchos
of La Plata. They were all lovers of their own peculiar kind of music,
singing endless _decimas_ and _coplas_ in high-pitched nasal tones to
the strum-strumming of a guitar; and when any singer of a livelier
mind than his fellows had the faculty of improvising, his fame went
forth, and the others of his quality were filled with emulation, and
journeyed long distances over the lonely plains to meet and sing
against him. How curiously is this like our island grasshoppers, who
have come to us unchanged from the past, and are neither Saxons nor
Celts, but true, original, ancient Britons--the little grass-green
people with passionate souls! You can almost hear him say--this little
green minstrel you have been watching when his shrill note has brought
back as shrill an answer as he resolutely sets out over the tall,
bending grasses in the direction of the sound, "I'll teach him to
sing!"

So interested was I in watching them, so delighted to be in this
society, whose members, for all their shape, no longer moved about in,
to me, unimaginable worlds, that I went day after day and spent long
hours with them. I could best watch their battles by getting down on
my knees in the good-for-nothing ("heath false brome") grass, so as to
bring my eyes within two or three feet of them. My attitude, kneeling
with bowed head by the half-hour at a stretch, one day attracted the
attention of some persons who had come in a carriage to picnic under
the trees at the foot of the slope, four or five hundred yards away.
There were from time to time little explosions of laughter, and at
last a young lady of twelve or fourteen cried, or piped out, in a
clear, far-reaching voice, "Holy man!" She was an impudent monkey.

So far not a word has been said of the female, simply because, as it
seemed to me, there was, so far, nothing to say. In most insects the
odour excites and draws the males, often from long distances, as we
see in the moths; they fly to, and find, and see her, and woo, and
chase, and fight with each other for possession of her; and when there
are beautiful or fantastic movements, sometimes accompanied with
sounds, corresponding to the antics of birds--I have observed them in
species of Asilidae and other insects--they are directly caused by the
presence of the female. But with viridissima it appears not to be so,
since they do not seek the female, nor will they notice her when she
conies in their way, but they are wholly absorbed in their own music,
and in trying to out-sing the others, or, failing in this, to kick and
bite them into silence.

Now, seeing this strange condition of things among these
insects--seeing it day after day for weeks--the conclusion forced
itself upon my mind that we have here one of those strange cases among
the lower creatures which are not uncommon in human life--the case of
a faculty, a means to an end, being developed and refined to an
excessive degree, and the reflex effect of this too great refinement
on the species, or race. Comparing it then to certain human matters to
Art, let us say--we see that that which was but a means has become an
end, and is pursued for its own sake.

Such a conclusion may seem absurd, and perhaps it is, since we cannot
know what "nimble emanations" and vibrations, which touch not our
coarser natures, there may be to link these diverse and seemingly
ill-fitting actions into one perfect chain. It may be said, for
instance, that in this species the incessant stridulating of the male
has an action similar to that of the sun's light and heat on plant
life, causing the flower to blow and its sexual organs to ripen. But
we see, too, that Nature does often overshoot her mark. We have seen
it, I think, in the over-refinement of the passion and faculty of fear
in certain species, in reference to cases of fascination, and we see
it in the over-protected and the over-specialised; but we are so
imbued with the idea that the right mean has always been hit upon and
adhered to, that it is only in view of the most flagrant cases to the
contrary that we are ever startled out of that delusion. The miserable
case, for example, of the Polyergus rufescens, the slave-making ant,
who, from being too much waited upon, has so entirely lost the power
of waiting upon himself that he will perish of hunger amidst plenty if
his slaves be not there to pick up and put the food into his mouth.
These extreme cases are not the only ones, for every one of such a
character there are hundreds of cases. "Degeneration," as Ray
Lankester has aptly said, "goes hand in hand with elaboration;" and I
would add that in numberless cases over-elaboration is the cause of
degeneration.

The female is the grander insect, being nearly a third larger than the
male, of a fuller figure, and adorned with a long, broadsword-shaped
ovipositor, which projects beyond her wings like a tail. She has
rather a grand air too, and is both silent and inactive. Hers is a
life of listening and waiting; and the waiting is long--days and weeks
go by, and the males stridulate, and fight, and pay no attention to
her. But how patient she can be may be seen in the case of one which I
took from her heath and placed on a well-berried branch of wild
guelder on my table. There she was contented to rest, usually on one
of the topmost clusters, for many days, almost always with the window
open at the side of her branch, so that she could easily have made her
escape. The wind blew in upon her, and outside the world was green and
lit with sunshine. One could almost fancy that she was conscious of
her fine appearance in her pale vivid green colour, touched in certain
lights with glaucous blue, on her throne of clustered carbuncles. At
intervals of an hour or two she would move about a little, and find
some other perch; only the waving of her long, fine antennae appeared
to show that she was alive to much that was going on about her--in her
world. The one thing that excited her was the stridulating of one of
the males confined in a glass vessel on the same table. She would then
travel over her branch to get as near as possible to the musician, and
would remain motionless, even to the nervous antennae, and apparently
the sound for as long as it lasted. At first she ate a few of the
crimson berries on her branch, and also took a little parsley and
shepherd's purse, but later on she declined all green stuff, and fed
on jam, honey, cooked sultanas, and bread-and-butter pudding, which
she liked best. Water and ginger-beer for drink. This most placid and
dignified lady--we had got into calling her "Lady Greensleeves," and
"Queen," and sometimes "The Cow"--was restored, on September 12, in
good health, after sixteen days, to her native heath, and disappeared
from sight in the long grass, quietly making her way to some spot
where she could settle down comfortably to listen to the music.

All the females I found and watched behaved as my captive had done.
They were no more active, and preferred to be at a good height above
the ground--eighteen inches or two feet--when quietly listening. One
day I watched one perched on the topmost spray of a heath bush in her
listening attitude: clouds came over the sun, and the wind grew colder
and stronger, and the singers ceased singing. And at last, finding
that the silence continued, and doubtless feeling uncomfortable on
that spray where the wind blew on and swayed her about, she slowly
climbed down and settled herself in a horizontal position on the
sheltered side of the plant; and when the sun broke out and shone on
her she tipped over on one side, stretched her hind legs out, and
rested motionless in that position, exactly like a fowl lying in her
dusting-place luxuriating in the heat.

But at last despite that air of repose which is her chief
characteristic, she is so wrought upon by that perpetual, shrill,
irresistible music that she can no longer endure to sit still, but is
drawn to it. She goes to her charmers, one may say, to remind them by
her presence that the minstrelsy in which they are so absorbed is not
itself an end but a means. Brisk or lively she cannot be, but it is
plain that when she follows up or settles herself down near her
forgetful knights, she is greatly excited, and waiting to be taken in
marriage. That she distinguishes one singer above others, or exercises
"selection" in the Darwinian sense, seems unlikely: it strikes one, on
the contrary, that having so long suffered neglect she is only too
willing to be claimed by any one of them. And this is just what they
decline to do for some time, at any rate. Again and again I have
observed when the female had followed and placed herself close to a
couple of these rival musicians, that they took not the least notice
of her; and that when, in the course of the alarums and excursions,
one of them found himself close to her. the sight of her appeared to
disconcert him, and he made all haste to get away from her. It looked
to human eyes as if her large portly figure had not corresponded to
his ideal, and had even moved him to repugnance. But the Ann of Cleves
in a green gown is an exceedingly patient person, and very persistent,
and though often denied, she will not be denied, or take No for an
answer. But it is altogether a curious business, for not only is the
wooing process reversed, as many think it is in the cuckoo, but it
lasts an unconscionable time in a creature whose life, in the perfect
stage, is limited to a season. But the female viridissima has not the
power and swiftness of that feathered lady who boldly pursues her
singer (in love with nothing but his own voice), and compels him to
take her.



CHAPTER VIII

Hampshire, north and south--A spot abounding in life--Lyndhurst--A
white spider--Wooing spider's antics--A New Forest little boy--Blonde
gipsies--The boy and the spider--A distant world of spiders--Selborne
and its visitors--Selborne revisited--An owl at Alton--A wagtail at
the Wakes--The cockerel and the martin--Heat at Selborne--House
crickets--Gilbert White on crickets--A colony of field crickets--Water
plants--Musk mallow--Cirl buntings at Selborne--Evening gatherings of
swifts at Selborne--Locustidae--Thamnotrizon cinereus--English names
wanted--Black grasshopper's habits and disposition--Its abundance at
Selborne.

IN the last chapter I got away--succeeded in breaking away, would
perhaps be a better expression--from that favourite hunting-ground of
mine farther south; and the reader would perhaps care to know why a
book descriptive of days in Hampshire should be so much taken up with
days in one small corner of the county. Hampshire is not a very large
county compared with some others: I have traversed it in this and in
that direction often enough to be pretty familiar with a great deal of
it, from the walled-round cornfield which was once Roman Calleva to
the Solent; and from the beautiful wild Rother on the Sussex border to
the Avon in the west. There is much to see and know within these
limits: for all of those whose proper study is man, his history and
his works; and for the archaeologist and for the artist and seekers
after the picturesque, there is much--nay, there is more to attract in
the northern than in the southern half of the county. I, not of them,
go south, and by preference to one spot, because my chief interest and
delight is in life--life in all its forms, from man who walks erect
and smiling looks on heaven to the minutest organic atoms--the
invisible life. It here comes into my mind that the very smell of the
earth, in which we all delight, the smell which fills the air after
rain in summer, and is strong when we turn up a spadeful of fresh
mould, which the rustic calls "good," believing, perhaps rightly, that
we must smell it every day to be well and live long, is after all an
odour given off by a living thing--Cladothrix odorifera. Too small for
human eyes, which see only objects proportioned to their bigness, so
minute, indeed, that millions may inhabit a clod no larger than one's
watch, yet are they able to find a passage to us through the other
subtler sense; and from the beginning of our earthly journey even to
its end we walk with this odour in our nostrils, and love it, and will
perhaps take with us a sweet memory of it into the after-life.

Life being more than all else to me, I am drawn to the spot where it
exists in greatest abundance and variety.

I remember feeling this passion very strongly one day during this
summer of 1902 after looking at a spider. It was an interesting
spider, and I found it within a couple of miles of Lyndhurst, of all
places; a spot so disagreeable to me that I avoid it, and look for
nothing and wish for nothing to detain me in its vicinity.

Lyndhurst is objectionable to me not only because it is a vulgar
suburb, a transcript of Chiswick or Plumstead in the New Forest where
it is in a wrong atmosphere, but also because it is the spot on which
London vomits out its annual crowd of collectors, who fill its
numerous and ever-increasing brand-new red-brick lodging-houses, and
who swarm through all the adjacent woods and heaths, men, women, and
children (hateful little prigs!) with their vasculums, beer and
treacle pots, green and blue butterfly nets, killing bottles, and all
the detestable paraphernalia of what they would probably call "Nature
Study."

It happened that one day, a mile or two from Lyndhurst, going along
the road I caught sight of a pretty bit of heath through an opening in
the wood, and turning into it I looked out a spot to rest in, and was
just about to cast myself down when I noticed a small white spider,
disturbed by my step, drop from a cluster of bell-heath flowers to the
ground. I stood still, and presently the spider, recovered from its
alarm, drew itself up again by an invisible thread and settled down on
the bright-coloured blossoms. Seating myself close by, I began to
watch the strangely shaped and coloured little creature. It was a
Thomisus--a genus of spiders distinguished by the extraordinary length
of the two pairs of forelegs. The one before me, Thomisus citreus, is
also singular on account of its colour--pale citron or white--and its
habit of sitting on flowers. This habit and the colour, we may see,
are related. The citreus is not a weaver of snares, but hunts for its
prey, or rather lies in wait to capture any insect that comes to the
flower on which it sits. On white, yellow, and indeed on most
pale-coloured flowers, it almost becomes invisible. On the brilliant
red bell-heath blossom it showed plainly enough, but even here it did
not look nearly so conspicuous as when on a green leaf.

I had observed this white spider before, but had always seen it
sitting motionless in its flower; this one was curiously restless, and
very soon after I had settled myself down by its side it began to
throw itself into a variety of strange attitudes. The four long
forelegs would go up all at once and stand out like rays from the
round, white body, and by-and-by they would drop and hang down like
two long strings from the flower. Pretty soon I discovered the cause
of these actions in the presence of a second spider, less than half
the size of the first, moving about close by. His smallness and
hideling habits had prevented me from seeing him sooner. This small,
active, white creature was the male, and though moving constantly
about in the heath at a distance of half a foot from her, it was plain
that they could see each other and also understand each other very
well. As he moved round her, passing by means of the threads he kept
throwing out from spray to spray, she moved round on her flower to
keep him in sight; but though fascinated and drawn to her, he still
dreaded, and was pulled by his fear and his desire in opposite ways.
The excitement of both would increase whenever he came a little
nearer, and their attitudes were then sometimes very curious, the most
singular being one of the male when he would raise his body vertically
in the air and stand on his two pairs of forelegs. When very near,
they would extend the long forelegs and touch one another; but always
at this point when they were closest and the excitement greatest a
panic would seize him, and he would make haste to get to a safer
distance. On two such occasions she, as if afraid to lose him
altogether, quitted her beloved flower and moved after him, and after
wandering about for some time to no purpose, found another
flower-cluster to settle on. And so the queer wooing went on, and
seemed no nearer to a conclusion, when, to my surprise, I found that I
had been sitting and lying there, with eyes close to the female
spider, for an hour and a half. Once only, feeling a little bored, I
gently stroked her on the back, which appeared to please her as much
as if she had been a pig and I had scratched her back with my
walking-stick. But no sooner had the soothing effect passed off than
she began again watching the movements of that fantastic little lover
of hers, who loved her for her beautiful white body, but feared her on
account of those poison fangs which he could probably see every time
she smiled to encourage him. At the end of my long watch the
conclusion of the whole complex business seemed farther off than ever:
fear had got the mastery, and the male had put so great a distance
between them, and moved now so languidly, that it seemed useless to
remain any longer.

I had not been watching alone all this time: when I had been about
half-an-hour on the spot I had a visitor, a small miserable-looking
New Forest boy; he came walking towards me with a little crooked stick
in his hand, and asked me in a low, husky voice if I had seen a pony
in that part of the Forest. I told him sharply not to come too near as
his steps would disturb a spider I was watching. It did not seem to
surprise him that I was there by myself watching a spider, but
creeping up he subsided gently on the heath by my side and began
watching with me. At intervals when there was a lull in the excitement
of the spiders I could spare time for a glance at my poor little
companion. He was probably eleven or twelve years old, but his stature
was that of a boy of eight--a small, stunted creature, meanly dressed,
with light-coloured lustreless hair, pale-blue eyes, and a weary sad
expression on his pale face. Yet he called himself a gipsy! But the
south of England gipsies are a mixed and degenerate lot. They are now
so incessantly harried by the authorities that the best of them settle
down in the villages, while those who keep to the old ways and vagrant
open-air life are joined by tramps and wastrels of every shade of
colour. This little fellow had little or no Romany blood in his watery
veins.

He told me that his people were camping not far off, and that the
party consisted of his parents with six (the half-dozen youngest) of
their thirteen children. They had a pony and trap; but the pony had
got away during the night, and the father and two or three of the
children were out looking for it in different directions. We talked a
little at intervals, and I found him curiously ignorant concerning the
wild life of the Forest. He assured me that he had never seen the
cuckoo, but he had heard of its singular habits, and was anxious to
know how big a bird it was, also its colour. In some trees near us a
wood-wren was uttering its sorrowful little wailing note of anxiety,
and when I asked him what bird it was, he answered "a sparrer."
Nevertheless he seemed to feel a dim sort of interest in the spiders
we were watching, and at length our intermittent conversation ceased
altogether. When at last, after a long silence, I spoke, he did not
answer, and glancing round I found that he had gone to sleep. Lying
there with eyes closed, his pale face on the bright green turf, he
looked almost corpse-like. Even his lips were colourless. Getting up,
I placed a penny piece on the turf beside his little crooked stick, so
that on awaking he should have a gleam of happiness in his poor little
soul, and went softly away.

But he was sleeping very soundly, for when after going a couple of
hundred yards I looked back he was still lying motionless on the same
spot.

But when I looked back, and when, regaining the road, I went on my
way, and indeed for long hours after, I saw the boy vaguely, almost
like a boy of mist, and was hardly able to recall his features, so
faintly had he impressed me; while the spider on her flower, and the
small male that wooed and won her many times yet never ventured to
take her, were stamped so vividly on my brain, that even if I had
wished it I could not have got rid of that persistent image. It made
me miserable to think that I had left, thousands of miles away, a
world of spiders exceeding in size, variety of shape and beauty and
richness of colouring those I found here--surpassing them, too, in the
marvellousness of their habits and that ferocity of disposition which
is without a parallel in nature. I wished I could drop this burden of
years so as to go back to them, to spend half a lifetime in finding
out some of their fascinating secrets. Finally, I envied those who in
future years will grow up in that green continent, with this passion
in their hearts, and have the happiness which I had missed.

I, of course, knew that it was but the too vivid and persistent image
of that particular creature on which my attention had been fixed which
made me regard spiders generally as the most interesting beings in
nature--the proper study of mankind, in fact. But it is always so; any
new aspect, form, or manifestation of the principle of life, at the
moment it comes before the vision and the mind is, to one who is not a
specialist, attractive beyond all others.

But, after all is said and done, I have as a fact spent many of my
Hampshire days at a distance from the spots I love best, and my
subject in this chapter will be of my sojourn in that eastern corner
of the county, in the village and parish which all naturalists love,
and which many of them know so well.

It is told in the books that some seventy or eighty years ago an
adventurous naturalist journeyed down from London by rough ways to the
remote village of Selborne, to see it with his own eyes and describe
its condition to the world. The way is not long nor rough in these
times, and on every summer day, almost at every hour of the day,
strangers from all parts of the country, with not a few from foreign
lands, may be seen in the old village street. Of these visitors that
come like shadows, so depart, nine in every ten, or possibly nineteen
in every twenty, have no real interest in Gilbert White and his work
and the village he lived in, but are members of that innumerable tribe
of gadders about the land who religiously visit every spot which they
are told should be seen.

One morning, while staying at the village, in July 1901, 1 went at six
o'clock for a stroll on the common, and, on going up the Hanger,
noticed a couple of bicycles lying at the foot of the hill; then,
half-way up I found the cyclists--two young ladies--resting on the
turf by the side of the Zigzag. They were conversing together as I
went by, and one having asked some question which I did not hear, the
other replied, "Oh no! he lived a very long time ago, and wrote a
history of Selborne. About birds and that." To which the other
returned, "Oh!" and then they talked of something else.

These ladies had probably got up at four o'clock that morning, and
ridden several miles to visit the village and go up the Hanger before
breakfast. Later in the day they would be at other places where other
Hampshire celebrities, big and little, had been born, or had lived or
died--Wooton St. Lawrence, Chawton, Steventon, Alresford, Basing,
Otterbourne, Buriton, Boldre, and a dozen more; and one, the informed,
would say to her uninformed companion, "Oh dear, no; he, or she, lived
a long, long time ago, somewhere about the eighteenth century or
perhaps it was the sixteenth and did something, or wrote fiction, or
history, or philosophy, and that." To which the other would
intelligently answer, "Oh!" and then they would remount their
bicycles, and go on to some other place.

Although a large majority of the visitors are of this description,
there are others of a different kind--the true pilgrims; and these are
mostly naturalists who have been familiar from boyhood with the famous
Letters, who love the memory of Gilbert White, and regard the spot
where he was born, to which he was so deeply attached, where his ashes
lie, as almost a sacred place. It is but natural that some of these,
who are the true and only Selbornians, albeit they may not call
themselves by a name which has been filched from them, should have
given an account of a first visit, their impression of a spot familiar
in description but never realised until seen, and of its effect on the
mind. But no one, so far as I know, has told of a second or of any
subsequent visit. There is a good reason for this, for though the
place is in itself beautiful and never loses its charm, it is
impossible for any one to recover the feeling experienced on a first
sight. If I, unlike others, write of Selborne revisited, it is not
because there is anything fresh to say of an old, vanished emotion, a
feeling which forms a singular and delightful experience in the life
of many a naturalist, and is thereafter a pleasing memory but nothing
more.

Selborne is now to me like any other pleasant rural place: in the
village street, in the churchyard, by the Lyth and the Bourne, on the
Hanger and the Common, I feel that I am--

    In a green and undiscovered ground;

the feeling that the naturalist must or should always experience in
all places where nature is, even as Coventry Patmore experienced it in
the presence of women. He had paid more than ordinary attention to
their ways, and knew that there was yet much to learn.

How irrecoverable the first feeling is--a feeling which may be almost
like the sense of an unseen presence, as I have described it in an
account of my first visit to Selborne in the concluding chapter in a
book on _Birds and Man_--was impressed upon me on the occasion of a
second visit two or three years later. There was then no return of the
feeling--no faintest trace of it. The village was like any other, only
more interesting because of several amusing incidents in bird-life
which I by chance witnessed when there. Animals in a state of nature
do not often move us to mirth, but on this occasion I was made to
laugh several times. At first it was at an owl at Alton. I arrived
there in the evening of a wet, rough day in May 1898, too late to walk
the five miles that remained to my destination. After securing a room
at the hotel, I hurried out to look at the fine old church, which
Gilbert White admired in his day; but it was growing dark, so that
there was nothing for me but to stand in the wind and rain in the wet
churchyard, and get a general idea of the outline of the building,
with its handsome, shingled spire standing tall against the wild,
gloomy sky. By-and-by a vague figure appeared out of the clouds,
travelling against the wind towards the spire, and looking more like a
ragged piece of newspaper whirled about the heavens than any living
thing. It was a white owl, and after watching him for some time I came
to the conclusion that he was trying to get to the vane on the spire.
A very idle ambition it seemed, for although he succeeded again and
again in getting to within a few yards of the point aimed at, he was
on each occasion struck by a fresh violent gust and driven back to a
great distance, often quite out of sight in the gloom. But presently
he would reappear, still striving to reach the vane. A crazy bird! but
I could not help admiring his pluck, and greatly wondered what his
secret motive in aiming at that windy perch could be. And at last,
after so many defeats, he succeeded in grasping the metal cross-bar
with his crooked talons. The wind, with all its fury, could not tear
him from it, and after a little flapping he was able to pull himself
up; then, bending down, he deliberately wiped his beak on the bar and
flew away! This, then, had been his powerful, mysterious motive--just
to wipe his beak, which he could very well have wiped on any branch or
barn-roof or fence, and saved himself that tremendous labour!

It was an extreme instance of the tyrannous effect of habit on a wild
animal. Doubtless this bird had been accustomed, after devouring his
first mouse, to fly to the vane, where he could rest for a few
minutes, taking a general view of the place, and wipe his beak at the
same time; and the habit had become so strong that he could not forego
his visit even on so tempestuous an evening. His beak, if he had wiped
it anywhere but on that lofty cross-bar, would not have seemed quite
clean.

At Selborne, in the garden at the Wakes, I noticed a pair of pied
wagtails busy nest-building in the ivy on the wall. One of the birds
flew up to the roof of the house, where, I suppose, he caught sight of
a fly in an upper window which looked on to the roof, for all at once
he rose up and dashed against the pane with great force; and as the
glass pane hit back with equal force, he was thrown on to the tiles
under the window. Nothing daunted, he got up and dashed against the
glass a second time, with the same result. The action was repeated
five times, then the poor baffled bird withdrew from the contest, and,
drawing in his head, sat hunched up for two or three minutes perfectly
motionless. The volatile creature would not have sat there so quietly
if he had not hurt himself rather badly.

One more of the amusing incidents witnessed during my visit must be
told. Several pairs of martins were making their nests under the eaves
of a cottage opposite to the Queen's Arms, where I stayed; and on
going out about seven o'clock in the morning, I stood to watch some of
the birds getting mud at a pool which had been made by the night's
rain in the middle of the street. It happened that some fowls had come
out of the inn yard, and were walking or standing near the puddle
picking up gravel or any small morsel they could find. Among them was
a cockerel, a big, ungainly, yellowish Cochin, in the hobbledehoy
stage of that ugliest and most ungraceful variety. For some time this
bird stood idly by the pool, but by-and-by the movements of the
martins coming and going between the cottage and the puddle attracted
his attention, and he began to watch them with a strange interest; and
then all at once he made a vicious peck at one occupied in deftly
gathering a pellet of clay close to his great, feathered feet. The
martin flitted lightly away, and after a turn or two, dropped down
again at almost the same spot. The fowl had watched it, and as soon as
it came down moved a step or two nearer to it with deliberation, then
made a violent dash and peck at it, and was no nearer to hitting it
than before. The same thing occurred again and again, the martin
growing shyer after each attack; then other martins came, and he,
finding them less cautious than the first, stalked them in turn and
made futile attacks on them. Convinced at last that it was not
possible for him to injure or touch these elusive little creatures, he
determined that they should gather no mud at that place, and with head
up he watched them circling like great flies around him, dashing
savagely at them whenever they came lower, or paused in their flight,
or dropped lightly down on the margin. It was a curious and amusing
spectacle--the big, shapeless, lumbering bird chasing them round and
round the pool in his stupid spite; they by contrast so beautiful in
their shining purple mantle, snow-white breast, and stockinged feet,
their fairy-like aerial bodies that responded so quickly to every
motion of their bright, lively, little minds. It was like a very heavy
policeman "moving on" a flock of fairies.

One remembers Aesop's dog in the manger, and thinks that this and many
of the apologues are really nothing but everyday incidents in animal
life, told just as they happened, with the addition of speech (in some
cases quite unnecessary) put in the mouth of the various actors.
Aesop's dog did not want to be disturbed in his bed of hay, and was
not such an unredeemed curmudgeon as the Selborne fowl; but this
unlovely temper or feeling--spite and petty tyranny and
persecution--is exceedingly common in the lower animals, from the
higher vertebrates down even to the insects.

My third visit to Selborne was in July 1901. I went there on the 12th
and stayed till the 23rd. Now July, when the business of breeding is
over or far advanced and all the best songsters are dropping into
silence, and when the foliage is deepening to a uniform monotonous
dark green, is, next to August, the least interesting month of the
year. But at Selborne I was singularly fortunate, although the season
was excessively dry and hot. The heat was indeed great all over the
country, but I doubt if there exists a warmer village than Selborne,
unless it be one in some, to me unknown, coombe in Cornwall or Devon.
Thus on July 19th, when the temperature rose to ninety degrees in the
shade in the City of London, we had it as high as ninety-four degrees
in Selborne. The village lies in a kind of trough at the foot of a
wall-like hill. If it were not for the moisture and the greenery that
surrounds and almost covers it, hanging, as it were, like a cloud
above it, the heat would doubtless have been even greater.

These conditions, in whatever way they may affect the human
inhabitants, appear to be exceedingly favourable to the house
crickets. It was impossible for any one to walk in the village of an
evening without noticing the noise they made. The cottages on both
sides of the street seemed to be alive with them, so that, walking,
one was assailed by their shrilling in both ears. Hearing them so much
sent me in search of then: wild cousin of the fields and of the mole
cricket, but no sound of them could I hear. It was too late for them
to sing. No doubt--as White conjectured--the artificial conditions
which civilised man has made for the house cricket have considerably
altered its habits. Like the canary and other finches that thrive in
captivity, a uniform indoor climate, with food easily found, have made
it a singer all the year round. I trust we shall never take to the
Japanese custom of caging insects for the sake of their music; but it
is probable that a result of keeping tamed or domesticated field
crickets would be to set them singing at all seasons against the
cricket on the hearth. A listener would then be able to judge which of
the two "sweet and tiny cousins" is the better performer. The house
cricket has to my ears a louder, coarser, a more creaky sound; but we
hear him, as a rule, in a room, singing, as it were, confined in a big
box; and I remember the case of the skylark, and the disagreeable
effect of its shrill and harsh spluttering song when heard from a cage
hanging against a wall. The field cricket, like the soaring skylark,
has the wide expanse of open air to soften and etherealise the sound.

Gilbert White lived in an age which had its own little,
firmly-established, conventional ideas about nature, which he,
open-air man though he was, did not escape, or else felt bound to
respect. Thus, the prolonged, wild, beautiful call of the peacock, the
finest sound made by any domesticated creature, was to the convention
of the day "disgustful," and as a disgustful sound he sets it down
accordingly; and when he speaks of the keen pleasure it gave him to
listen to the field cricket, he writes in a somewhat apologetic
strain: "Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to their
sweetness and melody, nor do harsh sounds always displease. We are
more apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations which
they promote than with the notes themselves. Thus the shrilling of the
field cricket, though sharp and stridulous, yet marvellously delights
some hearers, filling their minds with a train of summer ideas of
everything that is rural, verdurous, and joyous."

The delight I know, but I cannot wholly agree with the explanation. A
couple of months before this visit to Selborne, on May 25, on passing
some small grass fields, enclosed in high, untrimmed hedges, on the
border of a pine wood near Hythe, by Southampton Water, I all at once
became conscious of a sound, which indeed had been for some
considerable time in my ears, increasing in volume as I went on until
it forced my attention to it. When I listened, I found myself in a
place where field crickets were in extraordinary abundance; there must
have been many hundreds within hearing distance, and their delicate
shrilling came from the grass and hedges all round me. It was as if
all the field crickets in the county had congregated and were holding
a grand musical festival at that spot. A dozen or twenty house
crickets in a kitchen would have made more noise; this was not loud,
nor could it properly be described as a noise; it was more like a
subtle music without rise or fall or change; or like a continuous,
diffused, silvery-bright, musical hum, which surrounded one like an
atmosphere, and at the same time pervaded and trembled through one
like a vibration. It was certainly very delightful, and the feeling in
this instance was not due to association, but, I think, to the
intrinsic beauty of the sound itself.

The Selborne stream, or Bourne, with its meadows and tangled copses on
either side, was my favourite noonday haunt. The volume of water does
not greatly diminish during the summer months, but in many places the
bed of the stream was quite grown over with aquatic plants, topped
with figwort, huge water-agrimony, with its masses of powdery,
flesh-coloured blooms, creamy meadow-sweet, and rose-purple
loose-strife, and willow-herb with its appetising odour of codlins and
cream. The wild musk, or monkey-flower, a Hampshire plant about which
there will be much to say in another chapter, was also common. At one
spot a mass of it grew at the foot of a high bank on the water's edge;
from the top of the bank long branches of briar-rose trailed down, and
the rich, pure yellow mimulus blossoms and ivory-white roses of the
briar were seen together. An even lovelier effect was produced at
another spot by the mingling of the yellow flowers with the large
turquoise-blue water forget-me-nots.

The most charming of the Selborne wild plants that flower in July is
the musk mallow. It was quite common round the village, and perhaps
the finest plant I saw was in the churchyard, growing luxuriantly by a
humble grave near the little gate that opens to the Lyth and Bourne.
As it is known to few persons, there must almost every day have been
strangers and pilgrims in the churchyard who looked with admiration on
that conspicuous plant, with its deep-cut, scented geranium-like,
beautiful leaves, tender grey-green in colour, and its profusion of
delicate, silky, rose-coloured flowers. Many would look on it as some
rare exotic, and wonder at its being there by that lowly green mound.
But to the residents it was a musk mallow and nothing more--a weed in
the churchyard.

When one morning I found two men mowing the grass, I called their
attention to this plant and asked them to spare it, telling them that
it was one which the daily visitors to the village would admire above
all the red geraniums and other gardeners' flowers which they would
have to leave untouched. This simple request appeared to put them out
a good deal; they took their hats off and wiped the sweat from their
foreheads, and after gravely pondering the matter for some time, said
they would "see about it" or "bear it in mind" when they came round to
that side. In the afternoon, when the mowing was done, I returned and
found that the musk mallow had not been spared.

During my stay I was specially interested in two of the common
Selborne birds--the cirl bunting and the swift. At about four o'clock
each morning the lively, vigorous song of the cirl bunting would be
heard from the gardens or ground of the Wakes, at the foot of the
hill. From four to six, at intervals, was his best singing time; later
in the day he sang at much longer intervals. There appeared to be
three pairs of breeding birds: one at the Wakes, another on the top of
the hill to the left of the Zigzag path, and a third below the
churchyard. The cock bird of the last pair sang at intervals every day
during my visit from a tree in the churchyard, and from a big sycamore
growing at the side of it. On July 14 I had a good opportunity of
judging the penetrative power of this bunting's voice, for by chance,
just as the bells commenced ringing for the six o'clock Sunday evening
service, the bird, perched on a small cypress in the churchyard, began
to sing. Though only about forty yards from the tower, he was not in
the least discomposed by the clanging of the bells, but sang at proper
intervals the usual number of times--six or eight--his high, incisive
voice sounding distinct through that tempest of jangled metallic
music.

I was often at Farringdon, a village close by, and there, too, the
churchyard had its cirl bunting, singing merrily at intervals from a
perch not above thirty yards from the building. And as at Selborne and
Farringdon, so I have found it in most places in Hampshire, especially
in the southern half of the county; the cirl is the village bunting
whose favourite singing place is in the quiet churchyard or the
shade-trees at the farm: compared with other members of the genus he
might almost be called our domestic bunting. The yellow-hammer is
never heard in a village: at Selborne to find him one had to climb the
hill and go out on the common, and there he could be heard drawling
out his lazy song all day long. How curious to think that Gilbert
White never distinguished between these two species, although it is
probable that he heard the cirl on every summer day during the greater
part of his life.

The swifts at Selborne interested me even more, and I spent a good
many hours observing them; but the swifts I watched were not, strange
to say, the native Selborne birds. When I arrived I took particular
notice of the swallows and swifts--a natural thing to do in Gilbert
White's village. The swallows, I was sorry to find, had decreased so
greatly in numbers since my former visits that there were but few
left. The house-martins, though still not scarce, had also fallen off
a good deal. Of swifts there were about eight or nine pairs, all with
young in their nests, in holes under the eaves of different cottages.
The old birds appeared to be very much taken up with feeding their
young: they ranged about almost in solitude, never more than four or
five birds being seen together, and that only in the evening, and even
when in company they were silent and their flight comparatively
languid. This continued from the 12th to the 16th, but on that day, at
a little past seven o'clock in the evening, I was astonished to see a
party of over fifty swifts rushing through the air over the village in
the usual violent way, uttering excited screams as they streamed by.
Rising to some height in the air, they would scatter and float above
the church for a few moments, then close and rush down and stream
across the Plestor, coming as low as the roofs of the cottages, then
along the village street for a distance of forty or fifty yards, after
which they would mount up and return to the church, to repeat the same
race over the same course again and again. They continued their
pastime for an hour or longer, after which the flock began to
diminish, and in a short time had quite melted away.

On the following evening I was absent, but some friends staying at the
village watched for me, and they reported that the birds appeared
after seven o'clock and played about the place for an hour or two,
then vanished as before.

On the afternoon of the 18th I went with my friends to the ground
behind the churchyard, from which a view of the sky all round can be
obtained. Four or five swifts were visible quietly flying about the
sky, all wide apart. At six o'clock a little bunch of half-a-dozen
swifts formed, and began to chase each other in the usual way, and
more birds, singly, and in twos and threes, began to arrive. Some of
these were seen coming to the spot from the direction of Alton.
Gradually the bunch grew until it was a big crowd numbering seventy to
eighty birds, and as it grew the excitement of the birds increased:
until eight o'clock they kept up their aerial mad gambols, and then,
as on the previous evenings, the flock gradually dispersed.

On the evening of the 19th the performance was repeated, the birds
congregated numbering about sixty. On the 20th the number had
diminished to about forty, and an equal number returned on the
following evening; and this was the last time. We watched in vain for
them on the 22nd: no swifts but the half-a-dozen Selborne birds
usually to be seen towards evening were visible; nor did they return
on any other day up to the 24th, when my visit came to an end.

It is possible, and even probable, that these swifts which came from a
distance to hold their evening games at Selborne were birds that had
already finished breeding, and were now free to go from home and spend
a good deal of time in purely recreative exercises. The curious point
is that they should have made choice of this sultry spot for such a
purpose. It was, moreover, new to me to find that swifts do sometimes
go a distance from home to indulge in such pastimes. I had always
thought that the birds seen pursuing each other with screams through
the sky at any place were the dwellers and breeders in the locality;
and this is probably the idea that most persons have.

I wish I could have visited Selborne again last July, in order to find
out whether or not the evening gatherings and pastimes of the swifts
occur annually. But I was engaged elsewhere, and at the village I had
failed to discover any person with interest enough in such subjects to
watch for me. It would have been very strange if I had found such an
one.

It was not until October 1902 that I went back, two months after the
swifts had gone; but I was well occupied for two or three weeks during
this latest visit in observing the ways of a grasshopper.

There has already been much about insects in this book, and it may
seem that I am giving a disproportionate amount of space to these
negligible atomies; nevertheless I should not like to conclude this
chapter without adding an account of yet another species, one indeed
worthy to rank among the Insect Notables of Southern England described
in a former chapter. The account comes best in this place, since the
species had seemed rare, or nowhere abundant, until, in October, I
found it most common in Selborne parish; and here I came to know it
well, as I had come to know its great green relation, Locusta
viridissima, at Longparish. Both are of one family, and are night
singers, but the Selborne insect belongs to a different
genus--Thamnotrizon--of which it is the only British representative;
and in colour and habits it differs widely from the green
grasshoppers. The members of this charming family are found in all
warm and temperate countries throughout the world: in this island we
may say that they are at the extreme northern limit of their range. Of
our nine British species only three are found north of the Thames.
Thamnotrizon cinereus is one of these, but is mainly a southern
species, and the latest of our grasshoppers to come to maturity. In
September it is full grown, and may be heard until November. It is
much smaller than viridissima, and is very dark in colour, the female,
which has no vestige of wings, being of a uniform deep olive-brown,
except the under surface, which is bright buttercup-yellow. The male,
though smaller than the female, and like her in colour, has a more
distinguished appearance on account of his small aborted wings, which
serve as an instrument of music, and form a disc of ashy grey colour
on his black and brown body.

Unless looked at closely this insect appears black, and might very
well be called the black grasshopper. And here it is necessary once
more to protest against what must be regarded as a gross neglect of a
plain duty on the part of writers on our native insects who will not
give English names even to the most common and interesting species.
Unless it has a vernacular name they will go on speaking of it as
Thamnotrizon cinereus, Cordulegaster annulatus, or whatever it may be,
to the end of time. This grasshopper has no common name that I can
discover: I have caught and shown it to the country people, asking
them to name it, and they informed me that it was a "grasshopper," or
else a "cricket." Black, or black and yellow, or autumn grasshopper
would do very well: but any English name would be better than the
entomologist's ponderous double name compounded out of two dead
languages.

Our black grasshopper lives in grass and herbage, in the shade of
bushes and trees, and so long as the weather is hot it is hard to find
him, as he keeps in the shade. He is furthermore the shyest and
wariest of his family, and ready to vanish on the least alarm. He does
not leap, but slips away into hiding; and if one goes too near, or
attempts to take him, he suddenly vanishes. He simply drops down
through the leaves to the earth, and sits close and motionless at the
roots on the dark mould, and unless touched will not move. When traced
down to his hiding-place he leaps away, and again sits motionless,
where, owing to his dark colour on the dark soil, he is invisible.
Later, when the weather grows cool, he comes out and sits on a leaf,
basking by the hour in the sun, his eyes turned from it; and it is
then easy to find him, the dark colour making him appear very
conspicuous on a green leaf. Occasionally he sings in the afternoon,
but, as a rule, he begins at dusk, and continues for some hours. To
sing, the males often go high up in the bushes, and when emitting
their sound are almost constantly on the move.

The sound is a cricket-like chirp; it is never sustained, but in
quality it resembles the subtle musical shrilling of the viridissima,
although it does not carry half so far.

In disposition the two species, the black and great green
grasshoppers, are very unlike. The female viridissima, we have seen,
is the most indolent and placid creature imaginable, while the males
are perpetually challenging and fighting one another. The males of the
black grasshopper I could never detect fighting. It is not easy to
observe them, as they sing mostly at night; and as a rule when singing
they are well hidden by the leaves. But I have occasionally found two
males singing together, apparently against each other, when I would
watch them, and although as they moved about they constantly passed
and repassed so close that they all but touched, they never struck at
each other, nor put themselves into fighting attitudes. One day I
found two males sitting on a leaf together, side by side, like the
best of friends, basking in the sun.

The female, on the other hand, is a most unpleasant creature, so
restless that in confinement she spends the whole time in running
about in her cage or box, incessantly trying to get out, examining
everything, eating of everything given her, and persecuting any other
bisect placed with her. When I put males and females together the poor
males were kicked and bitten until they died.

Before visiting Selborne in October, it had seemed to me that hunting
for this grasshopper was a most fascinating pursuit. It was very hard
to find him by day, and when by chance you caught sight of him,
sitting on a green leaf in the sun and looking like a small, very
dark-coloured frog with abnormally long hind legs, it was generally in
a bramble bush, into which he would vanish when approached too near.

When at Selborne, one evening I heard one singing among the herbage at
the foot of the Hanger, and next morning I found one at the same
spot--a female, sitting on a gold-red fallen beech leaf, her blackness
on the brilliant leaf making her very conspicuous. A little later,
when the wet weather improved, I found the grasshopper all about the
village, and even in it; but it was most abundant near the Well Head
and in the hedges between Selborne and Nore Hill. Here on a sunny
morning I could find a score or more of them, and at dark they could
be heard in numbers chirping in all the hedges.



CHAPTER IX

The Selborne atmosphere--Unhealthy faces--Selborne common--Character
of scenery--Wheatham Hill--Hampshire village churches--Gilbert White's
strictures--Churches big and little--The peasants' religious
feeling--Charm of old village churches--Seeking Priors Dean--Privett
Church--Blackmoor Church--Churchyards--Change in gravestones--Beauty
of old gravestones--Red alga on gravestones--Yew trees in
churchyards--British dragon-tree--Farringdon village and
yew--Crowhurst yew--Hurst bourne Priors yew--How yew trees are
injured.

IT is a pleasure to be at Selborne; nevertheless I find I always like
Selborne best when I am out of it, especially when I am rambling about
that bit of beautiful country on the border of which it lies. The
memory of Gilbert White; the old church with its low, square tower and
its famous yew tree; above all, the constant sight of the Hanger
clothed in its beechen woods--green, or bronze and red-gold, or
purple-brown in leafless winter--all these things do not prevent a
sense of lassitude, of ill-being, which I experience in the village
when I am too long in it, and which vanishes when I quit it, and seem
to breathe a better air. This is no mere fancy, nor something peculiar
to myself; the natives, too, are subject to this secret trouble, and
are, some of them, conscious of it. Round about Selborne you will find
those who were born and bred in the village, who say they were never
well until they quitted it; and some of these declare that they would
not return even if some generous person were to offer them a cottage
rent free. The appearance of the people, too, may be considered in
this connection. Mary Russell Mitford exclaims in one of her village
sketches that there was not a pretty face in the country side. The
want of comeliness which is so noticeable in the southern parts of
Berkshire is not confined to that county. The people of Berkshire and
Hampshire, of the blonde type, are very much alike. But there are
degrees; and if you want to see, I will not say a handsome, nor a
pretty, but a passably fresh and pleasant face among the cottagers,
you must go out of Selborne to some neighbouring village to look for
it.

But this question does not now concern us. The best of Selborne is the
common on the hill--all the better for the steep hill which must be
climbed to get to it, since that difficult way prevents the people
from making too free use of it, and regarding it as a sort of
back-yard or waste place to throw their rubbish on. It is a perpetual
joy to the children. One morning in October I met there some
youngsters gathering kindling wood, and feasting at the same time on
wild fruits--the sloes were just then at their best. They told me that
they had only recently come to live in Selborne from Farringdon, their
native village. "And which place do you like best?" I asked.
"Selborne!" they shouted in a breath, and indeed appeared surprised
that I had asked such a question. No wonder. This hill-top common is
the most forest-like, the wildest in England, and the most beautiful
as well, both in its trees and tangles of all kinds of wild plants
that flourish in waste places, and in the prospects which one gets of
the surrounding country. Here, seeing the happiness of the boys, I
have wished to be a boy again. But one does not think so much of this
spot when one comes to know the country round, and finds that Selborne
hill is but one of many hills of the same singular and beautiful type,
sloping away gently on one side, and presenting a bold, almost
precipitous front on the other, in most cases clothed on the steep
side with dense beech woods. It is now eight years since I began to
form an acquaintance with this east corner of Hampshire, but not until
last October (1902) did I know how beautiful it was. From Selborne
Hill one sees something of it; a better sight is obtained from Nore
Hill, where one is able to get some idea of the peculiar character of
the scenery. It is all wildly irregular, high and low grounds thrown
together in a pretty confusion, and the soil everywhere fertile, so
that the general effect is of extreme richness. One sees, too, that
the human population is sparse, and that it has always been as it is
now, and man's work--his old irregular fields, and the unkept hedges
which, like the thickets on the waste places, are self-planted, and
have been self-planted for centuries, and the old deep-winding lanes
and by-roads--have come at last to seem one with nature's work. Out of
this broken, variegated, richly green surface, here and there, in a
sort of range, but irregular like all else, the hills, or hangers,
lift their steep, bank-like fronts--splendid masses of red and russet
gold against the soft grey-blue autumnal sky.

It is delightful to walk through this bit of country from Nore Hill,
and from hill to hill, across green fields, for the farms are here
like wild lands that all are free to use, to Wheatham Hill, the
highest point, which rises 800 feet above the sea-level. From this
elevation one looks over a great part of that green variegated country
of the Hangers, and sees on one hand where it fades close by into the
sand and pine district beginning at Wolmer Forest, and on another
side, beyond the little town of Petersfield, the region of great
rolling downs stretching far away into Sussex.

In my rambles about this corner of Hampshire, during which I visited
all the villages nearest to Selborne--Empshott, Hawkley, Greatham,
East and West Tisted, Worldham, Priors Dean, Colemore, Privett,
Froxfield, Hartley Maudit, Blackmore, Oakhanger, Kingsley, Farringdon,
and Newton Valence--I could not help thinking a good deal about
Hampshire village churches generally. It was a subject which had often
enough been in my mind before in other parts of the county, but it now
came back to me in connection with Gilbert White's strictures on these
sacred buildings. Their "meanness" produced a feeling in him which is
the nearest approach to indignation discoverable in his pages. He is
speaking of jackdaws breeding in rabbit holes, and shrewdly
conjectures that this habit has arisen on account of the absence of
steeples and towers suitable as nesting-places. "Many Hampshire places
of worship," he remarks, "make no better appearance than dovecotes."
He envied Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, the Fens of Lincolnshire,
and other districts, the number of spires which presented themselves
in every point of view, and concludes: "As an admirer of prospects I
have reason to lament this want in my own county, for such objects are
very necessary ingredients in an elegant landscape."

The honoured historian of the parish of Selborne makes me shudder in
this passage. But I am, perhaps, giving too much importance to his
words, since one may judge from his mention of Norfolk in this
connection as being even worse off than his own county, that he was
not well informed on the subject. Norfolk, like Somerset, abounds in
grand old churches of the Perpendicular period. That smallness, or
"meanness" as he expresses it, of the Hampshire churches is, to my
mind, one of their greatest merits. The Hampshire village would not
possess that charm which we find in it--its sweet rusticity and
homeliness, and its harmonious appearance in the midst of a nature
green and soft and beautiful--but for that essential feature and part
of it, the church which does not tower vast and conspicuous as a
gigantic asylum or manufactory from among lowly cottages dwarfed by
its proximity to the appearance of pigmy-built huts in the Aruwhimi
forest. These immense churches which in recent years have lifted their
tall spires and towers amidst lowly surroundings in many rural places,
are, as a rule, the work of some zealot who has seared his sense of
beauty with a hot iron, or else of a new over-rich lord of the manor,
who must have all things new, including a big new church to worship a
new God in--his own peculiar Stock Exchange God, who is a respecter of
wealthy persons. Here in Hampshire we have seen the old but well
preserved village church pulled down--doubtless with the consent of
the ecclesiastical authorities--its ancient monuments broken up and
carted away, its brasses made into fire ornaments by cottagers or sold
as old metal, and the very gravestones used in paving the scullery and
offices of the grand new parsonage built to match the grand new
church.

When coming upon one of these "necessary ingredients in an elegant
landscape" in some rural spot I have sometimes wondered what the
feeling of the people who have spent their lives there can be about
it. What effect has the new vast building, with its highly decorated
yet cold and vacant interior, on their dim minds--on their religion,
let us say? It may be a poor unspiritual sort of religion, based on
old traditions and associations, mostly local; but shall we scorn it
on that account? If we look a little closely into the matter, we see
that all men, even the most intellectual, the most spiritual, are
subject to this feeling in some degree, that it is in all religions.
That which from use, from association, becomes symbolic of faith is in
itself sacred. At the present time the Church is torn with dissensions
because of this very question. Certain bodily positions and signs and
gestures, and woven fabrics and garments of many patterns and colours,
and wood and stone and metal objects, and lighted candles and
perfumes--mere hay and stubble to others who have different
symbols--are things essential to worship in some. Touch these things
and you hurt their souls; you deprive them of their means of
communication with another world. So the poor peasant who was born and
lives in a thatched cottage, with his limited intelligence, his
animism, associates the idea of the unseen world with the sacred
objects he has seen and known and handled--the small ancient building,
the red-barked, dark-leafed yew, the green mounds and lichened
gravestones among which he played as a child, and the dim, low-roofed
interior of what was to him God's House. Whatever there is in his mind
that is least earthly, whatever thoughts he may have of the unseen
world and a life beyond this life, were inseparably bound up with
these visible things.

We need not follow this line any farther; those who believe with me
that the sense of the beautiful is God's best gift to the human soul
will see that I have put the matter on other and higher grounds. The
small village church with its low tower or grey-shingled spire among
the shade trees, is beautiful chiefly because man and nature with its
softening processes have combined to make it a fit part of the scene,
a building which looks as natural and harmonious as an old hedge which
man planted once and nature replanted many times, and as many an old
thatched timbered cottage, and many an old grey ruin, ivy grown, with
red valerian blooming on its walls.

To pull down one of these churches to put in its place a gigantic
Gothic structure in brick or stone, better suited in size (and
ugliness) for a London or Liverpool church than for a small rustic
village in Hampshire, is nothing less than a crime.

When calling to mind the churches known to me in this part of
Hampshire, I always think with peculiar pleasure of the smaller ones,
and perhaps with the most pleasure of the smallest of all--Priors
Dean.

It happened that the maps which I use in my Hampshire rambles and
which I always considered the best--Bartholomew's two miles to the
inch--did not mark Priors Dean, so that I had to go and find it for
myself. I went with a friend one excessively hot day in July, by
Empshott and Hawkley through deep by-roads so deep and narrow and
roofed over with branches as to seem in places like tunnels. On that
hot day in the silent time of the year it was strangely still, and
gave one the feeling of being in a country long deserted by man. Its
only inhabitants now appeared to be the bullfinches. In these deep
shaded lanes one constantly hears the faint plaintive little piping
sound, the almost inaudible alarm note of the concealed bird; and at
intervals, following the sound, he suddenly dashes out, showing his
sharp-winged shape and clear grey and black upper plumage marked with
white for a moment or two before vanishing once more in the
overhanging foliage.

We went a long way round, but at last coming to an open spot we saw
two cottages and two women and a boy standing talking by a gate, and
of these people we asked the way to Priors Dean. They could not tell
us. They knew it was not far away--a mile perhaps; but they had never
been to it, nor seen it, and didn't well know the direction. The boy
when asked shook his head. A middle-aged man was digging about thirty
yards away, and to him one of the women now called, "Can you tell them
the way to Priors Dean?"

The man left off digging, straightened himself, and gazed steadily at
us for some moments. He was one of the usual type--nine in every ten
farm labourers in this corner of Hampshire are of it thinnish, of
medium height, a pale, parchment face, rather large straightish nose,
pale eyes with little speculation in them, shaved mouth and chin, and
small side whiskers as our fathers wore them. The moustache has not
yet been adopted by these conservatives. The one change they have made
is, alas! in their dress--the rusty black coat for the smock frock.

When he had had his long gaze, he said, "Priors Dean?"

"Yes, Priors Dean," repeated the woman, raising her voice.

He turned up ,two spadefuls of earth, then asked again, "Priors Dean?"

"Priors Dean!" shouted the woman. "Can't you tell 'em how to get to
it?" Then she laughed. She had perhaps come from some other part of
the country where minds are not quite so slow, and where the
slow-minded person is treated as being deaf and shouted at.

Then, at last, he stuck his spade into the soil, and leaving it,
slowly advanced to the gate and told us to follow a path which he
pointed out, and when we got on the hill we would see Priors Dean
before us.

And that was how we found it. There is a satirical saying in the other
villages that if you want to find the church at Priors Dean you must
first cut down the nettles. There were no nettles nor weeds of any
kind, only the small ancient church with its little shingled spire
standing in the middle of a large green graveyard with about a dozen
or fifteen gravestones scattered about, three old tombs, and, close to
the building, an ancient yew tree. This is a big, and has been a
bigger, tree, as a large part of the trunk has perished on one side,
but as it stands it measures nearly twenty-four feet round a yard from
the earth. This, with a small farmhouse, in old times a manor house,
and its outbuildings and a cottage or two, make the village. So quiet
a spot is it that to see a human form or hear a human voice comes
almost as a surprise. The little antique church, the few stones, the
dark ancient tree--these are everything, and the effect on the mind is
strangely grateful--a sense of enduring peace, with something of that
solitariness and desolation which we find in unspoilt wildernesses.

From these smallest churches, which appear like a natural growth where
they are seen, I turn to the large and new, and the largest of all at
this place--that of Privett. From its gorgeous yet vacant and cold
interior, and from the whole vast structure, including that necessary
ingredient in an elegant landscape, the soaring spire visible for many
miles around, I turn away as from a jarring and discordant thing--the
feeling one experiences at the sight of those brand-new big houses
built by over-rich stock jobbers on many hills and open heaths in
Surrey and, alas! in Hampshire.

I do not, however, say that all new and large churches raised in small
rustic centres appear as discordant things. Even in the group of
villages which I have named there is a new and comparatively large one
which moves one to admiration--the church of Blackmoor. Here the
vegetation and surroundings are unlike those which accord best with
the small typical structures, the low tower and shingled spire. The
tall, square tower of Blackmoor, of white stone roofed with red tiles,
rises amid the pines of Wolmer Forest, simple and beautiful in shape,
and gives a touch of grace and grateful colour to that darker, austere
nature. From every point of view it is a pleasure to the eye, and
because of its enduring beauty the memory of the man who raised it is
like a perfume in the wilderness.

It is, however, time that bestows the best grace, the indescribable
charm to the village church--long centuries of time, which gives the
feeling, the expression, of immemorial peace to the weathered and
ivied building itself and the surrounding space, the churchyard, with
its green heaps, and scattered stones, and funeral yew.

The associated feeling, the _expression_, is undoubtedly the chief
thing in the general effect, but the constituents or objects which
compose the scene are in themselves pleasing; and one scarcely less
important than the building itself, the universal grass, the dark,
red-barked tree, is the gravestone. I mean the gravestone that is
attractive in shape, which may be seen in every old village churchyard
in Hampshire; for not all the stones are of this character. The stone
that is beautiful dates back half a century at least, but very few are
as old as a century and a half. When we get that far and farther back
the inscription is obliterated or indecipherable. Only here and there
we may by chance find some stone, half buried in the soil, of an
exceptional hardness, marking the spot where lieth one who departed
this life in the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century. There
are many old stones, it is true, with nothing legible on them, but one
does not know how old they are. It is not that these gravestones are
beautiful only because they are old, and have had their hard surface
softened and embroidered with green moss and lichen of many shades,
from pale-grey to orange and red and brown. The form of the stone, the
stonecutter's work, was beautiful before Nature began to work on it
with her sunshine, her rain, her invisible seed. I cannot think why
this old fashion, or rather, let us say, this tender, sacred custom,
of marking the last resting-place of the dead with a memorial
satisfying to the aesthetic sense, should have gone or died out. The
gravestones used at the present time are, as a rule, twice as big as
the old ones, and are perfectly plain--immense stone slabs, inscribed
with big, fat, black letters differing in size, the whole inscription
curiously resembling the local auctioneer's bills to be seen pasted up
on barn-doors, fences, and other suitable places. So big, and hard,
and bold, and ugly--I try not to see them!

Look from these at the old stone which the earthworms have been busy
trying to bury for a century, until the lower half of the inscription
is under ground; the stone which the lichen has embossed and richly
coloured; round which the grass grows so close and lovingly, and the
small creeping ivy tries to cover. This which has been added to it is
but a part of its beauty: you see that its lines are graceful, that
they were made so; that the inscription--"Here lyeth the body,"
&c.--is not cut in letters in use in newspapers and advertising
placards, and have therefore no common nor degrading associations, but
are letters of other forms, graceful, too, in their lines; and that
above the inscription there are sculptured and symbolic figures and
lines--emblems of mortality, eternal hope, and a future life--heads of
cherubs, winged and blowing on horns, and the sun and wings; skulls
and crossbones, and hour-glass and scythe; the funeral urn and
weeping-willow; the lighted torch; the heart in flames, or bleeding,
or transfixed with arrows; the angel's trumpet, the crown of glory,
the palm and the lily, the laurel leaf, and many more.

Did we think this art, or this custom, too little a thing to cherish
any longer? I cannot find any person with a word to say about it. I
have tried and the result was curious. I have invited persons of my
acquaintance into an old churchyard and begged them to look on this
stone and on this--the hard ugliness of one, an insult to the dead,
and the beauty, the pathos, of the other. And they have immediately
fallen in to a melancholy silence, or else they have suddenly become
angry, apparently for no cause. But the reason probably was that they
had never given a thought to the subject, that when they had buried
some one dear to them--a mother or wife or daughter--they simply went
to the stonemason and ordered a gravestone, leaving him to fashion it
in his own way. The reason of the reason--the full explanation of the
singular fact that they, in these house-beautiful and generally
art-worshipping times, had given no thought to the matter until it was
unexpectedly sprung upon them; and that if they had lived, say, a
hundred years ago, they would have given it some thought--this the
reader will easily find out for himself.

It is comforting to reflect that gravestones do not last for ever, nor
for very long; and in the meantime Nature is doing what she can with
our ugly modern memorials, touching, softening, and tingeing them with
her mosses, lichens, and with algae--her beautiful iolithus. In most
churchyards in southern England we see many stones stained a peculiar
colour, a bright rust red, darkest in dry weather, and brightest in
wet summers, often varying to pink and purple and orange; but whatever
the hue or shade the effect on the grey stone, lichened or not, is
always beautiful. It is not a lichen; when the staining is looked
closely at nothing is seen but a roughness, a powdery appearance, on
the stone's surface. It is an aerial alga of the genus Crooleptus,
confined to the southern half of England, and most common in
Hampshire, where its beautifying blush may sometimes be seen on old
stone walls of churches, and old houses and ruins; but it flourishes
most on gravestones, especially in moist situations. The stone must
not be too hard, and must, moreover, be acted on by the weather for
well-nigh half a century before the alga begins to show on it; but you
will sometimes see it on an exceptionally soft stone dating no more
than thirty or forty years back. On old stones it is very common and
peculiarly beautiful in wet summers. In June 1902, after many days of
rain, I stood one evening at the little gate at Brockenhurst
churchyard, and counted between me and the church twenty gravestones
stained with the red alga, showing a richness and variety of colouring
never seen before, the result of so much wet weather. For this alga,
which plays so important a part in nature's softening and beautifying
effect on man's work--which is mentioned in no book unless it be some
purely technical treatise dealing with the lower vegetable forms--this
alga, despite its aerial habit, is still in essence a water-plant: the
sun and dry wind burn its life out and darken it to the colour of
ironstone, so that to any one who may notice the dark stain it seems a
colour of the stone itself; but when rain falls the colour freshens
and brightens as if the old grey stone had miraculously been made to
live.

If never a word has been written about that red colour with which
Nature touches the old stones to make them beautiful, a thousand or
ten thousand things have been said about the yew, the chief feature
and ornament of the village churchyard, and many conjectures have we
seen as to the reason of the very ancient custom of planting this tree
where the dead are laid. The tree itself gives a better reason than
any contained in books. It says something to the soul in man which the
talking or chattering yew omitted to tell the modern poet; but very
long ago some one said, in the _Death of Fergus_, "Patriarch of
long-lasting woods is the yew; sacred to forests as is well known."
That ancient sacred character, which survived the introduction of
Christianity, lives still in every mind that has kept any vestige of
animism, the root and essence of all that is wonderful and sacred in
nature. That red and purple bark is the very colour of life, and this
tree's life, compared with other things, is everlasting. The stones we
set up as memorials grow worn and seamed and hoary with age, even like
men, and crumble to dust at last; in time new stones are put in their
place, and these, too, grow old and perish, and are succeeded by
others;--and through all changes, through the ages, the tree lives on
unchanged. With its huge, tough, red trunk: its vast, knotted arms
outstretched; its rich, dark mantle of undying foliage, it stands like
a protecting god on the earth, patriarch and monarch of woods; and
indeed it seems but right and natural that not to oak nor holly, nor
any other reverenced tree, but to the yew it was given to keep guard
over the bodies and souls of those who have been laid in the earth.

The yew is sometimes called the "Hampshire weed," on account of its
abundance in the county; if it must have a second name, I suggest that
the Hampshire or British dragon-tree would be a better and more worthy
one. It would admirably fit some ancient churchyard yews in the
neighbourhood of Selborne, especially that of Farringdon.

In the great mass of literature concerning Gilbert White, there is
curiously little said about this village; yet it has one of the most
interesting old churches in the county--the church in which White
officiated for over a quarter of a century, during all the best years
of his life, in fact; for when he resigned the curacy at Farringdon to
take that of Selborne, for which he had waited so long, he was within
two years of bidding a formal farewell to natural history, and within
eight of his death. The church register from 1760 to 1785 is written
in his clear, beautiful hand, and in the rectory garden there is a
large Spanish chestnut-tree planted by him. Although not so fortunate
in its surroundings as Selborne, with its Lyth and flowery Bourne and
wooded Hanger, Farringdon village with its noble church and fine old
farm-buildings and old cottages, is the better village of the two. At
the side of the churchyard there is an old oast-house, now used as a
barn, which for quaintness and beauty has hardly its match in England.
The churchyard itself is a pretty, peaceful wilderness, deep in grass,
with ivy and bramble hanging to the trees, and spreading over tombs
and mounds. Long may it be kept sacred from the gardener, with his
abhorred pruning-hook, his basket of geranium cuttings--inharmonious
flower!--and his brushwood broom to make it all tidy. Finally, there
is the wonderful old yew.

A great deal has been written first and last about the Selborne yew,
which appears to rank as one of the half-dozen biggest yew trees in
the country. Its age is doubtless very great, and may greatly exceed
the "thousand years" usually given to a very large churchyard yew. The
yews planted two hundred years ago by Gilbert White's grandfather in
the parsonage garden close by, are but saplings in comparison. A black
poplar would grow a bigger trunk in less than ten years. The Selborne
yew was indeed one of the antiquities of the village when White
described it a century and a quarter ago. It is, moreover, the
best-grown, healthiest, and most vigorous-looking yew of its size in
Britain. The Farringdon yew, the bigger tree, has a far more aged
aspect--the appearance of a tree which has been decaying for an
exceedingly long period.

Trees, like men, have their middle period, when their increase slowly
lessens until it ceases altogether; their long stationary period, and
their long decline: each of these periods may, in the case of the yew,
extend to centuries; and we know that behind them all there may have
been centuries of slow growth. The Selborne yew has added something to
its girth since it was measured by White, and is now twenty-seven feet
round in its biggest part, and exceeds by at least three feet the big
yew at Priors Dean, and the biggest of the three churchyard yews at
Hawkley. The Farringdon yew in its biggest part, about five feet from
the ground, measures thirty feet, and to judge by its ruinous
condition it must have ceased adding to its bulk more than a century
ago. One regrets that White gave no account of its size and appearance
in his day. It has, in the usual manner, decayed above and below, the
upper branches dying down while the trunk rots away beneath, the tree
meanwhile keeping itself alive and renewing its youth, as it were, by
means of that power which the yew possesses of saving portions of its
trunk from complete decay by covering them inside and out with new
bark.

In the churchyard yew at Crowhurst, Surrey, we see that the upper part
of the tree has decayed until nothing but the low trunk, crowned with
a poor fringe of late branches, has been left; in this case the trunk
remains outwardly almost entire--an empty shell or cylinder, large
enough to accommodate fourteen persons on the circular bench placed
within the cavity. In other cases we see that the trunk has been eaten
through and through, and split up into strips; that the strips,
covered inside with new bark, have become separate trunks, in some
instances united above, as in that of the yew in South Hayling
churchyard. The Farringdon tree has decayed below in this way; long
strips from the top to the roots have rotted and turned to dust; and
the sound portions, covered in and out with bark, form a group of
half-a-dozen flattened boles, placed in a circle, all but one, which
springs from the middle, and forms a fantastically twisted column in
the centre of the edifice. Between this central strangely shaped bole,
now dead, and the surrounding ring there is space for a man to walk
round in.

It is a wonderful tree, which White looked at every day for five and
twenty years, yet never mentioned, and which Loe says nothing about in
his _Yew Trees of Great Britain and Ireland_. The title of this work
is misleading: _Famous Yew Trees_ it should have been, since it is
nothing but a collection of facts as to size, supposed age, &c., of
trees that have often been measured and described, and are accordingly
well known. It is well, to my way of thinking, that he attempted
nothing more. It is always a depressing thought, when one has
discovered a wonderful or a beautiful thing, that a very full and very
exact account of it is and must be contained in some musty monograph
by some industrious, dreary person. At all events, I can say that the
yew trees which have most attracted me, which come up when I think of
the yew as a wonderful and a sacred tree, are not in the book. Of my
Hampshire favourites I will, for a special reason, speak of but one
more--the yew in the churchyard of Hurstbourne Priors, a small village
on the upper Test, near Andover.

This tree, which is doubtless very aged, has not grown an enormous
trunk, nor is it high for an old yew, but its appearance is
nevertheless strangely impressive, owing to the length of its lower
horizontal branches, which extend to a distance of thirty to
thirty-five feet from the trunk, and would lie on the ground if not
kept up by props. Another thing which makes one wonder is the number
of graves that are crowded together beneath these vast sheltering
arms. One may count over thirty stones, some very old; many more have
probably perished, and there are besides many green mounds. I have
watched in a churchyard in the Midlands a grave being dug under a yew,
at about three yards' distance from the trunk: a barrowful of roots
was taken out during the process. It seemed to me that a very serious
injury was being inflicted on the tree, and it is probable that many
of our very old churchyard yews have been dwarfed in their growth by
such cutting of the roots. But what shall we say of the Hurstbourne
Priors yew, from which not one but thirty or forty barrow-loads of
living roots must have been taken at various times to make room for so
many coffins! And what is the secret of the custom in this, and
probably other villages, of putting the dead so close to or under the
shelter of the tree?

Compare this Hurstbourne Priors yew, and many other ancient churchyard
yews in Hampshire, with that of Selborne, which albeit probably no
older is double their size: is it not probable that the Selborne tree
is the largest, best grown, and most vigorous of the old yews because
it has not been mutilated at its roots as the others have been?

There is but one grave beneath or near this tree; not the grave of any
important person, but a nameless green mound of some obscure peasant.
I had often looked with a feeling almost of astonishment at that
solitary conspicuous mound in such a place, midway between the trunk
of the tree and the church door, wondering who it was whose poor
remains had been so honoured, and why it was. Then by chance I found
out the whole story; but it came to me in scraps, at different times
and places, and that is how I will give it to the reader, in
fragments, in the course of the following chapter.



CHAPTER X

Wolmer Forest--Charm of contrast and novelty in scenery--Aspect of
Wolmer--Heath and pine--Colour of water and soil--An old woman's
recollections--Story of the "Selborne mob"--Past and present times
compared--Hollywater Clump--Age of trees--Bird life in the
forest--Teal in their breeding haunts--Boys in the forest--Story of
the horn-blower.

THE first part of the story of that Selborne mound in a strange place
was heard at Wolmer Forest, over five years ago, during my first
prolonged visit to that spot. I have often been there since, and have
stayed many days, but a first impression of a place, as of a face, is
always the best, the brightest, the truest, and I wish to describe
Wolmer as I saw it then.

It struck me on that visit that the pleasure we have in visible nature
depends in a measure on contrast and novelty. Never is moist verdure
so refreshing and delightful to the eye as when we come to it from
brown heaths and grey barren downs and uplands. So, too, the greenness
of the green earth sharpens our pleasure in all stony and waste
places; trim flower gardens show us the beauty of thorns and briars,
and make us in love with desolation. As in light and shade, wet and
dry, tempest and calm, so the peculiar attractions of each scene and
aspect of nature are best "illustrated by their contraries."

I had, accordingly, the best preparation for a visit to Wolmer by a
few days' ramble in Alice Holt Forest, with its endless oaks, and in
the luxuriant meadows and cool shady woods at Waverley Abbey. It was a
great change to Wolmer Forest. Although its soil is a "hungry, bare
sand," it has long been transformed from the naked heath of Gilbert
White's time to a vast unbroken plantation. Looked upon from some
eminence it has a rough, dark aspect. There are no smooth summits and
open pleasant places; all is covered by the shaggy mantle of the
pines. But it is nowhere gloomy, as pine woods are apt to be: the
trees are not big enough, on account of that hungry sand in which they
are rooted, or because they are not yet very old. The pines not being
too high and shady to keep the sun and air out, the old aboriginal
vegetation has not been killed: in most places the ling forms a thick
undergrowth, and looks green, while outside of the forest, in the full
glare of the sun, it has a harsh, dry, dead appearance.

On account of this abundance of ling a strange and lovely appearance
is produced in some favourable years, when the flowers are in great
profusion and all the plants blossom at one time. That most beautiful
sight of the early spring, when the bloom of the wild hyacinth forms a
sheet of azure colour under the woodland trees, is here repeated in
July, but with a difference of hue both in the trees above and in the
bloom beneath.

In May, Wolmer is comparatively flowerless, and there is no bright
colour, except that of the earth itself in some naked spot. The water
of the sluggish boggy streamlets in the forest, tributaries of the
well-named Dead Water, takes a deep red or orange hue from the colour
of the soil. The sand abounds with ironstone, which in the mass is
deep rust-red and purple coloured. When crushed and pulverised by
traffic and weather on the roads, it turns to a vivid chrome yellow.
In the hot noonday sun the straight road that runs through the forest
appeared like a yellow band or ribbon. That was a curious and novel
picture, which I often had before me during the excessively dry and
windy weather in May--the vast whity-blue, hot sky, without speck or
stain of cloud above, and the dark forest covering the earth, cut
through by that yellow zone, extending straight away until it was lost
in the hazy distance. Even stranger was the appearance when the wind
blew strongest and raised clouds of dust from the road, which flew
like fiery yellow vapours athwart the black pines.

In a small house by the roadside in the middle of the forest I found a
temporary home. My aged landlady proved a great talker, and treated me
to a good deal of Hampshire dialect. Her mind was well stored with
ancient memories. At first I let her ramble on without paying too much
attention; but at length, while speaking of the many little ups and
downs of her not uneventful life, she asked me if I knew Selborne, and
then informed me that she was a native of that village, and that her
family had lived there for generations. Her mother had reached the age
of eighty-six years; she had married her third husband when over
seventy. By her first she had had two and by her second thirteen
children, and my informant, who is now aged seventy-six, was the last
born. This wonderful mother of hers, who had survived three husbands,
and whose memory went back several years into the eighteenth century,
had remembered the Rev. Gilbert White very well: she was aged about
twelve when he died. It was wonderful, she said, how many interesting
things she used to tell about him; for Gilbert White, whose name was
known to the great world outside of his parish, was often in her mind
when she recalled her early years. Unfortunately, these interesting
things had now all slipped out of my landlady's memory. Whenever I
brought her to the point she would stand with eyes cast down, the
fingers of her right hand on her forehead, trying--trying to recall
something to tell me: a simple creature, who was without imagination,
and could invent nothing. Then little by little she would drift off
into something else--to recollections of people and events not so
remote in time, scenes she had witnessed herself, and which had made a
deeper impression on her mind. One was how her father, her mother's
second husband, had acted as horn-blower to the "Selborne mob," when
the poor villagers were starving; and how, blowing on his horn, he had
assembled his fellow-revolutionists, and led them to an attack on the
poorhouse, where they broke down the doors and made a bonfire of the
furniture; then on to the neighbouring village of Headley to get
recruits for their little army. Then the soldiery arrived on the
scene, and took them prisoners and sent them to Winchester, where they
were tried by some little unremembered Judge Jeffreys, who sentenced
many or most of them to transportation; but not the horn-blower, who
had escaped, and was in hiding among the beeches of the famous
Selborne Hanger. Only at midnight he would steal down into the village
to get a bite of food and hear the news from his vigorous and vigilant
wife. At length during one of these midnight descents, he was seen,
and captured, and sent to Winchester. But by this time the authorities
had grown sick--possibly ashamed--of dealing so harshly with a few
poor peasants, whose sufferings had made them mad, and the horn-blower
was pardoned, and died in bed at home when his time came.

I did not cease questioning the poor woman because she would not admit
that all she had heard about Gilbert White was gone past recall. Often
and often had she thought of what her mother had told her. Up to
within two or three years ago she remembered it all so well. What was
it now? Once more, standing dejected in the middle of the room, she
would cudgel her old brains. So much had happened since she was a
girl. She had been brought up to farmwork. Here would follow the names
of various farms in the parishes of Selborne, Newton Valence, and
Oakhanger, where she had worked, mostly in the fields; and of the
farmers, long dead and gone most of them, who had employed her. All
her life she had worked hard, struggling to live. When people
complained of hard times now, of the little that was paid them for
their work, she and her husband remembered what it was thirty and
forty and fifty years ago, and they wondered what people really
wanted. Cheap food, cheap clothing, cheap education for the
children--everything was cheap now, and the pay more. And she had had
so many children to bring up--ten; and seven of them were married, and
were now having so many children of their own that she could hardly
keep count of them.

It was idle to listen; and at last, in desperation, I would jump up
and rush out, for the wind was calling in the pines, and the birds
were calling, and what they had to tell was just then of more interest
than any human story.

Not far from my cottage there was a hill, from the summit of which the
whole area of the forest was visible, and the country all round for
many leagues beyond it. I did not like this hill, and refused to pay
it a second visit. The extent of country it revealed made the forest
appear too small; it spoilt the illusion of a practically endless
wilderness, where I could stroll about all day and see no cultivated
spot, and no house, and perhaps no human form. It was, moreover,
positively disagreeable to be stared at across the ocean of pines by a
big, brand-new, red-brick mansion, standing conspicuous, unashamed,
affronting nature, on some wide heath or lonely hillside.

A second hill, not far from the first, was preferable when I wished
for a wide horizon, or to drink the wind and the music of the wind.
Bound and dome-like, it stood alone; and although not so high as its
neighbour, it was more conspicuous, and seen from a distance appeared
to be vastly higher. The reason of this was that it was crowned with a
grove of Scotch firs with boles that rose straight and smooth and
mast-like to a height of about eighty feet; thus, seen from afar, the
hill looked about a hundred feet higher than it actually was, the
tree-tops themselves forming a thick, round dome, conspicuous above
the surrounding forest, and Wolmer's most prominent feature. I have
often said of Hampshire--very many persons have said the same--that it
lacks one thing--sublimity, or, let us say, grandeur. I have been over
all its high, open down country, and upon all its highest hills,
which, although rising to a thousand feet above the sea at one point,
yet do not impress one so much as the South Downs; and I have been in
all its forest lands, which have wildness and a thousand beauties, and
one asks for nothing better. But the Hollywater Clump in Wolmer Forest
as soon as I come in sight of it wakes in me another sense and
feeling; and I have found in conversation with others on this subject
that they are affected in the same way. I doubt if any one can fail to
experience such a feeling when looking on that great hill-top grove, a
stupendous pillared temple, with its dome-like black roof against the
sky, standing high above and dominating the sombre pine and heath
country for miles around.

Gilbert White described Wolmer as a naked heath with very few trees
growing on it. The Hollywater Clump must, one cannot but think, have
been planted before or during his time. One old native of Wolmer whose
memory over five years ago went back about sixty years, assured me
that the trees looked just as big when he was a little boy as they do
now. Undoubtedly they are very old, and many, we see, are decaying,
and some are dead, and for many years past they have been dying and
falling.

The green woodpecker had discovered the unsoundness of many of them;
in some of the trunks, in their higher part, the birds had made
several holes. These were in line, one above the other, like stops in
a flute. Most of these far-up houses or flats were tenanted by
starlings. This was only too apparent, for the starling, although neat
and glossy in his dress, is an untidy tenant, and smears the trunk
beneath the entrance to his nest with numberless droppings. You might
fancy that he had set himself to whitewash his tenement, and had
carelessly capsized his little bucket of lime on the threshold.

It was pleasant in the late afternoon to sit at the feet of these
stately red columns this brave company of trees, that are warred
against by all the winds of heaven, and look upon the black legions of
the forest covering the earth beneath them for miles. High up in the
swaying, singing tops a kind of musical talk was audible--the
starlings' medley of clinking, chattering, wood-sawing,
knife-grinding, whistling, and bell-like sounds. Higher still, above
the tree-tops, the jackdaws were at their aerial gambols, calling to
one another, exulting in the wind. They were not breeding there, but
were attracted to the spot by the height of the hill, with its crown
of soaring trees. Some strong-flying birds--buzzards, kites, vultures,
gulls, and many others--love to take their exercise far from earth,
making a playground of the vast void heaven. The wind-loving jackdaw,
even in his freest, gladdest moments, never wholly breaks away from
the earth, and for a playground prefers some high, steep place--a
hill, cliff, spire, or tower--where he can perch at intervals, and
from which he can launch himself, as the impulse takes him, either to
soar and float above, or to cast himself down into the airy gulf
below.

Stray herons, too, come to the trees to roost. The great bird could be
seen far off, battling with the wind, rising and falling, blown to
this side and that, now displaying his pale under-surface, and now the
slaty blue of his broad, slow-flapping wings.

As the sun sank nearer to the horizon, the tall trunks would catch the
level beams and shine like fiery pillars, and the roof thus upheld
would look darker and gloomier by contrast. With the passing of that
red light, the lively bird-notes would cease, the trees would give
forth a more solemn, sea-like sound, and the day would end.

My days, during all the time I spent at Wolmer, when I had given up
asking questions, and my poor old woman had ceased cudgelling her
brains for lost memories, were spent with the birds. The yaffle,
night-jar, and turtle-dove were the most characteristic species.
Wolmer is indeed the metropolis of the turtle-doves, even as Savernake
is (or was) that of the jays and jackdaws. All day long the woods were
full of the low, pleasing sound of their cooing: as one walked among
the pines they constantly rose up in small flocks from the ground with
noisy wings, and as they flew out into some open space to vanish again
in the dark foliage, their wings in the strong sunlight often looked
white as silver. But the only native species I wish now to speak of is
the teal as I found it a little over five years ago. In Wolmer these
pretty entertaining little ducks have bred uninterruptedly for
centuries, but I greatly fear that the changes now in progress--the
increase of the population, building, the larger number of troops kept
close by, and perhaps, too, the slow drying up of the marshy
pools--will cause them to forsake their ancient haunts.

By chance I very soon discovered their choicest breeding-place, not
far from that dome-shaped, fir-crowned hill which was my principal
landmark. This was a boggy place, thirty or forty acres in extent,
surrounded by trees and overgrown with marsh weeds and grasses, and in
places with rushes. Cotton grass grew in the drier parts, and the
tufts nodding in the wind looked at a distance like silvery white
flowers. At one end of the marsh there were clumps of willow and
alder, where the reed-bunting was breeding and the grasshopper warbler
uttered his continuous whirring sound, which seemed to accord with the
singing of the wind in the pines. At the other end there was open
water with patches of rushes growing in it; and here at the water's
edge, shaded by a small fir, I composed myself on a bed of heather to
watch the birds.

The inquisitive moor-hens were the first to appear, uttering from time
to time their sharp, loud protest. Their suspicion lessened by
degrees, but was never wholly laid aside; and one bird, slyly leaving
the water, made a wide circuit and approached me through the trees in
order to get a better view of me. A sudden movement on my part, when
he was only three yards from me, gave him a terrible fright. Mallards
showed themselves at intervals, swimming into the open water, or
rising a few yards above the rushes, then dropping out of sight again.
Where the rushes grew thin and scattered, ducklings appeared, swimming
one behind the other, busily engaged in snatching insects from the
surface. By-and-by a pair of teal rose up, flew straight towards me,
and dropped into the open water within eighteen yards of where I sat.
They were greatly excited, and no sooner touched the water than they
began calling loudly; then, from various points, others rose and
hurried to join them, and in a few moments there were eleven, all
disporting themselves on the water at that short distance. Teal are
always tamer than ducks of other kinds, but the tameness of these
Wolmer birds was astonishing and very delightful. For a few moments I
imagined they were excited at my presence, but it very soon appeared
that they were entirely absorbed in their own affairs and cared
nothing about me. What a wonderfully lively, passionate, variable, and
even ridiculous little creature the teal is! Compared with his great
relations--swans, geese, and the bigger ducks--he is like a monkey or
squirrel among stately bovine animals. Now the teal have a world-wide
range, being found in all climates, and are of many species; they are,
moreover, variable in plumage, some species having an exceedingly rich
and beautiful colouring; but wherever found, and however different in
colour, they are much the same in disposition--they are loquacious,
excitable, violent in their affections beyond other ducks, and, albeit
highly intelligent, more fearless than other birds habitually
persecuted by man. A sedate teal is as rare as a sober-coloured
humming-bird. The teal is also of so social a temper that even in the
height of the breeding season he is accustomed to meet his fellows at
little gatherings. A curious thing is that at these meetings they do
not, like most social birds, fall into one mind, and comport
themselves in an orderly, disciplined manner, all being moved by one
contagious impulse. On the contrary, each bird appears to have an
impulse of his own, and to follow it without regard to what his
fellows may be doing. One must have his bath, another his frolic; one
falls to courting, another to quarrelling, or even fighting, and so
on, and the result is a lively splashing, confused performance, which
is amusing to see. It was an exhibition of this kind which I was so
fortunate as to witness at the Wolmer pond. The body-jerking antics
and rich, varied plumage of the drakes gave them a singular as well as
a beautiful appearance; and as they dashed and splashed about,
sometimes not more than fourteen yards from me, their motions were
accompanied by all the cries and calls they have--their loud call,
which is a bright and lively sound; chatterings and little, sharp,
exclamatory notes; a long trill, somewhat metallic or bell-like; and a
sharp, nasal cry, rapidly reiterated several times, like a laugh.

After they had worked off their excitement and finished their fun they
broke up into pairs and threes, and went off in various directions,
and I saw no more of them.

It was not until the sun had set that a snipe appeared. First one rose
from the marsh and began to play over it in the usual manner, then
another rose to keep him company, and finally a third. Most of the
time they hovered with their breasts towards me, and seen through my
glass against the pale luminous sky, their round, stout bodies, long
bills, and short, rapidly vibrating wings, gave them the appearance of
gigantic insects rather than birds.

At length, tired of watching them, I stretched myself out in the ling,
but continued listening, and while thus occupied an amusing incident
occurred. A flock of eighteen mallards rose up with a startled cry
from the marsh at a distance, and after flying once or twice round,
dropped down again. Then the sound of crackling branches and of voices
talking became audible advancing round the marsh towards me. It was
the first human sound I had heard that day at that spot. Then the
sounds ceased, and after a couple of minutes of silence I glanced
round in the direction they had proceeded from, and beheld a curious
sight. Three boys, one about twelve years old, the others smaller,
were grouped together on the edge of the pool, gazing fixedly across
the water at me. They had taken me for a corpse, or an escaped
criminal, or some such dreadful object, lying there in the depth of
the forest. The biggest boy had dropped on to one knee among the rough
heather, while the others, standing on either side, were resting their
hands on his shoulders. Seen thus, in their loose, threadbare, grey
clothes and caps, struck motionless, their white, scared faces, parted
lips, and wildly staring eyes turned to me, they were like a group cut
in stone. I laughed and waved my hand to them, whereupon their faces
relaxed, and they immediately dropped into natural attitudes. Very
soon they moved away among the trees, but after eight or ten minutes
they reappeared near me, and finally, from motives of curiosity, came
uninvited to my side. They proved to be very good specimens of the boy
naturalist; thorough little outlaws, with keen senses, and the passion
for wildness strong in them. They told me that when they went
bird-nesting they made a day of it, taking bread and cheese in their
pockets, and not returning till the evening. For an hour we talked in
the fading light of day on the wild creatures in the forest, until we
could no longer endure the cloud of gnats that had gathered round us.

About three years after the visit to Wolmer I made the acquaintance of
a native of Selborne, whose father had taken part as a lad in the
famous "Selborne mob," and who confirmed the story I had heard about
the horn-blower, whose name was Newland. He had been a soldier in his
early manhood before he returned to his native village and married the
widow who bore him so many children. It was quite true that he had
died at home, in bed, and what was more, he added, he was buried just
between the church porch and the yew, where he was all by himself. How
he came to be buried there he did not know.

Lately, in October 1902, I heard the finish of the story. I found an
old woman, a widow named Garnett, an elder sister of the woman at
Wolmer Forest. She is eighty years old, but was not born until a year
or two after the "Selborne mob" events, which fixes the date of that
outbreak about the year 1820. She has a brother, now in a workhouse,
about two years older than herself, who was a babe in arms at that
time. When Newland was at last captured and sent to Winchester, his
poor wife, with her baby in her arms, set out on foot to visit him in
gaol. It was a long tramp for her thus burdened, and it was also in
the depth of one of the coldest winters ever known. She started early,
but did not get to her destination until the following morning, and
not without suffering a fresh misfortune by the way. Before dawn, when
the cold was most intense, while walking over Winchester Hill, her
baby's nose was frozen; and though everything proper was done when she
arrived at the houses, it never got quite right. His injured nose,
which turns to a dark-blue colour and causes him great suffering in
cold weather, has been a trouble and misery to him all his life long.

Newland, we know, was forgiven and returned to spend the rest of his
life in his village, where he died at last of sheer old age, passing
very quietly away after receiving the sacrament from the vicar, and in
the presence of his faithful old wife and his children and
grandchildren.

After he was dead, two of his children--my informant, and that brother
who as a babe had travelled to Winchester in his mother's arms in cold
weather--talked together about him and his life, and of all he had
suffered and of his goodness, and in both their minds there was one
idea, an anxious wish that his descendants should not allow him to go
out of memory. And there was no way known to them to keep him in mind
except by burying him in some spot by himself, where his mound would
be alone and apart. Finally, brother and sister, plucking up courage,
went to the vicar, the well-remembered Mr. Parsons, who built the new
vicarage and the church school, and begged him to let them bury their
father by the yew tree near the porch, and he good-naturedly
consented.

That was how Newland came to be buried at that spot; but before many
days the vicar went to them in a great state of mind, and said that he
had made a terrible mistake, that he had done wrong in consenting to
the grave being made there, and that their father must be taken up and
placed at some other spot in the churchyard. They were grieved at
this, but could say nothing. But for some reason the removal never
took place, and in time the son and daughter themselves began to
regret that they had buried their father there where they could never
keep the mound green and fresh. People going in or coming out of
church on dark evenings stumbled or kicked their boots against it, or
when they stood there talking to each other they would rest a foot on
it, and romping children sat on it, so that it always had a ragged,
unkept appearance, do what they would.

It is certainly an unsightly mound. It would be better to do away with
it, and to substitute a small memorial stone with a suitable
inscription placed level with the turf.



CHAPTER XI

The Hampshire people--Racial differences in neighbouring counties--A
neglected subject--Inhabitants of towns--Gentry and peasantry--Four
distinct types--The common blonde type--Lean women--Deleterious
effects of tea-drinking--A shepherd's testimony--A mixed race--The
Anglo-Saxon--Case of reversion of type--Un-Saxon character of the
British--Dark-eyed Hampshire people--Racial feeling with regard to
eye-colours--The Iberian type--Its persistence--Character of the small
dark man--Dark and blonde children--A dark village child.

THE history of the horn-blower and his old wife, and their still
living aged children, serves to remind me that this book, which
contains so much about all sorts of creatures and forms of life, from
spiders and flies to birds and beasts, and from red alga on
gravestones to oaks and yews, has so far had almost nothing to say
about our own species--of that variety which inhabits Hampshire.

If the critical reader asks what is here meant by "variety," what
should I answer him? On going directly from any other district in
southern England to the central parts of Hampshire one is sensible of
a difference in the people. One is still in southern England, and the
peasantry, like the atmosphere, climate, soil, the quiet but verdurous
and varied scenery, are more or less like those in other neighbouring
counties--Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Berkshire, Wilts, and Dorset. In
general appearance, at all events, the people are much the same; and
the dialect, where any survives, and even the quality of the voices,
closely resemble those in adjoining counties. Nevertheless there is a
difference; even the hasty seers who are almost without the faculty of
observation are vaguely cognisant of it, though they would not be able
to say what it consisted in. Probably it would puzzle any one to say
wherein Hampshire differed from all the counties named, since each has
something individual; therefore it would be better to compare
Hampshire with some one county near it, or with a group of
neighbouring counties in which some family resemblance is traceable.
Somerset, Devon, Wilts, and Dorset--these answer the description, and
I leave out Cornwall only because its people are unknown to me. The
four named have seemed to me the most interesting counties in southern
England; but if I were to make them five by adding Hampshire, the
verdict of nine persons out of ten, all equally well acquainted with
the five, would probably be that it was the least interesting. They
would probably say that the people of Hampshire were less
good-looking, that they had less red colour in their skins, less pure
colour in their eyes; that they had less energy, if not less
intelligence, or at all events were less lively, and had less humour.

These differences between the inhabitants of neighbouring and of
adjoining counties are doubtless in some measure due to local
conditions, of soil, climate, food, customs, and so on, acting for
long generations on a stay-at-home people: but the main differences
are undoubtedly racial; and here we are on a subject in which we poor
ordinary folk who want to know are like sheep wandering shepherdless
in some wilderness, bleating in vain for guidance in a maze of
fleece-tearing brambles. It is true that the ethnologists and
anthropologists triumphantly point out that the Jute type of man may
be recognised in the Isle of Wight, and in a less degree even in the
Meon district; for the rest, with a wave of the hand to indicate the
northern half of the county, they say that all that is or ought to be
more or less Anglo-Saxon. That's all; since, as they tell us, the
affinities of the South Hampshire people, of the New Forest district
especially, have not yet been worked out. Not being an anthropologist
I can't help them; and am even inclined to think that they have left
undone some of the things which they ought to have done. The complaint
was made in a former chapter that we had no monograph on fleas to help
us; it may be made, too, with regard to the human race in Hampshire.
The most that one can do in such a case, since man cannot be excluded
from the subjects which concern the naturalist, is to record one's own
poor little unscientific observations, and let them go for what they
are worth.

There is little profit in looking at the towns'-people. The big coast
towns have a population quite as heterogeneous as that of the
metropolis; even in a comparatively small rural inland town, like
Winchester, one would be puzzled to say what the chief characteristics
of the people were. You may feel in a vague way that they are unlike
the people of, say, Guildford, or Canterbury, or Reading, or
Dorchester, but the variety in forms and faces is too great to allow
of any definite idea. The only time when the people even in a town can
be studied to advantage in places like Winchester, Andover, &c., is on
a market day, or on a Saturday afternoon, when the villagers come in
to do their marketing. I have said, in writing of Somerset and its
people, that the gentry, the landowners, and the wealthy residents
generally, are always in a sense foreigners. The man may bear a name
which has been for many generations in a county, but he is never
racially one with the peasant; and, as John Bright once said, it is
the people who live in cottages that make the nation. His parents and
his grandparents and his ancestors for centuries have been mixing
their blood with the blood of outsiders. It is well always to bear
this in mind, and in the market-place or the High Street of the
country town to see the carriage people, the gentry, and the important
ones generally as though one saw them not, or saw them as shadows, and
to fix the attention on those who in face and carriage and dress
proclaim themselves true natives and children of the soil.

Even so there will be variety enough--a little more perhaps than is
wanted by the methodic mind anxious to classify these "insect tribes."
But after a time--a few months or a few years, let us say--the
observer will perceive that the majority of the people are divisible
into four fairly distinct types, the minority being composed of
intermediate forms and of nondescripts. There is an enormous
disproportion in the actual numbers of the people of these distinct
types, and it varies greatly in different parts of the county. Of the
Hampshire people it may be said generally, as we say of the whole
nation, that there are two types--the blonde and the dark; but in this
part of England there are districts where a larger proportion of dark
blood than is common in England generally has produced a well-marked
intermediate type; and this is one of my four distinct Hampshire
types. I should place it second in importance, although it comes a
very long way after the first type, which is distinctly blonde.

This first most prevalent type, which greatly outnumbers all the
others put together, and probably includes more than half of the
entire population, is strongest in the north, and extends across the
county from Sussex to Wiltshire. The Hampshire people in that district
are hardly to be distinguished from those of Berkshire. One can see
this best by looking at the school-children in a number of North
Hampshire and Berkshire villages. In sixty or seventy to a hundred and
fifty children in a village school you will seldom find as many as a
dozen with dark eyes.

As was said in a former chapter, there is very little beauty or good
looks in this people; on the other hand, there is just as little
downright ugliness; they are mostly on a rather monotonous level, just
passable in form and features, but with an almost entire absence of
any brightness, physical or mental. Take the best-looking woman of
this most common type--the description will fit a dozen in any
village. She is of medium height, and has a slightly oval face (which,
being Anglo-Saxon, she ought not to have), with fairly good features;
a nose fairly straight, or slightly aquiline, and not small; mouth
well moulded, but the lips too thin; chin frequently pointed. Her hair
is invariably brown, without any red or chestnut colour in it,
generally of a dull or dusty hue; and the eyes are a pale
greyish-blue, with small pupils, and in very many cases a dark mark
round the iris. The deep blue, any pure blue, in fact, from
forget-me-not to ultramarine, is as rare in this commonest type as
warm or bright hair chestnut, red, or gold; or as a brilliant skin.
The skin is pallid, or dusky, or dirty-looking. Even healthy girls in
their teens seldom have any colour, and the exquisite roseate and
carmine reds of other counties are rare indeed. The best-looking girls
at the time of life when they come nearest to being pretty, when they
are just growing into womanhood, have an un-finished look which is
almost pathetic. One gets the fancy that Nature had meant to make them
nice-looking, and finally becoming dissatisfied with her work, left
them to grow to maturity anyhow. It is pathetic, because there was
little more to be done--a rosier blush on the cheek, a touch of
scarlet on the lips, a little brightness and elasticity in the hair, a
pencil of sunlight to make the eyes sparkle.

In figure this woman is slim, too narrow across the hips, too flat in
the chest. And she grows thinner with years. The number of lean, pale
women of this type in Hampshire is very remarkable. You see them in
every village, women that appear almost fleshless, with a
parchment-like skin drawn tight over the bones of the face, pale-blue,
washed-out eyes, and thin, dead-looking hair. What is the reason of
this leanness? It may be that the women of this blonde type are more
subject to poverty of blood than others; for the men, though often
thin, are not so excessively thin as the women. Or it may be the
effect of that kind of poison which cottage women all over the country
are becoming increasingly fond of, and which is having so deleterious
an effect on the people in many counties--the tea they drink. Poison
it certainly is: two or three cups a day of the black juice which they
obtain by boiling and brewing the coarse Indian teas at a shilling a
pound which they use, would kill me in less than a week.

Or it may be partly the poison of tea and partly the bad conditions,
especially the want of proper food, in the villages. One day on the
downs near Winchester I found a shepherd with his flock, a man of
about fifty, and as healthy and strong looking a fellow as I have seen
in Hampshire. Why was it, I asked him, that he was the only man of his
village I had seen with the colour of red blood in his face? why did
they look so unwholesome generally? why were the women so thin, and
the children so stunted and colourless? He said he didn't know, but
thought that for one thing they did not get enough to eat. "On the
farm where I work," he said, "there are twelve of us--nine men, all
married, and three boys. My wages are thirteen shillings, with a
cottage and garden; I have no children, and I neither drink nor smoke,
and have not done so for eighteen years. Yet I find the money is not
too much. Of the others, the eight married men all have children--one
has got six at home: they all smoke, and all make a practice of
spending at least two evenings each week at the public-house." How,
after paying for beer and tobacco, they could support their families
on the few shillings that remained out of their wages was a puzzle to
him.

But this is to digress. The prevalent blonde type I have tried to
describe is best seen in the northern half of the county, but is not
so accentuated on the east, north, and west borders as in the ulterior
villages. If, as is commonly said, this people is Anglo-Saxon, it must
at some early period have mixed its blood with that of a distinctly
different race. This may have been the Belgic or Brythonic, but as
shape and face are neither Celtic nor Saxon, the Brythons must have
already been greatly modified by some older and different race which
they, or the Goidels before them, had conquered and absorbed. It will
be necessary to return to this point by-and-by.

Side by side with this, in a sense, dim and doubtful people, you find
the unmistakable Saxon, the thickset, heavy-looking, round-headed man
with blue eyes and light hair and heavy drooping mustachios--a sort of
terrestrial walrus who goes erect. He is not abundant as in Sussex,
but is represented in almost any village, and in these villages he is
always like a bull-dog or bull-terrier among hounds, lurchers, and
many other varieties, including curs of low degree. Mentally, he is
rather a dull dog, at all events deficient in the finer, more
attractive qualities. Leaving aside the spiritual part, he is a good
all-round man, tough and stubborn, one the naturalist may have no
secret qualms about in treating as an animal. A being of strong animal
nature, and too often in this brewer-ridden county a hard drinker. A
very large proportion of the men in rural towns and villages with
blotchy skins and watery or beery eyes are of this type. Even more
offensive than the animality, the mindlessness, is that flicker of
conscious superiority which lives in their expression. It is, I fancy,
a survival of the old instinctive feeling of a conquering race amid
the conquered.

Nature, we know, is everlastingly harking back, but here in Hampshire
I cannot but think that this type, in spite of its very marked
characters, is a very much muddied and degenerate form. One is led to
this conclusion by occasionally meeting with an individual whose whole
appearance is a revelation, and strikes the mind with a kind of
astonishment, and one can only exclaim there is nothing else to say
Here Nature has at length succeeded in reproducing the pure
un-adulterated form! Such a type I came upon one summer day on the
high downs east of the Itchen.

He was a shepherd, a young fellow of twenty, about five feet eight in
height, but looking short on account of his extraordinary breadth of
shoulders and depth of chest. His arms were like a blacksmith's, and
his legs thick, and his big head was round as a Dutch cheese.

He could, I imagined, have made a breach in the stone wall near which
I found him with his flock, if he had lowered that hard round head and
charged it like a rhinoceros. His hair was light brown, and his face a
uniform rosy brown--in all Hampshire no man nor woman had I seen so
beautiful in colour, and his round, keen, piercing eyes were of a
wonderful blue--"eyes like the sea." If this poor fellow, washed clean
and clothed becomingly in white flannels, had shown himself in some
great gathering at the Oval or some such place on some great day, the
common people would have parted on either side to make way for him,
and would have regarded him with a kind of worship--an impulse to
kneel before him. There, on the downs, his appearance was almost
grotesque in the dress he wore, made of some fabric intended to last
for ever, but now frayed, worn to threads in places, and generally
earth-coloured. A small old cap, earth-coloured too, covered a portion
of his big, round head, and his ancient, lumpish, cracked and clouted
boots were like the hoofs of some extinct large sort of horse which he
had found fossilised among the chalk hills. He had but eleven
shillings a week, and could not afford to spend much on dress. How he
could get enough to eat was a puzzle; he looked as if he could devour
half of one of his muttons at a meal, washed down with a bucket of
beer, without hurt to his digestion. In appearance he formed a
startling contrast to the people around him: they were in comparison a
worn-out, weary-looking race, dim-eyed, pale-faced, slow in their
movements, as if they had lost all joy and interest in life.

The sight of him taught me something I could not get from the books.
The intensity of life in his eyes and whole expression; the rough-hewn
face and rude, powerful form--rude but well balanced--the vigour in
his every movement, enabled me to realise better than anything that
history tells us what those men who came as strangers to these shores
in the fifth century were really like, and how they could do what they
did. They came, a few at a time, in open row-boats, with nothing but
their rude weapons in their hands, and by pure muscular force, and
because they were absolutely without fear and without compassion, and
were mentally but little above a herd of buffaloes, they succeeded in
conquering a great and populous country with centuries of civilisation
behind it.

Talking with him, I was not surprised to find him a discontented man.
He did not want to live in a town--he seemed not to know just what he
wanted, or having but few words he did not know how to say it; but his
mind was in a state of turmoil and revolt, and he could only curse the
head shepherd, the bailiff, the farmer, and, to finish up, the lord of
the manor. Probably he soon cast away his crook, and went off in
search of some distant place, where he would be permitted to discharge
the energy that seethed and bubbled in him--perhaps to bite the dust
on the African veldt.

This, then, is one of the main facts to be noted in the blonde
Hampshire peasant--the great contrast between the small minority of
persons of the Anglo-Saxon and of the prevalent type. It was long ago
shown by Huxley that the English people generally are not Saxons in
the shape of the head, and in all Saxon England the divergence has
perhaps been greatest in this southern county. The oval-faced type, as
I have said, is less pronounced as we approach the borders of
Berkshire, and although the difference is not very great, it is quite
perceptible; the Berkshire people are rather nearer to the common
modified Saxon type of Oxfordshire and the Midlands generally.

In the southern half of Hampshire the dark-eyed, black-haired people
are almost as common as the blonde, and in some localities they are
actually in a majority. Visitors to the New Forest district often
express astonishment at the darkness and "foreign" appearance of the
people, and they sometimes form the mistaken idea that it is due to a
strong element of gipsy blood. The darkest Hampshire peasant is always
in shape of head and face the farthest removed from the gipsy type.

Among the dark people there are two distinct types, as there are two
in the blonde, and it will be understood that I only mean two that
are, in a measure, fixed and easily recognised types; for it must
always be borne in mind that, outside of these distinctive forms,
there is a heterogeneous crowd of persons of all shades and shapes of
face and of great variety in features. These two dark types
are--first, the small, narrow-headed person of brown skin, crow-black
hair, and black eyes; of this rarest and most interesting type I shall
speak last. Second, the person of average height, slightly oval face,
and dark eyes and hair. The accompanying portrait of a young woman in
a village on the Test is a good specimen of this type. Now we find
that this dark-haired, dark-eyed, and often dark-skinned people are in
stature, figure, shape of head, and features exactly like the
oval-faced blonde people already described. They are, light and dark,
an intermediate type, and we can only say that they are one and the
same people, the outcome of a long mixed race which has crystallised
in this form unlike any of its originals; that the difference in
colour is due to the fact that blue and black in the iris and black
and brown in the hair very seldom mix, these colours being, as has
been said, "mutually exclusive." They persist when everything else,
down to the bony framework, has been modified and the original racial
characters obliterated. Nevertheless, we see that these mutually
exclusive colours do mix in some individuals both in the eyes and
hair. In the grey-blue iris it appears as a very slight pigmentation,
in most cases round the pupil, but in the hair it is more marked.
Many, perhaps a majority, of the dark-eyed people we are now
considering have some warm brown colour in their black hair; in
members of the same family you will often find raven-black hair and
brownish-black hair; and sometimes in three brothers or sisters you
will find the two original colours, black and brown, and the
intermediate very dark or brownish-black hair.

The brunette of this oval-faced type is also, as we have seen,
deficient in colour, but, as a rule, she is more attractive than her
light-eyed sister. This may be due to the appearance of a greater
intensity of life in the dark eye; but it is also probable that there
is almost always some difference in disposition, that black or dark
pigment is correlated with a warmer, quicker, more sympathetic nature.
The anthropologists tell us that very slight differences in intensity
of pigmentation may correspond to relatively very great constitutional
differences. One fact in reference to dark- and light-coloured people
which I came upon in Hampshire, struck me as exceedingly curious, and
has suggested the question: Is there in us, or in some of us, very
deep down, and buried out of sight, but still occasionally coming to
life and to the surface, an ancient feeling of repulsion or racial
antipathy between black and blonde? Are there mental characteristics,
too, that are "mutually exclusive"? Dark and light are mixed in very
many of us, but, as Huxley has said, the constituents do not always
rightly mix: as a rule, one side is strongest. With the dark side
strongest in me, I search myself, and the only evidence I find of such
a feeling is an ineradicable dislike of the shallow frosty blue eye:
it makes me shiver, and seems to indicate a cold, petty, spiteful, and
false nature. This may be merely a fancy or association, the colour
resembling that of the frosty sky in winter. In many others the
feeling appears to be more definite. I know blue-eyed persons of
culture, liberal-minded, religious, charitable, lovers of all men, who
declare that they cannot regard dark-eyed persons as being on the same
level, morally, with the blue-eyed, and that they cannot dissociate
black eyes from wickedness. This, too, may be fancy or association.
But here in Hampshire I have been startled at some things I have heard
spoken by dark-eyed people about blondes. Not of the mitigated
Hampshire blonde, with that dimness in the colour of his skin, and
eyes, and hair, but of the more vivid type with brighter blue eyes,
and brighter or more fiery hair, and the light skin to match. What I
have heard was to this effect:--

"Perhaps it will be all right in the end we hope it will: he says he
will marry her and give her a home. But you never know where you are
with a man of that colour I'll believe it when I see it."

"Yes, he seems all right, and speaks well, and pro- mises to pay me
the money. But look at the colour of his eyes! No, I can't trust him."

"He's a very nice person, I have no doubt, but his eyes and hair are
enough for me," &c., &c.

Even this may be merely the effect of that enmity or suspicion with
which the stranger, or "foreigner," as he is called, is often regarded
in rural districts. The person from another county, or from a
distance, un-related to any one in the community, is always a
foreigner, and the foreign taint may descend to the children: may it
not be that in Hampshire any one with bright colour in eyes, hair, and
skin is also by association regarded as a foreigner?

It remains to speak of the last of the four distinct types, the least
common and most interesting of all the small, narrow-headed man with
very black hair, black eyes, and brown skin.

We are deeply indebted to the anthropologists who have, so to speak,
torn up the books of History, and are re-telling the story of Man on
earth: we admire them for their patient industry, and because they
have gone bravely on with their self-appointed task, one peculiarly
difficult in this land of many mixed races, heedless of the scoffs of
the learned or of those who derive their learning from books alone,
and mock at men whose documents are "bones and skins." But we
sometimes see that they (the anthropologists) have not yet wholly
emancipated themselves from the old written false-hoods when they tell
us, as they frequently do, that the Iberian in this country survives
only in the west and the north. They refer to the small, swarthy
Welshman; to the so-called "black Celt" in Ireland, west of the
Shannon; to the small black Yorkshireman of the Dales, and to the
small black Highlander; and the explanation is that in these
localities remnants of the dark men of the Iberian race who inhabited
Britain in the Neolithic period, were never absorbed by the
conquerors; that, in fact, like the small existing herds of indigenous
white cattle, they have preserved their peculiar physical character
down to the present time by remaining unmixed with the surrounding
blue-eyed people. But this type is not confined to these isolated
spots in the west and north; it is found here, there, and everywhere,
especially in the southern counties of England: you cannot go about
among the peasants of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Dorset without meeting
examples of it, and here, at all events, it cannot be said that the
ancient British people were not absorbed. They, the remnant that
escaped extermination, were absorbed by the blue-eyed, broad-headed,
tall men, the Goidels we suppose, who occupied the country at the
beginning of the Bronze Age; and the absorbers were in their turn
absorbed by another blue-eyed race; and these by still another or by
others. The only explanation appears to be that this type is
persistent beyond all others, and that a very little black blood,
after being mixed and re-mixed with blonde for centuries, even for
hundreds of generations, may, whenever the right conditions occur,
reproduce the vanished type in its original form.

Time brings about its revenges in many strange ways: we see that there
is a continuous and an increasing migration from Wales and the
Highlands into all the big towns in England, and this large and
growing Celtic element will undoubtedly have a great effect on the
population in time, making it less Saxon and more Celtic than it has
been these thousand years past and upwards. But in all the people,
Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Dane, or what not, there is that older
constituent--infinitely older and perhaps infinitely more persistent;
and this too, albeit in a subtler way, may be working in us to recover
its long-lost world. That it has gone far in this direction in Spain,
where the blue eye is threatened with extinction, and in the greater
portion if not all, of France, there appears to be some evidence to
show. Here, where the Neolithic people were more nearly exterminated
and the remnant more completely absorbed, the return may be very much
slower. But when we find, as we do in Hampshire and many other
counties, that this constituent in the blood of the people, after
mixture for untold ages with so many other bloods of so many
conquering races, has not only been potent to modify the entire
population, but is able to reproduce the old type in its pristine
purity; and when we almost invariably find that these ancients born
again are better men than those in whom other racial characters
predominate--more intelligent, versatile, adaptive, temperate, and
usually tougher and longer lived, it becomes possible to believe that
in the remote future--there are thousands of years for this little
black leaven to work--these islands will once more be inhabited by a
race of men of the Neolithic type.

In speaking of the character, physical and mental, of the men of
distinctly Iberian type, I must confess that I write only from my own
observation, and that I am hardly justified in founding general
statements on an acquaintance with a very limited number of persons.
My experience is that the men of this type have, generally speaking,
more character than their neighbours, and are certainly very much more
interesting. In recalling individuals of the peasant class who have
most attracted me, with whom I have become intimate and in some
instances formed lasting friendships, I find that of twenty-five to
thirty no fewer than nine are of this type. Of this number four are
natives of Hampshire, while the other five, oddly enough, belong to
five different counties. But I do not judge only from these few
individuals: a rambler about the country who seldom stays many days in
one village or spot cannot become intimately acquainted with the
cottagers. I judge partly from the few I know well, and partly from a
very much larger number of individuals I have met casually or have
known slightly. What I am certain of is that the men of this type, as
a rule, differ mentally as widely as they do physically from persons
of other commoner types. The Iberian, as I know him in southern and
south-western England, is, as I have said, more intelligent, or at all
events, quicker; his brains are nimbler although perhaps not so
retentive or so practical as the slower Saxon's. Apart from that
point, he has more imagination, detachment, sympathy--the qualities
which attract and make you glad to know a man and to form a friendship
with him in whatever class he may be. Why is it, one is sometimes
asked, that one can often know and talk with a Spaniard or Frenchman
without any feeling of class distinction, any consciousness of a
barrier, although the man may be nothing but a workman, while with
English peasants this freedom and ease between man and man is
impossible? It is possible in the case of the man we are considering
simply because of those qualities I have named, which he shares with
those of his own race on the continent.

I have found that when one member of a family of mixed light and dark
blood is of the distinctly Iberian type, this one will almost
invariably take a peculiar and in some ways a superior position in the
circle. The woman especially exhibits a liveliness, humour, and
variety rare indeed among persons born in the peasant class. She
entertains the visitor, or takes the leading part, and her slow-witted
sisters regard her with a kind of puzzled admiration. They are
sisters, yet unrelated: their very blood differs in specific gravity,
and their bodily differences correspond to a mental and spiritual
unlikeness. In my intercourse with people in the southern counties I
have sometimes been reminded of Huxley and his account of his parents
contained in a private letter to Havelock Ellis. His father, he said,
was a fresh-coloured, grey-eyed Warwickshire man. "My mother came of
Wiltshire people. Except for being somewhat taller than the average
type, she was a typical example of the Iberian variety--dark, thin,
rapid in all her ways, and with the most piercing black eyes I have
seen in anybody's head. Mentally and physically (except in the matter
of the beautiful eyes) I am a piece of my mother, and except for my
stature ... I should do very well for a 'black Celt'--supposed to be
the worst variety of that type."

The contrast between persons of this type and Saxon or blonde has
often seemed to me greatest in childhood, since the blonde at that
period, even in Hampshire, is apt to be a delicate pink and white,
whereas the individual of strongly-marked Iberian character is very
dark from birth. I will, to conclude this perhaps imprudent chapter,
give an instance in point.

Walking one day through the small rustic village of Martyr Worthy,
near Winchester, I saw a little girl of nine or ten sitting on the
grass at the side of the wide green roadway in the middle of the
village, engaged in binding flowers round her hat. She was slim, and
had a thin oval face, dark in colour as any dark Spanish child, or any
French child in the "black provinces"; and she had, too, the soft
melancholy black eye which is the chief beauty of the Spanish, and her
loose hair was intensely black. Even here where dark eyes and dark
hair are so common, her darkness was wonderful by contrast with a
second little girl of round, chubby, rosy face, pale-yellowish hair,
and wide-open blue surprised eyes, who stood by her side watching her
at her task. The flowers were lying in a heap at her side; she had
wound a long slender spray of traveller's joy round her brown straw
hat, and was now weaving in lychnis and veronica, with other small red
and blue blossoms, to improve her garland. I found to my surprise on
questioning her that she knew the names of the flowers she had
collected. An English village child, but in that Spanish darkness and
beauty, and in her grace and her pretty occupation, how very
un-English she seemed!



CHAPTER XII

Test and Itchen--Vegetation--Riverside villages--The cottage by the
river--Itchen valley--Blossoming limes--Bird visitors--Goldfinch--Cirl
bunting--Song--Plumage--Three common river birds--Coots--Moor-hen and
nest--Little grebes' struggles--Male grebe's devotion--Parent coot's
wisdom--A more or less happy family--Dogged little grebes--Grebes
training their young--Fishing birds and fascination.

THERE are no more refreshing places in Hampshire, one might almost say
in England, than the green level valleys of the Test and Itchen that
wind, alternately widening and narrowing, through the downland country
to Southampton Water. Twin rivers they may be called, flowing at no
great distance apart through the same kind of country, and closely
alike in their general features: land and water intermixed--greenest
water-meadows and crystal currents that divide and subdivide and join
again, and again separate, forming many a miniature island and long
slip of wet meadow with streams on either side. At all times
refreshing to the sight and pleasant to dwell by, they are best

    When it is summer and the green is deep.

Greens of darkest bulrushes, tipped with bright brown panicles,
growing in masses where the water is wide and shallowest; of
grey-green graceful reeds, and of tallest reed-mace with dark velvety
brown spikes; behind them all, bushes and trees--silvery-leafed willow
and poplar, and dark alder, and old thorns and brambles in tangled
masses; and always in the foreground lighter and brighter sedges,
glaucous green flags, mixed with great hemp agrimony, with
flesh-coloured, white-powdered flowers, and big-leafed comfrey, and
scores of other water and moisture-loving plants.

Through this vegetation, this infinite variety of refreshing greens
and graceful forms, flow the rapid rivers, crystal clear and cold from
the white chalk, a most beautiful water, with floating water-grass in
it--the foscinating Poa fluviatilis which, rooted in the pebbly bed,
looks like green loosened wind-blown hair swaying and trembling in the
ever-crinkled, swift current.

They are not long rivers--the Test and Itchen--but long enough for men
with unfevered blood in their veins to find sweet and peaceful homes
on their margins. I think I know quite a dozen villages on the former
stream, and fifteen or sixteen on the latter, in any one of which I
could spend long years in perfect contentment. There are towns, too,
ancient Romsey and Winchester, and modern hideous Eastleigh; but the
little centres are best to live in. These are, indeed, among the most
characteristic Hampshire villages; mostly small, with old thatched
cottages, unlike, yet harmonising, irregularly placed along the
roadside; each with its lowly walls set among gaily coloured flowers;
the farm with its rural sounds and smells, its big horses and
milch-cows led and driven along the quiet streets; the small ancient
church with its low, square tower, or grey shingled spire; and great
trees standing singly or in groups or rows--oak and elm and ash; and
often some ivy-grown relic of antiquity--ivy, indeed, everywhere. The
charm of these villages that look as natural and one with the scene as
chalk down and trees and green meadows, and have an air of immemorial
quiet and a human life that is part of nature's life, unstrenuous,
slow and sweet, has not yet been greatly disturbed. It is not here as
in some parts of Hampshire, and as it is pretty well everywhere in
Surrey, that most favoured county, the Xanadu of the mighty ones of
the money-market, where they oftenest decree their lordly
pleasure-domes. Those vast red-brick habitations of the Kubla Khans of
the city which stare and glare at you from all openings in pine woods,
across wide heaths and commons, and from hill-sides and hill-tops,
produce the idea that they were turned out complete at some stupendous
manufactory of houses at a distance, and sent out by the hundred to be
set up wherever wanted, and where they are almost always utterly out
of keeping with their surroundings, and consequently a blot on and a
disfigurement of the landscape.

Happily the downland slopes overlooking these green valleys have so
far been neglected by the class of persons who live in mansions; for
the time being they are ours, and by "ours" I mean all those who love
and reverence this earth. But which of the two is best I cannot say.
One prefers the Test and another the Itchen, doubtless because in a
matter of this kind the earth-lover will invariably prefer the spot he
knows most intimately; and for this reason, much as I love the Test,
long as I would linger by it, I love the Itchen more, having had a
closer intimacy with it. I dare say that some of my friends, old
Wykehamists, who as boys caught their first trout close by the ancient
sacred city and have kept up their acquaintance with its crystal
currents, will laugh at me for writing as I do. But there are places,
as there are faces, which draw the soul, and with which, in a little
while, one becomes strangely intimate.

The first English cathedral I ever saw was that of Winchester: that
was a long time ago; it was then and on a few subsequent occasions
that I had glimpses of the river that runs by it. They were like
momentary sights of a beautiful face, caught in passing, of some
person unknown. Then it happened that in June 1900, cycling
Londonwards from Beaulieu and the coast by Lymington, I came to the
valley, and to a village about half-way between Winchester and
Alresford, on a visit to friends in their summer fishing retreat.

They had told me about their cottage, which serves them all the best
purposes of a lodge in the vast wilderness. Fortunately in this case
the "boundless contiguity of shade" of the woods is some little
distance away, on the other side of the ever green Itchen valley,
which, narrowing at this spot, is not much more than a couple of
hundred yards wide. A long field's length away from the cottage is the
little ancient, rustic, tree-hidden village. The cottage, too, is
pretty well hidden by trees, and has the reed and sedge and grass
green valley and swift river before it, and behind and on each side
green fields and old untrimmed hedges with a few old oak trees growing
both in the hedgerows and the fields. There is also an ancient avenue
of limes which leads nowhere and whose origin is forgotten. The ground
under the trees is overgrown with long grass and nettles and burdock;
nobody comes or goes by it, it is only used by the cattle, the white
and roan and strawberry shorthorns that graze in the fields and stand
in the shade of the limes on very hot days. Nor is there any way or
path to the cottage; but one must go and come over the green fields,
wet or dry. The avenue ends just at the point where the gently sloping
chalk down touches the level valley, and the half-hidden, low-roofed
cottage stands just there, with the shadow of the last two lime trees
falling on it at one side. It was an ideal spot for a nature-lover and
an angler to pitch his tent upon. Here a small plot of ground,
including the end of the lime-tree avenue, was marked out, a hedge of
sweetbriar planted round it, the cottage erected, and a green lawn
made before it on the river side, and beds of roses planted at the
back.

Nothing more--no gravel walks; no startling scarlet geraniums, no
lobelias, no cinerarias, no calceolarias, nor other gardeners'
abominations to hurt one's eyes and make one's head ache. And no dog,
nor cat, nor chick, nor child--only the wild birds to keep one
company. They knew how to appreciate its shelter and solitariness;
they were all about it, and built their nests amid the great green
masses of ivy, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, rose, and wild clematis
which covered the trellised walls and part of the red roof with a
twelve years' luxuriant growth.

To this delectable spot I returned on July 21 to see the changeful
summer of 1900 out, my friends having gone north and left me their
cottage for a habitation.

"There is the wind on the heath, brother," and one heartily agrees
with the half-mythical Petulengro that it is a very good thing; it
had, indeed, been blowing off and in my face for many months past; and
from shadeless heaths and windy downs, and last of all, from the
intolerable heat and dusty desolation of London in mid-July, it was a
delightful change to this valley.

During the very hot days that followed it was pleasure enough to sit
in the shade of the limes most of the day; there was coolness,
silence, melody, fragrance; and, always before me, the sight of that
moist green valley, which made one cool simply to look at it, and
never wholly lost its novelty. The grass and herbage grow so
luxuriantly in the water-meadows that the cows grazing there were
half-hidden in their depth; and the green was tinged with the purple
of seeding grasses, and red of dock and sorrel, and was everywhere
splashed with creamy white of meadow-sweet. The channels of the swift
many-channelled river were fringed with the livelier green of sedges
and reed-mace, and darkest green of bulrushes, and restful grey of
reeds not yet in flower.

The old limes were now in their fullest bloom; and the hotter the day
the greater the fragrance, the flower, unlike the woodbine and
sweetbriar, needing no dew nor rain to bring out its deliciousness. To
me, sitting there, it was at the same time a bath and atmosphere of
sweetness, but it was very much more than that to all the honey-eating
insects in the neighbourhood. Their murmur was loud all day till dark,
and from the lower branches that touched the grass with leaf and
flower to their very tops the trees were peopled with tens and with
hundreds of thousands of bees. Where they all came from was a mystery;
somewhere there should be a great harvest of honey and wax as a result
of all this noise and activity. It was a soothing noise, according
with an idle man's mood in the July weather; and it harmonised with,
forming, so to speak, an appropriate background to, the various
distinct and individual sounds of bird life.

The birds were many, and the tree under which I sat was their
favourite resting-place; for not only was it the largest of the limes,
but it was the last of the row, and overlooked the valley, so that
when they flew across from the wood on the other side they mostly came
to it. It was a very noble tree, eighteen feet in circumference near
the ground; at about twenty feet from the root, the trunk divided into
two central boles and several of lesser size, and these all threw out
long horizontal and drooping branches, the lowest of which feathered
down to the grass. One sat as in a vast pavilion, and looked up to a
height of sixty or seventy feet through wide spaces of shadow and
green sunlight, and sunlit golden-green foliage and honey-coloured
blossom, contrasting with brown branches and with masses of darkest
mistletoe.

Among the constant succession of bird visitors to the tree above me
were the three pigeons--ring-dove, stock-dove, and turtle-dove;
finches, tree-warblers, tits of four species, and the wren,
tree-creeper, nut-hatch, and many more. The best vocalists had ceased
singing; the last nightingale I had heard utter its full song was in
the oak woods of Beaulieu on June 27: and now all the tree-warblers,
and with them chaffinch, thrush, blackbird, and robin, had become
silent. The wren was the leading songster, beginning his bright music
at four o'clock in the morning, and the others, still in song, that
visited me were the greenfinch, goldfinch, swallow, dunnock, and cirl
bunting. From my seat I could also hear the songs in the valley of the
reed and sedge warblers, reed-bunting, and grasshopper-warbler. These,
and the polyglot starling, and cooing and crooning doves, made the
last days of July at this spot seem not the silent season we are
accustomed to call it.

Of these singers the goldfinch was the most pleasing. The bird that
sang near me had assisted in rearing a brood in a nest on a low branch
a few yards away, but he still returned from the fields at intervals
to sing; and seen, as I now saw him a dozen times a day, perched among
the lime leaves and blossoms at the end of a slender bough, in his
black and gold and crimson livery, he was by far the prettiest of my
feathered visitors.

But the cirl bunting, the inferior singer, interested me most, for I
am somewhat partial to the buntings, and he is the best of them, and
the one I knew least about from personal observation.

On my way hither at the end of June, somewhere between Romsey and
Winchester, a cock cirl bunting in fine plumage flew up before me and
perched on the wire of a roadside fence. It was a welcome encounter,
and, alighting, I stood for some time watching him. I did not know
that I was in a district where this pretty species is more numerous
than in any other place in England--as common, in fact, as the
universal yellow-hammer, and commoner than the more local corn
bunting. Here in July and August, in the course of an afternoon's
walk, in any place where there are trees and grass fields, one can
count on hearing half-a-dozen birds sing, every one of them probably
the parent of a nest full of young. For this is the cirl bunting's
pleasant habit. He assists in feeding and safeguarding the young, even
as other songsters do who cease singing when this burden is laid upon
them; but he is a bird of placid disposition, and takes his task more
quietly than most; and, after returning from the fields with several
grasshoppers in his throat and beak and feeding his fledglings, he
takes a rest, and at intervals in the day flies to his favourite tree,
and repeats his blithe little song half-a-dozen times.

The song is not quite accurately described in the standard
ornithological works as exactly like that of the yellow-hammer, only
without the thin, drawn-out note at the end, and therefore
inferior--the little bit of bread, but without the cheese. It
certainly resembles the yellow-hammer's song, being a short note, a
musical chirp, rapidly repeated several times. But the yellow-hammer
varies his song as to its time, the notes being sometimes fast and
sometimes slow. The cirl's song is always the same in this respect,
and is always a more rapid song than that of the other species. So
rapid is it that, heard at a distance, it acquires almost the
character of a long trill. In quality, too, it is the better
song--clearer, brighter, brisker--and it carries farther; on still
mornings I could hear one bird's song very distinctly at a distance of
two hundred and fifty yards. The only good description of the cirl
bunting's song as well as the best general account of the bird's
habits which I have found, is in J. C. Bellamy's _Natural History of
South Devon_ (Plymouth and London), 1839, probably a forgotten book.

The best singer among the British buntings, he is also to my mind the
prettiest bird. When he is described as black and brown, and lemon and
sulphur-yellow, and olive and lavender-grey, and chestnut-red, we are
apt to think that the effect of so many colours thrown upon his small
body cannot be very pleasing. But it is not so; these various colours
are so harmoniously disposed, and have, in the lighter and brighter
hues in the living bird, such a flower-like freshness and delicacy,
that the effect is really charming.

When, in June, I first visited the cottage, my host took me into his
dressing-room, and from it we watched a pair of cirl buntings bring
food to their young in a nest in a small cypress standing just five
yards from the window. The young birds were in the pinfeather stage,
but they were unfortunately taken a very few days later by a rat, or
stoat, or by that winged nest-robber the jackdaw, whose small cunning
grey eyes are able to see into so many hidden things.

The birds themselves did not grieve overlong at their loss: the day
after the nest was robbed the cock was heard singing--and he continued
to sing every day from his favourite tree, an old black poplar growing
outside the sweetbriar hedge in front of the cottage.

About this bird of a brave and cheerful disposition, more will have to
be said in the next chapter. It is, or was, my desire to describe
events in the valley at this changeful period from late July to
October in the order of their occurrence, but in all the rest of the
present chapter, which will be given to the river birds exclusively,
the order must be broken.

Undoubtedly the three commonest water birds inhabiting inland waters
throughout England are the coot, moor-hen, and dabchick, or little
grebe; and on account of their abundance and general distribution they
are almost as familiar as our domestic birds. Yet one never grows
tired of seeing and hearing them, as we do of noting the actions of
other species that inhabit the same places; and the reason for this--a
very odd reason it seems!--is because these three common birds,
members of two orders which the modern scientific zoologist has set
down among the lowest, and therefore, as he tells us, most stupid, of
the feathered inhabitants of the globe, do actually exhibit a quicker
intelligence and greater variety in their actions and habits than the
species which are accounted their superiors.

The coot is not so abundant as the other two; also he is less varied
in his colour, and less lively in his motions, and consequently
attracts us less. The moor-hen is the most engaging, as well as the
commonest--a bird concerning which more entertaining matter has been
related in our Natural Histories than of any other native species. And
I now saw a great deal of him, and of the other two as well. From the
cottage windows, and from the lawn outside, one looked upon the main
current of the river, and there were the birds always in sight; and
when not looking one could hear them. Without paying particular
attention to them their presence in the river was a constant source of
interest and amusement.

At one spot, where the stream made a slight bend, the floating
water-weeds brought down by the current were always being caught by
scattered bulrushes growing a few feet from the edge; the arrested
weeds formed a minute group of islets, and on these convenient little
refuges and resting-places in the waterway, a dozen or more of the
birds could be seen at most times. The old coots would stand on the
floating weeds and preen and preen their plumage by the hour. They
were like mermaids, for ever combing out their locks, and had the
clear stream for a mirror. The dull-brown, white-breasted young coots,
now fully grown, would meanwhile swim about picking up their own food.
The moor-hens were with them, preening and feeding, and one had its
nest there. It was a very big conspicuous nest, built up on a bunch of
floating weeds, and formed, when the bird was sitting on its eggs, a
pretty and curious object; for every day fresh bright-green sedge
leaves were plucked and woven round it, and on that high bright-green
nest, as on a throne, the bird sat, and when I went near the edge of
the water, she (or he) would flirt her tail to display the snowy-white
under feathers, and nod her head, and stand up as if to display her
pretty green legs, so as to let me see and admire all her colours; and
finally, not being at all shy, she would settle quietly down again.

The little grebes, too, had chosen that spot to build on. Poor little
grebes! how they worked and sat, and built and sat again, all the
summer long. And all along the river it was the same thing--the grebes
industriously making their nests, and trying ever so hard to hatch
their eggs; and then at intervals of a few days the ruthless
water-keeper would come by with his long fatal pole to dash their
hopes. For whenever he saw a suspicious-looking bunch of dead floating
weeds which might be a grebe's nest, down would come the end of the
pole on it, and the eggs would be spilt out of the wet bed, and rolled
down by the swift water to the sea. And then the birds would
cheerfully set to work again at the very same spot: but it was never
easy to tell which bunch of wet weeds their eggs were hidden in.
Watching with a glass I could see the hen on her eggs, but if any
person approached she would hastily pull the wet weeds from the edge
over them, and slip into the water, diving and going away to some
distance. While the female sat the male was always busy, diving and
catching little fishes; he would dive down in one spot, and suddenly
pop up a couple of yards away, right among the coots and moor-hens.
This Jack-in-the-box action on his part never upset their nerves. They
took not the slightest notice of him, and were altogether a more or
less happy family, all very tolerant of each other's little
eccentricities.

The little grebe fished for himself and for his sitting mate; he never
seemed so happy and proud as when he was swimming to her, patiently
sitting on her wet nest, with a little silvery fish in his beak. He
also fished for old decaying weeds, which he fetched up from the
bottom to add to the nest. Whenever he popped up among or near the
other birds with an old rag of a weed in his beak, one or two of the
grown-up young coots would try to take it from him; and seeing them
gaining on him he would dive down to come up in another place, still
clinging to the old rag half a yard long; and again the chase would be
renewed, and again he would dive; until at last, after many narrow
escapes and much strategy, the nest would be gained, and the sitting
bird would take the weed from him and draw it up and tuck it round
her, pleased with his devotedness, and at the sight of his triumph
over the coots. As a rule, after giving her something--a little fish,
or a wet weed to pull up and make herself comfortable with--they would
join their voices in that long trilling cry of theirs, like a
metallic, musical-sounding policeman's rattle.

It was not in a mere frolicsome spirit that the young coots hunted the
dabchick with his weed, but rather, as I imagine, because the white
succulent stems of aquatic plants growing deep in the water is their
favourite food; they are accustomed to have it dived for by their
parents and brought up to them, and they never appear to get enough to
satisfy them; but when they are big, and their parents refuse to slave
for them, they seem to want to make the little grebes their fishers
for succulent stems.

One day in August 1899, I witnessed a pretty little bird comedy at the
Pen Ponds, in Richmond Park, which seemed to throw a strong light on
the inner or domestic life of the coot. For a space of twenty minutes
I watched an old coot industriously diving and bringing up the white
parts of the stems of Polygonum persicaria, which grows abundantly
there, together with the rarer more beautiful Lymnanthemum nymphoides,
which is called Lymnanth for short. I prefer an English name for a
British plant, an exceedingly attractive one in this case, and so beg
leave to call it Water-crocus. The old bird was attended by a
full-grown young one, which she was feeding, and the unfailing
diligence and quickness of the parent were as wonderful to see as the
gluttonous disposition of its offspring. The old coot dived at least
three times every minute, and each time came up with a clean white
stem, the thickness of a stout clay pipe-stem, cut the proper
length--about three to four inches. This the young bird would take and
instantly swallow; but before it was well down his throat the old bird
would be gone for another. I was with a friend, and we wondered when
its devouring cormorant appetite would be appeased, and how its maw
could contain so much food; we also compared it to a hungry Italian
greedily sucking down macaroni.

While this was going on a second young bird had been on the old nest
on the little island in the lake, quietly dozing; and at length this
one got off his dozing-place, and swam out to where the weed-fishing
and feeding were in progress. As he came up, the old coot rose with a
white stem in her beak, which the new-comer pushed forward to take;
but the other thrust himself before him, and, snatching the stem from
his parent's beak, swallowed it himself. The old coot remained
perfectly motionless for a space of about four seconds, looking
fixedly at the greedy one who had been gorging for twenty minutes yet
refused to give place to the other. Then very suddenly, and with
incredible fury, she dashed at and began hunting him over the pond. In
vain he rose up and flew over the water, beating the surface with his
feet, uttering cries of terror; in vain he dived; again and again she
overtook and dealt him the most savage blows with her sharp beak,
until, her anger thoroughly appeased and the punishment completed, she
swam back to the second bird, waiting quietly at the same spot for her
return, and began once more diving for white stems of the Polygonum.

Never again, we said, would the greedy young bird behave in the
unmannerly way which had brought so terrible a castigation upon him!
The coot is certainly a good mother who does not spoil her child by
sparing the rod. And this is the bird which our comparative
anatomists, after pulling it to pieces, tell us is a small-brained,
unintelligent creature; and which old Michael Drayton, who, being a
poet, ought to have known better, described as "a formal brainless
ass"!

To come back to the Itchen birds. The little group, or happy family, I
have described was but one of the many groups of the same kind
existing all along the river; and these separate groups, though at a
distance from each other, and not exactly on visiting terms, each
being jealous of its own stretch of water, yet kept up a sort of
neighbourly intercourse in their own way. Single cries were heard at
all times from different points; but once or two or three times in the
day a cry of a coot or a moor-hen would be responded to by a bird at a
distance; then another would take it up at a more distant point, and
another still, until cries answering cries would be heard all along
the stream. At such times the voice of the skulking water-rail would
be audible too, but whether this excessively secretive bird had any
social relations with the others beyond joining in the general
greeting and outcry I could not discover. Thus, all these separate
little groups, composed of three different species, were like the
members of one tribe or people broken up into families; and altogether
it seemed that their lines had fallen to them in pleasant places,
although it cannot be said that the placid current of their existence
was never troubled.

I know not what happened to disturb them, but sometimes all at once
cries were heard which were unmistakably emitted in anger, and sounds
of splashing and struggling among the sedges and bulrushes; and the
rushes would be swayed about this way and that, and birds would appear
in hot pursuit of one another over the water; and then, just when one
was in the midst of wondering what all this fury in their cooty
breasts could be about, lo! it would all be over, and the little grebe
would be busy catching his silvery fishes; and the moor-hen, pleased
as ever at her own prettiness, nodding and prinking and flirting her
feathers; and the coot, as usual, mermaid-like, combing out her
slate-coloured tresses.

We have seen that of these three species the little grebe was not so
happy as the others, owing to his taste for little fishes being
offensive to the fish-breeder and preserver. When I first saw how this
river was watched over by the water-keepers, I came to the conclusion
that very few or no dabchicks would succeed in hatching any young. And
none were hatched until August, and then to my surprise I heard at one
point the small, plaintive _peep-peep_ of the young birds crying to be
fed. One little grebe, more cunning or more fortunate than the others,
had at last succeeded in bringing off her young; and once out of their
shells they were safe. But by-and-by the little duckling-like sound
was heard at another point, and then at another; and this continued in
September, until, by the middle of that month, you could walk miles
along the river, and before you left the sound of one little brood
hungrily crying to be fed behind you, the little _peep-peep_ of
another brood would begin to be heard in advance of you.

Often enough it is "dogged as does it" in bird as well as in human
affairs, and never had birds more deserved to succeed than these
dogged little grebes. I doubt if a single pair failed to bring out at
least a couple of young by the end of September. And at that date you
could see young birds apparently just out of the shell, while those
that had been hatched in August were full grown.

About the habits of the little grebe, as about those of the moor-hen,
many curious and entertaining things have been written; but what
amused me most in these birds, when I watched them in late September
on the Itchen, was the skilful way in which the parent bird taught her
grown-up young ones to fish. At an early period the fishes given to
the downy young are very small, and are always well bruised in the
beak before the young bird is allowed to take it, however eager he may
be to seize it. Afterwards, when the young are more grown, the size of
the fishes is increased, and they are less and less bruised, although
always killed. Finally, the young has to be taught to catch for
himself; and at first he does not appear to have any aptitude for such
a task, or any desire to acquire it. He is tormented with hunger, and
all he knows is that his parent can catch fish for him, and his only
desire is that she shall go on catching them as fast as he can swallow
them. And she catches him a fish, and gives it to him, but, oh
mockery! it was not really dead this time, and instantly falls into
the water and is lost! Not hopelessly lost, however, for down she goes
like lightning, and comes up in ten seconds with it again. And he
takes and drops it again, and looks stupid, and again she recovers and
gives it to him. How many hundreds of times, I wonder, must this
lesson be repeated before the young grebe finds out how to keep and to
kill? Yet that is after all only the beginning of his education. The
main thing is that he must be taught to dive after the fishes he lets
fall, and he appears to have no inclination, no intuitive impulse, to
do such a thing. A small, quite dead fish must be given him
carelessly, so that it shall fall, and he must be taught to pick up a
fallen morsel from the surface; but from that first simple act to the
swift plunge and long chase after and capture of uninjured vigorous
fishes, what an immense distance there is! It is, however, probable
that, after the first reluctance of the young bird has been overcome,
and a habit of diving after escaped fishes acquired, he makes
exceedingly rapid progress.

But, even after the completion of his education, when he is
independent of his parents, and quick and sure as they at capturing
fishes down in their own dim element, is it not still a puzzle and a
mystery that such a thing can be done? And here I speak not only of
the little grebe, but of all birds that dive after fishes, and pursue
and capture them in fresh or salt water. We see how a kingfisher takes
his prey, or a tern, or gannet, or osprey, by dropping upon it when it
swims near the surface; he takes his fish by surprise, as a
sparrow-hawk takes the birds he preys upon. But no specialisation can
make an air-breathing, feathered bird an equal of the fish under
water. One can see at a glance in any clear stream that any fish can
out-distance any bird, darting off with the least effort so swiftly as
almost to elude the sight, while the fastest bird under water moves
but little faster than a water rat.

The explanation, I believe, is that the paralysing effect on many
small, persecuted creatures in the presence of, or when pursued by,
their natural enemies and devourers, is as common under as above
water. I have distinctly seen this when watching fish-eating birds
being fed at the Zoological Gardens in glass tanks. The appearance of
the bird when he dives strikes an instant terror into them; and it may
then be seen that those which endeavour to escape are no longer in
possession of their full powers, and their efforts to fly from the
enemy are like those of the mouse and vole when a weasel is on their
track, or of a frog when pursued by a snake; while others remain
suspended in the water, quite motionless, until seized and swallowed.



CHAPTER XIII

Morning in the valley--Abundance of swifts--Unlikeness to other
birds--Mayfly and swallows--Mayfly and swift--Bad weather and
hail--Swallows in the rain--Sand martins--An orphaned blackbird--Tamed
by feeding--Survival of gregarious instinct in young
blackbirds--Blackbird's good-night--Cirl buntings--Breeding habits and
language--Habits of the young--Reed bunting--Beautiful weather--The
oak in August.

DURING the month of July the swift was the most abundant and most
constantly before us of all our Itchen valley birds. In the morning he
was not there. We had the pigeons then, all three species--ring-dove,
stock-dove and turtle-dove--being abundant in the woods on the
opposite side of the valley, and from four o'clock to six was the tune
of their morning concert, when the still air was filled with the
human-like musical sound of their multitudinous voices mingled in one
voice. An hour or two later, as the air grew warmer, the swifts would
begin to arrive to fly up and down the stream incessantly until dark,
feasting on the gnats and ephemerae that swarmed over the water during
those hot days of late summer. Doubtless these birds come every day
from all the towns, villages, and farm-houses scattered over a very
broad strip of country on either side of the Itchen. Never had I seen
swifts so numerous; looking down on the valley from any point one had
hundreds of birds in sight at once, all swiftly flying up and down
stream; but when the sight was kept fixed on any one bird, it could be
seen that he went but a short distance--fifty to a hundred yards--then
turned back. Thus each bird had a very limited range, and probably
each returned to his accustomed place or beat every day.

These swifts are very much in the angler's way. Frequently they get
entangled in the line and are brought down, but are seldom injured.
During one day's fishing my friend here had three swifts to disengage
from his line. On releasing one of these birds he watched its
movements, and saw it fly up stream a distance of about forty yards,
then double back, mechanically going on with its fly-hunting up and
down stream just as if nothing had happened.

It may be said of swifts, as Bates said of humming-birds, that,
mentally, they are more like bees than birds. The infallible,
unchangeable way in which they, machine-like, perform all their
actions, and their absolute unteachableness, are certainly
insect-like. They are indeed so highly specialised and perfected in
their own line; and, on account of their marvellous powers of flight,
so removed from all friction in that atmosphere in which they live and
move, above the complex and wit-sharpening conditions in which the
more terrestrial creatures of their class exist, as to be practically
independent of experience.

It is known that for some time the mayfly has been decreasing, and in
places disappearing altogether from these Hampshire streams, and it is
believed and said by some of those who are concerned at these changes
that the swallow is accountable for them. I do not know whether they
have invented this brilliant idea themselves or have taken it
ready-made from the water-keeper. Probably the last, since he, the
water-keeper, is apt to regard all creatures that come to the waters
where his sacred fishes are with a dull, hostile suspicion though in
some cases he is not above adding to his income by taking a few trout
himself--not indeed with the dry fly, which is useless at night, but
with the shoe-net. In any case the question of exterminating the
swallows in all the villages near the rivers has been seriously
considered. Now, it is rather odd that this notion about the
swallow--the martin is of course included--should have got about just
when this bird has itself fallen on evil times and is decreasing with
us. This decrease has, in all the parts of the country best known to
me, become increasingly rapid during the last few years, and is
probably due to new and improved methods of taking the birds wholesale
during migration in France and Spain. Putting that matter aside, I
should like to ask those gentlemen who have decreed, or would like to
decree, the abolition of the swallow in all the riverside villages,
what they propose to do about the swift?

One day last June (1902) I was walking with two friends by the Itchen,
when a little below the village of Ovington we sat down to rest and to
enjoy a gleam of sunshine which happened to visit the world about noon
that day. We sat down on a little wooden bridge over the main current
and fell to watching the swifts, which were abundant, flying up and
down just over our heads and, swift-like, paying no more heed to us
than if we had been three wooden posts or three cows. We noticed that
ephemerae of three or four species were rising up, and, borne by a
light wind, drifting down-stream towards us and past us; and after
watching these flies for some time we found that not one of them
escaped. Small and grey, or dun, or water-coloured and well-nigh
invisible, or large and yellow and conspicuous as they rose and slowly
fluttered over the stream, they were seen and snapped up, every one of
them, by those fateful sooty-coloured demons of the air, ever
streaming by on their swift scythe-shaped wings. Not a swallow nor a
martin was in sight at that spot.

It is plain, then, that if the mayfly is declining and dying out
because some too greedy bird snatches its life before it can lay its
eggs to continue the species, or drop upon the water to supply the
trout with its proper succulent food, the swift and not the swallow is
the chief culprit.

It is equally plain that these (from the angler's point of view)
injurious birds are not breeders by the water-side. Their numbers are
too great: they come, ninety per cent, of them I should say, from
farm-houses, villages, and towns at a distance of a good many miles
from the water.

The revels of the swifts were brought prematurely to an end by a great
change in the weather, which began with a thunderstorm on July 27, and
two days later a greater storm, with hail the size of big marrowfat
peas, which fell so abundantly that the little lawn was all white as
if snow had fallen. From that time onwards storm succeeded storm, and
finally the weather became steadily bad; and we had rough, cold, wet
days right on to the 10th of August. It was a terrible time for the
poor holiday people all over the country, and bad too for the moulting
and late-breeding birds. As a small set-off to all the discomfort of
these dreary days, we had a green lawn once more at the cottage. I had
made one or two attempts at watering it, but the labour proved too
great to a lazy man, and now Nature had come with her great
watering-pot and restored its spring-like verdure and softness.

During the wettest and coldest days I spent hours watching the
swallows and swifts flying about all day long in the rain. These are,
indeed, our only summer land birds that never seek a shelter from the
wet, and which are not affected in their flight by a wetted plumage.
Their upper feathers are probably harder and more closely knit and
impervious to moisture than those of other kinds. It may be seen that
a swallow or swift, when flying about in the rain, at short intervals
gives himself a quick shake as if to throw off the raindrops. Then,
too, the food and constant exercise probably serve to keep them warmer
than they would be sitting motionless in a dry place. Swifts, we
sometimes see, are numbed, and even perish of cold during frosty
nights in spring; I doubt that the cold ever kills them by day when
they can keep perpetually moving.

Day by day, during this long spell of summer wet and cold, these birds
diminished in number, until they were almost all gone--swifts,
swallows, and house-martins; but we were not to be without a swallow,
for as these went, sand-martins came in, and increased in numbers
until they were in thousands. We had them every day and all day before
us, flying up and down the valley, in the shelter of the woods, their
pale plumage and wavering flight making them look in the distance like
great white flies against the wall of black-green trees and gloomy sky
beyond.

On days when the sun shone they came in numbers to perch on the
telegraph wires stretched across a field between the cottage and
village. It was beautiful to see them, a double line fifty or sixty
yards long of the small, pale-coloured, graceful birdlings, sitting so
close together as to be almost touching, all with their beaks pointing
to the west, from where the wind blew.

In this same field, one day when this pleasant company were leaving us
after a week's rest, I picked up one that had killed himself by
striking against the wire. A most delicate little dead swallow,
looking in his pale colouring and softness as moth-like in death as he
had seemed when alive and flying. I took him home--the little
moth-bird pilgrim to Africa, who had got no farther than the Itchen on
his journey--and buried him at the roots of a honeysuckle growing by
the cottage door. It seemed fittest that he should be put there, to
become part with the plant which, in the pallid yellows and dusky reds
of its blossoms, and in the perfume it gives out so abundantly at
eventide, has an expression of melancholy, and is more to us in some
of our moods than any other flower.

The bad weather brought to our little plot of ground a young
blackbird, who had evidently been thrown upon the world too early in
life. A good number of blackbird broods had been brought off in the
bushes about us, and in the rough and tumble of those tempestuous days
some of the young had no doubt got scattered and lost; this at all
events was one that had called and called to be fed and warmed and
comforted in vain--we had heard him calling for days--and who had now
grown prematurely silent, and had soberly set himself to find his own
living as best he could. Between the lawn and the small sweetbriar
hedge there was a strip of loose mould where roses had been planted,
and here the bird had discovered that by turning over the dead leaves
and loose earth a few small morsels were to be found. During those
cold, windy, wet days we observed him there diligently searching in
his poor, slow, little way. He would strike his beak into the loose
ground, making a little hop forward at the same time to give force to
the stroke, and throw up about as much earth as would cover a
shilling-piece; then he would gaze attentively at the spot, and after
a couple of seconds hop and strike again; and finally, if he could see
nothing to eat, he would move on a few inches and begin again in
another place. That was all his art--his one poor little way of
getting a living; and it was plain to see from his bedraggled
appearance and feeble motions, that he was going the way of most young
orphaned birds.

Now, I hate playing at providence among the creatures, but we cannot
be rid of pity; and there are exceptional cases in which one feels
justified in putting out a helping hand. Nature herself is not always
careless of the individual life: or perhaps it would be better to say
with Thoreau--"We are not wholly involved in Nature." And anxious to
give the poor bird a chance by putting him in a sheltered place, and
feeding him up, as Ruskin once did in a like case, I set about
catching him, but could not lay hands on him, for he was still able to
fly a little, and always managed to escape pursuit among the brambles,
or else in the sedges by the waterside. Half-an-hour after being
hunted, he would be back on the edge of the lawn prodding the ground
in the old feeble, futile way. And the scraps of food I cunningly
placed for him he disregarded, not knowing in his ignorance what was
good for him. Then I got a supply of small earthworms, and, stalking
him, tossed them so as to cause them to fall near him, and he saw and
knew what they were, and swallowed them hungrily; and he saw, too,
that they were thrown to him by a hand, and that the hand was part of
that same huge grey-clad monster that had a little while back so
furiously hunted him; and at once he seemed to understand the meaning
of it all, and instead of flying from he ran to meet us, and,
recovering his voice, called to be fed. The experience of one day made
him a tame bird; on the second day he knew that bread and milk, stewed
plums, pie-crust, and, in fact, anything we had to give, was good for
him; and in the course of the next two or three days he acquired a
useful knowledge of our habits. Thus, at half-past three in the
morning he would begin calling to be fed at the bed-room window. If no
notice was taken of him he would go away to try and find something for
himself, and return at five o'clock when breakfast was in preparation,
and place himself before the kitchen door. Usually he got a small
snack then; and at the breakfast hour (six o'clock) he would turn up
at the dining-room window and get a substantial meal. Dinner and tea
time--twelve and half-past three o'clock--found him at the same spot;
but he was often hungry between meals, and he would then sit before
one door or window and call, then move to the next door, and so on
until he had been all round the cottage. It was most amusing to see
him when, on our return from a long walk or a day out, he would come
to meet us, screaming excitedly, bounding over the lawn with long
hops, looking like a miniature very dark-coloured kangaroo.

One day I came back alone to the cottage, and sat down on the lawn in
a canvas chair, to wait for my companion who had the key. The
blackbird had seen, and came flying to me, and pitching close to my
feet began crying to be fed, shaking his wings, and dancing about in a
most excited state, for he had been left a good many hours without
food, and was very hungry. As I moved not in my chair he presently ran
round and began screaming and fluttering on the other side of it,
thinking, I suppose, that he had gone to the wrong place, and that by
addressing himself to the back of my head he would quickly get an
answer.

The action of this bird in coming to be fed naturally attracted a good
deal of attention among the feathered people about us; they would look
on at a distance, evidently astonished and much puzzled at our bird's
boldness in coming to our feet. But nothing dreadful happened to him,
and little by little they began to lose their suspicion; and first a
robin--the robin is always first--then other blackbirds to the number
of seven, then chaffinches and dunnocks, all began to grow tame and to
attend regularly at meal-time to have a share in anything that was
going. The most lively, active, and quarrelsome member of this company
was our now glossy foundling; and it troubled us to think that in
feeding him we were but staving off the evil day when he would once
more have to find for himself. Certainly we were teaching him nothing.
But our fears were idle. The seven wild blackbirds that had formed a
habit of coming to share his food were all young birds, and as time
went on and the hedge fruit began to ripen, we noticed that they kept
more and more together. Whenever one was observed to fly straight away
to some distance, in a few moments another would follow, then another;
and presently it would be seen that they were all making their way to
some spot in the valley, or to the woods on the other side. After
several hours' absence they would all reappear on the lawn, or near
it, at the same time, showing that they had been together throughout
the day and had returned in company. After observing them in their
comings and goings for several weeks, I felt convinced that this
species has in it the remains of a gregarious instinct which affects
the young birds.

Our bird, as a member of this little company, must have quickly picked
up from the others all that it was necessary for him to know, and at
the last it was plain to us from his behaviour at the cottage that he
was doing very well for himself. He was often absent most of the day
with the others, and on his return late in the afternoon he would pick
over the good things placed for him in a leisurely way, selecting a
morsel here and there, and eating more out of compliment to us, as it
seemed, than because he was hungry. But up to the very last, when he
had grown as hardy and strong on the wing as any of his wild
companions, he kept up his acquaintance with and confidence in us; and
even at night when I would go out to where most of our wild birds
roosted, in the trees and bushes growing in a vast old chalk-pit close
to the cottage, and called "Blackie," instantly there would be a
response--a softly chuckled note, like a sleepy "Good-night," thrown
back to me out of the darkness.

During the spell of rough weather which brought us the blackbird, my
interest was centred in the cirl buntings. On August 4, I was
surprised to find that they were breeding again in the little
sweetbriar hedge, and had three fledglings about a week old in the
nest. They had on this occasion gone from the west to the east side of
the cottage, and the new nest, two to three feet from the ground, was
placed in the centre of a small tangle of sweetbriar, bramble, and
bryony, within a few yards of the trunk of the big lime tree under
which I was accustomed to sit. I had this nest under observation until
August 9, which happened to be the worst day, the coldest, wettest,
and windiest of all that wintry spell; and yet in such weather the
young birds came out of their cradle. For a couple of days they
remained near the nest concealed among some low bushes; then the whole
family moved away to a hedge at some distance on higher ground, and
there I watched the old birds for some days feeding their young on
grasshoppers.

The result of my observations on these birds and on three other pairs
which I found breeding close by--one in the village, another just
outside of it, and the third by the thorn-grown foundation of ruined
Abbotstone not far off--came as a surprise to me; for it appeared that
the cirl in its breeding habits and language was not like other
buntings, nor indeed like any other bird. The young hatched out of the
curiously marked or "written" eggs are like those of the
yellow-hammer, black as moor-hen chicks in their black down, opening
wide crimson mouths to be fed. But should the parent birds, or one of
them, be watching you at the nest, they will open not their beaks, but
hearing and obeying the warning note they lie close as if glued to the
bottom of the nest. It is a curious sound. Unless one knows it, and
the cause of it, one may listen a long time and not discover the bird
that utters it. The buntings sit as usual, motionless and unseen among
the leaves of the tree, and so long as you are near the nest, keep up
the sound, an excessively sharp metallic chirp, uttered in turns by
both birds, but always a short note in the female, and a double note
in the male, the second one prolonged to a wail or squeal. No other
bird has an alarm or warning note like it: it is one of those very
high sounds that are easily missed by the hearing, like the robin's
fine-drawn wail when in trouble about his young; but when you catch
and listen to it the effect on the brain is somewhat distressing. A
Hampshire friend and naturalist told me that a pair of these birds
that bred in his garden almost drove him crazy with their incessant
sharp alarm note.

The effect of this warning sound on the young is very striking: before
they can fly or are fit to leave the nest, they are ready, when
approached too closely, to leap like startled frogs out of the nest,
and scuttle away into hiding on the ground. Once they have flown they
are extremely difficult to find, as, on hearing the parent's warning
note, they squat down on their perch and remain motionless as a leaf
among the leaves. Often I could only succeed in making them fly by
seizing and shaking the branches of a thorn or other bush in which I
knew they were hidden. So long as the young bird keeps still on its
branch, the old bird on some tree twenty or thirty or forty yards away
remains motionless, though all the time emitting the sharp, puzzling,
warning sound; but the very instant that the young bird quits his
perch, darting suddenly away, the parent bird is up too, shooting out
so swiftly as almost to elude the sight, and in a moment overtakes and
flies with the young bird, hugging it so closely that the two look
almost like one. Together they dart away to a distance, usually out
over a field, and drop and vanish in the grass. But in a few moments
the parent bird is back again, sitting still among the leaves,
emitting the shrill sound, ready to dart away with the next young bird
that seeks to escape by flight.

This method of attending and safe-guarding the young is, indeed,
common among birds, but in no species known to me is it seen in such
vigour and perfection. What most strikes one is the change from
immobility when the bird sits invisible among the leaves, marking the
time with those excessively sharp, metallic clicks and wails like a
machine-bird, to unexpected, sudden, brilliant activity.

When not warned into silence and immobility by the parent the young
cirls are clamorous enough, crying to be fed, and these, too, have
voices of an excessive sharpness. Of other native species the sharpest
hunger-cries that I know are those of the tits, especially the
long-tailed tit, and the spotted fly-catcher; but these sounds are not
comparable in brain-piercing acuteness to those of the young cirls.

Another thing I have wondered at in a creature of so quiet a
disposition as the cirl bunting is the extraordinary violence of the
male towards other small birds when by chance they come near his
young, in or out of the nest. So jealous is he that he will attack a
willow-wren or a dunnock with as much fury as other birds use only
towards the most deadly enemies of their young.

Here, by the Itchen, where we have all four buntings, I find that the
reed bunting--called black-head or black-top--is, after the cirl, the
latest singer. He continues when, towards the end of August, the corn
bunting and yellow-hammer become silent. He is the poorest singer of
the bunting tribe, the first part of his song being like the chirp of
an excited sparrow, somewhat shriller, and then follows the long note,
shrill too, or sibilant and tremulous. It is more like the distressful
hunger-call of some young birds than a song-note. A reedy sound in a
reedy place, and one likes to hear it in the green valley among the
wind-rustled, sword-shaped leaves and waving spears of rush and
aquatic grass. So fond is he of his own music that he will sing even
when moulting. I was amused one day when listening to a reed bunting
sitting on a top branch of a dwarf alder tree in the valley by
Ovington, busily occupied in preening his fluffed-out and rather
ragged-looking plumage, yet pausing at short intervals in his task to
emit his song. So taken up was he with the feather-cleaning and
singing, that he took no notice of me when I walked to within
twenty-five yards of him. By-and-by, in passing one of his long
flight-feathers through his beak it came out, at which he appeared
very much surprised. First he raised his head, then began turning it
about this way and that, as if admiring the feather he held, or trying
to get a better sight of it. For quite a minute he kept it, forgetting
to sing, then in turning it about he accidentally dropped it. Bending
his head down, he watched its slow fall to the grass below very
intently, and continued gazing down even after it was on the ground;
then, pulling himself together, he resumed the feather-preening task,
with its musical interludes.

The worst day during the bad weather when the young cirl buntings left
the nest brought the wintry spell to an end. A few days of such
perfect weather followed that one could wish for no higher good than
to be alive on that green earth, beneath that blue sky. One could best
appreciate the crystal purity and divine blueness of the immense space
by watching the rooks revelling on high in the morning sunshine,
looking in their blackness against the crystalline blue like
bird-figures with outspread, motionless wings, carved out of
anthracite coal, and suspended by invisible wires in heaven. You could
watch them, a numerous company, moving upward in wide circles, the
sound of their voices coming fainter and fainter back to earth, until
at that vast height they seemed no bigger than humble-bees.

This clarity of the atmosphere had a striking effect, too, on the
appearance of the trees, and I could not help noticing the superiority
of the oak to all other forest trees in this connection. There comes a
time in late summer when at last it loses that "glad light grene"
which has distinguished it among its dark-leafed neighbours, and made
it in our eyes a type of unfading spring and of everlastingness. It
grows dark, too, at last, and is as dark as a cypress or a cedar of
Lebanon; but observe how different this depth of colour is from that
of the elm. The elm, too, stands alone, or in rows, or in isolated
groups in the fields, and in the clear sunshine its foliage has a
dull, summer-worn, almost rusty green. There is no such worn and weary
look in the foliage of the oak in August and September. It is of a
rich, healthy green, deep but undimmed by time and weather, and the
leaf has a gloss to it. Again, on account of its manner of growth,
with widespread branches and boughs and twigs well apart, the foliage
does not come before us as a mere dense mass of green--an intercepting
cloud, as in a painted tree; but the sky is seen through it, and
against the sky are seen the thousand thousand individual leaves,
clear cut and beautiful in shape.

It was one of my daily pleasures during this fine weather to go out
and look at one of the solitary oak trees growing in the adjoining
field when the morning sunlight was on it. To my mind it looked best
when viewed at a distance of sixty to seventy yards across the open
grass field with nothing but the sky beyond. At that distance not only
could the leaves be distinctly seen, but the acorns as well,
abundantly and evenly distributed over the whole tree, appearing as
small globes of purest bright apple-green among the deep green
foliage. The effect was very rich, as of tapestry with an oak-leaf
pattern and colour, sprinkled thickly over with round polished gems of
a light-green sewn into the fabric.

To an artist with a soul in him, the very sight of such a tree in such
conditions would, I imagined, make him sick of his poor little
ineffectual art.



CHAPTER XIV

Yellow flowers--Family likeness in flavours and scents--Mimulus
luteus--Flowers in church decoration--Effect of association--Mimulus
luteus as a British plant--A rule as to naturalised plants wanted--A
visit to Swarraton--Changes since Gilbert White's day--"Wild
musk"--Bird life on the downs--Turtle-dove nestlings--Blue skin in
doves--A boy naturalist--Birds at the cottage--The wren's
sun-bath--Wild fruits ripen--An old chalk pit--Birds and
elderberries--Past and present times compared--Calm days--Migration of
swallows--Conclusion.

THE oak in the field and a flowering plant by the water were the two
best things plant life contained for me during those beautiful late
summer days by the Itchen. About the waterside flower I must write at
some length.

Of our wild flowers the yellow in colour, as a rule, attract me least;
not because the colour is not beautiful to me, but probably on account
of the numerous ungraceful, weedy-looking plants of unpleasant scent
which in late summer produce yellow flowers--tansy, fleabane, ragwort,
sow-thistle, and some of other orders, the worst of the lot being the
pepper saxifrage, an ungainly parsley in appearance, with
evil-smelling flowers. You know them by their odours. If I were to
smell at a number of strong-scented flowers unknown to me in a dark
room, or blindfolded, I should be able to pick out the yellow ones.
They would have the yellow smell. The yellow smell has an analogue in
the purple taste. It may be fancy, but it strikes me that there is a
certain family resemblance in the flavours of most purple fruits, or
their skins--the purple fruit-flavour which is so strong in damson,
sloe, black currant, blackberry, mulberry, whortleberry, and
elderberry.

All the species I have named were common in the valley, and there were
others--St. John's-wort, yellow loosestrife, &c.--which, although not
ungraceful nor evil-smelling, yet failed to attract. Nevertheless, as
the days and weeks went on, and brought yet another conspicuous yellow
waterside flower into bloom, which became more and more abundant as
the season advanced, while the others, one by one, faded and failed
from the earth, until, during the last half of September, it was in
its fullest splendour, I was completely won by it, and said in my
haste that it was the brightest blossom in all the Hampshire garland,
if not the loveliest wild flower in England. Nor was it strange, all
things considered, that I was so taken with its beauty, since, besides
being beautiful, it was new to me, and therefore had the additional
charm of novelty; and, finally, it was at its best when all the
conspicuous flowers that give touches of brilliant colour here and
there to the green of this greenest valley, including most of the
yellow flowers I have mentioned, were faded and gone.

No description of this flower, Mimulus luteus, known to the country
people as "wild musk," is needed here--it is well known as a garden
plant. The large foxglove-shaped flowers grow singly on their stems
among the topmost leaves, and the form of stem, leaf, and flower is a
very perfect example of that kind of formal beauty in plants which is
called "decorative." This character is well shown in the above figure,
reduced to little more than half the natural size, from a spray
plucked at Bransbury, on the Test. But the shape is nothing, and is
scarcely seen or noticed twenty-five to fifty yards away, the proper
distance at which to view the blossoming plants; not indeed as a
plant-student or an admirer of flowers in a garden would view it, as
the one thing to see, but merely as part of the scene. The colour is
then everything. There is no purer, no more beautiful yellow on any of
our wild flowers, from the primrose and the almost equally pale,
exquisite blossom which we improperly name "dark mullein" in our books
on account of its lovely purple eye, to the intensest pure yellow of
the marsh marigold.

But although purity of colour is the chief thing, it would not of
itself serve to give so great a distinction to this plant; the charm
is in the colour and the way in which Nature has disposed it,
abundantly, in single, separate blossoms, among leaves of a green that
is rich and beautiful, and looks almost dark by contrast with that
shining, luminous hue it sets off so well.

On September 17 it was Harvest Festival Sunday at the little church at
Itchen Abbas, where I worshipped that day, and I noticed that the
decorators had dressed up the font with water-plants and flowers from
the river; reeds and reed-mace, or cat's-tail, and the yellow mimulus.
It was a mistake. Deep green, glossy foliage, and white and
brilliantly coloured flowers look well in churches; white
chrysanthemums, arums, azaleas, and other conspicuous white flowers;
and scarlet geraniums, and many other garden blooms which seen in
masses in the sunshine hurt the sense--cinerarias, calceolarias,
larkspurs, &c. The subdued light of the interior softens the
intensity, and sometimes crudity, of the strongest colours, and makes
them suitable for decoration. The effect is like that of stained-glass
windows, or of a bright embroidery on a sober ground. The graceful,
grey, flowery reeds, and the light-green reed-mace, with its brown
velvet head, and the moist yellow of the mimulus, which quickly loses
its freshness, look not well in the dim, religious light of the old
village church. These should be seen where the sunlight and wind and
water are, or not seen at all.

Beautiful as the mimulus is when viewed in its natural surroundings,
by running waters amidst the greys and light and dark greens of reed
and willow, and of sedge and aquatic grasses, and water-cress, and
darkest bulrush, its attractiveness was to me greatly increased by
association. Now to say that a flower which is new to one can have any
associations may sound very strange, but it is a fact in this case.
Viewing it at a distance of, say, forty or fifty yards, as a flower of
a certain size, which might be any shape, in colour a very pure,
luminous yellow, blooming in profusion all over the rich green,
rounded masses of the plants, as one may see it in September at
Ovington, and at many other points on the Itchen, from its source to
Southampton Water, and on the Test, I am so strongly reminded of the
yellow camalote of the South American watercourses that the memory is
almost like an illusion. It has the pure, beautiful yellow of the
river camalote; in its size it is like that flower; it grows, too, in
the same way, singly, among rounded masses of leaves of the same
lovely rich green; and the camalote, too, has for neighbours the green
blades of the sedges, and grey, graceful reeds, and multitudinous
bulrushes, their dark polished stems tufted with brown.

Looking at these masses of blossoming inimulus at Ovington, I am
instantly transported in thought to some waterside thousands of miles
away. The dank, fresh smell is in my nostrils; I listen delightedly to
the low, silvery, water-like gurgling note of the little kinglet in
his brilliant feathers among the rushes, and to the tremulous song of
the green marsh grasshoppers or leaf crickets; and with a still
greater delight do I gaze at the lovely yellow flower, the unforgotten
camalote, which is as much to me as the wee, modest, crimson-tipped
daisy was to Robert Burns or to Chaucer; and as the primrose, the
violet, the dog-rose, the shining, yellow gorse, and the flower o' the
broom, and bramble, and hawthorn, and purple heather are to so many
inhabitants of these islands who were born and bred amid rural scenes.

On referring to the books for information as to the history of the
mimulus as a British wild flower, I found that in some it was not
mentioned, and in others mentioned only to be dismissed with the
remark that it is an "introduced plant." But when was it introduced,
and what is its range? And whom are we to ask?

After an infinite amount of pains, seeing and writing to all those
among my acquaintance who have any knowledge of our wild plant life, I
discovered that the mimulus grows more or less abundantly in or by
streams here and there in most English counties, but is more commonly
met with south of Derbyshire; also that it extends to Scotland, and is
known even in the Orkneys. Finally, a botanical friend discovered for
me that as long ago as 1846 there had been a great discussion, in
which a number of persons took part, on this very subject of the date
of the naturalisation in Britain of the mimulus, in Edward Newman's
botanical magazine, the _Phytologist_. It was shown conclusively by a
correspondent that the plant had established itself at one point as
far back as the year 1815.

There may exist more literature on the subject if one knew where to
look for it; but we are certainly justified in feeling annoyed at the
silence of the makers of books on British wild flowers, and the
compilers of local lists and floras. And _what_, we should like to ask
of our masters, is a British wild flower? Does not the same rule apply
to plants as to animals namely, that when a species, whether
"introduced" or imported by chance or by human agency, has thoroughly
established itself on our soil, and proved itself able to maintain its
existence in a state of nature, it becomes, and is a British species?
If this rule had not been followed by zoologists, even our beloved
little rabbit would not be a native, to say nothing of our familiar
brown rat and our black-beetle: and the pheasant, and red-legged
partridge, and capercailzie, and the fallow-deer, and a frog, and a
snail, and goodness knows how many other British species, introduced
into this country by civilised man, some in recent times. And, going
farther back in time, it may be said that every species has at some
time been brought, or has brought itself from other-where--every
animal from the red deer and the white cattle, to the smallest, most
elusive microbe not yet discovered; and every plant from the
microscopical fungus to the British oak and the yew. The main thing is
to have a rule in such a matter, a simple, sensible rule, like that of
the zoologist, or some other; and what we should like to know from the
botanists is--Have they got a rule, and, if so, what is it? There are
many who would be glad of an answer to this question: judging from the
sale of books on British wild flowers during the last few years, there
must be several millions of persons in this country who take an
interest in the subject.

One bright September day, when the mimulus was in its greatest
perfection, and my new pleasure in the flower at its highest, I by
chance remembered that Gilbert White, of Selborne, in the early part
of his career, had been curate for a time at Swarraton, a small
village on the Itchen, near its source, about four miles above
Alresford. That was in 1747. To Swarraton I accordingly went, only to
find what any guide-book or any person would have told me, that the
church no longer exists. Only the old churchyard remained, overgrown
with nettles, the few tombstones that had not been carried away so
covered with ivy as to appear like green mounds, A group of a dozen
yews marked the spot where the church had formerly stood; and there
were besides some very old trees, an ancient yew and a giant beech,
and others, and just outside the ground as noble an ash-tree as I have
ever seen. These three, at any rate, must have been big trees a
century and a half ago, and well known to Gilbert White. On inquiry I
was told that the church had been pulled down a very long time
back--about forty years, perhaps; that it was a very old and very
pretty church, covered with ivy, and that no one knew why it was
pulled down. The probable reason was that a vast church was being or
about to be built at the neighbouring village of Northington, big
enough to hold all the inhabitants of the two parishes together, and
about a thousand persons besides. This immense church would look well
enough among the gigantic structures of all shapes and materials in
the architectural wonderland of South Kensington. But I came not to
see this building: the little ancient village church, in which the
villagers had worshipped for several centuries, where Gilbert White
did duty for a year or so, was what I wanted, and I was bitterly
disappointed. Looking away from the weed-grown churchyard, I began to
wonder what his feelings would be could he revisit this old familiar
spot. The group of yew-trees where the church had stood, and the
desolate aspect of the ground about it would disturb and puzzle his
mind; but, on looking farther, all the scene would appear as he had
known it so long ago--the round, wooded hills, the green valley, the
stream, and possibly some of the old trees, and even the old cottages.
Then his eyes would begin to detect things new and strange. First, my
bicycle, leaning against the trunk of the great ash-tree, would arrest
his attention; but in a few moments, before he could examine it
closely and consider for what purpose it was intended, something far
more interesting and more wonderful to him would appear in sight. Five
large birds standing quietly on the green turf beside the
stream--birds never hitherto seen. Regarding them attentively, he
would see that they were geese, and it would appear to him that they
were of two species, one white and grey in colour, with black legs,
the other a rich maroon red, with yellow legs; also that they were
both beautiful and more graceful in their carriage than any bird of
their family known to him. Before he would cease wondering at the
presence at Swarraton of these Magellanic geese, no longer strange to
any living person's eyes in England, lo! a fresh wonder--beautiful
yellow flowers by the stream, unlike any flower that grew there in his
day, or by any stream in Hampshire.

But how long after White's time did that flower run wild in Hampshire?
I asked, and then thought that I might get the answer from some old
person who had spent a long life at that spot.

I went no farther than the nearest cottage to find the very one I
wanted, an ancient dame of seventy-four, who had never lived anywhere
but in that small thatched cottage at the side of the old churchyard.
She was an excessively thin old dame, and had the appearance of a
walking skeleton in a worn old cotton gown; and her head was like a
skull with a thin grey skin drawn tightly over the sharp bones of the
face, with pale-coloured living eyes in the sockets. Her scanty grey
hair was gathered in a net worn tightly on her head like a skull-cap.
The old women in the villages here still keep to this long-vanished
fashion.

I asked this old woman to tell me about the yellow flowers by the
water, and she said that they had always been there. I told her she
must be mistaken; and after considering for awhile she assured me that
they grew there in abundance when she was quite young. She distinctly
remembered that before her marriage--and that was over fifty years
ago--she often went down to the stream to gather flowers, and would
come in with great handfuls of wild musk.

When she had told me this, even before she had finished speaking, I
seemed to see two persons before me--the lean old woman with her thin
colourless visage, and, coming in from the sunshine, a young woman
with rosy face, glossy brown hair and laughing blue eyes, her hands
full of brightest yellow wild musk from the stream. And the visionary
woman seemed to be alive and real, and the other unsubstantial, a
delusion of the mind, a ghost of a woman.

But was the old woman right--was the beautiful yellow mimulus, the
wild musk or water buttercup as she called it, which our botanists
refuse to admit into their works intended for our instruction, or give
it only half-a-dozen dry words--was it a common wild flower on the
Hampshire rivers more than half a century ago?

From the valley and the river with its shining yellow mimulus and
floating water-grass in the crystal current--that green hair-like
grass that one is never tired of looking at--back to the ivy-green
cottage, its ancient limes and noble solitary oaks, and, above all,
its birds; then back again to the stream--that mainly was our life.
But close by on either side of the valley were the downs, and these
too drew us with that immemorial fascination which the higher ground
has for all of us, because of the sense of freedom and power which
comes with a wide horizon. That was a fine saying of Lord Herbert of
Cherbury that a man mounted on a good horse is lifted above himself:
one experiences the feeling in a greater degree on any chalk down. One
extensive open down within easy distance was a favourite afternoon
walk. Here on the short fragrant turf an army of peewits were to be
found every day, and usually there were a few stone curlews with them.
It is not here as in the country about Salisbury, where the Hawking
Club has its headquarters, and where they have been "having fun with
the thick-knees," as they express it in their lingo, until there are
no thick-knees left. But the chief attraction of this down was an
extensive thicket of thorn and bramble, mixed with furze and juniper
and some good-sized old trees, where birds were abundant, many of them
still breeding. Here, down to the end of September, I found
turtle-doves' nests with newly-hatched young and incubated eggs. I
always felt more than compensated for scratches and torn clothes when
I found young turtle-doves in the down, as the little creatures are
then delightful to look at. Sitting hunched up on its platform, the
head with its massive bulbous beak drawn against its arched back, the
little thing is less like a bird than a mammal in appearance--a
singularly coloured shrew, let us say. The colour is indeed strange,
the whole body, the thick, fleshy, snout-like beak included, being a
deep, intense, almost indigo blue, and the loose hair-like down on the
head and upper parts a light, bright primrose yellow.

There are surprising colours in some young birds: the cirl nestling,
as we have seen, is black and crimson--clothed in black down with
gaping crimson mouth; loveliest of all is the young snipe in down of
brown-gold, frosted with silvery white; but for quaintness and
fantastic colouring the turtle-dove nestling has no equal. In all of
our native doves, and probably in all doves everywhere, the skin is
blue and the down yellow, but the colours differ in intensity. I tried
to find a newly-hatched stock-dove to compare it with the turtle
nestling but failed, although the species is quite common and, like
the other two, breeds till October. Ring-dove nestlings were easy to
see, but in these the blue colour, though deep on the beak and head,
is quite pale on the body, fading almost to white on some parts; and
the down, too, is very pale, fading to whitish tow-colour on the sides
and back.

When seeking for a ring-dove in down I had an amusing adventure. At a
distance of some miles from the Itchen, near the Test, one day in
September, I was hunting for an insect I wanted in a thick copse by
Tidbury King, an ancient earthwork on the summit of a chalk hill.
Hearing a boy's voice singing near, I peeped out and saw a lad of
about fifteen tending some sheep: he was walking about on his knees,
trimming the herbage with an old rusty pair of shears which he had
found! It startled him a little when I burst out of the cover so near
him, but he was ready to enter into conversation, and we had a long
hour together, sitting on the sunny down. I mentioned my desire to
find a newly-hatched ring-dove, and he at once offered to show me one.
There were two nests with young close by, in one the birds were
half-fledged, the others only came out of their shells two days
before. These we went to look for, the boy leading the way to a point
where the trees grew thickest. He climbed a yew, and from the yew
passed to a big beech tree, in which the nest was placed, but on
getting to it he cried out that the nest was forsaken and the young
dead. He threw them down to me, and he was grieved at their death as
he had known about the nest from the time it was made, and had seen
the young birds alive the day before. No doubt the parents had been
shot, and the cold night had quickly killed the little ones.

This was the most intelligent boy I have met in Hampshire; he knew
every bird and almost every insect I spoke to him about. He was, too,
a mighty hunter of little birds, and had captured stock-doves and
wheatears in the rabbit burrows. But his greatest feat was the capture
of a kingfisher. He was down by the river with a sparrow-net at a spot
where the bushes grow thick and close to the water, when he saw a
kingfisher come and alight on a dead twig within three yards of him.
The bird had not seen him standing behind the bush: it sat for a few
moments on the twig, its eyes fixed on the water, then it dropped
swiftly down, and he jumped out and threw the net over it just as it
rose up with a minnow in its beak. He took it home and put it in a
cage.

I gave him a sharp lecture on the cruelty of caging kingfishers,
telling him how senseless it was to confine such a bird, and how
impossible to keep it alive in prison. It was better to kill them at
once if he wanted to destroy them. "Of course your kingfisher died," I
said. "No," he replied. He stood the cage on a chair, and the bird was
no sooner in it than his little sister, a child of two who was
fidgeting round, pulled the door open and out flew the kingfisher!

Returning to the cottage, whether from the high down, the green
valley, or the silent, shady wood, it always seemed a favourite
dwelling or nesting-place of the birds, where indeed they most
abounded. Now that bright genial weather had come after the cold and
storm to make them happy, the air was full of their chirpings and
twitterings, their various little sounds of conversation and
soliloquy, with an occasional bright, loud, perfect song. It was
generally the wren, whose lyric changes not through all the changeful
year, that uttered it. It was this small brown bird, too, that amused
me most with the spectacle of his irrepressible delight in the new
warmth and sunlight. There were about a dozen wrens at the cottage,
and some of them were in the habit of using their old undamaged nests
in the ivy and woodbine as snug little dormitories. But they cared
nothing for the human inhabitants of the cottage; they were like small
birds that had built their nest in the interstices of an eagles'
eyrie, who knew nothing and cared nothing about the eagles.
Occasionally, when a wren peeped in from the clustering ivy or hopped
on to a window-sill and saw us inside, he would scold us for being
there with that sharp, angry little note of his, and then fly away.
Nor would he take a crumb from the table spread out of doors every day
for the birds that disdained not to be fed. The ivy and creepers that
covered the cottage abounded with small spiders, caterpillars,
earwigs, chrysalids, and what not; that was good enough for him--Thank
you for your kind intentions!

Looking from a window at a bed of roses a few feet away, I discovered
that the wren took as much pleasure in a dust bath as any bird. He
would come to the loose soil and select a spot where the bed sloped
towards the sun, and then wriggle about in the earth with immense
enjoyment. Dusting himself, he would look like a miniature partridge
with a round body not much bigger than a walnut. After dusting would
come the luxurious sun-bath, when, with feathers raised and minute
wings spread out and beak gaping, the little thing would lie
motionless and panting; but at intervals of three or four seconds a
joyful fit of shivering would seize him, and at last, the heat
becoming too great, he would shake himself and skip away, looking like
a brown young field vole scuttling into cover.

This bright and beautiful period came to an end on August 22, and we
then had unsettled weather with many sudden changes until September
3--cloudy oppressive days, violent winds, thunderstorms, and days of
rain and sunshine, and morning and evening rainbows; it was a mixture
of April, midsummer, and October.

This changeful period over, there was fine settled weather; it was the
golden time of the year, and it continued till our departure on the
last day of September.

The fruit season was late this year--nearly a fortnight later than in
most years; and when the earliest, the wild arum, began to ripen, the
birds--thrushes and chaffinches were detected--fell upon and devoured
all the berries, regardless of their poisonous character, almost
before their light-green had changed to vivid scarlet. Then came the
deep crimson fruit of the honeysuckle; it ripened plentifully on the
plants growing against the cottage, and the cole-tits came in bands to
feed on it. It was pretty to see these airy little acrobats clinging
to the twine-like pendent sprays hanging before an open window or
door. They were like the little birds in a Japanese picture which one
has seen. Then came the elderberries, which all fruit-loving birds
feast on together. But the tits and finches and warblers and thrushes
were altogether out-numbered by the starlings that came in numbers
from the pasture-lands to take part in the great fruit-feast.

The elder is a common tree here, but at the cottage we had, I think,
the biggest crop of fruit in the neighbourhood; and it now occurs to
me that the vast old chalk pit in which the trees grew has not yet
been described, and so far has only been once mentioned incidentally.
Yet it was a great place, but a few yards away at the side of the old
lime trees and the small protecting fence. The entrance to it and its
wide floor was on a level with the green valley, while at its upper
end it formed a steep bank forty feet high. It was doubtless a very
old pit, with sides which had the appearance of natural cliffs and
were overhung and draped with thorn-trees, masses of old ivy, and
traveller's joy. Inside it was a pretty tangled wilderness; on the
floor many tall annuals flourished--knapweed and thistle and dark
mullein and teazel, six to eight feet high. Then came some good-sized
trees--ash and oak, and thorn, bramble and elder in masses. It was a
favourite breeding-place of birds of many species; even the red-backed
shrike had nested there within forty yards of a human habitation, and
the kingfisher had safely reared his young, unsuspected by the
barbarous water-keeper. The pit, too, was a shelter in cold rough
weather and a roosting-place at night. Now the fruit was ripe, it was
a banqueting-place as well, and the native birds were joined by roving
outsiders, missel-thrushes in scores, and starlings in hundreds. The
noise they produced--a tangle of so many various semi-musical
voices--sounded all day long; and until the abundant fruit had all
been devoured the chalk pit was a gigantic green and white bowl full
to overflowing with sunshine, purple juice, and melody.

The biggest crop of this fruit out of the old chalk pit was in the
garden of a cottage in the village, close to the river, occupied by an
old married couple, hard workers still with spade and hoe, and able to
make a living by selling the produce of their garden. It was a curious
place; fruit trees and bushes, herbs, vegetables, flowers, all growing
mixed up anyhow, without beds or walks or any line of demarcation
between cultivated plants and brambles and nettles on either side and
the flags and sedges at the lower end by the river. In the midst of
the plot, just visible among the greenery, stood the small, old,
low-roofed thatched cottage, where the hens were free to go in and lay
their eggs under the bed, or in any dark corner they preferred. A
group of seven or eight old elder-trees grew close to the cottage,
their branches bent and hanging with the weight of the purpling
clusters.

"What are you going to do with the fruit?" I asked the old woman; and
this innocent question raised a tempest in her breast, for I had
unwittingly touched on a sore subject.

"Do!" she exclaimed rather fiercely, "I'm going to do nothing with it!
I've made elderberry wine years and years and years. So did my mother;
so did my grandmother; so did everybody in _my_ time. And very good it
were, too, I tell 'e, in cold weather in winter, made hot. It warmed
your inside. But nobody wants it now, and nobody'll help me with it.
How 'm I to do it--keep the birds off and all! I've been fighting 'em
years and years, and now I can't do it no longer. And what's the good
of doing it if the wine's not good enough for people to drink?
Nothing's good enough now unless you buys it in a public-house or a
shop. It wasn't so when I were a girl. We did everything for ourselves
then, and it were better, I tell 'e. We kep' a pig then--so did every
one; and the pork and bacon it were good, not like what we buy now. We
put it mostly in brine, and let it be for months; and when we took it
out and biled it, it were red as a cherry and white as milk, and it
melted just like butter in your mouth. That's what we ate in _my_
time. But you can't keep a pig now--oh dear, no! You don't have him
more 'n a day or two before the sanitary man looks in. He says he were
passing and felt a sort of smell about--would you mind letting him
come in just to have a sniff round? He expects it might be a pig
you've got. In my time we didn't think a pig's smell hurt nobody.
They've got their own smell, pigs have, same as dogs and everything
else. But we've got very partickler about smells now.

"And we didn't drink no tea then. Eight shillings a pound, or may be
seven-and-six--dear, dear, how was we to buy it! We had beer for
breakfast and it did us good. It were better than all these nasty
cocoa stuffs we drink now. We didn't buy it at the public-house--we
brewed it ourselves. And we had a brick oven then, and could put a pie
in, and a loaf, and whatever we wanted, and it were proper vittals. We
baked barley bread, and black bread, and all sorts of bread, and it
did us good and made us strong. These iron ranges and stoves we have
now--what's the good o' they? You can't bake bread in 'em. And the
wheat bread you gits from the shop, what's it good for? 'Tisn't proper
vittals--it fills 'e with wind. No, I say, I'm not going to git the
fruit--let the birds have it! Just look at the greedy things--them
starlings! I've shouted, and thrown sticks and all sorts of things,
and shaken a cloth at 'em, and it's like calling the fowls to feed.
The more noise I make the more they come. What I say is, If I can't
have the fruit I wish the blackbirds 'ud git it. People say to me,
'Oh, don't talk to me about they blackbirds--they be the worst of all
for fruit.' But I never minded that because well, I'll tell 'e. I mind
when I were a little thing at Old Alresford, where I were born, I used
to be up at four in the morning, in summer, listening to the
blackbirds. And mother she used to say, 'Lord, how she do love to hear
a blackbird!' It's always been the same. I's always up at four, and in
summer I goes out to hear the blackbird when it do sing so beautiful.
But them starlings that come messing about, pulling the straws out of
the thatch, I've no patience with they. We didn't have so many
starlings when I were young. But things is very different now; and
what I say is, I wish they wasn't--I wish they was the same as when I
were a girl. And I wish I was a girl again."

Listening to this tirade on the degeneracy of modern times, it amused
me to recall the very different feeling on the same subject expressed
by the old Wolmer Forest woman. But the Itchen woman had more vigour,
more staying-power in her: one could see it in the fresh colour in her
round face, and the pure colour and brightness of her eyes--brighter
and bluer than in most blue-eyed girls. Altogether, she was one of the
best examples of the hard-headed, indomitable Saxon peasants I have
met with in the south of England. She was past seventy, impeded by an
old infirmity, the mother of many men and women with big families of
their own, all scattered far and wide over the county,--all too poor
themselves to help her in her old age, or to leave their work and come
such a distance to see her, excepting when they were in difficulties,
for then they would come for what she could spare them out of her
hardly-earned little hoard. I admired her "fierce volubility"; but
that sudden softening at the end about the blackbird's beautiful
voice, and that memory of her distant childhood, and her wish, strange
in these weary days, to have her hard life to live over again, came as
a surprise to me.

In days like these, so bright and peaceful, one thinks with a feeling
of wonder that many of our familiar birds are daily and nightly
slipping away, decreasing gradually in numbers, so that we scarcely
miss them. By the middle of September the fly-catchers and several of
the warblers, all but a few laggards, have left us. Even the swallows
begin to leave us before that date. On the 8th many birds were
congregated at a point on the river a little above the village, and on
the 10th a considerable migration took place. Near the end of a fine
day a big cloud came up from the north-west, and beneath it, at a good
height, the birds were seen flying down the valley in a westerly
direction. I went out and watched them for half-an-hour, standing on
the little wooden bridge that spans the stream. They went by in flocks
of about eighty to a couple of hundred birds, flock succeeding flock
at intervals of three or four minutes. By the time the sun set the
entire sky was covered by the black cloud, and there was a thick gloom
on the earth; it was then some eight or ten minutes after the last
flock, flying high, had passed twittering on its way that a rush of
birds came by, flying low, about on a level with my head as I stood
leaning on the handrail of the bridge. I strained my eyes in vain to
make out what they were--swallows or martins--as in rapid succession,
and in twos or threes, they came before me, seen vaguely as dim spots,
and no sooner seen than gone, shooting past my head with amazing
velocity and a rushing sound, fanning my face with the wind they
created, and some of them touching me with their wing-tips.

On the evening of September 18 a second migration was witnessed at the
same spot, flock succeeding flock until it was nearly dark. On the
following evening, at another point on the river at Ovington, I
witnessed a third and more impressive spectacle. The valley spreads
out there to a great width, and has extensive beds of reeds,
bulrushes, and other water plants, with clumps and rows of alders and
willows. It was growing dark; bats were flitting round me in numbers,
and the trees along the edge of the valley looked black against the
pale amber sky in the west, when very suddenly the air overhead became
filled with a shrill confused noise, and, looking up through my
binocular, I saw at a considerable height an immense body of swallows
travelling in a south-westerly direction. A very few moments after
catching sight of them they paused in their flight, and, after
remaining a short time at one point, looking like a great swarm of
bees, they began rushing wildly about, still keeping up their shrill
excited twittering, and coming lower and lower by degrees; and
finally, in batches of two or three hundred birds, they rushed down
like lightning into the dark reeds, shower following shower of
swallows at intervals of two or three seconds, until the last had
vanished and the night was silent again.

It was time for them to go, for though the days were warm and food
abundant, the nights were growing cold.

The early hours are silent, except for the brown owls that hoot round
the cottage from about four o'clock until dawn. Then they grow silent,
and the morning is come, cold and misty, and all the land is hidden by
a creeping white river mist. The sun rises, and is not seen for
half-an-hour, then appears pale and dim, but grows brighter and warmer
by degrees; and in a little while, lo! the mist has vanished, except
for a white rag, clinging like torn lace here and there to the valley
reeds and rushes. Again, the green earth, wetted with mist and dews,
and the sky of that soft pure azure of yesterday and of many previous
days. Again the birds are vocal; the rooks rise from the woods, an
innumerable cawing multitude, their voices filling the heavens with
noise, as they travel slowly away to their feeding-grounds on the
green open downs; the starlings flock to the bushes, and the feasting
and chatter and song begin that will last until evening. The sun sets
crimson, and the robins sing in the night and silence. But it is not
silent long; before dark the brown owls begin hooting, first in the
woods, then fly across to the trees that grow beside the cottage, so
that we may the better enjoy their music. At intervals, too, we hear
the windy sibilant screech of the white owl across the valley. Then
the wild cry of the stone-curlew is heard as the lonely bird wings his
way past, and after that late voice there is perfect silence, with
starlight or moonlight.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia