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Title: Country Walks of a Naturalist with His Children
Author: Houghton, W.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration]



COUNTRY WALKS OF A NATURALIST

WITH

HIS CHILDREN.

BY

REV. W. HOUGHTON, M.A., F.L.S.,
RECTOR OF PRESTON ON THE WILD MOORS, SHROPSHIRE.

ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT COLOURED PLATES AND
NUMEROUS WOOD ENGRAVINGS.

SECOND EDITION.

LONDON:
GROOMBRIDGE AND SONS,
5, PATERNOSTER ROW.

MDCCCLXX.



PREFACE.


In this little book my desire has been, not so much to impart
knowledge to young people, as to induce them to acquire it for
themselves. I have endeavoured to show that Country Walks may be full
of interest and instruction to all who care to make good use of their
eyes. If I have failed, the fault rests with me for the way in which I
have treated the subject. I am aware that I have occasionally used
words and phrases which may puzzle young brains, but I hope that
nearly all will be intelligible to boys and girls of nine or ten years
old, with a little explanation from parents or teachers.

The chief, if not the sole merit of this little book consists in the
illustrations which adorn it; and I must express my sincere gratitude
to Mr. Gould, the eminent ornithologist, for his kind permission to
copy some of the magnificent drawings in his work on 'The Birds of
Great Britain.' To Mr. R. S. Chattock, of Solihull, I am also deeply
indebted, for the pains he has taken in reproducing, on a reduced
scale, Mr. Gould's drawings, and for the drawings of the sticklebacks
and the frontispiece. My generous friend and neighbour, Mr. Eyton, of
Eyton, has furnished another instance of his numerous acts of
kindness, in allowing me the use of Mr. Gould's work and of various
woodcuts. To two lady friends I also express my best thanks; and last,
though not least, to the publishers, Messrs. Groombridge, for the care
they have taken to present the volume to the public in a very
attractive form.



CONTENTS.


                                                                  PAGE

WALK I.--APRIL                                                       1

On the Moors--Swallows--Water-voles--Peewits--Marsh
Marigold--Water-primrose--Moles--Herons--Kingfishers--
Moschatelle--Water-scorpion.

WALK II.--APRIL                                                     17

Ophrydium--Reed Sparrow--Whirligig Beetles--Fresh-water
Mussels--Zebra Mussel--Titmice--Thrushes cracking
Snail-shells--Dabbling in a Pond--Dyticus, or Great
Water-beetle--Corethra Larva--Weasels.

WALK III.--MAY                                                      36

Searching for Sticklebacks' Nests--Nest-making Fish--Snail
Leeches--Other Leeches--Cuckoo Flowers--Blue
Speedwell--Stitchwort--Tadpoles--Frogs--Frog and Cat.

WALK IV.--MAY                                                       50

The Melicerta or Tubicolous Wheel-animalcule--Water-crowfoot
or Buttercup--Sedge-warbler--Reed-warbler's
Nest--Cuckoos--Horsetail--Hydræ.

WALK V.--MAY                                                        69

Drive to Shawbury--Trout Fishing--Parasite on Trout--Curious habit
of a Two-winged Fly--Ephemeræ, or May-flies--Willy hooking out
Dace--Another fish Parasite--Globe Flower--Dragon-flies--Quotation
from Thomson's 'Seasons.'

WALK VI.--JUNE                                                      84

In the Fields--St. George's Mushroom--Tree-creepers--A handful
of Grasses--Nettles and Dead Nettles--Butterfly--Larvæ feeding
on Nettle Leaves--Fresh-water Polyzoa--Eggs of Newts--Development
of Newts--Donacia Beetles--Planarian Worms.


WALK VII.--JUNE                                                    103

Hedgehog and young ones--Hedgehogs, injurious or not?--On the
Moors again--Great Tomtit--Shrikes or Butcher Birds--Lady-bird
Beetles--Swifts--Coots--Water-hens--Grebes--Convolvulus.


WALK VIII.--JULY                                                   119

Frog's Spawn Alga--Other Fresh-water Algæ--Hawks--Kestrel--Sparrow
Hawk--Buzzard--Shrew-mouse, superstitions about--Spiders' Nests
and Webs--Spiders' Fangs--Spiders' Feet.


WALK IX.--JULY                                                     133

In the Fields again--Scarlet Pimpernel--Goat's Beard--Caddis Worms
and Flies--Forget-me-not--Goldfinches--Cruelty of country lads to
young birds--Grasshoppers--Crickets--Pike, voracity and size of.


WALK X.--OCTOBER                                                   145

In the Woods at the foot of the Wrekin--A hunt for Fungi--Fly
Agarics--Victims nailed to a tree--Gamekeepers--Squirrels--Rare
Fungi--Woodcocks--Ring-marks on fallen timber--Conclusion.

       *       *       *       *       *



COUNTRY WALKS OF A NATURALIST

WITH

HIS CHILDREN.



WALK I.

APRIL.


We could not have a more pleasant day, children, for a ramble in the
fields than to-day. It is warm and bright, and the birds are singing
merrily, thoroughly enjoying the sunshine; the little lambs are
frisking about, and running races with each other. Put away lessons
then, and we will have a holiday. "Oh," said Willy, "it will be so
pleasant, and I will take one or two bottles, and my gauze net,
because we are sure to find something interesting to bring home. Where
shall we go?" "I do not think it much matters where, for there is
always much to observe and to admire wherever we stroll in the
country." "Let us go on the moors, then," said Jack, "for you know,
papa, a little boy in the village told me the other day he had found a
peewit's nest with four eggs in, and I should like to try and find
one myself." Well, here we are, then; we shall have to jump over a
drain or two in our ramble, and as the banks are soft it will be
necessary to take great care, or we may tumble in. Ah! do you see,
there are two sand-martins, the first I have seen this year. See how
fast they fly, now sailing high up in the air, now skimming quite
close to the ground. I have not seen any swallows or house-martins
yet, but no doubt they will make their appearance in a few days.
"Where do they come from, papa," asked May, "because we never see
these birds in the winter? You often say, when the spring comes we
shall see the swallows, and then they go away again towards the end of
summer." Let us sit down on this clump of wood, and I will tell you
about the swallows.

We have in this country four different species of the swallow family
which visit us every year; they come to us from Africa: these are the
sand-martin, two specimens of which we have just seen, the swallow,
the house-martin, and the swift. A very little attention will enable
you to distinguish these different kinds. The sand-martin is the
smallest of the family; as the birds fly by us you notice that the
back part is brown, or mouse colour; the under part white. The back of
the house-martin is of a glossy black or bluish-black colour; it is
white underneath; while the swallow, which is larger than the other
two, has a glossy back, like the house-martin; but underneath it is
more or less tinged with buff; and see, as I speak here is one flying
past us. To-day is the 12th of April, about the time the swallow
generally comes to this country. Now you see clearly enough its
colour, and you will notice, too, a very marked difference in the form
of its tail; see how much forked it is, much more so than the tail of
the martin. This forked appearance is produced by the two outer tail
feathers, which are much longer than the rest. Now I hope you will
take notice of these differences, and call things by their right
names, instead of jumbling them all up together under the name of
swallow. I have not spoken of the swift, which does not visit this
country till May; it is the largest of the swallow family, and has the
whole of its body, both above and beneath, of a blackish-brown colour,
except a small patch of dirty white under the chin.

"But, papa," said Jack, "do all these four kinds of swallows come from
Africa? It is very curious to know how they can find their way
backwards and forwards from Africa to this country, and how they come
back to the very spots they visited the year before?" Indeed, it is a
very curious thing; nevertheless experiments have been made to show
that these birds return every year to the same localities.

Many years ago Dr. Jenner procured several swifts from a farmhouse in
Gloucestershire, and marked them by cutting off two claws from the
foot of twelve of them. Next year their hiding places were examined in
the evening, when the birds had gone to roost, when Dr. Jenner found
many of the birds he had marked by cutting off the two claws. For two
or three consecutive years he examined their nesting places, and
always found some of his marked birds. At the end of seven years a cat
brought a swift into the farmer's kitchen, and this was one of those
which Dr. Jenner had marked. Now, Willy, I will ask you a question in
geography. The swallow family visits this country from Africa. What
sea, then, must the birds fly across? "The Mediterranean, papa." Quite
right; and now can you tell me the narrowest part of the Mediterranean
Sea? "The Straits of Gibraltar." Right again; and there the passage is
about five miles wide; and at Gibraltar swallows, swifts, and martins
are often seen as well as several other bird-visitors of this country.
People on board ship have seen swallows a long way from land passing
between Europe and Africa. Sometimes the poor birds are so tired from
their flight that they are obliged to rest on the masts, yards, and
rigging of the vessels. This often happens when the weather is hazy.
Holloa, Jack, what is that splash in the water about six yards off?
Keep quiet, and we shall see what it was. Ah! it is one of my friends,
the water-voles; I see the rogue, with his large yellow teeth and
black eyes. Do you see? He is on the other side of the drain, nibbling
away at something. People generally call him a water-rat, but he is no
relation at all to a rat, nor is he an injurious creature like it.
"Well, but papa," said Willy, "the lads in the village always kill
these water-rats, as they call them, whenever they can. I suppose they
take them for common rats. Do you say they do no harm?" Very little,
water-voles will not eat young chickens and ducklings; nor do they
find their way into stacks and consume the corn; their food is
entirely confined to vegetables, such as the roots and stems of
water-weeds. I feel, however, pretty sure that the water-vole is fond
of beans, and will occasionally do some mischief where a field of
newly-sown beans adjoins the river or stream, in the banks of which
these animals form their holes. I will clap my hands, and off our
little friend with his dusky coat starts, diving under the water,
whence when he comes out he will probably escape into a hole on the
bank. Some day I will show you the skulls of a water-vole and a rat,
and you will see there is a great difference in the form and
arrangement of the teeth, and that the first-named animal is not, as I
said before, related to the rat. The water-vole is really a relative
of that interesting creature you have often read of--I mean the
beaver. "Well, papa," said Jack, "I am tired of sitting here, let us
now go and hunt for peewit's eggs." All right, Jack, and if you find
any you shall each have one for your breakfast in the morning. When
hard-boiled and cold, a peewit's egg is a very delicious thing, though
I think the peewits are such valuable birds, and do so much good, that
I should not like to take many of their eggs. We had better separate
from each other, so as to have a better chance of finding a nest. Soon
we hear a shout from Willy, whose sharp eyes had discovered a nest
with four eggs in it; so off we all scamper to him. See how the old
bird screams and flaps, and how near she comes to us; she knows we
have found her eggs, and wishes to lure us away from the spot; so she
pretends she has been wounded, and tries to make us follow after her.
Now, Jack, run and catch her. Hah! Hah! There they go. I will back the
peewit against the boy. So you have given up the chase, have you?
Well, rest again, and take breath. The peewit, as you saw, makes
scarcely any nest, merely a hollow in the ground, with, perhaps, a few
dried grasses. The peculiar instinct of the peewit in misleading
people as to the whereabouts of its eggs, or young ones, is very
curious.

[Illustration: LAPWING.]

A very observant naturalist says, "As soon as any one appears in the
fields where the nest is, the bird runs quietly and rapidly in a
stooping posture to some distance from it, and then rises with loud
cries and appearance of alarm, as if her nest was immediately below
the spot she rose from. When the young ones are hatched, too, the
place to look for them is, _not_ where the parent birds are screaming
and fluttering about, but at some little distance from it. As soon as
you actually come to the spot where their young are, the old birds
alight on the ground a hundred yards or so from you, watching your
movements. If, however, you pick up one of the young ones, both male
and female immediately throw off all disguise, and come wheeling and
screaming around your head, as if about to fly in your face." Peewits
are certainly bold birds when their young ones are in danger. Mr.
Charles St. John says he has often seen the hooded crows hunting the
fields frequented by the peewits, as regularly as a pointer, flying a
few yards above the ground, and searching for the eggs. The cunning
crow always selects the time when the old birds are away on the shore.
As soon as he is perceived, however, the peewits all combine in
chasing him away. We are told that they will also attack any bird of
prey that ventures near their breeding ground; they are quarrelsome,
too, and the cock birds will fight with each other should they come
into too close quarters. A cock bird one day attacked a wounded male
bird which came near his nest; the pugnacious little fellow ran up to
the intruder, and taking advantage of his weakness, jumped on him, and
pecking at his head, dragged him along the ground as fiercely as a
game cock. This was witnessed by Mr. St. John.[A] "I have often heard
peewits uttering their peculiar noise," said Willy, "quite late at
night. What do they feed on? I should so much like to have a tame
young one." The food of the peewits consists of insects, worms,
snails, slugs, the larvæ of various insects; I am certain they do much
good to the farmer by destroying numerous insect-pests. "Oh, papa,"
exclaimed May, "do come here, what a splendid cluster of bright golden
flowers is growing on the side of the drain." Yes, indeed it is a
beautiful cluster; it is the marsh-marigold, and looks like a gigantic
buttercup; it is sometimes in flower as early as March, and continues
to blossom for three months or more. Country people often call it the
may-flower, as being one of the flowers once used for may-garlands. I
dare say you have sometimes seen wreaths hanging on cottage doors.
Some people have invented what I think very ugly names for this showy
plant, such as horse-blob, water-blob.

    "Beneath the shelving bank's retreat
    The horseblob swells its golden ball."

I have somewhere read that the young buds are sometimes pickled and
used instead of capers, but I do not think I should like to try them.
"And what," asked May, "are those bright green feathery tufts under
the water? they are very pretty, but they do not bear any flowers."
No, there are no flowers at present, but in about a month's time you
will see plenty. Out of the middle of the feathery tuft there grows a
single tall stem with whorls of four, five, or six pale purple flowers
occurring at intervals. Its English name is water-violet,--not a
fitting name for it, because this plant is not at all related to the
violet tribe, but is one of the primrose family; so we should more
correctly call it water-primrose. Its Latin name is _Hottonia
palustris_; it is called Hottonia in honour of a German botanist,
Professor Hotton, of Leyden. Willy will tell us that the word
_palustris_ means "marshy," in allusion to the places where the water
primrose is found growing. It is a very common plant in the ditches on
the moors here, and I will take care to show you its pretty tall stem
when the flowers appear. While I was talking to May about the water
primrose, Jack espied a sulphur-coloured butterfly, and off he set in
full chase; he did not, however, succeed in capturing it, for his foot
tripped over a molehill and down he tumbled--the beautiful sulphur
butterfly having fled across a wide ditch and escaped. Not far from
where he fell there was a thorn bush and a number of unfortunate moles
gibbeted thereon: some had been killed quite recently, so I took three
or four from the thorn with the intention of taking them home and
examining their stomachs to see what they had eaten. In the meantime,
down we sat on an adjoining bank covered with primroses looking so gay
and smelling so sweet. Willy then wanted to know the history of the
mole; why people generally think it right to kill these animals, and
whether they really are blind. May, of course, could not resist the
charm of collecting primroses for mamma. The two boys cared more for
animals, so I answered their questions about the mole. First of all I
pointed out the amazing strength of its feet, its soft and silky fur,
the form of its body so well adapted for a rapid progress through the
underground passages it forms. Look, I said, at its soft fur, how it
will lie in any direction; each delicate hair is inserted in the skin
perpendicularly to its surface, so that the mole can move rapidly
either backwards or forwards with great ease; the fur, lying as
readily in one direction as another, makes no difficulty to a backward
retreat. If you look closely when I push away the fur with my finger
and breath in the neighbourhood of the eyes, you will see two tiny
black specs; so we can hardly call the mole a blind animal; but as it
lives for the most part underground its power of vision must be small.
The fore feet do the work of the spade and potato-fork combined; its
sense of smell is acute, and this, no doubt, aids the animal in the
search of its food; the mole's sense of hearing is also very good.
"Well, but, papa," exclaimed Jack, "a mole has got no ears, so how can
it hear?" There is no outward appearance of ears, it is true, but
look: I blow away the fur, and now you see clearly a hole which is the
beginning of the passage that leads to the internal ear. The ears of
many animals are very admirably made and fitted for the purpose of
receiving sounds, but you must not suppose that because some
animals--as moles, seals, whales, &c.--have no outward appendages,
they are destitute of ears and the power of hearing. But you must wait
till you are a little older, and then I will explain to you the matter
more fully. The little curiously shaped earbones which are found in
all mammalia are found also in the mole; and I have in my drawer at
home a mole's earbones which I dissected from the animal.

But here comes, I do think, the mole-catcher himself; let us hear what
he has to say. "Good morning, Mr. Mole-catcher; have you been setting
any more traps to-day? I suppose those unfortunate fellows gibbeted on
yonder thorn were caught by you." "Well, yeez, sir," he replied, "I
reckons as they were; I have stopped their play, I guess; but there's
a plaguey lot more on them about, I'm a thinking." "What harm do you
consider that moles do?" I asked. "Harm, maister? why, lor' bless you,
see them hummocks they throw up all about. The farmers dunna like them
ugly heaps, I can assure you." "Probably not; still if they were
spread on the land the soil would be as good as top-dressing. Do you
know what moles eat?" "Well, sir, I believes they eats worms." "Yes,
they feed principally on worms, but they also devour wireworms and
other creatures which prey upon the farmer's crops. I think moles do
more good than harm, and I have examined the stomachs of many, and I
am of opinion that it is a mistake to kill them." "Lor', sir, you be's
a gemman that has seen the inside of a mole's stomach, has you? You
may be a cliver sort of a mon, but moles be varmint." Thus saying, the
old fellow wished us good morning and left us. "Papa," said Willy, "do
not moles make very curious places under the ground in which they
reside at times? I think I have somewhere seen pictures of these
encampments." Yes, they do; but I only know of them from description
and figures; the fortress is generally made under a hillock; it
consists of many galleries connected with each other, and with a
central chamber. You remember a young mole was brought to us last
summer, and that we put it into a box with plenty of loose earth and
some worms. We only kept it a day or two. One morning I found it dead.
I suppose it had not enough to eat. The mole has an insatiable
appetite, and, according to the observations of some naturalists, it
will devour birds. Mr. Bell says that "even the weaker of its own
species under particular circumstances are not exempted from this
promiscuous ferocity; for if two moles be placed together in a box
without a very plentiful supply of food the weaker certainly falls a
prey to the stronger. No thoroughbred bulldog keeps a firmer hold of
the object of its attack than the mole. Mr. Jackson, a very
intelligent mole-catcher, says that, when a boy, his hand was so
severely and firmly laid hold of by one that he was obliged to use his
teeth in order to loosen its hold."

[Illustration: HERON AND YOUNG.]

We now proceeded on our ramble, and I espied about one hundred yards
off a heron on the bank of the Strine. He did not see us at first, but
when we got a little nearer, off he flew, with his long legs stretched
out behind, and his head bent close to his shoulders. He had evidently
been fishing, for we could see the scales of fish on the side of the
bank. Willy asked whether herons built on trees, and Jack wanted to
know how they managed with their great long legs while sitting on
their nests. These birds in the breeding season assemble together and
make their nests on tall firs or oak trees; sometimes they build on
rocks near the sea coast. It is said, too, that they will occasionally
build on the ground. The heron's nest is not unlike that of the rook,
only larger and broader; it is made of sticks and lined with wool and
coarse grass; the female lays four or five eggs of a green colour, her
long legs are tucked under her. Rooks and jackdaws sometimes take up
their quarters near to a heronry, and do you know they steal their
eggs, the rogues, and devour them. Both male and female herons take
great care of their little ones and bring them food. Besides fish the
heron will eat frogs, rats, young ducks, and coots. Eels are great
dainties in the opinion of Mr. Heron; and sometimes an eel, after
being pierced through the head by the sharp and strong bill of the
heron, manages to wrap himself so tight round the bird's neck as to
stop his breathing and cause his death. A good many years ago herons
were protected by the law; they were considered royal game, and their
capture by the peregrine falcon was looked upon as very exciting
sport. As we followed the bank of the stream out flew a couple of
kingfishers with straight and rapid flight; we distinctly heard the
shrill note these birds utter; they flew about two hundred yards and
lighted on a rail near the water's edge. Let us see if we can get a
little nearer to them, I said, and then sit down and see what they
will do. "Papa," said May, "is not the kingfisher a very beautiful
bird, and the most brightly coloured of all British birds?" Yes, it
is; its splendid colours remind one of the gorgeous plumage of
tropical birds, and we have no other British bird with such brilliant
colours. There, did you see that? one of the birds darted off the rail
into the water. I have no doubt he has caught a small fish; and now he
has lighted on the same rail, and with my pocket telescope I can see
him throw his head up and swallow some dainty morsel. It is not at all
an uncommon sight to see a kingfisher hover over the water after the
manner of a kestril-hawk; suddenly it will descend with the greatest
rapidity and again emerge, seldom failing to secure a fish for its
dinner. "Did you ever find a kingfisher's nest, papa?" Willy inquired.
Yes; some years ago I found one in a hole in a bank; there were four
eggs in it, and I had to put my whole arm into the hole before I got
at the nest, which consisted of sand mixed with a great quantity of
very small fish bones. The eggs are very pretty, having a delicate
pink tinge, the shell is thin, and the form of the egg almost round.
"But where," asked Jack, "do the little fish bones of the nest come
from?" I think I have told you that many birds--hawks, eagles, owls,
shrikes, &c.--throw up from their crops the indigestible portions of
their food. It is not uncommon to find these on the ground in the
course of one's rambles. Kingfishers possess this power; they throw up
the undigested fishbones, and curiously enough, as it would appear,
form them into a nest. There is a kingfisher's nest in the British
Museum, which I remember to have seen a few years ago. It has been a
disputed point whether the parent bird throws the fishbones up at
random into the hole where she is going to lay, or whether she forms
them into a nest. The nest in the British Museum was secured at the
expense of great patience and pains by the celebrated ornithologist
and splendid draughtsman, Mr. Gould, whose drawings you may one day
see in the library of the museum at Eyton. This specimen, if I
remember right, was of a flattened form and fully half an inch thick.
It is said that the kingfisher always selects a hole that has an
upward slope, so that, though heavy rains may cause the water of the
river bank to rise into the hole, the eggs will be dry. Some
naturalists have said that kingfishers do not make their own holes,
but use those already made by other animals. Mr. Gould, however, is of
opinion that kingfishers drill their own holes. The tunnels always
slope upwards, as I said; at the further end of the tunnel is an
oven-like chamber where the nest is made. The fish-bone nest is
thought by Mr. Gould to be really a nest, and intended to keep the
eggs off the damp ground. However, there is difference of opinion on
this point, and I reserve my own. We will see if we cannot find a
kingfisher's nest some time this summer. Now, May, what little plant
have you got hold of? "Indeed I don't know, papa, but it is a very
curious little plant; I gathered it at the bottom of that hedge bank."
Ah, I know it well, and a little favorite it is too; it is the
moschatell. You see it is about five inches high, with pale green
flowers and leaves; the flowers are arranged in heads of five each,
namely, four on the side, and one on the top; it has a delicate
musk-like odour, very pleasant and refreshing. Take a few specimens
home and put them in water with your primroses. Mamma, I know, is very
fond of the pretty little moschatell.

"Oh, papa," exclaimed Willy, "look at the bottom of this drain; what
is that strange-looking insect crawling slowly about at the bottom?" I
see; it is a water-scorpion, a very common insect in these drains on
the moors,--indeed, it is common everywhere; let us catch him and take
him home for examination. He is a queer-looking creature, with a small
head and pointed beak; his forearms are something like lobster's
claws; his prevailing colour blackish-brown, like the mud upon which
he crawls; his body is very flat, and ends in two long stick-like
projections; underneath these horny covers of the creature may be seen
his two wings. He is an aquatic murderer; inserting that pointed beak
into the body of some other insect, and holding his victim in his
lobster-like forearms--oh! fatal embrace--he sucks out the juices of
the struggling prey. Kirby and Spence say that some of the tribe of
insects to which the water-scorpion belongs are so savage that they
seem to love destruction for its own sake. A water-scorpion which was
put into a basin of water with several young tadpoles killed them all
without attempting to eat one. The tail projections, I ought to tell
you, are connected with the insect's breathing; they are protruded out
of the water and conduct the air to the spiracles at the end of the
body, about which I must tell you more at another time. The eggs of
the water-scorpion I have frequently found; they are of an oval form,
with seven long hair-like projections at one end. But it is time to go
home, our walk to-day is over; let us look forward to another holiday
and another country ramble.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote A: 'Wild Sports of the Highlands,' p. 136.]



WALK II.

APRIL


We will walk to-day along the side of the canal bank as far as the
aqueduct, then take the Duke's Drive and home by Lubstree Park; we
shall find lots to see and to admire in the course of our ramble. We
notice plenty of those beautiful balls of green jelly (_Ophrydium
versatile_) in the clear water of the canal which, you know, we see
every spring. These balls vary in size from that of a pea to that of
Jack's fist; they are, you see, generally attached to some water-weed,
and consist of myriads of very minute creatures called _infusoria_,
which are imbedded in a mass of whitish jelly; these animals can
detach themselves from the jelly and swim freely about; of course it
requires a microscope to see the tiny green animalcules. If we examine
a single specimen under a high power of the microscope we shall see
its shape, which, when fully extended, is long and cylindrical, having
at one end a mouth surrounded, as is usually the case in the
_infusoria_, by a circle of very fine hairs, or _cilia_, as they are
called, from the Latin word _cilium_ an eyelash; the mouth opens into
a long narrow channel; the creature's throat, which leads to its
stomach; towards the opposite extremity the animal tapers, till it
ends in an extremely long fine hair-like tail which is fixed in the
jelly-like ball; when the little creature prefers to swim freely about
in the water it leaves its tail behind it, unlike, in this respect, to
little Bo-peep's sheep! These balls were once supposed to belong to
the vegetable kingdom, but there is no doubt about their animal
nature.

"Oh! papa, what is that bird with a black head that flew from the side
of the canal to the hedge?" said Willy. "There, don't you see it?"
Yes! I see, my boy, it is the black-headed Bunting or Reed Sparrow,
common on the sides of rivers, canals, and ponds. The specimen you see
on the hedge is a male bird, the females are a little smaller and have
not black heads. See how beautifully contrasted are the deep-black
head and white collar on the neck. In the spring and summer these
birds may be frequently seen, male and female together; in winter they
associate with others of the finch tribe, forming large flocks. The
nest is generally placed on the ground amongst the sedges and coarse
grass; the eggs, which are four or five in number, are laid in May
and, I believe, a second brood sometimes is produced in July. The
nests of the Reed-bunting are difficult to find, at least, I have
seldom been successful. You know how cunning the peewit is in trying
to lead people away from its nest or young ones. Well, some observers
have remarked the same thing in the case of the reed-bunting. One
writer says, "Walking last spring amongst some rushes growing near a
river my attention was arrested by observing a black-headed bunting
shuffling through the rushes and trailing along the ground, as if one
of her legs or wings was broken. I followed her to see the result, and
she, having led me to some considerable distance, took wing, no doubt
much rejoiced on return to find her stratagems had been successful in
preserving her young brood." "Ha! ha!" interrupted Jack, "the
gentleman was nicely deceived then." No, not entirely, because he goes
on to say he afterwards found the nest, which had five young ones in
it. One thing more I ought to tell you; not to confuse the
reed-bunting with the reed-warbler, a very different bird, which very
probably we may notice in to-day's ramble.

[Illustration: WHIRLIGIG BEETLE, MAGNIFIED.]

We now had another look into the canal, and saw numerous little
whirligig beetles, performing their merry-go-rounds on the top of the
water. With what amazing rapidity they skim along, to be sure! Some
diving beneath the surface, some resting on a water leaf. If we catch
one in our net and examine it more closely we shall see that, in form,
it is like a miniature boat. It seems surprising that these little
"whirligigs," "whirl-wigs," or "shiners," as they are called, should
perform their rounds so closely together, without sometimes coming
into collision. If you will look ever so long a time you will not see
one animated boat run foul of another. Just think of a couple of
hundred skaters on a small piece of ice playing at cros-stick. Oh!
would they not be constantly knocking one another over?

[Illustration: HEAD OF WHIRLIGIG BEETLE, MAGNIFIED.

_a._ Mouth. _b, c._ Eye.]


Now look at Mr. Whirligig's eyes, you see each is separated into two
parts by a division; the one is on the upper part of the head and
looks towards the sky, the other is on the under part of the head and
looks into the water. Now let us all keep quite still--the whirligigs
rest. Now let us move--just look, they see our motions and off they
start on their merry-go-rounds. It was with this upper part of the eye
they saw us; should some sly fish, from below the surface of the
water, make a rush at one, the beetle sees the enemy with his under
eye and avoids him. What have you caught now, Jack? fish him out
whatever it is. Oh! a fresh-water mussel, and a very fine specimen
too; there are plenty of these fellows in the canal all the way from
here to Newport. "Are they good to eat, papa?" asked Willy. I never
tried one, but, from having often dissected specimens, I should say
they were as tough as the sole of a boot. I never heard of anyone
eating them. These molluscs carry their eggs, myriads in number,
within their gills. The young, at the time they are ejected, are very
curious little animals with triangular shells, and, oddly enough, they
will fasten upon the fins or tails of fish, on which they will stick
for some time, but how long I do not know.

[Illustration: FRY OF SWAN-MUSSEL, PARASITIC ON A FISH'S FIN.]

[Illustration: FRY OF SWAN-MUSSEL, HIGHLY MAGNIFIED.]

This particular mollusc is known by the name of swan-mussel; the young
fry are sent into the water in April and May. There is another kind of
fresh-water mussel in rivers and streams, called the pearl-mussel,
pearls being occasionally found in them. I had one of these pearls
once given me by a lad, taken from a river in the Isle of Man. I took
it to a jeweller, in Liverpool, who valued it at a guinea. Your uncle
Arthur, to whom I gave it, had it set in gold as a pin "I wish," said
May, who had listened to this part of the story with great attention,
"I wish pearl-mussels would live in the canal, it would be so nice to
get the pearls out of them." Very few mussels are found to contain the
pearls; perhaps you might have to open many hundreds before you found
a single pearl, and I should not like to cause the death of so many
harmless animals for the sake of a single pearl.

[Illustration: FRESH-WATER MUSSEL.]

"Here is another swan-mussel, and, just look, papa," said Jack, "some
other shells are fastened on it." So there are; it is a lot of the
curious and pretty little zebra-mussel. How prettily they are marked
with zig-zag stripes of reddish brown, especially the young specimens.
The name of mussel is better suited to these molluscs than to the
large kinds upon which the "zebras" are often attached, because, like
the salt water mussel you have often seen at New Brighton, they have
the power of spinning, what is called, "a byssus"--here, you see, is
the substance I mean--by which they fasten themselves to shells, or to
stones, roots, and other things.

[Illustration: ZEBRA MUSSEL.--_b._ BYSSUS.]

There flies one of those pretty little birds, the long-tailed
titmouse; it is common enough, certainly, but I never fail to notice
several upon the hedges and poplar trees of the "Duke's drive." There
are several members of the titmouse family found in Great Britain;
let me count them. First we have the great tit, then the little
blue-tit, the long-tailed tit, the cole tit, the marsh, the crested
and the bearded tit. How many does that make? Seven; but the crested
tit is very uncommon, and the bearded tit does not occur in
Shropshire. The other five are quite common and we shall, I dare say,
be able to see all in the course of to-day's walk. The long-tailed
tit, so called on account of the great length of the tail feathers, is
a very active, lively little bird. Indeed, activity and liveliness
belong to all the tit family. See how the little fellow flits from
branch to branch, seldom remaining long on one spot. It is a very
small bird, almost the smallest British bird we have; of course I am
thinking of the tit's body and not taking into account its tail. The
skin is remarkably tender, and thin as tissue paper. Like all the
titmice, the long-tailed tit feeds on insects and their larvæ. I do
not remember to have heard or seen this species tapping the bark of a
tree with its beak, as the great and the blue tit are frequently in
the habit of doing, but most probably they do the same. "What do they
tap for, papa?" asked May. I suppose for the purpose of frightening
the tiny insects, which lurk under the bark, from their hiding places,
when they quickly snap them up with their sharply-pointed bills and
devour them. "Is not this the tit which the people about here call a
bottle tit, and which makes a very beautiful nest?" asked Willy. Yes,
the nest is indeed a very pretty object, and one that you would never,
I think, confuse with the nest of any other bird. The outside is
formed of that white-coloured lichen, so pretty and so common, and
moss, and if you were to put your finger, May, into the inside, which
is full of the softest feathers, you would say it was as nice as your
own muff. The nest is oval, with a hole at the side. I believe that
sometimes two holes exist, but I have never seen two in a nest. The
eggs are very small, and are white with a few lilac spots. As many as
a dozen or more are sometimes found in a nest.

[Illustration: LONG-TAILED TIT.]

The little blue-tit, which has just fled across our path is a very
pretty active bird and common everywhere, in lanes, woods, and
gardens. The blue-tit makes its nest in a wall or a hole in a tree and
lays about nine or ten pretty little spotted eggs. How often I
remember, when I was a boy, to have been bitten rather sharply by this
little bird into whose nest I had placed my hand; I can fancy I hear
the snake-like hissing which the blue-tit utters when some rude hand
invades its home. Its food consists of various kinds of insects and
insect larvæ, which it finds on the bark of trees and in fruit buds. I
think it does much good by destroying numbers of injurious insects,
though gardeners and others destroy this bird, because they say it
harms the fruit buds. Look at that little sprightly fellow, how
restless he is; in what curious attitudes he puts himself on yonder
branch. Hark! you hear him tapping quite distinctly. Besides insects,
blue-tit does not object to make a meal of dead mice or rats. Mr. St.
John tells us that a blue-tomtit once took up his abode in the
drawing-room, having been first attracted there by the house flies
which crawl on the window. "These he was most active in searching for
and catching, inserting his little bill into every corner and crevice
and detecting every fly which had escaped the brush of the housemaid."
He soon became more bold and came down to pick up crumbs which the
children placed for him on the table, looking up into Mr. St. John's
face without the least apparent fear. Boys sometimes call the little
blue-tit Billy Biter, no doubt from personal experience of the
sharpness of Mr. Tit's beak. The great tit which we can see under the
yew tree in our garden, almost any hour of the day, is very common in
the neighbourhood, and I dare say if we look well about us during our
walk we shall see some to-day.

"Oh! papa," exclaimed Willy, "there are some birds on the towing-path
of the canal, about sixty yards off; they seem to be breaking
something with their beaks by knocking it against the ground; just
look." Yes, they are thrushes, and I can tell you what they are doing
and what we shall find when we come up to the spot. We shall see
several broken snail shells (_Helix_), which the thrushes find on the
grassy slopes of the canal bank, and then bring up to the path in
order to get at the animals inside the shells by breaking them against
the hard ground and stones. There! as I told you, you see at least a
dozen broken snail shells. I am sure the thrushes do a great deal of
good by destroying both snails and young slugs, and it is a pity their
labours are not more appreciated than they are. Lads in the village,
and great grown men from the collieries, are continually hunting for
the nests, eggs, or young of thrushes, and many other useful birds,
which they wantonly destroy. Now we get on the Duke's Drive, and
there, on a branch of a poplar tree, I see the great tit. Look at him;
he is the king of the titmice, and he seems to know it. He is a
restless fellow, like tits in general. Look at his black head and
breast, white cheeks and greenish back. Now, by one of his hooked
claws, he hangs suspended from a branch; now again he is clinging by
both legs; see how busy he is, examining the leaves and bark in search
for insects. But Major Tit is a bit of a tyrant sometimes and uses
that sharp short straight bill of his with deadly effect upon some of
his feathered companions, on whose heads he beats repeated blows till
he cracks the skulls and eats the brains! The marsh-tit and the
cole-tit are pretty common in this neighbourhood, we may often notice
them in our walks.

If Willy were to get over the hedge with his net and dip it amongst
the weeds of the pool, I dare say he will succeed in catching a few
water-insects, which he can put in his bottle and bring to me. Of
course the boy was delighted at the idea of dabbling with his net in
the water--boys generally get immense fun from such amusement, and
their clothes frequently not a little dirt. A weedy pond is a grand
place for naturalists, and various are the beautiful and strange forms
of animal life which are found there. Dipping amongst the duckweed and
water-crowfoot is always attended with numerous captures, and Willy's
bottle was soon full of active little creatures. Let us see what it
contains. A large beetle is very conspicuous amongst the contents, now
rushing to the top of the water, now sinking to the bottom, scattering
far and wide the tiny water-fleas, and other little creatures by the
strong and rapid movements of his swimming legs. This is the great
water beetle; we will sit down on this clump of poplar tree by the
side of the road, and take the beetle out and examine him; we must
take care he does not bite our fingers as we hold him, for his jaws
are powerful and sharp. Mr. _Dyticus_, for that is his learned
name--from a Greek word which means "fond of diving"--is one of the
most voracious of water-insects, but let us first examine his form.
You see it is well adapted for the kind of life the beetle leads; look
at that long oar-shaped pair of feet, what a broad fringe of hairs
besets them, how admirably fitted they are for swimming; the
wing-covers are smooth and glossy, without any furrows; by this I know
the specimen to be a male, for the wing-covers of the female are
furrowed. The structure of the forefeet is very curious; you observe
its under portion forms a broad circular shield, covered with a number
of sucking-cups, two or three being much larger than the rest; by
means of these sucking-cups the beetle can attach itself securely to
any object it wishes. The wings are large and strong, and situated, as
in all the beetle tribe, under the horny wing-covers. I will put this
bit of stick near his mouth; there, Jack, you see his strong jaws, and
great use he can make of them I can tell you. If Willy were to put one
of these beetles into his aquarium with his favourite sticklebacks, he
would soon have cause to lament the untimely loss of some of them; woe
betide the unfortunate fish or newt that is once caught by the strong
jaws of this fresh-water tyrant! I have seen Mr. Dyticus rush upon a
full-grown newt, and no twistings and writhings could free the victim
from the fatal embrace. They will attack young gold and silver fish,
and Mr. Frank Buckland has told us of the sad havoc these
water-beetles do to young salmon, as witnessed by himself in a pond in
Ireland. The forefeet you see are strong but small; the beetle uses
them as claws in seizing its prey and conveying it to the mouth. A
young and tender fish, you can easily imagine, Mr. Dyticus would very
readily devour, but he will attack beetles as large and even larger
than himself, seizing them on the under side where the head joins the
body, the only soft place in a beetle. Dr. Burmeister, a naturalist
who paid great attention to insects, tells us that he once kept a
beetle related to the great water-beetle, and saw it devour two frogs
in the space of forty hours. After the eggs are laid, which always
takes place in the water, the larvæ are hatched in about a fortnight.
In time--I do not know how long--these larvæ grow to the size of about
two inches in length, and queer fellows they are, and very voracious
and formidable-looking. Now, Willy, lend me your net, and I dare say
we shall soon secure a specimen. What have we here? how the pond
swarms with water-fleas! Oh! here is a treasure! What can it be? a
long animated thread of glass--we will put it into a bottle by itself
and I will tell you about it afterwards. Splash goes the net again,
but no water-beetle larvæ. Never mind; what does the child's songbook
say--

    "If at once you don't succeed,
    Try, try, try again."

[Illustration: GREAT WATER-BEETLE, LARVA AND PUPA.]

A capital little verse to remember, so we will try again; and there
now we are rewarded by the capture of a dyticus larva--a creature with
a long body--in some respects reminding one of a shrimp. Oh! look at
his jaws, how wide he opens them! You see that the last segment of the
body is provided with a long pair of bristly tails, by means of which
the creature can suspend itself at the top of the water. I have often
kept specimens of these larvæ in vessels of water and noticed their
predaceous habits; they feed on the larvæ of other water insects, but
are not able to destroy fish, not being furnished with jaws or bodies
nearly so strong as the perfect insect itself possesses. When the
larva wishes to turn into its pupa state, it makes a round hole in the
bank of the pond it inhabits, and there undergoes its change, turning
into a full-grown beetle in about three weeks' time. "Papa," said
Willy, "I have often caught beetles that remind me of the great
water-beetle, but they are not so large; what are they?" They belong
to the same family as the great water-beetles, and are called
_Colymbetes_, _Acilius_, _Cybister_; I do not know that they have any
English names. Come, we have dabbled in this pond long enough for the
present, let us proceed on our walk. "Well, but, papa," said May, "you
have not told us what that long worm-like creature is in the separate
bottle; do let us look at it again. Oh! really it is a curious
creature, why it is as transparent as glass, now it jerks itself
about, now it floats without motion in mid-water. What is it?" "I am
inclined to think," said Willy, "judging from its wriggling, jerking
motions that it must be the larva of some kind of gnat." Right again,
my boy, it _is_ the larva of a gnat, and one known to naturalists by
the name of _Corethra_; you see there are eleven divisions or segments
in the body; the head is of strange form, and near the mouth are two
hooked arms which spring from the middle of the forehead and bend down
in front of the mouth; with these weapons the _Corethra_ larva seizes
its prey and crushes it between two rows of sharp spikes placed under
the mouth; after being bruised and mangled by this apparatus the prey
is ready to be swallowed.

[Illustration: CORETHRA LARVA, MAGNIFIED.]

"But what," asked Jack, "are those four curious black bodies; one pair
near the head, the other pair near the tail of the animal?" They are
air-sacs, and are connected with the breathing or respiration of the
larvæ. Some have supposed that they serve the same office as the
swimming bladder of certain fish, which being compressed or dilated at
will enables the creature to remain still in mid-water or to rise or
sink in it. After a time the larva changes to a pupa, in which state
it lives without eating for a few days, and then turns into a gnat. We
now proceed on our walk and come to a part of the road which has a
plantation on either side; we see a little active creature crossing
the road and at once recognise a weasel. Let us keep quite still and
silent, and we shall, I dare say, have an opportunity of watching it
for a short time. Just look at him! how nimbly the little creature
runs along; now he stops and raises his head as if listening for
something, now off he starts again; he is evidently hunting, and
probably is on the scent of a young rabbit, rat, or field-mouse. Ah!
see he has caught something on the grass near the hedge; what has he
got in his mouth? it is a small rat, I think; now he throws his
flexible body over it and gives it one or two bites. Now, Jack, run up
and catch him. Ah! he is off like a shot; you must not think to "catch
a weasel asleep." I often see these little animals in my rambles, and
always stop to witness their extraordinary activity. Weasels will
sometimes climb trees and surprise some unfortunate bird on her nest;
they are fond of eggs, and a bird's young brood are very dainty
morsels; they will also eat moles and are sometimes caught in
mole-traps. An excellent observer mentions a case of a mole-trap
having been found many years ago with two weasels in it; they had been
hunting in the mole's runs, had come in opposite directions, and "by a
curious coincidence, must have both sprung the trap at the same
instant." Weasels are generally classed as vermin and killed on all
possible occasions; I think it is often a mistake to destroy them; no
doubt they will occasionally catch a young rabbit or a leveret or suck
a few partridges' eggs, but the common food of the weasel consists of
such small animals as mice, moles, rats, small birds. In wheat or
other grain ricks, they ought to be encouraged, as they enter them
for the sake of the rats and mice they find there. I have been told by
a friend that in some parts of Wales the farmers look upon the weasel
as a friend, in consideration of the destruction it causes to mice and
rats. A gentleman living near Corwen killed a weasel, and expected to
receive the thanks of the farmer on whose land it had been killed; he
was surprised to find that the farmer was by no means grateful. In
this respect I think the Welsh farmers are wiser than the English
ones. Hawks sometimes prey upon weasels.

[Illustration: STOAT AND EGGS.]

Mr. Bell tells a story of a gentleman who was riding over his grounds,
once having seen a kite pounce upon some object on the ground and rise
with it in his talons. "In a few moments the kite began to show signs
of great uneasiness, rising rapidly in the air, or as quickly falling,
and wheeling irregularly round, whilst it was evidently trying to
force some hurtful thing from it with its feet." After a short but
sharp contest the kite fell suddenly to the ground, not far from where
the gentleman was watching the proceeding. On riding up to the spot
"pop goes the weasel," none the worse for his aërial journey, but the
kite was dead, for the weasel had eaten a hole under the wing. The
weasel makes its nest in a bank or in loosely-constructed stone walls;
three or four young ones are generally produced. Some years ago I
remember seeing a mother-weasel and three young playing about on a
bank. It was a most interesting sight. The weasel is much smaller than
the stoat, and you can tell it at once by its tail, which is entirely
red; that of the stoat has a black tip. But it is getting late and we
must hasten home.

[Illustration]



WALK III.

MAY.


To-day we will go and hunt for sticklebacks' nests; as it is calm I
think we shall have very little trouble in finding a few; a calm day
should always be chosen, because to find the nests of these little
fish it is necessary to have very sharp eyes, and to look very
closely, and you know if there is much wind the water is ruffled, and
then it is not easy to see objects in it. Let us start off, then, with
bait-can, canvass-net, and two or three large-mouthed bottles, to that
small, clear, shallow pond in Mr. Jervis's field, and see if we can
bring home a few fish and eggs. "It will be great fun," said Willy,
"and when we have caught the little fish we will bring them home and
put them in my aquarium." There are three species of sticklebacks
found in this country, the three-spined, the ten-spined, and the
fifteen-spined--this last inhabits salt water. All three build nests,
and show great care for their little brood. The nests of the
three-spined species are those most generally known, though I dare
say, if we search carefully in the drains on the moors, we shall be
successful in finding a nest of the ten-spined fellow, or tinker, as
he is sometimes called.

[Illustration: THREE-SPINED STICKLEBACK AND NEST.]

Here we are at the pond, how clear it is, and how beautifully green
are the few patches of star-wort in the water! As the grass is quite
dry we can all sit down so as to get our eyes as near to the water as
possible; never mind a few crawling ants, May; if they bite you, I
shall not feel it. Ah! do you see that little fellow with crimson
breast and eyes like emeralds? He sees us, for look how disturbed he
seems; now he darts away and hides under a weed, but soon returns to
the same spot; it is pretty certain he has a nest close by. I will put
my walking-stick into the water near him. Well, actually, the brave
little fellow is not the least frightened; see, he bunts his nose
against the stick, and is very angry; he is afraid of some danger to
his nest--this makes him so bold. Now I have made out where the nest
is, it is close under him; do you see a few small holes in the mud at
the bottom of the water? No, you don't see anything; well, then, give
me my stick and I will point them out. There now, do you see what I
mean? Yes, you do; that is all right. "Let us get the nest out of the
water," said Jack. Have patience; let us watch what the fish is doing;
see, he is busy fanning away with his tiny fins directly over the
nest. "What is he doing that for?" said Willy. The quick movements of
his fins bring fresh currents of water to the eggs or little fry that
may be within. Ah! did you see that? another fish came near the nest;
how furiously our brave "soldier" charged him; how quickly the
intruder retired! I do not think he will dare to approach so near
again for a long time, for those sharp spines on the under side of the
soldier are like a couple of bayonets and can inflict serious wounds.
Let us leave this nest for a time and try to find some more. Now that
you have once seen a nest, you will not have much difficulty in
finding others. Willy soon found another nest; "just look," he said,
"there are a lot of the tiniest little things close to the nest." Yes,
indeed, so there are; the eggs have hatched, and these are the little
fry; there is Father Stickles quite proud of his numerous family, and
quite ready to fight for them should any enemy be rash enough to
intrude, for you must know that sticklebacks, like many other fish, do
not object to eat the young fry of their neighbours, and if the parent
there--it is the male only that is the protector--were to be removed,
a hungry pack of other sticklebacks would crowd around and make sad
havoc amongst that happy little family. I remember some years ago
having once taken a father stickleback away from his nest, and, after
putting him in my collecting bottle, I sat down to watch the result.
Soon an invading army of other sticklebacks approached and attacked
the nest for the purpose of getting at the clusters of eggs it
contained. They pulled it about sadly, till I began to be sorry for
what I had done. I returned the captive-parent to the water; at first
he hardly knew where he was, and seemed confused, the result, no
doubt, of his confinement in the bottle; but he was not long in coming
to himself--he remembered his nest and the treasures it contained; he
saw that devastating army all around it, and, summoning all his
courage, the soldier-parent began an attack, now rushing at one and
now at another enemy, till he was left alone on the battle-field,
having thus gained, single-handed, a glorious victory indeed.

Well, we will take this one home, with nest and eggs it contains. You
see the nest is a mass of tangled grass roots and other weeds; now
that it is out of the water it is a shapeless mass. However, here is a
cluster of pinkish eggs, and if you look closely you will see two
little specks in each egg; so that the fish is being formed, for these
are the little thing's eyes. You can see, too, the tiny things jerking
their tails about every now and then. It is most interesting to watch
the care the parent takes of his little ones when hatched. Some few
years ago I put a male stickleback in a basin of water in charge of
his nest. When the young ones were hatched it was most curious to
notice his anxiety for their welfare. Of course young sticklebacks,
like young children, are of an inquisitive turn of mind, and apt to
play truant too occasionally; but should some little fellow wander too
far from the nest, Father Stickles hurries after him, takes the little
truant in his mouth, and spits him out right over the nest. This I
repeatedly witnessed myself, and I have no doubt you will be able to
see the same thing yourselves.

"Are not sticklebacks quarrelsome little fish?" asked Willy. Yes, they
are very fond of fighting, and they are so bold that they do not fear
any enemy, whatever his size. I once kept a small pike, about ten
inches long, in an aquarium, into which I also introduced five or six
sticklebacks. I suppose the pike did not much like the look of the
prickles or spines, for he did not eat the fish. Once I saw him make
the attempt, but after getting Master Stickles into his mouth, he
quickly threw him out again, not relishing, I suppose, the _sauce
piquante_ of the spines. The sticklebacks were really masters; they
tormented Mr. Pike dreadfully; first one would take a bite at his
tail, and then another, till the tail had a woful expression indeed;
so I turned the pike into a pool of water, and I dare say the _retail_
business has long ere this been completed.

"Are there any other kinds of fish," asked Willy, "that make nests and
take care of their young ones like the three species of sticklebacks?"
Yes, there are several kinds of fish which do so, but no other British
fresh-water kinds, I believe. There is the salt-water _Lumpsucker_, a
fish of strange form and brilliant colour--you know the pickled
specimen in my study--whose young soon after birth fix themselves to
the sides and on the back of their male parent, who sails, thus
loaded, away to deeper and more safe retreats. There are the long
pipe-fishes, the males of which possess each a singular pouch on the
tail; in this the eggs of the female are deposited and matured; the
young ones occasionally leave their strange abode, and after swimming
about for a time return to it again, reminding us in this respect of
the kangaroos and opossums amongst mammalia. There are also fish which
inhabit the rivers of Demerara which make nests and show great
attachment to their young ones, and I dare say several other fish will
be found to do the same.

[Illustration: SNAIL LEECH.]

"Oh! papa, do look here; as I was turning over this bit of flat tile I
saw in the water I found a creature something like a leech, and on
raising it up I saw what looks like a quantity of the animal's eggs,
and she seems to be sitting upon them as a hen upon her eggs." All
right, Jack; let me look, I dare say it is one of the snail-leeches.
Yes, to be sure it is, and here are the eggs which the creature
carefully covers with her body, and upon which she will sit till the
young ones are formed; the small brood, sometimes one hundred and
fifty or more in number, then attach themselves to the under surface
of the parent, and are carried about wherever she goes. There are
various species of this interesting family; all are inhabitants of
fresh water; some incubate or sit upon their eggs, others carry them
about in a hollow formed by the contraction of the sides. They have a
long tubular proboscis, by means of which they suck out the juices of
pond-snails and other water creatures. These snail-leeches move along
in the same way as the common horse-leech and the medicinal leech,
namely, by fixing the head-part on to the surface of some substance in
the water and then drawing the hinder part up to it; they then extend
the head-portion and fix it upon another spot, again drawing up the
other extremity. But the leeches, properly so called, have all red
blood; that of the snail-leeches is colourless.

"Is the leech used to bleed people when they are ill ever found in the
ponds of this country?" asked Willy. I believe it is rarely met with
now-a-days; most of the leeches used in medicine are imported from
Spain, Hungary, the south of France, and Algeria; many millions are
brought every year to this country. The medicinal leech, was, however,
once pretty common in the lakes and pools of the north of England. The
poet Wordsworth introduces us to an old leech-gatherer lamenting the
scarcity of the animals in the following lines:

    "He with a smile did then his words repeat
    And said that gathering leeches far and wide
    He travelled; stirring thus about his feet
    The waters of the pool where they abide.
    Once I could meet with them on every side;
    But they have dwindled long by slow decay;
    Yet still I persevere and find them where I may."

This sonnet was written in 1807, and when we consider the immense
numbers used in medicine, and the utter neglect of leech culture in
this country, we shall cease to wonder that native leeches are very
scarce. It is said that four only of the principal dealers in London
import every year more than seven million leeches. The annual demand
in France was estimated in 1846 to be from twenty to thirty millions;
Paris requiring three millions a year. "I should be very sorry, papa,"
said Jack, "to walk about like the old man in the lines you quoted
just now, with bare legs in the water, making them a bait for leeches.
Ugh! it is horrible to think of; they must suck a good deal of blood
from the man's legs." There is nothing like being used to a thing, and
when you remember that many people derive their whole support from the
leeches they gather, you will not wonder that they do not fear a few
leech bites. I do not suppose they lose much blood; no doubt the
gatherers pick them up pretty quickly and put them into their
collecting cases; besides the chief flow of blood from a leech-bite
occurs after the leech has been removed; the flow is encouraged by the
application of warm fomentations, but the cold water of a pool would
stop the flow of blood in the case of the man's legs. We ought to be
thankful for the existence of an animal which is of such immense
service to mankind. I suppose it was the appreciation of their value
in medicine that induced French ladies, about forty-five years ago, to
regard leeches with especial favour. Many people remember the
Cochin-China _mania_ and the sea-anemone _mania_, but, May, what will
young ladies say to the fact that in 1824 there existed in France a
_mania_ for leeches? The most enthusiastic admirer of Cochin fowls or
sea-anemones would never have thought of carrying her admiration of
her pets so high as to wear on her dress figures of these animals; but
we learn from a French writer that there might have been seen at that
period elegant ladies wearing dresses _à la Broussais_ on the trimming
of which were imitations of leeches! Broussais, you must know, was a
physician, no doubt a fashionable ladies' doctor, and a great patron
of leeches. "What," asked Willy, "are the leeches I often find in the
drains on the moors and in other places?" I have no doubt you often
find these kinds; there is a small leech, the commonest of all, called
_Nephelis_, whose little oval cocoons are so frequent on the under
sides of stones in the water and on water plants. I will soon find a
few cocoons; look here, under this bit of brick tile are five or six;
they now contain eggs, as I will show you, by slitting open the case
with my penknife. These gradually change to young leeches, which find
their way out of the cocoon through one or other of the two openings
at either end. Then there is the horse leech, and another very similar
to it, called _Aulastoma_, which means having "a mouth as wide as a
hall;" it has no English name, but we may give it one if you like, and
call it "the hall-mouthed leech." Its mouth is capable of great
stretching, and can readily take in huge earthworms nearly the size of
itself. I once witnessed a curious sight--I put a couple of
"hall-mouths" into a glass vessel of water, and introduced also a
great fat lob-worm; each leech seized the worm, the one took the head,
the other the tail. As the worm got gradually swallowed the two
leeches came to very close quarters, and at last touched. What was to
happen? would they twist and writhe about and break the worm, and so
share the "grub" between them? No; the one fellow quickly proceeded to
swallow his antagonist. I watched him carefully, and he succeeded in
getting down the red lane about an inch of his companion; but whether
he did not like the taste, or whether he had qualms of conscience for
taking such unfair advantage of a near relation, I know not; after a
few minutes the partly swallowed leech made his appearance again,
apparently none the worse for his temporary sojourn in the throat of
his companion. This leech may be seen sometimes on damp earth in
search of its favorite earthworms. I should mention also that another
worm-devouring leech has lately been found in this country; it is
known by the name of _Trocheta_, called after a French naturalist, Du
Trochet, who first described it. I dare say if we look carefully we
shall find it in this neighbourhood. All these leeches lay cocoons in
which the young are developed. Let us leave the pool and take our
little fish with us, taking care not to shake the can more than we can
help. We are now in the fields; the grass is beautifully green after
the late rain. Look at that crab tree in the hedge; did you ever see
such a magnificent mass of blossom? The hawthorn hedges are loaded
with May-buds; what a show of May there will be in a fortnight's time.
Let us gather a sprig of crab blossom and a few bits of May-bud, and
see if we cannot gather a pretty handful of wild flowers for May to
take home to mamma. Here are a few cowslips with their drooping golden
bells and delicious scent; I am afraid we shall not find enough to
make a cowslip ball. Here is cuckoo-flower, which, as old Gerarde
says, "doth flower in April and Maie, when the cuckoo doth begin her
pleasant notes without stammering." Old Gerarde, by the way, ought to
have said "_his_ pleasant notes," for it is the male bird alone that
cries "cuckoo." Its flowers are of a delicate pale purple when at the
height of its beauty; they become nearly white when on the wane.
"Ladies' smock" is another name for this harbinger of Spring;
Shakespeare speaks of it--

    "The daisies pied and violets blue,
    And lady-smocks all silver white."


Here is blue speedwell and the delicately pencilled stitchwort with
its pure snow-white blossoms and delicate green leaves. It is a lovely
Spring flower and very common amongst the grass of every hedgerow. We
will pluck a few bits; how brittle the stem is. What curious ideas our
ancestors must have had; fancy calling this plant "all-bones!" Its
name, stitchwort, no doubt alludes to the plant's supposed virtue in
cases of "stitches" in the side. The following lines of Calder
Campbell on Spring flowers I am sure you will think very pretty:

    "The buds are green on the Linden tree,
    And flowers are bursting on the lea;
    There is the daisy, so prim and white,
    With its golden eye and its fringes bright;
    And here is the golden buttercup,
    Like a miser's chest with the gold heap'd up;
    And the stitchwort with its pearly star,
    Seen on the hedgebank from afar;
    And there is the primrose, sweet, though wan,
    And the cowslip dear to the ortolan,
    That sucks its morning draught of dew
    From the drooping curls of the harebell blue."

Here is more "May-flower" or marsh marigold; let us take some; it will
make a bright show in our wildflower cluster. We will put a sprig or
two of copper beech, with its rich brown leaves, which we can get from
the garden, two bits of lilac, purple and white; and though the
nosegay is common, it is still very beautiful, and mamma will put it
in her best vase and give it a place in the drawing-room for those to
admire who have hearts to admire the wild gifts of Nature.

Why, Jacko, what are you grubbing up in that ditch? "I am not grubbing
up anything," said Jacko, "but here are a lot of black creatures,
lively enough when you stir them up; I suppose they must be tadpoles."
Tadpoles, Jack, unquestionably, but are they the young of the toad or
the frog? Let me see. Well, it is not easy to say which in their
present stage, a tadpole is so like a tadpole, whether the young of
frog or toad. If you had found the eggs, which you might have done
earlier in the year, there would have been no difficulty in saying
whether they belonged to a toad or a frog; for the toad lays its black
eggs imbedded in a long clear jelly-like line, whereas the frog's eggs
are imbedded in a shapeless mass of jelly. Look at some of these
little black fellows, as black as niggers; there is a delicate fringe
on each side of the head; these are the creature's gills and answer
the same purpose as the gills in a fish; the blood circulates through
them, and is made fresh and pure by the action of the air contained in
the water. In this state the tadpole is more of a fish than a reptile;
in a short time, however, these gills will be lost and then the
tadpole can no longer breathe the air of the water, but must come to
the surface to take in air from the atmosphere. By-and-by we should
see two small tubercles appear near the root of the tail; these are
the first indications of hind-legs. Meanwhile the forelegs are budding
forth, and in time would assume their distinct forms. The changes of
the tadpole, when it is a fish, to a frog, when it becomes a reptile,
are most curious and instructive. If you have never seen the
circulation of blood in a tadpole's tail, you have something to look
forward to, and I will promise to show it you some day under the
microscope. "What kind of frog," Willy asked, "do they eat in France?
because you know the French eat frogs." The frog which the French eat
is a different species from our common frog, though I dare say our
common frog would be quite as good. The edible frog has been several
times found in this country, and Mr. Eyton says that during the time a
detachment of the French were prisoners at Wellington, they were
highly delighted to find their old friend the edible frog in the wild
moors here. I have never myself seen any other than the common frog in
this neighbourhood. You may think a frog would make a curious sort of
pet, but a gentleman once kept a frog for several years quite
domesticated. It made its appearance in an underground kitchen at
Kingston on the banks of the Thames. The servants, wonderful to say,
showed him kindness and gave him food; one would rather have expected
that they would have uttered loud shrieks of terror and fainted away
at the unexpected sight. Curiously enough, during the winter seasons,
when frogs as a rule are lying asleep at the bottom of a pool, this
frog used to come out of his hole and seek a snug place near the
kitchen fire, where he would continue to bask and enjoy himself till
the servants retired to rest. And more curious still, this frog got
remarkably fond of a favourite old cat, and used to nestle under the
warm fur of Mrs. Pussy, she in the mean time showing she did not in
the least object to Mr. Frog's presence.

Both frogs and toads do a great deal of good by destroying quantities
of slugs and injurious insects; they are, moreover, perfectly
harmless. Some ignorant people, who love to destroy everything, insist
on killing frogs and toads; they say they eat the strawberries in
their gardens. Did you ever examine a frog's or a toad's tongue,
Willy? You never did; then I hope the next frog you catch you will
carefully open his mouth--treat him as if you loved him, as honest
Isaac Walton says--and give me some short account of the structure of
a frog's tongue. "All right, papa," said Willy, "I will bear the
matter in mind. It makes me laugh, though, to think of my examining a
frog's tongue; still I wonder what it is like, and I wish I could at
once catch a frog to see; but we are now again near home, and I must
wait for another walk."

[Illustration]



WALK IV.

MAY.


"Papa," said Willy, "you once told me of a very beautiful little
creature, almost too small to be seen by the naked eye, that lives in
water, and builds its house out of the small particles of clay or mud
that float therein. The bricks are not of the shape of house bricks,
but quite round. Do you not think we can find some of these animals in
the course of to-day's walk? I forget the name of the creature." I
know what you mean; you are speaking of a microscopic animal called
_Melicerta_. "Oh, yes, that is its name, now I remember." I have no
doubt we shall be able to obtain specimens from the canal; so we will
walk along the bank for a short distance and then get into the fields
again. We must take with us a clear wide-mouthed bottle, and we shall
soon see whether we have captured any specimens. These exquisite
little creatures attach themselves to the leaves and stems of
water-plants; they are most readily seen on the finely cut leaves of
the water-buttercup or spiked milfoil. The way to proceed is to place
a tuft of this plant in the bottle and to hold it up to the light, and
we shall soon see whether any Melicertæ are there.

[Illustration: MELICERTA ON WEED.]

Here is plenty of water-buttercup--a very interesting plant
by-the-bye, and one which is subject to much variation; for when it
grows in swiftly flowing water all the leaves are very long and
hair-like, but in still water there are flattened leaves as well, and
the hair-like leaves are not nearly so long. You see it is now in
flower; a beautiful white mass it forms in small still ponds. "Well,
but, papa," said May, "the flowers are white, and I thought all
buttercups were yellow." Nearly all the buttercups have yellow
flowers, but there are two British species which have white blossoms,
namely, this one and the little ivy-leaved buttercup, or crowfoot, as
it is often called, which is found either in the water or near the
water's edge. Though the ivy-leaved crowfoot is generally regarded as
a species, I think it is only a variety of the one we are now looking
at. Now I fish a plant out with my stick and nip off a tuft of
hair-like leaves and pop it into the bottle. Have I anything here? No
doubt the microscope would show countless numbers of minute
animalcules, but I detect no Melicertæ. Let us try again. I nip off
another tuft. There! do you see one, two, three, four little things
sticking almost at right angles to some of the leaves? No, you see
nothing? Well, perhaps not, for your eyes are not so accustomed to
these things as mine are, but I will take out my pocket lens; there,
surely you see that one close to the side of the bottle, do you not?
Oh yes, you see what I mean; well, that is the case or house of a
Melicerta, which animal I will describe to you, and when we get home
we will look at it under the microscope. The case is about the twelfth
part of an inch long and about the thickness of a horsehair, and of a
reddish colour generally, though the colour depends on the nature of
the material out of which the case is made. Let us sit down and put
the bottle on this large stone, and I dare say some of the creatures
will soon show their heads at the top of the tubes, for they are all
indoors now; the disturbance caused in breaking off the bit of weed
and putting it in the bottle has alarmed the Melicertæ, and very
quickly they sunk within their houses of clay.

[Illustration: MELICERTA, ON WEED, MAGNIFIED.]

Now I see one fellow slowly appearing at the top, after the manner of
a chimney-sweeper, but certainly in a much more elegant form. There!
it has unfolded four flower-like expansions, of which the uppermost
are much the largest. The animal shows only the upper part of its
body, and I can see with my pocket lens that it is somewhat
transparent and whitish. But my lens has not sufficient magnifying
power to reveal more, so I must tell you what I have seen of Melicerta
under my compound microscope. Each of these four leaf-like lobes or
expansions is surrounded with very minute hairs, which can move with
great rapidity in all directions; these you will remember are called
"cilia," from the resemblance to _eyelashes_, for which cilia is the
Latin word. The motion caused by these numerous cilia lashing the
water brings currents containing particles of food for the Melicerta,
and materials for his house. Mr. Melicerta "is at once brick-maker,
mason, and architect, and fabricates as pretty a tower as it is easy
to conceive." The mouth is situated between the two large leaflets,
and leads to a narrow throat, in which are the curious jaws and teeth
of the animal. Below the jaws are the stomach and intestine; so you
see the Melicerta, though so minute a creature, has a complex
structure. "You said, papa," remarked May, "that the little creature
makes its own tube; how does it do that?" Upon the upper part of the
head there is a small hollow cup, which is lined with cilia, and
probably also secretes some sticky fluid to make the pellets of clay
adhere together; the particles of clay and mud, having been brought to
the space between the leaflets by the action of the cilia, are
conveyed to this little cup-shaped cavity, and are then worked about
by the cilia within, till a round pellet is formed which completely
fits the cavity. The little creature then bends itself down upon the
tube and deposits the pellet upon it, then it raises itself up again
and proceeds to form another brick, its jaws working all the time. "I
wonder," said Jack, "how the little creature manages to set apart and
put in its proper place the particles required for food and those
required for brick-making; it would be funny if it sometimes made a
mistake and put the clay in its stomach and the food in the brick
machine!" It is curious, indeed, to know how the materials are put in
the proper place; I suppose the Melicerta has the power to change the
direction of the currents and thus to place the particles in their
proper place. By rubbing a little paint, such as carmine or indigo, in
some water and placing a drop upon the glass slide with the Melicerta,
these currents may be readily seen; and I have more than once seen
rows of coloured bricks, red or blue, which the animal moulded and
then deposited on the tube! We will take the bottle home, and if you
have patience I doubt not I shall be able to show you a good deal of
what I have been describing; but you must have patience, for, as an
excellent naturalist has said, "The Melicerta is an awkward object to
undertake to show to our friends, for, as they knock at the door, she
is apt to turn sulky, and when once in this mood it is impossible to
say when her fair form will reappear. At times the head is wagged
about in all directions with considerable vehemence, playing singular
antics, and distorting her lobes so as to exhibit a Punch and Judy
profile."[B]

Hark! what is that bird singing so sweetly and with such animation in
the hedge? Do you hear? It is the dear little sedge-warbler; often,
indeed, heard, but not so often seen, for it is fond of hiding itself
in bushes or sedges. The sedge-warbler, like the migratory warblers
generally, comes to us in April and leaves us in September. How often
have I listened with delight to its music when returning home quite
late at night in summer months! If the bird stops its music for a few
moments, you have only to throw a stone among the bushes and the
singing commences again. I am not clever in describing musical sounds,
and I cannot describe that of the sedge-warbler, nor can I always
distinguish it from the song of its near relative the reed-warbler.
Both imitate the songs of other birds, and their incessant warblings
and babblings at night cause them to be often mistaken for
nightingales. I have generally found the nest of the sedge-warbler on
the ground, on a tuft of coarse grass or sedge; the nest of the
reed-warbler is supported on four or five tall reeds, and is made of
the seed-branches of the reeds and long grass wound round and round;
it is made deep, so that the little eggs are not tossed out when the
reeds are shaken by the high winds.

[Illustration: NEST OF REED WARBLER.]

Hark! there is the cuckoo; how clearly he utters "cuckoo! cuckoo!" He
is not far away. Some people can imitate the well-known note so well
as to deceive the bird and bring it near the place where they are
hiding. Your Uncle Philip only the other day made a cuckoo respond to
him; had the day been calm instead of windy, he would, no doubt, have
induced the bird to come close to us. There he goes with his long
tail, flying something like a hawk. You should remember the rhyming
lines about the cuckoo's visit to this country:

    In April,
    Come he will.
    In May,
    He sings all day.
    In June,
    He alters his tune.
    In July,
    He prepares to fly.
    Come August,
    Go he must.

"I think you said, papa," said May, "that it is only the male bird
that utters the cuckoo note; what kind of a voice has the female?" I
have never heard the note of the female cuckoo. Mr. Jenyns says, "The
note of the female cuckoo is so unlike that of the male, which is
familiar to every one, that persons are sometimes with difficulty
persuaded that it proceeds from that bird. It is a kind of chattering
cry, consisting of a few notes uttered fast in succession, but
remarkably clear and liquid." Very curious are the habits of the
cuckoo. Unlike most other birds, they do not pair; you all know, too,
that cuckoos make no nests, but lay their eggs one by one in the nests
of various other birds, such as those of the hedge-warbler, or
hedge-sparrow as it is generally but wrongly called, robin,
white-throat, and other birds. It is probable that the same cuckoo
does not go twice to the same nest to deposit her egg. What a curious
exception is the case of the cuckoo to the instinctive love of their
offspring observable in almost all birds! After the eggs are laid the
parent bird has no further trouble with them; no period of incubation
to bare the breast of the brooding bird; no anxiety about her young
ones, as some idle, wanton lad hunts amongst the trees and bushes,
destroys both nest and eggs, or tortures the helpless fledglings!
"But, papa," said Willy, "how does it happen that the young birds
hatched in the same nest with the young cuckoo always get turned out
of it." The cuckoo, being much the larger and heavier bird, fills up
the greater part of the nest, consequently the smaller fledgling
companions get placed on the sides of the nest, and partially also on
the back of the young cuckoo; when, therefore, the latter stands up in
the nest he often lifts up on his back one of the small companions,
who thus gets thrown headlong to the ground. This seems to me to be
the mode in which the ejection sometimes takes place, till at last the
young cuckoo is left sole possessor of the nest, and of course gets
all the food; at the same time I ought to say that some naturalists
attribute a murderous disposition to the young cuckoo, and say that
the other inmates of the nest are maliciously thrown out. Others,
again, say that the foster birds throw their own young ones out. It
is certain that the young are sometimes treated thus, for they have
been seen on the ground when the young cuckoo was too small to eject
them itself.

[Illustration: CUCKOO.]

"But why do not cuckoos make nests and sit on their eggs like other
birds?" said Jack. Such a question is more easily asked than answered;
nevertheless I hope you will always try to discover reasons for
things. "It is now," writes a celebrated naturalist, "commonly
admitted that the more immediate and final cause of the cuckoo's
instinct is, that she lays her eggs, not daily, but at intervals of
two or three days; so that if she were to make her own nest and sit on
her own eggs, those first laid would have to be left for some time
unincubated, or there would be eggs and young birds of different ages
in the same nest. If this were the case the process of laying and
hatching might be inconveniently long, more especially as she has to
migrate at a very early period, and the first hatched young would
probably have to be fed by the male alone." The cuckoos come to this
country about the middle of April; the male birds arrive before the
females. Whether this arrangement is ungallant conduct on the part of
the gentlemen birds, who prefer to come alone, or whether, just when
the gentleman cuckoo is ready and almost impatient for a start, her
ladyship has all at once discovered some important matter that ought
to be finished before leaving the country, some adjustment of her
dress, some tiresome feather that will ruffle itself up in spite of
every effort to keep it smooth, I know not, but the fact remains, that
my Lord and Lady Cuckoo do not travel together. Let us suppose that
both sexes have arrived in this country, we will say about the 23rd of
April. It is natural they want a little time to look about them; at
any rate, no egg is ready for being sat upon till some weeks after the
arrival of the birds, say the 15th of May. The eggs require fourteen
days' setting before they are hatched; this brings the date to the
29th of May. The young ones will require three weeks in the nest and
constant feeding all the time; we now arrive at about the 20th of
June, when the young ones would be ready to leave the nest. But they
want five weeks' more feeding by the parents, after they leave the
nest, before they are able to provide for themselves; this would bring
the date to about the 25th of July, when there is hardly a parent bird
in the country; they have left for other parts of the world. "Oh! but,
papa," said Willy, "you said in the lines you told us to remember--

    In July,
    He prepares to fly.
    Come August,
    Go he must.

And now you say the cuckoos leave before the end of July. I think you
must have made a mistake somehow." I am glad that you have found out
the error, if it is one. Old rhymes are not always to be trusted; but
I suspect that the couplet "Come August, go he must," means to imply
that the cuckoo does never really stay so late with us. I must not,
however, forget to tell you that it is the old parent birds that leave
us early; young birds remain till September, and even October, but
they have not by that time acquired the cuckoo note. If you ask why
cannot the old cuckoos stay with us a little longer, and then all go
away together as a family party, young and old, in September, instead
of being in such a hurry, I have only to say that it is the fashion
amongst cuckoos, and of course cuckoos, like certain other animals,
must be in the fashion. This is Dr. Jenner's explanation of the
peculiar habits of the cuckoo in respect of its eggs. I am not
prepared to say whether or not it is sufficient to explain them. The
cuckoo's egg is very small when compared with the size of the bird; it
is of a pale grey tinged with red.

"But how does the cuckoo's egg get into some of the nests?" asked
Willy; "for some of the nests in which the cuckoo's egg is found are
too small to allow the cuckoo herself to enter to lay her egg." You
are quite right; I believe it has been proved that the cuckoo lays her
egg on the ground, and carries it in her bill into other birds' nests.

[Illustration: HORSE-TAIL.]

"Oh! papa," said Jack, "what is this curious plant that grows so
abundantly on the grass here? I know it well by sight, but do not know
its name." It is a spike of horse-tail; see how the stem is marked
with lines, and how curiously jointed it is, and quite hollow except
where the joints occur. The fruit is borne at the top of the plant
(_a_); see, as I shake it, what a quantity of dust comes from it; this
dust is the fruit, or spores as they are called; each spore is of an
oval form, with four elastic threads. If I were to put some of this
dust on a glass slide, and look at it under the microscope, I should
see a curious sight. The four threads would be spread out, but if I
were to breathe on the glass, these threads would coil themselves
round the oval body; but as soon as the effect of the moisture had
passed away, the threads would shoot out again in the same position as
they were at first, causing the spore to leap as if it were alive.
The stems are of two kinds, fertile and unfertile; the one you have in
your hands is a fertile spike, and appears only in the spring; the
unfertile ones have no dust-like fruit, and have numerous jointed
branches growing in rows, or whorls as they are termed, round them;
they remain throughout the summer, and in some places form quite a
thick cover. Feel how rough the stem is; this is due to the presence
of a quantity of silex or flint in it; on this account some of the
species are used for polishing purposes. One kind, under the name of
"Dutch rushes," is imported from Holland, being used for polishing
mahogany, ivory, metal, &c. The horse-tails for the most part grow in
moist ground, in ditches and on the borders of lakes; some, however,
are common in corn fields and on the roadside. In this country they do
not attain a height of more than a few feet, but in tropical countries
one or two species grow to the height of sixteen feet or more.

[Illustration: HYDRÆ, ON ROOTS OF DUCKWEED.]

Now for a dip with the bottle in this pond. I will try and catch a few
Hydræ. Strange animals, indeed, they are, and strange is their
history; but let us catch a few first. Nothing yet in my bottle like a
hydra. Ah! now we have one or two. You see a small creature sticking
to the stem of a bit of duckweed; around its mouth are five or six
little projections. At present they are contracted; but the hydra is
able to lengthen them out, when they appear as long, thin lines, which
are used as the creature's fishing-lines; it is not much larger than a
pin's head at present, but it can stretch its body out as it does its
lines. I will take a handful of duckweed, and put it, dripping wet,
into this bag, and when we get home we will place the whole in a glass
vessel full of water. In the course of half an hour or so, we shall,
no doubt, see several hydræ, probably of different species, in various
attitudes--some hanging loosely down, others erecting themselves in
graceful curves and throwing out their arms or tentacles many times
longer than their bodies; others shooting up their arms right above
their heads; others contracted, looking like miniature dabs of jelly;
others attached head and tail to the side of the glass; others
floating on the surface of the water, their tail-ends sticking out and
serving to keep them from sinking; some of a beautiful grass-green
colour, others light brown or flesh colour, others almost white,
others red. These creatures may be cut into several parts, yet each
part will grow again into a perfect animal; young ones bud out of the
sides of the parents. Some have said that they can be turned inside
out, and find no inconvenience whatever from the operation. "But how,"
asked Willy, "could anybody manage to turn so small a thing as a hydra
inside out?" It does seem an impossible task, I confess, and a man
must have much skill and patience to enable him to accomplish it.
However, I will give you the description of an attempt made many years
ago by a celebrated naturalist of Geneva, named Trembley, who made the
hydræ or fresh-water polypes a study for many years. This is what
Trembley says:--"I begin by giving a worm to the polype on which I
wish to make an experiment, and when it is swallowed I begin
operations. It is well not to wait till the worm is much digested. I
put the polype, whose stomach is well filled, in a little water in the
hollow of my left hand; I then press it with a small forceps nearer to
the tail end than to the head. In this way I push the swallowed worm
against the mouth of the polype, which is thus forced to open, and by
again slightly pressing the polype with my forceps I cause the worm
partly to come out from its mouth, and thus draw out with it an equal
part of the end of its stomach. The worm, coming out of the mouth of
the polype, forces it to enlarge itself considerably, especially if it
comes out doubled up. When the polype is in this state, I take it
gently out of the water, without disturbing anything, and place it on
the edge of my hand, which is simply moistened, so that it may not
adhere too closely. I oblige it to contract more and more, and this
also enlarges the stomach and mouth. The worm then is partly coming
out of the mouth, and, keeping it open, I then take in my right hand
a hog's bristle, rather thick and without a point, and I hold it as
one holds a lancet for bleeding. I bring its thickest end to the hind
end of the polype and push it, making it enter into its stomach, which
is the more easily done as in that part it is empty and much enlarged.
I push on the end of the hog's bristle, which continues to invest the
polype. When it reaches the worm, which holds the mouth open, it
either pushes the worm or passes by its side, and at last comes out by
the mouth, the polype being thus completely turned inside out."

[Illustration: HYDRA, WITH YOUNG ONES BUDDING OUT FROM ITS SIDE.]

Very strange, indeed, to think that animals with the wrong side
outermost should continue to eat, grow, and multiply, as Trembley
assures us his specimens did, though, perhaps, we shall not wonder
that they often tried to turn themselves back to their original
condition, and with success, unless Trembley took steps to prevent
them. There are other strange things recorded of the fresh-water
polypes, as that different individuals can be grafted together without
the slightest inconvenience to any of the parties, the joint-stock
company of course being limited.

The hydræ live on small worms, larvæ of gnats, water-fleas, and other
minute creatures; they catch them with their tentacles or
fishing-lines, and draw them to the mouth. It is maintained by many
observers, with good reason, that these arms have the power of
paralysing, in an instant, the worms they wrap themselves round. There
are at least three well-marked species of hydræ to be met with in the
ponds and ditches of this country. There is the green hydra, the
light flesh-coloured or common hydra, and the long-armed hydra, the
most interesting of all. See, there is the water-primrose, now in
flower, with its delicate pink corolla and bright orange centre. Let
us gather a few plants, and then return home.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote B: 'Marvels of Pond Life,' by H. J. Slack, p. 92.]



WALK V.

MAY.


To-day we will go to Shawbury and try our luck with the trout. If the
fish will not rise there will be plenty to observe, and I have no
doubt we shall enjoy the day thoroughly; the wind is in the south-west
and the day is cloudy; the May-fly is well out, and I think we have
every chance of good sport. Let us look out our fishing-tackle and
drive off at once to the river. How delightful it is to stroll by the
river side and hear the rippling of the water; delightful, too, is the
sensation of feeling at the end of your line the tugs and jumps of a
good lively trout. I cannot resist quoting some lines from 'The
Angler's Song,' which I think you will say are very pretty:

  Merry in the greenwood is the note of horn and hound,
  And dull must be the heart of him that leaps not to their sound;
  Merry from the stubble whirrs the partridge on her wing,
  And blithely doth the hare from her shady cover spring;
  But merrier than horn or hound, or stubble's rapid pride,
  Is the sport that we court by the gentle river side.

  Our art can tell the insect tribe that every month doth bring,
  And with a curious wile we know to mock its gauzy wing;
  We know what breeze will bid the trout through the curling waters leap,
  And we can surely win him from shallow or from deep;
  For every cunning fish can we a cunning bait provide,
  In the sport that we court by the gentle river side.

  Where may we find the music like the music of the stream?
  What diamond like the glances of its ever-changing gleam?
  What couch so soft as mossy banks, where through the noontide hours
  Our dreamy heads are pillowed on a hundred simple flowers?
  While through the crystal stream beneath we mark the fishes glide,
  To the sport that we court by the gentle river side?

  For as the lark with upland voice the early sun doth greet,
  And the nightingale from shadowy boughs her vesper hymn repeat;
  For as the pattering shower on the meadow doth descend,
  And far as the flitting clouds with the sudden sunbeams blend;
  All beauty, joy and harmony, from morn to eventide,
   Bless the sport that we court by the gentle river side.

Well, here we are once more at the charming little village of
Shawbury. How often, both as a boy and a man, have I wandered by the
banks of the river Roden. What changes have taken place since my early
rambles! Long familiar forms, companions in my fishing expeditions,
have vanished; the mind fondly cherishes their memory, and recalls
past hours of cheerful intercourse. We will put up the horse and
carriage at the Elephant and Castle Inn and stroll away to the river.

Ah! here is a capital place. Now, Master Willy, there is no tree to
interfere with your throw, so cast in just near that spot, quietly,
carefully, anxiously; if there is a fish there he cannot resist your
green drake. I recommend him the artificial before the fat natural
fly. As Christopher North says--"Devouring ephemerals! Can you not
suffer the poor insects to sport out their day? They must be insipid
eating--but here are some savoury exceedingly ... they carry _sauce
piquante_ in their tails. Do try the taste of this bobber--but any of
the three you please." There, hold fast, Willy, for that's a good
one. Bring him up carefully to the side; hold your rod erect; play him
a little, for he is full of vigour. There! well done; I have got him
in the landing net. Is not he a beauty? A pound weight, I'll be bound;
and what condition! His flesh will be almost as pink as that of a
salmon. Further down stream I managed to take a fish in very different
condition; I took him where the river was rather muddy, and flowed
very slowly. Just look at him, with a body lean and dark coloured, and
an enormous head for so slender a body. "Oh! but, papa," said Willy,
"what are these curious creatures crawling over him? Do look." Ah! I
know them well; anglers call them trout lice. I will scrape off a
specimen, and put him in the bottle. Now look at him. The body is
nearly round, and almost transparent; colour rather green; it has four
pairs of swimming feet, each pair beset with a fringe of hairs; a pair
of foot-jaws; a small half-cleft tail; and a pair of fleshy circular
suckers just in front of the foot-jaws, by means of which the little
creature is able to attach itself, as a parasite, upon various fish.
It is a graceful little creature, and, as you see, can swim with great
activity in the water; now it swims in a straight line, now it
suddenly turns quickly round and turns over and over. It is known to
naturalists under the name of _Argulus foliaceus_; I do not think it
has any English name. It is found on many kinds of fish, and generally
in greater abundance upon individuals that are in an unhealthy state;
though these parasites often attach themselves to fish in good
condition. The mouth is furnished with a long, sharp sucking-tube, by
means of which the animal can pierce the skin of the fish it lives
upon, and suck up the juices. We will take a few home, and I will show
you the different parts of the creature under the microscope.

[Illustration: PARASITE (_Argulus foliaceus_) ON TROUT, NAT. SIZE AND
MAGNIFIED.]

Let us now sit down and rest for an hour, and eat our lunch; the fish
do not rise as freely as they did; perhaps later on they will be in
the humour again. But what do I see sticking to the sides of that rail
across the river; I must go and see. Well, really this is an
interesting thing. An immense mass of flies, a few alive, but the
greater number quite dead; and, look! a quantity of white eggs
underneath them. Let us examine a fly; it is of a brown or tawny
colour, and has rather long, diverging, colourless wings, marked with
irregular brown spots. Why, there must be thousands of dead flies
covering these eggs. What an odd idea! Presently up comes Mr. Collins
from the farm near the bank of the stream. "Oh, sir, I know those
flies quite well; they are oak-flies (_Leptis scolopacea_)." Certainly
not, I replied, though they do somewhat resemble them in colour and
appearance; but the farmer stoutly asserted he was right, and I did
not think it worth while discussing the matter further with him. Mr.
Collins is a good fly-fisherman; and fly-fishermen, unless they are
naturalists, are generally very positive. How often have I tried to
teach anglers that the May-fly does not come from a caddis worm; how
often have I failed! Well, the two-winged fly I have just found in
such thousands, with their dead bodies brooding over this mass of
eggs, is known to entomologists by the name of _Atherix Ibis_; the
females are gregarious, and, as we have seen, attach their eggs to
rails, boughs, or other objects overhanging streams; each female,
having laid her eggs, remains there and dies; shortly after comes
another and does the same, and so on till immense clusters are formed.
The larva, when hatched, falls into the water, its future residence;
it is said to have a forked tail about one third the length of its
body, and to "have the power of raising itself in the water by an
incessant undulating motion in a vertical plane." I am not, however,
acquainted with either larva or pupa, but hope to become so this
summer. "It is very curious, papa," said Jack, "that the flies, after
they have laid their eggs, should die there; why do not they fly away?
Do any other animals do the same?" Yes, pretty much so. Some of the
female insects of the genus called _Coccus_, scale insect, or mealy
bug, common on the stems of various trees, to which they sometimes do
incredible mischief, lay their eggs and die over them, the dead bodies
of the parents forming coverings for the young. See how fast the green
drake is appearing. Notice how it flies with head erect for a second
or two, and then falls almost helplessly on the surface of the water.

There! did you see that fish rise at him? He has escaped the hungry
trout, and has reached a blade of grass, where he will probably rest
for some hours. But give me my rod; perhaps the same trout will rise
at my artificial fly. There! that throw was exactly over the spot. No;
he won't have it. I'll try again and again. No. Objects to _sauce
piquante_, I suppose. Well, I will tempt him again in an hour's time
or so. The water is smooth here, and free from rapids; let us lie down
on the grass and see the birth of _Ephemera_--for that is the
May-fly's proper name. Here comes something floating down. It is
within the reach of my hand, so I will secure it. What is it? As I
thought. Ephemera is throwing off its swaddling clothes. See how it
twirls and twists itself about. Now it is free; and the
strange-looking worm has changed into a beautiful fly. But there is
yet one other operation to go through ere it assumes its final and
complete form; you see at present it is a heavy flier, for the wings
are scarcely dry, and the muscles as yet unequal to great exertion; so
in their present imperfect form they are constantly dropping for a
second or two in the water, and are often sucked down the throat of
some roach, trout, or other fish on the look-out. You should remember
that the _Ephemera_, or May-fly, in this its _sub-imago_, or imperfect
winged state, represents the "green drake" of the angler. What have I
here on this blade of grass? Do you see? What is the shadowy form that
lifelessly clings to it? It is a delicate membrane, thin and light;
see, I blow it away. You saw the split in the back, through which the
former tenant left the abode. It is the cast-off skin of the green
drake, now metamorphosed into a creature more active than harlequin or
columbine, the male into a dark brown insect, with gauze-like wings,
the female into a beautiful creature, with body marbled white and
brown, and able to fly well and strongly, now high in the air, now
sailing along close to the surface of the water, ever and anon dipping
gently into it for the purpose of laying her eggs. The small oval eggs
sink down to the bottom, and attach themselves to the weeds and stones
that are found there. The flight of the male Ephemera is different; it
is the males that practise together that peculiar up-and-down dance,
with heads erect and bodies curving prettily upwards; of course, you
can understand how countless multitudes fall victims to fish and bird,
for dainty morsels they are. These flies, though voracious feeders
both in the larval and nymphal state, never eat at all after they have
assumed their perfect form. Indeed, they have no true mouth, only an
imperfect or rudimentary one; and you would never find a particle of
food in their stomachs, which are always more or less full of
air-bubbles, which, no doubt, assist in buoying up the insect, and
thus save the expenditure of muscular power. I'll catch one of those
dancing males, and press him quickly in the middle. There! crack he
goes! for the little air-bubbles in the stomach have burst by the
pressure of my finger and thumb.

Abundant as are the May-flies at the latter end of May and the
beginning of June in this country, in other countries they are
sometimes more astonishingly numerous. In some parts of Holland,
Switzerland, and France, their great numbers have been compared to
pelting flakes of snow. "The myriads of Ephemeræ which filled the
air," says Reaumur, "over the current of the river and over the bank
on which I stood, are neither to be expressed nor conceived. When the
snow falls, with the largest flakes and with the least interval
between them, the air is not so full of them as that which surrounded
the Ephemeræ." The occurrence of such prodigious numbers is, I
believe, unknown in the British isles. In the perfect or _imago_ state
the May-fly lives but a short time. The word _ephemera_ means "living
only for a day;" and though individuals may live longer, yet the term
is fairly correct as expressing their short existence. The May-flies
(_Ephemeræ_) have all three long fine hairs at the end of the tail;
some members of the same family, but belonging to a different genus,
have only two hair-like appendages. For instance, the fly known to
fishermen as the "March-brown" belongs to the same family as the
May-fly; it is smaller than it, and has only two hairs at the end of
the tail; but with this exception, the natural March-brown and the
May-fly are wonderfully alike; yet it is most curious to notice what a
wonderful difference there is in the larvæ of these two insects.
Significant facts, no doubt, lie at the bottom of such differences in
the case of insects so evidently allied, but these I will not speak
of. Here are the two forms of larvæ, the one being the larva of the
common May-fly (_Ephemera_), the other that of the March-brown
(_Baëtis_).

[Illustration: LARVA OF BAËTIS, WITH BREATHING PADDLES, MAGNIFIED.]

[Illustration: LARVA OF EPHEMERA, OR MAY-FLY, MAGNIFIED TWO DIAMETERS.]

Come, we have lunched, and rested, and watched the May-flies; let us
try to catch a few more trout. It is very strange why sometimes the
fish will not rise, though the weather is propitious and the water in
first-rate order. Holloa! master Willy, what game are you after now?
"Oh, papa," he exclaimed, "there are a lot of dace on this shallow, so
I put the spinning hooks on, and, see, I have managed to hook a couple
out, by simply throwing the tackle on the other side of the fish and
then drawing it smartly through the water over them." Well, that looks
like a bit of poaching, at all events; the fish are spawning amongst
that water-crowfoot, no doubt; just hook out some weed, and I dare say
we shall see some eggs. To be sure; there they are, dotted over the
long thread-like leaves of the plant, like little pearls. You have
caught enough, for I think it is not sportsmanlike conduct to take
such unfair advantage of the unfortunate dace. Put on your casting
line and try under the old forge bridge. You think there is not much
use? A true fly-fisherman should never say so. I have taken many a
trout under the bridge, and I dare say you may be successful this
time. There! I told you so. Keep your line tight, and Jack shall land
him. He is not a large fish evidently, but very lively. Now you have
him, throw him on the grass. Are there any parasites on him? Yes; but
different to the last we observed. Here is a leech-like creature,
rather small and cylindrical; it is the _Piscicola_, a not uncommon
parasitic leech on fish. Well, put him into the bottle; we can take
him home and examine him at leisure. How many trout have we taken
now? "We have got nine, papa, and, remember, I have caught three."
Yes; but I suppose you include the poaching? "No; I have caught three
trout with the fly, and I don't count the dace." Not a bad day's
sport, after all; for I threw back again three small fish. What is
this showy plant, with large, yellow, globe-like blossoms? How pretty
it is, growing in abundance in a little spot near the river! It is the
globe flower, so called from the rounded shape of the corolla; it is
one of the buttercup family, as you will, perhaps, guess. In its wild
state I believe it is found in mountain districts, so I suspect it has
found its way here from some of the cottage gardens which are only a
quarter of a mile distant. We will grub up a few roots; perhaps Mrs.
Charlton would like them for her wild garden shrubbery. When you go
a-fishing always be provided, if not inconvenient, with a trowel and a
small basket, as well as with a few wide-mouthed bottles; they will be
very useful, especially if the trout will not rise. The trowel and
basket you can leave at a cottager's house, and the bottles are
indispensable to every angler-naturalist. What are you running after,
Jacko? Oh! I see; one of the most beautiful insects that are found in
this country. Ah! he is too quick for you. It is the brilliant
steel-blue dragon-fly. Let us sit down for a few minutes and watch its
flight. How rapidly it flies, now pursuing the course of the river,
now suddenly darting back again. It is the _Agrion virgo_, the most
splendid of all the dragon-flies, even rivalling the gorgeously
coloured insects of tropical countries. All the dragon-flies proceed
from water larvæ; strange creatures of unbecoming forms and ferocious
dispositions. The mouth, or rather the lower lip of the larva is of
very singular form. Two jaw-like organs are at the end of the lip, its
basal portion being articulated to the head; this mask, as it has been
called, is folded beneath the head when in repose, but it can be
suddenly shot out in front of the head so as to seize any small
creatures that may pass near it which the larva thinks good to eat.
Imagine one of your arms being joined on to your chin, bend your elbow
up till your hand covers your face--this will represent the dragon
larva with the mask in repose; now shoot out your arm in a straight
line from the head--this will represent the mask unfolded and in use;
your fingers may be considered to represent the jaws of the creature.
When the larva wishes to turn into an insect, it leaves the water and
creeps up the stem of some water weed or other object out of the
water, bursts its skin, and commences its new state of existence. If
we look about us near the water side, we shall be sure to find some
empty pupa skins. Here are two on this sedge; you see a slit on the
back through which the dragon-fly has come out. The dragon-flies are
the largest and most active of our British insects, and, to quote the
descriptive words of Professor Rymer Jones, "are pre-eminently
distinguished by the rapidity of their flight and the steadiness of
their evolutions while 'hawking' for prey in the vicinity of ponds and
marshy grounds, where in hot summer weather they are everywhere to be
met with. Equally conspicuous from their extreme activity, their
gorgeous colours, and the exquisite structure of their wings, they
might be regarded as the monarchs of the insect race. The very names
selected for them by entomologists would testify the perfection of
their attributes; their titles ranging from that of _Anax imperator_,
indicative of imperial sway, to epithets expressive of feminine
delicacy and ladylike grace, such as _virgo_, _puella_, _demoiselle_,
and _damsel-fly_, which are appropriated to the sylph-like forms that
many of them exhibit. In their habits, however, they by no means
deserve the gentle appellations bestowed upon them. They are, in
truth, the tigers of the insect world, and their whole lives are
devoted to bloodshed and rapine. Indomitable in their strength of
wing, furnished with tremendous jaws, and possessed of acuteness of
sight and rapidity of motion scarcely to be paralleled, there seems to
be no escape from their ferocity, and terrible is the slaughter they
effect amongst the insect legions they are appointed to destroy." It
must not, however, be supposed from the above description that the
dragon-flies are creatures that deserve to be killed. On the contrary,
they are most serviceable to men, and destroy countless numbers of
injurious flies and butterflies whose larvæ do damage to vegetation.
"Well, papa," said Jack, "the boys in the village always kill them if
they can catch them, and say they sting horses." I know that this is a
popular tradition, inherited by the rural folks of our day from their
great-great-grandmothers' grandmothers. Dragon-flies are often called
_horse stingers_; in America they are sometimes called _devil's
darning-needles_; in Scotland, I believe, they are known by the name
of _flying adders_. Where is my net? I will try and catch a
demoiselle. There! I have her, or I should rather say _him_, for these
dark spots on the wings disclose the sex; the female has unspotted
wings, and is of a rich green colour. "How splendidly it shines in the
sun," said Willy; "nothing can exceed the beauty of its wings." Well,
now you have looked at him closely and admired him, I will let him go
again. Off he flies, none the worse for his temporary captivity. Now
for my friend the trout, who would not take my fly an hour ago. Ah! I
have got him the first throw; see how he jumps. Now, Willy, for the
landing-net. Bravo! all safe, and a good fish too. Our sport is over
for the day, and we must get ready to drive home. To-morrow, Willy,
you may learn these lines from Thomson's 'Seasons:'

    "When with his lively ray the potent sun
    Has pierced the stream and roused the finny race,
    Then, issuing cheerful, to thy sport repair;
    Chief should the western breezes curling play,
    And light o'er ether bear the shadowy clouds.
    Just in the dubious point where with the pool
    Is mixed the trembling stream, or where it boils
    Around the stone, or from the hollowed bank
    Reverted plays in undulating flow,
    There throw, nice judging, the delusive fly;
    And as you lead it round in artful curve
    With eye attentive mark the springing game,
    Straight as above the surface of the flood
    They wanton rise, or urged by hunger leap,
    Then fix with gentle twitch, the barbed hook.
    Some lightly tossing to the grassy bank,
    And to the shelving shore slow-dragging some,
    With various hand proportioned to their force.
    If yet too young and easily deceived,
    A worthless prey scarce bends your pliant rod;
    Him, piteous of his youth, and the short space
    He has enjoyed the vital light of heaven,
    Soft disengage, and back into the stream
    The speckled captive throw. But should you lure
    From his dark haunt, beneath the tangled roots
    Of pendent trees, the monarch of the brook,
    Behoves you then to ply your finest art.
    Long time he, following cautious, scans the fly;
    And oft attempts to seize it, but as oft
    The dimpled water speaks his jealous fear.
    At last, while haply o'er the shaded sun
    Passes a cloud, he desperate takes the leap,
    With sullen plunge. At once he darts along,
    Deep struck, and runs out all the lengthened line;
    Then seeks the furthest ooze, the sheltering weed,
    The caverned bank, his old secure abode,
    And flies aloft, and flounces round the pool,
    Indignant of the guile. With yielding hand,
    That feels him still, yet to his furious course
    Gives way, you, now retiring, following now
    Across the stream, exhaust his idle rage;
    Till, floating broad upon his breathless side,
    And to his fate abandoned, to the shore
    You gaily drag your unresisting prize."

There is some good advice here worth remembering; at any rate,
persevere, persevere, and no doubt you will become in time

[Illustration: A MOST SUCCESSFUL ANGLER.]



WALK VI.

JUNE.


"We had many pleasant rambles last autumn," said Willy, "in search of
fungi. How I wish the time was come when we could hunt for fungi
again. Think of the woods at the bottom of the Wrekin, and those
delightful fir plantations near Tibberton. Besides you know some kinds
are so good broiled for breakfast. I often think of fungus-hunting.
When shall we be able to go out hunting again?"

September and October are the best months, but we shall meet with
fungi earlier. However, I will promise you a long day's ramble or two
in search of fungi when the time comes. In the mean time let us keep
our eyes open, and I dare say we shall even now, in the month of June,
meet with a few interesting species. We will go into some of the
meadows near home to-day, and I am much mistaken if we shall not be
able to find St. George's mushroom. It is a very delicious fungus, and
perfectly wholesome. I gathered a few specimens the other day, and now
that the weather is warm, I doubt not we shall meet a good number; so,
besides collecting bottles, we will take a basket, and Jack shall be
the carrier. Now separate yourselves and search this pasture well.
"Here are a lot of fungi growing in a ring," exclaimed May. Let me
look. You have found what we wanted. This fungus is the _Agaricus
gambosus_, or St. George's mushroom. See how closely the gills are set
together; they are yellowish-white in colour; the top is thick and
fleshy; the stem, too, is very thick. Few fungi, comparatively
speaking, grow so early in the year, and you could not mistake
_gambosus_ for any other kind. What? You think the smell rather
strong. Well, I confess this fungus has a strong and not a very
pleasant odour. Put what you have collected into the basket; you will
find that the taste is better than the smell. Here are some specimens
with the top cracked and split; these are a little older, but they are
very good. We will put them with the rest. "Oh, papa," exclaimed Jack,
"I was looking at that ash tree in the hedge, and I thought I saw a
mouse run up the trunk." I suspect it was not a mouse, but a bird,
called, from its habit of running up trees, the tree-creeper. Let us
get a little nearer. I see I am right; there the little bird is,
running rapidly up the tree; now he stops, as if examining the bark;
now he is off again. How very like a mouse, to be sure! It is one of
the smallest of our British birds, and, though common enough, is not
very often seen, except by those who, caring for such things, use
their eyes well. Now he has gone to the opposite side of the tree; off
he goes again and explores another trunk. By means of its long curved
claws and stiff forked tail-feathers, this prettily marked bird is
enabled to climb with great rapidity. It remains in this country all
the year, and is more abundant in plantations and parks where there
are plenty of trees. It makes its nest in a hollow tree, or on the
inner side of the bark of a decayed one. The little bird lays many
eggs, from six to nine, in the month of April; they are nearly white,
with a few pinkish spots, generally at the larger end of the egg. It
utters a few pleasing but feeble notes. The young ones are, as you may
suppose, tiny little things. You should notice the curved pointed beak
of this bird, and the stiff tail-feathers it presses against the tree
as a fulcrum to aid it in its ascent.

[Illustration: TREE-CREEPER AND YOUNG.]

We will go into this adjoining field, which will soon be ready to mow.
We will keep by the hedge--for it would not be right to trample down
the tall grass--and gather a few grasses. Few people know more about
grass than that it is good pasturage for cattle and sheep. Let us
gather a lot, and take care, as far as we can, to gather only one kind
each. How graceful and beautiful they are, and what difference there
is amongst them; some have a stiff spike-like head of flowers, others
have pretty drooping heads; some are harsh and rough to the touch,
others soft as satin. Some, again, are of great value as pasturage and
for making into hay; others are positively noxious weeds. You know the
twitch or couch grass, that gives the farmer so much trouble; it is
most rapid in its growth and difficult to kill; its underground
creeping stems spread in all directions, and, if left to itself, would
soon take sole possession of the whole soil. So the farmers are very
careful to rake together all they can; they then collect it in heaps
and burn it. Here is the rough "cocksfoot grass," with its head or
"panicle" as it is called, upright and tufted. Look at its large
yellow stamens; it is a very productive species and enters largely
into all hay-grass. Here is the common quaking grass, with its
slender, smooth, spreading branches. See how the numerous little heads
tremble with the slightest motion; we do not see much of it in these
meadows. It is an exceedingly pretty grass, and often seen on the
chimney-pieces of cottagers, but is by no means a valuable
agricultural grass; on the contrary, it is a sign, when abundant, of
poor land.

[Illustration: PANICLE OF GRASS.]

Here we have the smooth-stalked meadow grass, and here is the hedge
wood-melic grass, with its slightly drooping panicle, and spikelets on
long slender footstalks. Here is the soft meadow grass; feel how
smooth its panicle is; this, the oat-like grass. "What is that very
tall grass," asked Willy, "that often grows near the water? It is much
taller than you are, and has a rich brown drooping head." You mean the
common reed-grass, no doubt; it is not yet in flower, but you will see
it in August and September. It is a magnificent grass, though not of
much use to the farmer. The little birds find shelter amongst its
stems, and the reed-warbler often chooses them as pillars whereon to
support its nest. Then you must not forget another tall and handsome
grass, often found on the banks of rivers and lakes, called the
reed-canary grass; it flowers about the middle of July. You know the
ribbon-grass, in the garden, with its leaves striped with green and
white, varying immensely in the width of its bands, so that you can
never find two leaves exactly alike. "Yes, indeed, papa," said May,
"I know it well; you know we always put some with the flowers we
gather for the drawing-room table." Well, this is only a cultivated
variety of the reed-canary grass; and I have sometimes let a cluster
of the ribbon-grass run wild as it were, and then the leaves turn to
one uniform green. The reed-meadow grass is another tall and handsome
kind; this cattle are very fond of; it is sweet to the taste and grows
in damp situations. "You sometimes see," said May, "a very beautiful
and curious grass, with long yellow feathery tails, amongst the
ornaments in rooms." That is the "feather-grass;" it is a very rare
grass, and has been seldom found wild in this country. The long yellow
tails are the awns, which resemble delicate feathers. Here is the
sweet-scented vernal grass; taste and see how pleasant it is; it is
the grass which, perhaps more than any other, gives that charming
odour to the hayfields. "There is a clear pond in yonder corner of the
field, let us go there and see what we can find," said Willy. All
right. It is a very likely pond for many interesting creatures; but
let us first look at the plants that grow round or in it. There are a
few sedges here and there--a pretty order of plants; at present you
must be content with making yourselves acquainted with their general
form. Take care how you gather them, for the leaves and stems of some
kinds are very rough, and if you draw them quickly through your hand
you may cut it rather sorely. "Oh! do come here, papa," said May;
"here is quite a new flower to me; is it not a beauty?" Indeed, it is
a lovely plant; it is the buckbean or marshtrefoil, and generally
grows in some boggy spot, such as this. Look at the three green
leaflets, like those of the common bean--hence one of the names of the
plant. Look again at the clusters of blossoms; some are not fully out,
and are of a lovely rose colour; others are quite out, and the flowers
covered with a white silken fringe. Bite a bit, and taste how bitter
it is; people often gather the roots and use them as a tonic medicine.
I think in some countries, as in Norway and in Germany, the leaves
have been used in the place of hops for brewing beer; about a couple
of ounces being equal to a couple of pounds of hops. The late Sir
William Hooker found the buckbean very plentiful in Iceland, and says
that where it occurs it is of great use to travellers over the
morasses, for they are aware that the thickly entangled roots make a
safe bed under the soft morass for them to pass over. Here is hairy
mint, nearly a foot high; do you dislike the smell? I think it
pleasant myself; it is not yet in flower, but will be so in about six
weeks' time. Holloa! Jack, what's the matter? "I have only tumbled
down, papa, amongst these nasty nettles, and got stung rather
sharply." That is interesting. Do you know how it is that nettles
sting? "Oh, papa," said Jack, pitifully, "you are like the man in the
fable who was giving a lecture to the drowning boy; the boy asked him
to get him first of all out of the water, and to give him the lecture
afterwards. Now, you should first tell me how to cure these nettle
stings, and I would then be more inclined to learn how it is that
nettles sting."

[Illustration: NETTLE.]

The pain will soon pass off, and I do not know that there is any
remedy. When at school, I was told to rub the stung part over with a
dock leaf, but I do not think this ever did it any good. Now, I want
you to pay particular attention; you know what we call "the dead
nettle"--I mean what plant I allude to; there is the red, white, and
yellow so-called dead nettles; you remember the shape of the flowers
of these three kinds. Look at the flowers of the real stinging
nettles; are they not extremely unlike? You see the small green
flowers in long branched clusters; how different from the lip-shaped
flower of the dead nettles.

[Illustration: DEAD NETTLE.]

There is some general resemblance, however, between the real nettles
and the so-called dead nettles; the leaves for instance of the white
dead nettle are very like those of the stinger. The dead nettles,
however, are not at all related to the true nettle, and belong to
quite a different family called the Labiate tribe, from the Latin word
_Labium_, "a lip," in allusion to the form of the corolla. Is the pain
better, now, Jacko? "Yes, it is getting less severe; look what large
white lumps have arisen on the back of my hand." The sting of the
nettle is a very curious and interesting object under the microscope.
It consists of a hollow tube with a glandular organ at the bottom of
it, in which is contained an acrid fluid very irritating to the skin;
the fine point of the sting or hair pierces the skin, and the pressure
forces up the fluid from the bottom of the hair, which is then
conveyed into the wound by a point at the top of the sting.

[Illustration: LABIATE PLANT.

_a._ Stamens. _b._ Corolla. _c._ Calyx.]

[Illustration: STING OF NETTLE, MAGNIFIED.]

The nettles of foreign countries have much greater poisonous
properties. The effects of incautiously handling some East Indian
species are terrible. The first pain is compared with the pain
inflicted by a red-hot iron; this increases and continues for days. A
French botanist was once stung by one of these nettles in the
Botanical Gardens of Calcutta; he says the pain so affected the lower
part of his face that he feared lock-jaw. He did not get rid of the
pain till nine days had expired. Dr. Hooker saw gigantic nettles in
Nepal, one was a shrubby species growing fifteen feet high, called by
the natives _mealum-ma_. They had so great a dread of it that Dr.
Hooker could hardly persuade them to help him to cut it down. He
gathered several specimens without allowing any part to touch his
skin, but the "scentless effluvium" was so powerful as to cause
unpleasant effects for the rest of the day. "The sting produces
violent inflammation, and to punish a child with _mealum-ma_ is the
severest Lepcha threat." Then there is the nettle of Timor, or
_devils-leaf_, the sting of which sometimes produces fatal effects.
Tree-nettles in Australia are occasionally found as much as
twenty-five feet in circumference. There are three species of stinging
nettles in this country, the great nettle, the small nettle, and the
Roman nettle; the first two are very common, the last very rare
indeed. There is a curious story told of the introduction of this
last species into this country. You may believe as much as you please
of it. It is said that before the Romans under Julius Cæsar thought it
prudent to come to England--of the coldness of which they had heard a
good deal--they procured some seeds of the Roman nettle, intending to
sow them when they landed in this country; so when they landed at
Romney, in Kent, they sowed the seeds. "And what use, papa," asked
Willy, "would nettles be to them during the cold weather in England?"
Well, they meant to nettle themselves, and so chafe their skins so as
to enable them to bear the cold better. And tough skins they must have
had, for the poison of the Roman nettle is much more severe than that
of the two common species. Camden, I believe, tells the story; as I
said, you may believe it or not. Do you see that tortoiseshell
butterfly hovering near the nettles? Its larva was a greenish-black
caterpillar with yellow stripes, and it lived, when in that state,
entirely on the leaves of the nettle; the larvæ also of other kinds of
butterflies feed on this plant, as the admiral butterfly, and the
peacock butterfly. I have eaten the young shoots of the common nettles
in the spring of the year; they do not make a bad substitute for
spinach.

[Illustration: LARVA, CHRYSALIS, AND INSECT OF THE SMALL
TORTOISE-SHELL BUTTERFLY. (_Vanessa urticæ._)]

How prettily the yellow flags skirt the pool; there, you see, is the
common branched bur-reed, with its sword-like leaves and round heads
of flowers; a little way in the pool is the pretty arrowhead with its
large conspicuous arrow-shaped leaves and flesh-coloured flowers, both
leaves and flowers standing several inches out of the water. In the
water, too, I see the brown leaves of the perfoliate pondweed; they
are almost transparent, and look when dry something like gold-beater's
skin. I see also the cylindrical tufts of the horn-wort with its
bristle-like leaves often several times forked. It grows entirely
under the water. See also a few rose-coloured spikes of the amphibious
persicaria.

[Illustration: YOUNG CRISTATELLA, MAGNIFIED.]

Such are some of the most conspicuous plants near our pond. It looks
likely to contain some fresh-water polyzoa, than which there are few
more beautiful tenants of the water. Here is a young one on this leaf
of persicaria; do you see it? I put it into my bottle. Now look, it
has lately been hatched from that round egg with curious hooks around
its margin. It is called _Cristatella_. At present there are only
three individuals in the outer heart-shaped covering, but additional
ones will bud out of these three, and others from these last, till the
whole colony may number as many as sixty individuals, being then fully
an inch long; the mouth of each is placed between the tentacles, which
have upon them, running down each side, a great number of very minute
hairs or _cilia_, to which, you may remember, I have alluded before.
The colour of the colony is yellowish white, sometimes brownish white.
It is a most exquisite little animal, or rather colony of animals;
for, though there are several creatures in one house, as it were, each
is separate and independent of its neighbour. You will often find
other forms of polyzoa in clear ponds and mill-pools; sometimes you
would suppose you were looking at a mass of sponge, as in the case of
_Alcyonella_, or the creeping root of some weed, as in _Plumatella_
and _Fredericella_; but when the sponge-like mass or rootlets are
placed in water you will observe numbers of little animals to show
their heads and tentacles above the mass or from the little holes in
the creeping rootlets. Ah! what have we here? Do you see those long
narrow ribbons of floating grass about a yard from us? Do you notice
some of the ribbons to be bent and folded here and there? Between each
fold we shall find an egg of a newt. Let me get this bit of grass
ribbon. There, I unfold it where it is creased, and you see a
transparent glairy substance, within which is a round yellowish egg.
Here again is another. The leaves of persicaria, also, are often
selected by the female newt for the purpose of depositing her eggs.
Here you see is a leaf folded up; between the folds is another newt's
egg. I have never seen the newt in the act of laying her eggs, but, I
believe, it may readily be observed by placing a female newt any time
during the months of May and June in a vessel of water with some
leaves of persicaria. Mr. Bell says, "The manner in which the eggs
are deposited is very interesting and curious. The female, selecting
some leaf of an aquatic plant, sits as it were upon its edge, and
folding it by means of her two hind feet, deposits a single egg in the
duplicature of the folded part of the leaf, which is thereby glued
most securely together, and the egg is thus effectually protected from
injury. As soon as the female has in this way deposited a single egg,
she quits the leaf, and after the lapse of a short time seeks another,
there to place another egg." The eggs undergo various changes, and the
animal, at an early part of its life, has a pair of delicate organs on
each side of the neck; these are rudimentary gills, by means of which
the little creature breathes. In its very early condition these gills
are simple lobes; I ought to say that the first pair of lobes serve
the purpose of holders by which the little creature attaches itself to
leaves and other things. But when it is about three weeks old the
gills have many leaf-like divisions, and look like beautiful feathered
fringes. The circulation of blood in these gills may be readily seen
under the microscope, and will be surveyed with the greatest delight.
By-and-bye the animal buds out its four legs and looses the gills;
they do not drop off, but become absorbed; hitherto it has carried on
its respiration or breathing by means of these gills, but how does it
breathe now that it has lost them? The lungs in the inside of the body
have been gradually growing larger and fit for breathing the
atmospheric air; for newts, when arrived at their full or perfect
state, are, you know, chiefly terrestrial creatures, and breathe by
means of their lungs. When young they are in a fish state, and
breathe the air contained in the water exactly as fish do. If you will
look at a pond where newts abound, you will see the old ones
constantly coming to the top of the water, gulping down a mouthful of
air and then returning to the bottom. Full-grown newts do not frequent
the water excepting for the sake of laying their eggs. The young ones
are ready for leaving the water in the autumn, but I have often
obtained young newts with their gills fully developed in the depth of
winter. Probably these had been hatched late in the summer and had not
time to grow their lungs, so had to keep to their gills and lead the
life of a fish during the winter.

"People often call newts 'askers,' papa," said Willy, "and the lads of
the village always kill them when they catch them; they say their bite
is poisonous." I am sorry to say they do; but it is an error to
suppose their bite is poisonous. You have yourself handled many
specimens, and I am sure you never saw one attempt to bite. I do not
believe their small teeth and weak jaws could pierce the skin. Four
species of newts have been described as occurring in this country--the
two common kinds are the smooth newt and the warty newt. I think I
once found the palmated newt near Eyton; the male of this species is
distinguished from other newts by having the hind legs webbed and by a
thin filament or thread at the end of the tail.

[Illustration: DONACIA.

_a, b._ Larvæ, nat. size. _c._ Cocoons on root, nat. size. _d._
Beetle, slightly magnified, _e._ Head of larva.]

"What is this, papa," said Jack, "that I have found sticking to the
roots of this water-weed; they look like the eggs of some creature?"
They are not eggs, but the cocoons of a very common but pretty beetle
called _Donacia_. See, I will slit one open with my penknife. There
is the little animal inside, a white, fat, maggoty thing; it has two
curious hooks at the end of the tail, it has only just framed its
cell, and is about to change from the larval to the pupal state. Here
you see are other maggots among the roots; they have not yet made a
cocoon. I will open some more; here is one in its pupal condition.
Here is another almost ready to come out as a beetle. The _Donacia_
have all a metallic appearance and very beautiful they are, whether
blue, red, copper, or purple; the under side is covered with a fine
silky down. They are found in great numbers on water-weeds, and being
very sluggish are readily caught or picked off the plants they
frequent with the hand. Do you notice those small, flat, brown or
black dabs so common on almost any water-weed you pluck up? These are
planarian worms, and though not of prepossessing appearance generally,
are extremely interesting animals to study. These large, reddish, oval
or round cocoons are the eggs of the planariæ. Here is one of the
largest of the family. It is of a milk-white colour, beautifully
marked with delicate tree-like branches; sometimes this species
(_Planaria lactea_) is of a light pink colour. The mouth is not
situated where mouths usually are, in the fore part of the body, but
almost in the centre. See, I will place this white planaria on my
hand; do you notice that it protrudes something you might perhaps say
was its tongue? It is not its tongue, however; it is a tubular
proboscis, and is very strong and muscular, and unlike the soft body
of the animal. By means of this proboscis the creature is enabled to
pierce the bodies of other creatures and to suck out their juices. I
have kept planariæ under observation, and seen them drive this
proboscis through each other. These black and brown dabs often feed
upon the milky planariæ. They are something like the hydræ in their
power of producing lost portions of their bodies. Cut them in two or
more pieces, each piece will grow into a perfect planaria again. These
you see do not swim but crawl, or glide over the surface of plants in
the water. Some kinds, however, different from these, are able to swim
well. We have had a long and successful hunt to-day. Let us go.



WALK VII.

JUNE.


This morning, before we started for our walk, we went to look at a
hedgehog which had been brought to us the preceding day. We discovered
that the animal, in the course of the night, had crept into a bag with
a quantity of bran in it, and that there were four little ones with
her. There they were as snug as possible, the mother and little
urchins! Very curious little animals too these young hedgehogs. The
spines or prickles were nearly white and soft, and were not spread
over the whole body, but arranged in rows down it. The appearance was
that of a plucked duckling when it is what is called "penny." They
were perfectly blind, and the passage of the ear was quite closed;
they uttered faint, puppy-like cries. I was desirous to try and rear
them; but I had grave doubts about the old one, for those who have
attempted to rear young hedgehogs have generally found that the mother
ate her offspring. We removed her, young and all, to another place,
giving them plenty of straw and supplying bread and milk for the old
one. Buffon, amongst others, relates "that he had repeatedly placed
the mother with the young in a place of confinement; but that, instead
of suckling them, she invariably killed and devoured them,
notwithstanding that she was provided with plenty of food."

However, we determined to give our young urchins a chance, and hoped
the mother hedgehog would be favorably disposed towards her offspring;
so we now left her undisturbed. Willy wished to know whether hedgehogs
were injurious creatures, for "you know, papa," he said, "that country
lads and gamekeepers always kill them whenever they have a chance." I
am convinced that hedgehogs do much more good than harm, by the
destruction they cause to insects, slugs, snails, field-mice, and
other pests of the farm. There is a foolish idea in the minds of the
uneducated that these animals suck cows. You have only to laugh at
such an absurdity; but I doubt you will scarcely ever succeed in
persuading such people that the idea is a ridiculous one, and utterly
unsupported by fact. Hedgehogs will undoubtedly destroy eggs, and one
can understand why gamekeepers wage war against them, fearing for the
safety of the eggs or young birds of their favorite partridges or
pheasants. This is natural. I suspect, however, that hedgehogs seldom
molest the nests, and that the injury they do in this respect is very
small. "But you know, papa," said Jack, "that they will eat young
birds. Do you not remember the dead sparrow we once gave to a
hedgehog, and how furiously he went at it, and how soon he ate it all
up except the feathers." "Yes," added Willy, "and do you not also
remember our putting a toad in the same box with a hedgehog? Oh! how
angry he seemed, and how savagely he shook the unfortunate toad! He
did not, however, seem to like the flavour, and soon gave up the
fight." Hedgehogs will certainly destroy young birds; but we must
remember to set the good any animal does against the harm, and strike
the balance; and, as I said, I suspect in this case the good will
largely preponderate. Hedgehogs are extremely fond of beetles; they
seize on them with great earnestness, and crack them with as much
delight as you lads crack nuts. Hedgehogs are sometimes kept in houses
for the purpose of eating the cockroaches so often abounding in
kitchens. Snakes are also devoured by hedgehogs. The late Professor
Buckland, having occasion to suspect that hedgehogs sometimes preyed
on snakes, "procured a common snake and also a hedgehog, and put them
in a box together. Whether or not the latter recognised its enemy was
not apparent; it did not dart from the hedgehog, but kept creeping
gently round the box. The hedgehog was rolled up, and did not appear
to see the snake. The professor then laid the hedgehog on the snake,
with that part of the ball where the head and tail meet downwards, and
touching it. The snake proceeded to crawl; the hedgehog started,
opened slightly, and seeing what was under it gave the snake a hard
bite, and instantly rolled itself up again. It soon opened a second,
and again a third time, repeating the bite. This done, the hedgehog
stood by the snake's side, and passed the whole body of the snake
successively through its jaws, cracking it, and breaking the bones at
intervals of half an inch or more, by which operation the snake was
rendered motionless. The hedgehog then placed itself at the tip of the
snake's tail, and began to eat upwards, as one would eat a radish,
without intermission, but slowly, till half of the snake was devoured.
The following morning the remaining half was also completely eaten
up." When rather young these animals make very interesting pets; they
soon become tame, and will allow you to stroke their cheeks. You
remember our placing a hedgehog on the study table, and seeing how it
got off on to the ground. It came to the edge, and threw itself off,
coiling up its body partly as it fell; the elastic nature of its
prickly covering enabling it to bear the shock of the fall without the
slightest inconvenience.

[Illustration: GREAT GREY SHRIKE, OR BUTCHER BIRD, WITH ITS
VICTIMS--SHREWS AND BLUE TITMOUSE.]

Let us go on the moors again, and watch the coots and water-hens in
the reedy pools near the aqueduct. Do you see that great tit on a
branch of this poplar? He is actually at work doing a bit of butchery
on a small warbler. See how he is beating the poor little fellow on
the head; he wants to get at his brains. "Are there not birds called
butcher-birds?" asked Willy, "that fix their victims on thorns, and
then peck off their flesh? Shall we see any of them?" There are three
kinds of butcher-birds that have been known to come to this country.
Two kinds are very uncommon, and we are not likely to meet with any of
them in our walks. I may as well, however, tell you something about
them; but, as I have no personal knowledge of the habits of any of the
species, I must get my information from other sources. The great grey
shrike, the red-backed shrike, and the woodchat shrike, are the three
species of the family occurring in Great Britain; the red-backed
shrike is the only tolerably common one, arriving in this country
late in April, and quitting it in September. Mr. John Shaw tells me
this bird visits the quarry grounds at Shrewsbury every spring, and an
early riser, if he goes there, can see these birds readily. Mr.
Yarrell says that the great grey shrike is only an occasional visitor
to this country, and is generally obtained between autumn and spring.
Its food consists of mice, shrews, small birds, frogs, lizards, and
large insects. "After having killed its prey, it fixes the body in a
forked branch, or upon a sharp thorn, the more readily to pull off
small pieces from it." The following remarks are by a gentleman who
had one of these birds in confinement:--"An old bird of this species,"
he says, "taken near Norwich in October, 1835, lived in my possession
twelve months. It became very tame, and would readily take its food
from my hands. When a bird was given it, it invariably broke the
skull, and generally ate the head first. It sometimes held the bird in
its claws, and pulled it to pieces in the manner of hawks, but seemed
to prefer forcing part of it through the wires, then pulling at it. It
always hung what it could not eat up on the sides of the cage. It
would often eat three small birds in a day. In the spring it was very
noisy, one of its notes a little resembling the cry of the kestrel."
It is a cunning as well as a bold bird. It is said that by imitating
the notes of some of the smaller birds it calls them near it, and then
pounces upon some deluded victim. The shrike is used by falconers
abroad for trapping falcons; "it is fastened to the ground, and by
screaming loudly gives notice to the falconer, who is concealed, of
the approach of a hawk." You will notice in any picture of a shrike
how admirably adapted is its curved beak for butchering purposes. The
red-backed shrike "frequents the sides of woods and high hedgerows,
generally in pairs, and may frequently be seen perched on the
uppermost branch of an isolated bush, on the look out for prey. The
males occasionally make a chirping noise, not unlike the note of the
sparrow." It also imitates the voice of small birds. Mr. Yarrell says
"the food of the red-backed shrike is mice, and probably shrews, small
birds, and various insects, particularly the common May-chaffer. Its
inclination to attack and its power to destroy little birds has been
doubted; but it has been seen to kill a bird as large as a finch, and
is not unfrequently caught in the clap-nets of London bird-catchers,
having struck at their decoy-birds;" and Mr. Hewitson says--"Seeing a
red-backed shrike busy in a hedge, I found, upon approaching it, a
small bird, upon which it had been operating, firmly fixed upon a
blunt thorn; its head was torn off, and the body entirely plucked."

"What an amazing quantity of little lady-bird beetles there are on
this hedge-bank," said May. "The ground is almost red with them." Yes,
it is a very common, but very pretty species. You see there are seven
black spots on its red wing-covers, three on each, arranged
triangularly, and one at the top of the wing-covers, just at the point
where they meet. "Are these insects injurious, papa?" asked Willy;
"you say there are so many insects that are. I do hope the little
lady-birds do no mischief." I am happy, then, to tell you that they
are as useful as they are pretty. You all know what are called
plant-lice, those nasty green or black flies called Aphides, which
cover the leaves or branches of so many trees and flowers, and do most
terrible mischief. Well, the lady-birds, both when they are larvæ and
when they are beetles, eat these pests, and help to keep their
devastating swarms in check. I have frequently seen an aphis in the
mouth of a lady-bird; and the larva, a curious six-footed grub, about
the third of an inch long, which you may often see late in the summer
and the autumn, is still more fond of aphis food. Mr. Curtis says two
lady-birds cleared two geranium plants of aphides in twenty-four
hours. The species we are looking at is the "seven-spotted lady-bird;"
there is another very common kind, whose scarlet wing-cases have one
black spot on the centre of each. This species is subject to
considerable variety; it is called the "two-spotted lady-bird." There
is another you may often find; it is small and yellow, with eleven
spots on each wing-cover. This is called the "twenty-two-spotted
lady-bird;" it is an elegant little creature. It is interesting to
note how the observation of some particular animal has led naturalists
to the choice of their favorite study. Mr. Gould tells us that his
first inclination to the study of birds arose from his father having
once lifted him up to peep into a hedge-warbler's nest. His admiration
for the beautiful blue eggs led him to devote his time to ornithology,
or the study of birds. If I remember rightly, Kirby's mind was
directed to the study of insects by noticing the wonderful vitality
shown by a little lady-bird beetle, which, after having been immersed
twenty-four hours in spirits of wine, on being taken out actually flew
away. "What is the meaning," asked Mary, "of the nursery rhyme about
the lady-bird?

    Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home,
    Your house is on fire, and your children will burn?"

Indeed, I cannot tell you. There are different versions of the old
song. One runs thus:

    Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home;
    Your house is on fire, your children at home,
    All but one that lives under the stone,--
    Fly thee home, lady-bird, ere it be gone.

In Yorkshire and Lancashire it is--

    Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly thy way home,
    Thy house is on fire, thy children all roam,
    Except little Nan, who sits in her pan,
    Weaving gold laces as fast as she can.

The names of Lady-bird, Lady-cow, no doubt originated from the general
reverence for this insect and its dedication to the Virgin Mary. In
Scandinavia this little beetle is called "Our Lady's Key-maid," in
Sweden "The Virgin Mary's Golden Hen." Similar reverence is paid in
Germany, France, England, and Scotland. In Norfolk it is called Bishop
Barnabee, and the young girls have the following rhyme, which they
continue to recite to it placed on the palm of the hand, till it takes
wing and flies away.

    "Bishop, Bishop Barnabee,
    Tell me when my wedding be;
    If if be to-morrow day,
    Take your wings and fly away!
    Fly to the East, fly to the West,
    Fly to him that I love best."

The word barnabee or burnabee, or, as Southey writes it, burnie-bee,
no doubt has reference to the burnished or polished wing cases of the
insect.

Let us now look out for the coots and water-hens, which love to dabble
amongst the weeds of these pools, and to hide amongst the hedges and
bulrushes that so thickly skirt them. See how rapidly the swifts or
"Jack-squealers," as the country folks call them, are gliding by; you
remember when we were noticing the swallows and martins that we
thought of the swifts. Look at the beautiful scythe-like form of the
wings; the tail, you see, is slightly forked; but the bird has the
power of bringing the feathers together, so that sometimes you cannot
see its cleft form. I generally notice swifts in the neighbourhood
about the 5th of May; this year Mr. John Shaw tells me he saw some in
Shrewsbury as early as the 23rd of April. Although they come to us the
last of the swallow family, they leave us the soonest. By the middle
of August most of the swifts will have left us.

This bird has remarkably short legs; and I remember more than once
taking one off the ground when I was a boy at school, for unless it is
raised a little above the level of the ground, it finds it very
difficult to mount upwards by reason of its extremely short legs and
long wings. If we had a swift in our hands, I could point out how it
differed from the rest of the swallow family in the structure of its
feet; in the other members the four toes are arranged three before and
one behind; in the swift all the four toes are directed forwards.
There is another kind of swift, the "white-bellied swift," which has,
on a few occasions, been noticed in this country. It is rather larger
than the common swift, and has wings of greater length, and can fly
even more rapidly. Hark! I hear the noise of a coot proceeding from
the reeds of a pond. I dare say if we keep quite still we shall get a
glimpse of her. There she comes; and do look, a lot of young ones with
her; little black downy things they are, as we should see were we near
enough to examine them. The old birds have a naked white patch on the
forehead, and are therefore called bald-coots. You can see the white
patch now she faces us and the sun is shining; the body is a dingy
black tinged with dark grey; you notice a little white about the
wings. The feet of the coot are curiously formed, each of the four
toes is partly webbed, having a membrane forming rounded lobes; the
claws are very sharp, and the bird does not hesitate to make use of
them if you catch hold of it carelessly; so Col. Hawker gives the
following caution to young sportsmen--"Beware of a winged coot, or he
will scratch you like a cat."

I never saw a coot dive; and think it seldom does; water-hens, every
one knows, are frequent divers.

The old bird is pulling up some of the weeds of the pool for the young
ones; how carefully she attends to them; the heads of the little ones
are nearly naked, and of a bright orange colour mixed with blue; but
this brilliant colouring lasts only a few days. The nest is made of
broken reeds and flags, and hidden amongst the tall rushes and edges
in the water.

Bewick mentions the case of a coot having built her nest among some
rushes, which were afterwards loosened by the wind, and of course the
nest was driven about and floated upon the surface of the water in
every direction; notwithstanding which, the female continued to sit as
usual, and brought out her young upon her movable habitation. See, now
they have all gone away to hide amongst the reeds; they like to come
out into the open water late in the evening, and it is not often easy
to observe them in the day-time. There are plenty of moor-hens or
water-hens in these reedy pools. They are not so peaceful as the
coots, for they have been known to attack young ducklings. There one
swims, jerking up its tail, which is whitish underneath, and nodding
its head; the moor-hen is a smaller bird than the coot, though
resembling it both in form and habits. The feet, however, are very
different, for, instead of the toes being furnished with a lobed
membrane, they have a continuous narrow one down each. Moor-hens have
been known to remove their eggs from the nest, in order to add to it,
and to replace them again. Mr. Selby relates the following interesting
account:

"During the early part of the summer of 1835 a pair of water-hens
built their nest by the margin of the ornamental pond at Bell's Hill,
a piece of water of considerable extent, and ordinarily fed by a
spring from the height above, but into which the contents of another
large pond can occasionally be admitted. This was done while the
female was sitting; and as the nest had been built when the
water-level stood low, the sudden influx of this large body of water
from the second pond caused a rise of several inches, so as to
threaten the speedy immersion and consequent destruction of the eggs.
This the birds seem to have been aware of, and immediately took
precaution against so imminent a danger; for when the gardener, upon
whose veracity I can safely rely, seeing the sudden rise of the water,
went to look after the nest, expecting to find it covered and the eggs
destroyed, or at least forsaken by the hen, he observed, while at a
distance, both birds busily engaged about the brink where the nest was
placed; and when near enough, he clearly perceived that they were
adding, with all possible dispatch, fresh materials to raise the
fabric beyond the level of the increased contents of the pond, and
that the eggs had by some means been removed from the nest by the
birds, and were then deposited upon the grass, about a foot or more
from the margin of the water. He watched them for some time, and saw
the nest rapidly increase in height; but I regret to add that he did
not remain long enough, fearing he might create alarm, to witness the
interesting act of the replacing of the eggs, which must have been
effected shortly afterwards; for upon his return in less than an hour,
he found the hen quietly sitting upon them in the newly raised nest.
In a few days afterwards the young were hatched, and, as usual, soon
quitted the nest and took to the water with the parent. The nest was
shown to me _in situ_ very soon afterwards, and I could then plainly
discern the formation of the new with the old part of the fabric."

"What is that little bird in the water?" asked Jack. "Oh! he is
suddenly gone; do you see the curl in the water where it dived?" It
was no doubt a dabchick, then, from your description, though I was not
in time to see it before it dived; if we keep quite still and silent I
dare say it will appear again. There it is, dabbling in the water in
search of water insects that are found amongst the weeds. Another name
of this bird is the little grebe; several species of grebes have been
found in this county; the great-crested grebe is a very handsome bird
and frequents lakes and rivers; but of the five British grebes, the
little dabchick is by far the most common. The feet of these birds are
peculiar, the toes are not connected together by a web, as you see in
ducks and geese; they are, however, united at the base, and each of
the three front toes is surrounded by a broad continuous membrane; the
lower part of the leg is also very flat; the legs are placed very far
backwards, so that these birds stand almost upright; the wings are
short and seldom used for flight; however, they are admirable swimmers
and divers, and pretty, lively little birds. The plumage of this
little grebe varies according to the time of year. Now, in the summer
weather, the head, neck and back are a very dark brown; the cheeks and
front of the neck a rich chestnut; chin jet black; in the winter they
lose this chestnut colour, and are then of a light olive-grey colour
and white underneath. Formerly the two different states of the plumage
were thought to mark two different species.

The nest, as Mr. Gould tells us, is a raft of weeds and aquatic plants
carefully heaped together in a rounded form. The young ones have
delicate rose-coloured bills and harlequin-like markings on the body,
and rosy-white breasts. "So active and truly aquatic is the dabchick,
even when only one or two days old, that it is almost impossible to
see it in a state of nature; for immediately after the young birds are
hatched, they either take to the water of their own accord, or cling
when not more than an hour old to the backs of their parents, who dive
away with them out of harm's way." Mr. Gould mentions that a friend of
his, when out on a fishing excursion with him, once shot a dabchick as
it dived across a shallow stream; on emerging wounded, on the surface,
two young ones clinging to the back were caught by Mr. Gould in his
landing net.

So rapid is their diving that they can often avoid the charge of a
gun; they then rise again "with only the tips of their bill above
water, and even these generally concealed amongst some patch of weeds
or grass." The grebes have a peculiar habit of plucking off the soft
feathers from the under side of the body and swallowing them. Why they
do so is not known.

[Illustration: CONVOLVULUS.]

"What is this pretty pink flower," asked May, "with long trailing
stems and leaves broadly arrow-shaped? From its resemblance to that
beautiful convolvulus in the garden I should think it must be a
smaller kind of that plant." You are quite right, it is a convolvulus,
and its English name of Field Bindweed is expressive of the clinging
habits of this plant; see how tightly it has wrapped itself round
this tall blade of grass. Although a very pretty plant; with its pink
flowers and darker plaits, its arrow-shaped leaves, and its fragrant
smell, it is a troublesome weed to the farmer. Then there is the
greater bindweed, with its large bell-blossoms sometimes white as
snow, sometimes striped with pink, sometimes almost rose-colour, so
often seen growing profusely over the tallest bushes. Both kinds of
bindweed, however, are mischievous weeds; the large kind you may find
in flower as late as September. Some of the bindweed family, I ought
to say, are valuable in medicine. There is for instance the
_Convolvulus jalapa_ and _Convolvulus scammonia_, both of which are
extensively used in medicine; the former a South American plant and
the latter a Syrian one. Then there is the so-called sweet-potato,
which is the root of _Convolvulus batatas_ used in China, Japan, and
other tropical countries as a wholesome food. Strange it seems that
plants so closely related should differ so much in their properties.

The accompanying vignette may be supposed to represent Master Willy
watching the movements of a snail.

[Illustration]



WALK VIII.

JULY.


Let us have another stroll on the moors. We pass over a small brook on
our way, and of course stop on the bridge and gaze into the little
rivulet. What do I see about four yards off in the shade? A number of
small dark-coloured patches which I recognise at once as one of our
most beautiful fresh-water algæ. We will gather some from the bottom.
There! the little tufts are attached to the upper sides of stones.
When taken out of the water, the plant looks and feels like a mass of
very dark jelly. I will float a piece out in this bottle of water. Did
you ever see anything more beautiful? It consists of a number of
delicate branches, each arranged in a bead-like row, and from a
certain resemblance which these beaded rows bear to frog-spawn, as
well as from their jelly-like consistency, this alga has received the
name of _Batrachospermum_, which means "frogs' spawn." If we take a
bit home and spread it out carefully on a piece of drying paper,
separating the numerous beaded branches one from the other with the
point of a needle, and leave it to dry gradually, we shall get a very
pretty object indeed. As you may suppose, the plant is a most charming
object for the microscope. "Do you think," asked Willy, "it would do
in my aquarium?" I have several times tried it in an aquarium; it
would live for a few days, then gradually lose colour and break to
pieces. The fact is that, as Dr. Hassall says, these plants "inhabit
mostly pure and running waters, being usually met with in fountains,
wells, and streams, the force of which is not considerable." The
frog-spawn alga, therefore, will not thrive in any but the purest
water, and a gentle flow is necessary to its growth and health. "These
plants are so exceedingly flexible," Dr. Hassall continues, "that they
obey the slightest motion of the fluid which surrounds them, and would
seem almost to be endowed with vitality; nothing can surpass the ease
and grace of their movements. When removed from the water they lose
all form, and appear like pieces of jelly without trace of
organization. On immersion, however, the branches again quickly resume
their former disposition. They adhere strongly to paper, and in drying
frequently change to some other tint usually much deeper; on being
moistened after long intervals they recover much of their original
freshness; and it is even asserted that, after having lain in the
herbarium for some years, when they are replaced in water in a
suitable locality, they will vegetate as before." This last assertion
I must say I do not credit. I shall never forget the delight I felt
when I first made the acquaintance of this curious and graceful alga.
From the eyes of how many people are its charms hidden! It is only
those that look closely that would notice the little jelly-like tufts
growing modestly in shaded places for the most part. This species,
however, is common enough in gently flowing and shallow streams, and
we may often come across it in our rambles if we take the trouble to
use our eyes. There are other extremely beautiful forms of fresh-water
algæ.

Here in this same stream are the long green threads of _Cladophora
glomerata_. I use as few hard words as possible, but I cannot help
using them sometimes, as many objects have no English names. This alga
is also attached to stones and floats out with the current sometimes
two feet in length; and, like the frog-spawn alga, is fond of pure
water, but I have often kept the _Cladophora_ alive in perfect health
in an aquarium for weeks together. Its deep refreshing green colour
and graceful form make it a very desirable acquisition for the
aquarium. I break off a small bit. Now see its beautifully branched
form. Do you remember a round green ball about the size of a small
apple which I have at home? Well, that ball, which came from
Ellesmere, is nothing else than a mass of this same _Cladophora_. Dr.
Hassall is no doubt correct in his explanation of the formation of
these balls. He says, "This state of _Cladophora glomerata_ I believe
to be formed as follows: A specimen by the force of some mountain
stream swollen by recent rains becomes forced from its attachment; as
it is carried along by the current, it is made to revolve repeatedly
upon itself, until at last a compact ball is formed of it, which
finally becomes deposited in some basin or reservoir in which the
stream loses itself, and in which these balls are usually found." Here
are some specimens in the water of a rich brown colour instead of
green. This is caused by the growth of other algæ over its long
branches. See! I shake a bit in my bottle, and you see a quantity of
brown deposit comes off, showing the green threads of the _Cladophora_
underneath. This brown deposit looks to you, I dare say, very
uninteresting. I will show you some under the microscope when we get
home, and you will see many extremely beautiful forms. These are known
by the name of _Diatomaceæ_ and _Desmidiæ_. I will not tell you more
of them at present; but a picture which I will show you will give you
the forms of some of these microscopic plants.

[Illustration: FRESH-WATER ALGÆ, DESMIDEÆ, AND DIATOMACEÆ.

All highly magnified.

    1.--Staurastrum.
    2.--Trigonocystis.
    3.--Euastrum.
    4.--Closterium.
    5.--Diatoma.
    6, 7.--Meridion.
    8.--Eunotia.
    9.--Exilaria.]

Here we are once more on the wild moors. There is really nothing very
"wild" about them now; cultivation has turned them into excellent
pasturage; the epithet, too, is a corruption of weald, signifying a
wood. But this whole district, extending from Longdon-upon-Tern to
Aqualate, was once, there can be no doubt, covered with water. Perhaps
it was the bed of a large lake a great many years ago; the soil, you
see, is composed of peat varying in thickness in different parts, and
below the peat is often found sand and pebbles, which looks as if it
was once the bottom of a vast lake ten miles or more long, and three
broad. The village of Kinnersly was evidently once an island, and you
can now see the moors extending all around it. Once, then, the whole
district was covered with water, but about 200 years ago it was
covered with wood.

[Illustration: KESTREL.]

"Oh! papa, did you see that?" said Jack. "A hawk pounced upon a small
bird and has taken him to that fir tree, where he is eating him." It
is a kestril; one of the commonest of the British hawks, and which
we may often see in this district; though I am afraid those
destructive animals called gamekeepers will in time succeed in
destroying every hawk in the neighbourhood. "Well, but, papa," said
Willy, "do they not do a great deal of harm to young partridges and
pheasants, and of course the gamekeeper will not stand that?" I dare
say; indeed I have no doubt that a kestril will occasionally seize
upon a young partridge, but it is also certain that mice form the
principal part of its food. Remains of mice, shrews, beetles, lizards,
have been found in the kestril's stomach, and I am sure it would be a
great pity to seek to exterminate this handsome and attractive bird.
"Is this the hawk that you very often see hovering steadily in the
air over one spot?" asked May. Yes, it is, and from this habit it has
got the name of windhover; the outspread tail is suspended and the
head always points in the direction of the wind. The sparrow-hawk I
occasionally see, and now and then the merlin, a beautiful little
fellow and of great courage; the sparrow-hawk is a much greater enemy
to young birds than the kestril, and ought not to be allowed to
increase where game or poultry are reared, for so bold are these birds
that they will not unfrequently skim over a poultry yard, seize a
young chicken and carry it off. Have you never heard the cry of terror
an old hen utters when a hawk is seen in the air near her little
brood?

Mr. Gould gives us the following anecdote of a sparrow-hawk as related
to him by a friend:--

"Three or four years since I was driving towards Dover, when suddenly
a sparrow-hawk, with a stoop like a falcon's, struck a lark close to
my horse's head. The lark fell as a grouse or a partridge will fall to
a falcon or tiercel, and the sparrow-hawk did not attempt to carry,
but held on his way. I jumped down and picked up the body of the lark
and the head; the two being entirely disunited. The velocity and force
of the stoop must have been tremendous. I have often seen grouse and
partridges ripped up the back and neck, and the skull laid bare, but I
never saw a head taken clean off before." A sparrow-hawk has been
known to pursue a finch between the legs of a man, and to dash through
a window-pane with the intention of seizing some cage-bird.

"What was that very large bird, papa," said Willy, "that you noticed
near Eyton last November? It was one of the hawk family, was it not?"
Yes; I have no doubt it was the common buzzard, though it would not
allow me to get very near it; but I watched it at a distance for some
time. It would remain on a tree for some time, and then take a slow
flight away, returning again to some tree. Buzzards are not nearly
such active fliers and bold birds as the smaller kinds of hawks.
Though I said it was the common buzzard, you must not suppose that
this bird is really common; it is called common as being the species
most frequently seen in this country. Mr. Yarrell, in his book on
'British Birds,' has given the figure of a buzzard nursing and feeding
a brood of young chickens. Is not that a curious thing?

He says, "The extreme partiality of the common buzzard to the seasonal
task of incubation and rearing young birds has been exemplified in
various instances. A few years back, a female buzzard, kept in the
garden of the Chequers Inn, at Uxbridge, showed an inclination to sit
by collecting and bending all the loose sticks she could gain
possession of. Her owner, noticing her actions, supplied her with
materials. She completed her nest and sat on two hens' eggs, which she
hatched, and afterwards reared the young. Since then she has hatched
and brought up a brood of chickens every year.

"She indicates her desire to sit by scratching holes in the ground,
and breaking and tearing everything within her reach. One summer, in
order to save her the fatigue of sitting, some young chickens just
hatched were put down to her, but she destroyed the whole. Her
family, in June, 1839, consisted of nine, the original number was ten,
but one had been lost. When flesh was given to her, she was very
assiduous in tearing and offering it as food to her nurselings, and
appeared uneasy if, after taking small portions from her, they turned
away to pick up grain."

What is this little mouse-like thing in the grass? how quickly it
runs. Now I have got him. No! off again; burrowing under the
grass-roots. Now I have him safe enough; he cannot bite me with this
glove on. Look at the little rogue, with his soft short silky fur and
long nose. See how flexible that pointed nose is; how useful in
grubbing amongst the closest herbage, or under the surface of the
soil. How sharp are the little creature's teeth. With them he eats
worms and the larvæ of various kinds of insects. Well, what is its
name? It is the common shrew, and though the form of the body is
mouse-shaped, it is, properly speaking, not a mouse at all, being much
more nearly related to the mole. It is said that shrews are very fond
of fighting, and that if two be confined together in a box, the
stronger will conquer the weaker and then eat him. Moles are said to
eat their small relatives, but I have never had any evidence of the
fact, though it is probable enough. May wanted to know whether cats
eat shrews. I have often tried cats with dead shrews, and have always
found they will not touch them. I dare say, however, they would kill
them. The smell of the shrew is certainly unpleasant, as you may find
out from this little fellow I hold in my hand. Mind he does not bite
your nose. Now we have examined him I shall let him go. It is no
pleasure to take an animal's life, and as this little shrew does no
harm but good by destroying insect larvæ, it would be a shame to hurt
him. Where injurious creatures must be killed, let us always be
careful to take away life so as to cause the least possible pain. Now,
would any of you have ever thought that the little shrew I have just
released had ever been supposed to be one of the most dangerous
enemies to cattle? This was really once believed by our ancestors, who
thought that a shrew, by running over the backs of cattle, made them
weak in the loins, and that its bite made a beast swell at the heart
and die. Absurd as was the belief, the supposed cure for the injury
was, if possible, still more ridiculous. It consisted in passing over
the cow's back the twigs of a shrew ash. "Now a shrew ash," says
Gilbert White, "is an ash whose twigs or branches when applied to the
limbs of cattle will immediately relieve the pains which a beast
suffers from the running of a shrew-mouse over the part affected, for
it is supposed that a shrew-mouse is of so baneful and deleterious a
nature, that wherever it creeps over a beast, be it horse, cow, or
sheep, the suffering animal is afflicted with cruel anguish and
threatened with the loss of the use of the limb. Against this
accident, to which they were continually liable, our provident
forefathers always kept a shrew ash at hand which, when once
medicated, would maintain its virtue for ever. A shrew ash was made
thus: into the body of the tree a deep hole was bored with an auger,
and a poor devoted shrew-mouse was thrust in alive, and plugged in,
no doubt with several quaint incantations long since forgotten." It is
marvellous how people could ever have believed such stuff; but equal
absurdities are still accepted by many people to this very day; so
strong a hold on men's minds have the kindred vices of superstition
and ignorance.

Look at these spiders' webs on this hawthorn hedge, they are formed of
delicate silken threads, and are of a long funnel shape; the spider
occupies the bottom part and soon rushes up should any insect get into
the trap, and quickly rushes down and escapes at the back door if your
hand enters the front. The top of the funnel is spread out into large
broad sheets, and the whole snare is attached by silken cords to the
twigs of the bushes. This is the snare and residence of a good-sized
species, the _Agelena labyrinthica_. Such webs are common on hedges,
on grass, heath, and gorse. Now you must distinguish between spiders'
nests and spiders' snares. The very common wheel-like webs, which you
see abundantly on hedges, are snares or traps for insects, and
beautiful they look on a dewy morning all strung with liquid pearls.
Here under this oak are a number of old acorn-cups of last autumn's
produce; the acorns have fallen out and the black cups remain. Do you
see a delicate spider's web filling this cup; inside are a quantity of
tiny round eggs, and a small spider is keeping guard within; this is a
spider's nest. Many spiders spin cocoons for their little round eggs,
place them in various situations, and leave them; others show the
greatest care for them and carry them about wherever they go. The
cocoons of the species whose web or trap we are now looking at are
made of strong white silk, each cocoon containing perhaps 100 round
eggs, rather yellowish in colour. They are fastened to the inside of a
web the spider spins by means of silken pillars formed by a number of
threads closely glued together. The sac containing the cocoons is
fastened to stems of grass or other objects, and partially hidden by a
few withered leaves. "For the purpose of securing their prey," says
Mr. Blackwall, the author of a splendid work on 'British Spiders,'
"spiders have recourse to divers expedients. Numerous species run
rapidly about in quest of those objects which constitute their food;
others, approaching their victims with great circumspection, spring
upon them from a distance; some lie concealed in flowers or among
leaves, seizing such insects as come within their reach; and many
species procure a supply of nutriment by means of complicated snares
of their own fabrication." Of these snares the most beautiful, as I
said, are the "wheel within wheel" nets of the various species of the
family _Epëiridæ_. "What are those spider-like things," asked Willy,
"with long thin bodies, you often see skating along the water? they
are something like the spiders." They are not spiders at all, but
insects called "water-measurers," from their peculiar habit of taking
a short skate on the surface of the water and then stopping; having
measured that distance, off they go again. However, many spiders do
run along on the surface of the water, and you know there is one, the
great water-spider, that lives habitually in it. Some years ago I had
one of these water-spiders in a glass vessel of water, and saw it spin
its curious dome-shaped web which it attached to the sides of the
glass and some weeds. These domes are formed of closely woven white
silk, in the form of a diving bell or half a pigeon's egg, as De Geer
has said, with the opening below. It looks like a half-ball of silver;
this appearance is due to a quantity of air. It is, in fact, a huge
air-bubble surrounded by a covering of white silk, and, as you may
suppose, a very interesting and pretty object. Within this silver dome
the spider places her eggs, perhaps a hundred or more in number, which
are enveloped in a cocoon, this being attached to the inner side of
the dome. "But how," said Jack, "is the bubble formed? Where does the
air come from?" You have asked a very interesting question, and one
which can be answered; for the question was set at rest by Mr. Bell,
an excellent observer and well-known naturalist, about twelve years
ago, if I remember rightly. He found that the old spider actually took
the air down with her from the surface of the water, and deposited it
in her domed house. I shall now quote Mr. Bell's words: "The manner in
which the animal possesses itself of the bubble of air is very
curious, and, as far as I know, has never been exactly described. It
ascends to the surface slowly, assisted by a thread attached to a leaf
or other support below and to the surface of the water. As soon as it
comes near the surface it turns with the extremity of the abdomen
upwards, and exposes a portion of the body to the air for an instant,
then with a jerk it snatches, as it were, a bubble of air, which is
not only attached to the hairs which cover the abdomen, but is held on
by the two hinder legs, which are crossed at an acute angle near their
extremity; this crossing of the legs taking place at the instant the
bubble is seized. The little creature then descends more rapidly and
regains its cell, always by the same route, turns the abdomen within
it, and disengages the bubble." Spiders have strong jaws; at the
bottom of each hooked jaw there is a small sac which contains a
poisonous fluid; this fluid is conveyed by a narrow channel from the
sac along the jaw, and is pressed out at an opening or slit at the tip
of the fang into the wound inflicted on its victim. The feet of
spiders are generally terminated by two or more claws furnished with
teeth; by means of these combs the animal is enabled to manage the
threads of its web with great dexterity and efficiency.

[Illustration: SPIDER'S FANG, MAGNIFIED.]

[Illustration: SPIDER'S FOOT, MAGNIFIED.]

[Illustration]



WALK IX.

JULY.


Let us be off to the fields once more; the sun is very hot, but we can
find refreshing shade under the trees when we are tired. What is this
beautiful little plant with bright scarlet flowers fully expanded? It
is the scarlet pimpernel, or "poor man's weather-glass;" for on rainy
days, and even before the showers are coming, the little plant,
conscious of their approach, closes up its flowers. Other wild
flowers, such as the convolvulus, close before rain. The little
pimpernel, however, is supposed to be the best barometer. There is
another thing about the pimpernel; you will not often see its blossoms
expanded after three o'clock in the afternoon. In other countries,
also, the regular closing of the flowers has been noticed. Dr. Seeman,
who went as naturalist on one of the Arctic Expeditions, noticed the
flowers to close during the long day of an arctic summer. "Although,"
he says, "the sun never sets while it lasts, the plants make no
mistake about the time, when if it be not night it ought to be, but
regularly as the evening hours approach, and when a midnight sun is
several degrees above the horizon, they droop their leaves, and sleep
even as they do at sunset in more favoured climes." Look at the
bright scarlet flower, with its small purple eye. Excepting poppies,
with their dazzling brightness, I do not think there is another wild
flower that has scarlet petals. However, the blossoms are not always
scarlet; there is a white variety with a purple eye, and another
having a dark blue blossom.

[Illustration: SCARLET PIMPERNEL.]

Well, Jack, you have found something, have you? Ah! this is a queer
plant, it has queer habits, and a queer name; it is called
"Jack-go-to-bed at noon." We sometimes call you after the name of
another plant, "Jack-by-the-hedge." May, of course, is "May," or
hawthorn blossom, and Robin at home, from his often tearing his
clothes, is "Ragged Robin." Another name for the plant you hold in
your hand is goat's beard; the leaves are long and grass-like, the
flowers bright yellow; it is not yet quite eleven o'clock, and the
blossoms are expanded; they generally close about noon. Look at the
colour of the stem, it has a kind of sea-green bloom upon it. Well,
you would never find this plant with blossom expanded in the
afternoon; so "Jack-go-to-bed at noon" is really not a bad name for
it.

    "And goodly now the noon-tide hour
    When from his high meridian tower
    The sun looks down in majesty.
    What time about the grassy lea
    The goat's-beard prompt his rise to hail
    With broad expanded disc, in veil
    Close mantling wraps its yellow head,
    And goes, as peasants say, to bed."

Here we are at a stream; do you see those things at the bottom slowly
moving? They seem to be bits of stick. "I know what they are," said
Jack, "there is a good fat maggot in each of these cases; they are
caddis-worms." Quite right, and in time they will change to insects.
Here is another kind; the house is made of small bits of gravel, and
it is attached to this smooth stone. I will break open the case; do
you see inside is a long cylindrical case, with a thin covering; I
slit this open with my penknife, and now you see the creature inside.
There are a great variety of these caddis-worms, and most interesting
it is to notice the different kind of houses they build. Some of the
larvæ live in movable cases, as we have seen, some in fixed
habitations; the materials, too, out of which the different cases are
constructed, are different, sometimes they are bits of gravel, or
sand, wood, leaves, grass, the empty shells of various fresh-water
molluscs. The fragments of stick and the small bits of gravel are held
together by a kind of cement which the larva spins from his mouth.
Sometimes we may meet with cases made of sand, having on either side
long slender bits of rush or stick. A lady once took a number of the
larvæ out of their cases, and placed them in a vessel of water with
various materials, such as coloured glass, cornelian, agate, onyx,
brass filings, coralline, tortoiseshell; and these little maggoty
things made use of and built their houses out of them. The perfect
insect has four wings; and from these being closely covered with
hairs, the order to which they belong has received the name of
_Trichoptera_, which means "having hairy wings." You must know many of
these insects; they are very common near ponds and streams; generally
they fly in a zig-zag fashion, and have the appearance of moths.

[Illustration: _a, b, c, d._ Larva, cocoon, nympha, and insect of
Caddis-fly.]

Ah! here is a splendid bed of the forget-me-not growing on this bank
near the stream. Look at the blue enamel-like flowers, each with a
yellow centre-eye; the leaves are bright green and rather rough. There
are other species very much resembling this one you may often see in
hedgerows and fields; but they are generally smaller plants; this one
is the true forget-me-not. There are several stories about the origin
of the name. Here is one:--Many years ago, a lady and knight were
wandering by a river; the lady espied these bright blue flowers, on a
small islet I suppose, in the deep river, and wished to possess them.
Her lover immediately plunged in and plucked the plants, but the
strength of the stream was too much for him on his return. With a
great effort, however, he threw the flowers on the bank, exclaiming
"Forget-me-not," and sank!

    "But the lady fair of the knight so true
      Still remember'd his hapless lot;
    And she cherish'd the flower of brilliant hue
    And she braided her hair with the blossoms blue,
      And she call'd it 'Forget-me-not.'"

We must proceed on our walk and not linger too long here, though, I
must own, it is hard to tear oneself away from the banks of a
gently-flowing river. So good-by to

    "That blue and bright-eyed flowret of the brook,
    Hope's gentle gem, the sweet 'Forget-me-not.'"

[Illustration: GOLDFINCH.]

As we crossed the road we met two men with cage-traps, and a slender
twig covered thickly with bird-lime. In each cage-trap was a tame
goldfinch, which were the decoy birds. The men had only succeeded in
taking one goldfinch--for which they asked half a crown. The decoy
birds attract other goldfinches by their call-note; these sometimes
alight on the trap, which instantly closes upon them; sometimes they
alight on the twig smeared with bird-lime, which is so sticky that
they cannot free themselves from it. "Gay plumage, lively habits, an
agreeable form and song, with a disposition to become attached to
those who feed them, are such strong recommendations, that the
goldfinch has been, and will probably continue to be, one of the most
general cage favourites. So well also do the birds of this species
bear confinement, that they have been known to live ten years in
captivity, continuing in song the greater part of each year. This
tendency to sing and call make them valuable as brace-birds,
decoy-birds, and call-birds, to be used by the birdcatcher with his
ground nets, while the facility with which others are captured, the
numbers to be obtained, and the constant demand for them by the
public, render the goldfinch one of the most important species
included within the bird-dealer's traffic."

Mr. Mayhew says that a goldfinch has been known to exist twenty-three
years in a cage. The same person tells us that goldfinches are sold in
the streets of London from sixpence to a shilling each, and when there
is an extra catch, and the shops are fully stocked, at threepence and
fourpence each. Only think, it is computed that as many as 70,000 song
birds are captured every year about London; the street sale of the
goldfinch being about a tenth of the whole. Goldfinches may be taught
to perform many amusing tricks, to draw up water for themselves by a
small thimble-sized bucket, or to raise the lid of a small box to
obtain the seed within. A goldfinch has been trained to appear dead;
it could be held up by the tail or claw without exhibiting any signs
of life, or to stand on its head with its claws in the air, or to
imitate a Dutch milk-maid going to market with pails on its shoulders,
or to appear as a soldier, keeping guard as sentinel. One was once
trained to act as a cannoneer with a cap on its head, a firelock on
its shoulder, and a match in its claw; it would then discharge a small
cannon. "The same bird also acted as if it had been wounded. It was
wheeled in a barrow, to convey it, as it were, to the hospital; after
which it flew away before the company." Another turned a kind of
windmill; another stood in the midst of some fireworks, which were
discharged all around it, without showing any fear. When we consider
how docile and affectionate many birds become; when we think of their
beauty and the sweet music they pour from their little throats; when
we consider also of what immense use a great number of species are to
man in helping to check injurious insects and caterpillars; does it
not seem strange that they meet with so little protection? How often,
as you know, we have met lads and great strong men with helpless
fledglings in their hands, which they intend to torture in some way or
other; perhaps they will tie strings to their legs and drag them
about, or place them on a large stone and throw at them. To
expostulate with them on the wickedness of such barbarous conduct is
hopeless; one might as well quote Hebrew to a tadpole!

How noisy the grasshoppers are, with their incessant shrill chirpings;
how thoroughly they enjoy the heat and sun! Just catch me one or two,
Willy; there, one has hopped just before you; now he is on that blade
of grass. Have you got him? No? Well, take this gauze net. Now you
have him. "How does the grasshopper make that peculiar sound?" asked
May. If you will get near one of these insects while he is making the
noise you will see how he does it. There, one stands on that plantain
stem. Do you see how briskly he rubs his legs against the wing-covers?
Now he is quiet, and his legs are still; so it is evident that the
friction or rubbing of the legs against the wings causes the sound. I
rub the thigh of this specimen I hold in my hands against the wing.
You distinctly hear the shrill sound. It is the males only who make
the noise; the females are mute. Some people have described another
organ which seems to increase the sound. I have sometimes placed both
field-crickets and grasshoppers under a tumbler, and supplied them
with moist blades of grass; it is curious to see how fast they eat
them. You should remember that the grasshopper is a relative of the
locust, to which, indeed, it bears a close resemblance; only the
locust is a much larger insect. There are several species of locusts,
and all are extremely injurious. You have read in the Bible of the
fearful damage they are able to cause to the trees and various crops.
It is seldom that locusts visit this country, happily, for there is
not a greater insect scourge in existence. Our green grasshopper is
also related to the cricket, so merrily noisy in dwelling-houses.
Crickets are difficult to get rid of when they have thoroughly
established themselves in a house. Like many noisy persons, crickets
like to hear nobody louder than themselves; and some one relates that
a woman who had tried in vain every method she could think of to
banish them from her house, at last got rid of them by the noise made
by drums and trumpets, which she had procured to entertain her guests
at a wedding. It is said, but you need not believe the story, that
they instantly forsook the house, and the woman heard of them no more.
Possibly some half dozen more women in the house would have had the
same effect, without the musical instruments! What do you say to that
idea, May? "That is too bad of you, papa, but you know you are only
joking."

[Illustration: _a, b, c._ Leg, wing-cover, and wing of Grasshopper,
magnified.]

Here is a large pond, and from this bank we can look down into the
water. There are some yellow water-lilies with their broad expanded
leaves. I have noticed that the blossoms are often attacked by the
larvæ of some two-winged flies. These flies lay their eggs within the
petals, "lily-cradled" literally; the eggs hatch and the larvæ eat the
cradle. I do not know more of these flies: I have often meant to trace
their history, but have somehow forgotten to do so. Do you see that
pike basking on the top of the water; how still and motionless he
lies. He is a good-sized fish, at least I should say he was four
pounds weight. "I wish we could catch him," said Willy. We have no
tackle with us; besides, when pike are sunning themselves in that way
on the top of the water, they are seldom inclined to take a bait.
"What is the largest pike," asked Jack, "you ever saw caught?" The
largest I ever saw alive was caught in the canal about five years ago;
it weighed twenty-one pounds, and was really a splendid fish. What
voracious fish they are; they will often take young ducks, water-hens
and coots, and will sometimes try to swallow a fish much too large for
their throats. It is said that a pike once seized the head of a swan
as she was feeding under water, and gorged so much of it as killed
them both. The servants perceiving the swan with its head under water
for a longer time than usual, took the boat and found both swan and
pike dead. "Gesner relates that a pike in the Rhone seized on the lips
of a mule that was brought to water, and that the beast drew the fish
out before it could disengage itself. Walton was assured by his friend
Mr. Segrave, who kept tame otters, that he had known a pike, in
extreme hunger, fight with one of his otters for a carp that the otter
had caught and was then bringing out of the water. A woman in Poland
had her foot seized by a pike as she was washing clothes in a pond."
Mr. Jesse tells the story of a gentleman, who, as he was one day
walking by the side of the river Wey, saw a large pike in a shallow
creek. He immediately pulled off his coat, tucked up his shirt
sleeves, and went into the water to intercept the return of the fish
to the river, and to endeavour to throw it out upon the bank by
getting his hands under it. During this attempt the pike, finding he
could not make his escape, seized one of the arms of the gentleman,
and lacerated it so much that the marks of the wound were visible for
a long time afterwards. Pike will live to a great age, ninety years
or more. In the year 1497, according to old Gesner, a pike was taken
at Halibrun in Suabia with a brazen ring attached to it, on which was
the following inscription in Greek:--"I am the fish which was put into
the lake by the hands of the governor of the universe, Frederick the
Second, the 5th of October, 1230." This pike, therefore, would be two
hundred and sixty-seven years old; people said it weighed three
hundred and fifty pounds, and that its skeleton was nineteen feet
long. I will show you a picture of this ring in Gesner's book when we
get home.

[Illustration]



WALK X.

OCTOBER.


How pleasant is the season of autumn, with its yellow fields of ripe
corn, and its orchards laden with the fruits of the apple and the
pear. But now the golden grain is safely stored. The birds, too, have
done singing, with the exception of the robin and the hedge-warbler,
which even in the winter occasionally cheer us with their welcome
notes. There are yet, however, a few wild flowers to interest us, and
the ferns are still beautiful. The various kinds of fungi are
springing up in the fields and woodlands; it is a charming day for a
stroll; we will drive to the Wrekin and explore the woods at its base.
I am sure we shall be able to meet with many pretty forms. The woods
are rendered extremely beautiful by the rich autumnal tints of the
foliage. We will go through this wicket and follow the path in the
direction of Ten-Tree Hill. Now, who will be the first to find the
bright scarlet fly agaric? It is a poisonous species, though so
beautiful. We will put the wholesome fungi in one basket and the
suspected ones in another.

Here you see is the elegant parasol fungus, with its tall stem and top
spotted with brown flakes; it is a most delicious one to eat, and in
my opinion is superior to the common mushroom. "Shall we find the
beefsteak fungus, papa?" said Willy. I have never seen it growing
here; the beefsteak fungus prefers to grow on very old oak trees, and
it is, moreover, by no means common. It is so called from its
resemblance to a beefsteak when cut through; a reddish gravy-like
juice flows from the wound, and I think the whole fungus when young
very inviting. I have on three or four occasions eaten this species,
but I do not think it a very palatable one, though perfectly wholesome
and doubtless nutritious.

Here is a quantity of _Amanita phalloides_, very beautiful with its
green tints and white stem; but I should not like to eat any of this
kind. Do you notice what a very unpleasant smell it has?

[Illustration: FUNGI.

    1.--Beef-steak Fungus.
    2.--Latticed Stinkhorn, (very rare.)
    3.--Boletus.
    4.--Hedgehog Mushroom.
    5.--Fly Agaric.
    6.--Clavaria.
    7.--Bird's-nest Fungus; b, Sporangium of ditto, magnified.]

What a number of animals are nailed to that beech-tree! Let us see
what they are: two cats, three weasels, two stoats, four jays, two
magpies, two kestrils, an owl, and a sparrow-hawk. The keeper has
trapped or shot these as enemies to the game, and no doubt, with the
exception of the weasels, owl, and kestrils, the other animals often
destroy young pheasants or suck their eggs. Still I should not like to
see all wild animals destroyed that occasionally harm game preserves.
Gamekeepers have strong affection for their hares, partridges, and
pheasants, and consider all other wild animals as either enemies or
beneath notice. Indeed, a gamekeeper's zoology is confined to five
things--pheasants, partridges, hares, rabbits, and ants' eggs. Ah! I
do think I espy about twenty yards ahead the fly agaric (_Amanita
muscaria_). To be sure, here is a fine lot; some just appearing
above ground in the form of scarlet balls; others fully expanded. How
splendid they are! You notice many white patches on their tops; let us
see how these patches are formed. Here is a specimen hardly showing
itself. I will dig it up. There, now you see; the whole fungus is
wrapped up in a thin white envelope; this is called a _volva_, from
the Latin word volvo--"I roll up." When the _volva_ breaks, it leaves
scattered patches on the top. The gills are white or yellowish and the
stem is bulbous. This is not a very common fungus; it is, however,
frequent enough in the woods about the Wrekin. The effects of this
fungus on a person who has eaten it are of an intoxicating nature. Dr.
Badham, who used to eat various kinds of fungi and has written a very
good book on wholesome kinds, once gathered some specimens of the fly
agaric. He sent them to two lady friends, intending to call soon
afterwards and explain that he had sent them on account of their
extreme beauty solely. Dr. Badham did not come, but these two ladies
said, "Oh, of course Dr. Badham would never send us anything
unwholesome; let us have some cooked for tea." So they had some cooked
and ate thereof, and were taken very ill. The bad effects, however,
soon passed away. Look at that little squirrel, see how nimbly he
climbs the tree; now he hides on a forked branch and thinks we do not
see him. Well, I must not forget to tell you that this fungus, growing
in this spot so plentifully, is called fly agaric because a decoction
of it was once used to destroy flies. The people in Siberia swallow
portions of it to produce intoxication. Here is another species
closely related to the one we have been considering, and not unlike it
in form; this is the blushing agaric (_Amanita rubescens_); you see
its top also is covered with whitish flakes or warts; and persons who
are not in the habit of noticing differences might confuse this
species with the other. Now look; I will cut this specimen through
with my knife, and bruise it slightly; do you see how it changes to a
reddish hue, thus at once distinguishing itself from its unwholesome
relative? This quality gives the name to the fungus. The blushing
agaric is perfectly wholesome. You remember how often we had it cooked
last autumn, and how delicious it was both for breakfast and dinner. I
would never, however, advise persons who have not paid attention to
the study of fungi to gather and eat them without asking the opinion
of some one who had knowledge of the subject; and I am sure that you,
children, will never think of eating any kind that you have not first
brought to me. There sits the squirrel. Let us make him show us how he
can leap from one bough to another. I clap my hands and Jack throws a
stone, and off the little fellow goes, taking wonderful leaps. As the
winter approaches the squirrel will be busy laying up stores for
consumption during that season, such as nuts, acorns, and beech-mast.
For the greater part of the winter the squirrel is dormant; on fine
warm days, however, he ventures out of his retreat in the hole of a
tree, visits his cupboard, cracks a few nuts, and then goes to sleep
again. The nest of the squirrel is made of moss, leaves, and twigs
curiously intertwined, and is generally placed between the forked
branches; the young ones, two or three in number, are born in the
month of June. A gentleman, in a letter to Mr. Jenyns, says "a pair
which frequented a tree opposite the window of one of the rooms,
evinced great enmity to a couple of magpies with whom they kept up a
perpetual warfare, pursuing them from branch to branch, and from tree
to tree with untiring agility. Whether this persecution arose from
natural antipathy between the combatants, or from jealousy of
interference with their nests, is not known."

What are those black circular spots some four or five yards in
diameter, so common in the woods of the Wrekin? They are places where
wood has been burnt for charcoal. Always examine such spots, as you
may find rare plants growing upon them which scarcely grow anywhere
else. Here, for instance, is _Flammula carbonaria_ abundant. On these
charcoal spots this fungus delights to grow, and I do not think you
will find it elsewhere. Mr. Worthington Smith tells us it is a very
rare British fungus; it is not mentioned in Mr. Berkley's 'Outlines of
Fungology.' Here is a beautifully marked variety of _Polyporus
perennis_, also very rare; it is tinted with rich sienna, chocolate,
and black; it is found only in these charcoal rings. Let us go farther
on. Look at that splendid bright, orange-yellow fungus growing amongst
the moss in large tufts as it were. Each plant has a tender stem with
short branches; what a number are growing together with roots or lower
portions of the stem closely intertwined! This is _Clavaria
fastigiata_. Here we meet with the sticky _Gomphidius viscidus_, and
here with the handsome _Tricholoma scalpturatus_, and the lovely _T.
rutilans_. I am obliged to use Latin names as there are no English
ones. The ground here is covered with the small _Clitocyle fragrans_;
it smells like newly-mown hay. And now we meet with various _Boleti_.
Look at the under surface; you see it is riddled with numerous small
holes, very unlike the gills of the mushroom and all agarics. We shall
find _Boletus luteus_, _B. flavus_, _B. edulis_, _B. scaber_, the
handsome but poisonous _B. luridus_. _Boletus edulis_ is, as its name
imports, very good to eat and perfectly wholesome; so, too, is _B.
scaber_ and _B. luteus_. Holloa! what bird has just fled before us? it
is a woodcock evidently, and has probably lately arrived in this
country from the south of Europe, though woodcocks occasionally reside
here all through the year. The woodcock is a very handsome bird with
its dark mottled brown plumage, long bill, and large, full, black
eyes. "What do these birds feed upon?" asked Willy. You often hear
people say "they live upon suction," and "do not eat any food." That I
fancy is a common belief amongst sportsmen. It is, however, altogether
a mistake; for these birds eat quantities of earthworms, as has
frequently been witnessed. I will give an instance of this in the case
of a woodcock kept in an aviary somewhere in Spain. "There was a
fountain perpetually flowing to keep the ground moist and trees
planted for the same purpose; fresh sod was brought to it, the richest
in worms that could be found. In vain did the worms seek concealment;
when the woodcock was hungry it discovered them by the smell, stuck
its beak into the ground, but never higher than the nostrils, drew
them out singly, and raising its bill into the air, it extended upon
it the whole length of the worm, and in this way swallowed it smoothly
without any action of the jaws. This whole operation was performed in
an instant, and the action of the woodcock was so equal and
imperceptible that it seemed doing nothing; it never missed its aim;
for this reason, and because it never plunged its bill beyond the
orifice of the nostrils, it was concluded that the bird was directed
to its food by smell." There is one very interesting point in the
natural history of the woodcock which I must not forget to mention.
The old birds sometimes carry their little ones from the place where
they are hatched down to soft marshy places to feed on the worms and
insect larvæ found there; they take them in the evening and return
with them in the morning. "But how do they carry them?" asked May.
Some observers have said they are carried in the claws, but Mr. St.
John maintains that the little birds are clasped tightly between the
thighs.

"Is it not a difficult thing to tell the difference between the male
and female woodcock?" asked Willy. Yes, I do not think it is possible
in every case to tell the difference; the male bird is smaller than
the female of the same age, and there are slight differences in the
colour of the plumage, but as you may meet with birds of different
ages, and as woodcocks are much subject to variation of plumage, it is
difficult to pronounce whether this woodcock is a male and that a
female.

"Oh, papa, what are these ring-marks on the end of this bit of timber
upon which we are sitting?" said Willy. These rings or zones represent
the various growths made every year by the tree when it was growing,
each zone being the produce of one year. As the wood ceases to grow
for some months in the winter, a distinction in appearance between the
last wood of a former and the first wood of the succeeding year is
occasioned; so that, in our own country at least, the age of a tree
can be ascertained within some limit by counting the number of zones;
there is, however, great difference in the size of the same species of
trees, even of the same age, and great difference too in the width of
the zones; indeed, you can see this in the case of the wood we have
been sitting upon. See how the zones differ, how broad some are, how
narrow are others; nay, even in one year you see how the zone varies.
The subject of the growth of trees is very interesting, and I would
advise you, when you get older, to pay some attention to it.

Here is another fungus, and a species which I am very glad to find in
the Wrekin woods, though it grows but sparingly. Take it up; turn it
over. How curious! the under side is not a series of gills, as in
_Agaricus_, nor a substance perforated by a number of little holes, as
in _Boletus_. It is formed of a quantity of delicate white teeth or
spines; see how beautiful they are and how easily broken. The spines
are exactly like miniature awls. It is called from the prickly
appearance of the under surface, or _hymenium_, the hedgehog mushroom
(_Hydnum repandum_). "Is it good to eat?" asked Jack. It is, in my
opinion, one of the most exquisite fungi that grows, and the most
curious thing about it is that its flavour very strongly resembles
oysters. Last year we had some of these fellows cut up in bits about
the size of a bean and stewed in white sauce; the sauce we ate with a
beefsteak at dinner, and I do think that as far as flavour is
concerned one might almost pass it off as oyster sauce without any one
finding it out. Not that the hedgehog-mushroom-sauce is really as good
as oyster sauce, but, as I said, the flavour strongly reminds one of
it, nor do I think that any fungi, delicious as they are, can ever
come up to oysters, the _ne-plus-ultra_ of exquisite food.

It is getting towards evening and we must not linger much longer. How
many eatable fungi have we got? let me count. _Lepiota procera_,
_Amanita rubescens_, _Hydnum repandum_, and _Marasmius oreades_ which
we gathered in the meadow before we entered the wood. We will take
them home, they will come in very well either at breakfast or at
dinner time. The other fungi we will also take home and compare them
with the descriptions and drawings in my books.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now our rambles are ended; we have seen there is much to notice,
much to admire. Let us never forget our great Creator who has made all
the beautiful things we see around us; let us learn this lesson from
the contemplation of the works of the Almighty--that as all created
things are fulfilling their appointed work, so we too should fulfil
ours, and by obedience, diligence, kindness, and patience show our
love of Him for whose "pleasure all things are, and were created."

[Illustration]

PRINTED BY J. E. ADLARD, BARTHOLOMEW CLOSE.

       *       *       *       *       *



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COMBINING A SPECIAL NOTICE OF OBJECTS COMING WITHIN THE RANGE OF A
SMALL TELESCOPE

With a Detail of the most Interesting Discoveries which have been made
with the assistance of powerful Telescopes, concerning the Phenomena
of the Heavenly Bodies.

BY THE HON. MRS. WARD.

     "It is with pleasure that we direct the reader's attention
     to a little gem lately published by the Hon. Mrs. WARD. One
     of the most admirable little works on one of the most
     sublime subjects that has been given to the world. The main
     design of the book is to show how much may be done in
     astronomy with ordinary powers and instruments. We have no
     hesitation in saying that we never saw a work of the kind
     that is so perfect. The illustrations are admirable, and are
     all original."--_Western Daily Press._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, cloth gilt, Illustrated with 8 full-page
coloured Plates and numerous Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

       *       *       *       *       *

COUNTRY WALKS
OF A NATURALIST
WITH HIS CHILDREN.

BY THE REV. W. HOUGHTON, M.A., F.L.S.

     "A fresher, pleasanter, or more profitable book than this
     has rarely issued from the press."--_Art Journal._

     "Contrives to furnish a large amount of interesting natural
     history in brief compass and in a picturesque and engaging
     manner."--_Pall Mall Gazette._

     "It is wonderful what a very large amount of most
     instructive matter connected with the animal and plant world
     the writer has condensed into a small compass."--_Land and
     Water._

     "This pretty little volume forms one of the best little
     books on popular Natural History, and is admirably adapted
     as a present to the young."--_Birmingham Daily Journal._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, cloth gilt, Illustrated with 8 beautifully
coloured full-page Plates and numerous Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

SEA-SIDE WALKS
OF A NATURALIST
WITH HIS CHILDREN.

BY THE REV. W. HOUGHTON, M.A., F.L.S.

     "The wonders of the sea-shore are detailed in an easy,
     pleasant, and lucid style."--_Examiner._

     "The book is very attractive, and its usefulness is enhanced
     by its many careful illustrations."--_Daily Telegraph._

     "Families visiting the sea-side should provide themselves
     with this convenient and instructive work."--_The Queen._

     "It is pleasingly written, and the scientific information is
     correct and well selected."--_Athenæum._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, cloth gilt, Illustrated with 8 beautifully
coloured full-page Plates and 90 Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

FIELD FLOWERS
A HANDY BOOK
for
THE RAMBLING BOTANIST,
SUGGESTING
WHAT TO LOOK FOR AND WHERE TO GO IN THE OUT-DOOR STUDY OF
BRITISH PLANTS.

BY SHIRLEY HIBBERD, F.R.H.S.

     "It will serve as an excellent introduction to the practical
     study of wild flowers."--_The Queen._

     "We cannot praise too highly the illustrations which crowd
     the pages of this handbook; the coloured plates are
     especially attractive, and serve to bring before us very
     distinctly the most prominent flowers of the field, the
     heaths, and the hedgerows."--_Examiner._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo; elegantly bound, cloth gilt; illustrated with 8 beautifully
coloured Plates and 40 Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

THE FERN GARDEN
HOW TO MAKE, KEEP, AND ENJOY IT
OR,
FERN CULTURE MADE EASY.

BY SHIRLEY HIBBERD, F.R.H.S.

CONTENTS.

FERNS IN GENERAL
FERN COLLECTING
HOW TO FORM AN OUTDOOR FERNERY
CULTIVATION OF ROCK FERNS
CULTIVATION OF MARSH FERNS
FERNS IN POTS
THE FERN HOUSE
THE FERNERY AT THE FIRESIDE
MANAGEMENT OF FERN CASES
THE ART OF MULTIPLYING FERNS
BRITISH FERNS
CULTIVATION OF GREENHOUSE STOVE FERNS
SELECT GREENHOUSE FERNS
SELECT STOVE FERNS
TREE FERNS
FERN ALLIES

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, gilt edges, Illustrated with 12
beautifully coloured Engravings, price 3s. 6s.

THE CANARY
ITS VARIETIES, MANAGEMENT, AND BREEDING
WITH PORTRAITS OF THE AUTHOR'S OWN BIRDS.

BY THE REV. FRANCIS SMITH.

CONTENTS.

A PLEA FOR THE CANARY
ORIGIN OF OUR OWN CANARY
THE WILD CANARY
OUR LIZARDS
OUR YORKSHIRE SPANGLES
OUR NORWICH YELLOWS
OUR LONDON FANCY BIRDS
OUR BELGIANS
OUR GREEN BIRDS
OUR CINNAMONS
OUR TURNCRESTS
PREPARATIONS FOR BREEDING
NEST BOXES AND NESTS
OUR FIRST BIRDS
OUR MISFORTUNES
OUR INFIRMARY
ON CAGES

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Post 8vo, cloth gilt, with Woodcut Illustrations, price 5s.

THE ROSE BOOK
A PRACTICAL TREATISE ON THE CULTURE OF THE ROSE
COMPRISING

The Formation of the Rosarium; the Characters of Species and Varieties;
Modes of Propagating, Planting, Pruning, Training, and Preparing
for Exhibition; and the Management of Roses in all Seasons.

BY SHIRLEY HIBBERD, F.R.H.S.

CONTENTS.

THE FAMILIES OF WILD ROSES
THE FAMILIES OF CULTIVATED ROSES
SUMMER ROSES
FORMING THE ROSARIUM
CULTURE OF ROSES IN THE OPEN GROUND
AUTUMN PLANTING
SPRING PLANTING
PRUNING, DISBUDDING, AND SEASONAL MANAGEMENT
CLIMBING ROSES
PILLAR ROSES
YELLOW ROSES
ROSES IN POTS
ROSES IN BEDS
ROSES IN GREAT TOWNS
TEA ROSES IN TOWNS
VARIOUS MODES OF PROPAGATING
SELECT LISTS OF ROSES
REMINDERS OF MONTHLY WORK IN ROSE GARDEN
HINTS TO BEGINNERS

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.



BOOKS FOR YOUNG NATURALISTS.

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, gilt edges, Illustrated with 16
beautifully coloured Plates and numerous Wood Engravings, price 5s.

NESTS AND EGGS
OF FAMILIAR BIRDS.

Described and Illustrated with an account of the Haunts and Habits of
the Feathered Architects, and their Times and Modes of Building.

By H. G. ADAMS.

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, gilt edges, Illustrated with 8 beautifully
coloured Plates and numerous Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLIES.
DESCRIBED AND ILLUSTRATED

With an Introductory chapter, containing the History of a Butterfly
through all its Changes and Transformations. A Description of its
Structure in the Larva, Pupa, and Imago states, with an Explanation of
the scientific terms used by Naturalists in reference thereto, with
observations upon the Poetical and other associations of the Insect.

BY H. G. ADAMS.

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, gilt edges, Illustrated with 8 beautifully
coloured Plates and numerous Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

BEAUTIFUL SHELLS
THEIR NATURE, STRUCTURE, AND USES
FAMILIARLY EXPLAINED.

With Directions for Collecting, Cleaning and Arranging them, in the
Cabinet.

Descriptions of the most remarkable Species, and of the creatures
which inhabit them, and explanations of the meaning of their
scientific names, and of the terms used in Conchology.

BY H. G. ADAMS.

GROOMBRIDGE AND SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crown 8vo, elegantly bound, gilt edges, Illustrated with 8 beautifully
coloured Plates and Wood Engravings, price 3s. 6d.

HUMMING BIRDS.
DESCRIBED AND ILLUSTRATED.
WITH AN
Introductory Sketch of their Structure, Plumage, Haunts, Habits, etc.

BY H. G. ADAMS.

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.



NEW EDITION OF THE WORKS

OF

ANNA LISLE.

This elegant edition, large crown 8vo; is handsomely bound in cloth,
gilt edges, suitable for presentation, and Illustrated by the leading
artists of the day.

In One Volume, large crown 8vo, Illustrated, price 5s.

SELF AND SELF-SACRIFICE
OR,
NELLY'S STORY.

BY ANNA LISLE.

     "A very beautiful story, with characters well drawn, scenery
     vividly described, and interest admirably sustained. The
     tendency of the volume is not only unexceptionable, but
     excellent in a Christian point of view. We have seldom seen
     a book in which the best and highest aim is so manifest
     without the attractiveness of the tale being at all lessened
     by the embodiment of religious principles."--_Eclectic
     Review._

     "The story is so delightful, and the whole spirit of the
     book so pure, that it compels our admiration."--_Daily
     News._

     "Since 'Currer Bell' we have read nothing more genuine, nor
     more touching. 'Nelly's Story' has power to carry the reader
     right through with it, and can hardly fail to impress a
     moral of inestimable importance."--_Carlisle Journal._

     "Admirably written, pervaded throughout by fine, correct,
     and wholesome sentiments."-_Morning Post._

     "Its excellent moral tone, and keen observation, are sure to
     render the book widely popular."--_John Bull._

     "'Nelly's Story' is a good one. It is one of the best we
     have read for a long time."--_Bucks Advertiser._

     "Abounding in interest. We can hardly conceive a more
     suitable gift-book."--_Lady's Newspaper._

     "Will be welcomed, read, and talked about."--_Gentleman's
     Magazine._

     "'Nelly's Story' is told in such a good and pleasant way,
     and withal is so useful and world-like, that we trust it may
     bring to its authoress the fame that she is well able to
     support."--_Tait's Magazine._

     "We recognize and proclaim in the authoress of this
     thrilling tale a quality beyond mere ability--genius of a
     very high order. We claim for Anna Lisle a place amongst the
     most distinguished writers of her age. The story is a
     brilliant effort of refined and sanctified imagination
     throughout, quite as fascinating as anything in the way of
     story, whether told by Scott, Stowe, Dickens, or Currer
     Bell."--_Sentinel._

       *       *       *       *       *

In One Volume, large crown 8vo, Illustrated, price 5s.

QUICKSANDS

A TALE.

BY ANNA LISLE.

     "It is a thoroughly woman's book. We can fairly say that we
     have seldom met with a graver or more striking warning
     against the consequences of over eagerness about worldly
     position and advantages, more forcibly and, at the same
     time, gracefully conveyed."--_Literary Gazette._

     "Contains a great deal of quiet and powerful writing. Marty,
     the maid of Mrs. Grey, might pass for a creation of Dickens.
     The moral of 'Quicksands' is at once comprehensive and
     striking."--_Weekly Mail._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.



GIFT BOOKS FOR BOYS.

Foolscap 8vo, cloth gilt, Illustrated with 8 full-page Wood
Engravings, price 2s. 6d.

INVENTION AND DISCOVERY

A COLLECTION
OF
INTERESTING ANECDOTES.

BY
RALPH AND CHANDOS TEMPLE.

     "Has a point and object, and a good one--nicely worked
     out."--_Saturday Review._

     "We can recommend this book as a Christmas present, and one
     which has given us no small pleasure."--_Literary Churchman._

     "Exceedingly well-timed. A volume which should be added to
     every working-man's club in England."--_Notes and Queries._

     "Exhibits a conscientious regard for accuracy."--_Athenæum._

     "The tendency is to instil the principle of self-help and
     the advantage of earnest purpose."--_Bell's Messenger._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Foolscap 8vo, cloth gilt, Illustrated with 8 full-page Wood
Engravings, price 2s. 6d.

ENTERPRISE AND ADVENTURE

A COLLECTION
OF
INTERESTING ANECDOTES.

BY
RALPH AND CHANDOS TEMPLE.

     "Very handsomely got up. The 'Temple Anecdotes' will be one
     of the most popular of Christmas books."--_Standard._

     "A sensible, well-written book."--_Globe._

     "We know of no work which will make a more acceptable
     present than this extremely handsome and really useful
     book."--_Era._

     "As a present for boys, nothing can be better."--_Daily
     News._

     "The anecdotes are told with a clearness and simplicity that
     cannot fail to give pleasure."--_Spectator._

GROOMBRIDGE & SONS, 5, Paternoster Row, London.

       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Notes:

Some illustrations were repositioned to avoid breaking up sentences.

Original spelling and punctuation were retained from the printed
book, including spelling inconsistencies (i.e.: kestrel and kestril)
except for the following changes:

Page 1: where-ever changed to wherever for consistency. (to admire
wherever we stroll)

Page 10: ear-bones changed to earbones for consistency.
  (a mole's earbones)

Page 15: fore-arms changed to forearms for consistency. (his forearms
are something)

Page 30: added closing quotes. (Try, try, try again.")

Page 78: water crow-foot changed to water-crowfoot for consistency.
(spawning amongst that water-crowfoot,)

Page 107: added quotes to continuation of quote. (says, "taken near
Norwich)

Page 110: Ply changed to Fly. (Fly thee home, lady-bird, ere it be
gone.)

Page 118: bind-weed changed to bindweed for consistency. (the greater
bindweed, with its large)

Page 125: added quotes to show second paragraph continues quote. ("She
indicates her desire to sit)

Page 146: in the Fungi illustration, the backwards 3 has been righted.





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