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´╗┐Title: In Touch with Nature - Tales and Sketches from the Life
Author: Stables, Gordon, 1840-1910
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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In Touch with Nature
Tales and Sketches from the Life
By Gordon Stables
Published by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
This edition dated 1888.

In Touch with Nature, by Gordon Stables.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
IN TOUCH WITH NATURE, BY GORDON STABLES.

CHAPTER ONE.

ROWAN-TREE COTTAGE.

  "The merry homes of England!
  Around their hearths by night,
  What gladsome looks of household love
  Meet in the ruddy light!
  There, woman's voice flows forth in song
  Or childhood's tale is told,
  Or lips move tunefully along
  Some glorious page of old."

  Mrs Hemans.

"You're my Maggie May, aren't you?"

There was a murmured "Yes," and a tired and weary wee head was laid to
rest on my shoulder.

We were all sitting round the log fire that burned on our low hearth,
one wild night in winter.  Outside such a storm was raging as seldom
visits the southern part of these islands.  It had been hard frost for
days before, with a bright and cloudless sky; but on the morning of this
particular day the blue had given place to a uniform leaden grey.  The
cloud canopy lowered, the horizon neared, then little pellets of snow
began to fall no larger than millet-seeds, till they covered all the
hard ground, and powdered the lawn, and lay on the laurel-leaves, and on
the ivy that the sparrows so love.  Gradually these pellets gave place
to broad dry flakes of snow.

  "How beautiful it was, falling so silently all day long,
  All night long, on the mountains, on the meadows,
  On the roofs of the living, on the graves of the dead."

Yes, silently it had come down, and by sunset it was some inches deep on
every tree; and very lovely were the Austrian pines and spruce-firs on
the lawn, with their branches bending earthwards under their burdens of
snow.

But later in the evening a change had come over the spirit of the scene,
and a wild wind had begun to blow from the east.  It blew first with a
moaning, mournful sound, that saddened one's heart to listen to; but
soon it gathered force, and shrieked around the cottage, and tore
through the leafless branches of the tall lime-trees with a noise that
made both Frank and me think of gales and storms in the wide Atlantic.

Little Ida, our youngest tottie, was sitting on the hearth painting
impossible birds of impossible colours, and using Sir John the Grahame's
back as an easel.  She shook her paint-brush at me as she remarked
seriously, "She is my Maggie May, and ma's Maggie May, and Uncle Flank's
Maggie May, and Sil John the Glahame's Maggie May."  My wife looked up
smiling from her sewing.

"Quite right, child," she said, "she is all our Maggie Mays."

"O! ma," remonstrated Ida, "that's not dood glammer.  There touldn't be
two Maggie Mays, tould there, pa?"

"Quite impossible," I replied; "but how would _you_ say it?"

"I would say--`She is _all of us's Maggie May_.'"

Having put our grammar to rights, Ida went quietly on painting.

Maggie May, it will be gathered from the above, was a pet in the family
circle: she certainly was at present, though not the baby either.

The facts of the case are as follows: Maggie May was an invalid.  Not
very long before this she had been lying on a bed of pain and illness,
from which none of us had expected to see her rise.  She was but a
fragile flower at the best, but as her recent indisposition had been
partly attributable to me, I had tenfold interest in getting her well
and strong again.

It happened thus: our bonnie black mare Jeannie has been allowed to have
a deal of her own way, and never starts anywhere till she has had a
couple of lunch biscuits and a caress.  After this she will do anything.
I had driven the two girls over to a farm about eight miles from our
cottage, and on the way back had occasion to call on a friend.  "Stand
quiet," I said; "Jeannie, I won't be long, and I'll bring you a
biscuit."  Jeannie tossed her tail and moved her ears knowingly as much
as to say, "All right, master.  Don't forget.  A bargain is a bargain."

But woe is me!  I did forget, completely; and when I jumped into the
phaeton Jeannie refused to budge.

Well, I suppose I lost my temper.  I flicked her with the whip.  Then
the mare lost hers.  She screamed with rage, and next moment she was
tearing along the road with the bit in her teeth at a fearful speed.
All my efforts to control the speed of the runaway were in vain.  Little
Ida clung in terror to me; Maggie May sat firm, but pale.

On we rushed, luckily meeting nothing on the road.  A whole mile was
speedily pat behind us.  But half a mile further on was the dismal dell
called Millers' Dene, with the descent to it dangerous even at a walking
pace.  To attempt to take it, at the rate we were now moving, would be
certain destruction.  Could I check the mare before we reached the brow
of the hill?  I tried my utmost, but utterly failed.

Then my mind was made up.  There were broad hedges at each side of the
road, and no ditch between.

Summoning all my calmness and strength then, for a supreme effort, and
just as we had reached the end of the level road, and the dreadful dene
[a glen or ravine] lay deep down before us, with a sudden wrench I
swerved the mare off the road and put her at the hedge.

It was a desperate remedy, but so far successful, and the only one
really hurt was poor Maggie May.

It was one of those adventures one never forgets.

The child had received a terrible shock, and for weeks hovered 'twixt
death and life.  No wonder then that we made much of her, now we had her
back amongst us once again; and that each of us did our best to nurse
back the life and joy she had been almost bereft of for ever.

This needed all the more care, in that the shock had been purely
nervous, and her mind, always sensitive, sympathised with her body.

Very pleasant, quiet, and delightful were the evenings we now spent at
Rowan-Tree Cottage.  We cared very little to-night, for instance, for
the wild wind that was raging without, albeit we sometimes thought--not
without a kind of shudder--of sailors far at sea, or of travellers
belated in crossing the moors.

Uncle Frank--as we all called him--and I had constituted ourselves the
story-tellers at these little fireside reunions.  A right jolly, jovial
sailor was Frank, with a big rough beard, tinged with grey, a
weather-beaten face as brown as the back of a fiddle, and blue eyes that
swam in fun and genuine good nature.

Frank had been everywhere by sea and land, and I myself have seen a bit
of the world.  It would have been strange indeed, then, if we could not
have told stories and described scenes and events, from our experience,
that were bound to interest all who listened.

Sometimes these experiences would be related in the form of
conversations; at other times, either Frank or I had written our
stories, and read them to our little audience.

Stories were interspersed with songs and the music of the fiddle.  Frank
was our sweet singer for the most part; he was also our musician.
Flaying, however, on his part was never what you might call
premeditated; something in the air, you might say, or in the state of
our feelings, rendered music at times a necessity; then Frank would take
up his instrument as quietly and mechanically as if it had been that
meerschaum of his which, being a sailor, he was allowed to smoke.

Now, in the evenings, with his fiddle in his hand, Uncle Frank was
simply complete.  "An accomplished player?" did you ask.  Perhaps not;
certainly not what is called a trick-player.  But the fiddle--O! call it
not a violin--the fiddle when in Frank's hand spoke and _sang_.  They
say that a good rider ought to appear part and parcel of the horse he
bestrides.  Frank seemed part and parcel of the instrument in his grasp.
Bending lovingly over it, his brown beard floatingly on its breast,
while he played, the fiddle verily seemed inspired with Frank's own
feelings and genius.  And while you listened to the melting notes of
some old Irish melody, the green hills of Erin would rise up before your
mind's eye, and the fiddle sang to you of the sorrows of that unhappy
isle.  Or the strains carried you away back through the half-forgotten
past, to the days of chivalry and romance, when--

  "The harp that once through Tara's halls
      The soul of music shed."

But in a moment the scene was changed, and Frank was playing a wild
Irish jig which at once transported you to Donnybrook Fair.  Paddy in
all his glory is there; you think you can see him dancing on the village
green, as he twirls his shilelagh or smokes his dudheen.

But anon Frank's fiddle, like the wand of a fairy, wafts us away to
Scotland, and the tears come to our eyes as we listen to some plaintive
wail of the days of auld lang syne, some sweet sad "lilt o' dool and
sorrow."

Or we are transported to the times of the Jacobite rebellions, and as
that spirited march or that wild thrilling pibroch falls on our ears we
cannot help thinking that, had we lived in those old days, and heard
such music then, we too might have fought for "Bonnie Prince Charlie."

It would be difficult to give the reader any very definite idea of the
appearance of our cottage outside or inside.  Though not very far from
the village, it was so buried in trees of every sort--elms, oaks,
lindens, chestnuts, pines, and poplars--that no photographer, or artist
either, could ever sketch it.  Much less can I.  But just imagine to
yourself all kinds of pretty shrubberies, and half-wild lawns, and
rustic rose-clad arches, and quaint old gables, and verandahs over which
the sweet-scented mauve wistaria fell in clusters in spring, when the
yellow laburnum and the lilacs were in bloom.  Let flowers peep out from
every corner and nook--the snowdrop, the crocus, daffodil and primrose
in April, with wild flowers on the lawns in summer, and syringas and
roses even in the hedges; and people the whole place with birds of every
size, from the modest wee wren or little tit to the speckled mavis and
orange-billed blackbird, that sang every morning to welcome the sunrise;
let wild pigeons croodle among the ivy that creeps around the
poplar-trees, and nightingales make spring nights melodious; and imagine
also all kind of coaxing walks, that seemed to lead everywhere, but
never land one anywhere in particular; and you will have some faint
notion what Rowan-Tree Cottage was like.

To be sure our place was most lovely in spring and summer, but it had a
beauty of its own even in winter, when the snow lay thick on the lawns
and terraces, and seemed to turn the trees into coral.  We had pets out
of doors as well as pets inside--wild pets as well as tame ones.

The former were chiefly the birds, but there were splendid great brown
squirrels also, that used to run about the lawn with their immensities
of tails trailing over the daisies, and that, if they heard a footstep,
simply got up on one end the better to see who was coming: if it was any
of us, they were in no hurry to disappear; but if a stranger hove in
sight, then they fled up a neighbouring elm-tree with a celerity that
was surprising.

There were tame dormice too, that peeped out from among the withered
leaves or climbed about on the may-trees close beside our garden
hammocks.  They easily knew the shape of a stranger, or the voice of one
either, and used to slide slily away if any person unfamiliar to them
appeared on the scene.

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

"Listen to the wind," said mamma; "why it seems to shake the very
house!"

"It sounds like wild wolves howling round the door," said Frank.

"But see how brightly the fire is glowing," I remarked, in order to give
a less dismal tinge to the situation.

Frank got up and went to the door to look out, but speedily returned.
"Why," he said, "it is almost impossible to breathe outside.  It puts me
in mind of some nights I spent during the winter of 187-, in the Polar
Regions."

"Tell us all about it, Frank; but first and foremost just put a few more
logs on the fire."

Frank quietly did as he was told, and presently such a glorious gleam
was shed abroad as banished every feeling of gloom from our hearts.

Sir John the Grahame, our great wolfhound, who had been dreaming on the
hearth and doing duty as Ida's easel, begged leave to withdraw, and Ida
herself drew her footstool back.

Frank took his fiddle and sat for some time gazing thoughtfully at the
fire, with a smile on his face, playing meanwhile a low dreamy melody
that we could have listened to long enough.

The air he was playing we had never heard before, but it seemed to
refresh his memory and bring back the half-forgotten scenes of long ago.
"If," he began at last, still looking at the fire as if talking to
that, "if you will take a map of the world--"

But stay.  Frank's story deserves a chapter all to itself, and it shall
have it too.

CHAPTER TWO.

A CHRISTMAS IN THE ARCTIC OCEAN.

  "Here Winter holds his unrejoicing Court,
  Here arms his winds with all-subduing frost,
  Moulds his fierce hail, and treasures up his snows,
  Throned in his palace of cerulean ice."

  Thomson.

"If you will take a map of the world," began Frank, "and with a pin or a
needle to direct you, follow one of the lines of longitude running south
and north through England, up towards the mysterious regions round the
Pole, you will find that this line will run right away through Scotland,
through the distant Orkney and Shetland, past the lonely Faroe Isles
till, with Iceland far on the left, you cross the Arctic Circle.  Go
north still, and still go north, and presently you will find yourself
near to a little island called Jan Mayen, that stands all by itself--oh!
so desolate-looking--right in the centre of the Polar ocean.  In that
lonely isle of the sea I spent my Christmas many years ago.

"What took me there, you ask me, Ida?  I will tell you.  I was one of
the officers of a strongly built but beautiful steam yacht, and we had
spent nearly all the summer cruising in the Arctic seas.  For about
three weeks we sojourned near an island on the very confines of the
No-Man's land around the Pole, and nearly as far to the nor'ard as any
soul has ever yet reached.

"We named this island the Skua, after our good yacht--a wild mountainous
island it was, with never a trace of living vegetable life on it, but,
marvellous to relate, the fossil remains of sub-tropical trees.

"I say we sojourned there, but this need not give you the idea that we
stopped there of our own free will, for the truth is we were caught in a
trap--a large one sure enough, but still a trap.  We found ourselves one
morning in the midst of an ocean lake, or piece of open water in the
ice-field, as nearly circular as anything, and about four miles in
width.  We wanted to get out, but everywhere around us was a barrier of
mountainous icebergs.  So, baffled and disappointed, we took up a
position in the centre of the lake, blew off steam, banked our fires,
and waited patiently for a turn in events.

"In three weeks' time a dark bank of mist came rolling down upon us, and
so completely enveloped our vessel that a man could not see his comrade
from mast to mast.

"That same night a swell rose up in the lake, and the yacht rocked from
side to side as if she had been becalmed in the rolling seas of the
tropics, while the roar of the icebergs dashing their sides together,
fell upon our ears like the sound of a battle fought with heavy
artillery.

"But next day the swell went down, the motion had ceased, and we found
to our joy that the great bergs had separated sufficiently to allow us
to force a passage southwards through the midst of them.  A very
precarious kind of a passage it was, however, with those terrible
ice-blocks, broader than the pyramids, taller than churches, at every
side of us.

"South and south we now steamed, and the bergs got smaller and smaller,
and beautifully less, till we came into the open sea, and so headed away
more to the west.

"`Boys,' said our good captain one day, `this is a splendid breakfast.'
And a splendid breakfast it was.  We had all sorts of nice things,
beefsteaks and game pasties, fresh fish, and sea-birds' eggs--the latter
so beautiful in shape and colour that you hesitated a moment before you
broke the shell, to say nothing of fragrant tea and coffee, and guava
jam and marmalade to finish up with.

"`Boys,' said the captain again, as he helped himself to an immense
piece of loon pie, `it is far too soon to go back to England yet, isn't
it?'

"`Yes, much too soon.'

"`Well, I've got an idea.  Let us bear still more to the westward, and
have a look at the island of Jan Mayen.  We'll get some fun there, I'll
be bound; it used to be quite uninhabited, you know, but I was told
before leaving our own country that the Yankees--enterprising fellows--
had resolved to build a walrus station there for summer months.  Now,
wherever you find Yanks in these seas, you find Yacks [a tribe of
Innuits, of somewhat migratory tendencies].  And between the two of them
we ought to enjoy ourselves.  Shall we go?'

"`By all means,' cried everybody.

"Well, we made the island easily enough, in about ten days' time, and
after sailing about halfway round it without seeing anything at all
except immense cliffs of snow-capped rocks, against which the waves were
beating with a noise like distant thunder, we found a kind of bay, with
a beach on which boats could land.  Into this we steamed boldly enough,
and presently the noise of the anchor cable rattling over the bows
seemed suddenly to awaken--it was early morning--the inhabitants of a
curious little village that stood near the head of the bay.  There was
only one long low wooden hut, all the rest of the buildings being
primitive in the extreme; indeed, they looked far more like gigantic
mole-heaps than the residences of human beings.

"But forth the inhabitants all swarmed; at all events, to the number, I
should think, of 'twixt thirty and forty, and a stranger-looking group
of individuals it has never been my lot to witness.

"I guessed then, and I found afterwards I was right, that they consisted
of men, women, and children; but the fun of the thing was that they were
all dressed perfectly alike and looked alike, differing only in size.
The dress of the men was composed of skins entirely; they were about
five feet high, and broad in proportion.  The dress of the women was
identical; they were six inches shorter: and the children were all
dressed just like their papas and mammas, so they looked like tiny old
men and women.  And when we landed and stood on the beach among these
strange but harmless creatures we found them funnier-looking still; for
they all had round, brown faces, all flat noses, and all little beads of
eyes that seemed to twinkle with merriment, although nearly hidden by
brown cheeks that seemed to shake every time they spoke.

"Amongst these strange people there was one tall figure who stood aside,
all by himself, and didn't laugh in the least.  A Yankee he was, six
feet four in his boots, if an inch.  He was dressed from top to toe in
the skin of a polar bear.

"`Gentlemen,' he said, presently, `if you're quite done guffawing,
perhaps you'll permit me to welcome you to the island of Jan Mayen.'

"We were serious in a moment, took off our caps and apologised, and ten
minutes afterwards we were rowing the Yankee off to breakfast.

"He told us, in the course of conversation, that he was head of the
walrus station; that during his stay in the island they had got no end
of ivory and blubber; that there was capital sport; and ended by saying:

"`And now that ye're come, gentlemen, I hope ye'll stop and spend next
Christmas with me.'

"We laughed at the very idea of spending Christmas in such a place; but
little we knew.

"The Yankee was right, the sport was glorious; all sorts of Arctic birds
and beasts fell to our guns, and weeks went by, and still we postponed
our departure; but at last, one day, we determined to start.

"When we awoke, however, on the following morning, it was to find that
during the night an immense shoal of heavy icebergs had floated in from
the sea and entirely hemmed us in.  The same day the frost set in.

"The captain first pulled a long face, then he laughed.

"`Boys,' he said, `we must make the best of a bad job.  We are bound to
stop here till spring.'

"October flew past, November died away, and before we knew where we were
Christmas week came round.  You see the time had gone quickly because we
really had been enjoying ourselves.

"Yet I, for one, could not help contrasting my present position with
what it would have been at home in old England.  How different it was
here! yet the very difference made it quite charming.  Suppose that you
had stood on the deck of our brave yacht and looked around; you would
have seen that the whole bay was frozen over with thick black ice.  No
need for boats now, we could skate to the shore.  Behind us, seaward,
across the month of the bay, stretched a rugged wall of serrated
icebergs; on each side of the bay were the ice-clad rocks; shoreward, as
you turned your eye, there was first the Innuit village, then the land
rose gradually upwards, a snow-clad valley rock-bound, till, in the far
distance, behold a vast, towering mountain of ice.

"Now remember that we never saw the sun at this time; we had no day at
all, nor had had for a whole month.  But who can picture the glory of
that Arctic night?  My pen seems to quiver in my hand when I attempt to
describe it to you.  During this Christmas week we had no moon.  We did
not miss the moon any more than we missed the sun.  But we had the
stars; and somehow, away up in these regions of the Pole, we seemed
nearer to the heavens; anyhow, those stars appeared as large as saucers
and as bright as suns, and the sky's blue between them _was_ blue.

"We had the stars, then, but we had something else; we had the Aurora
Borealis, in all its splendour of colour and shape.  At home we see the
Aurora on clear frosty nights only, as a bow of white scintillating
lights above the northern horizon.  Here we were dwelling in the very
home of the Aurora; it stretched from east to west above us, a broad
belt of radiant coloured lights.  It was a gorgeous scene.

"I have said that the bay in which our yacht lay was _all_ frozen over;
but this is not strictly true, because there was one portion of it,
about half an acre in extent, and lying close under the barrier of
icebergs, which was always kept open.  This piece of open water was not
only our fishing-ground, but it was a breathing-spot for many
sea-mammals.

"During this happy but strange Christmas week we had all sorts of fun on
board, and all kinds of games on the ice.  Skating under the Aurora!
why, you should have seen us; a merrier party you never looked upon.

"`Boys,' said the captain one morning, `I'm going to give those Innuits
a Christmas dinner.'

"`Hurrah!' we all cried.  `What fun it will be!'

"Christmas came at last, and preparations had been made to spend it
cheerfully for more than a week beforehand.

"After service--and how impressive the service was, held on the deck of
that Aurora-lighted ship, I shall never forget--after service, we all
rushed down to dinner.  We were to have ours early, because the Yacks'
entertainment was to be the great event of the twenty-four hours.

"After our dinner we had songs and pleasant talk--the pleasantest of
talk; for we chatted of the dear ones at home, who probably at that very
moment were fondly thinking of us.  The men forward enjoyed themselves
in like manner.  Then the cry was `Hurrah! for the shore.'

"A large marquee, which we had on board, had been erected, and in this
tent we found all the male and female Yacks assembled.  Expectant
Captain Bob, who commanded the Innuits, and was the merriest of them
all, sat at the head of the great deal table, and on one side of him was
his wife, Oily, on the other his pet sister, Shiny.  Both Shiny and Oily
were all on the titter with joy.

"When the great pudding was carried in on a hand-barrow and placed in
front of Captain Bob, the astonishment on the faces of these funny
little folk was extreme; but when the brandy was ignited on the top of
the pudding, then up started Captain Bob and every Yack in the room, and
a wild rush was made for the door.  But peace was soon restored, and
this king of puddings served.  It was well it was a large one; it was
well there were two more of the same size to follow, and I do believe if
there had been half a dozen they would have found room for them.  No
wonder that when they had eaten and drunk until more than satisfied they
rose up to dance.  As they danced, too, they chanted a wild, unearthly
kind of a song, each verse ending in `Ee-ay-ee,' from the women, and
`Oh! ah! oh!' from the men.

"At last there was a dead silence, and all the Yacks flocked together,
and presently out from their midst came Captain Bob--not willingly, for
Oily and Shiny were shoving him along, yard by yard, with many a slap on
his sheepish shoulders.

"`Go 'long wid you,' they were saying; `de capitan man not eat ye.
Plenty quick go.'

"`What is it, Bob?' said the captain.

"`They want more pudding,' said shy Bob.

"`Ah!' cried Captain Browning, laughing; `I thought that would be the
cry.  Steward, bring up the last two puddings, positively the last.'

"The puddings were cold--they were frozen; and this is how they were
served: they were simply rolled like bowling balls into the midst of
them.

"And here I drop the curtain.  We went away and left them scrambling
over their frozen fare.

"When spring returned, with many a blessing following us, we steamed
away south, and in due time reached dear old England once again; but no
one who was on board the saucy _Skua_ is likely to forget that Christmas
we spent in the Arctic Sea."

"So now good-night, Maggie May, and good-night all," said Uncle Frank,
getting up and laying his fiddle as carefully aside as if it had been a
living, breathing thing.

"I'll sleep soundly to-night," he added.

"The wind in the trees won't keep _you_ awake," I said, laughing.

"Quite the reverse, lad," replied Frank; "I shall take it for the sound
of the waves, and dream I am far away at sea."

And after he had gone aloft, as he called it, we could hear that deep
manly voice of his, trolling forth a verse of that grand old hymn:

  "Rocked in the cradle of the deep,
  I lay me down in peace to sleep;
  Secure I rest upon the wave,
  For Thou, O Lord! hast power to save."

CHAPTER THREE.

BIRDS AND BEASTS IN WINTER.--THE OWL AND THE WEASEL.

  "O!  Nature, a' thy shows and forms
      To feeling pensive hearts have charms,
  Whether the summer kindly warms
              Wi' life and light,
  Or winter howls in gusty storms
              The lang dark night."

  Burns.

Our birds out of doors had all a pitiful tale to tell next morning.  Not
that they had any reason to complain of the boisterousness of the
weather, for the wind, after blowing the snow into the most fantastic of
wreaths that blocked the roads and walks, and shut us quite up and away
from the village, had retired to the cave of its slumber, wherever that
may be.  The sun, moreover, was shining from a sky of brightest blue,
and the trees were like trees of coral, yet the frost was intense.

So while Buttons proceeded to feed the dogs--always an interesting
operation--and I stood by looking on, the birds came round us in flocks.
The robin, of course, was the tamest; he would almost eat from my hand:
later on he did.

This was our own particular robin, who had come backwards and forwards
for years, and knew every one of us, I verily believe, by name.

"It is terrible weather, isn't it," he said to me confidentially; "there
is nothing to eat; everything is covered up, and the worms have all gone
down a yard beneath the earth to keep themselves cosy.  My feet are
almost frozen!"

"That is right," he added; "I cannot live without a little animal food,
and this shredded morsel of sheep's-head is delicious.  Some feed their
birds in winter on crumbs alone.  They ought to study their habits, and
add a bit of meat now and then.  There, don't go away till I finish my
breakfast, because, the moment you are off, down comes Mr Thrush and
gobbles up the lot."

"But," I said, "you're not afraid of the sparrows."

"I'm not afraid of a few of them, though five is more than I can fight,
and often ten come.  They are cowardly creatures in the main."

"Now, Buttons," I said, "as soon as you have fed the dogs give them all
a romp in the snow; then set up the birds' sheaf."

I alluded to a custom we have at our place of giving the birds a
Christmas-tree, whenever there is snow on the ground.  It is a plan
taught us by the Norwegians, and I would rejoice to think it was
universally adopted; for surely we ought to feed well in winter the
birds that amuse and delight us when summer days are fine.

The Christmas-tree is simply a little sheaf of oats or wheat tied to the
top of a small spruce-fir.  It is positively a treat to see with what
delight they cluster round it.

Another good plan--which gives much amusement, as witnessed from the
dining-room window--is to tie up a little sheaf of oats by a string to
the branch of a tree.

Tie also up some scraps of meat, and, if you have it, a few poppy-heads
for the tits.  The poppy-heads must be gathered and garnered in autumn,
being cut down before they are too ripe, and with long stalks attached
to them.

I am not sure that the seeds are not almost capable of intoxicating the
birds, but they do so luxuriate in them, that I have not the heart to
deny them the delight.

Here is an excerpt from my diary of this winter before the snowstorm
came on:

"December 19.--It is a bright beautiful day.  The garden-paths are hard.
The grass on lawns and borders is crisp and white with the hoar-frost
that has fallen during the night.  Though it is past midday, the sun
makes no impression on it.  There isn't the slightest breath of wind,
nor is there a leaf left on the lofty trees to stir if it did blow.  A
still, quiet, lovely winter's day.

"But I do not think the birds are at all unhappy yet.  The blackbirds
and the thrushes are still wild.  _They_ have not come near the door yet
to beg for food.  But the sparrows have, and eke cock-robin.  The latter
has just eaten about a yard of cold boiled macaroni, and now sits on an
apple-tree and sings loud and clearly a ringing joyous song of
thanksgiving.  I cannot help believing that he looks upon poor me as
only an instrument in the hands of the kind Providence, who seeth even
the sparrow fall.

"Perhaps even the sparrows are thankful, though music is not much in
their line.  These gentry are not particular what they eat, and it is
surprising how soon they make away with a soaked dog's biscuit, if one
be left in their way, or a pound or two of the boiled liver that
Hurricane Bob is so very fond of.  The old nests of these birds are
still up in the wistaria-trees that cover the front, or one of the
fronts, of the cottage.  Those nests are crowded with the birds at
night.  They have used them now for two seasons, simply re-lining them.
_Memo_: to pull them all down as soon as the days get warmer; laziness
should not be encouraged even in sparrows.

"December 21.--The weather is still hard and calm.  Cock-robin had a sad
story to tell me this morning.  He looked all wet and draggled and
wretched, quite a little mop of a robin.

"`Whatever have you been doing, Cockie?'  I asked.  `Have you had an
accident?'

"`Accident, indeed!' replied Cockie.  `No, it was no accident, but a
daring premeditated attempt at parricide.'

"`Parricide,' I cried, `you don't mean to say that your son--'

"`O! but I do though,' interrupted Cockie.  `You know, sir, that he
follows me to the door, and attempts to take the bit out of my mouth,
and you've seen me fling him a piece of meat.'

"`Yes,' I replied, `and then try to chase him away, and the young rascal
runs backwards, and sings defiance in your face.'

"`True, sir; and to-day, when I tried to reason with him, he flew right
at me--at his father, sir--and toppled me heels over head into the
water-vat, and I'm sure I've caught a frightful cold already.'

"`There's a fire in my study, Cockie, if you care to go in.'

"`No, thank you, sir, I'll sit in the sun.'

"December 22.--The weather gets colder and colder.  I interviewed a
speckle-breasted thrush to-day, who had come to the garden-room-door to
be fed.

"`On winter nights,' I asked, `do you not suffer very much from the
cold?'

"The bird looked at me for a moment with one big bright eye and said:

"`No, not as a rule.  You see we retire early, always seeking shelter at
sunset, and generally going to the self-same spot night after night, for
weeks or months; for all the winter through we can do with quite a deal
of sleep.  Yes, as you say, we make up for it in spring and early
summer, when we sing all the livelong day and seldom have more than four
hours of rest.  We rest in winter under the shelter of a hedge or tree,
or eave, away from the prevailing wind.

"`In winter we are more warmly feathered all over, though our garments
are less gay than in summer, when we have to appear on the stage, as it
were.  Even our heads are well clad, and when perched on a bough our
toes are covered, and we hardly feel the cold a bit.

"`But at times in winter it is bad enough, for when the snow covers the
frozen ground we get but little warmth-giving food.  This alone prevents
us from sleeping soundly; and sometimes the wind gets high and rages
through the trees, and we get blown right off our perches.  Then, as it
is all dark, we are glad to huddle in anywhere, and many of us get
snowed up, and never see the glad sunshine any more.

"`Wet is even worse than snow, and if there is wind as well as wet we
are very numbed and wretched.  Then the night seems so long, and we are
_so_ glad when day breaks at last, and the warm sunshine streams in
through the bushes.'"

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

Our little village was so truly small and so unsophisticated, that with
the exception of the clergyman and doctor it could boast of nothing at
all in the shape of society, while the families in the country districts
were mostly honest farmer-folk, who had seen but little of the outside
world, and only heard of it by reading the weekly paper.  Their talk was
chiefly about growing crops and live stock, so that, interesting though
this might be, neither my friend Frank nor myself had much temptation to
leave home on winter evenings.

But we had plenty to talk about nevertheless, and I cannot help saying
that it would be a blessing to themselves if the thousands of country
families, situated as we were, would cultivate the art of instructive
conversation and story-telling.  Science gossip is infinitely to be
preferred to fireside tattle about one's neighbours, to say nothing of
its being free from ill-nature, and elevating to the mind instead of
depressing.

About a week before Christmas, my wife was busy one evening trimming an
opera-cloak for Maggie May--would she ever wear it, I wonder--with some
kind of grebe.

"Is it grebe?"

"Yes, it is the skin of a grebe of some kind," was the reply; "but there
are so many different kinds, in this country find America."

"A kind of duck, isn't it?"

"Or a kind of gull?"

"Betwixt and between, one might say.  Grebes are nearly allied to the
great Northern Diver, but their feet are not, like his, quite webbed.
They frequent the seashore and rivers by the sea, and live on fish,
frogs, and molluscs of any sort.  Their nests are often built to float
among the reeds, and to rise and fall with the tide."

"When I get an opela-cloak," said Ida, "I'll have it tlimmed with
elmine."

"Why with ermine, Ida?"

"Because the Queen had elmine on, in the waxwork."

"Yes; and the ermine is only a weasel after all, and all summer it wears
a dress of red-brown fur, which speedily gets bleached to white, when
the thermometer stands below zero."

"No, Frank, I haven't seen my weasel for some time.  He is dozing in
some snug corner, you may be sure; and really, Frank, I believe the
subject of hibernation is but very imperfectly understood.  I don't want
to go into the matter at present physiologically, except to say that it
seems to be a provision of Nature for the protection of species; and
that a variety of animals and creatures of all kinds that we little wot
of, hibernate, more or less completely.  We see sometimes, in the dead
of winter, a beautiful butterfly--a red Admiral, perhaps--suddenly
appear and dance about on a pane of glass.  We wonder at it.  It is not
a butterfly's ghost at all, but a real butterfly, who had gone to sleep
in a snug corner of the room, and has now awakened probably only to die.

"I found an immense knot of garden worms, the other day, deep down in
garden mould.  They were sleeping away the cold season.

"But, talking about weasels, I'll tell you a story, Ida."

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

THE OWL AND THE WEASEL.

          "From yonder ivy-mantled tower,
  The moping owl doth to the moon complain,
  Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
  Molest her ancient solitary reign."

"By what you tell me," I said, "I can now guess where all my wild
rabbits have gone."

I was talking to a weasel.  And indeed the weasel seemed talking to me,
for he stood upon his hind-legs, on the balcony, staring in at me
through the French window that opens from my study on to the long shady
lawn.  As I did not move, he had a good look at me, and I think he felt
satisfied that I was not likely to harm him.

"Yes," I continued; "under that verandah, under the wooden balcony where
you now stand, used to dwell six wild rabbits, and did I not delight to
see them gambolling on the grass on the early summer mornings, the while
the blackbirds, the thrush, and the mavis enjoyed the bath placed on
purpose for them under the shade of the scented syringas."

"Well," replied the weasel, with a little toss of the head, "_I_ dwell
there now, and very comfortable I find the quarters."

"And the rabbits?"  I inquired.

"Good morning!" said the weasel, and it departed.

The weasel often came to see me in this fashion, and sometimes, when I
took my chair outside of an evening, he would suddenly appear at the far
end of the balcony.

"_O, you're_ there, are you?" he would seem to say, quite saucily.
"Well, don't trouble yourself getting up; I sha'n't stop."

I had often wished to have a tame weasel; but though my present visitor
was not afraid of me, and I know it took the milk I used to put down for
it in a small bit of broken basin, I could never make a real pet of it.

But one bright lovely day I was passing along in the country on my
tricycle.  It was a lonesome upland, where I was travelling, with
neither hedge nor ditch on either side of the road, only green grass and
trees, with here and there a bush of golden furze.  I was going along at
no extra speed, but thoroughly enjoying myself; still, I put on all the
power I could after a time, and seemed to fly towards what appeared to
be an immense black snake hurrying across the broad pathway.  This
snake, however, on a nearer inspection, resolved itself into one mother
weasel and five young ones, all in a row.  Seeing me dismount, the old
mother hurriedly snatched up one of her little ones, perhaps her
favourite, and in a few moments they were out of sight, far away in the
thicket.  Nay, not all of them, for here was one entangled in the rank
grass by the pathway.  What should I do with it?  If its mother did not
return it would very likely be left to perish.  "Ah!  I have it," I
thought, "I will take it home and tame it and keep it as a pet."  It
needed some taming, too, young as it was; this I soon found when I
commenced to capture it, but not without considerable risk to my
fingers; but at last I had it secure in my tricycle basket.

I must at once confess that I was not successful in my endeavours to
domesticate this poor wee weasel.  As far as a cage could be, its abode
was palatial; it had the warmest and softest of nests, and everything to
tempt its palate that I could think of; but although it came to know and
not fear me in a very few weeks, yet it never seemed perfectly content,
and seemed to long for the wild woods--and its mother.

And at last the poor little mite died, and I buried it in a tiny box
under a bush, and vowed to myself as I did so that I would never take
any wild thing away from its mother again.

Some people would tell you that you ought to destroy stoats and weasels
whenever you see them.  I myself think you ought not, because, although
they do sometimes treat themselves to a young leveret, or even a
duckling or chicken, they should be forgiven for this when we consider
the amount of good they do, by destroying such grain-eating animals as
rats and mice, to say nothing of our garden-pests, the moles.

Even the owl is a very useful bird of prey, because he works by night,
when hawks have gone to sleep.  Like many human thieves and robbers,
mice like to ply their pilfering avocation after nightfall, and they
might do so with impunity were it not for those members of the feathered
vigilance committee--the owls.

Now, so long as an owl does his duty, I think he has a right to live,
and even to be protected; but even an owl may forget himself sometimes,
and be guilty of indiscretion.  When he does so, he has only himself to
blame if evil follow.

There was once a particularly well-to-do and overweeningly ambitious
owl, who lived in an old castle, not far from the lovely village of Fern
Dene.

"Oh!" he said to himself one bright moonlight night, as he sat gazing
down on the drowsy woodland and the little village with its twinkling
lights; "I _should_ like a repetition of last night's feast--a tasty
young weasel.  Oh!  I would never eat mouse again, if I could always
have weasel."  And he half closed his old eyes with delight as he spoke.

"And why not?" he continued, brightening up; "there were five of them,
and I only had one.  So here I go."

And away flew the owl out of the topmost window of the tower, and
flapping his great lazy wings in the air, made directly over the trees
to the spot where the weasel had her nest.

"I shouldn't wonder," said one bat to another, "if our friend Mr Owl
finds more than his match to-night."

Farmer Hodge, plodding wearily homewards through the moonlight, about
half an hour after, was startled by a prolonged and mournful shriek that
seemed close to his ear, while at the same time he saw something dark
rising slowly into the sky.  He watched it for many minutes; there was
another scream, but a fainter one higher up in the air; then the
something dark grew darker and larger, and presently fell at his feet
with a dull thud.  "What could it be?" he wondered as he stooped to
examine it.  Why a great barn-owl with a weasel fast to its neck.  Were
they dead?  Yes, both were dead; but one had died bravely doing its duty
and defending its homestead; the other was a victim to unlawful
ambition.

CHAPTER FOUR.

AWAY IN THE WOODS.

  "Come to the woods, in whose mossy dells,
  A light all made for the poet dwells;
  A light, coloured softly by tender leaves,
  Whence the primrose a mellower glow receives.

  "The stock-dove is there in the beechen tree,
  And the lulling tone of the honey-bee;
  And the voice of cool waters, 'midst feathery fern,
  Shedding sweet sounds from some hidden urn."

"I went up with the dogs this morning," I said one evening, "to see how
my woodland study looked in winter."

"You did not do any work?"

"I did indeed.  It was so warm under my great oak-tree, that I could not
resist the temptation of sitting down and writing fully half a chapter
of a new tale."

It is a clear sunny day, with the ground flint-hard with the frost.  The
leaves are still on the bramble-bushes, so dear to school-children when
autumn days ripen the big luscious-looking black and bronze berries.
The leaves also closely cover yonder little beech-trees.  The furze is
of a dark olive-green colour, covered here and there with patches of
white, where the hoar-frost lodges, and with spots of brightest yellow
when the blossoms still flourish.  There are buds on the leafless
twiglets of the oak, though the tree still soundly sleeps, and the
ground is everywhere covered with moss and broken mast.  Not a sound is
there to break the stillness of the winter's morning, save now and then
the peevish twitter of a bird among the thorns, or the cry of a startled
blackbird, while now and then a rabbit goes scurrying across the glade,
stopping when at a safe distance to eye me wonderingly.  How different
it all is from Nature here in her summer garb.

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

MY WOODLAND STUDY IN SUMMER.

It is an open glade in the middle of a pine-wood.  Not all green and
level is this glade, with trees standing round in a circle, like the
clearings in forests of the Far West, which I used to read of in the
novels of Cooper and that so bewitched me when a boy.  No, for judging
from the rough and rutty pathway that leads up to it, and from the
numerous banks and hillocks in it, there can be no doubt that, in far
distant days of the past, gravel must have been dug and carted hence.

The wood itself--glade and all--stands on a hill.  At any time of the
day I have but to ascend one of these furze-clad banks to catch a view
the beauty of which can hardly be surpassed by any other scene in bonnie
Berkshire.  It is warm to-day--'tis the 1st of August--and there lies a
greyish-purple haze over all the landscape, that tones and softens it.
The nearer trees, just beyond the field down there where the sheep are
feeding, the stately ashes, the spreading elms and planes, and the
towering poplars, stand out green and clear in the sunshine; but the
hills beyond the valley of the Thames and the trees along its banks have
a blotted, blurred, and unfinished look about them, but are very
charming to behold nevertheless, all the more in that, here and there,
you catch glimpses of the silvery river itself, reflecting the glorious
sunshine.

Down yonder is the road that leads past my pine-wood.  You could not
help noticing that it is very beautiful.  It is a road of yellow gravel,
bounded on each side, first by broad grassy banks on which rich white
clover blooms and yellow celandines are conspicuous, and next by a wild
indescribable tangle of a hedge.  It had been originally blackthorn, but
has been so cut back that many other bushes and weeds far less easily
offended have asserted their independence, and tower over it or swamp
it.  Yes, but, taken as a whole, it must be confessed they swamp it in
beauty.  Yonder are patches of dark-leaved nettles, yonder clumps of
orange-brown seedling docks, side by side with lofty spreading pink-eyed
iron-weed.  Yonder is a canopy of that marvellous creeper the white
briony: very small are their little greenish-white flowerets, but what a
show their myriads make, and the clusters of its berries, green and
crimson, rival in beauty those of the blue-petalled woody nightshade
that are growing there as well.  High over the hedgerow stands the
yellow tansy and the wild parsley, while in it, under it, and scattered
hero and there are the crimson glow of field poppies, the orange gleam
of leopard's bane, and starry lights from ox-eyed daisies.

The banks or hillocks in my woodland study--among which you may wander
as in a labyrinth, lose your way, and finally perhaps, much to your
surprise, find yourself back again at the very place whence you
started--are clothed with tall furze-bushes; their yellow blossoms have
faded and fallen, and downy seed-pods that crackle in the sunshine, as
they split and scatter their seeds, have taken their place, but the
beauty of these blossoms is hardly missed, for over and through the
dark-green furze the brambles creep and trail, dotting them over with
clusters of pink-white bloom.

If you went close to these trailing brambles, you would find that each
cluster of bloom had a bee or two at work on it.  There are plenty of
the bees of commerce there, dressed in homespun garb of unassuming grey
or brown, quite suitable for the work they have to do--make honey for
the humble cottagers that dwell in the village nestling among the trees
down yonder.  But besides these, there are great gaudy bees that go
droning from blossom to blossom, clad in velvet, with stripes of orange,
white, or red, each arrayed in his own tartan, one might say, each
belonging to his own clan or ilk.  Here is a great towering thistle--
emblem of Scotland, pride of her sons.  How beautiful the broad
mauve-coloured, thorn-protected flowers are, and on each of them is one
of the aforesaid big tartan bees, and on some there are two revelling in
the nectar there distilled!  Now _do_ those Scottish thistles exude a
kind of whisky, I wonder, or rather a kind of Athole brose [a mixture of
honey and whisky].  Whether they do or not, one thing must be patent to
the eyes of all observers--those tartan bees do positively become
intoxicated on those Scottish thistle-tops; from other flowers they
gather honey in quite a business sort of a way, but once they alight
upon the thistle they are down for the day.  They soon become so drowsy
that they don't care to move, and if you go near them they hold up their
forelegs and shako them at you in a deprecating sort of a way.

"For goodness' sake," they seem to say, "don't come here to disturb us;
go away and look after your business, if you happen to have any, only
don't come here."

If you are an early bird, you may find some of those bees asleep on the
thistle-tops at six o'clock in the morning, the down on their backs all
bedraggled, and dew on their wings, evidence enough that they have not
been home at all, and mean to make another day of it.

Shrub-like oaks, stunted willows, and dark-berried elders also grow on
the banks among the furze and the bramble, and here and there a patch of
purple heath.

Between the little hills the ground is level, but carpeted over with
grass and moss, and a profusion of dwarfed wild flowers of every tint
and colour under the sun.

The wood itself is of fir and larch pine, with here and there a gigantic
and widely spreading oak.  There are dark spruce thickets too, much
frequented by wood-pigeons--I can hear their mournful croodling now--and
there are darker thickets still, where the brown owl sits blinking and
nodding all day long, till gloaming and starlight send him out, with the
bat, to see after supper.

It is under the shadow of a splendid oak-tree, which overhangs a portion
of my glade, that I mostly write, and under it my little tent is
pitched, the shelter of which I only court when a shower comes on,
being, like every other wild creature, a thorough believer in the
benefits of a life spent in the fresh open air.

Yonder hangs a hammock in which, when tired, I may lounge with a book,
or, soothed by the sweet breath of the pine-trees, and lulled by the
whisper of wind and leaf, sleep.

But when work is done, hammock, tent and all are packed upon or behind
my tricycle, which, like a patient steed, stands there waiting to bear
me to my home in the valley.

My woodland study is fully five-hundred feet above the level of the sea,
and yet it is easy to see from the size, shape and surface of the
pebbles all around me, that this glade was once upon a time a portion of
the ocean's bed; that glass-green waves once rippled over those banks
where the furze now grows; that congers and flat fish once wriggled over
the gravel where those thistles are blooming; and that thorny-backed
crabs used to lie perdu in the holes where dormice now sleep in winter.

I pick up one of those pebbles and throw it--well, just in yonder among
the whins; where the stone has alighted a wild old fox has a den, and
she has cubs too in spring-time; so I am not the only wild creature that
frequents these solitudes.  Oh no; for apart from the birds, who all
know me, and do pretty much as they please, there are mice and moles in
the grass, and high aloft orange-brown squirrels that leap from tree to
tree, besides rabbits in dozens that scurry around the hillocks and play
at hide-and-seek.  At this very moment up on yonder bank sits a hare;
his ears are very much pricked, and he is looking towards me, but as he
is chewing something, in a reflective kind of way, he cannot be very
much alarmed.  And only last evening I saw a large hedgehog trotting
across my glade, dragging behind him a long green snake, a proof,
methinks, that innocent hoggie is fond of something more solid than
black beetles and juicy slugs as a change of diet.

With the exception of an occasional keeper, wandering in pursuit of
game, no human being ever disturbs the sanctity of my woodland study;
and no sound falls on my ears, except the distant roar of a passing
train, the song of linnets, and croodle of turtle-dove and cushat.

Sometimes, in blackberry season, far down in yonder copse, I can hear
the laughing voices of children at work among the brambles.  Just under
a furze-bush, not five yards from the spot where I am now reclining, a
pheasant some time ago brought forth a brood of young.  She never used
to move when I went close to her, only looked up in my face, as much as
to say, "I don't think you are likely to disturb me, but I mean to stick
to my nest whatever happens."

There is something new to be seen and studied in this woodland haunt of
mine all the year through.  What a wondrous volume is this book of
Nature!  I honestly declare that if I thought I had any chance of living
for, say a couple of thousands of years, I would go in for the study of
natural history in downright earnest, and at the end of even that time,
I daresay, I should feel just as ignorant as I do now.

But I don't come to my woodland study to laze, be assured; a good deal
of honest work is done in this sylvan retreat, as many a London editor
can testify.  Only, there are half-hours on some days when a drowsy,
dreamy sensation steals over me, and I pitch my pen away and lie on the
moss and chew the white ends of rushes, and think.

It is, say, a beautiful day in mid-July.  There are wondrous clouds up
yonder, piled mass on mass, with rifts of bright blue between, through
which the sun shines whenever he gets a chance.  There is a strip of
sunshine, even now, glittering on those feathery seedling grasses, and
varnishing them as it were.  It is gone, and a deal of beauty goes with
it.

It is close and sultry and silent, and with half-shut eyes I take to
studying the liliputians that alight with fairy feet on my manuscript,
or creep and crawl across it.

Here is a gnat--the _Culm communis_--a vast deal too _communis_ in these
wilds, especially at eventide, but my hands have long ago been rendered
proof against their bites _a la Pasteur_.  This is a new-born _culex_;
he hardly knows what the world is all about yet.  But how fragile his
limbs, how delicate his wings!  These last are apt to get out of order,
a breath of wind may do damage, a raindrop were fatal.  This gnat has
lost a leg, but that does not seem to interfere in the least degree with
his enjoyment of life.  He is a philosopher, five legs are fun enough;
so away he flies.

Here are some small spiders--crimson ones.  There are other tiny ones,
too tiny yet to build a web, so they stalk for wee unwary flies.

Here comes a great mother spider, quite a Jumbo among the others; she
walks quickly across the sheet, but, strange to say, half a dozen
pin-head young ones are clinging to her, and now and then she drops one,
and it quite unconcernedly goes to work to make its own living.  Fancy
human parents getting rid of their offspring in this way!  No such luck,
many will add.

Skipjacks go jumping about on my paper, clicking like little watches;
the very clowns of insect-life are these.  _Elateridae_ is the long name
they go by in history.

Here is a little scoundrel no bigger than the dot of the letter "i," but
when I touch him with the point of a blade of grass, hey! presto! he has
jumped high in air and clean over twenty lines of my ruled
foolscap--_i.e._, more than a hundred times the length of himself.  How
I envy him the ability and agility to jump so!

Here is a wee _Anobium_, as big as a comma; he can't jump, but he knows
his way about, and when I touch him he shams dead.  He has a big
brother, called the death-watch, and he does the same.

But here comes a bigger jumper, and here another; one is yellow and the
other brown.  In a day or two the yellow one will be as dark as the
other.  They are _Aphrophorae_.  They were born in a spittle, for so the
country folks term the frothy morsels of secretion we see clinging to
such herbs as sour-dock.  Let them hop; I am not going to take their
lives on this lovely day, albeit they do much harm to my garden crops.

But here is a bigger arrival, a _Saltatorial gryllide_, a lovely large
sea-green grasshopper; his immense ornamental hinder legs put you in
mind of steam propellers.  He is on my blotting-paper, watching me with
his brown wise-looking eyes, ready for a leap at a moment's notice.  I
lift my hand to brush a gnat from my ear: whirr! he is off again and out
of sight.  He doesn't care where he flies to, and when he does spring
away into infinity he can't have the slightest notion where he will
land.  What a happy-go-lucky kind of life!  What a merry one!  He toils
not, neither does he spin; he travels where and when he pleases; there
is food for him wherever he goes, and nothing to pay for it.  A short
life, you say?  There is no one can prove that, for one hour may seem as
long to him as a year to you or to me.  To be sure a bird may bolt him,
but then he dies in the sunshine and it is all over in a moment.

Here is a tiny elongated _Coleopterite_ who, as soon as he alights for a
rest, folds away his wings under his tippet (elytra).  He does not bite
them off as some silly she-ants do.  For as soon as the sun blinks out
again this insect will unfold his wings and be off once more, and he may
perhaps alight in some human being's eye before evening and be drowned
in a tear.

There are some of an allied species, but so very _very_ tiny that when
they get on to my manuscript while I am writing, they are as bewildered
as I have been before now on an Arctic ice-field.  Perhaps they get a
kind of snow-blind.  At all events they feel their way about, and if
they chance to come to a word I have just written, they dare not cross
it for fear of getting drowned--every stroke of my pen is to one of
these wee mites a blue rolling river of ink.  So they've got to walk
round.

Here is a new-born _Aphis_ (green-fly).  It is still green.  It has not
been bronzed yet, and its wings are the most delicate gauze.  It does
not seem to know a bit what to do, or where to go, or what it has been
put into the world for, any more than a human philosopher.

This wee thing takes advantage of a glint of sunshine and essays to fly,
but a puff of wind catches him, and, as "the wind bloweth where it
listeth," he has to go with it.  He will be blown away and away,
thousands and thousands of midges' miles away.  He will never come back
to this part of the wood, never see any of his relations--if he has
any--again.  Away and away, to the back of the north wind perhaps; he
may be swallowed by a bat or a sand-marten; he may be impaled on a thorn
or drowned in a dewdrop, or alight on the top of a pond and get gobbled
up by a minnow; but, on the other hand, he may be blown safe and sound
to some far-off land beyond the Thames, settle down, get married, and
live happy for ever afterwards.

Clack--clack--clack--clack!  A great wild pigeon has alighted on the
pine-tree above me.  I have been so quiet, she does not know I am here.
I cough, and click--clack--click go her wings, and off she flies
sideways, making a noise for all the world like the sound of that
whirling toy children call "a thunder-spell."

But she has knocked down a cone.  It is still green, but somehow the
sight of it takes me far away north to bonnie Scotland, and I am
roaming, a boy once more, on a wild moorland, where grow, here and
there, tiny pine-trees--seedlings, that owe their habitat, if not
existence, to the rooks, who have carried cones like these from the
forests.  Like Byron, "I rove a young Highlander o'er the dark heath."

  "I arise with the dawn, with my dog as my guide,
  From mountain to mountain I'm bounding along,
  I am breasting the billows of Dee's rushing tide,
  And hear at a distance the Highlander's song."

I close my eyes, and it all comes back, that wild and desolate but
dearly-loved scene; the banks where lizards bask; the "pots" and the
ponds in that broad moor, where teal-ducks swim, and near which the
laughing snipe has her nest; I hear the wild whistle of the whaup or
curlew, and the checker of the stone-hatch in the cairn.  I am wading
among crimson heath and purple heather, where the crowberry and
cranberry grow in patches of green.  And now I have wandered away to the
deep, dark forest itself; and near to a kelpie's pool, by the banks of a
stream, I lay me down to rest.  There are myriads of bees in the
lime-trees above, through which the sunshine shimmers, lighting up the
leaves to a tenderer green, but the bees begin to talk, and the
murmuring stream begins to sing, and presently I find myself in
Elfin-land, in the very midst of a fairy revel.

The "Midsummer Night's Dream" is a masterpiece of art, but nothing to
this.  _That_ was a mere phantasy; _this_ is a reality.  This is--

"Pa! papa!"

I start up.  I am still in my woodland study.  But a sweet young face is
bending over me, and tender eyes are looking into mine.

"Pa, dear, how sound you have been asleep!  Do you know it is nearly
sunset?"

"Have I?  Is it?"  I reply, smiling.  "I thought, Ida, you were queen of
Elfin-land."

It is my tiny daughter who has come toddling up to the wood to seek for
me.

Three minutes after this, we are tooling down the hill homewards, and
Ida--my own little queen of the elves--is seated on the cycle beside me.

CHAPTER FIVE.

SUMMER LIFE IN NORLAND SEAS.

  "To the ocean now I fly
  And those Norland climes that lie
  Where Day never shuts his eye."

  "And nought around, howe'er so bright,
  Could win his stay, or stop his flight
  From where he saw the pole-star's light
  Shine o'er the north."

It was no wonder that, with the snow lying deep around our dwelling, and
the storm-wind rattling our windows of a night, and howling and
"howthering" around the chimnies, both Frank's thoughts and my own
should be carried away to the wild regions of the Pole, where both of us
had spent some years of our lives; or that I should have been asked one
night to relate some of my experiences of Greenland seas and their
strange animal inhabitants, seals and bears among the rest.

I related, among other things--

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

HOW SEALS ARE CAUGHT IN GREENLAND.

"That sealing trip," I said, "I shall never forget.  My particular
friend the Scotch doctor, myself, and Brick the dog, were nearly always
hungry; many a midnight supper we went in for, cooked and eaten under
the rose and forecastle."

Friday night was sea-pie night, by the universal custom of the service.
The memory of that delicious sea-pie makes my month water even now, when
I think of it.

The captain came down one morning from the crow's-nest--a barrel placed
up by the main truck, the highest position in the ship from which to
take observations--and entered the saloon, having apparently just taken
leave of his senses.  He was "daft" with excitement; his face was
wreathed in smiles, and the tears of joy were standing in his eyes.

"On deck, my boys, on deck with you, and see the seals!"

The scene we witnessed on running aloft into the rigging was peculiarly
Greenlandish.  The sun had all the bright blue sky to himself--not the
great dazzling orb that you are accustomed to in warmer countries, but a
shining disc of molten silver hue, that you can look into and count the
spots with naked eye.  About a quarter of a mile to windward was the
main icepack, along the edge of which we were sailing under a gentle
topsail breeze.  Between and around us lay the sea, as black as a basin
of ink.  But everywhere about, as far as the eye could see from the
quarter-deck, the surface of the water was covered with large beautiful
heads, with brilliant earnest eyes, and noses all turned in one
direction--that in which our vessel was steering, about south-west and
by south.  Nay, but I must not forget to mention one peculiar feature in
the scene, without which no seascape in Greenland would be complete.
Away on our lee-bow, under easy canvas, was the _Green Dutchman_.  This
isn't a phantom ship, you must know, but the most successful of all
ships that ever sailed the Northern Ocean.  Her captain--and owner--has
been over twenty years in the came trade, and well deserves the fortune
that he has made by his own skill and industry.

If other proof were wanting that we were among the main body of seals,
the presence of that _Green Dutchman_ afforded it; besides, yonder on
the ice were several bears strolling up and down, great yellow monsters,
with the ease and self-possession of gentlemen waiting for the sound of
the last dinner gong or bugle.  Skippers of ships might err in their
judgment, the great _Green Dutchman_ himself might be at fault, but the
knowledge and the instinct of Bruin is infallible.

We were now in the latitude of Jan Mayen; the tall mountain cone of that
strange island we could distinctly see, raised like an immense shining
sugar-loaf against the sky's blue.  To this lonely spot come every year,
through storm and tempest, in vessels but little bigger or better than
herring-boats, hardy Norsemen, to hunt the walrus for its skin and
ivory, but by other human feet it is seldom trodden.  It is the throne
of King Winter, and the abode of desolation, save for the great bear
that finds shelter in its icy caves, or the monster seals and strange
sea-birds that rest on its snow-clad rocks.  At this latitude the sealer
endeavours to fall in with the seals, coming in their thousands from the
more rigorous north, and seeking the southern ice, on which to bring
forth their young.  They here find a climate which is slightly more
mild, and never fail to choose ice which is low and flat, and usually
protected from the south-east swell by a barrier of larger bergs.  The
breeding takes place as soon as the seals take the ice, the males in the
meantime removing in a body to some distant spot, where they remain for
three weeks or so, looking very foolish--just, in truth, as human
gentlemen would under like circumstances--until joined by the ladies.
The seal-mothers are, I need hardly say, exceedingly fond of their
young.  At all other times timid in the extreme, they will at this
season defend them with all the ferocity of bears.  The food of the
seals in nursing season consists, I believe, of the small shrimps with
which the sea is sometimes stained for miles, like the muddy waters of
the Bristol Channel, and also, no doubt, of the numerous small fishes to
be found burrowing, like bees in a honeycomb, on the under surface of
the pieces of ice.  The wise sealer "dodges" outside, or lies aback,
watching and wary, for a fortnight at least, until the young seals are
lumpy and fat, then the work of death begins.  I fear I am digressing,
but these remarks may be new to some readers.

"The _Green Dutchman_ has filled her fore-yard, sir, and is making for
the ice;" thus said the first mate to the captain one morning.

"Let the watch make sail," was the order, "and take the ice to windward
of her."

The ship is being "rove" in through the icebergs, as far and fast as
sail will take her.  Meanwhile, fore and aft, everybody is busy on
board, and the general bustle is very exciting.  The steward is serving
out the rum, the cook's coppers are filled with hams, the hands not on
deck are busy cleaning their guns, sharpening their knives, getting out
their "lowrie tows" (dragging-ropes), and trying the strength of their
seal-club shafts by attempts to break them over their hardy knees.  The
doctor's medical preparations are soon finished; he merely pockets a
calico bandage and dossel of lint, and straps a tourniquet around his
waist, then devotes his attention exclusively to his accoutrements.
Having thus arranged everything to his entire satisfaction, he fills a
sandwich-case, then a brandy-flask and baccy-pouch, and afterwards eats
and drinks as long as he can--to pass the time, he says--then, when he
can't eat a morsel more, he sits and waits and listens impatiently,
beating the devil's tattoo with his boot on the fender.  Presently it is
"Clew up," and soon after, "All hands over the side."

The day was clear and bright and frosty, and the snow crisp and hard.
There was no sinking up to the knees in it.  You might have walked on it
with wooden legs.  Besides, there was but little swell on, so the
movement of the bergs was slow, and leaping easy.

Our march to the sealing-ground was enlivened by a little logomachy, or
wordy war, between the first mate and the doctor.  The latter began it:

"Harpooneers and clubmen," he cried, "close up behind me, here; I'm gaun
to mak' a speech; but keep movin' a' the time--that's richt.  Well,
first and foremost, I tell ye, I'm captain and commander on the ice;
d'ye hear?"

"_You_ commander!" exclaimed the mate; "I'll let ye ken, my lad, that
I'm first officer o' the ship."

"Look here, mate," said the doctor, "I'll no lose my temper wi' ye, but
if ye interrupt me again, by ma sang, ye'll ha' to fecht me, and ye ken
ye havena the biceps o' a daddy-lang-legs, nor the courage o' a cockney
weaver, so keep a calm sough.--Now, men," he continued, "I, your
lawfully constituted commander, tell ye this: there is to be nae
cruelty, this day, to the innocent lambs we're here to kill.  Mind ye,
God made and cares for a' His creatures.  But I'm neither going to
preach or pray, but I'll put it to ye in this fashion.  If I see one man
Jack of ye put a knife in a seal that he hasna previously clubbed and
killed, I'll simply ca' that man's harns oot [dash his brains out] to
begin wi', and if he does it again, I'll stop his 'bacca for the entire
voyage, and his grog besides."

Probably the last threat was more awful to a sailor than actual
braining.  At all events, it had the desired effect, for during the
whole of that day I saw nothing among our men but slaughter as humane as
slaughter could be made.  Even then, however, there was much to harrow
the feelings of any one at all sensitive.  For the young Greenland seal
is such an innocent little thing, so beautiful, so tender-eyed, and so
altogether like a baby in a blanket, that killing it is revolting to
human nature.  Besides, they are so extremely confiding.  Raise one in
your arms--it will give a little petted grumble, like a Newfoundland
puppy, and suck your fingers; not finding its natural sustenance in that
performance, it will open its mouth, and give vent to a plaintive scream
for its ma, which will never fail in bringing that lady from the depths
beneath, eager-eyed and thirsting for your life.

Towards the middle of the day I strolled among the crew of the _P--e_.
The men were wildly excited, half-drunk with rum, and wholly with
spilling blood, singing and shouting and blaspheming, striking home each
blow with a terrible oath, flinching before the blood had ceased to
flow, and sometimes, horrible to say, flinching the unhappy innocents
alive.  All sorts of shocking cruelties were perpetrated, in order to
make puppies scream, and thus entice the mother to the surface to be
shot or clubbed.  I saw one fellow--Pah!  I can't go on.

Blood shows to advantage on ice.  Here there were oceans of it.  The
snow was pure and white and dazzling in the morning--I leave it to the
imagination of the sentimental to guess its appearance at eventide.  The
stout Shetlandmen, with their lowrie tows, dragged the skins to the
ship.  There were no regular meals any day during sealing.  The crew fed
and drank alike, _when_ they could and _what_ they could.  There was but
little sport in all this--a certain wild excitement, to be sure, quite
natural under the circumstances, for were we not engaged in one of the
lawful pursuits of commerce and making money?  The bears were having
fine times of it, for there was but little inclination on our part to
pursue them, while there were seals to slay; and Bruin seemed to know
this, and was correspondingly bold and impertinent, although never
decidedly aggressive; for compared to seals men are merely skin and
bone, and Bruin has a _penchant_ for adiposity.

In ten days there was not a seal left, for ships had collected from all
quarters--like war-horses scenting the battle from afar, or like
sea-gulls on "making-off" days--to assist in the slaughter.  By-the-by,
what peculiar instinct or what sense is it that enables those sea-gulls
to determine the presence of carrion in the water at almost incredible
distances?  On making-off days--that is, idle days at sea--when, there
being nothing else to do, the hands are employed in separating the
blubber from the skins, putting them in different tanks and casting the
offal overboard, there shall not be a single gull in sight from the
crow's-nest, even within ken of the telescope; but when, twenty minutes
afterwards, the work is well begun, the sea shall be white with those
gulls, singly or in clusters fighting for the dainty morsels of flesh
and blubber.

We got frozen in after this, and in a fortnight's time we found
ourselves forsaken by the bears, and even by the birds, both of which
always follow the seals.

What a lonely time we had of it for the next month, in the centre of
that silent, solitary icepack!  But for the ships that lay here and
there, frozen in like ourselves, it might have been mistaken for some
snow-clad moorland in the dead of winter.  And all the time there never
was a cloud in the blue sky, even as big as a man's hand; the sun shone
there day and night but gave no heat, and the silence was like the
silence of space--we could have heard a snow-flake fall.

Once a week, at least, a gale of wind might be blowing, hundreds of
miles away from where we were--it was always calm in the pack--then the
great waves would come rolling in beneath the ice, though of course we
could not see them, lifting up the giant bergs, packing and pitching the
light bay-ice over the heavy, and grinding one against the other or
against our seemingly doomed ship with a shrieking, deafening noise,
that is quite indescribable.  We thus lived in a constant state of
suspense, with our traps always packed and ready to leave the vessel if
she were "nipped."  One ship had gone down before our very eyes, and
another lay on the top of the ice on her beam ends, with the keel
exposed.

But clouds and thaw came at last, and we managed, by the aid of ice-saws
and gunpowder, to cut a canal and so get free and away into the blue
water once more.

"Were you not glad?" said Maggie May.

"Yes, glad we all were, yet I do not regret my experience, for in that
solitary ice-field we were indeed alone with Nature.  And, Maggie May,
being alone with Nature is being alone with God."

"Ah!  Frank," I added, "it is amid such scenes as these, and while
surrounded with danger, that one learns to pray."

"True, lad, true," said Uncle Frank solemnly, "and strange and many are
the wonders seen by those who go down to the sea in ships."

CHAPTER SIX.

FACE TO FACE WITH ICE-BEARS.

  "Why, ye tenants of the lake,
  For me your wat'ry haunts forsake?
  Tell me, fellow-creatures, why
  At my presence thus you fly?
  Conscious, blushing for our race,
  Soon, too soon, your fears I trace;
  Man, your proud usurping foe,
  Would be lord of all below,
  Plumes himself in Freedom's pride,
  Tyrant stern to all beside."

  Burns.

"If ever a true lover of Nature lived," said Frank one winter's evening,
as we all sat round the fire as usual, "it was your Scottish bard, the
immortal Burns."

"Yes," I said, "no one was ever more sensible than he that a great gulf
is fixed between our lower fellow-creatures and us--a gulf formed and
deepened by ages of cruelty towards them.  We fain--some of us at
least--would cross that gulf and make friends with the denizens of field
and forest, but ah!  Frank, they will not trust us.  I can fancy the
gentle Burns walking through the woods, silently, on tiptoe almost, lest
he should disturb any portion of the life and love he saw all about him,
or cause distress to any one of God's little birds or beasts.  See the
wounded hare limp past him!--poor wee wanderer of the wood and field--
look at the tears streaming over the ploughman's cheeks as he says:

  "`Seek, mangled wretch, some place of wonted rest--
      No more of rest, but now thy dying bed!
      The sheltering rushes whistling o'er thy head,
  The cold earth with thy bleeding body prest.'"

"And what," said Frank, "can equal the pitiful pathos and simplicity of
his address to the mouse whose nest in autumn has been turned up by the
ploughshare?

  "`Thy wee bit housie too in ruin,
  It's silly wa's, the winds are strewin',
  An' naething, now to big a new ane
              O' foggage green,
  An bleak December's winds ensuin',
              Both snell and keen.'"

  [Big means build; snell means keen.]

"Yes, Frank, and he says in that same sweet and tender poem:

  "`I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
  Has broken Nature's social union,
  An' justifies that ill-opinion
          Which makes thee startle
  At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
          An' fellow-mortal!'"

"Well," replied Frank, "I'm very much of Burns's way of thinking; I
would like to be friends with all my fellow-mortals, and have reason to
believe it is really man's cruelty that has broken the spell that should
bind us.

"Why, away up in the north, the biggest beast in the sea is the simplest
and the best-natured.  I mean the whale.  The birds are so tame you can
almost catch them alive, and even bears will pass you by if you do not
seek to molest them."

"Tell us some bear stories, Frank."

Frank accordingly cleared his throat.

"What I tell you, then, about Polar bears," he said, "you may believe.
My facts are true facts, not ordinary facts, and I gained my experience
myself, and neither from books nor from imagination.  But talking about
books," he continued, pulling one down from the shelf and spreading it
open before him, "here is one on natural history, and as there are
pictures in it, it will be sure to please you.  The book is not an old
one, and is a reputed authority.  Well, look at _that_.  That is
supposed to be a Polar bear just come out of a cave, and having a sniff
round.  It is more the shape of a dormouse that has lost its tail in a
trap.

"Here again is the picture of a dismantled barque, apparently stranded
on the top of Mount Ararat, and in the foreground a lot of very ordinary
looking men with billycock hats and very ordinary looking axes and
spades, making an ice-canal to the water, at the edge of which another
bear or dormouse is standing up quietly to be shot.

"One more illustration.  Glance at this! three bears close under the
bows of a ship among the ice; one lies dead beside a spit-kid; another
is sitting thinking; and a third is walking on his hind-legs towards a
group of men, who are evidently poised to receive cavalry, with
duck-guns and old-fashioned battle-axes.

"The text is quite on a keeping with the illustrations--that is, hardly
in accordance with Nature.

"We read in travellers' tales wonderful accounts of the size, strength,
cunning, and extreme ferocity of the Polar bear.  I used to believe all
I read, even _Jack the Giant-Killer_.  But nevertheless, as to ferocity
and strength, there is no doubt that our Arctic friend is king of the
ursine race.  It took me a whole year to settle in my own mind whether
this bear was actually a bold, brave beast or the reverse.  From all I
have seen and heard he undoubtedly possesses bravery, but it is tempered
with a deal of discretion.  He is not like the old Norse kings; he does
not kill men for the mere sake of making a record.  He fights for food
and not for glory.  If a man and seal were both lying asleep on the ice,
I believe a hungry bear would prefer his customary diet, and leave the
man in peaceful possession of his dreams.  But if the man awoke while
the bear was having his mouthful or two--he does not eat much of a
seal--then I guess the consequences would be rather serious for one of
the party.  Yet I came upon a bear once behind a hummock of ice that, I
am sure, had been fast asleep till I fired my rifle at something else
quite close to him.  He might have killed me then easily, but I assure
you he did not.  He emitted a sound as if he had swallowed about three
yards of trombone and was trying to cough it up again.  Then he ran
away.

"But another day _I_ ran away.  I was two miles from my ship and burst
my gun.  I wasn't going to stop and fight that bear with the butt-end--
not likely; but he followed me nearly halfway.  Our spectioneer, dear
old man, saw the race from the crow's-nest, and sent men out to meet us.
He said at dinner that he had saved my life; but according to him, he
saved my life more than once and in more ways than one.  He must have
been always saving my life, I suppose; but then I was young and
headstrong.  That spectioneer of ours, although he must have been nearly
fifty years of age, was a kind of Donald Dinnie in strength.  He fought
an Arctic bear once single-handed and with no other weapon save a
seal-club.  The man is still alive; the bear isn't.

"The spectioneer did not force the fighting, remember.  He rounded the
corner of a large hummock of ice, and came upon the foe quite
unexpectedly.  One lucky but fearful blow pierced the upper part of the
brute's neck close behind the ear, and he fell dead.  A seal-club is a
terrible weapon in the hands of a strong man.  It is in shape somewhat
like a pole-axe, only the iron or steel portion is sharp, and not blunt.
Our spectioneer was one of the best and bravest seamen ever I sailed
with, and one of the most modest of men.  I remember laughing once when
he told me that he would as soon fight a bear with a seal-club as a
bladder-nosed seal.  I did not know much about this species of seal
then.  I believe there is some Irish blood in the brute, for at any
time, whether in the water or out of it, he will as soon fight as not,
and woe be to you when he cocks his crest if you have only a club, and
no rifle wherewith to defend yourself!

"Ever hear tell of the mad surgeon who fought the Polar bear?  I'll tell
you the story, then, as it was told to me, and I have no reason to doubt
its accuracy in the main details.

"Dr C--was a young medical man, just newly passed.  He was to have been
married very shortly after the capping and gowning ceremony, but had a
few hasty words with his affianced, bade her an angry farewell, and took
steamer to Lerwick some weeks before the arrival of the Greenland fleet
at that ancient place, in the hopes of finding a ship that was in want
of a surgeon.  He was not disappointed; one of the doctors wished to go
back; the voyage from Hull to Lerwick had been quite enough for him, so
Dr C--took his place.

"Now Dr C--was reckless; he confessed that he cared very little what he
did, or what became of him; he had loved the girl that he had meant to
make his wife very dearly, and now that he had lost her he didn't mind,
he said, although a whale swallowed him, and he thought he could sleep
as comfortably, and far more soundly, in Davy Jones's locker than
anywhere else.

"He showed he was reckless even before he left Lerwick.  It was usual in
those days for the youthful surgeons of the fleet to assemble for the
purpose of eating, drinking, and carousing at the only respectable hotel
in the town, and having well primed themselves, to march in a body
through the narrow streets.  This used to lead to cruel fights, in which
the medicos were very often worsted.  But on this particular year Dr
C--went in for organisation, as he called it.  He armed and drilled the
fleet surgeons, and in person he used to lead them out to fight, and in
consequence the riots lasted often long into the night, despite the
efforts of the police and military--five men and a sergeant--to quell
them.

"After his ship sailed, Dr C--took to vinous imbibition--in plain
English, he drank rum to excess.  The ship got frozen in about a week
after arrival `in the country,' and by this time the surgeon was so ill
that he was confined to bed.  Literally speaking, confined to bed, for
he had to be strapped to it.  One day he heard the captain and first
mate talking about the large number of bears that were about, and so
quiet did he become after this that restraint was thought no longer
necessary.  It was early in the season, and the sun still set, and the
night, or rather dusk, was of about two hours' duration.  When a ship is
beset in the ice the commander naturally enough is anxious in mind, and
spends a good deal of his time in the crow's-nest with his eye at the
glass.  The commander of Dr C--'s ship was in the crow's-nest very
early one morning, and, somewhat to his surprise, saw what he took to be
a seal lying on a hummock about half a mile off.  It lay very still and
motionless, and was very black.  It was not long before he noticed
something else--an immense bear coming stalking down towards the dark
object on the ice.

"So intently was he watching the movements of the bear that he did not
notice the trap-door of the nest move.  It was the steward that had run
up to tell him that the doctor was not to be found anywhere in the ship.

"In a moment the truth flashed upon the captain's mind.  He hailed the
deck below, and in less than a minute a party of ten men, rifle-armed,
were over the side and away to the surgeon's assistance.

"There was nothing further for the captain to do but watch proceedings
through the glass.  I was not there, of course, so can only imagine what
an exciting scene it must have been, for the captain in his crow's-nest
to witness that man and bear fight.

"The doctor it seems was neither tall nor strong--a thin wiry little
fellow, more fit to contend with a badger than a bear.  He had armed
himself with his longest amputating knife, which he had tied to his
wrist and hand, in such a way that it could neither slip nor be dropped.
The captain saw the bear spring upon the man and rise with him, and
fall again and roll with him, and he saw the doctor plunge the knife
again and again into the brute's body; then both fell and both lay
still.  When the men arrived it was to find Bruin dead enough, and the
surgeon just breathing.  He was fearfully lacerated in the back and
legs, but, strange to say, he survived, and before the ship returned to
Lerwick he was clothed and in his right mind.

"I have a great respect for my friend the Arctic bear; I cannot help
admiring his immensity, his power of endurance, his wonderful swimming
capabilities, and his great sagacity, which latter he shows in a hundred
different ways, known only to those who have thoroughly studied the
tricks and the manners of the monster.

"A Polar bear has all the cunning of a fox, all the agility of an otter,
and more than the strength of the largest lion.

"The she-bear is remarkably fond of her young, but not more so, I think,
than the seal is of her offspring.  A seal, indeed, is at most times one
of the most timid and wary animals in creation, but she will, and often
does, lay down her life for her young ones.  If young seals are on a
piece of ice with their dams, the latter will naturally take to the
water on the approach of men on the ice or in boats; but if a young one
cries, or is made to cry on purpose, the mother will appear again, and,
defying all danger, make towards it, paying the penalty of death for
this exhibition of her maternal instinct.

"I do not think that bears actually hibernate in a dormant state; but in
very bad weather they no doubt take long spells of sleep in holes under
the snow, and a capital way of passing the time it must be; if mankind
could only do the same, then sleep would be the poor man's best friend.
But your Arctic bear is fond of a good nap in the sunshine, even in
summer; I was beset for nearly two months once, some little way south
and west of the island of Jan Mayen.  One day, with Dana's `Two Years
Before the Mast' in my hand, and my binocular slung across my shoulder,
I wandered away from the ship.  I had neither rifle nor club, not
expecting to need either.  I found myself at last by the foot of a very
tall hummock, composed, I daresay, of bay-ice squeezed up at some time
or other and finally snowed over.  I like to get on tops of eminences,
and this hummock looked like a small tower of Babel in the midst of the
flat and wide expanse of snow-clad ice; so up I went, and sat down to
read.  On looking around me presently, I noticed a yellow mark or spot
on the snow some hundred or hundred and fifty yards off.  On bringing my
glasses to bear on it, I found it was a bear; and he was moving or
wriggling.  He evidently had not seen me yet, nor scented me.  I had no
more heart to read Dana just then.  I thought the best thing I could do
would be to sit still, and keep semaphoring with my right arm and Dana
towards the brute; the mate was in the crow's-nest, I thought, and would
be sure to notice me soon, and know something was wrong.  But the mate
did not notice me.  The truth is the steward had taken him some coffee,
with a dose of rum in it, a drink of which he was inordinately fond, and
he was smacking his lips over that.  I semaphored with my right hand
until it was temporarily paralysed; then I turned quietly round and
semaphored with my left.  This change of position necessitated my
looking over my shoulder to the ship.  On again turning round I was
horrified to find that Bruin was up, and evidently wondering who or what
I was, and what I meant.  He came closer, and stood again to look, for
bears are inquisitive.  I kept up my motions--there was nothing else to
be done, and my heart felt as big as a bullock's.  Presently the bear
commenced gyrating his great head and neck, the better to scent me, I
suppose; only it looked as if he was mimicking my actions.  So there the
pair of us kept it up for what seemed to me about five hours, though it
might not have been a minute.  Then Bruin quietly turned stern and
shambled off.

"An old authority describes the pace of a Polar bear as equal to that of
the sharp gallop of a horse.  I believe a bear can spring as far as a
horse can jump, or nearly, but his pace is not even half as fast, nor
anything like it.

"I have eaten a great many strange things in my time, but I should be
sorry indeed to have to dine off Arctic bear in the seal season.
Everybody is not so particular, however, and the Norwegians make many a
hearty meal off bear-beef.  I was in the cabin of a Norwegian once when
they had bear for dinner.  There was the captain and first and second
mate at table.  In the centre stood a dish with an immense hunk of
boiled bear on it; by the side of it was placed a large plate of
potatoes, cooked in their skins.  Nobody used a fork, only the knife; so
on the whole it was a pretty sight to see them.  I was asked to partake.
I begged to be excused, and to escape from the odour of the
fishy-fleshy steam, I ran on deck, and lit a cigar."

CHAPTER SEVEN.

"SPRING IS COMING:--THE STORM.--THE FAIRY FOREST: A TALE."

  "The brown buds thicken on the trees,
  Unbound the free streams sing,
  As March leads forth across the leas
  The wild and windy Spring.

  "When in the fields the melted snow
  Leaves hollows warm and wet,
  Ere many days will sweetly blow
  The first blue violet."

"I have all my life possessed such a love for nomadic adventure, that I
often wondered if I have any real gipsy blood in me."

This was a remark I made an evening or two after Frank had told us all
about his friends the Arctic bears.  I was looking at the fire as I
spoke, as one does who is in deep thought.

"What do you see in the fire?" asked Frank.

"I see," I replied, without removing my eyes from the crackling logs and
melting sea-coal, "I see a beautifully fitted caravan, drawn by two nice
horses, jogging merrily along a lovely road, among green trees,
rose-clad hedgerows and trailing wild flowers.  It is a beautiful
evening, the clouds in the west are all aglow with the sunset-rays.  I
see figures on the broad _coupe_--female figures, one, two, three; and I
can almost hear the jingle of the silver bells on the horses' harness."

"Who are the ladies--can you distinguish them?" asked Frank.

"Not quite."

"O!  I know, it's me and ma and Maggie May."  This from little Ida.

"Ida," I said, "your language is alliterative, but hardly grammatical."

"Never mind about the grammar," said Frank, laughing.  "You've got an
idea of some sort in your head, so just let us have it."

"I have it already," cried Maggie May, springing towards me with a
joy-look in her eyes, and a glad flush on her cheek.  "I dreamt it," she
added.  "The caravan is already built, and you are going to take us all
gipsying when summer comes."

I am not good at equivocation, so I confessed at once that Maggie May
was right, and from the amount of pleasurable excitement the
announcement gave her, I augured well.  Indeed, we all felt sure that
from our romantic trip, Maggie May would return home as well as ever she
had been in all her little life.

There is nothing to be compared to the joy of anticipating pleasure to
come.  And from the very day our beautiful caravan rolled into the yard
and was drawn up on the lawn, everybody set about doing what he or she
could towards the completion of the fittings, of the already luxuriously
furnished saloon of the house upon wheels.  [Note 1.]

This was indeed a labour of love.  There were so many little things to
be thought about, to say nothing of decorations, neat and pretty
curtains, a lovely little library of tiny but nicely bound books,
mirrors, flower vases, etc.

The cooking department had its head centre in the after-cabin; here,
however, no bulky open and dusty stove burned, but a pretty little oil
range, and the kitchen fittings and pantry fixings would have compared
favourably even with those of Lady Brassey's yacht, the _Sunbeam_.

Frank and I, being both old campaigners, saw to everything else.

We had a good coachman, two splendid horses, besides an extra smaller
covered cart in which Frank himself, who was to be both valet and cook,
could sleep at night.

To make sure of not being robbed on the road we had good revolvers, and,
better than all, our noble Newfoundland, Hurricane Bob.

When everything was complete and ready for the road, we had nothing to
do but sit down and long for spring to come.

"I really believe," said honest Frank to me one bright beautiful morning
in March, "that the child is better already with the thoughts of going
on this romantic tour of yours."

And so indeed it seemed, and that forenoon, when my friend and I
prepared to go out for a ramble, Maggie May was by our side, fully
equipped and in marching order.

"It really does seem," she said joyfully, "that spring is coming."

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

SPRING IS COMING.

The birds and the buds were saying it, and the winds were whispering the
glad news to the almost leafless trees.  The early primroses that
snuggled in under the laurels, and the modest blue violets half hidden
among their round leaves, were saying "Spring is coming."  And the
bonnie bell-like snowdrops nodded their heads to the passing breeze and
murmured "Spring is coming."

Cock-robin, who sang to us and _at_ us now whenever we came into the
garden, told the tale to the thrush, and the thrush told it to the
blackbird, and the blackbird hurried away to build his nest in the thick
yew hedge; he would not sing, he said, until his work was finished.  But
the mad merry thrush sang enough for ten, and mocked every sound he
heard.

The lark, who pretended that he had already built his nest among the
tender-leaved wheat, just beginning to shimmer green over the brown
earth, sang high in air.  You could just see him fluttering against a
white cloud, and looking no bigger than the head of a carpet tack.  He
sang of nothing but spring--such a long song, such a strong song, such a
wild melodious ringing lilt, that you could not have helped envying him,
nor even sharing some of his joy.

  "Oh, skylark! for thy wing!
      Thou bird of joy and light,
  That I might soar and sing,
      At heaven's empyreal height!
  With the heathery hills beneath me,
      Whence the streams in glory spring,
  And the pearly clouds to wreathe me,
      Oh, skylark! on thy wing!"

"Spring is coming:" every rippling rill, every sparkling brook, were
singing or saying it.

The hedgerows put forth tiny white-green budlets, the elders and the
honeysuckles expanded early leaves, those on the former looking like
birds' claws, those on the latter like wee olive-green hands.

We saw to-day, in the woods, early butterflies and early bees, and many
a little insect friend creeping gaily over the green moss.

And high aloft, among some gigantic elms, the rooks were cawing lustily,
as they swang on the branches near their nests.  We heard a mole
rustling beneath dead leaves, and to our joy we saw a squirrel run up a
branch and sit to bask in a a little streak of sunshine.

"Yes," said Frank, "sure enough spring is coming."

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

THE STORM.

March 15.--Why, it is only two days since that delightful ramble of
ours.  Two days, but what a change!  The snow has been falling all night
long.  It was falling still when these lines were penned, falling thick
and fast.  Not in those great lazy butterfly-like flakes, that look so
strange and beautiful when you gaze skywards, nor in the little
millet-seed snow-grains that precede the bigger flakes, but in a mingled
mist of snow-stars, that falls O! so fast and looks so cold.

The whole world is robed in its winding-sheet.  The earth looks dead.
To-day is but the ghost of yesterday.  The leafless elms, the lindens
and the oaks are trees of coral, the larches and pines mere shapes of
snow shadowed out with a faint green hue beneath.

And the birds!  Well, the thrush still sings.  What a world of hope the
bird must carry in his heart!  But the blackbird flies now and then
through the snow-clad shrubbery with sudden bickering screams that
startle even the sparrows.  The lark is silent again, and shivering
robin comes once more to the study-window to beg for crumbs and comfort.

And this snow continues to fall, and fall till it lies six good inches
deep on roof and road and hedgerow.  And it is sad to think of the
buried snowdrops, of the crocuses, yellow and blue, and the
sweet-scented primroses.

March 17.--The pines are borne groundwards, at least their branches
droop with the weight of snow; they are very weird-like, very lovely.
The snow has melted on the roofs, but the dripping water has frozen into
a network of crystal on the rose-bushes that cling around the verandah.
It has mostly melted off the tall lindens also, only leaving pieces here
and there that look for all the world like a flock of strange big birds.

Everything is beautiful--but all is silent, all is sad.

The sun goes down in a purple haze, looking like a big blood orange; and
an hour afterwards, when the stars come out, there is all along the
horizon a long broad band of rose tint, shading upwards into yellow, and
so into the blue of the night.

I close my study-windows, and go into the next room; how bright the fire
looks, how cheerful the faces round it!  Hurricane Bob is snoring on the
hearth, Ida is asleep beside him, Maggie May has got hold of a picture
and wants me to weave a story to it.

Note that she says "`_Weave_' a story."

"I would have put it plainer," says Frank, laughing, "and said `Spin a
yarn.'"

At another time, I might have been inclined to attach some semi-comical
signification to the picture Maggie May held coaxingly out to me.

It represented a wide unbroken field of dazzling snow, with the outlines
of a pine-wood in the far distance.  There were two dark and ugly
figures in the centre of the snow-field--an ugly fierce-like boar and a
gaunt and hungry, howling wolf.  You could see he was howling.

But with the rising wind beginning to moan drearily round our house, and
the icicle-laden rose-twigs rattling every now and again against the
glass, I could see nothing amusing in Maggie May's little picture.

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

THE FAIRY FOREST.

"Had you been walking across that wild wintry waste, Maggie May," I
began, "you would have seen at some distance before you a great
pine-wood, half buried in drifting snow, the tall trees bending before
the icy blast and tossing their branches weirdly in the wind."

"Don't you want slow music to that?" said Frank, pretending to reach for
his fiddle.

"Hush, Frank!  When you looked again, Maggie May, lo! what a change!
The fairy forest has been transformed into a city.  There is a blue
uncertain mist all over it, but you can plainly distinguish streets and
terraces, steeples, towers, ramparts, and ruins; and instead of the
mournful sighing of the wind that previously fell on your ear, you can
now listen to the music of bells and the pleasant murmur of the
every-day life of a great town.  Towards this town then, one day, a big
wolf was journeying.  It was summer then, the sun shone bright, clouds
were fleecy, and the sky was blue, and the plain all round him was
bright with the greenery of grass and dotted with wild flowers.  But
neither the beauty of the day, nor the loveliness of the scenery, had
any effect on the gaunt and ugly wolf.  Not being good himself, he could
see no goodness in Nature.

"`I'm far too soon,' he grumbled to himself, `I must curl up till
nightfall; I wish the sun wasn't shining, and I wish the birds wouldn't
sing so.  Moonlight and the owls would suit me far better.  I wonder
what makes that skylark so happy?  Well, _I_ was happy once,' he
continued as he lay down behind a bush, `yes I was, but, dear me, it is
long ago.  When I was young and innocent, ha! ha!  I wouldn't have
stolen a tame rabbit or a chicken for all the world; I was content with
the food I found in the wild woods, and now I'm lying here waiting for
night, that I may fall upon and slay a dozen at least of those pretty
lambkins I see gambolling down on yonder lea.  I wouldn't mind being
young again though, I think I might lead a better life, I think--'

"He did not think any more just then, for he had fallen sound asleep.

"The hours flew by.  The sun went round and down, and a big moon rose
slowly up in the east and smiled upon the landscape.

"The time flew by, as time only flies in a fairy forest.

"The wolf moaned in his sleep, then he shivered, and shivering awoke.
No wonder he shivers: he had lain down to sleep with the soft balmy
summer winds playing around him; now all is cold snow.

"No wonder he shivers, for yonder in front of him, and not two yards
away, stands one of the most terrible-looking apparitions ever his eyes
beheld.  A great grizzly boar!

"`O! dear me,' cried the wolf, `what a fright you gave me!  Who are you
at all?'

"`I'm Remorse,' was the stern reply; `you used to call me Conscience
once.'

"`O! well,' said the wolf, `do go away, you have no idea how dreadful
you look.  I'll--hoo--oo--oo!'

"And the wolf laid back his ears, lifted up his head and voice, and
howled till the welkin rang, just as you see him in the picture.

"`I didn't always look dreadful,' said the boar; `when I was young I was
tender, but you seared me and hardened me, and tried to bury me.  Do you
remember the days when I used to beseech you to do unto others as you
would that others would do unto you?  Now I'm come to do unto you as you
have done to others.  Aha!'

"`Hoo--oo--oo!' howled the wolf.  `O! pray go away.  Hoo--oo--oo!'

"`Nay, nay,' said Remorse, `I'll never leave you more.'

"`You must be joking,' cried the wolf, `you must be mad.  Hoo--oo--oo!'

"`Must I?' said Remorse; `you've led a life of discontent.  Your evil
deeds are more in number than the bristles on my back.'

"`Pray don't mention them,' exclaimed the wolf, shivering all over.

"`You've led a cruel, selfish, useless life.  Do you feel any the better
for it now?  You don't look any better.'

"`O! no, no, no.'

"`Now look at me.'

"`I daren't.  Hoo--oo--oo!'

"`Well, listen.'

"`I must.'

"`Yes, you cannot shut your ears, though you may close your eyes.
Before you tried to crush and kill me, I was your best friend, the still
small voice within you guiding you on to good.  What am I now?  Your
foe, your tormentor--Remorse!'

"`Mercy, mercy!' cried the wolf.  `O! give me back my innocence.  Be my
Conscience once again.'

"`Too late!'

"And now a cloud passed over and hid the moon, and next moment, had you
looked, neither wolf nor wild boar would you have seen.

"Nothing there save the distant fairy forest, with the wind bending its
branches and sighing mournfully across that dreary waste of snow."

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

Note 1.  A complete description of this caravan is to be found in my
book, "The Cruise of the Land Yacht _Wanderer_," published by Messrs.
Hodder and Stoughton, Paternoster Row.  The book is at all libraries.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

ON THE ROAD.--NEPTUNE: A STORY OF STRANGE MEETINGS.

  "Love, now a universal birth,
      From heart to heart is stealing,
  One moment now may give us more
      Than fifty years of reason;
  Our minds shall drink at every pore
      The spirit of the season."

  Wordsworth.

It was on a lovely morning early in the month of June that--after many
trial trips here and there across country--we started on our long and
romantic tour, away to the distant north.

Come weal or woe, we determined never to turn our horses' heads
southwards until we had reached and crossed the Grampian mountains.

All the village turned out to see us start--the older folks shouting us
a friendly farewell, the children waving their arms in the air and
cheering.

But in an hour's time we were away in the lonesome woods, and when we
stopped on a piece of moorland to eat our first real gipsy lunch, there
was not a sound to be heard anywhere except the bleat of sheep, and the
singing of the joyous birds in the adjoining copse.

A blue June sky was above us, June butterflies floated in the soft June
air, June sunshine glittered in the quivering beech-tree leaves, June
wild flowers were everywhere, and the joy of June was in all our hearts.
I had never seen Frank look so buoyant and young as he did now, despite
those tell-tale hairs of silver in his brown beard.  Some of the roses
of June seemed to have settled in Maggie May's cheeks already, my wife
looked calmly happy, and wee Ida madly merry, while Hurricane Bob rolled
lazily on his back and pulled up and threw to the winds great tufts of
verdant moss.

Ida was Frank's _coupe_ companion.  His caravan came behind ours, and
sure enough these two gipsies had plenty to say, and they saw plenty to
laugh at.

It is time to tell the reader about one little wanderer that has not
been mentioned before--Mysie, the caravan cat.  We really had intended
leaving Miss Mysie at home in charge of the old cook, but Miss Mysie did
not mean to be left.  She had watched with the most motherly interest
all our preparations for the tour, and at the very last moment in she
jumped and took possession of a corner of the caravan sofa, commencing
forthwith to sing herself to sleep.

And there she was now, while we sat on the greensward at lunch, walking
round big Bob, and rubbing her shoulders against his head, as happy as a
feline queen.

For believe me, dear reader, cats are very much what you make them.  I
have made these animals a study, and found that the old ideas about them
which naturalists possessed, and the conclusions they so ungenerously
jumped at, are all wrong.  I do assure you--and you can easily prove it
for yourself--that if you use a cat well, feed her regularly and treat
her as the rational being it undoubtedly is, you will find that pussy is
_not_ a thief, that she is fonder far of persons than places, that she
is true and faithful, loving and good.

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

As soon as luncheon was over, and we had rested a little and the horses'
mouths were washed out--they had been busy all the time with nose-bags
on--we resumed our journey.  We had no intention, however, of seeking
for, or of sojourning even for a single night, in any large town.  As
our home by night and by day for months to come would be the caravans,
so our bivouac must be in woods and wilds.  At all events we must keep
far away from the bustle and din, the trouble and turmoil, of towns.

Towards evening we found ourselves drawing near to a cosy little
roadside inn, and here we not only got a meadow in which to place our
wooden houses, but stabling for our steeds.  And while Frank put up the
tent and dinner was being prepared, I busied myself looking after the
horses, and seeing to their bedding and general comfort.  This was to be
one of my duties every evening.

The day had not been altogether devoid of adventures, for we lost our
way entirely once in a labyrinth of lanes that seemed to lead nowhere,
or rather everywhere, through beautiful woods on the banks of the
Thames.  We got clear at last, however, and soon found ourselves on a
hill so steep, that it was with the greatest difficulty our powerful
horses managed to drag the caravans up and over it.

But now all our troubles were forgotten; and no wonder, for such a
dinner as our cook and valet Frank placed before us in the tent, surely
gipsies never sat down to before.

We were all as happy, if not as merry, as larks, for everything was so
new to us; and this life of perfect freedom seemed, somehow or other,
precisely what each of us had been born for.

When, after the tent had been cleared, and Frank had brought in his
violin and commenced to play, it appeared quite a natural thing that the
figure of a handsome young man in cyclist's uniform should come to the
doorway to listen.

I beckoned him in, and presently he was squatting in the midst of us.

"Now, Gordon," said Frank, when he had finished playing a symphony,
"we'll have your story, and then perhaps the young stranger will give us
some of his experiences."

"I'll be delighted, I'm sure," said the cyclist, smiling.  "That is," he
added, "if I can think of anything."

"I'll tell you, then," I said, "one of my service adventures."

"Is it true?" asked Ida.

"Quite true, Ida," I replied.

"I shall call it--

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

"NEPTUNE: A STORY OF STRANGE MEETINGS.

"`The world is not so _very_ wide after all!'

"This exclamation, or one somewhat akin to it, we are constantly hearing
in these times of rapid travelling.  For my own part I am never in the
slightest degree astonished at meeting any old friend anywhere, for
nowadays there seems but little to prevent everybody from going
everywhere.

"I could instance scores of cases of strange and unexpected meetings
from the diary of my own life, and some of them would be amusing enough,
but one or two must suffice.

"When I first left home to join the service I left Geordie M--ploughing
in one of my father's fields, with an ox and the `orra' beast.  I
specially mention the ox and the `orra' beast, by way of showing that
Geordie was by no means even a first-class ploughman.  [Orra, _Scotice_
`of all work,' or `for doing odd jobs.'] He was an _orra_ man himself,
and couldn't be trusted with a team of the best horses.  He was slow in
his motions, and slow in his notions; he wore a corduroy coat, his boots
weighed pounds, he never lifted his feet, but trailed them; such was
Geordie.

"Just two years after this I was one day sitting forward in the sick bay
examining and taking the names of a batch of marines who had come to
join us from another ship.  It was at Bombay, and the weather was hot,
and I was drowsy, so I seldom looked twice at my man, and was not in the
best of tempers; but there was one marine in the lot, and a right smart
clean-footed fellow he was, who attracted my attention, because he
laughed when I spoke to him.  He talked in the broadest of Scotch, and
the very sound of his voice recalled to my memory Highland hills clothed
in blooming heather.  I rubbed my eyes and looked at him again.  As sure
as I live it was Geordie.

"I bade good-by to a medical friend of mine once in Soho Square.  He was
going away to the country to get married, and settle down in a mining
district among the Welsh hills.  Years flew by.  I was out on the
eastern shores of Africa.  We were hunting slavers.  One rascally old
dhow gave us much trouble and a long chase.  We ran her at last down to
shooting distance, and as she would not stop we brought our big guns to
bear on her; still she flew on, and on, fair and square before the wind,
till a lucky shot knocked the mainmast out of her.  When we boarded her,
the very first person seen on deck was the medical friend I had bidden a
final adieu to--as I thought--in Soho Square.  There was not much
mystery about the matter after all.  He had _not_ got married.  He had
not settled down among the Welsh mountains.  He was on his way to
Zanzibar to join a mission, and had taken passage in this dhow for
cheapness' sake.

"Peter Middleton--this is not his real name--was a blacksmith's
apprentice in my parish.  He was clever, too clever, for he often got
into trouble for requisitioning hares, rabbits, and such small cattle of
the hills.  When he took at last to paying midnight visits to the
farmers' fowl-runs, the farmers waxed wroth, and Peter had to run
himself, and no more was heard of him in that place.  My ship was lying
some time after at a town in South Australia, and I received a polite
but badly spelt note from a resident medical man requesting me to come
on shore for consultation on a difficult case.  The house was a smart
one and well-furnished, but judge of my surprise to find that the doctor
himself was no other than Peter Middleton, ex-poacher and
poultry-fancier.  It is a strange world!

"But to my tale.  I very seldom travel anywhere, by sea or land, without
taking as a companion a well-trained and handsome dog.  It is nearly
always a pure black Newfoundland, a breed for which I have obtained some
celebrity.  These animals are of such extreme beauty and so
prepossessing in manners, and so noble withal, that they never fail to
make friends wherever they go.  It may seem a strange thing to say, but
it is strictly true nevertheless, that my dogs have introduced me to
many of those who at the present moment I rank among my most valued
acquaintances.

"About two years before the tremendous war broke out between Germany and
France, happening to have earned a `spell of leave' as sailors call it,
I was very naturally spending it in touring through the Scottish
Highlands, my only companion being as usual a noble Newfoundland, who
not only performed the duties of bodyguard and sentry over my person,
but also those of light porter, for he carried my portmanteau.  Had I
possessed any desire for exclusiveness on this journey, I should have
been quite miserable, for wherever I went--on steamboat, in trains, or
walking on foot--my princely companion was the subject of conversation
and admiration.  If I had tied a slate about my neck and pretended to be
deaf and dumb, I might have been allowed to hold my tongue, but I should
have had to write.

"Who that has travelled in summer among the Western Isles of Scotland,
does not know the grand steamships of the country, with their splendid
decks and palatial saloons.  One beautiful day my dog and I were on
board one of these boats on our way to Portree, the capital of Skye.
Nero was looking his best and sauciest, his crimson silver-clasped
collar showing off his raven-black colour to the best advantage.  I
seated myself in an out-of-the-way corner right abaft, with a book to
read, and threw my tartan plaid over the dog.  I thought we should thus
escape observation, and I would not have to answer the same questions
over and over again which I had been replying to for the last month.
But the book was too interesting.  I became absorbed in it, I lost
myself, and when I found myself again, I found I had lost my dog.  But
yonder he was with quite a crowd about him, his beauty greatly enhanced
by the rich colours of the plaid that floated from his broad back on
each side of him, making him look like some gaily caparisoned elephant
or embryo Jumbo.  From the laughing and talking I could hear, it was
evident he was amusing them by performing his various tricks, such as
sneezing, making a bow, saying `yes,' standing on alternate legs, etc,
all of which brought him buns and tit-bits.

"`Your dog's been 'avin' a blow out,' a sailor said to me.  `I see'd 'im
eat the best 'alf of a turkey, besides two pork-pies, and no end of
lumps of sugar, biscuits, and buns.'

"I soon stopped the performance, but did not get away until I had told
the whole history of the dog, his breed and pedigree, and the points and
characteristics, whims and oddities of Newfoundlands, and about fifty
anecdotes of dogs in general, given a kind of canine lecture; in fact, I
had become used to the role of public platformist by this time.

"The dog slipped down that day to dinner with the rest of us, and lay
down between a young German gentleman and myself.  The steward wished to
turn the dog out.  I said `certainly, by all means.'  The great
good-natured dog also said `certainly, by all means,' when the steward
addressed him; `but,' the dog added, `you'll have to carry me.'

"As the Newfoundland weighed over nine stone, the steward permitted him
to remain.  Then the German and I got talking about the weather, the
ship, the sea, my country, his country, history, poetry, music and
painting.  His English was very good and his accent almost faultless,
and his conversational powers were great; but though he could speak
well, he could also listen, and the earnest look, the smile, or the
occasional hearty though well-timed laugh, showed he possessed a soul
that could appreciate originality in others, in whatever form it came.
Before I was an hour in this young German's company, I had come to the
conclusion that there were only _two_ human beings on board the steamer,
and that they were Hans Hegel and myself.  I have reason to believe that
Hegel himself was much of the same opinion.

"We stayed at the same hotel, and next morning--and a delightful morning
it was--as we sat together on the pine-clad hill, with the blue waters
of the Loch shimmering in the sunshine far beneath us, and on every side
the marvellous rocks and wondrous hills, we agreed to travel in each
other's company for the next three weeks at least.

"When I say that those three weeks got extended to six, it will readily
be believed that we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.  Of all romantic
scenery it has ever been my luck in life to gaze upon, that of the
`Winged Isle' is by far and away the most enchanting.  See Skye in
summer, and you will have something to think about and dream about until
your dying day.

"I was somewhat proud to be able to show my newly found friend all the
wild beauties of the island, the mysterious caves among its rocks, the
frowning glories of its mountains, the sylvan sweetness that hovers
dream-like around bonnie Armadale, and the awesome sublimities of lonely
Coruishk.  I know Skye _so_ well, and there was not a glen, a hill, a
bleak moorland or one mile of surf-tormented beach, on which I could not
cause to reappear the heroes and heroines of a bygone age.  There was no
attempt at effect in anything I said; I told but what I knew, I spoke
but what I felt, and if I did sometimes warm to my subject or
description, the warmth welled right up from the bottom of my heart.

"Every enjoyment must come to an end at last.  I got a letter one
morning--a long white service envelope contained it--which demanded my
presence on the other side of the world.

"We were reclining on a wild-thyme scented knoll not far from the edge
of a cliff, that went down a sheer five-hundred feet to the sea below.
We could hear the boulders thundering on the beach, though we could not
see them.  Beyond this was the Minch, flaked with foam; it was a breezy
day, and far away on the horizon the blue outline of the Harris hills.

"`No,' he said, in answer to a question of mine.  `We will not hamper
each other with a promise to correspond.  This world is full of sad
partings.  We must bend to the inevitable.  I'll think of you though,
sometimes, and Skye, and this lovely dog.'

"`I have one of his puppies,' I said, `he shall be yours.'

"The Franco-German war was over; even the demon of civilised warfare had
been exorcised at last by blood and tears, and peace smiled sadly on the
soil of France once more.

"I had been for a short time attached to a corps of German dragoons, in
the capacity of correspondent.  But there was little more for me to do
now, only I think the officers, with whom I had got very friendly,
wished me to see their reception at home, and I could not resist the
temptation to march along with them.  I have often been `homeward
bound,' but never saw before such genuine happiness as I now did.  How
they talked of the mothers, wives, sweethearts, and little ones they
were soon again to see, and often too with a sigh and a manly tear or
two about the comrades they left behind them under the green sod!

"Our mess was a very jolly one.  Sometimes at night the wind rose and
roared, causing our tents--we _had_ a tent then--to flap like sails in a
storm at sea.  Or the rain would beat against it, until the canvas first
sweated inside, then dropped water, then ran water, till we were
drenched.  But, whether drenched or dry, we always sang, oh! such
rattling choruses.  The villages we passed through had all we wanted to
buy, the villagers often scowled, and I think they were usually glad to
see our backs.  But some fawned on us like whipped hounds for the sake
of the money we spent.  Yet I must say in justice that the Germans took
no unfair advantage, and if any allusion was made to them as conquerors,
they but laughed carelessly, muttered something about the fortunes of
war, and changed the subject.

"I was riding along one morning early, when I saw several of our fellows
on the brow of a hill looking back with some degree of interest, but
trotting on all the same.

"I should have followed their example, but the mournful howling of a dog
attracted my attention, and went straight to my very heart.  So I rode
up and over the hill.

"I was hardly prepared for what I saw.  A beautiful black Newfoundland,
whining pitifully beside what appeared to be the dead body of a man.

"I dismounted, and the dog came to meet me.  He jumped and fawned on me,
then rushed wildly back to the side of that prostrate form.  But I stood
as if one transfixed.  I could not mistake those eyes.  It was Neptune,
that I had given--a seven months' old puppy--to Hans Hegel three years
before.

"And the poor fellow who lay before me with sadly gashed face, upturned
to the morning sun, was Hegel himself.

"He lay on his sword, lay as he had fallen, and the absence of the coat,
the sash-bound waist, and sleeve up-rolled, told to me the history of
his trouble in a way there was no mistaking.  He had fallen in a duel.

"But was he dead?  No.  For, soon after I had raised him in my arms, and
poured a little cordial down his throat, he opened his eyes, gazed
bewilderedly at me for a moment, then his hand tightened on mine and he
smiled.  He knew me.

"I should have liked some of those strange people who do not love dogs
to have been present just then, to witness the looks of gratitude in
poor Neptune's eyes as he tenderly licked my hand with his soft tongue.

"My regiment went on: I stayed at the nearest village hostelry with Hans
Hegel.

"When he was well enough he told me the story of the duel.  So far the
affair was unromantic enough, for there was not a lady in it.  The
quarrel had been forced upon him by a fire-eating Frenchman, and swords
were drawn on a point of national honour.

"`I owe my life to you,' Hegel said.

"`You owe your life,' I replied, `to Heaven and that faithful dog.'"

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

"And now, Sir Stranger," I said as I concluded my story, "we look to
you."

"Well," said the cyclist, "as you gave a name to your tale, I daresay I
must follow suit.  Your tale had a dog in it.  Mine has a horse, and as
the horse's name was Doddie, so I call my story."

CHAPTER NINE.

OLD DODDIE; THE CYCLIST'S STORY.

  "Thro'out the annals of the land,
      Tho' he may hold himself the least,
  That man I honour and revere,
  Who, without favour, without fear,
  In the great city dares to stand
      The friend of every friendless beast."

  Longfellow.

"I had dismounted to light my tricycle lamps, and to `oil up,'
previously to accomplishing the last part of my day's ride--a good
fifteen miles, through a rough and very lonely bit of country on the
borders of North Wales.  I had already ridden somewhat over thirty-five
miles that day, and the roads were sticky, and in many parts stony, for
it was very early in the spring, and the metal that had been put down a
month or two before had not yet smoothed down.

"I was not sorry, therefore, to stretch my legs a little and gaze at the
sky.  The sun had set about an hour before, and the heavens in the
south-west were lit up with most singular beauty of tinting.  There was
nothing stern or harsh about the colouring--no saturnian glare, no
sulphureous glow, like what was so often seen during the winter of
1883-84.  High up, the sky there was of a palish blue; in that blue
shone a solitary star with wonderful brilliancy.  Beneath this was pale
saffron-yellow.  Lower down still this pure yellow melted gradually into
a soft tint of carmine, while between that and the horizon was a bar of
misty steel-grey.

"`How lovely!--how inexpressibly lovely!'  I couldn't help saying to
myself, half aloud.

"`It is indeed beautiful!' said a voice close by my elbow that made me
start and look round.  `But it bodes no good.  You couldn't see me
coming,' he said, smiling, `because I was under the shadow of the
hawthorn hedge; and you couldn't hear me, because I walked on the
grass.'

"`And what did you come for?'  I inquired.  `But stop,' I added, before
he could answer my question; `I have no right to ask you.  The road is
free to both of us.'

"`But I'm not on a journey,' he replied, `so I will answer.  My house is
in here, behind that hedge, though you can't see it, and there is not
another for the next ten miles.  You are seventeen miles from L--,
where, I presume, you are going.  Had you not better come in and rest a
bit?  The moon rises at eight to-night.'

"`You are really very kind,' I said; `but my being so far from home
makes hurry all the more necessary.  I'll light my lamps and be off.'

"`As you please,' he said carelessly.

"Just then I discovered, very much to my astonishment--for I pride
myself on the perfectness of my outfit while on the road--that my
match-box was empty.

"`I'll follow you, thanks,' I said, `and borrow a few matches from you.'

"`Come on, then,' said my would-be host pleasantly; and trundling my
cycle in front of me, I followed him.

"He was a man apparently about forty--square-shouldered, tall, straight,
and manly-looking.  He did not look a farmer, but he evidently was, from
the appearance of his place--and a farmer, too, of sporting
proclivities.

"A boy was drawing water from a deep well; a fine old hunter stood by
watching the boy--a dark bay horse, whose hollow temples and somewhat
drooping under-lip gave proofs of age.  A couple of beautiful setter
dogs came careering up to meet their master, and received a fond caress.
The old horse left the boy at the well and ambled up, then, laying his
head on my host's shoulder, nickered low but kindly.

"`Bless his good old heart!  Has he had his supper?'

"My heart warmed to a man who could speak thus kindly to a dumb brute.

"`You love that horse, evidently,' I said.

"`I do,' was the reply.  `I have good cause to.  Down, Doddie--down on
your knees to this gentleman.'

"Doddie, as he called him, did at once what he was told to, and there
remained while I smoothed his ears and caressed him on the brow.

"`Trot off now, Doddie, and have a drink.'

"And away went Doddie.

"I was not sorry to rest awhile; the fireside was so pleasant, and the
room all so cheerful.  The hostess, a fragile little fair-haired body,
who must have been bewitchingly pretty a few years back, and who did not
look a bit like a fanner's wife, brought in a tray laden with bread,
cheese, and butter, and a mug of home-brewed beer.

"To have refused partaking of this cheer would have been most
unmannerly.  I did justice to it, therefore, and we soon got quite
friendly.  Two hours passed very quickly indeed; then I was startled to
hear the wind howling in the chimney, and the rain beating against the
panes.

"`I knew it was coming,' said my host, whose name, I found, was Morris.
`That is one reason I asked you in; the other was,'--here he smiled very
pleasantly--`a selfish one--I don't have a talk with a gentleman once in
a month.  Mary, fill our mugs again--it's only home-brewed, sir--and
I'll tell the gentleman why we love old Doddie so.'

"Mary sat by the fire quietly knitting, while Mr Morris told me the
following particulars of old Doddie.

"`Been a rover all my life,' he began, `till three years ago, when
Mary's father brought us home here to his native place, bought this
little farm for us, then died--poor old soul!  He'd been a farmer out in
Mexico, but didn't save much.  Like myself, he seemed but to live to
prove the truth of the proverb that a rolling stone never gathers moss.
But he was never such a rolling stone as I, sir.  Bless you! no.  I've
been everything--Oxford graduate, coffee-planter, actor, soldier,
trapper, miner, ne'er-do-weel.  Eh, Mary?'

"Mary merely smiled, but she gave him one kindly glance that spoke
volumes.

"`Well, sir, my story--and it is short enough I mean to make it--
commences, anyhow, in my trapper days, and there are two things it
proves: the first is, that even a redskin can be grateful; and the
second is, that Tom Morris has been a lucky dog, and drawn, at all
events, one trump card in his day.

"`I was living in a log hut in one of the wildest parts of the
north-west of Mexico, and had been for nearly a year.  The hut didn't
belong to me.  There was nobody in it but a half-starved dog when I came
upon it, so I just took quiet possession; but the owner never returned,
and from stains of a very suspicions colour all about the doorway, I
guessed he had been killed and robbed by the Indians.

"`I had an idea there was gold somewhere thereabout.  I had this idea
from the very first, and I wasn't altogether wrong.  I found enough to
cause me to stay on and on.  I spent most of my time prospecting among
the hills, the forests, and the canons, killing enough game and enough
fish to keep me alive, with the help of a few sweet potatoes that grew
in a patch close by the hut.

"`I found gold, but I didn't make a pile.  But in my wanderings I came
across the cattle ranche that belonged to Mary's poor old father here.
I was surprised to find a white man so far away from civilisation.  But
Mr Ellis knew what he was about.  There was the river not far away, and
the forest adjoining, and this river was navigable all the way down to
the town of C--, some sixty or seventy miles.  At C--was a splendid
market for skins and grain.  Mr Ellis paid nothing for his cattle, and
very little for the labour of farming, and he had no rent to pay, so on
the whole I didn't blame him for staying where he did.  He had only one
companion, and that was his little daughter Mary here, and his servants,
men and women, numbered about ten in all.

"`The farm buildings must have been a kind of an outpost at one time,
when the Indians and the States were hard at it, for they were
completely surrounded with a log rampart and a ditch.  There had been a
drawbridge and a gate, but it was now a solid affair of stone.  But over
his bridge, please remember, lay the only road into Fort Ellis
farmhouse.

"`Although the fort was twenty miles 'cross country, and more than forty
by the regular road, I found myself very often indeed at the farm, and
poor Mr Ellis--heigho! he is dead and gone--and I got very friendly
indeed.

"`And Mary and I--ah! well, sir, you cannot wonder that, thrown together
thus, and in so wild a country, we got very fond of each other indeed.

"`But to proceed.  The Indians were never very friendly to the white
man.  They bore a grudge against him--a grudge born, sir, of many and
many a broken treaty.  So they were not to be depended on even when the
hatchet was buried.

"`There came to my hut, sir, one summer's day, crawling painfully on
bands and knees, an Indian of the tribe I am talking about.  He had been
bitten by a snake--a moccasin, if my memory served me aright.  I took
him in out of the sun, and gave him nearly all the _aqua ardiente_ I had
in the hut.  For days he lay like a dead thing, and I was beginning to
think about where I'd bury him, when he opened his eyes and spoke.  I
gave him the _aqua ardiente_ now in teaspoonfuls.  I nursed him almost
day and night, hardly ever leaving him.  But he was on his feet and well
again at last, and if ever tears were in a redskin's eyes, they were in
his when he bade me good-by.  I hadn't been much at the fort during the
redskin's illness, and they were getting alarmed about me, when one
forenoon Doddie and I came clattering over the drawbridge.

"`A few months flew by so quickly, sir, because I was in love, you know;
and one evening in autumn the dog barked; next moment my redskin stood
before me with a finger on his lip.

"`Hist!' he said; and I drew him into the hut.

"`O! sir, sir!  Tom Morris was a madman when he was informed by that
poor friendly redskin that at twelve that night the fort would be
attacked by a wandering tribe of redskins, every one murdered save Mary,
who was to be dragged off into captivity.

"`I thanked the Indian, blessed him, then hurried to the stable and
brought Doddie out.  The saddle was broken; it must be a bare-back ride.
There was time if we met no accident.  It was now eight o'clock, and I
mounted, waving adieu to the Indian, and rode away eastwards in the
direction of the fort.  In an hour I was at the river.  Here the main
road branched away round among the mountains.  There was no time to take
that.  My way lay across the ford and through the forest, cutting off a
long bend or elbow of the river, and coming out at another ford, within
a mile of Ellis Fort and Farm.

"`I headed Doddie for the stream, and we were soon over.  I knew the
path, and the moon was up, making everything as light as day.

"`But look ahead!  The glare was never the moon's light.  Alas! no, sir;
it was fire.  The forest was in flames.  I think to this day it was done
by the savages to intercept me.  In half an hour more, sir, the flames
were licking the grass within ten yards of our pathway, and running in
tongues up the bark of the trees.

"`Doddie neighed in fright, reared, and I was thrown.  Next moment I was
alone in the burning forest.  To fly from the fire was impossible.  I
threw myself on my face in despair.  O! the agony of those few minutes!
But even then I believe I thought more of poor Mary and her father than
of my own wretched end.

"`All at once I started to my feet, for a soft nose had nudged me on the
arm.  It was Doddie, and in an instant we were flying again through the
forest.  I think we might have made the ford, but my horse now seemed to
lose all control of himself, and I of the horse, for the bridle broke.

"`Doddie made for the river above this ford, and took a desperate leap
into the deep water.  But he was quieter now, and it was easy to head
him down the stream, and at last we were once again on _terra firma_,
with the broad river between us and the fire.

"`We blew up the bridge and barricaded the gate immediately on my
arrival.  And not a whit too soon, for half an hour afterwards the fort
was surrounded by howling savages.

"`Our relief came next evening, in the shape of mounted soldiers; and I
feel sure, sir, that it was that grateful Indian who sent them.'

"I have, reader, given a mere epitome of my host's story, which was
altogether interesting and took quite an hour to tell.  By the time it
was finished, the squall had blown over; the moon shone out bright and
clear over the hills, and bidding Mr Morris a kindly `good-night,' I
mounted my cycle and resumed my journey.

"But I assure you I did not go until I had patted poor old Doddie on the
nose, and given him a lunch biscuit from my cyclist's wallet."

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

The stranger started up as soon as he had finished.

"I must be early on the road," he said; "and so I suppose must you."

"Good-night all."

"Good-night: sound sleep!"

An hour afterwards we were all enjoying that sound repose that only the
just, and gipsies, ever know.

CHAPTER TEN.

SPARE THE SPARROW.

  "Ye slay them! and wherefore?  For the gain
  Of a scant handful, more or less, of wheat.
  Or rye, or barley, or some other grain."

On this grand gipsy-tour of ours we had reason to be thankful every day
for a good many things.  First and foremost, that our horses were so
sturdy, strong, and willing; that the great caravan itself was so
comfortable, and the smaller one so snug, and both so delightfully and
artistically fitted up, that they looked more like the saloon and cabin
of some beautiful yacht than the homes of amateur gipsies.

It took us a whole month to get across the borders and well into bonnie
Scotland.  But a more pleasant month I for one never spent before nor
since.  We took it easy.  We were determined to study the _otium cum
dignitate_ and _dolce far niente_, and at the end of this month it would
have been difficult to say which of us was the hardier or jollier.  The
horses were sleek and fat, Hurricane Bob spent most of his time either
lying among rugs on the _coupe_ with the children, or tumbling on the
daisied sward, while the cat did nothing but sing and look complacent.
We human beings were so happy, we could even afford to laugh and be gay
when thunders rolled, when gales of wind blew and rocked the caravan as
if she had been a ship at sea, or when the rain came down in torrents.

Maggie May had already ceased to be an invalid, and Ida had got as brown
as if she really were a true-born Romany-Rye.

No, we never hurried the horses.  For there was so much to be seen,
fresh scenery at every turn of the road, beautiful wild flowers to be
gathered to fill the vases.  The children at lunch-time even made great
garlands of them, and hung them round the horses' necks.

Of course the village children always took us for a show, and ran out to
meet and cheer us, but most grown-up folks took us simply for what we
were--a party on a pleasant summer tour.

Mysie, strange to say, although she often stopped out of doors all
night, was always back in good time for the start in the morning.

I fear she proved a great enemy to the birds.

One evening she brought into the tent a beautifully plumaged
cock-sparrow.

Now I am very fond of sparrows.  They are historical birds, and birds of
Bible times, so I relieved Mysie of her poor prisoner, and let it
flutter away.

We then had some talk about sparrows, and I embody my ideas of them in
the following sketch.

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

The British Sparrow: a study in ornithology.

The sparrow, although it undoubtedly belongs to the great natural family
_Fringillidae_, which includes among its members the weavers and whydah
birds, the linnet, the goldfinch, and bullfinch, to say nothing of the
canary itself, can hardly be said to rank with the aristocracy of the
bird world.  Quite the reverse; in fact, the _Passer domesticus_ is a
bird of low life.  He is by no means a humble bird, however.  There is
nothing at all of the Uriah Heep about my little friend; he has quite as
good an opinion of himself as any feathered biped need to have.  Yet if
it be possible for some classes of birds to look with disdain on the
behaviour and doings of others, sparrows are surely so treated by their
betters.  And no wonder, for they are neither elegant in shape nor
appearance; they do not dress well either in winter or in summer; it is
not their lot to be arrayed in scarlet or in gold, but in humble brown
and russet grey.  So much for the appearance of the bird.

In manners and in deportment sparrows are far beneath _bon ton_; their
knowledge of music is exceedingly limited, their appreciation of sweet
sounds conspicuous only by its absence--why, they think nothing of
interrupting even the nightingale in his song--and if any bird can be
said to talk Billingsgate, those birds are sparrows.  Should any one
doubt the truth of my last statement, let him go and listen for one
minute to the wrangling linguamachy that goes on of an evening after
sunset, as they are retiring to roost in a tree.

Yet, for all this, many of the tricks and manners of these plebeian
birds are well worth watching, and often highly amusing.

It is not, however, merely to amuse the reader that I now write, but
quite as much in behalf of the bird itself.  For of late years the
character of the British sparrow has been aspersed in this country, but
more particularly abroad; and I think he ought to have a fair and
impartial trial.  I therefore stand forward, not, mind you, as the
champion, but the counsel both for and against the prisoner at the bar--
the said _Passer domesticus_, who, on this occasion, is not arraigned
for the murder of cock-robin, but for a far more heinous offence,
namely, that of constituting himself a common nuisance, and doing more
harm than good in the world.

For some years back I have had many--nay, but constant--opportunities
for studying the habits of sparrows and many other kinds of birds, and I
am not unobservant.  I live in one of the prettiest and leafiest nooks
of tree-clad Berkshire.  The village that adjoins me nestles among
trees; the gardens all about the houses are masses of shrubbery and
flowers; stone fences are utterly unknown; there are hedges everywhere.
Our trees are wide-spreading oaks and planes, drooping acacias, leafy
lindens, elm, ash, willow, poplar, and what not.

Up the lordly line of splendid poplar-trees that bound my cosy little
paddock the green ivy grows, and here sparrows dwell in hundreds.  I do
not shoot my wild birds, nor do my children chase and frighten them.
Linnets build every year in the laurels close by the dog-kennel: robins
feed with the dogs, and some older sparrows know names that we have
given them, and come to be fed.  No need to hang up boxes for them to
build in--we live in the bush; but in summer-time they have a bath on
the back lawn, and it is a sight to see them in the early morning.
Thrushes, blackbirds, finches, sparrows, starlings--they all agree as
well as if they had learned Watts' hymns, and laid them all to heart.
More about my birds another day--perhaps.  One starling, however, I must
mention here; he comes down every sunny morning, with his wife; he sends
her in to bathe and splash; _he_ sits on the edge of the bath and
receives the drops--that is all the bath he takes.  She is a dutiful
wife.

The plumage of the domestic sparrow is almost too well known to need
description.  In one of the very excellent publications of Messrs.
Cassell and Co.--viz, "Familiar Wild Birds"--the following remarks
occur:--

"The difference in the appearance of the plumage of a country sparrow,
as compared with his town-bred cousin, would be hardly imagined, the
fresh bright plumage of the one displaying the prettily marked black,
white, and brown, whilst smoke and dirt hide the beauty of the town
sparrow, so that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the sex at a
glance.  The male, however, has a brilliant black throat, and is
otherwise more determined in colour, the hen being especially deficient
in the bright brown of the wings and the chocolate mark over the eyes."

This is quite true.  The author might have added, however, that the
black bib which the male sparrow wears is seldom perfect until June, and
the birds pair and build long before they have acquired their summer
dresses.  They are in such a hurry that they do not wait for their
wedding-garments.

Now, this is just the place to mention a fact that I have proved again
and again, to my own satisfaction at all events.  It is this: sparrows
are polygamous; house-sparrows are undoubtedly so, and I believe also so
are their first cousins, who build in trees.  I myself was reared in the
woods and wilds of Scotland, and, like most boys, was fond of
bird-nesting.  It often used to strike us lads as strange that
differently marked eggs were found in the same sparrow's nest.  We did
not suspect then that these were laid by different birds.  Last week a
family quarrel arose among some sparrows in the large wistaria that
covers the front of my cottage, and during the row an immense hammock of
a double nest was knocked down.  When I say a double nest I mean two
nests joined in one--a kind of a "butt and a ben," only with separate
doors.  One nest was empty--only clean, well-lined, and ready for use.
The other contained four eggs--two pairs.  They have the distinctive
colouring and markings of ordinary sparrow's eggs, but each pair is
different, and the gentleman sparrow who owned that semi-detached
cottage has two wives; they have built another and private residence
some yards from the old site, and it is to be hoped will live happy ever
afterwards.

I have a sparrow who answers to the name of "Weekie," and who comes to
call.  This sparrow has _three_ wives.

In many ways he is a remarkable bird.  For several winters he has slept
on the same rose-twig close under the verandah, with his wives--at first
he had but two--not far from him.  I used to watch Weekie from a top
window sending his wives to roost just at sunset and before he retired
himself.  He would perch himself on the top of a tall cypress-tree and
call them, turning his head this way and that as he hailed them,
evidently not knowing from what direction they would come.  But they
always _did_ come, and after some friendly remonstrance went to roost.
About ten minutes after Weekie would give himself a little grateful
shake, and hop in under the verandah to his favourite twig.

It was Weekie who first taught me that sparrows build for themselves
little shelter-nests--any person in the country who takes the trouble to
study these birds can prove to his own satisfaction that such is the
case.  It is only, however, in frosty weather that the sparrows take the
trouble to erect these nests of convenience.

Some two or three years ago we had a very severe frost.  During the
first day or two I observed straws lying about the verandah; then I
noticed that Weekie brought a straw with him at night, and on taking the
lamp out to look at him--Weekie meanwhile looking down with one
wondering bead of an eye--I noticed that he had his straw over his
shoulder.  Well, there couldn't have been much comfort in this, but it
was a hint to his two wives, and sure enough they took it, and I saw
them building a nest of moss and straw, not larger than half a goose's
egg, _around_ and _under_ Weekie's twig--not above, because there the
verandah sheltered him.  Weekie was happy now, I suppose, and warm as to
his toes.  Weekie's wives are dutiful wives, but mark this: they
themselves had no shelter-nests, and all through the terrible
frost-spell they cowered by night within a foot or two of their lord and
master--but on bare twigs.

I notice now that these shelter-nests are quite common.  A cock-sparrow
slept in one last winter in the great _Gloire de Dijon_ rose-tree that
covers the northern wall of my stable; but this was built above the
perching-twig--it was, in fact, a little arbour.

When they don't build shelter-nests, sparrows crouch at night under
eaves, in ivy thickets, in old nests, and in the holes of trees, which
they sometimes line.

The great work of the year--building and bringing forth their young--
among sparrows commences early in March, or much sooner, if the weather
be fine.  But long before this married sparrows who have determined upon
a change of residence, and bachelor sparrows who intend to set up for
themselves when summer comes, go prospecting around, popping into holes,
examining eaves, and chimneys, and ivied trees.

The former take their wives with them, whom they seem to consult and try
their best to please, often in vain, for the female sparrow appears to
derive a genuine pleasure from house-hunting, and keeps it up as long as
possible--till probably the warm weather comes upon them all at once,
and they are fain to settle down anywhere.

In the early part of the season the nests are not built very rapidly:
about June or July they are often run up in three or even in two days.

The birds seem to have a dreamy kind of happiness in building the first
nest, and want their sweetness long drawn out.  In fact, it is the
honeymoon.

Example: A half-built nest in the wistaria-tree just under a huge
cluster of sweet-scented blossom.  It is noon, a bright March sun is
shining, and up in the tree it is almost as warm as summer.  The
particular sparrow who owns that half-built nest has only one wife; it
is _his_ first season, and _hers_.  They are both young and innocent,
not to say ignorant.  The foundation of the nest is terribly untidy,
exceptionally so.  The hen sits about a yard from the nest, with her
consequential morsel of a bill in the air, giving her body a little jerk
every now and then as if she had the hiccup, and saying "po-eete."  The
cock is closer to the nest, busy preening his feathers in the sunshine.
Presently he hops into the nest, and has a turn or two round by way of
seeing how things are going on.  This is a hint to the hen, and excites
her to a little more activity, and away she goes to look for a mouthful
of building material.  She stops on the garden-path to pick up a tiny
beetle or two, then hops on to the vegetable beds, shakes up a few
bunches of dry couch-grass roots, but finally abandons them for a
terribly long and terribly strong wheaten straw.  Back to the
wistaria-tree she flies with this, half frightened at her own temerity
in carrying anything so large.  She sticks it up at the side of the
nest--it hangs a long way down the tree--and retires to look at it.  The
cock looks at it too.  They both study it.

"It is very hard, isn't it, my dear?" says the cock at last.

"It is a very fine piece of straw though," replies the hen, slightly
piqued.

"Yes," says the cock, "_as_ a straw it is certainly a very grand
specimen.  I admit that.  The puzzle is how to work it in."

So they both sit down with their wise wee heads together, and look at
that strong straw, and think and wonder in what possible way or shape it
can be made use of.  They sit there for quite two hours giving vent only
to an occasional suggestive "cheep," and a jerk of their little bodies
as if they both had the hiccup.  But at last they suddenly awaken to a
sense of their folly.  Two whole hours of sunshine lost, and all for a
straw!  That straw is at once cast loose, and both fly off and soon
return with something far more useful, if less ornamental.  And so the
work goes on.

My sparrows build the main portion of their nests principally with hay,
straw, and withered weed roots, but this is mixed and mingled with a
variety of other material, rags, pieces of old rope or twine; but paper
above all things, especially, it appears to me, tracts and bills
relating to cheap sales, because the paper on which these are printed is
soft.  A long string of white or coloured cloth may often be seen
fluttering pennant-fashion from a sparrow's nest.  Some believe this is
so placed in order to frighten cats and hawks.  More likely it is mere
slovenliness.  Well, a sparrow's nest outside does look a most untidy
wisp.  But there is an art in its very untidiness, and the thickness of
the nest renders it cool in summer and warm for a shelter-nest during
winter.  The amount of feathers crammed into a single nest, particularly
that of a tree-sparrow, is often quite astounding.

An old nest is sometimes made to do duty over and over again during the
season, but it is always overhauled and re-lined.

Sparrows are not invariably wise in the selection of their building
sites.  Instance: Two sparrows built this summer in the rose-covered
spout of my verandah.  A terrible storm of rain came, and the young were
drowned in the torrent of water that came from the roof.  But I daresay
these silly birds think such a thing will not occur again--in their
time.  At all events, they have thrown the dead birds out to the cat,
renovated and re-lined the nest, and there are eggs in it now.  I was
staying last summer for a week or two with a friend not far from here.
There were plenty of martens about, and three nests under the eaves
right over my bedroom window.  For several mornings I had noticed grains
of wheat on my window-ledge, and on looking up towards the nest I
noticed feathers protruding.  Now, had I been Samuel Pickwick, I should
have at once taken out my note-book and made the following entry:--"N.B.
The house-martens in Hampshire line their nests with feathers and feed
their young on wheat and barley."

I laughingly told honest Joseph G--, my friend's gardener, of my
discovery in natural history.  He was too old a sparrow to be caught
with chaff, however.

"It's the sparrows, beggar 'em," he said, shutting his fist; "they're at
their games agin.  I'll shoot 'em, I will.  They waits till the swallers
builds their nests, then they goes and turns 'em out and finishes up wi'
feathers."

"Don't shoot them," I said, "they have young."

"Indeed, sir, but I will," cried Joseph G--.  "What right has they to
turn the swallers out, eh?  Fair play, I says, fair play and no favour."

Some years ago I read that the sparrows in Australia had constituted
themselves a kind of plague, and in rather a strange way they stole
_all_ the hay to build their nests, and every plan, such as smoking
them, and turning the garden hose on the nests, etc, had been tried in
vain.  We must not believe all colonists tell us.  They are noted
perverters of the truth.  Why didn't they retaliate and turn the
sparrows into pies--a sparrow pie, they say, is a dainty dish.  I do not
care to eat my sparrows.  I believe that killing sparrows is like
killing house-flies--others come to fill up the death vacancies.

Now there are some things about sparrows that I confess I cannot quite
understand.  Knowing that they are often bigamists, sometimes
polygamists, I am never surprised to see two or three hens helping a
cock to build the family nest; but when I notice, as I have frequently
done, a sparrow who has only one wife being assisted in the construction
of his domicile by another gentleman sparrow, what am I to think?  Who,
I want to know, is the other fellow who drops round of a forenoon in a
friendly kind of way with a weed in his mouth, and even gets inside and
"chins" the nest.  Is he a brother-in-law, or a father-in-law, or the
son by a former marriage, or what?  I give it up, but there is the fact,
and "Facts are chiels that winna ding."

It may not be generally known that there are bachelor sparrows, who
remain bachelors all the summer from choice, and old-maid sparrows who
are obliged to be so, and who sometimes build nests and sit by them
looking disconsolate enough, sighing and singing "po-eete" for the poet
who never comes.

Here is an anecdote with a little mystery about it that the reader may
possibly be able to unravel, for I can't.  It is a little tragedy in one
act, and must have been a very painful one to the principals.  My
splendid Newfoundland, Hurricane Bob, came down to my garden wigwam one
forenoon last spring.  He was whining and apparently in great distress
of mind.

"Come on up here with me, master," he said, "there are some strange
goings on at the front lawn."

I followed him, and could soon hear the pitiful cries of a sparrow, up
near a spout that comes out from under the wooden eave of the tallest
gable of the cottage.  The dog pointed up there, continuing to whine as
he did so, and evidently in grief because he couldn't fly.

It was not long before I mastered the whole facts of the case.  They
were as follows:--Close by the funnel-shaped mouth of the descending
spout, and supported by some branches of the wistaria, a pair of
sparrows had built in the previous spring and raised several broods.  It
was February now, and they had come round prospecting--impressed
doubtless by old associations--to see if the same nest could not be
refitted, and thus do duty again.  Full of excitement, the cock bird had
hopped down between the woodwork of the eave and the spout, and seeing a
crack about half an inch wide beneath, had attempted to come out there.
He got his head through and one wing, but there he had stuck.

It was quite affecting to witness the agony and perturbation displayed
by the hen bird--the poor imprisoned cock did nothing but struggle and
flutter--her cries were pitiful, and every now and then she would seize
her spouse by head or by wing and try to pull him through.

Meanwhile, on a twig of wistaria not a yard away sat another
cock-sparrow, an interested but inactive spectator.  He simply looked
on, and never volunteered either assistance or a suggestion.

As soon as I could procure a ladder long enough to get up, I went to the
rescue, but the poor bird's head had drooped--he was dead; and so firmly
fixed in the crack that I could neither drag him through nor push him
back.  The hen sparrow and the strange cock sat looking at me some
little way off, but the former after this made no further attempt to
relieve the cock bird.  He was no more, and she must have known it.  But
who the mystery was the strange cock--the impassive spectator?  Was he
father, brother, or, dear me! was he a former lover--a rival?  Did he
sit there mocking the dying agony of the other bird?  Did he address him
thus:--"You're booked, old man.  You may kick and flutter as much as you
please.  I tell you you are as good as dead already.  When you are gone
I'll hop into your place.  This nest will suit us nicely.  _Us_, I say,
d'ye hear?  It will suit _us_, and we will soon forget you.  Good-by,
old man, keep up your pecker."

I would have torn down the old nest, but I really was curious to know if
the dead sparrow's widow would wed again, and take up house there.
Surely she would never bear to pop out and in at the doorway of that
nest, with the skeleton of her late lamented husband hanging out through
the crack.  I left the nest for a month or two, then tore it down, but
no birds have ever built there since.

There are more hen than cock-sparrows, and this may account for the
prevalence of polygamism in the community.  As to old-maid sparrows, I
have assuredly often known nests built by hens alone, but am willing to
admit that these hens may be relicts, some accident may have happened to
the husband.  However, it is a fact that there are plenty of bachelor
sparrows, who live a free and easy life all the summer, and never dream
of becoming Benedicts; you see them in the gardens, and you meet them
out in the fields, and they are always in company with other male
sparrows of their own way of thinking.

Now every one who lives in the country is perfectly familiar with those
little disturbances that often arise all of a sudden among sparrows,
when about half a dozen go flying into a bush together, squabbling,
bickering, and fighting with fearful ferocity.  Some books gravely tell
us that these squabbles are in reality courts-martial being held on some
erring brother or sister of this genus _Passer_.  I never took this for
granted, and for three or four summers I have used my best endeavours to
get at the true explanation of the matter, and I am satisfied they are
caused by differences of opinion between Benedict and bachelor sparrows,
resulting in a match "'twixt married and single," a free fight, in which
the females take part.

Female sparrows often fight most viciously together from bush to bush,
but preferably on the ground.  I have often seen a stand-up battle
between the two wives of a bigamist sparrow.  He himself would simply
stand about a yard off, and look on.

"It's no good interfering," the cock appears to think; "it is a sad
state of affairs to be sure, but what can a fellow do?  I must try to
manage matters differently another year."

Sparrows may keep the same mates from year to year, and so they may
arrange for pairing as early as November or December the year before,
flying about with their coming queens, and roosting near them at night.
But considering the number of these birds that are killed every year--by
our bold sparrow-club men for example, by misguided gardeners, and by
bucolic louts who net them in the ivy after nightfall for the purpose of
supplying matches with the needed birds--considering the quantities of
them that cats and hawks kill, and the numbers that die from frost and
starvation, to say nothing of the young birds of last season, the mating
time is a very busy one indeed.  The cocks are then as full of fight as
an Irishman on a fair day, and the hens--well they simply sit and look
on.

"None but the brave deserve the fair," they seem to say to themselves,
"and it is certainly very gratifying to one's self-esteem and respect to
know that all these sanguinary battles now raging round the rose-trees
and in under the laurel-bushes are about us."

Here are a few notes I took some months ago:--A bright spring morning in
March.  Sunshine on the red brick walls of our cottage, sunshine on the
wistaria.  Wistaria not in blossom yet.--N.B. Blossom comes before
leaves, though it is now covered with long soft downy buds, tipped with
a suspicion of mauve.  The forenoon is quite warm, delightful to be out
of doors.  Yet at seven o'clock there was hoar-frost on the ground, and
thin ice on the dogs' water.  The sparrows are unusually lively, and
bickering constantly--especially the cocks.  Yonder a fight has
commenced, just under the eave; it rages there a few moments, then down
tumble the belligerents from a height of twenty feet, holding viciously
on to each other's jaws all the while with the ferocity of bulldogs.
Now they struggle together on the lawn, lunging and pecking, and
wrestling with wings outspread and legs everywhere.  There are beads of
blood about their eyes, and tiny drops on the grass.  What a serious
matter it seems!  Death or victory! they think and care for nothing
else.  I believe I could steal up and put my hat over the pair of them.
"England's difficulty," says my Persian cat, creeping up, "is Ireland's
opportunity."  No you won't, puss.  Go away at once, or I'll call for
Collie to you.

But see, one sparrow has triumphed.  _Vae Victis_!  He chases the
conquered and breathless bird from bush to bush, till his own lungs give
out, and he returns open-mouthed but glorious, and flies up to the tree
where sits the cosy wee hen that all the row has been about.  He is
going to say something or make a proposal of some kind, when back flies
the conquered cock, and the battle is renewed with double vigour.  This
is a longer fight than last, but victory once more declares itself on
the side of the former champion, and back he flies again to the trysting
twig--to find what?  Why, another fellow who has been actually taking a
mean advantage of his absence in the battle-field, and pruning his
feathers in front of _his_ hen.  There is another fight there and then,
and perhaps there may be many more to come.  But in the end all things
will be well, and the fittest survive.

Round the corner are a pair of birds already matched and mated; they are
at peace with all the world, and can afford to sit quietly on their
twigs and witness the fighting and the fun.

The cocks this lovely morning seem striving to do all they can to make
themselves conspicuous.  The hens, on the other hand, sit quietly on
their twigs, their morsels of tails at an angle of about 45 degrees,
their little beaks in the air, and their feathers all balled out to
catch the sunshine.

To one of these independent little mites a black bib sidles up.  He
addresses her in wretchedly bad grammar, but what can you expect of a
sparrow?

"It's you and me this season, ain't it?" he says.

She tosses her bill higher in air than it was before, as she replies--

"Oh dear no, sir.  I couldn't think of changing my state."

"Here, _you_!" cries another black bib, hopping on to the same twig,
"it's you and _me_, if you please."

Then another fearful fight begins between the two black bibs.

And so the fun goes on.

But this I have observed: Before mating actually takes place the male
sparrow often gives the female a thrashing.  Well, perhaps it is as well
they should have their little differences out before marriage instead of
after.  _Quien Sabe_?

Early in June my sparrows may be seen hopping or flying about with
sprays of blue forget-me-not in their bills.  A lady visitor at my house
was much struck with seeing this last summer.

"Whatever do they carry flowers for?" she asked laughingly; "your
sparrows are more refined in their tastes than any birds I ever even
read of."

But the explanation is simple enough.  They cut and carry away the
sprays of forget-me-not for sake of the seeds that are already half ripe
at the lower end of them.

A little innocent girl asked me the same question, her pretty eyes
filled with sweet surprise, and I wickedly replied, "There is going to
be a grand _fete_ of some kind to-day among my sparrows, and they are
going to decorate their nests."  She simply answered, "Oh!" but she
looked believing.

In this short paper I have not said one-half of what I should wish to
say about these interesting and independent wee birds that follow and
take up their abode with mankind wheresoever he goes in the wide world,
but I hope I have said enough to gain for sparrows a little more
consideration and a little less cruelty than they generally meet with.

"But they are so destructive?"  Yes, I knew some one would say that.
Yet I maintain that they do far more good than harm in the world.  If
space were given me I could prove this.  Meanwhile here is an extract
from _Land and Water_, which is well worth reading and considering:--

"What the swallow tribe do in killing innumerable flies in country
parks, the sparrow does to some extent in the gardens and squares of
London, especially in its more immediate suburbs.  All the sparrows have
got nests, many containing callow young, a few `flyers,' and some are
still sitting on the eggs.  An old sparrow might be seen perched on the
top of a house, and presently with a graceful motion the bird `rises to
a passing fly' and secures the morsel.  If the bird or birds had got
young in the water-spout hard by, or in the hole often left by builders
missing a brick at the end of a row of houses, in ivy, or in the thick
foliage of the Virginia creeper, the young birds get the `catch.'
Besides this fly-catching, I have noticed for the last few weeks the
sparrows working in every evergreen bush, also in jessamines, in
lilac-trees, and especially in the crevices of old walls, in search of
spiders, earwigs, green-fly, daddy long-legs, etc.  The adult birds seem
to prefer this wall and bush `food' more than crumbs of bread regularly
thrown out for them, except where they have got a nestful of hungry
youngsters, and then the latter get some of both.  But how hard the
sparrows work, and the starlings too!"

Now let us go a little farther from home.  Some years ago the English
sparrow was introduced into that country of free institutions called the
United States.  The sparrow has certainly made himself at home there.
He has increased and multiplied a millionfold, and now America wants to
"Extirpate the vipers."

But the Americans do not always know what is good for them.  Example:
They have slain all their big game (where will you find a herd of wild
buffalo now?), they have killed nearly all their birds, and well-nigh
cut down their last bit of genuine forest.

Yes, the sparrow makes itself at home in America.  Some months ago I was
sitting in one of the beautiful open squares in New York.  The sparrows
were plentiful enough all about and enjoyed themselves very much,
especially in flying through the playing fountains; it must be
delightful to take a bath on the wing.  A tall Yankee was sitting near
me with outstretched legs.  A sparrow alighted on the toe of his boot;
he wore Number 10's.  He eyed it curiously and critically.  I smiled.

"A cheeky bird," I couldn't help remarking.

"Yes, sir," was the reply, "but--it's British.  That accounts."

I "dried up" after that.

But even in America the British sparrow has made a few friends, as the
following extract from _Forest and Stream_ will prove:--

  "A Good Word for the Sparrows.--I send you by this mail a lot of
  leaves of the maple growing in front of my office, which when gathered
  were literally covered with insects.  What attracted my attention to
  them was the busy action of some two dozen English sparrows, hopping
  here and there in the tree, peering under the leaves, and savagely
  feeding on something.  An inspection revealed the cause of their
  eagerness, and the cause of the early shedding of the leaves.  Examine
  these vermin and tell us what they are.  The sparrows were so busy
  they would scarcely keep out of the reach of my hand.  I called the
  attention of several gentlemen, who watched them for some time.  This
  proves (to me) the insectivorous habits of the English sparrow."

Sparrows are treated with systematic cruelty by many in this country;
they are trapped and shot wholesale and at all seasons, and not only are
their nests torn down with the eggs in them, but even when filled with
young, and these are allowed to expire--mere little naked things--on the
ground.

Sparrow matches are a disgrace to our country, and to those who engage
in them.  Every reader will surely admit this much.  As for members of
sparrow clubs, I never saw one, and Heaven forbid I ever may.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

ON THE BREEZY CLIFF-TOP.--OUR "HOGGIE."

  "Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me
  As I gaze upon the sea!
  All the old romantic legends--
  All my dreams come back to me."

One of the sunniest memories to all of us is the time we spent on the
cliff-tops of romantic old Dunbar.  There is nothing more calculated to
give pleasure to a true Briton, unless he happens to have been born by
the beach, than a few days spent at the seaside; that is, if he or she
can have thereat some comfort.  Here at Dunbar was no noise, no bustle,
no stir, and, to us, not the worry inseparable from living in lodgings.
Our little homes were all our own: we could go when we liked, do what we
liked, and there was no landlady at the week's end to present us with a
bill including _extras_.

The only noise was the beating of the waves on the black rocks far
beneath us, and the scream of sea-birds, mingling perhaps with the happy
voices of merry, laughing children.

Stretching far away eastwards was the ever-changing ocean, dotted with
many a sail or many a steamer with trailing smoke.  Northwards was the
sea-girt mountain called the Bass Rock, whilst south-eastwards we could
see the coast-line stretching out to Saint Abbe Head.

We were so pleased with our bivouac on the breezy cliff-tops of Dunbar
that we made the place our headquarters, journeying therefrom, up the
romantic Tweed, visiting all the places and scenery sacred to the memory
of Scott and the bard of Ettrick.

We did not forget to make a day's voyage to the Bass Rock, and well
might we wonder at the grandeur of this wild rock, with its feathered
thousands of birds, that at times rose about like a vast and fleecy
cloud.

It was, however, no part of our ideas of happiness to in any way hamper
each other's movements.  No, that would not have been true gipsy
fashion.

Sometimes, one of us would be quietly fishing from the rocks, while two
more might be out at sea in a boat, a little dark speck on the blue.  As
for me, it was often my delight to--

  "Lie upon the headland height and listen
      To the incessant sobbing of the sea
              In caverns under me.
  And watch the waves that tossed and fled and glistened,
      Until the rolling meadows of amethyst
              Melted away in mist."

Often, when she found me all alone, Ida would pounce on me for a story.
To this child a tale told all to herself had a peculiar charm.  Here is
one of our little sketches.

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

Our "Hoggie."

One dark, starless night in October, 1883, I had been making a call upon
a neighbour of mine in the outskirts of our village.  I had a tricycle
lamp with me, not so much to show me the way as to show me my dogs, a
valuable Newfoundland and a collie.  Both are as black as Erebus, and
unless I have a light on a dark night, it is impossible to know whether
I have them near me or not.

Just by the gate, but on the footpath, as I came out, I found my canine
friends both standing over and intently watching something that lay
between them.

"It is a kind of a thorny rat," Eily the collie seemed to say, looking
up in my face ever so wisely; "I have kept it in the corner till you
should see it; but I wouldn't put my nose to it again for a whole bushel
of bones."

Eily's thorny rat was, as you may guess, a hedgehog, and a fine large
fellow he was.

Now I should be one of the last people in the world to advise my readers
to capture wild creatures and deprive them of their liberty, but I knew
well that if the boys of our village found this hedgehog, they would
beat it to death with sticks and stones; so for its safety's sake I went
back to my neighbour's house and borrowed a towel, and in this, much to
the dog's delight, I carried "Hoggie" home with me.  The children were
not in bed; they were half afraid of it, but very much pleased with the
new pet, and set about making a bed for it with hay in an outhouse, and
placed cabbage and greens and milk-and-bread sop for it to eat.

When we all went to see Hoggie next morning, he had his head out and
took a good look at as with his bright beautiful beads of eyes.  He
looked as sulky as a badger nevertheless.  We offered him nice creamy
milk, but he would not touch it; we even put his nose in it.

"No," he appeared to tell us, "you can take a horse to the water, but
you can't make him drink."

So we placed a saucerful of bread and milk handy for him, and left the
little fellow to his own cogitations, and determined not to go near him
till next day.  When we did so, we found, much to our joy, that all the
bread and milk had disappeared.  He was certainly no dainty feeder, for
he had had his fore-feet in the saucer, which was black.

We soon discovered that night was the only time he would take food, and
that he very much preferred lying all day curled up in his bundle of
hay, sound asleep.

It has been said that rats will not come near a place where a hedgehog
is.  This is all nonsense; we had plenty of conclusive evidence that the
rats which swarm about our place kept Hoggie company.

Under one particular tree the earthworms used to swarm, always coming
out of their holes at night, and around this tree it occurred to the
children to build Hoggie a garden.  They fenced it round with wire-work,
and put a box and a bundle of hay in it at one corner.  Hoggie was now
indeed as happy as a king, and he soon grew as tame as a rat, for
kindness will conquer almost any wild animal.

We did not interfere with his natural instincts, but in the evenings we
used to have him out for a little run, and very much he seemed to enjoy
it.  He was afraid neither of dogs not cats, and would allow any of us
to smooth him just as much as we pleased, and pat his pretty little brow
between and above his pert, wee eyes.  There was only room for one
finger there, so small was his head, but this was quite enough.

"Don't hedgehogs sleep all winter?" asked little Inez, my eldest
daughter, one day; "and isn't this winter?"

"Yes, baby," I replied, "this is winter.  It is now well into December,
and poets and natural historians have always given us to believe that
hedgehogs do hibernate."

"_I'm_ not going to hibernate," replied Hoggie, or he _seemed_ to reply
so, as he gave a kick with one leg and commenced a mad little trot round
and round his yard.  "The idea of going to sleep in fine weather would
be quite preposterous, as long," he added, swallowing a large garden
worm and nearly choking over it, "as the worms hold out, you know."

But great was our dismay when one morning we missed Hoggie from his
yard.  It was nearly Christmas now, and frost had set in, and once or
twice snow had fallen.

Our gardens and paddock are quite surrounded with hedges, and trees of
all kinds abound; so with the dogs we searched high and low for Hoggie,
but all in vain.  Eily found a rat, Bob found a dormouse, and rudely
awaked it, but no dog found poor Hoggie.

"Poor Hoggie!" the children cried.

"Poor Hoggie!" said the youngest; "I hope poor Hoggie has gone to a
better place, pa."

"Has Hoggie gone to heaven, pa?" this same prattler asked me in the
evening.

Now let me pause in my narration to say a word about hoggies in general.
I have had many such pets; they get exceedingly tame and quite
domesticated.  They seem to prefer to live with mankind, and can be
trusted out of doors quite as much as a cat can.  They are sure to come
back, and generally come in of an evening, trotting very quickly and in
a very comical kind of fashion, and make straight for the kitchen
hearthrug.

"It is so dark and cold and damp out of doors," they appear to say, "and
quite a treat to lie down before a cheerful fire like this."

Well, hedgehogs are the best-natured pets in the world, and so full of
confidence, and are not afraid of any other creature when once fairly
tame.  You know, I daresay, that one hedgehog will keep the house clear
of black beetles.  But nastier things than beetles come into country
kitchens and cellars sometimes--newts, for instance.  Well, hoggie will
eat these; indeed, hoggie would eat a snake.  I saw a hedgehog one
evening in the dusk crossing the road with a snake trailing behind her.
It was in summer, and I daresay that the snake was being taken home to
feed the young ones.

The young are born blind and white and naked, but the bristles soon
come, and by-and-by they begin to run about; then the mother hoggie
takes them all out for a run in the cool, dewy evenings of May or June.
The father hoggie looks very proud on these occasions, and runs on in
front for fear of danger, and to guide his little family to spots and
places where plenty of food is to be found.

In the domesticated state, a hedgehog will pick up its food in summer
out in the garden; but if kept indoors it must have food gathered for
it--worms, slugs, a little green food, and roots, chiefly those of the
plantain.  Besides this, it should have bread and milk, and perhaps a
little cabbage and greens, which it may or may not eat.

I may tell my little readers that tame hedgehogs are very cleanly, and
of course they do not bite, nor do they put their bristles out when
being petted by those they love.

The hedgehog is the gardener's best friend, and any man or boy who
destroys one, is really guilty not only of cruelty, but of folly.

Now to complete my sketch of our Hoggie.  I have a wigwam, although I am
not a wild Indian.  My wigwam is a very beautiful house indeed, built of
wood and surrounded with creepers.  It stands in the orchard, on the top
of a square green mound, with steps leading up to it.

Well, one day in spring, when the gardener was busy cutting the grass
around this wigwam, he told the children something that caused them to
come whooping up the path, all in a row, just like American savages.

"Oh, pa!" they shouted, emphatically, "Hoggie's come back.  He is
underneath the floor of the wigwam!"

I was as glad as any of them, because I am very much of a boy at heart.

I got a candle, though it was broad daylight, and peeped into a hole
beneath my wigwam, and there was Hoggie sure enough, smooth little brow,
black little eyes, bristles and fur and all.

Hoggie came out that same night.

"I've been hibernating," he seemed to say, "and ain't I hungry, just!
Got any bread and milk?  Got any worms, any slugs, any anything?"

You may be sure we fed him well.

And Hoggie goes and comes, and comes and goes, at his own sweet will.
But his home is underneath the wigwam floor, where he has one companion,
at all events--a pet toad of mine, a very amusing old fellow, whose
history I will tell you some day, if our kind friend the editor will
give me leave.

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

The following two stories were told by Frank and me on this same breezy
cliff-top at Dunbar, the most interested portion of our audience being
apparently Ida, Hurricane Bob, and Mysie, the caravan cat.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

DANGER; A STUDY IN DOG LIFE.

  "Shall noble fidelity, courage, and love,
      Obedience and conscience--all rot in the ground?
  No room be found for them beneath or above,
      Nor anywhere in all the Universe round?
  I cannot believe it.  Creation still lives,
      And the Maker of all things made nothing in vain."

  Tupper.

Danger is a very suggestive name for a dog, especially when that dog
happens to be a guard-dog and a bull-terrier to boot.  But such was the
name by which the hero of this brief biography was always known.  The
probability is that he was descended from very ferocious ancestors;
indeed, the dog had all the external appearance of one that could both
tackle and hold, if occasion demanded any such display of his powers.
However, one should judge, not even of a dog, from first impressions.

The dog Danger did not advance very high in my estimation at our first
meeting.  It wasn't love on sight with either of us.  I had gone into a
shop in the dusk of a summer's evening, to buy a small guide-book, being
then on a tour through the lovely vale of Don, Aberdeenshire.  I found
no one in attendance except Danger, whom I did not at once perceive.  A
low ominous growl soon drew my attention to the spot where he was lying.
I could just trace the dim outline of his figure, and see two eyes that
glittered like balls of green fire.  It would have been quite enough, no
doubt, to make a person unaccustomed to dogs feel uneasy, more
particularly as the shopkeeper seemed in no hurry to put in an
appearance.  He came at last, though.

"Is your dog dangerous?"  I asked.

"He is very far from that," was the quiet reply.  "I often wish he were
a trifle more so.  But his name is Danger," he added, smiling, as he lit
the gas.

I had now a better look at the animal.  He certainly was no beauty, and
I thought at once of the painting by Landseer--"Jack in Office."  Danger
was huge and somewhat ungainly, though not really so large as he looked.
It was his immense head, and the general cloddiness of his body, that
gave him the appearance of size.  His ears were small and lopped over
gracefully, his nose was both flat and broad, and his eyes did not look
a bit more conciliatory in the light than they did in the semi-darkness.
He came round behind, and forthwith instituted a very minute
investigation of the calves of my legs.  This was probably a proof of
the dog's high intelligence, but it was not over-pleasant to me
nevertheless.

"There is hardly anything that animal won't do," said the shopkeeper.

"I can quite believe that," I replied, with a furtive glance over my
shoulder; "I can quite believe it."

Danger went away presently, apparently satisfied with the result of his
scrutiny, and my mind was relieved.

I had occasion to make many visits to the same shop after this, and
Danger and I got to be very friendly indeed.  There was something
decidedly honest about Danger's every look and action when you came to
know him.  Perhaps he had the same opinion about me.  I trust he had.
At all events he appeared to take to me, and had a quiet, queer way of
showing his regard that many people wouldn't have altogether relished:
to wit, if I sat down in the shop, as I sometimes did, Danger would come
and lay his great head in my lap; it weighed about ten pounds,
apparently; any attempt at getting him to remove it, until he himself
pleased, elicited a low growl, which was by no means reassuring.  Yet,
while he growled, he wagged his tail at the same time, as much as to
say:

"I really do not wish to quarrel with you, unless you force me."

If I _stood_ in the shop instead of sitting, it was much the same,
because Danger used to lie down beside me, and put his monster head on
top of my foot, and go through the same performance if I attempted to
disturb him.  Nor would he always obey his master and come away when
told; he was like the spirits in "the vasty deep."

I made the village of V--my headquarters for several months it was _so_
quiet, and I wanted rest.  It came to pass eventually that Danger took
it into his big head to go with me in my walks and rambles; I did not
dare to refuse the convoy, though so forbidding did the animal look,
that I was often ashamed to be seen in his company.  I flatter myself
that there is nothing of the Bill Sykes about my personal appearance; if
there were, Danger was just the dog for me.  Ladies meeting me and my
questionable friend, would often look first at Danger and then at me, in
a way I did not at all relish.

Danger was not a young dog; he had certainly arrived at years of
discretion.  He was well known in V--.  Indeed, he was as much a part
and parcel of the village as the town clock itself; and a fine, free and
independent life Danger led, too.  It was also a life of singular
regularity.  As soon as he had eaten his breakfast of a morning, he used
to take a trot down the street, visiting exactly the same places or
spots every day.  Coming back, he would seat himself at a bend of the
road and right in the middle thereof, where he could see all that was
going on either up the street or down the street; and hear as well, for
he always kept one of his ears turned each way--a very convenient
arrangement.  Danger spent the greater portion of every forenoon, wet
day or dry day, in this way, only on Sundays he never appeared at all.

He was not only well known to every human being in the village, but to
every dog and cat also, and no dog ever went past Danger without coming
and saying a friendly word or two, or exchanging tail-waggings, which is
much the same.  I have sat at my window and seen all sorts and all kinds
and conditions of dogs come and make their obeisance to Danger of a
forenoon--lordly Saint Bernards, noble Newfoundlands, stately mastiffs,
business-looking collies, agile greyhounds, foxy Pomeranians, wee, wiry
Scotch-terriers, daft-like Skyes, and even ladies' darlings, the backs
of whom Danger could have broken at one bite, had he been so minded.

I am perfectly sure that Danger knew he was not very prepossessing in
appearance, and that he looked a fierce dog, though he did not feel it.
Occasionally a strange dog would come trotting up the street, and then
it was amusing to watch Danger's tactics.  Of course the new dog would
not like to pass Danger without making some sign.  To do so would have
looked cowardly, and no dog cares to show fear, whether he feels it or
not.  Danger would bend all his energies to getting the new-comer to
advance and be friendly.  He would not get up, because that might be
construed into a menace, but he would positively wriggle on the road and
grin.  This made him appear more grotesquely hideous than ever, but the
other dog seldom failed to understand it.

"I confess I do look terribly ugly and terribly ferocious," Danger would
seem to say, "but I am the meekest-minded dog in all the village.  Come
along.  Don't be afraid.  I never met you before, but I am satisfied we
shall be the very best of friends."

"Well," the new dog would apparently reply, "you are certainly no
beauty, but I think I can trust you nevertheless."

Now there came to the village one day a large half-bred cur, partly
smooth sheep-dog, and partly mastiff.  He came swinging up the street in
a very independent manner indeed, and as soon as he saw Danger he
stopped short, and raised his hair from head to tail.  This was meant
for a challenge to Danger, but Danger was slow to see it; he simply
began to grin in his usual idiotic fashion.  But when the mongrel
advanced, Danger grasped the situation in a moment.  At the same time
the cur seized Danger by the neck, and a fierce fight ensued.  Five
minutes after the mongrel slunk away home, beaten, bleeding, cowed; and
Danger lay quietly down again as if nothing unusual had happened.

"Dave," as the mongrel was called, had had enough of Danger, and used to
go past him afterwards as if he saw him not; but he took his revenge on
the other village dogs, all the same.  There was scarcely one he did not
attack and badly use.  When, however, Dave one day lamed a Pomeranian,
who was a great favourite with Danger, and when that wee dog came
limping up and seemed to show Danger his grievous wounds, the latter
thought it was quite time to be up and doing.  He now purposely threw
himself in Dave's way at every opportunity, and stout and fierce were
the battles fought, Danger invariably coming off triumphant.

Dave belonged to a wood-carter, and both man and dog had bad names.
When Dave at last took to worrying sheep by the dozen, his master was
communicated with in a way he hardly relished, and so Dave was put on
chain, and peace in the village canine community was happily restored.

The winter came on, and a wild, bitter winter it was, with high, icy,
east winds, sleet and snow.  I happened to be passing one day near to
the cottage where Dave's master dwelt, and, hearing a mournful whine
issuing from a shed, I peeped in.  There lay poor dog Dave, and a
pitiable sight he was, and no sign of either water or food was to be
seen.  My heart bled for the creature.  Bad enough he was in all
conscience, but to make him suffer thus was revolting.  I got little
satisfaction at first from his cruel master, who told me he had no time
to attend properly to a dog on chain.  The promise of an occasional coin
brought about a better state of existence for Dave.  But this did not
last long.  Once only I saw him led out on a string for a little
exercise.  How wretched he looked!--lean and mangy, and trembling like
an old aspen-tree, his hocks plaiting and bending beneath him at every
step.  There was no fight in Dave now!  He even wagged his tail to
Danger when he met him, and Danger returned the salute with a hearty
goodwill, which showed how much of benevolence dwelt beneath that ugly
phiz of his.

But I was witness to a still greater proof of the kindness of Danger's
heart, a few days after this.  It was a grey, dull day, with a keen wind
blowing from the north-east.  I was just dressing to go out, when who
should I see making his way along the pavement but my friend Danger.  He
had a great ham-bone in his mouth.  I got out as quickly as I could, and
followed Danger down the street and down the lane, and straight to the
shed where poor Dave lay dying--for dying he undoubtedly was.

I never before had read or heard of so generous an act being done by one
dog to another--that other, too, a quondam foe.  Dave lay on his
miserable bed of damp, unwholesome straw in the woodshed, through every
cranny and chink of which the wintry wind was whistling and sighing.
Dave was shivering, but more, I think, from sickness than cold.  Danger
approached with a ridiculous grin on his foolish phiz, and many an
apologetic wag of his tail.  "Here, Dave," he seemed to say, "here is a
bone I have saved for you; there certainly isn't much on it, but it may
just do for a picking."

But poor Dave was past even picking a ham-bone, and two days after this
the shed had no tenant; Dave was dead.  I do sincerely wish that my tale
had not so gloomy a finish, but as I am writing facts, I have no power
to make it otherwise.  Danger's master lived in a cottage about a mile
up the Don, and close to its bank.  One night a terrible rain-storm came
on, and I was told next day that the river was in "spate;" that many
sheep had been carried away, and even cattle and horses.  After
breakfast I went to see it.  There was something even awe-inspiring in
the sight; the quiet and placid river of the day before, with its clear,
brown, rippling water, was swollen into a wide, yellow, surging, roaring
torrent.  The sturdy old bridge on which I stood shook and trembled with
the force of the water that dashed underneath.  Pine-trees, hay, straw,
and even the carcases of cattle, came down stream every minute.  I left
the bridge at last, and walked slowly up along the top of a wooded
cliff.

Till this day I regret that I did not go straight home from the bridge,
for I shall always remember what I saw.  Something was coming floating
down the turgid river, right in the centre, and rapidly approaching me,
swirling round and round in the current.

It was a small hay-cock.  How he had got on I never knew, but on the top
thereof was my honest friend Danger.  I called him.

The pitiable, pleading look with which he replied went straight to my
heart.  Danger could not swim!

What made the matter more mentally painful to me was, that there was
quite as much of the ludicrous as the pathetic about the situation.
For, poor dog, his great solemn face never looked uglier, never looked
more distressed than now; and the glance he gave me as he was borne
hurriedly onwards to certain destruction--why, I have but to close my
eyes to see it even now, as I sit here.

And that was the last that was ever seen of Danger; he never appeared
again on the streets of the village of V--.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

DICKY DUMPS: THE PARSON'S PONY.

  "A little water, chaff and hay,
  And sleep, the boon of Heaven;
  How great return for these have they,
  To your advantage, given!
  And yet the worn-out horse or ass.
  Who makes your daily gaining,
  Is paid with goad and thong, alas!
  Though nobly uncomplaining."

  Tupper.

There are, or were, two immortal men, who never spoke without saying
something--I refer to Shakespeare and Burns; and when the former remarks
so prettily,--

  "What's in a name?  That which we call a rose
  By any other name would smell as sweet."

we cannot help replying, "That is true."

But for all that, every one who owns a pet animal of any kind, that he
really loves, will be ready enough to admit that seemingly senseless
though the names be which we sometimes give them, there is generally
some reason in them, albeit there may not be much rhyme.  When we talk
to animals which we have a great affection for, we often use a deal of
ridiculous abbreviations.  Never mind--they, our favourites, understand
them, and really appear to prefer them.  Just one or two examples.
There is an immense Newfoundland lying not far from me while I write, an
animal who by reason of his beauty, his bounding independence, and his
very roguishness, takes all hearts by storm.  His name was originally
"Robin;" that soon came down to honest simple "Bob."  He is known in
what is called the canine world as "Hurricane Bob," he being a show dog.
He derives the sobriquet "Hurricane" from the mad way he rushes round
his own paddock when he first gets out of a morning.  With his long
black hair floating in the wind, he is hardly visible as he races round
and round about you.  You can just see a black shape, that is all, which
you conclude is Hurricane Bob.  You can set him off racing round and
round at any time by calling--

"Hurricane, Hurricane, Hurricane!"

He has a great sense of humour and of the ridiculous; but if you say to
him, "Robert, come here," he then approaches very gravely indeed.

"What's up!" he seems to say, "that I am being called Robert?  Have I
done anything wrong, I wonder?"

Again, if you call him Bobbie, he expects to be patted, caressed, and
made much of.

So he has a name for all weathers, as a sailor would say.

"Eily" is the name of a splendid collie of mine.  In the course of years
her name became Eily-Biley.  She prefers this.  There is love and
affection and pats and pieces of cake, and all kinds of pleasantness
associated with the name.  Eily is simply her business name, as it were,
and there are times when she is called "Bile" emphatically, and on these
occasions she knows she has been doing something wrong and is to be
scolded, so she at once throws herself at my feet, makes open
confession, and sues for forgiveness.

"Yes, dear master," she seems to say; "it is quite true, I did chase the
cock, and I did tree the cat.  They did provoke me, but I will try not
to do so again."

I have a great many wild-bird friends.  There are several sparrows visit
me every day, at and in my wigwam, or garden study.  One comes to name.
That name is "Weekie!"  I heard his little wife call him "Weekie" one
day, so the name has stuck to him.  We have been friends for years,
Weekie and I.  He is bold and pert, but affectionate.  He roosts in
winter among the creepers on my wigwam, and steals morsels of my
manuscripts to help in building his nest in summer.

So there _is_ something in _pet_ names at all events.  I daresay most of
my readers would think that "Dumps" was a queer name to give a pony.
Well, and so it is; but the name grew, for he was originally Dick; from
Dick to Dickie the transition is natural.  "But how about the `Dumps'?"
you may ask.  Well, Dickie belonged to a good old country parson that I
knew, who lived some years ago in one of the wildest glens of our
Scottish Highlands.  If this parson was not, like some one else,
"_Passing rich with forty pounds a year_," he managed to live and
support his family upon not much more than double that sum.  But he had
a very thrifty wife, and his children were each and all of them as good
as they looked, and that is saying a deal.  They possessed the kind
hearts that are worth more than coronets, and the simple faith that is
better far than Norman blood.  So poor though Mr Mack, let us call him,
was, his home was a very happy one.  Mrs Mack rather prided herself on
her cookery, and her skill in the art was fully appreciated by all the
family--including Dickie the pony.  But what Dick particularly loved was
a morsel of suet dumpling.

The dining-room window looked over Dick's field, and was entirely
surrounded with lovely climbing roses, as indeed was all the cottage,
for great yellow roses could be gathered even through the attic windows,
and they actually trailed around the chimneys.

In spring and summer the dining-room window used to be left open, and
Dickie would station himself there, and wait with equine patience for
his morsel of dumpling.  Sometimes he got two or three pieces, and even
then would have the audacity to ask for a fourth help.  "It is so nice,"
he would appear to say, with a low, comical kind of a nicker.  "It is
dee-licious.  Do you know what I'll do, if I don't have more dumpling?
I'll crop the rose-leaves."

"Ah, Dickie, would you dare?"  Mrs Mack would cry; for she dearly loved
the roses.

"Well, then," Dick would appear to answer, "give me some more dumpling."

Even at breakfast-time, if the window were open, Dick would pop his head
in, and apparently ask: "Is there any of that dumpling left?  I don't
mind taking it cold."

So there is no great wonder that the pony came to be called "Dickie
Dumpling," and finally, for short, Dumps.

Poor old Dumps, he was such a favourite; and no wonder either that the
children all loved him so, for they had grown up with him; the eldest
girl, Muriel, was seventeen, and Dumps was at the parsonage when she was
a baby.

Dumps had been grey, when in his prime--a charming grey, almost a blue
in point of fact; but, alas! he was white enough now, and there were
hollows in his temples that, feed him as he would, his master never
could fill up.  Sometimes, too, Dumps' lower lip would hang a bit, and
shake in a nervous kind of way; and as to his teeth! well, the less said
about them the better; they could still scoop out a turnip or bite a bit
of carrot, but as for his oats, Dumps had a decided preference for them
bruised.

These, of course, were all signs of advancing age; but age had some
advantages, for the older Dumps grew, the wiser he got.  There was very
little that concerned him that Dumps didn't know, and very little that
concerned his master either.

The Rev Mr Mack was one of the most tenderhearted men I ever knew.
Many and many an old pauper blessed and prayed for him.  Yes, and he for
them; but I am bound in honesty to say that Mr Mack's blessings often
took a very substantial and visible form.  There was a large box under
the seat of the old-fashioned gig, that the parson used to drive, and
Dumps used to drag; and, nearly always, after he had prayed with, read,
and talked a bit to some poor afflicted pauper, Mr Mack would go to the
door, and stretch his arm in under the seat, and haul something out: it
might be a loaf of bread, it might be a bit of cheese, a pot of jam--
Mrs Mack was a wonder at making jams and jellies--it might be merely
the remains of yesterday's pie, or it might be--whisper, please--a tiny
morsel of tobacco, or a pinch or two of snuff in a paper.

"Don't go away, Dumps," the parson would say to the pony, as he returned
into the house.

Dumps would give a fond, foolish little nicker, that sounded like a
laugh.

"At my age," the pony would seem to reply, "I'm not likely to run very
far away."

I happened to be practising in Mr Mack's parish for six weeks, having
taken the duties of a gentleman who was gone away to get married.  I
drove, the parson's pony.

"Just give him his head," said Mr Mack on the first day that I went to
visit my paupers; "he'll take you all round."

Not knowing anything at all about the roads, I was very pleased to leave
the whole arrangement of my visits that day to Dumps.  He went jogging
up the road, half a mile, then down a lane, and finally brought up at a
long, low, thatched cottage.  Then he jerked his head round to me, as
much as to say, "Get out here."

And in the same way poor Dumps took me everywhere over the parish.  Here
would be a sick child to see, here a bedridden old woman, here a feeble,
aged man, and so on and so forth.

The sun was set, and the stars coming out, and it appeared to me I must
have still ten miles to drive before I reached the parsonage, when all
at once that dear, rose-clad old cottage stood before me, and there were
Mr Mack and two of his charming daughters standing at the gate
laughing.

I was indeed surprised.  The explanation is this: Dumps had returned by
a different road.  He had really and truly taken me on a round.

My friend, who had gone to get married, returned at last, and I left the
glen.  But happening to be on half-pay in the June of the succeeding
year, I received a pressing invitation from my brother professional to
spend the summer with him, and enjoy some fishing, a sport of which I am
extremely fond.  It was while I was at his house that a cloud shadow
fell on the old parsonage, and its inmates, hitherto so quietly happy,
were plunged into grief.

I did not know, nor had I any business to know, the exact history of
poor Mr Mack's trouble.  From the little he told me, however, it was
pretty evident that it was occasioned or arose from his own
kind-heartedness: he had become security for the debts of a friend.  O!
it is the same old story, you see; the friend had failed to meet certain
demands, and they had fallen on Mr Mack.  How willingly I would have
come to the kindly parson's relief had it been in my power, and I
believe he would have accepted assistance from me as soon as from any
one, for I was looked upon as a friend of the family.

I could not help noticing now that it was a case of _pinch, pinch,
pinch_ with the Macks.  Indeed, I fear their table no longer groaned
with the weight of the good things of this life, but rather for the want
of them.  But for all that--let it be said to his credit--the poor of
the parish never went without the dole to which they had been so long
accustomed.

Things grew worse instead of better, although, when I expressed my
concern, Mr Mack assured me, with a sadly artificial smile on his face,
that after a certain day it would be all right again.

"My dear," said Mr Mack to his wife one evening as she sat sewing after
the young folks had all gone to bed, "to-morrow is the fair at B--, and
I fear I must go.  Poor old Dumps!  My heart is as cold as lead at the
thoughts of parting with our children's pet."

His wife never looked up.  She couldn't have spoken a single word if she
had tried to, but the tears rolled down her cheeks and fell thick and
fast on the white seam.

Mr Mack was up next morning betimes.  I question if he had slept a
single wink.  He was up before the lark, and long before any one in the
house was stirring.  He made himself a hasty breakfast, fed Dumps, and
started.  It was better, he thought, to go ere the family were about.

When Mrs Mack took the children into the study, and explained to them
_why_ they were forced to part with Dumps, they showed far less
exuberance of grief than might have been expected, and lent their aid
individually to console the mother; but--

O! the sorrow was deep, though silent.

The father returned the same evening alone.  He looked jaded and wan.
Hardly any one touched a bit of supper that night, and, judging from
their faces next morning, I feel sure some of the girls mast have cried
themselves to sleep.

It would be waste of words to say that Dickie Dumps, with all his droll,
wise ways, was sadly missed.  Poor old fellow, they would have given
almost anything now to see his head popped in through the
breakfast-window, or even to see him cropping the rose-leaves.  Who,
they thought, would give him his morsel of dumpling now?  And they hoped
and trusted that he might have a good home.

One day the parson came to see me.

"I've got bad news to-day," he said.  "O!  I wouldn't that my wife and
darlings knew it for all I possess."

"Nothing very serious, I hope," I inquired anxiously.

"Some might not think so," he replied.  "My dear old pony!  He is
working in a coal-mine: slaving away down in the dark and grime; the
horse that took my wife away on our marriage tour, the horse that has
been my children's friend all their lives.  Don't think me foolish,
Gordon, but only think, the poor old fond creature that loved us all so
well, been used to the green country all his life, to sunlight and
daisied leas and kind treatment, and now--"

He couldn't say any more, and I did not wonder; and I tell you, reader,
that at that moment I wished to be rich as much as ever I did in my
life.

I went away over the hills.  I walked for miles and miles.  It is a
capital plan this, when one is thinking.  I was thinking, and before I
returned I had concocted a scheme which, if successful, would restore
Dumps once more to the bosom of his family.  I told the parson of the
plan, and he was delighted, and rubbed his hands and chuckled with
gladness.

A day or two after, a short series of lectures was advertised to take
place in the village school-house, to be illustrated with a magic
lantern.  Two lecturers were to officiate every night, and together tell
stories of their lives and wandering adventures.  One was a soldier
friend of mine--dead now, alas!--the other my humble self.  The lectures
were somewhat original in their way, for we not only told stories on the
little stage, but we sang songs, and even gave specimens of the dances
of all nations, including the savages of America, Africa, and Southern
Australia.  I daresay we succeeded in making fools of our two selves;
but never mind, we made the people laugh and we drew bumper houses, and
the best of it all was, that we raised money enough to buy back Dumps.

"Never say a word to anybody," whispered the parson to me, "till Dickie
is back again in the stable."

Nor did I.

But though Dumps had gone away a white pony, he returned a black one,
and what made matters worse was that it was raining hard on the evening
I led him round to his old stable at the manse.

I stopped to supper, of course, and as soon as thanks had been returned,
Mr Mack went away into the kitchen and came back with the lantern
lighted.

"I want you to see something," he said, "that I have in the stable."

Ah! but the parson spoiled the whole thing by looking so happy.  His
wife and children could read his face as easily as telling the clock.
There was a regular shout of "Dumps!  O! pa, it must be Dumps!"

His wife snatched the lantern out of his hand, and the children, wild
with joy, ran after her, so that instead of being first in the stable
the parson was the very last.

There was no occasion now to hide tears as they caressed the old pony,
for they were tears of joy.  Dumps was back, and nickering in the old
foolish fond way, and nosing everybody all over in turn.

"Isn't it first-rate?"  Dumps seemed to say; "fancy being back again
among you all; and how is the grass, and how is the rose-tree, and how
is the dumpling?"

When we returned at last to the parlour, the parson glanced at his
family and burst out laughing, and the members of his family looked at
each other and laughed too.  And no wonder, for what with the rain, and
the coal-dust of the pony's neck, I never before or since have seen a
family of faces that more needed washing.

But what did that signify?  Wasn't Dumps in the stable once more?

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

A QUIET EVENING--ROVER'S EXPERIENCE.

  "Lo! in the painted oriel of the west,
  Whose panes the sunken sun incardines,
  Like a fair lady at her casement shines
  The Evening Star, the star of love and rest."

  Longfellow.

"I can't see them," said Frank.

"Nor I either," was my answer.

The sun had gone down some time ago, not as the song says:

  "The sun has gone down o'er the lofty Ben Lomond,
  And left the red clouds to preside o'er the scene."

There were no red clouds worth the name, only far up in the west a few
scarlet feathers.  But projecting straight up into the heavens from the
spot where Sol had sunk in a yellow haze, was one broad beam or ray.  It
looked strange, weird-like, and it remained for quite a long time.
Meanwhile an orange flush of intense depth spread all along the horizon,
and the pine-trees on the distant hills were etched out in darkest ink
against it; higher up was all sea-green, then blue, and here shone the
evening star.

We had the front door of the caravan open.  Frank sat on the driver's
seat--the horses were sung in stable, bedded up to the knees--and I and
the children lay among the rugs on the _coupe_.  Our _coupe_, mind you,
was quite a verandah.

How very still it was, how beautiful was the scenery all around us!  We
were far north of Dunkeld, we had toiled through the pass of
Kiliecrankie, and were on the verge of one of the loneliest passes of
the Grampian range.

There was hardly a sound to be heard, except the monotonous drowsy hum
of a waterfall, hidden among those solemn pine-trees in the glen close
adjoining.

"No," continued Frank, "they won't come out."

"What is it?" said Maggie May.

"That tall ray of sunshine," I answered, "is the nearest approach to
what we in Greenland call sun-dogs, and Frank and I were looking for
them."

"What are sun-dogs?"

"A strange kind of mirage, Maggie May, in which the sun is reflected
four times in the sky, so that you can actually see four or even five
suns--that is, one real, and four unreal."

"Now," said Ida, "tell me a stoly."

"And me a story too," said Maggie May.

"Get your fiddle and play, Frank."

Frank did so, and sang too, but the children would not be put off, so I
had to begin.

"It is about a little dog--a spaniel, Ida--and it is the poor little
fellow himself that is supposed to be speaking.  Do you understand?"

"I twite understand; go on."

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

Rover's Experience.

"I'm not tired," said Rover, for that was the dog's name, "and I'm not
sad, though I sigh--at least, not very sad."

"O," he continued aloud, his brown eyes dilating with earnestness, as he
began to tell his story, "it was not my dear old master's fault that he
parted with me.  He was poor, and tempted by a large price; and the
tears coursed down his cheeks as he bade me farewell.  _I_ could see
them, though _he_ tried to hide them."

"`Good-bye, dear old Rover,' he said, `you will be happy where you are.'
The luxury of tears is denied to dogs, but, O! what a big choking lump
was at my throat, as, led by a string, I went away with my new master.

"I tried to do my duty by him at first, although I could see he was
empty, vain, and foolish.  He gave me a new name, he bought me a new
collar, such a fine one, and he bought a new silver-mounted whip--dear
old master never used a whip.  He bought something else--_he bought a
muzzle_!

"`This,' he said, shaking it at me and smiling, `is to put on you in the
dog days, my boy.'

"I shuddered.  This man, then, believed in the old worn-out fallacy and
superstition that dogs go mad in the dog days.  From that very moment I
determined to leave him.  I would not return to my old master.  No; I
would not pain him by proofs of my disobedience, but I would go
somewhere--anywhere away from the cruelty that now surrounded me.  It
was the cruelty of ignorance--the cruelty, I might say, of luxury--for
my kennel was superb, the dish from which I lapped my milk was china, my
chain was of polished steel; but had it been of the purest gold it was
still a chain, a fetter.  And, alas! while I had plenty of the best meat
and bones to eat, I often lacked bread; and although my milk was brought
fresh every morning, I often wanted water.  All my master cared about
was to hear me praised and called beautiful.

"My relief came at last.  I was taken down to the copse one day in June;
my master had his gun.

"`See now, good dog,' he said, `if you can't start a rabbit.  In you
go.'

"`With all the joy in life,' I replied, speaking with my tail.  But it
is not given to men like him to understand the language of dogs.

"I plunged into the copse, and my master started to walk round and
watch.  He may be walking round and watching till this day for anything
I know, or care.  I did not go far till I sat down, to enjoy, to drink
in a portion of the life, the freedom, and the joy everywhere around me.

"It was in a little glade carpeted with meadow grass and wild flowers,
many with pink eyes peeping through the green, many with blue; then
there were tall branching ferns and trailing white-blossomed brambles,
and glittering buttercups, starry-flowered fairy bedstraw, and the
modest little crow-pea that rivalled the buttercups in richness of
yellow.  Down in this quiet copse the nightingale and blackcap still
trilled their song, and gorgeous birds and butterflies innumerable flew
hither and thither, all so happy in their freedom.

"`Don't leave the copse till nightfall,' said a sweet bell-like voice
that proceeded from a beautiful moth deep hid among the crow-peas,
`don't leave till nightfall--we never do; don't leave, don't leave--' I
heard no more; slumber stole over me, a slumber more sweet than any I
had enjoyed for many months; and when I awoke the stars were all out,
and a lovely moon, and the moths were floating and dancing among the
elder blossoms.  It was very dreary in that copse, and when I heard the
distant village clock chime out the hour of midnight and the owl hoot
mournfully, I felt frightened, for all dogs are superstitious.

"Flap! flap! flap!  At that moment a great owl flew right over the
glade, and I started and ran, and never pulled up until I was miles upon
miles away from that eerie, dreary copse.

"I got to a highway at last, and went straight on, and on, and on; but
towards morning, when the stars began to pale, I forsook this road, and
took once more to the wilds, keeping the direction in which I knew
London to lie, for that I determined should be my destination.  I had
been running since midnight, and was now very tired and very hungry, and
glad enough I was, you may be sure, when I came to a humble cottage,
from the roof of which the smoke was curling.  Here a woman gave me a
little milk to drink, and would fain have caught me afterwards; but,
though not ungrateful, I was too near the place from which I had
escaped; and so I ran on again once more.

"All that day I slept under a wreath of newly mown hay, until the stars
once more shone out that I thought were to guide me on to London.  Then
I had the good fortune to find a plentiful repast, in the shape of a
young rabbit.  Part of it I ate, and part I took along with me.

"Towards morning I was in quite a wild country.  There was not a house
to be seen, save one shepherd's hut, and this I determined to avoid; but
Fate willed it otherwise.  I caught my leg in a trap that had been set
for a fox.  How can people be so cruel!  My limb was frightfully
lacerated, and when towards evening the shepherd's boy came to my
relief, I expected nothing but death.  How different was the treatment I
received at the hands of the dear boy who found me!  He carried me away
to his mother's cot, and for weeks between the two of them they tended
and fed me as if I had been a baby.  The food I had may have been rough.
What of that?  I had it regularly, and my drink was the pure water from
the neighbouring rill.  When at last I was able to follow my kind young
protector away over the wild moorland after his fleecy flock, O!  I
don't think there could have been a much happier dog than I.  I could
have lived there for ever.  But happiness will not, cannot, last in his
world.  One day a bird-catcher came over the moor.  I went to look at
him, he threw me a piece of meat and I ate it.  I remembered no more
until I found myself tied by the neck with a rope, and the blackness of
darkness everywhere about me.  How I blamed my greed in not having been
contented with the kindly fare my humble master and mistress never
failed to place before me.  But my life with this bird-catcher was of
short duration; he sold me, and before many months were over I was
re-sold, and sold and sold again.  Sometimes I was owned by rich,
sometimes by poor; at times I slept in stables, at times on beds of
down; but I cannot say I ever was happy.  I was seldom fed with
regularity either--indeed, the time on any day at which I dined was
merely chance; my water, whenever I had a dish, was seldom pure; and as
for exercise, I had to take it whenever I could.  Folk little think how
cruel such treatment as this is, but the time is coming when they will
know, although my poor bones will then be mouldering in the dust.  We
have but a short life, we poor doggies.  I think those who own us, and
whom we love and try to serve so faithfully, might often be a little
kinder to us than they are.  But there--I will not sadden this happy
meeting by one word of complaint.  The last master I had was one of the
best of all, but even he was thoughtless, and I determined if I had the
chance to leave him.  That chance came.  It came with Christmas Eve.  I
could see that preparations were being made to send me away, and to my
joy I heard more than once mention of the name of London.  Finally, I
was led to the station and consigned to the tender mercies of the
railway officials.  Never shall I forget the horrors of that journey,
for instead of putting me in a clean hamper, properly directed as he
ought to have done, my master simply sent me off on a collar and chain.
So I was thrust into a terrible box, called `the boot,' with at each end
of it a grating; the way was long, the night was piercing cold, I had
neither food nor water, nor straw to lie upon, and the wind whistled
over me till my very bones felt frozen.  But, worse than all, I had to
change carriages towards morning.  I was taken out, therefore, and tied
up at the station at a corner, where the wind blew most fiercely, and
the whirling snow almost choked me.  The snow was all the refreshment I
had for many, many hours; so there I starved and shivered all the
livelong day.  Rosy-cheeked, happy-looking children and people in
holiday attire brushed past me, friends met friends; there were laughing
and gaiety and joy on all sides, but no one looked towards poor me.
Yes, forgive me if I forgot thee, dear mild-eyed gentle woman, you came
and stood in front of me, and I could see a tear quiver for a moment,
ere it fell on my head.  This dear lady, whom I never saw again, opened
her bag and gave me to eat.

"At length came a porter, a rough, hard-handed, cruel man, and undid my
chain, but my poor limbs were quite paralysed, and refused to move.

"`Come, you must,' he cried, and kicked me.

"But I could not; then he dragged me along on my side by the chain; I
was choking, my eyes were starting from their sockets, when at last my
champion came.

"Only a railway guard--only a big, burly, bine-coated, brass-buttoned
railway guard--but as, lamp in hand, he stood there, square-shouldered
and erect, glancing with indignant eyes at the wretched cowering porter,
he seemed all a hero.

"`How dare you use a dog in that way?' he cried.

"Then he took me in his arms and carried me into his own van, and gave
me a bed of warm straw.  Heaven bless his brown beard, wherever he is;
but for him I should have died.

"I was left to starve again at the London station, and here by sheer
force I pulled my head through my collar and fled.

"That is my story then," said Rover, "and it proves that the world is
not all bad, and that there are many good guards on railways who are
kind to travelling doggies; and once more I say, Heaven bless their
brown beards where'er they may be."

"A very nice stoly indeed," said Ida.

"And now me," said Maggie May.

"Well, Maggie May, I see you have got Mysie there to nurse, so I'll put
a pussy in your story, if you don't mind."

"Yes."

"Then Frank will fiddle again, and after that we'll all go to bed as
gipsies ought to at this time of night."

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

JUST LIKE TINY.

  "The family friend for ten years or more
  That basked in the garden and dozed in the hall,
  And listened for songs on the mat on the door."

  Tupper.

"Just like our Tiny!" said little Ada Mair when she first saw the
subject of my present sketch.  "Just like our Tiny!" repeated her wee
sister Ailie, going directly up, throwing her arms about Charlie's neck
and kissing him.

Charlie, you will understand, was the dog's name, a small black and tan,
with a coat as dark as a raven's wing, and as soft and sheeny as satin.
Not, mind you, that it was soft in reality, only it felt so.  The tan in
Charlie's cheeks, and eyebrows, and neck and feet, was of the richest
mahogany, and his eyes were like the eyes of a young seal, or some
lovely gazelle.  Altogether we were all very fond of Charlie, and not a
little proud of showing off his tricks to strangers, and we were
positively astounded when one day we were told by a gentleman who knows
a very great deal about dogs, that although our Charlie was "a very
pretty fellow," still he was not quite well enough shaped in the head,
too short and broad in fact, to take a prize at a show.

"O! you _must_ be mistaken," said our maiden aunt, bristling up; "_we_
think him perfection."

I smiled, but said nothing, for I knew the critic was right.

"And just like our Tiny!" said Ailie again, as she repeated the kiss.

Charlie was seated on a chair, a favourite location of his, because he
was out of reach of the old cat's claws.  Tom the cat never agreed with
Charlie, and there was no love lost between the pair of them.  The truth
is Tom was jealous, and took every opportunity that presented itself to
make poor Charlie's life as miserable as it could well be.  Tom used to
invite Charlie to have a drop of milk out of his saucer sometimes.

"Real new milk!"  Tom would say; "have a drop, Charlie, it will do you
good."

"Do you really mean it?"  Charlie would ask, talking with those great
eyes of his.

"Of course I do," puss would reply.

About a minute after this, Charlie would be coming flying up the back
stairs as if the house were on fire, with Tom behind him, whacking him
all the way, and crying:

"I'll teach you to touch my milk."

Sometimes Charlie would have a bone, and when done with it, would hide
it in a corner.  Well, pussy would settle down behind it, and presently
when Charlie came back:

"Come away, Charlie," pussy would say, or seem to say.  "Come away,
dear; I've been watching your bone.  Those thieving rats, you know."

"O, thank you, Tom," Charlie would say.

But half a minute later Charlie would be once more rushing madly up the
back stairs, and pussy after him, clawing him all the way.

Pussy's favourite seat was the footstool, and in a winter's evening,
when tea was on the table, a bright fire in the grate, the kettle
singing on the hob, and Tom half asleep, but singing all the same, on
the hassock, our parlour looked _so_ cheerful.  But sometimes Tom would
say to Charlie:

"I'm going away to the woods to-day, Charlie, for a long, long hunt
after the rats and weasels, so you can curl up on my footstool all day."

"O, thank you!"  Charlie would say.

Then away Tom would trot, and Charlie would be up on top of the hassock,
and asleep in five minutes, for on the whole Charlie was a shivering
little fellow when the weather was cold--just like your Tiny.

Well, pussy would not go farther away than the paddock gate; she would
sit there for perhaps ten minutes, making little funny faces at the
sparrows, and at cock-robin.  Then back she would come.

"He'll be asleep by this time," Tom would say to himself, as he came
stealing to the parlour.

Next moment there would be another race up the back stairs, and Charlie
would be howling most dismally.

This was very naughty of pussy, and it was not at all pleasant for
Charlie; no wonder he preferred sitting in the chair.

I'll never forgot the day Charlie caught and killed his first rat.  It
was a very big one, and he was as proud as any deer-stalker.  He must
needs bring it into the parlour and lay it on the rug before us all.
Tom smacked him, and took the rat away to a corner, and gloated and
growled over it, and told Charlie that _all_ the rats and mice about the
place belonged to him.

Charlie could swim as fast as a Newfoundland, he could follow the
carriage for miles, and whenever it stopped he used to jump up and sit
on the horse's back, and perhaps go to sleep there, for he was a sleepy
little fellow at times--just like your Tiny.

Charlie used to fetch and carry.  Does your Tiny do so?  He would carry
things much, _much_ bigger than himself.  A carriage rug, for example.
And this was funny, if the rug were very heavy Charlie would stop
pulling it and give it a good shaking, growling all the time as if the
rug were alive.  Then he would stop and look at it for a minute or two,
with his head first on one side and then on the other, as much as to
say:

"Will you come now, then?  I'll give you more if you don't."

Bright, loving, brave, and gentle was Charlie.  You see I say "_was_
Charlie," so you will know that Charlie is not alive now; I will tell
you how it happened.

It was a winter evening.  Our house, The Grange, is a good mile from the
station, across a wild bleak common.  It would be quite three miles
round by the road, so we seldom go that way.  Some of our friends were
coming to spend a week with us.  They ought to come by the 4:30 fast
train, and I was there to meet them.  It was eight before they arrived,
however, and O! such a dreadful night.  The snow had come down and was
already fully a foot deep, and lay on the road in great wreaths that no
horse could pass.  Then the wind blew a perfect hurricane, and the
drifting snow almost took our breath away.  We must go by the common or
remain at the station all night.  Our friends were only two, a young
lady and her father, but both were very brave.

Alas! we never could have crossed the common that night, had it not been
for Charlie.  Many a life was lost in that terrible storm, which will
long be remembered in our shire.  I had not taken Charlie with me, but
when in the very middle of the moor, with poor Miss B--all but dead and
my friend and I sinking, and not knowing which way to turn--we had
probably been going round and round in a circle--I spied something black
feathering about among the snow.  It was Charlie!  I leave you to
imagine with what joy we received him.

"Go home, Charlie!" we cried.

And away went our little guide, sometimes quite invisible, but always
coming back to encourage us.  Half an hour afterwards we were all at
home in our bright and cheerful parlour.

But poor Charlie never recovered it.  He must have been out in the snow
for hours.  Next day he was ill, and got rapidly worse.  Strange to say
that Tom the pussy was now actually kind to him.

"I fear," I said one evening, "Charlie is worse than ever."

Charlie _was_ worse--one pleading look at us, one slight shiver, and our
pet was no more.

There is a little grassy grave down in the orchard, that the children
always cover with flowers in spring-time and summer.

That is Charlie's.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

PROFESSOR DICK'S ACADEMY: A STRANGE ADVENTURE.

  "Bodily rest is sleep--is soothing sleep,
  Spirit rest is silence deep,
  O daily discord! cease, for mercy cease,
  Break not this happy peace."

The caravan lay high up on a lonely moorland, amid the solitary grandeur
of the Grampian mountains--a thousand good feet and over above the level
of the sea.

The scenery around us was desolate in the extreme, for no vestige of
human life, no house, no hut, not even a patch of cultivated land, was
anywhere to be seen around us.  Above was the blue sky, with here and
there a fleecy cloud, and yonder an eagle soaring.  Around us, as a
horizon, the eternal hills, many of them flecked and patched with the
snows, that never melt.  Far beneath, at one side, was a stream; though
not visible, we could hear its drowsy chafing roar, as it tumbled
onwards, forming many a foaming cataract, to seek for outlet in some
distant lake.  On the other side was a good Scotch mile of heathery
moor, blazing purple and crimson in the sunshine.

Here and there, on grassy banks, great snakes glittered and basked in
the noontide heat, while agile lizards crept over the stones or stood
panting on the heath-stems, to stalk the flies.

It was strangely silent up here.  We could listen to the lambkins,
bleating miles away, and the strange wild cry of mountain plover and
ptarmigans, while the song of insects flitting from alpine flower to
alpine flower was pleasant music to the ear.

On the right I could see the dark tops of pine-trees.  But they were far
away.  Never mind, I would walk towards them.  I so love forests and
woodlands.

No, I would have no companion save my trusty friend Bob.  A word was
sufficient to deter Maggie May from accompanying me in my ramble.  That
word was "Snakes!"  Frank was not so easily shaken off; but when I told
him I was probably going to write verses, he refrained from forcing his
company on me.  So Bob and I set out on our rambles alone.  Verses?
Well, verses come sometimes when least expected.  Better than wooing the
muse, is being quiet and letting the muse woo you.

But a sweet spirit of melancholy was over me to-day.  I wished for
silence, I longed for solitude.  A breeze was murmuring and sighing
through the weird black trees of the forest when I entered it, and I sat
me down on a stone to listen to its wail.  Nature seemed whispering some
sad tale to my ears alone.  This to me was spirit rest.

It was indeed a strange forest.  The trees were all dark firs, though
not tall and not close together.  But I had never seen such trees
before.  Gnarled and bent and fantastic, taking shapes and casting
shadows that positively looked uncanny.  I had not walked an hour among
them till I fancied myself in some enchanted wood, and almost wished
myself out of it and away.  I stooped down more than once to smooth and
talk to the great Newfoundland, to reassure myself; and once, when
passing an ugly brown pool of water, I started almost with fright as
some water-birds sprang whirring into the air in front of me.

Still I had as yet no thoughts of retracing my footsteps.

When, at last, I climbed a rocky mound and saw the sun going right away
down behind a hill, like a ball of blood, I made up my mind to get
homewards at once.

But in which direction did the caravan lie?  My answer to this was a
very hazy one.  However, standing on this mound would not help me, so I
set out to retrace my steps.

For fully half an hour I walked in what I considered the right
direction, but I did not come to the pond again, and the trees seemed
different--more close together, and more weird-looking and uncanny, if
that were possible.

I got tired at last and sat down.

I had been pensive when I started, I was now perplexed.  No wonder, for
night was coming on.  Stars were glinting out in the east, a big brown
owl flew close over me, with a most melancholy shriek of
"tu-whit-tu-whoo-oo," that made my blood feel cold.

_I was lost_!

Yes, but what had I to fear?  I thought I had been lost before, lost in
Afric wilds, on prairie lands, and in Greenland mists: was I going to be
baffled by a Highland forest and moorland?

"Tu-whit-tu-whoo-oo!"

A sweet spirit of melancholy is very nice, but one may have too much of
it.

"Tu-whit-tu-whoo-oo!"

Bother the bird.  His wings too are flapping on the night air, and
rustling as they say evil spirits do.

The trees grow more uncanny-looking every minute, and after going on and
on for fully twenty minutes more, these ghostly ill-omened pines
positively seem to advance to meet me, and wave their gnarled arms in
the starlit air as I pass.

"Tu-whit-tu-whoo-oo-oo."

Horrible!

"Bob, my boy, bark, speak, and scare that awful bird."

"Wowff--wowff--wowff!"

Listen!  Hark!

At no great distance we can hear the sharp "Yap! yap! woo-oo" of a
shepherd's collie.  No mistaking it.  It cannot be a fox, and there are
no wolves about.

I take my bearings by a star that shines over the place from which the
barking appeared to come, and Bob and I make straight in that direction.
To our great joy and relief, we presently emerge from among the
black-branched uncanny trees, and on the moor, at no great distance, see
a light streaming from the open door of a hut.

A creature very like a wolf, with hair all on end, comes grumbling and
yelping in a most threatening way to meet us.

"Let me settle him," says Bob.

"No, Bob," I reply.  "He is watching his master's house.  He is right."

But one glance at Bob is enough for the collie.  He disappears--goes
bounding away over the hill, evidently to seek his master, for when we
enter the one-roomed hut we find it deserted.

There is a bright fire on a low hearth, however, and the smoke finds its
way up a real chimney, and not through a hole in the roof, as is the
case so often in Highland shepherd huts.  There is a pot hanging over
the fire, simmering away slowly, and raising its lid a little every now
and then to emit a whiff of steam, so savoury that Master Bob begins to
lick his lips, and seems to wonder that I do not at once proceed to have
supper.

I shake my head, as he looks up in my face inquiringly.

"No, no, Bob," I say; "that pot does not belong to me."

"Nonsense," says Bob; at least he thinks it.  "Nonsense, master, all the
world belongs to you if you could only believe it.  You're king of the
universe, in my mind at all events."

We sit and look at the pot.  There is an old-fashioned wag-at-the-wall
clock, tick-ticking away, but no other sound.  After a time the clock
clears its throat, and slowly rasps out the hour of nine, then goes
quietly on tick-ticking again.

A whole hour passes.  The clock clears its throat once more and gives
ten wheezy knocks.

Bob suggests supper more emphatically.  I am getting very weary.

Those we left behind us must think we are indeed lost, or swallowed up
in a quagmire.  The thought makes me very uneasy, and I begin almost to
wish my adventure in the weird forest may be all a dream, that presently
the peat-fire, pot and soup and all may vanish, and I may wake in bed.

But while thus musing I am startled very much indeed, and so too is Bob,
at hearing a cracked and dismal world-old voice close beside me say with
a long-drawn sigh:

"Heigho!  I wonder what o'clock it is!"

There is no one in the room, not a soul to be seen.

Next moment, from another direction, but whether above or beneath
I cannot be sure, issues a low, half-demoniacal laugh of
self-satisfaction.

"Ha! ha! ha!"

The great dog starts up.  His hair is on end all along his spine.  He
growls low and glances fearfully round him as if he expected to see a
spectre.

Again the mournful old-world voice and the long-drawn sigh.

"Heigho!  Will he ever, _ever_ come!"

The dog looks in my face with terrible earnestness.  He expects me to
explain.  I cannot--I feel uneasy.  We listen for many minutes, but hear
no more, till the rising wind moans drearily round the house and the
fire gets low on the hearth.

"Ha! ha! ha!"  The demon laugh again!  It is a kind of half-ironical
chuckle, impossible to describe.  Then a voice in pitiful tones of
entreaty:

"_Don't_ do it.  Don't _do_ it."

I am really getting frightened.  I look towards the door, which had
hitherto been open, and stare to see it slowly shut as if moved by some
spirit hand.  The wind howls now like wild wolves outside.

"What is it?  What _is_ it?  Ha! ha! ha!  What _is_ it?"

Then a wild unearthly shriek, and a yell of "Murder!" rises high above
the wind.  My nerves are quite unstrung.  I verily believe my hair is
moving under my Highland bonnet.

I would not stay another moment here for all the world.

I open the door, and rush out into the night, Bob at my heels, and
shrieks and laughter resounding in my ears.

Out and away--anywhere, to be free of that uncanny hut.

A big round moon is shining now, and the weird pine-trees are casting
weird shadows on the moorland.

Look, though, is that a pine-tree?

No, it is a tall figure, in Highland garb, with a long crook, which it
grasps high up, the plaid depending from the uplifted arm.

"Yap, yap, yap--"

That is the collie's bark, and yonder figure is no doubt that of his
master.  He advances, and the moon shimmers brightly on the pleasant
face and snow-white beard of an old man.

"Welcome, stranger.  You've lost your way.  My dog came to tell me.
Come back and share my humble supper, then I will conduct you home."

I thought it strange to be addressed in such good English.  But I was
not reassured.  Was this a wizard, or a spectre--the spirit of this
haunted wood?

"Back!"  I cried, with a shudder; "back among goblins!"

"Ha! ha! ha!" he laughed, and I could not help noticing that his laugh
was precisely the same as that I had heard in the hut.

"Pardon me," he said, "but my cockatoos have been talking to you from
behind the scenes.  Come back, sir, it is all right.  See, our dogs are
playing together."

That was true.  Bob and the collie were already the best of friends.

From the very moment he mentioned the word "cockatoos," I felt somewhat
ashamed of myself.

So back I went, and shared the shepherd's soup, and we were soon
enjoying a very interesting conversation.

I told him all about myself and caravan, and he explained who he was.  A
shepherd by choice, because a lover of Nature.  A wizard according to
some, a poet according to others, because his verses which, he said,
were as rough as the heather and the granite rocks on the hillside,
found _entree_ to the Glasgow papers.  After supper, he lit a great
oil-lamp: we had hitherto had only the fire-light.

Then he pulled aside a screen, and lo! and behold, a dozen at least of
cages, each containing a cockatoo, and one a starling.

"What is it?  What _is_ it?" said this latter.

"Nothing much, Dick.  But you've frightened this stranger."

"Strange!" said Dick.

The old shepherd opened the cage-door, and out flew the bird, and
straight on to the supper-table.

"Professor Dick," said my host, "won't say another word till he has
finished his meal."

"Professor Dick, you call him?"

"Yes, and I may as well tell you at once how I live and how I manage to
get warm clothing, good food, and plenty of books."

"I see your library is a most extensive one," I put in.

"It is, for a poor man.  I am a hermit by choice; I live all alone in
these wilds; I am rent-free, because I have the charge of sheep, and I
dearly love the solitudes around me.

"The house or hut I occupy I call Professor Dick's Academy.  Dick is my
all in all.  The collie comes next in my affections.

"But Dick maintains us."

"Dick maintains you?"

"Yes, you see all these cockatoos?  Well, Dick trains them all to speak.
And he trains them tricks, he and I between us.  Without Dick I would
be nowhere, and perhaps Dick would go to the bad without me."

"But what becomes of the cockatoos?"

"I sell them.  That is the secret of our wealth and happiness.  They are
Australian hard-bill crestless cockatoos.  I pay thirty shillings for
each of them.  I sell them for ten and even fifteen pounds.  There is
one there, forty years of age; the most wonderful bird in all the world.
Rothschild is very rich, sir, and so is Vanderbilt, but neither possess
money to buy that darling bird.  No, nor Dick either.  But here comes
the Professor."

The bird came hopping towards me, jumped up, perched on the back of a
straw chair, and eyed me curiously for quite a minute, using first one
eye, then the other, as if to make quite sure of diagnosing me properly.

I thought him somewhat brusque and peculiar at first.  He asked me three
questions in rapid succession, but gave me no time to answer: "Who are
you?  What do ye want?  Are you hungry?"  The Professor and I, however,
soon settle down to steady conversation, and talked on all kinds of
topics, as freely as if we had known each other for years.  Only, like
the dictionary, Dick was apt to change his subject rather frequently.

I must say, however, that this pretty bird was the cleverest and best
talker I have ever known or heard.  There positively seemed no end to
his vocabulary, and the ridiculously amusing remarks he made would, I
believe, have caused a horse to smile.

"In the name of goodness," I was fain to exclaim at last to my host, "is
this really a bird, or is it some sprite or fay you have picked up in
the depths of this weird forest?"

The old shepherd seemed pleased.  He nodded and smiled to Dick, and the
bird waxed more boisterous and funny than ever.

"I begin to think," I said, "that I have got into some house of
enchantment, and that nothing around me is real."

The shepherd put Professor Dick to bed at last, and conducted me safely
over the moor.  He promised to call for us next day, and take us back to
the cottage in the forest to hear the Professor teaching his class.

There had been anxious hearts in the caravan during my absence, but Bob
went bounding away in front of me to announce my arrival.

Frank was dressed and ready to go off to seek me, stick in hand and
plaid across his manly shoulders.  But all is well that ends well.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE OLD MAN'S DOGS.

  "But there was silence one bright golden day,
  Through my own pine-hung mountains."

The sun shone very brightly next morning; the sky was blue; and a
silence, broken only by the constant roar of the torrent, brooded over
the bills.

We all went to see, or rather _seek_, for Professor Dick's Academy.

But for a long time all in vain, and I was beginning to think the events
of last evening must all have taken place in dreamland, when, emerging
from the trees, the stalwart form of the old shepherd himself was
observed coming towards us.  In a few minutes more we were in the
cottage.

And there, sure enough was Dick hard at work teaching his class.  _He_
was loose, his pupils all caged.  We were warned to keep silence, and
did so as long as we could.

Dick repeated words and sentences over and over again, and some of the
pupils were most attentive and apt.  And the way some of the more
earnest stretched down their necks, cocked their heads and listened, was
amusing in the extreme.

But there was one bad boy in the class--a saucy-looking cockatoo, with a
red garland round his neck.

"I want a bit o' sugar," was all he would say, and he kept on at it.  "A
bit o' sugar, a bit o' sugar; I want a bit o' sugar."

The Professor went towards the delinquent's cage, as if to reason with
him; but the naughty bird laughed derisively, and finished off by making
a grab at Dick through the bars.

The old man at once threw a black cover over the cage, upon which the
bird's tune was changed, and in the dark he seemed to bitterly bemoan
his fate, repeating in a most lugubrious voice the words--"Poor Polly!
Poor _dear_ little Polly."

One of us laughed.

The spell was broken, and the Professor would teach no more.

"My birds will have a half-holiday," said the old shepherd, laughing.

He came with us to the caravans, and greatly delighted he was.  We gave
him books and magazines, and that same morning shifted camp farther
east, promising, if ever we came that road again, to visit the shepherd
and Professor Dick's Academy.

The story of the evening was--

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

THE OLD MAN'S DOGS.

  "I would not enter on my list of friends
  (Though graced with polished manners and fine sense,
  Yet wanting sensibility) the man
  Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm."

When a boy at school, of all my favourite authors, Bulwer Lytton was
_facile princeps_.  Walter Scott fascinated, and Cooper enthralled me,
while the "Arabian Nights" held me spell-bound; but there was a charm to
me about all the writings of the first-mentioned novelist and poet that
nothing else could equal.

Girls often have what they call "a hearty cry" over the book or story
which moves their feelings; boys do not.  I do not remember ever putting
down a book in order to weep.  Such a matter-of-fact way of going to
work never occurred to me; yet, while reading, tears _have_ often filled
my eyes--yes, and sometimes _do_--so as to interfere materially with the
distinctness of the print I hold before me.

Now, there is in my opinion no one less to be admired than an ungrateful
person.  One might surely be pardoned for thinking that ingratitude
ranks as a great sin in the sight of Heaven.  But we are not to judge,
far less condemn.  It were often better, perhaps, to extend pity rather
than anger to one who has been found guilty of ingratitude, for so
universal, as an inborn sentiment, is the feeling of gratefulness, not
only in man, but in the animals he has domesticated, that the absence of
it would seem to denote an imperfection of brain-structure rather than
anything else.

Those who have to do with children should not forget that gratitude is a
feeling that can be fostered and cultivated, even in those among them in
whose minds it exists only in embryo.  But if it can be cultivated, so
also can it be crushed; that, too, should be borne in mind.

What a power gentle words and kind persuasion have over even the "brute"
nature, as it is called!  You may always lead, though you cannot always
drive.  My Newfoundland dog is very fond of being in the house.  "Bob"
has a temper of his own to strangers, and a strong will of his own at
all times.  Sometimes it is necessary that he should go to his kennel
and mount guard when he would far rather stay indoors.  If, on such
occasions, I speak somewhat sharply to him, he refuses to move.  No
force could get him from under the table; but a few gentle pats on the
head, and a few kindly words, succeed at once.  The great dog jumps up
and comes trotting along with me, looking up in my face as much as to
say:

"Always talk like that, master, and I'll go through fire and water to
please you."

Says Phil. G. Hamerton, "Whoever beats a dog gives evidence of his own
personal stupidity; for a dog always tries his best to understand, and
you can make things clearest to him by gentle teaching, if you know how
to teach at all."

I had to part with a lovely spaniel dog some years ago.  We had had many
a happy day together in the woods and fields, and the poor animal got
exceedingly fond of me.  Well, it was two years after that I met him by
chance at a great dog show.  I had passed his bench three or four times
without knowing him.  I only noticed that a certain spaniel was making
frantic efforts to break his chain, and rush into somebody's arms; and
it was not until I at last stood opposite to him that it occurred to me
to look at the catalogue, when I found it was my own old "Beau" that I
had not known among the multitude of strange dogs, all of the same
colour and shape.  Ah! but he had known me in the multitude.  But I am
_so_ thankful I noticed the dear fellow, and did all I could to make him
happy for one short day at least.  Suppose I had gone away and never
said a word to him--never given one kind word or loving caress; it would
have seemed to him so cruel and ungrateful!

On the stormiest winter's day I seldom wear a hat about my own grounds.
And shall I tell you why?  It is because I cannot bear to see dogs
disappointed, for whenever I do put on my hat, the dogs, with the
impulsiveness characteristic of their race, jump to the conclusion that
I am going for a walk, and that of course they are going as well.

But referring to Bulwer Lytton's novels, or Lord Lytton's, if you prefer
it, there is a passage or scene in one of his charming tales that, when
a boy, I could not read without the tears rising up and blinding me, and
that I cannot think of, even as I write, without emotion.

An old man has none to care for him or tend him on earth save a
daughter, whom he tenderly loves.  But he finds a letter which proves
her worse than false, worse than ungrateful, for she is, in that
epistle, coolly reckoning and calculating _on his death_ at no distant
day.  What a shock to the father!  He is no longer any use; is a
positive encumbrance; and she, whom he had so thoroughly trusted, she,
too, wishes him away.  He calls his dogs to him.  They come to his knee,
and with wistful, wondering eyes gaze up into his face, for they can see
poor master is in grief.  And his heart feels ready to break, as he pats
his poor dumb friends and exclaims:

"Will there be no one even to look after the old man's dogs when he is
gone?"

There is a species of cruelty to animals, happily, I believe, very rare.
I refer to that which induces a person to treat harshly and unkindly
some dumb creature for the simple reason that it belongs to an enemy.
Whatever of harm an animal's master may have done me, it, at all events,
is guiltless of evil.  Reference to this is made in Holy Writ, and if we
turn to Exodus twenty-three, verse 5, we read the following: "If thou
see the ass of him that hateth thee lying down under his burden, and
wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him."

On the other hand, the pets of those we love become doubly dear to us in
the absence of their real master or mistress.  Yonder, let us say, is
little Maggie's pet canary.  Maggie is always the merriest of the merry
when she is about the house.  It would be difficult indeed to say
whether the canary or she sings the louder, or looks the brighter or the
happier all day long.  But there were tears in Maggie's eyes on the day
she went away, and when she went to the cage and said, "Bye, bye,
birdie," it was all she could do to keep from crying.  And the bird
seemed sad too, and does not sing so blithely now; and every morning,
when any one enters the breakfast-room, he extends a very long neck
indeed, for he is looking for and expecting the loved one.  Now would it
not be cruel if the person in whose charge that birdie is left were not
more than kind to it in Maggie's absence?

Yonder is Johnnie's rough wee terrier dog.  O, what romps and games and
rambles far and near Johnnie and that little dog did use to have!  But
Johnnie has gone to sea.  The little dog mourns for him; any one can
notice that.  But he does not mourn for him as one dead, for often when
a step somewhat like his master's sounds on the gravel, how wildly the
little dog rushes to door or window to have a look, and how very low his
tail droops as he returns disconsolate to his seat on the hearth.  May
Heaven send Johnnie safely home again; and won't he find his doggie
sleek and fat?  It will not be our fault if he does not.

If any one were to ask me how long I supposed a dog would remember an
absent master, I should answer--and I should speak advisedly when I did
so:

"A dog will remember and mourn for an absent master until his return, no
matter how long that may be; or until the dog's own loving eyes are
closed in death."

About the mystery of death itself, I question if dogs know very much.
They must at any rate imagine that there is a possibility of the dead
one returning again to life.

Does the reader remember the story of the gentleman who lost his way
among the mountains and was killed, his body being found a quarter of a
year afterwards, with his faithful dog still beside it?  Or Scott's
beautiful lines on the subject, a few of which I cannot resist the
temptation to quote?

  "Dark-green was the spot 'mid the brown mountain heather,
      Where the Pilgrim of Nature lay stretched in decay,
  Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather.
      Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay.
  Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
  For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
  The much-loved remains of his master defended,
      And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.
  How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
      When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?
  How many long days and long weeks didst thou number.
      Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?"

I was travelling one time in Ireland in a jaunting-car which I had hired
for some days.  I had no other companion save a large Newfoundland dog,
for whose comfort the seat of the car was hardly broad enough.  But
there was the driver to talk to, and nothing loth was Paddy either to
carry on the greater share of the conversation.

It was the sweet summer-time, and whatever my companion the dog did, I
know _I_ felt as happy and light-hearted as the birds.

"See them two dogs?" said the driver to me, as we passed an
old-fashioned gate, about a mile from the village of C--.

"Yes," I replied, "pull up a moment, Paddy, till I have a look at them."

A pair of lovely Basset hounds they were, a dark or liver-coloured and a
light one, coupled together by a short chain.  They were waiting for
some one, apparently; the white one turned his head to look at us, but
the other was all eagerness, all attention.  He seemed to me to hear a
footstep.

"Waiting for some one, I should think," I said to my driver.

"Indeed, yes, sorr," replied Paddy.  "It is waiting for their master
they do be.  It is waiting for him they'll never see again, they are,
sorr.  They call them `the old man's dogs,' and every evening at five
o'clock out they trot, just as you see them, and there they stand, sorr,
and there they listen for hours and hours together; then trot back, with
hanging heads and tails, sorr; but they'll never see him more."

"Is he dead, then?"  I inquired.

"Yes, sorr," said Paddy; "but we'll drive on a bit if we're going to
talk."

I gave one last glance towards the dogs, and the look of eager
expectancy in the dark one's eyes I shall not soon forget.

"It was all owing to treachery, I think, sorr," said Paddy, as we drew
up under a drooping lime-tree.

"But there it was; the old man B--used to stay much in foreign parts,
but he came home at last to settle down.  He had an only daughter with
him, that he loved right dearly, and barring her neither kith nor kin,
that ever we could see, belonging to him.

"_He_ was always cheerful, sorr, and she seemed always happy.  He used
to go to L--every day; his carriage waited him on his return at the
station, and them two faithful brutes, sorr, at the old gate.  So
everything seemed to go as cheerfully as wedding-bells, and just as easy
like.

"There was a count, they called him, that used often to stay at the
mansion, sorr.  Whether he had anything to do with it or not, it's not
myself that can tell you.  But I won't keep you waiting, for it's a
cruel story.  The old man came home one day to an empty house.  He was
never the same after.  Broken-down like he was, and didn't seem to care
for anything but them two dogs.  Well, just in one month, sorr, the
daughter came back.  She never saw her father alive, though.  He was
carried in the same day at the old gate, dead, sorr.  He had dropped
down in a fit, or, as some do say, of a kind of heartbreak.

"I needn't tell you more, sorr.  There is nobody at the old manor now.
_She_ is abroad, and just guess you, sorr, what her feelings are if ever
she thinks, as think she must.  The house is a kind of tumbledown like,
and there is no one ever likely to live there again owing to the ghost,
you know."

"I don't care about the ghost, Paddy," I said; "but what about the dogs?
Where do they live?"

"Just inside the old gate, sorr, at the gardener's cottage.  And it's
waiting they do be, sorr, waiting, waiting.  Hup! mare, hup!"

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

UP THE VALE OF DON.--A PEEP AT PARADISE.

  "Between these banks we in abundance find,
  Variety of trouts of many different kind;
  Upon whose sides, within the water clear,
  The yellow specks like burnished gold appear.
  And great red trouts, whose spots like rubies fine.
  Mixed 'mong silver scales refulgent shine."

The summer sped away.

But early autumn still found us among the bonnie blooming heather.

We were real gipsies now.  We had settled down long since to our
strangely delightful nomadic life.  We were both healthy and happy.
There were roses on the cheeks of Maggie May, and--let me whisper it--
freckles on her nose.

Frank was as brown as a brick, and even Bob and the caravan cat had
increased in size, and looked intensely self-satisfied, and on good
terms with themselves.

This chapter finds me fishing in the Don; Maggie May is basking in the
sunshine, book in hand, and the rest of our crew are invisible.

"There is something radically wrong, Robert," I said, casting my fly for
the fortieth time, and so coaxingly too, over the very spot where I knew
more than one fine finny fellow was hiding.

"Something radically wrong, Bob; either the sky is too clear or the
water too bright, or there isn't wind enough, or I haven't got the right
fly on.  But never a bite and never a ghost of a nibble have I had for
the last half-hour.  I'm tired of it; sick of it.  But they are there,
Bob, for many a one we have landed on luckier days than this.  Besides,
what says the old, old poem?"

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

Bob wagged his immensity of a tail by way of reply, but he never took
his eyes off a hole in the bank, that he had been as earnestly watching
as I had been flogging the pool.

Whip!  Splash!  I thought I had one then.  And I believe I would have
had one, only out of its hole sprang a big black vole, and took to the
water.  In floundered Hurricane Bob after it, and there was an end to my
fishing.

Bob came out of the water presently, and stood between me and the sun,
and shook himself several times, causing a rainbow to appear around him
each time he did so.

I wound in my tackle, and put up my rod.

Half an hour afterwards, Maggie May, Bob, and I were on the braes above
Balhaggarty.  We lay ourselves down on a sweet mossy bank, bedecked with
many a wild flower; peacock butterflies are floating in the sunshine,
and great velvety bees make drowsy music in the air; and not far off, on
a branch of a brown-trunked fir-tree, cock-robin is singing his clear,
crisp little song.  Before us, beneath us, and on every side, is spread
out one of the fairest landscapes in all the wild romantic North.  Woods
and water, hills and dales, stretch away as far as the eye can reach.
Yonder is the wimpling Ury, meandering through the peaceful valley to
join the winding Don.  Near its banks stands, or lies, or rather lies
and sleeps, and seems to dream, the village of Inverurie.  Very blue are
the roofs of its houses in the surrounding greenery, very white are its
granite walls, and its spires and steeples look like snow or marble in
the autumn sunshine.

That was the village home of one of Scotia's noblest bards--the gentle,
genial Thom.  Though six-and-thirty years have fled since they laid him
to rest in the moors, there is more than one old man and woman living in
the village there yet, who knew him in his prime, and have stories well
worth listening to, to tell of the poet of the Ury; but as long as
pine-trees shall nod on Scottish hills, as long as the dark plumes of
Caledonia's sons shall wave in the van of battle, so long will Thom's
name be known in the land of his nativity, and among his countrymen all
over the world.

Far to the right of the spot where we are reclining, the giant mountain,
Ben-na-chie, rears its proud head into the air.

It is a solitary hill, and yet tourists to this land of romance ought to
know that from its summit the view obtained on a fine day is probably
more beautiful, varied, and extensive than any other I know of in "a'
braid Scotland."

It is a solitary hill--a wild, bold, cliffy mass--yet--

  "The clouds love to rest on this mountain's dark breast, Ere they
  journey afar o'er the boundless blue sea."

A solitary hill--and O! if it could but speak, what tales it could tell:
eeriesome, drearisome tales, tales of intrigue and plot, plot domestic
and plot political, tales of battle and slaughter and strife--for not a
glen for miles and miles around it, not a moorland, not a hill the
heather on which has not over and over again been dyed with the blood of
fiercely fighting foemen.

Nor were the struggles that took place among these hills and forests and
glens of merely local importance; for Aberdeenshire has cut as deep
notches in the history of this country as any other shire I wot of.

Down yonder is Bruce's howe, or cave, by the side of the Don at
Ardtannies, celebrated in history as the place where the sick king lay,
broken in health and fortune, and where he had his memorable interview
with the spider, which so raised his hopes that he feared not shortly
after to sally forth, give battle to and defeat the fierce, false Cumyn.

Then Bruce laid Buchan waste.  After this the whole North of Scotland
soon owned his sway, and five years after the sanguinary battle of
Inverurie here Bannockburn was fought, and Scotland freed of its
would-be conquerors.

But to-day we are seated on the very edge of the great battle-field of
Harlaw.

This battle was fought here on a summer's day in July 1411.  The Duke of
Albany, then regent of the kingdom, had managed by hook or by crook--
more likely it was by crook--to secure the earldom of Ross to his son
John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, although by rights it belonged to the wife
of Donald, Lord of the Isles.  Now Donald did not see any reason why he
should submit to so barefaced a robbery.  The Donalds and the McDonalds
of the Isles have always been a bold and straightforward set of billies.
The reader may remember the anecdote that is related of one of these
Lords of the Isles.  At a royal feast, having entered somewhat late, he
had seated himself at the far end of the board, seeing which the king
sent a messenger to ask him to come and sit by him, at the head of the
table.

"Tell his Majesty," was the reply, given loud enough for all to hear,
"that wherever McDonald o' the Isles sits is _the_ head of the table."

Donald of the Isles sent the fiery cross through the length and breadth
of his domains, and soon crossed into the mainland at the head of his
followers.  He fought and conquered at Dingwall.  Then captured
Inverness, swept through the Highlands, and encamped here at Harlaw,
determined to push on next day and attack the Aberdonians in their city
of granite.

  "Give their roofs to the flames,
  And their flesh to the eagles."

Donald had reckoned without his host, however.  That host was the bold
Earl of Mar, who with a splendid little army of not more than a thousand
men, officered by the flower of the county, hurried out and gave Donald
battle here on the hill-head of Harlaw.  Donald's wild followers
numbered 10,000, though they were badly armed.  But it was Greek to
Greek, it was Scot to Scot, and the conflict was a terrible one.

As I look around me on this lovely autumn evening, my imagination can
easily depict the conflict and people the plain once more with the brave
knights, and men-at-arms, the mailed Lowlanders that made up the
battalions of Mar, and with the wild kilted warriors that formed the
hosts of Donald of the West.

Yonder is Mar himself leading the centre fight, on his right the
Gordons, Leiths and Leslies, on his left the Keiths and Forbeses, and
many other brave clans; all feuds are forgotten for a time, they make
common cause against the foe.  The Highlanders fight on foot, armed only
with dirk and sword, the Lowlanders ride them down and hew them down in
hundreds, but the odds against them are fearful; all day even till
nightfall the battle rages, when in the darkness Donald draws off the
remainder of his forces and slowly retreats by Ben-na-chie; leaving
nearly one thousand dead on the field, while Mar is left presumably
master thereof, but too sore beaten and far too weak to leave it.

The terrible nature of the struggle may be gleaned from the fact that of
the thousand Lowland knights and men-of-arms, who had entered the
battle, hardly four hundred remained alive.  What a sad day for the
gentry of Angus and Mearns!  In many cases every male of the house was
slain.  Leslie of Balquhain fell with every one of his six bold sons,
and besides others, Sir James Scrymgeour, Sir Alexander Ogilvie and son,
the Constable of Dundee, the Provost of Aberdeen, Sir Alexander Irvine,
Sir Thomas Moray, Gilbert de Greenlaw, Sir Robert Maul, etc, etc.

But Donald was conquered and Aberdeen was saved.

Just a word about the Ury for the reader's sake, for who knows but these
lines I write may lead some tourist who is fond of the romantic, fond of
the beautiful, and fond of fishing, to sojourn for a time in these
sequestered glens.

The trout-fishing then of the Ury and of many a brawling wee burn around
here, and which are literally alive "wi sonsy fish," can easily be
obtained on application to the magistrates, and the kindly landlady of
the Kintore Arms has also liberty to grant the boon to those who make
her house their home.

"The Ury," says Skinner, "moves onward in noiseless sweetness, winding
and winding, as if aware of its own brief course, and all unwilling to
leave the braes that hap the heroes of Harlaw.  By-and-by it creeps
mournfully past the sequestered graveyard of Inverurie, and kisses the
Bass, and is then swallowed up in the blue waters of the Don."

The Bass is a small round hill evidently made by human hands, and
supposed to be the burial-place of an ancient Pictish king.  I visit the
quiet graveyard.  I have reasons for doing so--sad ones.  I might say
with Thom--

  "Move noiseless, gently Ury, around yon grassy bed,
  And I'll love thee, gentle Ury, where'er my footsteps tread;
  For sooner shall thy fairy wave return from yonder sea,
  Than I forget yon lowly grave and all it hides from me."

The roads here are glorious, and what matter the hills when the air is
so fresh and invigorating; if there are braes that one must walk up,
there are also braes down which one can roll, at any speed one pleases
without a touch on treadle.  And how delightful it is to linger on these
breezy hill-tops, and while positively drinking in health with every
breath of the ozone-laden air, leisurely, dreamily scan the bold and
matchless panorama spread out before us.

Yonder is Ben-na-chie again.  You never can get past Ben-na-chie.  Go
where you like in this region, it is always frowning over your path just
before you, or alongside, or on the horizon to the right or to the left.

There is "an ower true story" connected with that mountain which might
well and easily furnish subject-matter for a three-volume novel.  The
Earl of Mar's Master of Horse at the Harlaw was a Sir Thomas Leslie, of
Balquhain, a wild and lawless man of unbridled passions.  On the very
summit of yonder mountain he built a fortress, to which he was in the
habit of carrying off young women of beauty sufficient to attract him.
One of these was Chief Allan's daughter, the Fair Maid of Strathdon.  In
like manner his son bore away the Fair Maid of Kemnay, who was betrothed
to young Sir John Forbes of Drumminnon.  Sir John soon after attacked
and burned the mansion or castle of Balquhain, and Sir Andrew Leslie, in
revenge, sallied down from his fortress and laid waste the lands of the
Forbeses with fire and sword.  So much for the Fair Maid of Kemnay, and
here is the village itself.  High up on a table-land it is situated,
among pine-woods and quarries, every house is a charming cottage, built
of the whitest of granite.  Surely poverty is unknown in such a place,
and people here must live for a century at the very least!  I'd like to
come to Kemnay some time and live for a month in perfect peace, far from
the bustle and worry of city life; to live and laze, and fish and
dream--perchance to write a book.

Almost buried among trees is Monymusk, as primitive in every way as the
grand old hills around it, with only one hotel, or rather inn, but a
very cosy one; and O! so quiet is everything here, that in the silence
of the night, gazing from the _coupe_ when the moon was silvering the
mountain-tops, I have positively heard the field-mice sneeze.

About a quarter of a mile from Monymusk is New Paradise, a kind of a
sylvan fairy-land.  Here are miles of charming walks, here are
rustic-seats, and wells, and streams and bridges, and arbours, and a
lake, the whole embosomed in woods, in which are many a bosky dell
beloved of birds and all kinds of wild forest creatures.  There are
little glades, where ferns and brackens grow nearly ten feet high; it is
sweet to see the soft evening sunshine shimmering down from among the
trees, and falling on these, their greenery relieved by patches of warm
autumn brown, and by the crimson lights of tall foxgloves.

Do lovers come here in the evening?  We never see them.  We have the
sweet place all to ourselves, and when we want to change the scene we
journey farther on, and soon enter a gloomy defile or forest ravine.
This is Paradise Old.  Its gateway is a huge jawbone of a whale; for
anything I know to the contrary, it may have been the identical whale
that swallowed up Jonah.  The tourist, at all events, feels swallowed up
as soon as he has entered.  The long avenue that lies before him is one
of the most remarkable in Scotland.  It is on moss you are walking, at
each side are trees--larches, spruces, and firs, as straight as arrows,
and fully one hundred and twenty feet in height, the stems of which two
men can hardly touch fingers round.  To your right, dimly seen, is the
roaring Don, beyond it cliffs and braes, covered with forest and fern,
heather and blaeberries.

You come at last to a large circle of gigantic beeches and limes,
eighteen in all, inside which seats and tables have been placed, though
they are now but little used.

The most remarkable thing about these wondrous trees is that they have
grown almost straight, their stems are mighty pillars, and even their
branches have gone upwards, skywards, as if seeking the light, the
result being a vast and leafy colosseum forming a dome for over a
hundred feet high.

The silence is unbroken save for the steady hum of the river, or the
occasional cry of some wild bird, and as he looks upwards or gazes
around him, a feeling of awe steals over the beholder, which cannot be
repressed.

There is in the valley of the majestic Don many a village where the
tourist might dwell for a time with a certainty of enjoyment.  The
scenery everywhere is grand and noble; it is all a classic land, and
eminently historical; in every glen a battle has been fought, every
parish has its castle ruins, every castle has a story of its own, and be
you artist, author, actor, or antiquary, or merely an invalid seeking
rest and health, you cannot do better than visit--

  "The banks and braes o' bonnie Don."

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

BACK ONCE MORE IN BIRD-HAUNTED BERKS.

  "We have wandered in our glee
  With the butterfly and bee,
  We have climbed o'er heathery swells,
  We have wound through forest dells:
  Mountain-moss has felt our tread.
  Woodland streams our way have led;
  Flowers in deepest shadowy nooks,
  Nurslings of the loneliest brooks,
  Unto us, have yielded up
  Fragrant bell and starry cup."

Back in Berkshire once again.  Were we glad to return?  It was a
question many a worthy neighbour asked us.  Could we answer it in the
affirmative?  We could not, and did not.  Not even for politeness' sake.

But we dearly love Berkshire for all that, love its rolling meadows, its
fields of waving corn, the trees that go sweeping over its round hills
like cloudlands of green; its placid river, its quiet streams, where the
glad fish leap in spring and summer; love its birds, love its beasts,
all the way up from the timid wee field-mouse to the saucy fox who leads
so merry a life in the woods; and love its people, its peasantry--honest
and true are they, sometimes rough, but always right.  Yes, and I am not
sure we have not even a kindly regard for its long-nosed pigs.  So
there!

But the fact is that, in one sense of the term, we really had never been
from home.  We had taken our home with us.

And what a long delightful summer and autumn ramble we had had of it to
be sure.  No single one of us could remember everything we had seen and
come through.  But when we get chatting together of a winter's evening,
and especially when I get my log-book alongside me, then it all comes
back.

I have many log-books, for though I do not consider myself a great
traveller, I have sojourned in many lands, and sailed on many seas.  And
those logs serve often and often to bring me back the past.  Here, for
instance, is--

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

A REVERIE.

I am sitting alone in my wigwam.  This pretty and romantic snuggery
stands not anywhere near the forests of the Far West, nor by the banks
of the broad Susquehana, nor on alkali plain, or rolling prairie, nor,
despite its name, anywhere in the Red man's country at all.  It is built
on a green knoll in my orchard, down in bonnie Berks.  An old
well-thumbed log lies before me.

It is the month of February, and the cold winds moan carelessly through
the black and gloomy Scotch pines out yonder, and through the lordly
poplars, tall and bare, with a sound that carries one's thoughts
seaward.

I read but a line or two of the dear old log, and lo! the scene is
changed, the inky pine-trees, the weird and leafless poplars, the solemn
cypresses and drooping yews, grow indistinct and fade away--the very
wind itself is hushed.  I am back once more in the Indian Ocean, and my
Arab boat is quietly gliding over a calm unruffled sea of bright
translucent blue.

It is a day that would make a man of ninety years of age feel life in
every limb.  Was ever sky so bright before I wonder, was ever sea so
warm, so soft, so smooth--was ever air so fresh and balmy?  The very
sea-birds seem to have gone to sleep, and to be dreaming happy dreams,
as they float, rising and falling on the gently heaving water.

Revooma, my boy or boatman--everybody has a boy as a kind of body
servant who goes gipsying all alone on this lovely seaboard--Revooma, I
say, holds the sculls, and I am dreamily steering.

"Gently, R'ooma, gently," I murmur.  "Nay, never row so fast; the day is
all before us, to do with as we will.  Let the oars touch the water in
silence.  I would hear nothing harsher than the dripping of the water
from their blades, or musical rhythm of rowlock.  Now, R'ooma, pause--
nay, draw in your oars; we are a good way off yon coral island shore,
yet see, we are in water that is almost shoal.  Now, look overboard,
R'ooma, down through the glassy water to the ocean's bed.  Can't _you_,
R'ooma, even you, admire that?  You do.  Is there anything so lovely on
shore, R'ooma--anything else so lovely in Nature?  I'm a poet, am I?
Thank you; but look again, do not talk, but look; have your fill of the
gorgeous beauty of that submarine garden, _I_ will, R'ooma.  And years
and years after this, perhaps, when lying on a sick-bed, I will have but
to close my eyes, and that sight will return to cheer me.  Have ever you
seen flowers that grow on earth like these?  Why! every moving--for move
they do, as if a gentle wind were for ever stirring them--every moving
leaflet, twiglet, twig, or stem, is a flower in itself--alive with light
and colour combined.  Are they really weeds, or are they living things?
Then, look at those anemones.  What splendid tints!  What gorgeous
colouring!

"What a bright, white, clear patch of sand this is down here, R'ooma!
How distinctly everything can be seen.  See, I drop this pin, and it
wriggles, wriggles, wriggles all the way to the bottom, and yonder it
lies; somewhat distorted, I admit, but still it is the pin all the same.
Look at that black, wrinkled claw, R'ooma, appearing from under the
edge of yonder coral rock.  And now the body slowly follows, and a
strange-shaped, spider-legged, warty old crab stalks forth.  How
hideously ugly he is, R'ooma; and this very hideousness, I verily
believe, is his defence against his foes.  But watch him, boy; what is
he going to do?  He paws the sand.  He stamps on it.  Is it possible,
R'ooma, he is about to dance a kind of a submarine Ghillie Callum?  O,
but look about a yard ahead now.  See the white silvery sand gently, so
gently, moved.  And the white, warty crab stops dancing and listens, and
rolls his stalky eyes around, Handy to have eyes on stalks, you say?
You're right, R'ooma.  But, behold, our warty friend has beaten a hasty
retreat to his cave, and up from the sand appears another, a _facsimile_
of the first--only more ugly, more warty, and more hideous still.  They
have been playing at hide-and-seek, R'ooma.  That is all just a little
game to pass the summer's day away.

"But, while we have been looking at the antics of these crabs, we have
not been noticing the hundred and one other beautiful things that are
floating about.  Plenty of fishes down there, R'ooma; but we haven't
seen a very large one yet.  Lovely in colours all they are, especially
those strange, wee, flat fish that sail on an even keel, and are more
gaudy in colour than a goldfinch; but most of them are ridiculously
grotesque in shape.  I am quite certain of one thing, R'ooma, none of
them can have very much sense of fun or humour, else they would laugh at
each other till they split their sides, and floated dead on the top of
the water.  Yonder, look, goes a whole flotilla of jelly-fishes, as big
as parasols; and watch how the bright blue or crimson light scintillates
from their limbs as they kick and float.  And here comes a fleet of
quite another shape, so far as their tentacles are concerned.  Most
independent gentlemen these are at sea, R'ooma, and I wouldn't catch one
for the Queen; but when stranded on a lee-shore, they are about the most
helpless creatures in the universe.  The little nigger boys kick them
about, and they soon look more like a dish-cloth rolled in sand than
anything alive.  I've got them out to sea again, after such rough
experience of shore-going life as I couldn't have believed even a
jelly-fish capable of surviving, and have seen them revive, and float,
and put away to sea once more, with the trifling loss, of perhaps one or
more limbs or tentacles.

"They tell me, R'ooma, that those medusae, or jelly-fishes, have hardly
any nervous system, but they have very large heads, if they haven't
brains.  They always put me in mind of dishonest lawyers, these
medusae--they kick and sting for a livelihood.  They live on little
fishes.  They throw out so many feelers all around them, that they are
sure to inveigle some small, unwary innocents; and when they do--well,
then, I'm sorry for the fishes.  But when the medusae, or the lawyer,
gets shoaled himself, he is a very pitiless object indeed; all the
little fishes gather round, wag their heads or their tails, as the case
may be, but no one is a bit sorry for him.

"What for I called de funny fish Metoosah?  Is that what you ask, my
innocent and unsophisticated body-slave.  I will tell you.  Once upon a
time, R'ooma, far away in the Lybian wilds, and by the banks of a magic
lake, there was a beautiful garden, more enchanting by far, boy, than
that down under the sea beneath our boat.  This garden grew all kinds of
luscious fruit, and all kinds of lovely flowers; but there were also
trees therein, laden with apples of purest gold.  Yes, you may well open
your eyes in wonder, R'ooma.  But these apples of gold were guarded
night and day by a dreadful dragon--a creature bigger than a crocodile,
uglier than the iguana, with bat-like wings, as large as the jib-sails
of a boat, that enabled it to fly wherever it had a mind to, and its
teeth and eyes were frightful to behold.  And in the garden, R'ooma,
there dwelt three fearful ladies--and one was called Medusa.  Her hands
and claws were of brass, she had wings that shone like burnished gold.
Her body was covered with scales, like the crocodile's, and her teeth
were more formidable than those of the lion of the jungle.  And she
braided her hair with deadly snakes, that were for ever wriggling in and
out, like the tentacles of yonder medusae just floating past us.  And so
awful were her eyes that, if she looked upon any one, he was turned into
stone.  She was slain at last, R'ooma; and they say that every drop of
her blood changed into a thousand venomous snakes.

"Is dat where all de dreadful snakes come from? you ask me.  Nay, boy,
nay; never look so frightened, R'ooma.  There, pull on shore into that
little sandy bay, beneath that ridge of black rocks so beautifully
fringed with green.  In that cool spot, R'ooma, I would drink my coffee
and rest; and there, too, I will tell you a simple story, that I tell
all my boys, about Him who made and cares for us all, who gives motion
to the air, flight to the birds, leaves to the trees, and life and joy
to every creature we see around us.  Row, R'ooma, row."

The above, reader, you may if you choose consider a kind of a reverie,
nevertheless it is true in every touch.  Poor R'ooma, I wonder where he
is now!  A good and a childishly innocent lad he was, and loved me so
dearly he would have died to please me.  That very day, I remember,
which I allude to in the above reverie, after a good, long rest, and
after telling the story to R'ooma, which I had promised, I went into the
warm sea to bathe.  R'ooma came too.  I had an idea that there might be
sharks, and these ground-sharks will not touch a black man.  Well, if
one had appeared R'ooma might have covered my retreat.  I have seen a
black man jump into the sea after a sailor's cap where sharks were in
swarms.

We had a long way to walk through shallow water, before getting into a
place deep enough to swim with comfort.  On our way out, seawards, I
came upon an immense univalve shell in about three or four feet of
water.  I could see that it was alive, and was a volute of some kind.
It was by far and away the largest I have ever seen--quite an armful of
a volute.  I called to R'ooma to stand by and watch it while I bathed.
After my swim, I hurried back shorewards to secure my prize, when, much
to my chagrin, I found my boy floating about, enjoying himself.

"O, but, sah," he said to me, "I have marked de place where dat plenty
mooch big cowrie sleep.  We soon findee he for true."

My boy had marked the place by putting a piece of seaweed to float over
it.  So we didn't "findee he for true."  The "plenty mooch big cowrie"
was not to be caught napping, and, doubtless, moved away into deep water
as soon as we had left.  But I have even dreamed of that shell more than
once since then.

In the sides of the cliffs that surrounded the bay where R'ooma and I
had coffee that morning, and deeply imbedded in the rocks, were fossil
shells, bivalves of some kind, in shape like the _Patella_, or cockle of
our coast, only in size about two feet across.  Fancy a cockle two feet
across.  As big as a turtle!  It would make a dinner, I should say, for
twenty hungry marines.  In the shoal water were immense quantities of
the common _Holothuria_, or sea cucumbers.  They were of gigantic size.
But the shores of these little uninhabited islands north of Zanzibar
abound everywhere with shells of the most beautiful and curious kinds.
Many of the islands are covered with wood, and snakes live there, if
little else does.  How did the snakes get there?  Did they swim across
from the mainland?  Snakes can swim well; but I doubt if they could
cross twelve or twenty miles of salt water.

On one of these islands I once had an encounter with a snake that cost
me a pair of good shoes, and I had to go barefooted for a week.  More
about this in my next log-leaf.

R'ooma was a boy of an inquiring turn of mind, so I took a delight in
teaching him many things which, perhaps, he remembers to this day.  He
used to make the oddest remarks about the creatures and things around
him, which caused me often to say to him:

"You're a poet, R'ooma!  I declare, R'ooma, that you are a poet!"

R'ooma was not slow in returning the compliment whenever he thought
there was a chance.

"You are one poet, sah.  I declare to goodness, sah, you are one poet."

This would be R'ooma's remark when I said anything he thought clever.
Or if I did anything he thought clever, it was just the same.  For
example, in Lamoo one forenoon a half-caste Arab insulted me.  I'm
afraid I hit him.  At all events he fell, and his turban came off, and
he looked ridiculous without it, as he had a shaven skull.

R'ooma laughed till he was obliged to double himself up like a
jack-knife to save his sides from cracking.

"O, yah!" he roared, "I declare to goodness, sah, you are one poet."

Yea, there really are worse places to go gipsying to than the Indian
Ocean, and, if time and space permitted, I am sure I could tell you
stories of my wanderings on the shores of Africa, in its woods and
wilds--stories of its strange birds and beasts and beetles, of its wild
beasts and wilder men--that would quite interest.

Some other day, perhaps--who knows?

Well, leaves have a time to fall, and so also have curtains.

Down drops ours, then; our little play is ended, and our tales are told.

But as regards the gipsying part of our story, if one further proof that
such a mode of life is enjoyable in the extreme to all who love Nature
and an outdoor life, it surely rests in the fact that in this first
month of spring I now throw down my pen to go and prepare our great
caravan for another thousand miles' tour through the length and breadth
of Merry England.





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