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Title: In the West Country
Author: Knight, Francis A.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the West Country" ***

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Original spelling and punctuation has been retained, with a few
exceptions. Some quotation mark errors were corrected. Italicised
text has been coded with underscores before and after. Small caps
were converted to uppercase.

A few of the illustrations were untitled. Short descriptions have
been added, prefixed by "TN: ". On page 51, the passage "to the
deer-haunted heights of Dunkerry" is retained. There are five
mentions of "Dunkery" in the book, and only one of "Dunkerry".

       *       *       *       *       *


         *       *       *       *       *

  [Illustration: CLOVELLY FROM THE SEA.]

  In the West Country




  _"By Leafy Ways," "Rambles of a Dominie,"
         "By Moorland and Sea,"
               &c., &c._




   _These sketches are, with alterations and additions,
        reprinted from the "Daily News" and the "Speaker," by
        kind permission of the editors._

  These Pages are Dedicated
  The West Country

  "_... five and twenty years ago;
  Alas, but time escapes! 'Tis even so._"

  _Printed at the Publisher's Works, St. Stephen Street, Bristol._


  [Illustration: untitled. TN: Sailing Ships in Harbour.]





  CLOVELLY: THE VIKINGS' SEAT              16


  DARTMOOR DAYS                            36


  HOLLOW                                   59

  EXMOOR: HORNER WATER                     67

  EXMOOR: WHERE RED DEER HIDE              75




  THE COUNTRY LIFE                        114

  HALE WELL: A QUIET CORNER               128

  THE GREENWOOD TREE                      146

  CHILL OCTOBER                           162



  WINSCOMBE: A CAMP OF REFUGE             196


  WINSCOMBE: HARVEST HOME                 213


  THE SEA                                 235

  KEWSTOKE: THE MONK'S STEPS              250

  BY COACH TO TINTAGEL                    258

  [Illustration: untitled. TN: Bird, perhaps a heron, flying with
  moon and clouds in background.]



  CLOVELLY FROM THE SEA      (_frontispiece_).

  CLOVELLY STREET                                1

  A ROCKY COAST                                  9

  MOONLIGHT                                     16

  OLD SAILOR AND CHILD               _to face_  22

  AN OLD CARRONADE                              25

  DARTMOOR: CHAGFORD                            36

    THE SHEEP                        _to face_  48

  A WEST COUNTRY COTTAGE                        50

  THE OLD MILL: TWILIGHT                        59

  EXMOOR: HORNER BRIDGE                         67

  WHERE RED DEER HIDE                           75

  TORR STEPS                                    82

  AN EXMOOR SKETCH                              90

  A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA                        98

  MOORLAND NEAR THE SEA                        114

  A WEST COUNTRY MOLE CATCHER        _to face_ 124

  A QUIET CORNER                               128

  THE GREENWOOD TREE                           146

  THE HARVEST MOON                             162

  ON SEDGMOOR                                  176

  WINTER IN THE MARSHES                        188

  WINSCOMBE--THE CHURCH PORCH                  196

  A MENDIP VILLAGE--WINSCOMBE        _to face_ 200

  THE MOWERS                                   204

  A WEST COUNTRY REAPER                        213

  COUNTRY LIFE                                 222

  WINTERHEAD: AN UPLAND PASTURE      _to face_ 233

  A GREY OLD HOUSE BY THE SEA                  235

  THE MONK'S RETREAT                           250

  TINTAGEL                                     258

[Illustration: untitled. TN: Farmstead.]

[Illustration: CLOVELLY STREET.]


There are few parts of English coast-line whose traditions are
more picturesque than those of the beautiful sea-board of Devon.
Its shores are haunted by memories of the great Armada, of the
deeds of Drake and Hawkins, of Howard and Raleigh, and of many
another old sea-dog, who played his part in the making of our
island story. It was the coast of Devonshire that was first
harried by the Danes, when, in the words of the Anglo-Saxon
chronicle, "three ships of Northmen, out of Denmark," put in to
plunder Teignmouth. The other side of the county suffered most.
Again and again the hamlets on the northern shore were wasted by
the merciless invaders. The isle of Lundy, that from the land
shows like a faint blue bar along the sky line, has a stirring
story of its own. It has served in its time as a stronghold even
of corsair Algerines. Pirates from Spain and Holland each held it
in their turn. On the beach of its only landing place there still
lies, buried in the shingle, an ancient gun that was hurled over
the cliff by the French when they were about to leave the island.
Its rightful lords themselves were, in the good old days, little
better, probably, than buccaneers.

But there is a greater and more real interest linked with this
pleasant shore. The memory that, before all others, haunts the
coast of Devon is the memory of Charles Kingsley. The legends that
have most charm for us here are from the pages of "Westward Ho!"
If Bideford has regained nothing of its lost renown, Bideford that
in Queen Bess's time "was one of the chief ports in England ...
furnished seven ships to fight the Armada; and even more than a
century afterwards ... sent more vessels to the northern trade
than any port in England saving London and Topsham," we cannot
forget that it was there that "Westward Ho!" was written. As we
stroll along the streets of the little seaport that lies opposite,
we are less likely to think of Hubba and his vikings than of how
"the _Vengeance_ slid over the Bar, passed the sleeping sandhills,
and dropped anchor off Appledore with her flag floating half-mast
high, for the corpse of Salvation Yeo was on board."

Kingsley's pictures of South American forests have fired the heart
of many a reader, old as well as young, to see for himself the
wonders of those enchanted regions, to gaze on a giant ceiba tree,
like that on the green steeps above La Guayra, where "Parrots
peeped in and out of every cranny, while, within the air of
woodland, brilliant lizards basked like living gems upon the bark,
gaudy finches flitted and chirrupped, butterflies of every size
and colour hovered over the topmost twigs, innumerable insects
hummed from morn till eve; and, when the sun went down, tree-toads
came out to snore and croak till dawn."

But those descriptions, marvellous as they are, were borrowed from
books. It was not until fourteen years after that passage was
written that "the dream of forty years" was fulfilled; that the
author of "At Last" was able to see with his own eyes the West
Indies and the Spanish Main; could, as he says, "compare books
with facts, and judge for myself of the reported wonders of the
earthly paradise." But it is quite another thing when he is
talking of the coast of Devon. There his foot is on his native
heath. He was not, it is true, born within sound of the sea, but
some of his earliest memories were of Hartland and Welcombe, of
Bideford and Clovelly. Above all of Clovelly. To use his wife's
words, "His love for Clovelly was a passion." Even his well-loved
Eversley had hardly a warmer place in his regard.

Kingsley was just eleven when his father became rector there, and
for some six years he doubtless spent most of his holidays at
least among the scenes which he describes so well. Thirteen years
passed before he went back. "I cannot believe my eyes," he wrote
to his wife; "the same place, the pavement, the same dear old
smells, the dear old handsome, loving faces again." The cottages
are much the same as when last he saw them, now nearly fifty years
ago, "with jessamine and fuchsia running up the windows." Just the
same as then is "the narrow paved cranny of a street, vanishing
downwards, stair below stair." Any change there is must be for the
better. The village has been drained; that is a substantial
improvement, and the fuchsias and climbers have wreathed half the
hamlet in a very bower of green. Clovelly Church--so far away that
the sound of its bells never reaches the village in the cleft
below--has few features of its own to recommend it. But the
grey-haired sexton remembers how he sat with young Kingsley in the
choir, sixty years since, when they were boys together. And the
churchyard is to us like a chapter of romance. Half the names we
know best in "Westward Ho!" are on its stones.

Here are two names that conjure up those "five desperate minutes"
on the mountain road when the gold train was taken; when the
surviving Spaniards, "two only, who were behind the rest,
happening to be in full armour, escaped without mortal wound, and
fled down the hill again." They were chased by "Michael Evans and
Simon Heard ... two long and lean Clovelly men ... who ran two
feet for the Spaniards' one; and in ten minutes returned, having
done their work." Another stone reminds us of "the armourer, who
sat tinkering a head-piece," humming a ballad in honour of his
birthplace. "'Tis Sunderland, John Squire, to the song, and not
Bidevor," said his mate. "Well, Bidevor's as good as Sunderland
any day, for all there's no say-coals there blacking a place

The names of Ebbsworthy and Parracombe recall that scene by the
banks of the Meta, when Amyas went with Ayacanora in search of two
of his men, who had taken to the forest, each with an Indian
bride. It was Parracombe who asked only to be left "in peace,
alone with God and God's woods, and the good wives that God has
given us, to play a little like school children. It's long since
I've had play-hours, and now I'll be a little child once more,
with the flowers and the singing birds and the silver fishes in
the stream that are at peace and think no harm, and want neither
clothes, nor money, nor knighthood, nor peerage, but just take
what comes."

Here are Yeo and Hamblyn. And if there are no Careys in the
churchyard, they lie in plenty in the church itself. Here, too,
is a Passmore. "Lucy Passmore, the white witch to Welcombe. Don't
you mind Lucy Passmore, as charmed your warts for you when you was
a boy?" It is a far cry from Clovelly to the deep gorge of
Welcombe: a good way even to Harty Point, with whose lesser
altitude the crew of the _Rose_ compared the towering heights
above the mangrove swamps of Higuerote. But the place is close to
the village where Frank and Amyas kept watch after that strange
missive had been left at the Court by some "country fellow"--

  "Mister Carey, be you wary
    By deer park end to-night
  Yf Irish ffoxe com out of rocks
    Grip and hold hym tight"

We can stand there now and look out over just such a scene as
Amyas saw when, "outside, the south-west wind blew fresh and
strong, and the moonlight danced upon a thousand crests of foam;
but within the black, jagged point which sheltered the town, the
sea did but heave in long, oily swells of rolling silver, onward
into the black shadow of the hills, within which town and pier lay
invisible, save where a twinkling light gave token of some weary
fisher's wife, watching the weary night through for the boat which
would return with dawn."

The beech below, the "steep hillside fenced with oak wood," are at
least the same as in Kingsley's time. And if the stout craft that
he used to watch putting out from the pier have not outlived the
gales of half a century, there are men on the fishing boats of
to-day that remember him well. There are those in the village who
recollect even his father, "a man who feared no danger, and could
steer a boat, hoist and lower a sail, shoot a herring net, and
haul a seine as one of themselves." Who that stands looking
seaward from the ancient quay, whose rude, unmortared masonry has
weathered full five hundred winters, and watches the great green
rollers thundering up the beach, but thinks of the bay as Kingsley
saw it, "darkened with the grey columns of the waterspouts,
stalking across the waves before the northern gale; and the tiny
herring-boats fleeing from their nets right for the breakers,
hoping more mercy even from those iron walls of rock than the
pitiless, howling waste of spray behind them?" Yes, it is
"Westward Ho!" country. Turn where we will--the bay, the cliffs,
the woods, the village--all remind us of Amyas Leigh, of Will
Carey, of Salvation Yeo.

[Illustration: A ROCKY COAST.]


The long curve of the shore on either side this little fishing
port, guarded here by a mighty wall of cliff, here by steep faces
of red rock, and bordered here with fields that come down nearly
to the water's edge, is fringed with a wide belt of shingle--no
smooth stretch of yellow sand, but miles and miles of great grey
pebbles, the ruins of old cliffs, the wreck of rocky battlements
shattered by the surges, and rolled and shaped and rounded by the
rude play of winds and waves. Down the long shore, headland beyond
headland shows fainter and more faint, until the shadowy outline
of the land fades into the far horizon. Westward from the harbour,
a long cliff towers above the shore, with strange curves and
mighty buttresses, of endless shades of red and brown, its seaworn
faces weathered to cool grey or stained to inky black, touched
with the gold of clinging lichens and the bright green of tiny
ferns. Along its ledges sturdy rowan trees are rooted, among
thickets of gorse and bracken and heather. Higher up there hangs
over the rocky brows a crown of dwarf oak trees, gnarled and

At the foot of the vast wall, growing dim now as evening darkens,
is a little space of shingle-covered beach, that at high water is
altogether shut out from the world. When the tide is in there is
no way in or out. If on the steep side of the cliff there are
tracks up which a goat might clamber, yet round the points of rock
that fence it in, against which now the waves are breaking, there
will be no way for hours. For hours nor voice nor foot of man can
break the quiet of this lonely spot. A single gull, rocking idly
on the waves, over its double in the clear water under it, and one
solitary cormorant standing erect and motionless on a great rock
that is almost as dark as he, deepen the sense of solitude.
Solitude there is, but not silence. The warm air of the summer
twilight is full of the sound of the sea--"low at times, and loud
at times, and changing like a poet's rhymes;" and after each
wave-beat on the storm-worn rocks the dark cliff overhead so
flings back the answer that it seems as if

  "From each cave and rocky fastness,
    In its vastness,
  Floats some fragment of a song"

The hour is late. The cliff grows cold and sombre. Darkness is
settling in its cavernous hollows. The shadow of the shore steals
slowly out over the pale green sea. Over the bay are scattered the
fishing-boats of the port, still far off, but making for home
towards the tiny quay that, from the shore below the village,
stretches out its sheltering arm. Far out at sea, beyond the
jagged line of tumbling waves against the sky, lies a great ocean
highway, whose white sails and drifting smoke show faintly through
the haze. Over the vast sea, here dark with shifting
cloud-shadows, there still bright in the clear sunshine, are hues
a painter might toil for in vain. Who could render the swift
changes of colour that wind and sun are weaving with their
magical loom over the wide expanse? Here a band of pale, clear
green stretches far across the bay; here a belt of soft amber;
there a long stretch of rich, imperial purple, with endless
interchange of brown and green and blue, ruffled with light flaws
of wind, and touched at far intervals with white points of foam,
as of waves that were fleeing from the rougher sea outside.

The art of man might copy to the life the curve of that great
green wave, with scraps of seaweed showing darkly through its
cool, transparent depths; but not the deftest hand that ever drew
could give the low roar of the incoming roller, the sound of its
plunge on the unyielding rock. The painter might imitate the snowy
whiteness of the water beaten suddenly into foam, but not its
seething hiss as it rushes in among the boulders, not the rattle
of the pebbles as the wave draws back for its next plunge along
the beach. He might show us the glisten of the wet stones, rounded
and polished by the eternal chafing of the surges; he might make
the white foam flicker in the black shadows under them, but not
the sullen sound of boulders shaken to their stony roots by the
resistless tide--boulders that on rough nights of winter, when
the lighthouse tower is veiled in storm-drift, and great waves are
thundering on the bar, are hurled like play-things up and down the
beach. The cormorant on the canvas might be to the full as stately
and sombre as that dark figure yonder, brooding like some spirit
of evil; but no shout could startle him to flight, driving him,
with slow beat of his broad wings, to seek safety in some still
more secluded resting-place. The clearest colours of the palette,
the deftest touches of the brush, the highest ideal of the painter
can give us but one glimpse of what after all is one unending
change. His may be the ideal. This is the real, the restless,
seething, stormy sea. What is the sea without its sound? As we
gaze at the dumb fury of a painted storm--the fatal reef, the
doomed ship, the white lash of the pitiless surges, it is to Fancy
alone that we must look for

  "The sound of the trampling surf
  On the rocks and the hard sea sand."

But now the fishing-boats are coming in. Their brown sails, always
so dear to the soul of the artist, have taken colour from the
flaming west, and shine like fiery orange in the light of sunset.
Their dark hulls are glistening with spray, the white foam shines
like silver underneath their bows. One after one they near the
shore, and as they pass into the shadow of the cliff the silver
melts from the hissing foam below them, the borrowed colour fades
slowly from their sails, that, as each craft reaches her moorings,
rattle down, mere heaps of sombre, sea-beaten canvas. Boats are
putting out from the shore to bring in the fish. Groups of idlers
and fishing-folk gather on the quay. For the moment the hum of
voices rises louder through the narrow street of the little town,
half hidden now in the darkness of the hollow--the little town
that is like no other in the islands.

  "'Tis a stairway, not a street.
  That ascends the deep ravine."

The sun is down. Far off across the bay the lighthouse has mounted
guard over the bar,--the very bar over which

  "Three fishers went sailing away to the west,
  Away to the west as the sun went down."

Now silence begins to settle on the village. The bearded vikings
are gone from the seat where, night after night, they spin the
same old yarns; where night after night the wayfarer over-hears
scraps of seafaring talk--of prodigious hauls of fish, of
hairbreadth escapes, of trawlers that, fleeing from a storm, were
caught on the very threshold and dashed to flinders on the quay.

A sound of the sea is in it all. And when the last group of idlers
has broken up, when the clatter of the last belated footsteps has
died away up the little, unlighted, stony street, and the hush of
night is brooding on this quaint old village, the song of the sea
grows louder still. Now through the quiet air comes faintly up the
cry of some wandering plover, the muttered croak of a solitary
heron. All night the little town is full of voices of the sea--

  "The grand, majestic symphonies of ocean."

[Illustration: MOONLIGHT.]


Half way down the one street of this "little wood-embosomed
fishing town--a steep stair of houses clinging to the cliff," as
Kingsley calls it, is one of the few level spaces that break the
otherwise abrupt descent. No better place could have been chosen
for a seat, for no point in all the village commands so wide a
view of the sea. There is no place so good as this for watching
the trawlers putting out, hauled slowly to the head of the quay,
and then spreading their great brown mainsails,--double-reefed of
late, for there is mostly a stiff breeze outside the bay. On the
left, in front of one of the prettiest of many pretty houses in
the village, half covered with a bower of creepers, is a low wall,
on which, when their day's work is done, the sailors and the old
sea captains gather for their nightly gossip. Below are groups of
cottages, scattered in picturesque confusion, with ancient roofs
of crumbling slate, and quaint old gables, all wreathed in
creepers and honeysuckle and tall fuchsias. Lower still is the old
quay, five centuries old, with brown fishing nets hung up to dry,
and with a half-score or so of trawlers moored to old corroded
guns embedded in the masonry, their tall masts swaying idly on the
long swell that now, at high tide, fills the little harbour. The
fishermen are still busy over their gear. When all is stowed they
will make their way up here, to the wall yonder, or to this bench,
to talk over the doings of the day. Here the old captains,
grey-headed, storm-beaten sea kings, sit, night after night, and
spin over and over their well-worn yarns. There is not so much in
their speech of

  "... the magic charm of foreign lands,
  With shadows of palms, and shining sands;"

not so much of the high seas,

  "Of ships dismasted, that were hailed,
  And sent no answer back again,"

as of disasters nearer home, of some mishap among the boats.

It is always the boats. The talk is ever and ever the same--of
spars carried away, of split mainsails, of the failure of the
fishing. A few days since the trawlers put out with a fair wind
and a smooth sea. The trawls were not yet down when clouds swept
off the land, the air was darkened by a great rush of rain, and a
sudden storm, with heavy squalls of wind, broke over the boats.
One by one the brown sails disappeared. On the quay stood a group
of anxious figures vainly endeavouring to peer through the storm.
When the weather cleared it was seen that one of the boats was in
trouble. A squall had laid her on her beam ends, and she shipped a
heavy sea. The men had given themselves up for lost, for no help
could have got to them in time, even had their plight been seen;
when, happily for them, the bowsprit carried away, some of the
strain was taken off, and the boat righted. All next day her
skipper was strolling idly on the quay, like a man dazed; and as
you pass the Vikings' Seat in the evening, or indeed any little
knot of sailors, you will still hear scraps of the story.

The gravestones round the church on the hill are evidence enough
of the risks they run that go down to the sea in ships. More
eloquent still are the tales of the old fishermen:--how, for
instance, in one great storm, now "five-and-fifty years agone," as
they put it, twenty-one men from this port were drowned in the
bay, within sight of land. Still farther back, "a matter of
one-and-seventy years agone," no fewer than thirty-two were lost;
and the whole population of the port is even now not much over two
hundred. Of such great disasters the churchyard has few records.
So strong are the currents in the bay that bodies are seldom
recovered. Some of the stones are only in memory of those whose
rest remains unknown--not here, but somewhere in the stormy sea.

Every son of the village is a fisherman born. Every man has been a
sailor almost since he could remember anything. Few as are the
inhabitants of the place, twenty of them are captains on the high
seas, or, having spent their lives in battling with the storm,
have put in for the last time to spend in this harbour of refuge
their few remaining days. These are the men of the old school,
who, from childhood to old age, have kept green the memory of
their native village, always cherishing the hope

  "... their long vexations past,
  Here to return, and die at home at last."

The modern captain is a more prosperous man. He knows more of the
world. He is not content with the narrow street, the tiny rooms,
the small affairs of this awkward out-of-the-way corner. His home
will be at some larger port. In twenty years there will be few of
the old race of sea captains left to rule the conclaves round the
Vikings' Seat.

They are a kindly race, those West Country fishermen. Kingsley's
eulogies of his beloved Devon folk were never more deserved than
here, never were more true than now:--a warm-hearted, honest,
pleasant-spoken race, gentle and courteous, yet free and
independent as ever. A fine old figure is that venerable,
white-headed, white-bearded mariner, whose memories go back over
eighty years of seafaring life. He is never tired of the story of
a sailor of this village, who, returning home in a gold-ship, was
cast away on Norfolk Island--then entirely uninhabited--together
with his wife and a handful of the crew. The men saved nothing
from the wreck but one precious lucifer match, parent of all the
fires they had in many dreary years. Some of the party, in
despair, put off in a boat, but nothing was ever known as to their
fate. Years passed before a sealing brig put in and took off the
few survivors. The portrait of the castaway and his wife, in their
rude dress of skins, sewn with bone needles of their own making,
is still shewn in the village--he, with lifted hand, as if
pointing to the long-looked-for sail; she, with a bright look of
joy upon her pretty face.

The white-haired sailor, for all his eighty years of sailing, has
never been out of sight of land; but that tall, grizzled sea
captain standing yonder has been round the Horn more times than he
can well reckon up. After forty years he came home, with every
intention of getting another ship, feeling that nothing could ever
part him from the sea. But the years have passed, and still he
lingers in the village. Nothing now could tempt him from the
shore. Of all the wonders of his forty years' experience, none
seems to have burnt itself so deep into his memory as a night in
the tropics, in a perfect calm, on a smooth and oily sea, in
which all the stars were copied with such perfect clearness that,
as he puts it, "you would almost think there really was another
world, and that you were in it."

In a doorway hard by, festooned after the manner of the place with
creepers and tall fuchsias, is a picture for an artist. At the
threshold there sits, on the brick-floor, the grandfather, an old,
sunburnt, sea-beaten fisherman, nursing a fair-haired,
rosy-cheeked youngster, who laughs and crows and struggles to
escape the old man's careful arm, bent on setting off alone on a
voyage of discovery down the stony slope. Behind them, framed in
the darkness of the room beyond, stands the mother, looking on
well pleased.

[Illustration: OLD SAILOR AND CHILD.]

What have the years in store for that young fisherman? Will his
grave be here? Will days that are coming see one more stone set up
in memory of a sailor lost at sea? Perhaps not. As one of the old
captains says, "Boys don't take to the sea now. Going to be
artists. Learn to draw and all manner of things." In his time "the
schoolmaster was a very different sort from now. He had to be a
schoolmaster, land-measurer, pig-killer, all in one. You paid
three halfpence a week for learning to read, three halfpence
more for learning to write, and then you went to sea. Boys all
went to sea at twelve. They had their choice--work or starve."
Sailors of his day had rarely even as much schooling as that. He
had never, he said, courted but one woman in his life, and that
was for another man. He had had so much trouble reading and
writing other folks' love-letters that he never had the heart to
try it for himself.

Round the Vikings' Seat the children of the village are playing.
Hard by, on a tiny stretch of level ground, half-a-dozen boys are
intent on some running game--nautical little figures in regulation
jerseys; sea boots too, some of them. Where will they be in twenty
years? If they are not to man the trawlers of the future there is
all the more chance that they will be scattered. If they are not
to be fishermen, there is no room for them here. Here there is
nothing but the fishing.

And the girls? These laughing, sunny, bright-eyed little flowers
of Devon, absorbed in an old-world country game, singing as they

  "How many miles to London town?
      Three score ten.
  Shall us get there by candle light?
    Oh yes, if your legs are long and straight."

What of the girls? Below there, sleeping in the twilight, is the
sea, the cruel, treacherous, hungry sea, destined but too surely
to darken the sunshine of their simple lives. That small figure
now, that dainty little golden-haired darling, for her what have
the years in store? In days to be will she

  "... start from her slumber
  When gusts shake the door?"

Will she make her way against the storm, some winter's night, down
to the little quay, and peer with wild eyes through the rain and
the spray, amid a roar of wind and surge, and of great waves
thundering on the bar, hoping against hope for the home-coming of
the _Madcap_ or the _Village Girl_? What would you? It is an old
story, and

  "... men must work and women must weep,
  Though the harbour bar be moaning."

[Illustration: AN OLD CARRONADE.]


Half-buried in the soft turf that clothes the rocky brows of a low
headland in the West there lies an ancient carronade. It is a
quiet spot. There is no sound save the lap of the tide along the
shore, the stir of the wind in the long grass, the cry of a
sea-gull wheeling over, or now and then the sharp clamour of a
troop of daws that flutter round their harbour in the cliff. About
it grow great tufts of sea-pink, whose flowers, save here and
there a belated bloom or two, have long since gone to seed. But in
summer the air is sweetened by the breath of thyme and crowfoot,
and at times, from the rocky steeps below, comes the strange smell
of blossoming samphire. There is no mark on the old gun. The rust
of years has eaten deep into its battered metal. No date remains,
no royal cipher. But there is a tradition that it was recovered
from the wreck of a Spanish warship that, in the flight of the
Armada, went to pieces on this rock-bound coast. In the face of
the cliff, a few hundred yards to the westward, there were found
embedded, many years ago, some corroded cannon-balls that once
might have fitted such a gun as this, but surrounded by so thick a
coat of rust that they were increased to nearly four times their
original calibre. The gun has at any rate seen some hard fighting.
It has been spiked. Some part at least it has played in our rough
island story, whether on pirate or privateer, or on one of the
unwieldy galleons of the Great Armada. But as it lies here now,
deep sunk in its green rest, it is a very emblem of peace and of

The tide is at the full, almost "too full for sound or foam;" yet
along the broad beach below,

  "... where the sand like silver shines,
  Flows the long, monotonous cadence of its unrhymed lyric lines."

And round the rocky bases of the little island yonder--once, so
tradition says, a Viking stronghold--there is the low fret of pale
green waves. Beyond the island stretches away to the horizon a
vast sweep of sea, smooth, unbroken; an expanse of vivid blue,
more brilliant than the brightest sapphire. But

  "When descends on the Atlantic
          The gigantic
  Storm-wind of the equinox,"

then the huge green rollers come charging up this narrow strait,
and thunder in the caverns of the cliff, whirling great flakes of
foam a hundred feet into the air. They are gentle waves that lap
to-day against the rocky wall. But there is no stormier sea when,
on rough nights of winter,

  "The wild winds lift it in their grasp,
  And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece."

A few brown-sailed luggers are cruising in the bay,--mackerel
fishing perhaps. The pilchards have deserted this coast
altogether. Some of the men say that the constant passing of
steamers has disturbed them. Others declare "there have been no
pilchards since the new parson came, and there'll be none till
he's turned his back on the parish."

On the verge of the next headland, a rampart of grey cliff that
stands out towards the open Atlantic, are two great grave mounds,
mere flaws on the horizon's edge, piled over the ashes of some
long-forgotten warriors. There is a legend here that, at midnight,
two kings in golden armour rise from these green barrows, and
fight on the short sward of the downs until the lighthouse on the
far point

  "... shows the matin to be near.
  And 'gins to pale his ineffectual fire."

Then the old sea-kings turn back to their rest, to lie till
nightfall, each

        "Arched over with a mound of grass,
  Two handfuls of white dust shut in an urn of brass."

On a ledge of rock below the barrows, a pair of ravens build. Year
after year their brood is reared in safety, beyond the reach even
of the most venturesome of climbers. The old birds patrol the
cliff for miles, like wandering spirits of two wreckers,
condemned to haunt for ever the scene of their ill deeds. Here
they come now, sailing slowly along on their broad wings, the
sunshine glancing on their glossy plumage. They go sweeping by,
uttering at times a crooning sound, not a croak at all, a soft,
low note, with no touch of harshness in it. Gracefully they wheel
and soar and glide, now turning over in the air, now poising like
a pair of kestrels. Below them, crouching on the hot sand of the
beach that skirts the bases of the cliff, a flock of gulls are
resting, like heaps of foam left stranded by the tide. They do not
shrink as the dark figures pass over. There are no eggs to plunder
from the rocks; no young broods to harry; and a full-grown herring
gull will show fight even to a raven.

It is a noble wall of cliff that guards this sandy fringe of the
Atlantic; now light, now dark; here bare and weathered and
windswept, there overgrown with sea-pink and samphire; and here
again worn into deep clefts and cavernous hollows, which, when
this old gun was new, were thorns in the side of the Preventive
men. No shore in England has seen more smuggling than this. Many a
contraband cargo has been landed at the little village at the
head of the creek. It is whispered that more than one family of
standing here owes its rise to well-planned "runs" of silk and
spirits and tobacco. In the side of the Witan Stone--a grey old
Menhir that was old in Roman times--there is still pointed out a
hole called the "Gauger's Pocket," into which a bag of gold was
dropped when a "run" was coming off, with due notice to the
exciseman to go and look for it, and then to keep well in the
background. It was quite an open ceremony. "Please, sir," a
smuggler would say to the officer, "please, sir, your pocket's
unbuttoned." "Aye, aye," was the answer, "but I shan't lose my
money for all that."

Those days are not so long ago. It is not really many years since
the clergyman who tells that story entered on that cure in the
West Country which, to use his own words "was a mixed multitude of
smugglers, wreckers, and dissenters," who still held that to shoot
the gauger was not only a venial but a meritorious deed. When a
man was hanged for murdering one of those hated representatives of
law and order, his death was regarded as a piece of flagrant
injustice, a crime in the eyes of Heaven itself; the very grass,
it was triumphantly pointed out, refusing to grow upon his grave.

Those were days when the prosperity of a sea-board farm depended
less on its scanty grazing and its sterile corn-land than on its
ill-gotten harvest of the sea. They were all in it. Even a parson
has been known to hold the lantern while the spirit kegs were
hauled safely through the surf. And once, when a wreck came ashore
in church time, and the congregation had with one accord rushed
out of doors, the vicar stopped them on their way to the sea.
"Brethren," he shouted, "I have but five words more to say." Then
walking deliberately to the front, and taking off his surplice, he
said: "Now, let us start fair."

This is a terrible coast. There are villages where half the
gardens are decorated with figure-heads of lost ships, where the
churchyards are strewn with sorrowful memorials of men, known or
nameless, whose lifeless bodies have been given up by the sea. It
is not long since corpses that were washed ashore were buried with
scant ceremony just above high-water mark. But of recent years
these wasted relics of mortality have been treated with more
reverence, and in some villages it has become a custom to use
figure-heads of wrecked vessels as memorials of the dead. In one
place the white effigy of an armed warrior guards the grave of
thirteen sailors, whose bodies the sea had laid upon the shore. In
another graveyard the stern of a ship's boat has been set up over
the remains of ten seamen "who were drifted on shore in a boat,
frozen to death, at Beacon Cove, in this parish," one Sunday in
December, now nearly fifty years ago. The rock-bound coast is as
perilous as ever, but the days have gone when the shipwrecked
mariner was dashed ashore alive only to meet his death from
enemies more relentless than the waves. It was the height of
rashness in the good old wrecking times to rescue a drowning

  "Save a stranger from the sea,
  And he'll turn your enemy."

In our time, at any rate, no shipwrecked sailor would meet with
anything but kindness at the hands of Englishmen. The real race of
wreckers has died out--that is to say, the cold-blooded wretches
who would lure a ship ashore, and then murder the crew by way of
precaution before proceeding to plunder the cargo. But the spirit
of plunder at least is not dead. Coastguardsmen and agents of
insurance companies know only too well how cleverly the Cornish
fishermen even of to-day, though ready to lend willing hands in
salving, and though fairly well paid for it too, contrive to
appropriate stray things that take their fancy. It is not long
since a large ship went ashore at the Lizard, and finally ground
herself to pieces on the rocks. The closest watch was kept by the
agents and preventive men, but next spring a perfect epidemic of
musical instruments broke out in every village in the district,
proving audibly enough that the light-fingered wreckers had been
at their tricks all the time. How it is done the rambler in the
West Country, who can use his eyes and ears, will soon discover;
will agree too, with the remark made the other day in a Western
village, that people who talked of wrecking as a thing of the past
knew very little about it.

"You see, sir," said a weather-beaten fisherman, "a great deal
drifts out of a wreck, and although there are salvage men always
on the watch, there's many a cask and bale that's picked up by our
boats. One man with a long pair of tongs and another with a
water-telescope can make a good thing of it between them. There
was an Italian steamer, now, that went ashore at Mullion. She was
full of fruit and wine and all sorts of things--enough for
everybody. There was great cases of champagne lying about, and the
word went round among our men that it was 'real' pain, with no
'sham' to it, for when we did knock the tops of the bottles off,
the wine all went out at one spurt, and we couldn't get a drop.
But at last we got corkscrews, and then we was happy. Well, I had
a cask of sherry wine out of her," he went on, "and I got it safe
in by the back way, and you see I've a coastguardsman living on
each side of me. But, law bless you, sir! they be just the same as
we.... Oh, yes, sir, everything is supposed to be given up, but
everything isn't, not by a good way. And when we risk our lives to
save the cargo, who has a better right to a share of it than we?"

He was near the _Mosel_, he said, when she ran full speed upon the
rocks, and the sound of it was like a thousand tons of cliff
falling into the sea, and such shrieks as never were heard....
Might he have stopped her? Well, perhaps he might. But a mate of
his who put out at the risk of his life, and warned a big liner
that was too close in shore--she was backed off and saved--never
got so much as a word of thanks, let alone any reward, for saving
her. "Another man," he went on, "warned a steamer from his boat,
and, as I'm a living man, they tried to swamp him for fear the
captain should be blamed for his bad sailing. No, sir, we'll never
do nothing to risk life, but if we can't get fair pay for saving a
ship, we'll get fair share by helping ourselves." ... Might
anything be kept that was picked up? Oh yes, pieces of timber
below a certain length. He was pressed further as to how the
particular length was settled. "Well," he said slowly, "we do keep
a saw in our boat."

[Illustration: DARTMOOR: CHAGFORD.]


The dwellers in the picturesque homesteads scattered at wide
intervals over this countryside would hardly be content to hear
these hills of theirs called a wilderness. But up yonder against
the sky line, with grey clouds trailing low along its topmost
ridges, is a brow of the wildest wilderness in England, and these
hillside pastures are the fringe of Dartmoor. One might well
imagine, too, looking out over this beautiful landscape, that the
lines of these West Country yeomen were fallen to them in pleasant
places. And, indeed, fortunes have been made here in the "good old
days," when bread was dear and wages were at starvation point. But
times are hard. And there are sons of the soil here now working
for hire on other farms, whose sires held broad acres of their

The wayfarer who, making his way up from Chagford towards the
moorland, should chance to pass this little settlement, might well
pause in wonder as he passed the gate, and stand and rub his eyes
in doubt whether it was a dream or not. So unlike the old country
is this log hut and all about it that a settler from the Bush
might, if he saw it, almost fancy himself upon his native heath.
The very trees that flourish here are strange. Among shrubs that
have been brought from the slopes of the Himalaya, grow tall
bamboos whose feathery crowns look over the topmost ridges of the
roof. And yet on every hand there are suggestions of the
moorland--those stacks of peat, with their picturesque coverings
of furze and straw; that granite roller, so thickly set with
crystals of felspar. The very props of the clothes-line are
untrimmed birch poles from the wood, wearing still their silvery
bark. It is moorland earth that made those rhododendron thickets
so broad and strong. It is moorland air that has draped the trees
with shaggy lichens, adding centuries of age to oaks yet hardly in
their prime, and lending to the sturdy fruit bushes of the borders
the air of hoary patriarchs. Furze bushes, in whose thorny depths
the yellow-hammers build in springtime, and willow-warblers weave
their domes of grass, flourish in the garden precincts. And all
the banks are overgrown with a green jungle of fern and broom and
bilberry--children of the moorland, stealing down to regain their
lost dominions.

This is winter by the calendar. But it is a day of clear shining
after rain. The air is full of the sound of streams--of the roar
of moorland torrents, of the deeper voice of the river plunging
through the wooded gorge below. The stems of the tall birches in
the wood below the house, still wet with last night's rain, shine
as if they were sheathed in silver, and their branches glitter as
if every twig were hung with silver beads--as, indeed, they are,
the silver of the clinging raindrops.

A graceful, yellow-breasted wagtail, still lingering here when the
rest of her kindred are across the sea, flutters down now and then
from the top of the dovecot to catch the flies that are sunning
themselves against the wall. On the roof above the pigeons sit in
conclave, their slumbrous voices just in keeping with the music of
the streams. In his cage against the wall of the hut I can hear,
now and then, a raven stirring. He is a silent bird for the most

  "He speaketh not; and yet there lies
  A conversation in his eyes--
  The golden silence of the Greek,
  The gravest wisdom of the wise,
  As if he could, but would not speak."

Some day he will talk, and then perhaps we shall learn what
strange things he has been hoarding in the dark places of his
memory. Again and again last night he woke me by rattling the bars
of his prison, or by sharpening that great bill of his against his
perch. I doubt if he slept a wink before daylight. It was strange
to hear him thus in the darkness. At times, too, I heard the
mellow voices of the owls, sounding clear above the rush of the
streams and the patter of rain upon the roof.

Birds pass and repass now in the sunlight. At times the pigeons
sweep down from their rest overhead, with sudden clatter of wings,
and as they wheel round the house they rouse into speech for a
moment the taciturn jackdaw, whose cage adjoins the prison of the
yet more silent raven.

From far up the moorland sounds the hoarse clamour of crows. And
magpies go by, carefully keeping clear of the precincts, as if
they were aware that the Master of the House had a keen eye and a
steady hand. But they might lay aside their fears. No beast or
bird is vermin in this corner of Arcadia. No jay or magpie ever
suffered here the penalty of evil deeds or tarnished reputation.
One night the Master of the House was roused by the sounds of a
slight scuffle outside. An owl had swooped on a rat in a corner of
the verandah, and through the wooden wall of the hut was plainly
heard the rustle of feathers as the bird spread its broad wings
over the body of its victim. Weasels find sanctuary under the very
flooring of the shanty, and stoats may hunt the covers at their
will without fear of trap or gun. The Hunt know well that there is
no surer spot to find a fox than the larch plantations up yonder
on the hill. And there, too, the badgers pursue in safety the even
tenour of their harmless lives.

When the larches were first planted, and were but just struggling
to get their heads above the hillside jungle,
grasshopper-warblers hid their nests on the ground among them, and
chats, and tree-pipits. A few years later blackbirds came and
built among the branches. Now the ring-doves trust their frail
platforms of stick to the strong young arms. And in a year or two
sparrow-hawks and magpies will build in the green tops. The trees
have already killed the grass about their feet, and the bare earth
beneath their shadow is a favourite haunt of the woodcock.

But in spite of crows and magpies, stoats and weasels, and all the
creatures of the wild that are too often branded as vermin, there
is no want of pheasants in the cover. And the Master of the House,
with his man behind him, and three eager little terriers dancing
at his heels, has but this moment left me to look for a woodcock.
The dogs are much keener for the sport than their owner, master of
woodcraft though he be. He is always readier to use his
field-glass than his gun. Many a time, as he stood motionless, gun
in hand, has a rabbit cantering by paused to look up at him, or a
woodcock settled near, and come and gone unharmed. The moor-folk
here are sportsmen born, with the keenest eyes for the whereabouts
of hare or pheasant, and far too much given to the setting of
gins. The Master of the House--who says that half the pheasants he
shoots have already lost a leg--showed me yesterday an illustrated
price-list of the traps made by a man who boasts of supplying the
Queen and the Prince of Wales, and who reckons in his long list of
noble patrons not a few distinguished names that we have been
accustomed to think of as belonging to champions of the "brute"
creation. Yet here were not only rat-traps and rabbit-traps, traps
for foxes and even for tigers, but traps--of horrible device, and
certain to inflict the most cruel tortures--for killing hawks and
herons. Surely, if some keepers are still ignorant and brutal,
better things might have been expected of their masters. And his
must be a mean and sordid soul who would grudge the kingfisher his
meed of beauty--even supposing that so rare a bird can do any
appreciable amount of harm. Yet in this list of fiendish enginry
is figured a kingfisher-trap. This the purchaser is directed "to
screw to a stump in the water where the birds resort, and place a
piece of wood on the fork for them to alight on, or a small fish
may be used as bait."

In the last few days, when from other parts of the island have
come reports of bitter weather, of rough winds and frosty airs,
the climate here has been almost summer-like. Yesterday, as I sat
in the verandah, more than one wasp, roused by the sunshine from
her winter slumber, was buzzing among the rafters overhead. But,
as the day wore on, there were signs of a change. Ominous-looking
clouds began to gather up from the southward. And, in the late
afternoon, as we rode slowly up the steep track towards the moor,
there came now and then a spurt of wind and rain.

The road, like so many of the Dartmoor roads, was fenced by rude
walls of granite, built of blocks so ponderous as to suggest that
only giants could have reared such cyclopean masonry. Every chink
between the stones was fringed with fern and bilberry. Clinging
lichens made the grey faces of the granite greyer still; while
others, nestling in mossy hollows, were tipped with scarlet,
recalling the vivid touches of colour over the eyes of a moorfowl.

High up on the moorland, looking down on one of the most beautiful
of its many river valleys, we came on a great stone circle, known
to the moor men as the Roundy Pound--a double ring of unhewn,
irregular blocks of granite, shaggy with ages' growth of lichens,
and with a single thorn tree standing in the midst, mantled from
base to crest with grey--a hoary patriarch, like the lone priest
of long-forgotten rites. Far below lay the valley of the Teign,
winding away into the hills. To the right rose the sad-coloured
slopes of the moorland, here darkened with dead bracken, and there
brightened by pale sheets of withered grass. On the left was a
birch wood, with a rare purple bloom upon its leafless boughs,
like the purple of far hills at sunset. Here and there a dead
birch stem glimmered white against the dark. And about the feet of
the bare trees was a wealth of colour almost more marvellous
still--the rich brown, lustrous velvet of mosses and dead leaves,
the fiery red of withered brake fern, beaten down by wind and
rain. Below the wood, on a little island in the river, was a group
of old Scotch firs, with the water gleaming white between the
ruddy branches. Over all there stretched away the far-reaching
wastes of the moorland, lifeless, desolate, with a fringe of mist
along the sky line.

Night closed in grey and wet. As the hours passed, I woke at times
to hear the rush of the rain, the growing sounds of multitudinous
streams, the deepening voice of the river roaring through its
wooded passes. Morning broke on a day of undoubted Dartmoor
weather--no gleam of sunshine anywhere; cold, clinging mists on
every hand; grey sheets of rain stalking like ghosts across the

The day was at its very worst when the keeper, who had been at
work since daylight rescuing trout that, in struggling up the
swollen streams, had got themselves into difficulties in
unexpected shallows, came up to the house and stood for a minute
in the rain, the water streaming from every outlying point in his
figure, and looked inquiringly at the Master of the House. The
Master groaned. But he threw on his old shooting-coat, picked up a
handful of cartridges, and took his gun from the corner, and the
two men sallied out into the rain.

It was, in truth, a dreary morning. There was no sunshine now to
light the dripping birch stems. But even under that grey sky there
was marvellous beauty in the bare boughs, in the brown oak leaves,
in the streaming ferns on the green bank below. Under the bank was
a new gleam of silver, where the swollen brook went swirling by
under a grey brow of granite. Hour after hour fell the pitiless
rain. Every thread of water on the hillside was a headlong
torrent. The road below the house was deep under a rushing flood.

It was late when the little shooting party came back, their coming
heralded by the screaming of a troop of jays that apparently kept
pace with them as they plodded through the underwood. But the
birds were not inveighing against the sportsmen. When my friend
returned, he told me that as he passed under a pollard oak an owl
flew out, almost brushing him with its wings. The jays, who were
hanging about among the thickets on the edge of the wood, espied
it in a moment. And, raising a hue and cry that was caught up by
every finch and tit and blackbird within hearing, they chased the
bewildered bird from tree to tree, scolding and storming, and
buffeting it with their wings. Earlier in the afternoon a rabbit
passed, unnoticed by the dogs, not running, but leaping, across
the wood; and close at its heels a weasel, following in hot

The rain was slackening a little as we turned into the hut. But a
heavy fog was closing in from the moor, blotting out even the near
woodland with its wall of grey. Pleasant, indeed, after the mist
and the rain was the glow of lamplight. And pleasanter still the
glow of roaring oak logs, as we sat that night, each with a
terrier on his knee, before the great wood fire. The dogs have
taken kindly to the casual stranger, and one of them in particular
is fond of sitting by me on a chair at meal times, resting her
head on my arm in the most engaging manner. The two are on the
best of terms for the most part, but a little attention paid to
one is apt to lead to trouble with the other. I am told that there
is sometimes a good deal of jealousy shown in the retrieving of a
rabbit--a circumstance which, as may readily be guessed, does not
tend to improve the condition of the game. And the slippers which
we threw to distant corners of the hut for the dogs to bring back
to us suffered severely in the bringing.

As we sat by the fire I heard something of the dangers of the
moor, and of the reality of getting lost at night or in a Dartmoor
fog. The oldest hand, said the Master of the House, would be
helpless in such a fog as now lay round the house. A good plan, he
added, is to follow a stream if you are fortunate enough to find
one. Sooner or later you are sure to come to a house. He himself
was on the moor once, with two companions, far away from any path,
when a dense mist came on. After long walking, he happened, by
great good fortune, on the wall that bounded his own common, and
came at length to a familiar gate that he knew was only half a
mile from home.

The three wanderers drew a breath of relief. They were all right
now. The haunting fear of having to pass a night upon the moor, as
many a lost wayfarer has done, was forgotten in a moment. With
confident steps they marched through the mist straight down the
slope towards this bungalow. But after going steadily for three
hours, with a gradually growing conviction that something after
all must be wrong, they found themselves back at the same wall,
and at the very identical gate. They had been walking in a
circle--an experience only too familiar to travellers who have
lost their way in the desert. They now followed the wall until it
turned abruptly down the hill. My friend then walked close to it,
while the others kept abreast of him, at a distance of a hundred
yards or so, that they might avoid a bog which skirted the
enclosure. In this way, shouting to each other now and then, they
reached here in safety, not having seen each other since they
parted company.


Another man, well known in the district--a man who rather prides
himself on his acquaintance with Dartmoor--will not soon be
allowed to forget how he set off on horseback one day in the mist,
taking a short cut across the moor, by which he expected in half
an hour to strike the Princetown road, and how, after an hour and
a half of pretty hard riding, he too, found himself at the spot
from which he had started.



On the northern edge of Exmoor, parted from the outer world by a
long ridge of wooded hills that die away into a bold headland by
the grey sea, there lies a spacious valley--fair even for the West
Country, a valley that for its beauty of broad fields and noble
trees and old-world villages, may rank among the fairest in all
England. The traveller by the well-kept coach road that passes
along the foot of the hills, almost from end to end of it, looking
across its green meadows and its red corn-lands to the
deer-haunted heights of Dunkerry, sees something of its beauty, of
its picturesque cottages, its wooded slopes, its rich pasture
lands; may even catch a glimpse in passing of that old mill that,
with its pointed gables, its rambling outbuildings, its rude
bridges, and its

  "Dark wheel that toils amid the hurry
      And rushing of the flume,"

is like an artist's dream.

He who fares through on foot will know more of its charm, but even
he is hardly likely to discover the best of its lovely lanes, deep
set under over-arching hedgerows, the oldest and most magnificent
of its trees, the most picturesque and retiring of its cottages.
While hidden behind a rampart of low hills on the very skirts of
Dunkery, the most beautiful village of all, an ideal West Country
hamlet, will escape him altogether:--a village in a nest of hills,
with brown gables all embowered in green. By the church, whose
grey tower rises in the midst, two poplars stand, their young
leaves trembling in the sunshine, their tall forms just swaying in
the wind.

The old manor house, whose traditions go back beyond the days of
the Armada, seems to stand at the very limit of the world. So near
the wilderness is it that the creatures of the wild, the birds,
the beasts, share with man the possession of its barns and
outbuildings. Its lawns, its thick-growing bays and laurels, its
broad eaves, the masonry of its old walls are haunted by
innumerable birds.

In the early morning, an hour or more before the sunrise, the
whole air about the house is filled with sweet sounds, with the
sunny ripple of the goldfinch's song, with the mingled chorus of
thrush and blackbird, of wrens and robins and warblers, with the
call of the cuckoo, the pipe of the wryneck, the croon of doves
among the larches on the hill. At times, from far up the moorland
comes down even the strange cry of a buzzard, or the croak of a
wandering raven. All day the garden is full of pleasant sounds and
sweet suggestions of the woodland, of the hushed whispers of swift
moorland streams, of the stir of winds among the restless pines.

Even after sundown life is still stirring. Long after the mists of
evening have begun to gather on the darkening hills the cuckoo
calls. The musical halloo of wandering owls breaks in through the
vespers of the blackbird, and the shrill challenge of the
black-cock sounds loud on the fringe of the moorland. Instead of
the swallows, that all day float singing round the eaves, the bats
come out of hiding in old barns and ruinous outbuildings, and
flutter on silent wings through vacant windows.

In the twilight even the wild red deer stray down from their
fastness to the very precincts of the garden. It is not long
since, in the hind-hunting time, the "tufters" broke away after a
stag and followed it, in spite of all the efforts of the huntsmen,
far across the moor and down into the lowland. And, when at length
the hounds were beaten off, two sheep-dogs from the village took
up the chase and drove the stag up here to the Manor House. There
it stood for hours in a narrow passage near the stables, showing a
bold front to its pursuers, and undismayed by the curious
villagers who came thronging up to gaze at it--a noble beast, with
all its honours. Someone at length opened the door of an empty
stable, and the stag walked quietly in. Tired out with the long
chase over the slopes of Dunkery, it stayed in its strange asylum
two days and nights, entirely unmoved by efforts to dislodge it,
but lowering its antlers in a moment if one of its visitors made
an attempt to cross the threshold; though when one of the men,
thinking it had gone, went into the stable after dark and actually
brushed against it, the stag, happily for him, took no notice. The
door was left open; the noble beast was free to go when it would.
On the third morning the stable was empty; the strange guest had
gone. A line of footprints across the lawn to the fence that parts
the garden from the paddock, and up the long meadow towards the
hanger, showed how it had made its way back unmolested to its
haunt upon the moor.

Guests almost as strange are two wild ducks that built a nest in a
pool in the field below the house. The eggs were hatched not many
days since, and the young brood were caught and given in charge to
a hen, who, so far, has proved herself but an indifferent
foster-mother. The drake, after the manner of his kind, has
another mate, and she is still sitting on her eggs on a small
island in another pond near by. And he and the mother of the lost
family still linger about the farm. You may see them flying past
the windows on their way down from one of the moorland streams,
or watch them in the meadow by the empty nest. Or you may even
chance upon them among the outbuildings, the drake a little way in
advance, walking slowly forward, looking this way and that,
pausing now and then at some strange sound; while his sober-tinted
mate follows meekly a yard or so behind him. Now they stand
doubtful, uncertain whether or no it is safe to enter the
precincts. At length they venture in. Now walk quietly after them.
There they stand, a gallant pair, he splendid with the rich green
velvet of his glossy head, the white ring about his neck, the dark
chocolate of his breast, his brilliant orange legs, and all the
exquisite shades of grey upon his beautiful back: she with quiet
plumage, streaked and mottled with soft tones of brown, looking
for all the world like a dry heap of reeds and withered sedges. In
a moment they are aware of danger. They move closer together. The
drake utters a low warning call, nodding his head, slowly at
first, then faster and faster until, with a loud note the two
birds spread their beautiful wings, wheel round the house, and
sail down to their old haunt by the pool.

By the same pool, not fifty yards from the road, there is another
nest--a moorhen's; and if you creep quietly up you may see the
old bird on her nest of rushes under the bank, her dark figure
looking little more than a patch of shadow in the heart of the
bramble bush that overhangs her home. Her, too, you may watch in
the early mornings wading among the long grass of the meadow, or
you may even catch a glimpse of her as she paddles fast across the
pool, keeping time with her glossy head to the rapid movement of
her feet.

Hood has told us how, in his "Haunted House,"

  "A wren had built within the porch, she found
    The quiet loneliness so sure and thorough."

It is almost more strange that here a pair of chaffinches have
made a sanctuary of this porch, and have built their nest just
over the door, within arm's reach of every passer-by. It is an
exquisite work of art, whose moss and lichen, felted with cobwebs
and fine strands of wool fitted deftly on the curve of a level
larch pole, and woven among the young shoots of the climbing rose
tree, whose leaves hang down as if to hide it, might have escaped
notice altogether were it not that the little builders are busy
all day upon the grass before the windows, now taking short
flights among the laurels or the branches of the old arbutus, or
the great bay tree that overhangs the lawn, scenting all the air
with its abundant bloom, and that now and then they fly up to
their nest over the doorway.

A far retreat--a spot in which the lover of nature would only too
gladly settle down, content, amid this gracious scenery and these
pleasant sights and sounds, to end his days in one of the little
old-world cottages of "the sweetest village in the world," with
their tiny windows, their quaint gables, their roofs of russet
thatch. A far retreat, upon whose dreamlike quiet no ripple of
unrest could surely enter.

We can hardly realise that it was a lord of this very manor who,
though long past his three score years and ten, held a fortress
for King Charles until the last extremity, marching out at length
with all the honours of war.

It is stranger still that a marble tablet on the chancel wall of
the old church records how a rector of this peaceful parish left
his charge and followed his master to the war; how he raised a
troop of horse for the King's service; how four of his sons were
captains in the Royal army; and how he himself, after Worcester's
Crowning Fight, went with the second Charles across the sea,
giving up all, with a devotion worthy of a better cause, for a
prince whom the clearer vision of our time justly brands as
"immoral, dishonourable, and contemptible."

[Illustration: THE OLD MILL: TWILIGHT.]


Round the old mill that stands like a drowsy sentinel at the gate
of the valley, quiet reigns. Silenced is the plash of the wheel;
hushed the low rumble of the rude machinery. Through the rich
grass of the meadow by the stream the red cattle are trooping home
in answer to the milking call. The sun, already sunk below the
fringe of woodland on the hill, shows like a fiery cloud through
the dark lattice work of branches. Light still lingers on the
steep slope across the glen, on tawny grass and golden furze, and
on points of grey rock that here and there break through the short
turf. There is sunshine still upon the dark tops of the highest
ridge of pines, and there are lines of silver on the branches of a
giant oak whose crest towers far above his fellows. But here in
the hollow the mist of evening gathers. All along the stream are
drawn grey lines of vapour that, in the far recesses of the
valley, deepen to a shadowy gloom.

The birds, with whose notes the whole glen was ringing, grow
silent one by one. Their brief vesper hour is almost over. The
hush of night is settling on the woodland. Far up the slope there
still sounds the clear whistle of a blackbird. A thrush, too, is
singing, as if moved to rivalry. His is a song less wild and
thrilling, less powerful and passionate, yet a masterpiece of
melody. Still through the deepening shadows rings the clear treble
of the robin, and through all, like a whisper of peace, one hears
the slumbrous voices of the doves.

Two cuckoos are still calling; one near at hand, whose loud notes,
clear and mellow, seem to linger among the trees, dying slowly,
like music in the roof of a cathedral. Another, more distant,
answers him. They keep such perfect time that the stronger voice
overpowers half the answer, and, for the most part three notes
alone are audible, the last one faint and low, and like a soft

  Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

The cuckoo's life is like that of no other bird that flies. There
are no household cares for him; no nest to build, no eggs to warm,
no brood to forage for. His sole business seems but to call his
own name all day among the tree tops. It is a beautiful sound. And
yet there are times when the cuckoo, as much as any bandit of the
air, any crow, or sparrow-hawk, or prowling magpie, breaks the
peace of the sylvan solitude. He may call all day if he will,
without let or hindrance, or the least attempt at interruption.
The birds pay little heed to him, save now and then in an idle
moment to mob him and jeer at and hustle him, as they love to do
to an owl, who by some mischance has sallied out into the

But the moment his mate is suspected of designs on the nest of
some defenceless hedge-sparrow, or robin, or wagtail, with an eye
to finding foster parents for her own discarded offspring, the
whole neighbourhood is up in arms. A few days since a cuckoo, who
had evidently set her heart on a robin's nest in the thick growth
of ivy round the chimney of one of the houses in the village,
alighted in the top of a tall aspen that overlooked the spot. She
settled on the roof of the house to reconnoitre. She even perched
on the ledge of the garret window to get a better view. And all
the while she was followed by an excited mob of redstarts,
wagtails, and robins, scolding, storming, chattering. Sometimes,
as if dismayed by their persistent clamour, the cuckoo made a half
circuit of the garden, diving in and out among the bushes,
swooping down to avoid the attack of some pursuer more importunate
than the rest, and uttering now and then a strange, inarticulate
cry, as if--which is likely enough--she were carrying in her mouth
the egg she wanted to leave in the robin's nest. She gave it up at
last, plunging down into a great bay tree, seeking in its
thick-growing foliage some respite from pursuit.

The darkness deepens. But there is still light enough to follow
the deer-path among the trees, whose thick carpeting of brown dry
pine-needles is soft as velvet to the feet. It is not yet too dark
to see the black-cock that gets up from the bilberry jungle by the
path, or the wood pigeons that, when you pause beneath their
roosting place, go crashing out from the branches overhead. You
can still watch the two squirrels that chase each other round the
stem of a giant ash tree; can follow them, when, startled from
their frolic, they take a short cut homeward through the
larch-tops. They leap from the firm footing of one tree to the
drooping bough beyond, and when it goes down, down beneath them
like a blade of grass, they go on, without a moment's pause,
towards their nest in the heart of the wood. So few wayfarers
disturb the quiet here--or else the brown woodlanders have had
such scant experience of the ways of man, of his love of capture
and annexation--that the squirrels have not thought it worth while
to build their stronghold high among the trees. It is not twenty
feet from the ground. It is like a great wren's nest, a ball of
moss, thick and closely felted, and marvellously laced round and
round with long pliant larch twigs, and with only the least trace
of an entrance at the side.

A flock of swifts are careering down the glen, like a troop of
noisy revellers; their wild chorus sounding shrill and clear in
the deepening hush of night. They wheel, with loud rustle of keen
wings, and dash upwards towards the moor. Again that swift career
along the grass-grown road; again that wild exultant scream, so
fierce, so beautiful. Deride it if you will. Call it hoarse,
discordant, savage. It is a victorious pæan, a song of triumph, an
exultant chorus proclaiming the empire of the air.

The dark forms vanish; the wild notes die away. It is the last
sound of daylight.

  "Far away, some belfry chime
  Breathes a prayer across the moors."

The last sound of daylight. The children of the night are abroad.
White moths, painted boldly on the shadows, flit by like phantoms.
Ghost-like, too, is the soundless flutter of a bat that, by the
dark archway of the old bridge, chases the insects that hover on
the stream. The long, low, monotonous call of the
grasshopper-warbler among the furze bushes on the edge of the
wood, is a strange sound;--the voice of a cricket, one might
think, and not of a bird at all. Strange, too, is the droning note
of a nightjar, rising and falling as if the bird, wheeling this
way and that, were chasing moths among the trees. The bats have
voices, though their flight is soundless, and their faint shrill
cries grow in the stillness louder and more clear. At intervals an
owl hoots, startling from their half sleep the drowsy birds among
the thickets over which he passes, so that one may follow his
flight by the clamour he leaves behind him. Among the trees there
sounds at times the crash of a belated ring-dove, settling down
for the night, followed by a murmur of soft love notes, an
answering whisper, and then silence.

Yet the air is full of faint, indistinguishable sounds, the
opening of leaves perhaps, the patter of spent petals, the fall of
pine needles, and the movements of night-wandering creatures. And
to every sound the darkness lends a touch of mystery. Fancy could
paint almost anything of strange and startling among the black
shadows of the wood. You stop, almost in terror, when a pheasant
rises, under your very feet, with a great rush of wings, and
vanishes into the gloom. A blackbird, flying over unseen, sounds
his loud alarm in passing, ringing, musical, metallic, like the
throbbing string of some wild instrument.

There is another sound, the sound as of some large animal moving
heavily among the thickets near the stream, with now and then a
crash of branches. The noise draws nearer. Some red deer are
making their way down to the water. The light wind is blowing
straight this way. There is nothing to warn them. The leader
pauses, not five yards away, fetlock deep in the soft green morass
along one of the small streams that vein the hill. His shape is
dark and indistinct, yet there is just light enough to see that he
has antlers still. Behind him is a troop of hinds, a mingled mass
of stately, slow-moving, shadowy figures, leisurely crashing
through the thickets. One strolls idly this way, closer still,
pausing to browse on the leaves of the very willow that spreads
its long boughs overhead. Another follows, and another. There are
ten of them, at least, and not one aware of danger. Like Ajax, one
longs for daylight. Yet daylight must have revealed the ambush.
They are passing on. Another moment and they will have taken the
alarm. Stand up and shout. What headlong rush, what wild stampede,
what thunder of swift hoofs, what gallop of flying feet. Away they
go, crashing through the underwood, up the slope, into the black,
impenetrable shadows--sanctuary as safe as the very densest covert
of the forest.

[Illustration: HORNER BRIDGE.]


The man who knows Exmoor only in the pride of its summer beauty,
who has, it may be, followed the staghounds over its far-reaching
slopes through a splendour of heath and ling and blossomed furze,
who has never seen the broad shoulders of Dunkery save when they
were wrapped about with royal purple, would find the moorland now
in very different mood, would think it even now, far on towards
the summer, desolate and sad-coloured and forlorn. The gorse,
indeed, is in its prime. Its fragrant gold is as full of beauty as
when the mingled mob of horse and foot and carriages gathers, for
the first Meet of the season, on the smooth crown of Cloutsham

The gorse is a flower of the year. It is in bloom even in January.
There is an old saw that declares it to be, like kissing, never
out of season. But the heather that covers so much of the slopes
of Dunkery wears at this moment its very somberest of hues.
Standing on the fringe of the moorland, on the brink of one of the
deep glens that run into the heart of the hills, and looking up
the slope towards the dark summit, one might think that winter was
not over even yet. There is a touch of vivid green here and there,
round the birthplace of some mountain stream. There is colour on
the young birches that one by one are feeling their way up out of
the hollow. But in the sober brown of the heather, in the pearl
grey of the peat moss, in the dark hue of the gaunt and twisted
pines scattered at far intervals in front of the advancing forest,
there is no sign of the sweet influences of the spring.

A lonely spot. There is not a house in sight, no farm, no
hedgerow, no sign of man's dominion anywhere, beyond faint traces
of bridle paths, like dark lines along the heath, or a broader
track whose warm red shows a moment as it climbs some rising of
the moor. A solitary skylark sings over the brown heather. At
times a buzzard wails, as on broad wings he drifts in mighty
circles overhead, a dark spot against the pale blue heaven. Sounds
like these but deepen the sense of loneliness. But there is charm
in the very solitude. There is charm in the dark heath and in the
golden furze--in the play of the cloud-shadows that each moment
change the tones of brown and green and grey. There is charm in
the sweet breath of the gorse, and above all, in the bright, fresh
air of the open moorland. And however bare and voiceless these
sombre slopes, each hollow that wanders away into the hills is
filled to overflowing with a sea of mingled foliage, all astir
with life and movement.

The path that leads down from the highland to the hollow looks
upon a different world. The steep sides of the glen are green to
the very brim, are covered, right up to the brown fringe of
heather, with noble oaks in the pride of fresh, young foliage,
among whose golden green, all shimmering in a haze of sunlight,
shows the shadowy grey of boughs still bare, and in the open
spaces are all carpeted with the rich red of dead bracken, or the
vivid green of bilberry leaves. From far below, out of the mist of
green and grey, rises the song of a swift mountain stream, whose
pools and white cascades and brawling rapids gleam among the trees
like scattered links of silver.

There is a sudden clatter of stones upon the farther slope. Two
stags and four attendant hinds are making their way up from Horner
Water. They pause and look this way; the head of the leader
lifted, his antlers clear against the foliage behind him. This is
Exmoor. Here the red deer are on their native heath. This is their
last stronghold south of the Border. And it is in glens like this
that they find the sanctuary they love. The noble beasts stand
long at gaze. At last the leader turns, and moves slowly up the
slope, the others falling into line behind him. They quicken the
pace as they gain more easy ground, and breaking into a canter,
wind in gallant style across the heath. They pause for a last look
as they reach the summit of the ridge, their figures darkly cut
against the sky.

The road sinks lower, lower yet, down into the green heart of the
glen. Noble trees they are that fill the hollow. Some have long
since passed their prime. Their mighty branches are thick with
moss and lichen, and fringed with green tongues of fern. In rifts
that time and storm have carved in their huge columns, rowan and
bramble and young holly trees are rooted. Grey arms of ivy, almost
as broad and vigorous as they, are twined with fatal clasp about
their sturdy stems. Where the pathway crosses at the ford, there
stands a blasted tree: a giant oak, whose top, wrecked and
shattered though it is, rises high above its forest brothers. Its
bark has all fallen away. Its bare limbs glimmer ghost-like
through the green gloom.

The whole glen is full of life. Solitude there may be, but not
silence. The air is musical with the ripple of the stream, and
with the songs of sweet-voiced warblers. Over the tree tops
clamorous daws are passing, and the light wings of homeward-flying
doves. Among the boulders that winter floods have heaped along the
torrent--that even now, before the patient, eternal, resistless
chafing of the water, are moving slowly down the stream--you may
startle a heron from his noonday dreaming. Or you may come
unaware upon a pair of wild ducks, paddling softly on one of the
smooth and sheltered reaches, the mallard still splendid in the
nuptial plumage he is so soon to lose. Only a few weeks longer
will he wear it. Summer will find him in a quiet-coloured garb, a
suit of brown and grey as plain and unpretending as the dress of
his sober-tinted mate.

This, too, is the dipper's haunt. Again and again you will meet
him on his way up stream, flying swift and straight, with sharp
note of warning on spying a stranger near his fishing grounds. Or
you may watch him as he stands on some small island in the
torrent, his white breast gleaming like a patch of silver in the
water under him, bowing and calling, and now breaking off into
that sweet, wild song so dear to the soul of the fisherman. The
dipper's nest of moss and leaves and withered sedges, hidden
deftly in some old stump by the shore, is empty and deserted. His
mate and he are out all day on the river with their little mob of
dusky children.

It is a pleasant path that winds leisurely along the glen, now
wandering with the stream, now passing it by a ford, now loitering
among the trees, now fenced on either hand with tall thickets of
gorse and briar and hawthorn, now keeping close by the grey
willows that overhang the water. It is not a wide stream to cross,
for all the rain. The deer, whose fresh footmarks are printed deep
in the moist earth all along its banks, can easily leap over it.
The squirrels on their airy highway along meeting oak boughs far
above it, have no need to think of it at all. But for the rabbits
there is no way over but through the stream itself. And here, a
few days since, a rabbit, startled from the herbage on the brink,
took to the water without a moment's hesitation; a mere baby of a
rabbit, so small and slight that it was carried along for yards by
the swift current before it could get into shallow water and
struggle up the bank.

Suddenly two birds rise soaring from the trees, better seen when
they are clear of the valley, and sharply drawn against the sky.
One slow-winged and heavy, one quick and active, and deft in every
movement. A crow and a sparrow-hawk. They are fighting. Sounds of
battle float downwards through the air--the fierce defiance of the
hawk, the hoarse answer of his black antagonist. Round and round
they go, wheeling, sinking, soaring, now the hawk uppermost, and
now the crow. To watch the skilful man[oe]uvres of the hawk, one
might think there was little doubt about the issue. How easily he
sweeps past his lumbering enemy, how he clutches at him with
talons, how he flouts him with his strong wings. Yet the crow, for
all his awkwardness, is armed with no mean weapon. The hawk knows
well the value of that black dagger of a bill. And so they drift
over the rim of the valley to the open moorland, fighting to the

[Illustration: WHERE RED DEER HIDE.]


High up on the moorland, in a wilderness of dead heather--surely
beyond all power of spring-time to call back to life--with dead
gorse bushes scattered over it, gaunt and spectral, unlighted by
any touch of golden bloom, there stands an ancient grave-mound. It
is the merest flaw in the wide landscape. A roadway passes near
it. But from elsewhere, unless it chanced to cut the sky line, you
might search for it in vain. Looking across the grassy rim of the
hollow space within it, a space like the crater of some spent
volcano, you see nothing but the pale summer sky above you, and,
stretching away on every side, a waste of desolate, far-reaching
undulations, to whose wintry hues the scanty patches of grass and
the tender tone of the late bilberry plants have hardly, even yet,
lent any tinge of green.

This is the very heart of the wilderness. There is not a house in
sight. There are no fields, no fences, no horses, no red cattle,
not a sheep even; no single moving figure, save of a bird that
flits restlessly among the gorse. This is almost as bleak and bare
a landscape as the haunt of the "Dead Drummer" upon Salisbury

Yet it is a beautiful landscape, still and lonely though it be.
There is no gold of blossomed gorse, no rich Tyrian of early
heather. But there is marvellous wealth of colour even in these
sheets of dead ling, whose varied greys and browns are
strengthened here to deep shades of purple, and there,--by a
carpet of withered brake fern, beaten down by wind and rain, and
with stout young fronds but just beginning to uncurl,--are fairly
kindled into red. At one point a belt of dry sedges gleams like a
grey river. At another a patch of vivid green betrays the
birthplace of some moorland stream. Round the old hawthorns,
dotted here and there over the waste, a green mist is gathering.
But the starved and stunted trees of this high upland country are
slow to answer to the sunshine, and there are hardly leaves enough
yet to hide the shaggy tufts of lichen, silver grey and golden
yellow, that hang so thickly on the boughs. In the thorny depths
of these storm-beaten trees, even carrion crows venture to build
fastnesses, fearing nothing, though with thresholds not six feet
above ground, short of an avenging volley from the keeper's gun.

As the hours go by you grow conscious, by degrees, of companions
of your solitude. You hear notes of larks and pipits as they flit
here and there among the heather. You catch the faint far call of
a wandering cuckoo. A stone-chat settles near, on a tall, dead
furze bush, and sings over and over his brief roundelay. There are
few dwellers on the heath more smart than he, with his coal-black
head, his neat white collar, and his ruddy breast. This, too, is
the native heath of yonder curlews, wheeling idly across the sky,
sounding now and then that musical, clear call, that is one of the
most characteristic voices of the moorland.

The black-cock, the true children of the wilderness, are lying
close among the heather. The grey dawn is the time to see them
best, when they come down to drink and bathe at favourite points
along the streams. Towards nightfall, too, you will hear on all
sides, but especially on the fringe of the wooded valleys where
they come to feed, their strange, hoarse crying, which it is hard
to credit is the note of bird at all. In the twilight each old
black-cock will take his stand on some hillock, or even on the
level ground, and spreading wide his splendid tail, drooping his
wings, and sinking his head, like a stag preparing to give battle,
will utter strange, almost weird, sounds, which, as you watch his
odd figure, and fantastic attitudes, you would hardly think were
meant as notes of challenge to his rivals, intended to be full of
defiance and contempt.

Beyond the white cart-track, that just shows for a moment before
it sinks behind a rising in the heath, runs a deep valley--a great
hollow filled almost to the brim with oaks and beeches and tall
larch trees;--they, at least, are in the full pride of their
magnificent young beauty, with long branches thickly hung with
tufts of fragrant green. It is a valley of streams, that, drawn in
silver threads from every hill-slope near, set all along with
alder and willow, with ferns and rushes, and cool water plants, go
plunging through at last out of the narrow gateway of the glen, to
widen farther down into a broad, smooth flood, that sweeps in
silence among the worn stepping-stones of a village way.

The valley is full of life; full as the moorland here is bare of
it. In the great bank that skirts the wood badgers have their
holt. Hard by it is a famous "earth," to which every hunted fox
for miles round flees for sanctuary. The woodmen have been busy
here. The ground is strewn with red larch chips, whose sweet,
resinous fragrance hangs heavy on the air. And from the welcome
rest of some new-felled tree, whose shorn plumes lie heaped about
it in well-ordered faggots, you may listen to the pleasant voices
of the doves, and the blithe notes of warblers in the boughs above
you. You may watch the pheasants stalking solemnly among the
underwood, may see the brown squirrels romping on the grass, or
playing follow the leader up and down the smooth-stemmed beech
trees. A charméd spot. A spot such as the poet sang of, who

                "... heard the cushies croon
                Through the gowden afternoon,
  And the Quhair burn singing on its way down to the Tweed."

The red deer love this quiet glen. You may see their sharp
footprints along every woodman's path, and by the oozy marge of
every stream. Their hour is not yet. Like the fox and the badger,
they are lovers of the twilight. It is not till evening darkens
that they leave their lairs in the cool depths of the larch copse
or the shadowy heart of the oak plantation, and cross the high
dyke that parts the farm lands from the cover, and sally out to
raid the young corn and the turnips in outlying fields. This is
the Red Deer Country. Empty as the landscape is at noon, there are
times when this wild heath is all alive with moving figures, horse
and hound, and all the bravery of the shouting chase. Many a time
has the hunt swept past this solitary tumulus, the gallant stag
seen for a moment, perhaps, upon the sky line, as

  "With anxious eye he wandered o'er
  Mountain and meadow, moss and moor."

There is no hamlet for miles around but has its legends, old and
new, of a sport that is dear to all the country side. In one of
the moorland churches it is recorded how, some six hundred years
since, a villager slew one of the King's deer; how the culprit was
"not found," and how, in the end, four neighbouring parishes paid
fine to the royal foresters. It is but a mile as the crow flies to
a hamlet, lying deep in a hollow of the hills, where last year,
when the chase went thundering through the quiet street, the stag,
in his despair, sought refuge in the inn, and was pulled down by
the hounds within the doorway of the hostelry. It is the most
picturesque of inns, with its rambling buildings, its thatched
roofs, mossed and lichen stained, its tiny dormer windows, and a
sign that has puzzled many an idler on the village
green;--uncertain whether, as some would have it, the figure in
scarlet is meant for a woman seated on a stile; whether it is a
nabob mounted on an elephant; or whether, as the words that run
above it would suggest, it is a Roundhead trooper drawing rein
under the oak of Boscobel.

[Illustration: TORR STEPS.]


Down a deep valley in the West Country winds a swift moorland
stream. Mile after mile of sombre, heath-clad solitudes stretch
away on either side of it, broken with gorse and bracken, and with
here and there a few stunted and storm-beaten trees. Well-ordered
farm lands slope down to it. At far intervals it roars under the
ancient bridges of solitary hamlets. Here, in the heart of the
great hills, it runs between wooded slopes, covered with thick
growth of sturdy oak trees--leafless still, but with purple of
fast opening blossoms that, with the rich red brown of dead
leaves and withered fern about their feet, lends to the whole glen
a glow of warmth and colour.

Here the red deer steal out after sundown over the ruinous wall
and through the untended hedgerow to the broad meadow that for a
space divides the river from the wood. Here in the twilight the
otters play, rolling over and over in the water like great grey
cats. The beautiful moorland sheep that lift their horned heads to
watch the solitary wayfarer, with half-curious, half-supercilious
gaze, seem hardly less the true creatures of the wild than the
grey rabbit that you startle from his noonday dreaming among the
long grass by the hedgerow, or than the brown squirrel, coming
down for a frolic on the soft, green turf.

Below the wooded slope runs the river, here foaming over great
blocks of stone lying prostrate in its bed, there eddying round a
jutting bar of rock, now loitering in quiet backwaters, where dead
leaves and tufts of grass and all the smaller flotsam of the
stream spin slowly on the tranquil surface. At one point it roars
through a narrow channel between two ponderous stones, which lie
calm and unmoved in all the headlong rush; at another it pauses,
silent, in a deep, dark pool. Now it is broken all across in a
tumultuous cataract, and now again it widens to a broad sheet of
waving glass. At a bend in the river bank--a little hollow worn by
the floods of many winters--three alders overhang. And at their
feet, close to the margin of the stream, sheltered by a screen of
strong young branches growing upward from the base of the trees,
is a pleasant resting-place from which to watch unseen the life
and movement of this bird-haunted hollow--the warblers that throng
the thickets by the shore, the dippers that on swift wings pass
and repass along the watery highway, the graceful wagtails that
with dainty steps run up and down upon the strips of sand.

Looking down from the edge of the slope at the far end of the
meadow, framed by the broad arms of giant trees, show the
buildings of a farm, that with its wide eaves and crested gables,
its deep-sunk dormer windows, its rows of hives, and its ruinous
sheds, is a picture in itself. Close by it one of the moorland
highways, a narrow country lane, slopes steeply down, crossing the
river by a ford. And by the road, its grey masonry clearly drawn
against the shadowy spires of thick-growing alder trees, is an old
stone bridge--so old that no clue remains, no legend even, to its
history or its builders. Two thousand years, perhaps, has the
river run beneath these ponderous slabs of stone, laid flat across
rude, unmortared piers.

Beyond the bridge, through a purple mist of branches, show silver
glimpses of the river, then a broad stretch of meadow with dark
pine woods above it, among which the young larch foliage floats in
feathery clouds of green, and above these again, the brown and
desolate moorland. Near the bridge a little party of wanderers
have made their camp. The blue smoke of their fire drifts slowly
this way, with the pleasant scent of burning pine wood, the
pleasanter voices of girls and the shouts of children. It is a
perfect day for camping in the open; with warm air, and blue sky,
and soft white clouds sailing slowly over,--a day of clear shining
after rain.

The air over the stream is full of insect life, of flies of many
shapes and various hues, of browns, and drakes, and duns, so dear
to the brown river trout; and, in counterfeit presentment at any
rate, almost dearer to the soul of the trout-fisher. And as you
watch the myriad wingèd things that sail along the water, that
settle on the warm stones, or on the alder boughs, or even on your
hand, you will think it small ground for wonder that the thickets
by the stream should be so full of birds.

One might think that the roar of the river would be enough to
drown all other sounds. But, clear above it rise the notes of tits
and finches and warblers. The breezy chatter of the swallows, the
call of the dipper, the woodwren's hasty little stave of song, the
whistle of the blackbird, the mellow call of the cuckoo, are as
plain as if the great voice of the river were not heard at all. In
the next tree two finches have alighted; their restless movements
and sharp challenge of alarm betraying only too plainly what they
are so anxious to conceal, that their nest is somewhere near. Two
beautiful birds they are; one with the red flush on his breast,
the broad bar of white in either wing, the slate-blue feathers of
his lifted crest. The other, hardly less charming, with all her
colours pitched in soberer key. With anxious and persistent
iteration of their one shrill note of protest, they flit from
branch to branch; and when you rise, and peer into the tangle of
ivy-mantled boughs above you, the birds grow more clamorous still.
There is the nest, its mossy cup woven deftly among the slender
twigs, studded all over with lichen points of silver--as ever, a
miracle of beauty.

There are many birds preparing for the great event of the year. It
is not for nothing, you may be sure, that that old blackbird has
stayed out at the same corner of the hedge every day for a week
past; there is some good reason for his stealing towards it now
across the wood, a moving shadow, quiet for once. We can read the
signs of the times in the notes of the birds no less than in the
heightened colours of their plumage. It is a love-song pure and
simple that yonder hedge sparrow, poised on a straying spray of
bramble, is singing so softly to himself. The ringing call of an
oxeye overhead never was more clear, and blithe, and musical. But
the soft notes of a flock of long-tailed tits, not yet disbanded,
have a still softer tone to-day. Their light-hearted gossip seems
subdued and low, as if they knew the days were near when every
woodlander will go about his work with all the stealth he may.
There is a gold-crest rummaging among the ivy that clings about an
old elm hard by, almost within arm's length, so near that the
touch of vivid yellow on his crown gleams like very gold.

Smoke is still rising from the white ashes of the fire, but it is
proof enough that the little group has moved away, and that no one
is visible from the highway of the river, when a kingfisher
flashes across the bridge, straight up the stream, a swift gleam
of azure through the sunlit air. As you follow its flight to the
bend where the river vanishes behind its fringing alders, you are
aware of a moving point of light on one of the great boulders far
out from shore. Then the shape of a dipper shows clearly on the
top of the stone. A moment later it dives straight down into the
water, reappearing some yards nearer this way, pausing on another
great block of sandstone, to bow and curtsey, uttering now and
then a loud, clear note, its white gorget glowing like a star,
whiter even than the very foam of the river. Now it swims lightly
across a smooth backwater. Now it works its way sidelong across a
rapid rush of the current, stooping now and then to pick some
dainty morsel from among the stones, and all the while moving
slowly with the stream, until at last it stands on a stone in
mid-channel, not thirty yards away--a graceful, charming, dainty
little figure, the very naiad of the mountain stream.

But alas, there is another spectator of its movements. Across the
meadow sails a dark, hawk-like figure, swift and silent,
disappearing in the oak wood on the farther shore. In a moment
every voice is hushed. Not a bird calls. Not even a wren dares to
utter an alarm. There is a sudden rush of wings. A merlin dashes
from the thicket by the shore, catches up the dipper in its cruel
claws, and, alighting on a great flat stone, in the middle of the
river, it buries its merciless bill again and again in the white
breast of its struggling captive. What a picture! The sunlight is
full on the blue back of the beautiful little falcon, as it leans
forward a little, half hiding its prey under its drooping wings.
Giving a swift glance to right and left--the sparkle of its keen
eyes plain to see--it tears out a little cloud of feathers that
flutter lightly down, and sail away upon the stream. Again the
merlin looks up. Something has startled him. He gives one glance
this way. He catches sight of a figure under the alder trees. Like
a flash he is gone. The dead dipper falls into the water, sailing
down the river, in which but a few minutes since it was playing,
full of life and happiness, the white feathers from its
blood-stained gorget floating away from it at every swirl of the
current; a sorrowful little heap of ruffled plumage, whirling with
the whirling stream.

[Illustration: AN EXMOOR SKETCH.]


On the slopes of a great hollow in the heart of Exmoor, a hot sun
beats fiercely down. True that it is an April sky whose clouds and
sunshine weave their changing web of lights and shadows over the
landscape. True that the landscape, even yet, wears but little of
the guise of springtime. But to-day no touch of east is in the
air, and the smoke columns, rising slowly from the chimneys of the
village, and showing so blue against the oak plantation on a
distant shoulder of the moorland, are drifting slowly from the
southward. From this upland country, over which the snow lay deep
for two whole months, the grip of winter has been slow to loosen.
But the trees and hedgerows are answering at last to the magical
influence of the sunshine, and "the useful trouble of the rain."
The grass of these rich meadow lands--for months past all burnt
and brown, as if after a long, rainless summer--wears now its very
loveliest hue. There is a fringe of pale blue violets along the
edge of every woodland path. Stars of celandine are scattered over
every field, and among the tangle of the withered hedge-row
grasses. Marsh marigolds are gleaming in the wet earth about the
roots of the alders by the river. Even at this distance, the great
clumps of primroses show like points of light on the slope of the
orchard by the vicarage. Surely never were there such beautiful
masses of wood-sorrel as, with their vivid leaves and dainty,
purple-veined flowers, brighten now the banks of every deep-worn

The tall chestnut by the church, but yesterday just dusted over
with fine points of gold, is now a very cloud of fresh young
foliage. Each day strengthens the green hue of the larches
crowning the bold spur beyond the village. Each day deepens the
warm purple of fast-opening blossoms round the heads of the tall
elms of the village, and the great oaks of this warm slope. Noble
trees they are, these hoary patriarchs that the woodman's axe has
spared. Their mighty branches, gnarled and twisted and
storm-beaten, towering far up against the pale blue heaven, are
shaggy with ages' growth of lichens. Moss grows thick over the
furrowed rind, not of their broad stems alone, but almost of their
topmost branches. In the crannies of the bark, fringed with
grey-green tongues of fern, woodbine and briar and slim
mountain-ash have found anchorage. Over their old arms the
nuthatches wander up and down, calling to each other with that
loud musical trill so characteristic of the springtime.

On every side, among the broad stumps of vanished forest monarchs,
long dethroned, are springing the sturdy forms of another
generation, young pines and oaks and beeches, that are doing their
best to fill the places of the fallen, and although the giant
sycamore that overhangs the path is still all bare and leafless,
everywhere in the grass beneath its shadow, its children, tiny
double blades of tender green, are springing, thousands strong.

It is a scene of marvellous beauty upon which the eye looks down
from the welcome rest of this fallen tree beside the woodland
path. Below, at the foot of the slope, the border line between the
wild life of the covert and the order of the well-kept farm lands,
runs a swift moorland stream, whose broad band of silver is broken
again and again by the rude stone bridges of the village streets.
Every reach of the river seems to have its several sound, that,

  "Low at times, and loud at times
  And changing like a poet's rhymes,"

seems, with the rush of the wind among the rocking tops, and with
the songs and call-notes of a hundred birds, to fill the hollow.
In the pauses of the roar of the white lasher by the mill, a roar
that sinks and swells with every flaw that blows, the ear may
catch now the sound of the swift current brawling over its brown
pebbles, now the swirl of water round a bar of shingle, now the
chafing of the stream among the alder roots, and now the soft
sound of ripples on a sandy shallow. Round the broad green knoll
that rises from the river, filling all the centre of the valley,
and almost islanded by wandering streams, cluster the houses of
the hamlet, whose white walls and brown and moss-grown roofs of
thatch, whose pointed gables and quaint deep-sunk dormer windows
show plainly now among sheltering elms, that in the summer-time
will hide them in a very bower of green.

High over the roofs of the village, high even above the topmost
trees, rises the grey tower of the church. Round its turrets a
troop of daws are fluttering. Is it only fancy, or is there really
a note of protest and impatience in their snatches of clear-cut
speech? For weeks past these bold frequenters of the church have
been piling sticks upon the turret stair, by way of foundation for
their great untidy nests. They had strewn a cartload of rubbish
over the floor of the belfry, when the sexton arose in his wrath
and blocked up all the tower windows and the loophole lights of
the stairway, so that the daws were compelled to change their
quarters to the roofs of the village. But they still linger round
their ancestral homestead, and one pair, determined not to quit
altogether the sacred precincts that have sheltered them and
theirs for generations, have established themselves in a niche
behind the iron pipe of the stove. It is a hole that might just
contain the nest, but the birds have thought it necessary to fill
up with sticks a yard or more of the space between the chimney and
the tower wall, as if by way of outworks to their fortress.

A flood of sunshine is falling at this moment on the ancient
tower, on the brown thatch of the old houses, on the purple
lacework of the budding elms, until the whole beautiful picture
stands clear-drawn against the soft background of the far
hillside, still all in shadow. The sunlight glitters on the slate
roofs of houses lower down, and flashes on the winding river until
every reach of it is a sheet of burnished silver. Now it brightens
yet more the vivid green of the meadows, now it touches the red
slopes of distant corn-lands, and now it seems to linger on a far
shoulder of the moor, whose brown heath and dead grey gorse
bushes, and ancient thorn trees straggling up the hill, are
transfigured to a very vision of glory by the dreamy, sunlit haze.

Dream-like, too, is the quiet that broods over this peaceful
valley--a quiet even deepened by those Voices Three, of the wind,
and the birds, and the river. No sound of toil or traffic rises
from the village, save the clink of iron in the smithy, the thud
of a woodman's axe among the young alders by the water, or, still
more rarely, the lumbering of a cart along one of the deep lanes
that slope upward to the moor, or that wander with the winding
streams. The wind that sways the oak boughs overhead has a stormy
sound. But this sheltered corner under the hill, with its screen
of thick-growing fir and holly, is full of the warm south, of soft
and gentle airs, scented with the sweet resinous fragrance of the

And all the while, louder than the rush of the wind, clearer far
than the sound of the river, there float from tree to tree the
happy voices of the woodland singers. Everywhere among the
leafless boughs the chiff-chaffs are calling. Here and there along
the slope a tree pipit, rising high above his station upon some
yet wintry branch, sinks slowly downward through the sunny air,
singing as he sinks, till he alights again upon his windy perch.
Loud above all other sounds there strikes in now and then the
whistle of a blackbird, wild and clear, and at times the yet
sweeter carol of the blackcap. Rooks call hoarsely to each other
as they pass, on the way to their great settlement far down the
river. At times the white pigeons of the vicarage, hovering a
moment in mid-air, descend like a shower of snowflakes on their
dovecot. From the shelter of the old Scotch firs at the far end of
the wood, where the trees have long been left untouched, come now
and then the deep notes of carrion crows, low-toned, sullen,
unmirthful. They are ill neighbours for all the weaker children of
the wood. Later on in the season, the edge of the Punch Bowl, that
great hollow beyond the oak coppice, whose rim just shows against
the sky line, the hollow where the red deer are so fond of lying,
will be strewn with broken eggs of black game and pheasant, the
spoil of raids in the heather and the covert. And here, too,
scattered under the trees, are broken ringdoves' eggs, bearing
plainly the marks of those black-coated, merciless marauders. From
that corner too, out of the jungle of broom, and hazel, and
wild-briar, comes at intervals the crow of a pheasant--a strident
and far-reaching cry, different altogether from all other woodland
voices. And in every tree along the slope willow warblers are
crooning, over and over, their dainty snatches of sweet, low-toned
song. It is a sleepy tune; a leisurely cadence of soft sounds,
suggestive of sunshine and the summer, of

  "Music, that gentlier on the spirit lies,
  Than tir'd eyelids upon tir'd eyes."

[Illustration: A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.]


It is a cold, grey world that lies waiting for the dawn--a misty
sky, in which one pale planet glimmers; a hazy sea, whose fretted
levels shine faintly in the moonlight; shadowy hills, along whose
winding line, here darkened with clustering woodlands, and there
whitened by still slumbering hamlets, a grey mist hangs. It hangs,
too, like a vast canopy, over the wide plain, whose sunburnt
meadows seem to melt away into an infinite distance; and along
the wandering river whose brown flood loiters idly to the sea.

A silent world, for the most part. Even the voice of the river,
that but now was chafing loud against the shingle bar piled high
along the shore, is failing in the swift inrush of the tide. It is
a slow moving and taciturn stream that, as it wound along the
level fringes of the hills, long since forgot the sunshine and the
laughter and the crystal clearness of its youth, when, under banks
that were hung with fern and meadow-sweet, it sang over the brown
pebbles of its bed, round

  "... Many a fairy foreland, set
  With willow-weed and mallow."

But the tide, that is hushing the hoarse song of the river, swells
louder every moment the troubled roar of the sea, whose grey waves
are plunging in over the rattling shingle and the shining sand.

And as the light of dawning strengthens over the low grey hills to
the eastward, other sounds break in upon the stillness. Far off
across the moor a curlew calls. A heron who all night long, it may
be, has been keeping his lone vigil in the marshes, and who is now
flying leisurely home-ward to the hills, lets fall a muttered
croak in passing--midnight revellers both. But the white gulls
that rise and fall and toy like butterflies above the broadening
stream calling to each other with discordant voices, are children
of the sunshine.

Of the sunshine, too, is the music of a lark, who, high up in the
grey mist, brooding like a fate over the brown and thirsty
meadows, seems to hover at the very gates of dawn. Yet there is a
sound of the sea even on his silvery tongue. Among the sweet notes
of his familiar "babble of green fields," he brings in at times
the cry of the curlew and the whistle of the plover.

A breath of the sea there is, too, in the chatter of the starling
on the roof above. The croak of the heron and the call of the
whimbrel are common speech with him. And now he even imitates the
creak of the cordage on the coasting smack swinging in the stream
yonder, where two men are busy setting the old brown sails.

From the cliffs that break the round swell of the hill a line of
daws are streaming, eager, clamorous, on the wing for their
hunting ground upon the moor. One troop has wheeled aside to
alight among the boughs of a cherry-tree in a little walled-in
space of garden at some distance from the house. The farmer, who
has just appeared, with his milking-pail upon his shoulder, and
who looks up to nod a friendly greeting, pauses a moment in the
doorway to watch the marauders at their work, while the old
sheep-dog waits wondering at his side.

Suddenly, far out on the moor, beyond the cattle that stand
motionless, expectant, all looking this way, a tall figure looms
out of the mist, and across the fields comes a strange cry:

  "Leave your meadow grasses mellow,
          Mellow, mellow;
  Quit your cowslips, cowslips yellow."

The old dog hears, and bounds forward to his work. But the sleek
and sober herd, never turning their heads to look behind them,
move slowly, as by common impulse, converging fanwise to the gate.
Men in white smocks, and with shining pails upon their backs, are
striding through the meadows towards the farm. And all the while
the milking call sounds at intervals across the fields:--

  "Quit your pipes of parsley hollow,
          Hollow, hollow;
  Come uppe Lightfoot, rise and follow;
          Lightfoot, Whitefoot,
  From your clovers lift the head."

But along the side of the green headland that, beyond the old
farm-buildings stretches a mile or more into the sea, silence
still reigns, save for the sound of the waves, for the plaintive
cry of a curlew or the clamour of a troop of gulls.

When a gleam of sunshine breaks the grey veil of cloud, changing
the sombre hues of the mud flats to warm tones of brown and
purple, turning to gold the broad beach and the ragged sand-hills,
birds, unseen before, start swiftly into view. Here a tall curlew
stalks solemnly along, erect and watchful. There an inky crow is
picking dainty morsels from the ooze. And here a party of trim
black-headed gulls have collected round some treasure trove left
by the last tide. A troop of sandpipers sweeps along, now flashing
in a hundred points of silver in the sunlight; now, as they wheel,
all lost again in the brown hues of their haunts. As far as the
eye can reach are scattered gulls, shieldrakes, oyster-catchers,
rock-doves even, foraging by the edge of the water, falling back
before the rising tide.

But sounds of life are faint, even now. Among the boulders pipits
flit at times with feeble cries. And a brood of young kestrels
lately fledged, sail and soar along the cliff farther on, and
scream as if in defiance of the wind, against which their keen
wings are beating. The rocky brows that overhang the shore are
thick with grasses and sweet bedstraw, with flags and mullein, and
tall evening primrose. In the crannies campion and sea-pink are
rooted. Here a yellow poppy trembles in the wind, and there a
great cluster of samphire fills a rocky cleft. There are tufts of
it quite low down, but it is a plant that always grows above
high-water mark, and many a shipwrecked sailor, thrown ashore
among the rocks, has taken heart again when, in the darkness, his
despairing grasp has tightened on those strangely smelling leaves.
It is St. Peter's plant--Saint Pierre, sampier, samphire.

Now the shrill screaming of the kestrels rises louder still, the
fierce cry of the old birds mingling with the plaintive clamour of
their brood. Now one of them, sweeping round the headland, poises
a moment in the air, his wings motionless, his tail spread wide,
his figure dark upon the western sky. Slowly stooping, he alights
on the crown of a rocky pinnacle, a crag that stands out from the
cliff like the tower of some old stronghold; and, with feet spread
wide, clutching with his strong claws the rifted rock, his head
lowered to the wind, stands a splendid figure, as still as if he
were the living rock. Many a keen-eyed falcon has looked out over
the sea from that high watch tower, round whose base wander grey
arms of ivy, gnarled and wrinkled, centuries old.

Nor do hawks alone find sanctuary here. So quiet is this lonely
shore, so complete its solitude, that among these cliffs even the
raven and the peregrine are safe.

In the shelter of a long line of sand-hills that centuries have
heaped over the old sea-wall, there stands a solitary cottage. Its
brown eaves just peer over the dyke of sand. No window looks to
seaward through its massy wall. It is close above high-water mark.
Often, on wild nights of winter,

  "The startled waves leap over it; the storm
    Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
  And steadily against its solid form
    Press the great shoulders of the hurricane."

Close by it runs a belt of shingle, and, beyond, there stretches
away to the brown sea a wide sweep of sand, on whose wet surface
the heron and the curlew leave their traces, where whole armies of
sandpipers weave a maze of tiny footprints. To them this barren
shore is a land of plenty. This open beach is to them the very
safest of sanctuaries. No wildfowler can get within range of them
unobserved. Their only foes are the herring-gull--the pirate of
the sea--or the keen-eyed falcon that has his hold in yonder

Except at times of very high tides--even then only when
accompanied by stormy weather--the sea never quite reaches to the
sand-hills; but in summer especially, a mirage is occasionally
seen on this wide beach,--a phantom sea, in whose smooth surface
are reflected the jagged line of sand-hills, the church of the
distant village, and the few houses scattered at far intervals
along the coast.

It is a fruitful plain, whose level meadows stretch away from the
old farm, fading only on the far horizon. So low it lies that,
were it not for yonder mounds of sand, whose jagged fringes line
the coast for miles, the high October tides would often, when a
strong wind is blowing, find their way among the hamlets far
inland. Many a time has the old wall given way; never, perhaps,
with quite such dire results as in the great flood of 1607, when
the salt water was twelve feet deep in villages five miles from
the sea. Thirty hamlets were overwhelmed. Scores of unhappy
villagers perished. So swift was the rush of the water that there
was no chance of escape, and for many--in the words of a
black-letter chap-book of the time, "their last refuge was
patiently to die. Cattle were drowned in droves. Rabbits being
driven out of their burroughes by the tyde, were seene to sit for
safety on the backs of sheepe, as they swom up and downe, and at
last were drowned with them.... Deade bodies floate hourely above
water, and are continually taken uppe. It cannot yet be knowne
howe manye have fell in this Tempest of God's fearful judgement."

Life here was not always quiet. The green slopes of the hill above
are scarred all along with old earthworks, so defaced by plough
and spade, so trampled down by men and cattle, so worn by the
storms of untold centuries, that the eye can hardly trace their
outlines in the smooth short sward. Not even a tradition survives
of the lost inhabitants whose rude pottery and flint arrow-heads
the rabbits bring up among the red earth of their burrows.
Compared with this old hill fortress, the earthworks round the
tower of the church yonder, the square lines of a Roman camp, the
last fort on the well-guarded road down which was brought metal
from the mines among the hills, are works of yesterday.

Again and again this coast was wasted by the Danes, who plundered
not the hamlets by the shore alone, but villages twenty miles from
the sea. Victory was not always with the invaders. Athelney is not
far distant. Ethandune was on that low line of hills to the
southward. And in the very year of that crowning victory, a few
miles farther down, "the brother of Hingwar and Halfdene came with
twenty-three ships ... and he was there slain, and with him eight
hundred and forty of his army, and there was taken the war-flag
which they called the Raven." By the river that loiters seaward
under the blue hills across the bay, whose broad mouth shines like
silver in the sun, still stands the green mound of Hubbalowe,
which the vikings piled over the ashes of the dead sea-rover. On
every hill-top in the West Country

  "The brake and the tufted grass are high
  On the low mounds where warriors lie."

Each point of vantage on the hills has its time-worn lines of old
entrenchments. There is hardly a lofty crest but has had its
cluster of green grave mounds. But of the builders there remains
little but the shapes of their ruined strongholds, their rude
pottery, and still ruder weapons, from which to build up our dim
conjectures of what manner of men they were who held these hill
tops against the arms of Claudius and Vespasian. Even of the
legionaries who forced their way thus far into the West, our
knowledge has been gained by fragments. It is by accident that we
have obtained our most vivid glimpses of their arts, their arms,
their way of life. Massive ingots of lead have from time to time
been found in the fields or along the line of one or other of the
old military roads, whose stamps showed clearly how soon, after
the landing of Claudius, the conquerors took possession of the
mining country.

Again, when the plough struck on a stone coffin in a field remote
from any sign of human occupation; and when further search
revealed the ruins of a Roman villa, with beautiful pavements
still undisturbed, it was possible to guess, from the lettering of
the coins which were strewn among broken amphoræ and scraps of
Samian, the very year in which the house was last inhabited. Many
a hoard of silver pieces has been found among these hills, buried
doubtless in some "dark hour of doubt and dread," to wait for
better times that never came. Many a time the labourer's spade has
clashed on a rusted spear-head, a broken urn, a handful of
denarii. At times even on

  "A tarnished ring, whose fiery gems,
      Still on its circle set,
  From the far sands of Indus brought,
  Gleam through their setting, rudely wrought,
  As if the sky, their hues had caught,
      Flamed in their glory yet."

Relics like these--a flint arrowhead, a fragment of pottery, a
handful of denarii, a camp, a tumulus--eke out the scanty records
of the time, the pages of Asser, the meagre outlines of the Saxon

Hardly a point in all the landscape but is linked with some
stirring memory. It was on the little island lying off the point
here that Githa found refuge after Hastings. Two years later all
this shore was ravaged by the sons of Harold; and in the Domesday
record, made eighteen years afterwards, we still can trace their
handiwork in the lessened values of villages they had plundered.
Over and over again after the brief sketch of a hamlet, its list
of boors and villeins, its corn and grass land, its mill, its
fishpond--perhaps even its patch of vineyard--follow such words
as these: "it was worth 100s., now only 60"; or "it was worth four
pounds, now only 40 shillings."

In the Armada days--for half a century, indeed, before the sailing
of "that great fleet invincible"--there stood, on the high ground
across the river, according to a quaint map of the period, "The
Coste of England uppon Seuerne," a tower, in which a gun was
mounted, as a defence against invasion. Not a stone remains of the
tower which in King Harry's time guarded the little port. But all
this coast was armed and ready, years before the sailing of the
Armada, watching for the red glow on Dawnsboro' that should call
up the bold yeomen of the moors to face the "Inquisition dogs, and
the devildoms of Spain."

"The trewthe is," wrote the Muster-Master, in his report to the
Government--"after having vewed and trayned the nombers bothe of
foote and horse twyce since my coming into this countie--the
trewthe is, it is a most gallaunte contrey for the men, armor, and
rediness." The authorities were constantly furnished with
"Certyffycathes," showing the numbers of duly qualified pikemen
and archers. Again and again were the justices urged to keep
everything in readiness, since "the wings of man's life are plumed
with the feathers of death"; and to train their men to meet any
emergency, because "great dilatory wants are found upon all sudden
hurly-burlies." Early Orders in Council declared that any
able-bodied man between seventeen and fifty-nine who should be
found to "lacke a bowe and fower arrowes" was to be fined.

Later, in Elizabeth's reign, more attention was paid to the use of
firearms, and most minute instructions were issued from
headquarters as to the training of marksmen. The musket was to be
fired at first with priming only, then with half a charge, and
finally, when the men were ready for it, the full amount of powder
was to be used. This was with an eye to the right training of men
who, "by reason of the churlishness of their pieces, and not being
made acquainted therewith by degrees, are ever after so
discouraged as either they wincke or pull their heades from the
piece, whereby they take no perfect level, but shoot at random,
and so never prove good shottes."

Among the seaweed on the bank of shingle by the cottage all kinds
of strange things are found--palm wood, long bamboos, seeds from
the West Indies, sabots, children's toys. Once even a clock was
washed up on the beach. A few months since the sands were strewn
with parts of carriages from the wreck of a vessel that was
carrying railway plant to South America. As you stand in the
little garden, whose broad edges are none too good protection for
it against the wind, you will notice that everything about the
place has a touch of this sombre local colouring. Every piece of
woodwork is part of a wreck. There is not a hinge or a bolt,
hardly a nail even that did not come out of some ship's fittings.
The posts on which the garden gate is hung are pieces of a mast.
The gate itself is made of planks that have been picked up on the
sand. Mahogany panels from the saloon of some steamship have been
worked into the walling of the garden shed. No coal is ever needed
here. A little peat is all that is wanted. The sea brings an
endless store of firewood almost to the door.

Too often, alas! the ebbing tide leaves yet sadder jetsam on the
shore--white, still figures, lying face down on the yellow sand;
to be lifted reverently, perhaps, but yet by stranger hands, and
committed with brief rites to the corner of the ancient
burial-ground on the headland yonder, where "the little grey
church on the windy hill" stands among the green graves of
centuries, roofless, dismantled, and forlorn.

[Illustration: MOORLAND NEAR THE SEA.]


The man who can look back over thirty years of rural life, of life
spent among woods and meadows, has doubtless learnt something at
least of the ways of the wild creatures of his district, of its
beasts and birds, of its reptiles, and fish, and insects, even of
forms of life still lower in the scale. In the works of Nature,
her lovers find a never-failing charm. There is no book like hers,
as we read it in green field and country lane, in copse, and
stream, and hedge-row. There is no voice like hers, as we hear it
in the sounds of the wood, in the sounds of the sea, in the sounds
of the night. No poet ever breathed such songs. No writer of
romance has ever woven such tales of mystery and wonder.

There are few of us probably who, looking back on the country life
of our early days, would not be ready to admit that among its
pursuits and pleasures, many and various as they were, the art and
craft of birds'-nesting stood supreme. It is a pursuit that has a
charm peculiarly its own. It may be that, in the days of our
youth, the love of having and holding was one chief motive; a love
that some of us have not shaken off yet, though perhaps, it is
lavished on more useful things. Even the lust of plunder and
destruction may have had its weight with us, as we feel sure it
has with the village children. Not every nest-robber, it is true,
is really a lover of Nature. But the birds'-nester who is a
naturalist born soon wakens, not only to the beauty, but to the
significance, of his fragile treasures.

Perhaps few young collectors pay much conscious attention to the
construction of the nest, or notice how skilfully its materials
are made to harmonise with its surroundings, or see how
wonderfully some eggs are protected by their colouring. But his
would be a dull soul on whom these things did not, sooner or
later, make some impression. There are some birds'-nesters who are
no longer young--no longer able to climb a tree or ford a river,
to whom, year after year, the season of nests brings new delight;
to whom the exquisite workmanship of the chaffinch seems each year
more wonderful than ever, and in whose eyes the blue of a
song-thrush's egg will never lose its charm.

These two nightjars' eggs, for example, are exquisitely beautiful,
with their soft shades of brown and grey, veined like some rare
marble. But as you look at them you think less of their beauty
than of the moment when, in the corner of the old orchard, the
bird got up, almost under your feet, and you watched it sail away
to one of the fir-trees in the hedge-row, and crouch down on a low
branch to watch your movements. Then, looking down, you saw, on
the bare earth, these eggs, so near that another step would have
crushed them. This is only a magpie's egg, but the date on it
reminds you of that stiff climb up the giant fir-tree in the
coppice, when for want of a box to carry them in, you had to bring
your spoil down in your cap held between your teeth; while the
farmer below shouted encouragingly: "Bring 'em all, sir; doän't
'ee leave none on 'em. I doän't want none o' they varmint on my

Here is a kestrel's egg on which there is a date written, and a
name--the name of a once-familiar hill-top. As you look, the
scene of long ago comes back. It was an early morning in May. The
dew lay heavy on the bracken, whose stout young fronds joined
hands across the path. And as you paused on the hill slope and
looked back, you saw how all the upland pastures, and the broad
meadow lands below, were glistening in the light of the just risen
sun. Through the grey haze that veiled the distance showed,
faintly and more faint, range after range of low blue hills, with
white hamlets glimmering here and there. The light of sunrise had
just caught the windows of the old manor house on the slope, some
mile away, and they flashed and flamed like fire. The grey cliffs
above you had the flush of dawn upon their storm-worn steeps, and
the light air tossed the leaves of the wayfaring trees rooted in
the crannies, till they glittered like blades of silver. Among the
elms about the farmstead, on the knoll below, sounded the uneasy
chatter of a magpie. A crow was flying leisurely up to his
fastness in the clump of old Scotch firs on the low hill-top. From
a belt of coppice further down there rose at intervals, above the
low sweet notes of the warblers, the clear call of a cuckoo.
Overhead a woodlark drifted in vast circles, singing as he flew.

When at length you gained the hill crest, you heard the challenge
of a black-cock. Over the wide pasture the lapwings were calling.
Now they wheeled across the pale blue heaven, now they swooped
swiftly almost to the ground, turning over and over in the air.
Now one flew by, so near that you saw clearly the long plume upon
his glossy head, and heard the musical throb of his strong wings
sounding loud in the quiet morning air.

As you paused on the short turf close to the brow of the cliff,
and looking down once more, saw your shadow falling on the young
corn of the ploughed land far below, a hawk dashed out from the
cliff below you, and then, staying its swift course, hovered a
moment in mid air, while the sunshine lighted up its rich brown
plumage. As you peered over the brink of the cliff there were no
signs of a nest. But a tall sapling rooted in a ledge some ten
feet below looked safe to hold by. Cautiously you slid over the
edge, and dropped within reach of the branches, and so, from ledge
to ledge, you climbed slowly down, holding on by points of rock or
tufts of grass, or stems of ivy, until--yes, there, at your feet,
in an arched crevice of the cliff, on a little earth, with no sort
of nest, lay the four exquisite eggs, whose radiant beauty--so
much richer five-and-twenty years since--seemed to your enraptured
gaze to light up the little hollow. As you stooped to take one of
them in your hand--how warm it was--and clung there, gloating over
the beauty of your treasure, the old hawk hovered near, sounding
at times her wild cry of anger and alarm, answered far off by her
fierce mate, hurrying homeward on his swift, keen wings.

It is not given to all alike to be able to appreciate the true
pleasure of a country walk. It is a thing that many of us prize,
and that even more of us long for. And yet there are some people,
really fond of walking, to whom it seems to make little difference
whether their road goes evenly along the Queen's highway, and is
hemmed in by straight stone walls, or loiters through winding
by-ways, under banks crowned with straggling hedge-rows, overhung
with sheltering elms. There are those who take their weekly tramp,
and who say they like it best so, on Sunday, through the
monotonous dreariness of London streets. To them a country walk,
with its possible mud, and with its certain solitude and tameness,
is, at least in fancy, flat and stale and altogether profitless.

It is largely a matter of training. We may learn to love bricks
and mortar and the traffic of the town more than the quiet of
woods and meadows, and the companionship of the everlasting hills.
But there are others who cannot breathe amid the stir and noise
and money-grubbing fever of the city; to whom the air of the open
country is the Elixir of Life; who love its restful quietude, and
who, at each turn along the favourite path, look for some old
friend, some familiar bird, or flower, or insect.

With those who are really fond of rural life, other things have
weight besides the mere landscape, besides the beauty of the view
or the exhilaration of the keen air of the hill-tops. The charm of
woodland walk, of river path, of quiet lanes, or of lonely places
in the hills, is increased a hundredfold by some knowledge of
rural sights and sounds. A power to recognise the songs of birds,
some acquaintance with insect life, a little plant lore, a little
knowledge of rocks and fossils--in a word, some tincture of
Natural History--combine to make a ramble in the country one of
the best things that life can offer us.

This love of Nature is again largely a matter of training.
Schoolboys, as a race, are strangely slow at first to see plants,
or shells, or fossils. But the young birds'-nester, for instance,
whose first motive was, it may be, nothing nobler than the lust of
having and holding, the love of plunder, or even the savage
pleasure of destruction, may soon be trained to see the meaning of
the shape and tints and markings of the eggs; not only to
appreciate the beauty of the nest and the skill with which it was
put together, but to learn in time the song of the builder and to
know something of its habits. The butterfly hunter may be taught
to recognise not merely the beauty of his captives, but to see
something of those marvellous devices by which Nature hides
caterpillar and chrysalis, and even perfect insect, from prying

The boy who has acquired a love for Natural History has something
to be thankful for, all the days of his life, a possession that
may be the means of bringing more comfort to his soul than all the
wisdom of the ancients. Of no man can it be so truly said as of
the naturalist that he

  "Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
  Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

It is true enough that, to most men, a knowledge of flowers or
fossils, of insect life or of the habits of birds, will bring no
return in hard cash. But there are other things in life besides a
balance at the banker's. And a love of art is not more lucrative,
or a taste for music or for books.

There are people who, if they would, might do much to aid the
study of Natural History; people whose avocations take them much
into the open air, and who have opportunities which some of us
long for in vain. The fisherman, the keeper, the shepherd, and the
farm labourer might, if they could be won over to take interest in
such things, contribute not a little to our knowledge of the life
history of even the most familiar of animals. Fishermen along the
coast see things sometimes the description of which rouses envy in
the breasts of less fortunate listeners. Not long since a man was
rowing out to his nets in the early morning just outside the bar
of a small tidal river in the West Country, when he saw a raven
sweeping slowly along the hill-slope near by--the grassy side of a
long promontory stretching far out into the sea, muttering to
itself at times with that deep voice that, happily, is still
familiar to the long-shore dwellers on that coast. Suddenly the
bird paused, and with swift descent swooped down among the brown
heather and the stunted bushes of the hill, seizing in its strong
claws a hare that had been lying crouched among the herbage. But
the bird was too late in using its beak or else missed its stroke
altogether, for in a moment the hare and the raven, locked fast
together, rolled over and over, kicking, struggling, flapping down
the rough slope below; until the bird, dismayed by such an
unwonted experience and the buffeting of the rocks and broken
ground, let go its hold. The hare was on its feet and had vanished
like a flash, while the baffled raven, rising slowly in the air,
sailed reluctantly away.

The naturalist is not now, even in country districts, looked upon
quite in the same light as he once was--but one degree removed
from the state of lunatic. The old order of things, the prejudice,
the bigotry, the superstition of half a century ago has to a great
degree disappeared. There are many English parishes still without
a railway; there is none probably without a newspaper. The
presence of a single naturalist, parson or village doctor, or what
not, has been known, like the little leaven that leaveneth the
whole lump, to rouse a real interest among the neighbours in birds
and beasts and even insects. A man's reputation for being fond of
strange creatures may perhaps be laughed at, at first, and
perhaps be always a little looked down on. But by degrees, very
slow it may be, the influence spreads. The keeper brings him a
strange bird, the labourer a nest of dormice found in stubbing up
a hedge-row, or a clutch of quails' eggs he has come upon among
the clover. The old mole catcher, too, is a very mine of stories
about the strange beasts he has seen in his sixty years'
experience. One of his most wonderful tales is about the great
snake--"more 'n _that_ long,"--a matter of five feet or so,--which
he killed as it was sucking the milk of a cow: "and" as he will
add triumphantly, "there were more 'n a pint of milk in him":--the
crushed eggs of the unfortunate reptile no doubt, but it is
altogether useless to suggest any such paltry explanation.

One autumn a boy at work among the potatoes turned up with his
spade something that instantly, so he declared, became a bird and
flew away. The boy ran home in horror. His parents would not
believe a word of the story, but the boy was too big to be flogged
as a mere liar. They were greatly relieved on learning that
something of the kind was at least possible, and regarded with no
little interest a Death's Head hawkmoth, for such no doubt the
apparition was, preserved in a collection.


The change from egg to caterpillar is a thing with which every
rustic is probably familiar; but in remote rural districts there
are still men who cannot believe that a caterpillar can ever
become a butterfly, and who still entertain strange superstitions
about toads and snakes and slow worms.

Perhaps in time the County Councils may do something for the
rustic enlightenment, by means of lectures and the limelight. The
rural population is, however, notoriously hard of belief; is the
most difficult of all populations to move from the faiths of their
fathers. There is many a farmer's wife even yet who will labour
with the churn from morning till night,--lamenting all the while
that the butter will not come,--rather than by the use of a
thermometer so regulate the temperature that the whole process
would be over in half-an-hour. A series of lectures lately given
in Somersetshire on the management of farm stock was, however,
well attended by the younger farmers at any rate. They were keenly
interested, and although they may, perhaps, have mostly adjourned
afterwards to discuss each discourse at the public-house, it was
not as sceptics; and the local ironmonger always found it
necessary to lay in a stock of thermometers as soon as the
lectures had begun. The older men mostly kept aloof. They had no
faith in any new-fangled ways. They are a stiff-necked generation.
As their fathers did, so do they. One burly, red-faced farmer of
the old school was lately heard to express his contempt for the
educational efforts of the County Council. "What be the use," said
he, "of wasting the public money sending round men to talk about a
dairy as don't know a cow from a elephant? And these yar cook'ry
classes. 'Tis my belief that if a man have got summat to cook,
he'll soon find out how to cook un."

With a few popular lectures and a little practical help and
guidance the farmer and the farm labourer might render untold
service to science, with all their long hours in the open air,
summer and winter, seedtime and harvest. They see some strange
things now, or think they see them. Snakes are the theme of many
marvellous tales. "I were walking along the path through the
wheat," said an old villager, "when I heard a rustling, like a
robbut: I thought 'twere a robbut. But a gurt viper come out of
the wheat and jumped across the path so high's my head."

A captive tortoise escaped one day into the road, and was soon the
centre of a knot of astonished villagers. After long debate they
concluded it was either "a tremendous gurt tooad, or some
wendimous warmint"; and they decided to kill it on the spot--a
task of no small difficulty, as may well be imagined.

[Illustration: A QUIET CORNER.]


On the south slope of an old West Country orchard there is a
sheltered corner lying open to the sun. Above it rises a broad,
unkempt, straggling hedge-row--holly and hawthorn, bramble and
sweetbriar--and behind this again the green slopes of the hill. On
the left, rising at intervals through the tangled thickets that
form the eastern limit of the orchard, is a line of old Scotch
firs, and beyond them, dimly seen through the haze that broods
over the landscape, are the grey ramparts of a range of limestone
cliffs. The wind of March is in the dark foliage of the firs,
tossing their gnarled arms against the pallid sky. But here the
golden blossoms of the gorse, the brown stems of last year's
bracken, stand unmoved. The dark firs are stirring with a sound as
of the sea, but here, on this sunlit slope, is the very air of

  "... the grace,
    The golden smile of June,
  With bloom and sun in every place,
    And all the world in tune."

Butterflies flit idly by--dark-winged peacocks, soft brown
tortoise-shells, pale yellow brimstones like flying gleams of
sunshine. The apple boughs are fretted all over with fine points
of green, the purple mist round the heads of the great elms
deepens in the warm air, the old hedge-row wears already the
bright garb of spring. The air is full of spring time, of the
breath of primroses and violets, full of pleasant sounds of
country life, of the wakening of the world, of the happy voices of
a hundred birds, whose glad hearts are revelling in the golden

The birds know well this sunny hollow. Here spring comes early,
and summer lingers late. While the fields without are white with
wintry rime,

  "... here the glancing sunbeams throng,
  And tasselled larches droop to hear
      A grace of fleeting song."

To-day, on every side, the feathered woodlanders are stirring.
From an old Scotch fir that towers out of the hedge-row--its dark
shape showing like a shadow through the leafless boughs of the
apple-trees--falls the rich music of a blackbird's song, clear and
wild and flute-like. He is a noble singer; less great, indeed,
than the song-thrush, but yet a master of his art. And there are
those who hold that there is more beauty in the depth and
richness, in the power and passion, of his few brief bars, than in
all the magnificent anthem of his rival. Farther off, low down in
a leafless elm by the border of the orchard, is the thrush
himself, flooding the whole glade with his wonderful melody. Over
and over there sounds the polished lyric of the wren; over and
over again the metallic clink of a coaltit rings out above the
plaintive carol of the robin, the sober ditty of the
hedge-sparrow. Over all the fields the larks are singing. In the
hedges that skirt the orchard sounds the sweet cadence of the
chaffinch, the wild warble of the missel-thrush, at times the
ringing call of some light-hearted oxeye. From farther up the
hollow, from his sanctuary in the old, neglected wilderness of
unpruned, lichen-coated trees, floats down the soft laugh of a
woodpecker, a mellow sound, a note of peace and solitude, and
sylvan greenness. Is it only fancy that here, among these hills,
in this sweet country air, among these untarnished immemorial
elms, there is more melody in the skylark's song, that there is a
finer tone in the cool, clear singing of the robin, that there is
a touch of music in the chatter of the very sparrows? But hark, a
fainter note floats lightly down from the tree-tops; a note not
strong or musical, but heard through all the blended harmonies of
a score of singers. It is the call of the chiff-chaff, the first
returning wanderer from the warm south, fresh from the orange
groves of Sorrento, or the sunny slopes of the Sabine hills. When
his small figure shows presently against the dark foliage of a
Scotch fir, there is that about him which seems to suggest that he
is well content with his home-coming, even though woods are bare
and skies are cheerless. He flutters up and down among the
branches, never still for a moment. Even when he pauses,--looking
like a point of light against the sombre leaves behind him,--to
call his own name over and over, it is easy to see that his whole
small figure is trembling with the ardour of his eager little

A tiny figure, and a simple song. But there is more of meaning in
those few faint notes than in all the rest of the great chorus
that day by day is gathering strength in the woodland. For in the
chiff-chaff's call there is the Promise of Spring. It is said that
when the Siberian exiles hear for the first time, after their long
and bitter winter, the cry of the cuckoo, the familiar voice
rouses in their weary souls a resistless longing to taste once
more, if only for a day, the sweets of freedom; that there are
always some who, at the summons, elude the vigilance of their
guards, and take to the forest, lured by the magic of that
wandering voice. And so, in our hearts, this feeble note rouses a
longing for green fields and country lanes, for flowers and
sunshine, for summer and the coming of the swallows.

Somewhere in the elms a nuthatch sounds at intervals his
flute-like call--a wandering voice, now among the topmost
branches, whose sunlit purple holds so well against the pallid
blue, now near the ground, now in some mighty bough that leans
far out over the field. Now the bird's figure shows darkly on the
sky, and now, as he glides head foremost down, like the born
acrobat that he is, his grey plumage lights up for a moment in the
sunshine. And now he leaves the tree, still calling as he flies,
and sinks down among that grey fringe of orchard, where his mate
and he have, perhaps, already fixed on the hole in the old apple
tree in which they mean to take up their quarters for the season.

The old hedge-rows round the orchard are but wintry still for the
most part, save for a few buds of hawthorn just breaking into
leaf, or an elder bush already tinged with green. But on the banks
of the tiny stream that wanders leisurely along the lane below,
celandine and sweet violet are in bloom; and primroses, no longer
pale and stunted, as in the rougher days of March, lend their rare
perfume to the air. Meadowsweet and brooklime are springing by the
oozy shore, and on the dark boughs of the alders that lean over it
the catkins cluster thick.

In a blackthorn bush, whose armed sprays are lightly touched with
blossom as with new fallen snow, two wrens alight; two tiny
figures, mere balls of brown feather, so near that every line of
the wavy, shell-like marking on their backs is plain to see. Now
one of them, poised on a briar stem, breaks suddenly into song,
turning from side to side, his wings parted, his atom of a tail
expanded to the full. The brief lyric ended, he flies down to join
his mate, who waits demurely in the bush below, and for a minute
or two they flutter and play, and whisper to each other soft notes
of fond endearment--the sweetest bit of love-making imaginable.

Farther on, in a young oak tree in the hedge-row, two blackbirds
have alighted. Not lovers, nothing like it, paying no manner of
heed to each other's presence. One of them flies down--a splendid
figure, with his new black coat, with the bright golden orange of
his bill. Instantly the other is down too, in front of him. A
moment they stand thus, motionless. Then, with loud notes of
challenge, they tilt headlong at each other, beaks down, wings and
tail spread wide, their whole dark plumage rough with rage. Again
and again they meet in the shock of battle, rushing each on the
other's weapon, rising at last into the air, fluttering and
fighting, the snapping of their bills heard plainly fifty yards
away. Five minutes only the conflict lasts. More than one
historic field has been lost and won in time as brief. It is all
over. The victor stands alone upon the grass. His beaten rival is
in full flight far down the hedge-row. A moment later the queen of
beauty, who from her perch among the blackthorns has watched the
tournament unseen, flies down to the hero of her choice. It is the
old story; a tale far older than the days of Thais--"None but the
brave, none but the brave, none but the brave deserves the fair."

Here in this happy valley there has not been, for weeks past, one
clouded hour. March has shown, all through, the temper of the
lamb; nor now, in his last hours, does he show signs of changing
mood. To seaward it is true the haze deepens to a cold grey fog,
and the sullen booming of the distant fog guns is sounding
faintly, at intervals, even now. On the hill the lapwings are
calling, their plaintive voices softened by the distance, and at
times their dark figures show against the pale blue sky, as they
rise and fall above the limestone cliffs that skirt the hill.

Yonder crow, drifting up the slope, keeping low down, as if
fearing to be seen, is making for his fastness among the
fir-trees on the hill-crest higher up. He may well keep out of
sight. Only last week two lambs were found in a field near the
crow's nest, dying, with their eyes torn out. And the magpie,
chuckling now and then in doubtful tone, somewhere at the foot of
the orchard, has here a reputation almost as much blown upon.
Terrible fellows, both of them, in lambing time or in the poultry
yard. But they have been working hard and honestly enough all the
rest of the year. Some people seem to think that the destruction
of a chicken or two, or the theft of a few eggs, far outweighs a
whole year of good deeds--the slaughter of unnumbered grubs,
wire-worms, mice, and beetles.

At regular intervals, a few seconds apart, there sounds from a
tall ash tree in the hollow the drone of a greenfinch, monotonous
and unmusical. Was there ever such a drowsy sound? And yet when he
breaks off presently in a stave of his own wild song, his voice is
one of the sweetest of sweet sounds, a light and breezy ripple of
love and sun and happiness. Pleasant, too, are the notes of the
chaffinches that flit in and out of the hedgerow. And never surely
was there sweeter blackbird's song than that wild lyric sounding
now among the trees that overhang the well. In the top of the
great elm that leans over the orchard stile there is such a chorus
of tongues, such a babel of linnet and blackbird, of sparrow and
jackdaw, with intervals of untuneful chattering, whistling,
piping, that you fancy twenty performers at the least. But it is
only a starling telling all the world in his quaint way of his joy
in this unwonted sunshine. Now he breaks off into the song of a
swallow, copied from the life. He may have heard it this very
morning. Or it may be merely that the impulse of the spring time
rouses in his heart a memory of the long absent wanderer, just as
on rough days of autumn you may hear him mock the curlew's cry
because the wind is roaring like the sea.

A very real note of spring is the hum of that burly bumble-bee
sailing along the hedge-row in search of some convenient hollow,
some abandoned mouse-hole it may be, in which to build her nest.
Her nest, not his, or theirs. She has no mate. He died in the
autumn, and on her alone devolves the labour of rearing the new

Among the stones that years of patient toil have heaped under this
straggling hedge-row, the long-hidden slaves of Nature are broad
awake and busy, revelling in the brightness of these delightful
days. A crowd of insects, flies, and bees, and beetles are coming
out of their long hiding to sun their stiffened limbs. Butterflies
flit lightly down the hedge-row, some newly waked from sleep, and
some that have but just broken the dry husk of their chrysalis
condition, and are spreading for the first time their beautiful

To the lover of the sights and sounds of Nature, life has few
better things to offer than a quiet hour, some bright spring
morning, under the shadow of a green arch of blossomed boughs, in
company with gentle, beautiful, sweet-voiced poets of the air,
glad, like him, in the sunshine and the fragrance. Is it a mere
flight of fancy that the feathered architects, no less than the
ballad singers, of this out-of-the-way corner of the world are
masters of their art above the birds of less favoured regions?
Look at this chaffinch's nest, cradled in the end of an
apple-bough, so dexterously woven in among the twigs in which it
rests, so daintily touched with silvery points of lichen, so
perfect a harmony with its surroundings that one might well fancy
it had grown there, some strange product of the tree. While just
above it, an apple bough in bloom, the rich gold of clustered
stamens just showing through the white and pink of still half-open
flowers, lends the crowning touch of beauty.

Few birds, perhaps, have employed more curious decoration than a
pair of hedge sparrows, who, this spring, attached to their nest
with strands of bass a label, bearing in large letters the legend,
"Early English." In a crevice of the old wall, just outside the
orchard, is the work of another master-builder, a wren. The dry
grass and skeleton leaves of its framework match exactly with the
weather-worn and lichen-stained masonry about it. And slender
sprays of ivy, clinging to the rough surface of the stone, spread
round it their beautiful young leaves. Another wren's nest, in an
old stump, just filling a space among great grey ivy stems, is
built wholly of moss, so fresh and green, so true a copy of the
natural growths on the dead wood, that the eye would hardly have
discovered it, had not the little architect itself betrayed it.
But there is a third wren's nest, in the old cart-shed in the
corner of the orchard, that surpasses even these. It is built of
dry grass, in the straw of the thatch, framed by the rough
rafters, and around it, and over it, there hang down as if to hide
it the threshed-out ears that have been left upon the straw. And
within the small round entrance is the builder's tiny head, her
bright eyes showing plainly in the ring of shadow. Wrens are among
the shyest and most fastidious of birds. Many a one has abandoned
her nest, and all the eggs in it, because some curious passer-by
has touched it in her absence, never so gently. But this one, as
if confiding in the honour of her visitors, sits on unmoved. There
is a ringdove's nest quite low down in a holly tree in the orchard
hedge, and not only will the bird allow you to stand beneath and
watch her, but when, a few days since, a ladder was placed against
the tree, she waited until she was within arm's reach before she
left her nest. She made a fine picture as she sat there, proudly
unconscious of the intruders, not even deigning to turn her head
to look at them, the soft lavender of her beautiful plumage
relieved by the clouding of white feathers on her neck. At length
she could bear it no longer. She went crashing off through the
holly twigs, her great wings clattering as she flew. So shallow
and insecure was the frail platform on which she had been
sitting, that her sudden start threw one of her two nestlings over
the side. It was handed up again, apparently none the worse for
its adventure; and the two youngsters crouched trembling in the
slight hollow; two blind, helpless, hideous, evil-looking little
creatures; a whole world of difference between them and the
stately, fearless bird who, a minute before, had covered them with
the shadow of her wings.

More fearless still is a blue-tit that has her dwelling in a
crevice in the wall some fifty yards further on. It is a tiny
hole, and the nest is far in, but you can see her sitting there,
her pretty head and one of her bright eyes just showing over the
mossy rim. She is not in the least shy of being looked at. Indeed,
if you touch her nest with a straw she will spar at it and hiss,
making a noise for all the world like the spitting of an angry
kitten, even coming to the door to storm at the intruder, but
without the least idea of leaving her unprotected offspring to his

But other tenants of the hollow revel in the sunshine besides the
birds and the bees and the butterflies. These straggling
hedge-rows are the haunt of finch and blackbird. Crow and magpie
and squirrel hide their homes among the thick foliage of the firs.
Nightjars love this quiet corner, and the nuthatch and the wryneck
find sanctuary in the hollows of the trees. But the stony bank
along the hedge, sweet now with violets, and strewn with stars of
celandine spreading wide their golden petals to the sun, is of all
spots the viper's favourite haunt.

All along the bank and far in among the thickets are heaped
fragments of red sandstone that by slow degrees have been cleared
from these sterile pastures. The sun is on them from dawn till
sunset. They are quite hot to the touch. Here, then, the viper
loves to lie, warming his cold heart upon the heated stone. On a
day like this he is wide awake, quick in his movements, and off
like a flash, especially if once alarmed. Slowly, silently, with
stealthy steps must you approach his haunt.

There he is, loosely coiled against a flat slab of sandstone, his
cold, unwinking eye set in a fixed stare, looking straight this
way. The broad zigzag stripe along his back is boldly drawn on the
pale brown of his coat. Plain even at this distance is the V-like
mark upon his head. But he has begun to move. Before you can reach
him he has vanished among the stones. There is nothing for it but
to sit down a few yards away, hidden by a dwarf blackthorn bush,
and wait patiently for his re-appearing. How quiet it all is. The
hamlet on the hill-slope yonder--

  "One of those little places that have run
  Half up the hill beneath a burning sun,
  And then sat down to rest, as if to say,
  'I climb no further upward, come what may'"--

looms faintly through the haze. The white houses scattered through
the valley melt away into the mist. But the sun is still warm. The
cones of the old firs crackle in the sunshine. Still sweeter grows
the faint perfume of the gorse, still more beautiful its radiant
gold. A bullfinch settles in a tree hard by. There is no colour in
Nature more beautiful than the exquisite flush of crimson on his
breast. Quite in keeping with his beauty is the soft sweetness of
the tender love note that now and then he whispers to his mate,
who, in colours far less bright than his, sits just below him on a
lichened apple bough. Hark! a faint sound among the dry brambles
on the bank, a long rustle, and then through the blackthorn stems
the slender shape of the viper glides softly down to the warm

Here he comes, gliding boldly from his harbour in the bank. His
brown mail glistens in the sun, his red eyes glance swiftly right
and left, his long tongue flickers through his fast shut lips. He
coils his long body round between two stones, whose warm red seems
warmer still to-day, fitting himself comfortably in the angle of
the stones, there he lies motionless. Small beetles creep over him
unseen and unregarded. He pays no heed when a butterfly settles
close by him to sun its splendid wings. But he is broad awake.

Now move slowly towards the spot. Some sound startles him. He
lifts his head and gives a swift glance this way. He is going.
Twitch him out on the grass with your stick, hold him down a
moment, and then, watching your opportunity, take him up by the
tail. An angry beast he is, hissing and struggling, making vain
attempts to reach his captor's hand. He can only lift his head a
few inches, and there is no fear at all of his doing any harm.
There is no doubt about the harm he can do. A viper's bite,
especially in hot weather, is painful enough, though seldom
dangerous. But the farmer who comes up at this moment eyes the
captive with grim satisfaction. Heifers, he says, are often
bitten, even horses. "Doän't 'ee let un go," he adds anxiously; "I
doän't like none o' they beasts about."

[Illustration: THE GREENWOOD TREE.]


It is a very blaze of sunshine that fills the open spaces of the
wood. The tall ash saplings that join hands across the path, now
almost lost among the briar sprays, the trailing woodbine, and the
long arms of wandering bryony, sway slowly in the hot and heavy
air. But the stir of the leaves that flutter lightly overhead,
their green lacework all dark against the summer sky, is a
restful, soothing sound.

It is a pleasant relief to turn aside a little from the pathway,
to wade breast high through the green jungle of the underwood to a
little place out of the sunshine, a hollow walled half way round
by a line of low grey rocks, almost hidden by thick tapestries of
ivy. Two noble trees that stand on either side, two stately
Spanish chestnuts, spread their arms over it, as if in
benediction. Overhead, their

  "... dark foliage interweaves
    In one unbroken roof of leaves.
    Underneath whose sloping eaves
        The shadows hardly move."

A cool and quiet spot. Like the poet who found it pleasant,
through the loopholes of retreat, "To see the tumult and not feel
the stir," we too, from the kindly shadow of these great chestnut
trees, can look out on the woodland in its pride of summer glory,
with its flowers and its fragrance and its greenness, nor feel the
heat and glare and the pitiless weight of the sunshine.

Day after day, week after week, there has been

  "... that nameless splendour everywhere
  That makes the passers in the city street
  Congratulate each other as they meet."

Yet perhaps the full beauty of such weather, its wealth of
flowers and foliage, its abundance of bird and insect life, above
all its half-tropic heat, is for the country rather than the town.
Among stone walls and pavements summer days are too often
weariness, and summer nights but stifling. In the country the
glare of noon is tempered by cool winds, softened by grass and
foliage. There, too, the hot air of night is sweetened with the
breath of honeysuckle and jasmine; and through wide open windows
the scent of the roses floats up to us

  "Like sweet thoughts in a dream."

If the town is close and sultry, woodland and green lane are at
their best and sweetest. In the country at any rate--

  "There is no price set on the lavish summer,
  And June may be had by the poorest comer."

Though the flowers of May have passed into a proverb, it is June
after all that gives to the fields and by ways their crowning
grace and beauty. May draped all the trees with fresh young
foliage, deepened April's mist of bluebells, and whitened the
hedge-rows with blossoming hawthorn. May was a month of broad
effects and lavish colouring. Here she silvered a whole field with
daisies, as with a light fall of snow. And here, like a cunning
alchemist, she changed with her buttercups the green of a rich
pasture-land to a blaze of living gold. But there is yet more of
beauty in the fields of June. Even in the Tropics, travellers tell
us, there is nothing so superbly beautiful as an English midsummer
meadow--whether an upland pasture, with its hawkweed and lotus,
its scented grasses and sweet clover blooms; or a low-lying field
along some loitering stream, where, in the swampy soil, among the
tasselled sedges, spring fiery spikes of orchis, foamy
meadow-sweet, and tall flower-de-luce.

If June is the most flowery of months, May is certainly the most
musical. The days are drawing near when there will settle on the
green world of woods and lanes and meadows the silence of the
summer. The grey dawn is still almost as full as ever of sweet
sounds. The songs of thrush and blackbird are still glorious in
the evening twilight. Wren and robin still sing to us at intervals
from dawn to sunset. But through the long hours of daylight we
miss already the notes of many a wandering singer, for whom June
is the limit of the season. Already the cuckoo's voice is
breaking. We have but another week, at the farthest, of the
nightingale's song. His is a superb and matchless melody. Many a
time, it is true, have the notes of thrush or blackcap, or even of
sedge-warbler, been mistaken for it. Sweet singers, all of them.
Yet it is strange that anyone who has ever fairly listened to the
chief of song could confuse with his magnificent strains the note
of the most musical of thrushes.

But it is to singers less skilled and less famous than the
nightingale that the woodland owes its greatest charm: light
wingèd dryads of the trees, without whose songs and call notes,
and mere life and movement, the lover of Nature thinks that
"summer is not summer, nor can be." The willow-warbler's song, a
little careless cadence of soft notes that at intervals seems to
filter lightly down among the branches, is the very soul of
sunshine and sweet air. The wood wren's call is like no other
sylvan sound. Its plaintive, long-drawn, monotonous notes, often
growing louder towards the close, are sometimes so sonorous and
far-reaching that it is hard to credit they can come from so
diminutive a singer. His actual song is a little gush of simple
notes again and again repeated, from his perch on the end of some
leafless bough high up among the trees. It is not remarkable for
melody, though now and then there is a very real touch of
sweetness in it, and after the first rather deliberate beginning
it is so hurried as to give the listener the impression that the
bird is trying to crowd twenty notes into a single beat.

The whitethroat is another hasty singer, but he has a greater gift
of music, and his manner of singing--sometimes taking short
flights into the air the while, and then diving back into the
thicket--his quick movements, the almost luminous whiteness of his
swelling throat, rank him among the most charming of woodlanders.
Yet his haunt is rather on the skirts of the wood than in the
heart of it. He is still more a roadside singer, and greatly given
to building his frail nest of grass in the thorny depths of some
old hedge-row, or even among the nettles on the bank.

But of all the sylvan minstrels the blackcap has, after the
nightingale, the most silvery tongue, and we hear so much more of
him in the country generally--not only is he more widely
distributed, but he sings again when his brood are fledged and
flown, which the nightingale never does--that to most of us he is
much the more familiar, perhaps we might even say he is more
highly prized than the acknowledged chief of song himself. Watch
him now, before household cares have for the time taken up all his
care and attention. See him balanced, with his breast of tender
grey, his black crest slightly lifted, on a spray of briar that,
swaying underneath his weight, trembles with the energy of his
wild and mellow notes--now clear and loud, and reaching, it may
be, far beyond the limits of the wood; now tender and soft and
low, and low and lower yet, until at a yard's distance hardly
heard. A beautiful song. A song that to White of Selborne, as
doubtless to many a Nature lover since his day, always brought
back with its wild sweetness the lines of Amien's song:

     "Under the greenwood tree,
     Who loves to lie with me
     And turn his merry note
     Unto the sweet bird's throat:
  Come hither, come hither, come hither."

A bird flies into the tree near by. A blue-tit, smartest of his
race. He stands a moment on the edge of a hole in the level bough,
looks round twice, then dives in and disappears. And out of that
stronghold of his, snugly lined with moss, and hair, and
feathers, he will not stir for you or any man. But yonder is a
figure, in a tree some twenty yards away, from which perhaps even
the bold blue-tit would fly in terror. A lithe brown creature is
climbing leisurely out of a hole high up in the trunk--a weasel,
searching for eggs, no doubt. Up the tree he goes, more lightly
even than a squirrel, right to the very topmost branches. Now down
he comes again, head first, and makes his way to another tree. As
he canters lightly through the long grass he pauses now and then
to rear on his hind legs and peer sharply round over the green
jungle, looking for the moment, quite bird-like. Two more trees he
climbs, searching every likely spot among the boughs, prying into
every hole and cranny--clearly a birds'-nester born. A master of
woodcraft, too, for when you move nearer for a better view, he
vanishes. He is there all right, lying close behind some branch,
no doubt; but he is as completely screened from sight as if he
wore the magic cap of Perseus. He is a tiny figure at the most.
The birds take no notice of him. The yellow-hammer goes on with
his sleepy tune, and the greenfinch in the elm above him with his
yet sleepier drawl, while a linnet in the tree near by sings
undisturbed his sweet and dainty song, that in itself is like a
gleam of sunshine.

The whole woodland is astir with life and movement and sweet
sounds of song. Look at that bullfinch yonder, balanced on a spray
of woodbine, that swings lightly beneath his weight. Leaning
forward a little, with his black head turned slightly on one side,
he picks off, as if in pure mischief, the dainty tufts that
cluster on the branches near him, while the ruined leaves fall in
a very shower. A beautiful figure. There is not in Nature a hue
more lovely than the exquisite flush of crimson on his breast.
Close by him, as if by way of foil to his perfect beauty, sit two
sober-clad companions, dull and grey and colourless, yet to the
full as mischievous as he.

Sunny spaces in the wood are filled with hovering insects, whose
tiny figures rise and fall like motes in the warm air; beetles for
the most part, not flies; small, black, long-bodied beetles, the
very same that give us such annoyance by getting in our eyes in
the twilight.

Butterflies cross and recross the clearing--some so brilliant in
their whiteness that they almost suggest yet brighter gleams of
sunshine. Some, again, are dark and sombre, and like patches of
moving shadow. Now one brave in black and scarlet flashes past.
Now one on wings of golden brown sails leisurely along. And some
there are, small, sylph-like figures, that float lightly by, as
blue as the unclouded heaven overhead. Some moths, too, are
abroad, even at this hour and in this fierce sunshine--moths clad
in the very softest tints, the most ethereal tones of fawn and
grey, of brown and yellow. Some are without a mark on their pure
colouring, and some are daintily pencilled with shell-like lines
and bars. To and fro in the sunbeams, whose misty shafts slant
through the thickets, hover a crowd of winged things--of great
bees, black or yellow or tipped with fiery red, flies of many
hues, beetles light and dark--and the sound of their multitudinous
wings seems to fill the hot summer air. Insects make up no small
part, perhaps even the larger part, of the life of the woodland.

The woods just now are swarming with caterpillars, many of which,
perhaps even the majority, belong to the class called geometers,
from the curious way in which they move along, arching their
bodies in a fashion that reminds the observer of a man measuring
a distance by "spanning" it with his hand. A much more curious
point about them is their wonderful mimicry of the twigs of the
tree on which they live: a fact which has earned for them the name
of "stick" caterpillars. Their skins are the colour of the bark,
their bodies have knots and markings exactly like twigs. And when
one of them waits motionless, standing erect on its hinder set of
feet--an attitude it can preserve for hours together, it looks so
like a piece of stick that even a naturalist has related how he
was about to prune a twig from one of his fruit trees, and had
even touched it with his knife before he saw that it was not
vegetable at all, but one of these "stick" caterpillars. One
cannot help wondering if birds are taken in too.

The curious movements of these geometers are due to their
comparatively scant supply of legs. There is an amusing ballad
called "The Bishop and the Caterpillar," which describes, after
the manner of "Ingoldsby," how a great dignitary of the Church
inspected a village school. The children acquitted themselves

  "For the Bishop, to his great pleasure, found
  That they knew the date when our Queen was crowned.
  And the number of pence which make up a pound;

  And the oceans and seas which our island bound;
  That the earth is nearly, but not quite, round;
  Their orthography, also, was equally sound."

The gratified examiner, declaring that it was only fair for the
scholars to have their turn, proposed they should question him. A
small boy in the audience, unawed even by a Bishop, instantly

  "... raised his head
      And abruptly said:
  How many legs has a caterpillar got?"

Here was a poser indeed. Kings of Israel, now, his lordship might
have known; very likely the date of the Second Punic War; perhaps
even some of the counties of England. But caterpillars were beyond
his ken. It was to no purpose that he privately invoked, under
cover of making a speech, the aid of the rector, of the curates,
of the schoolmaster. Not one of them knew. In vain was the beadle
sent out in hot haste to interrogate passers-by. He returned
disconsolate, and whispered to the anxious Bishop "Nobody knows."
In the end the questioner himself supplied the information, and

  "... with a countenance gay,
  Said 'Six, for I counted 'em yesterday.'"

It rather spoils the point of the story that, although
caterpillars have indeed, on one-half of the body, the six legs of
the perfect or winged condition, most of them have ten more, very
substantial ones too, on the other half, making not six, but
sixteen. Some, indeed, have only fourteen; while these geometers
are driven to adopt the attitudes they do because they have to
shuffle along as best they can, on no more than ten legs

There are few points of brighter colour among the world of green.
Not many brilliant flowers grow well in the very heart of the
woods. Along the paths there is a fringe of hawkweed and crowfoot
and yellow cistus. And where the sunlight is less broken by the
trees there are patches of red lychnis and tall crowns of white
cow parsley. In the clearings strawberries run riot, in flower
still, but with scantier harvest than usual of the small sweet
fruit, in whose pleasant flavour is a dash of woodland wildness.
There is honeysuckle everywhere, trailing on the ground, creeping
among the bushes, and climbing up out of the green tangle, laying
hold of trees and saplings to help it to the light. And as it
climbs it twines with fatal clasp about the friendly stems, slowly
tightening its embrace, sometimes cutting deep into the wood,
sometimes even killing the branch outright, and going up until at
times a green canopy of it crowns boughs thirty feet above the
ground, while its flowery clusters scent the woodland. And as
evening darkens, "What time the blackbird pipes to vespers from
his perch," when the heat of the long summer day gives place to
the cooler, sweeter air of night, the fragrance grows until the
whole glade is conscious of its subtle charm. Briar bushes there
are in plenty, and some of them are lightly set with delicate
blossoms. But the dog-roses are at their best, not here, but on
the skirts of the wood, where the long, swaying sprays are crowded
with those sweetest flowers of June.

But the glory of the woodland is in its trees; in its sturdy oaks,
and stately beeches, its old Scotch firs and graceful larch trees.
There is no season when the larch is without some charm. It is
beautiful in the springtime, when its sprays are set with
exquisite red blossoms, like fairy jewel-work. It is beautiful
when among soft tufts of green the brown cones harden in the
pleasant sun of May. It is beautiful now, when the flowing,
feathery plumes wear the soberer hue of summer. Nor is the beauty
greatly less when, in the chill autumn days, that hue changes
slowly into yellow. Nor is it wholly lost, even in the dead of
winter, when, in the frosty sunshine, the bare boughs seem to glow
like gold against the pale blue sky.

The mist of bluebells, that lingered here so late, has vanished.
The fiery spikes of early orchis are all spent and faded. The
'lords and ladies' have given place to little clusters of green
berries, that these sunny days will swiftly ripen to red beads of
coral. Yet there are other flowers, with even more of beauty, that
love the greater heat of summer. Few are more lovely than the
white butterfly orchis; fewer still more fragrant. It has allies
that mimic with marvellous faithfulness the forms of bees and
flies and spiders. They are plants of the heath, of the sunny
meadow, and the open hill. But here is one, perhaps the least
striking of the clan, that will flourish in the shadow, and that
grows well even here in the half twilight of the trees. The
quiet-coloured petals of the tway-blade are not like fly or bee or
any insect. Each floweret on its plain, unscented spike is the
little green figure of a man, a man with outstretched arms. One
might almost fancy that the plant was copying shapes long lost to
our dulled vision; that this quiet nook was not alone

  "... for pretty cares
     With mate and nest,
  A lurking-place of tender airs
     From south and west;"

but that it was peopled still by the green-clad gnomes of old
belief; that these woodland aisles were even now a place

  "Where elves hold midnight revel,
     And fairies linger still."

[Illustration: THE HARVEST MOON.]


It is the heavy rain no less than the chilly air, the wet days as
well as the frosty nights, which have earned for October its added
name, and which mark this month so clearly as the real end of a
season. We often get a long spell of warm weather in September; it
may linger even over the opening of October; but it is October
that sets for good and all its fiery seal upon the ruins of the
summer. Yet October has been a delightful month; a month of golden
dawns, bright days, and fiery sunsets. And it is closing with
quiet moonlight nights under whose gauzy veil the landscape lies
transfigured, and far hills show faintly as through mists of
dreamland. This is St. Martin's Summer:

  "The summer and the winter here
     Midway a truce are holding.
  A soft, consenting atmosphere
     Their tents of peace enfolding."

The colours of the leaves, that so long seemed cold and sullen,
are swiftly changing in the sharpening air of night. Among the
tattered foliage there broaden, day after day, gleams of that
fiery splendour that in a few weeks will flare through the length
and breadth of the woodland, like the afterglow of summer. The few
last leaves of the wild cherry shine like fire in the coppice, and
the horse chestnuts in the meadow are all gold from base to crown.
Dead leaves lie thick upon the rustling pathway, where brown of
oakleaf, crimson of beech, russet of maple, and gold of elm, lends
each its own particular note of colour to the splendid carpet;
while the foliage of the sycamore, still clinging to its brilliant
stalks, is painted with such varied tints, such greens and browns,
such inky blacks and flaming yellows, that one might almost fancy
some young dryad had been wandering through the woodland with her
brush and had tried her colours on the leaves.

So bright the days have been, so warm is the lingering sunshine,
that even the thrush has been trying over his old sweet songs, yet
to airs so quiet and subdued that they seemed but a reverie of
springtime. All day the robin sings. He is the minstrel of the
autumn. Now when other birds are silent his voice rings clear
through the deserted woods, and we realise more fully how passing
sweet are his familiar melodies.

There are few signs of life among the autumn trees. The jays
wrangle as they gather the acorns, and at times a troop of
fieldfares chatter as they pass. But the sounds of the October
woodland are the patter of falling leaves--now filling the air
like rain, and now whirled along the path in fiery eddy; the rush
of the wind among the rocking tops; and now and then the creak of
branches interlocked, that chafe and fret almost with a cry of
pain, such as in old days, ere Pan was dead, startled the
woodcutter on the slopes of Apennine.

We wander in the woods, however, with senses unattuned to sights
and sounds about us. Had we but eyes we could not fail to see some
life stirring even now. Were our ears but trained aright we should
be aware of ceaseless sounds of movement. The birds are here, had
we but the gift to see them. If no ringdove coos in the shadow of
the pines, we may hear as our footsteps rustle on the leafy ways,
the crash of wings among distant branches. If no woodpecker's
shout breaks in upon the stillness, we may watch the silent figure
of the forester in green close crouched against the giant elm. If
no magpie chatters in the tree-tops we may at least catch a
glimpse of black and white plumage as the wary old campaigner
dives into the thickets. This old fir just off the pathway, with
its close growing foliage and its canopies of ivy and woodbine, is
a screen at once from the wind and the keen eyes of the
woodlanders. In its shadow we may stand aside and watch the life
of the woods go by, perhaps even overhear some of the secrets of

  "Light wingèd dryads of the trees."

Jays, that just now were busy over the acorns, are moving
leisurely down the slope, absorbed in gossip, wholly unconscious
of any spectator of their movements. There is a wide difference
between the quick, impetuous actions of a startled jay, on the
look-out for danger, and his lazy, loitering manner when he is
quite at his ease, and thinks no one is watching him. Now, as
they come nearer, they break into a chorus of loud, harsh notes,
mingling with their own wild sylvan speech scraps borrowed from
magpie and missel-thrush. Now one mimics the hoarse cry of a crow
just sailing over. Now they all join in a babel of odd,
inarticulate, indescribable sounds. Still nearer they come.
Suddenly one alights close by, three yards off at farthest. He is
off again in a moment, too scared to speak. Here comes another.
He, too, settles near, but notices nothing. What a handsome fellow
he is! What a splendid touch of blue there is in his wing--a blue
such as no sapphire or lapis or turquoise could really rival for a
moment. His crest is slightly lifted; the sunlight glistens on his
polished bill. Easily he sways on a tall ash sapling, looking idly
round. Suddenly he starts--is gone. One by one his comrades reach
the tree. One after one the startled birds take wing again and
vanish in the thickets. The rustle of their quick movements dies
away. Their clamorous cries grow fainter, and then cease. Silence
settles down once more--the silence of a sleep.

The sharp touch of winter in October has changed the whole face of
things. Cold and wind and wet have set their mark alike on
woodland and on garden border. Everywhere there is change. The
birds of summer have all left us. No bee or wasp is stirring. In
this pallid sunshine are no gnats to poise in cloudy column. No
moths hover on quivering wings among the ruined flowers. Of the
shy four-footed creatures of whose lives we know so little, some
are still broad awake and busy, caring nothing for the cold; but
some have already entered on their winter sleep. The dormouse is
rolled in his snug ball of moss, the hedgehog is buried in his bed
of leaves. Grass-snake and viper have crawled away into warm
hiding places in banks or among the roots of trees. The frog has
buried himself in his cold bed of mud at the bottom of the pond.
The toad has squeezed his burly figure into a hole in a tree
stump, or under some sheltering stone. It is the fondness of the
toad for hiding in holes and corners--not only in winter, but to
some extent all the year--which has given rise to so many
marvellous tales of the discovery of toads in the heart of trees
or in solid blocks of marble. Toads may often be found in holes.
But never yet was one found living in any cavity whatsoever where
there was no communication with the outer world, no chink through
which insects might make their way after the manner of the fly
into the parlour of the spider.

Long before the frosts of October, and while the weather was still
warm and sunny, snails were to be seen collected in hundreds on
the fences of fields and lanes--on their way, no doubt, to winter
quarters. Though whether they expected to find suitable lodgings
up there at the tops of the palings, or whether they were only
sunning themselves for the last time before crawling down to earth
to bury themselves in the holes into which the posts were driven,
is perhaps less clear.

Some few snails are provided already with close-fitting doors.
Others will seal up their gates with a temporary barricade, behind
which they will sleep until the trumpet-call of spring shall break
on their dull senses. Do they dream, these snails? Do visions of
plump cabbages and brilliant dahlias flit through their molluscous
minds? Do they in slumber enjoy again the midnight raid upon the
marrow-bed, or cry havoc on the choicest lilies of the garden?

There is a strange stillness in the woods these autumn days; a
mournful silence, as of regret for the lost summer. The birds are
quiet; the insects, whose life and beauty lent so much to the
brightness of the summer, are dying in the sharpening air, or are
creeping away to hide themselves for the winter. October is a
fatal month for the lower forms of life. The different species of
our native insects are numbered by tens of thousands, and of the
myriads of these with which the air of August, and even of
September, teemed, only a few, a very few, will survive the
chillier dawns and sunsets of this month, which marks the limit of
their lives. At the best their lives are brief. The lives of
insects, in their perfect condition, are more often numbered only
by months, or even weeks: while the little sad-coloured
stone-flies that haunt the banks of streams, entering on their
last stage without mouths, spend only a few days of strange
existence; and there are other flies which, born after sunset and
dying before sunrise, never see the full light of day at all.

Those insects which survive the winter do so as a rule by retiring
into the shelter of buildings, into crevices in walls, or into
hollow trees, and there remaining, motionless and apparently
lifeless, all through the cold season, coming out again at the
return of spring. Some butterflies are especially fond of taking
up their quarters for the winter in the roofs of houses; and the
cornices of unoccupied rooms seem particularly favourite
resting-places. There is a case on record in which a Small
Tortoiseshell butterfly, having entered a church during
service-time one Sunday in August, settled calmly on a rafter over
the heads of the congregation, closed its wings, and then and
there took up its quarters for the season. It was happily beyond
the reach of the verger's broom, though under the eyes of the
clergyman,--himself a naturalist, and there it hung, week after
week, all the winter through. At length, on a warm Sunday in May,
after a sleep of just nine months' duration, the little creature
opened its wings again and fluttered down from its perch,
"apparently as fresh in colour and condition as if just out of the

In the same way another of the race flew into a sitting-room in a
little country town, one day during the hot weather of September,
and finally established itself in the cornice, where for six long
months it hung motionless. One fine morning in the following March
it was fluttering at the window. The sash was lifted. The little
creature dashed out into the sunshine, almost with the speed of a

A striking feature of the autumn garden some years is the
multitude of sober-coloured moths hovering among the flower-beds,
morning, noon, and night. The moths themselves not only do no harm
in the garden, but are of no small service to the gardener by
carrying pollen on their tufted heads from flower to flower, and
thus unconsciously fertilising many a blossom that might otherwise
have borne no seed at all. But it is quite otherwise with the
caterpillars, insignificant but noxious little grubs, which, in
some seasons, appear in such hosts as to devastate whole fields.
In Germany it has been found necessary to use a machine, drawn by
horses, to sweep up these caterpillars, which are collected from
it in sacks and then destroyed.

The perfect insect, the commonest perhaps of all the moths, is a
beautiful little creature, though there is nothing striking in its
colouring. It is known as the "Silver Y," from a conspicuous mark
on each of its front wings. Its scientific name of "Gamma" has
been given to it from another and more learned reading of the

It has been found very difficult to bestow a rational English
"popular name" on each of the two thousand species of moths that
inhabit these islands. Some of the names, indeed, appear almost,
if not quite, meaningless, while some, on the other hand, are
highly appropriate. The Humming-bird Hawk moth is marvellously
like the bird whose name it bears, as every one must admit who
watches it poise with outstretched trunk before a flower, on wings
that move so swiftly that they show like a halo round it. Two
other Hawk moths are called Elephants, but this is because of the
strange-looking head of the caterpillar, which can be extended
like a sort of dwarf proboscis. Another moth, the Death's Head,
bears a skull and cross-bones on its back.

The moths of the large class known as Geometers are so called
because the caterpillars, as they loop themselves along, have the
air of measuring the space they traverse, as a man might span it
with his hand. The Tiger is a moth of brilliant colouring. The
Widow and the Old Lady are clad in sombre hues. The Quakers are
mostly dressed in soft shades of sober brown, while the sixteen
varieties of Footmen wear among them almost as many varieties of

Such names might, indeed, give rise to misconception. We can well
understand the feelings of the old market-woman who, toiling up
the steep path through the wood with her eggs and butter,
overheard a party of schoolboys talking over their captures of the
day. We can picture her dismay as she heard one youngster describe
how he had chased a small Elephant through the wood, and just
missed capturing a Tiger. We can imagine her alarm at hearing
another boy boast of having killed two Quakers and a Footman. And
how, at a distant shout from another member of the party that he
had just knocked down an Old Lady, she dropped her basket and fled
for her life.

But of all the signs in Nature's calendar that mark, like figures
on a dial, the movement of the seasons, there is none more
certain, none more full of mournful augury, than the passing of
the birds.

Their going is secret, silent; they vanish unseen and unheard. We
have learnt much in recent years with regard to migration. With
one single exception, we know where every one of the summer
migrants goes to rear its brood. The haunt of one only--the
curlew-sandpiper--still defies discovery. But there is as much
cause for wonder as ever that the stork and the swallow observe
the time of their coming. And how some birds contrive to find
their way over vast stretches of unbroken sea is as great a
mystery as when Anacreon saw the

  "Cranes from hoary winter fly,
  To flutter in a kinder sky;"

or when the Hebrew watched the wandering hawk stretch her wings
toward the south.

Among the few sounds that break the stillness of the autumn night
is a faint and hurried cry, that at times may be heard out of the
darkness--the note of some bird passing over unseen. It is the cry
of the redwing--a feeble note, and yet the very trumpet-call of
coming winter. In the spring the sight of the first swallow raises
hopes of better times, of sunshine and warm weather. In autumn
this voice calling out of the dark is a warning that cold and
hunger are driving the redwing from its Northern home, that the
Arctic night is settling down among the Norway hills.

Vast indeed is the array of these feathered fugitives. And if most
of us see but little of plover or wild duck, of goose or swan or
sandpiper, we may perhaps hear them as they pass. Often in the
silence of these autumn nights, or even when the wind is blowing,
we may hear the swift flight of the mallard overhead, or the
musical voices of plovers; perhaps at times the trumpet-notes of
geese, or even the whistling of the whooper's wings. Now and then,
too, there floats down out of the starlit stillness the wild call
of some unknown bird, the voice of some nameless stranger crying
in the dark:

  "And with no language but a cry."

[Illustration: ON SEDGMOOR.]


The traveller who at this season of the year is whirled along the
iron highway of the northern part of Somersetshire will perhaps be
led to form but a poor opinion of West Country scenery, for he
sees little from the rail of the heath-covered heights of Exmoor,
of the wooded glens of Quantock, or of the green heart of Mendip.
The line is laid for many miles across a wide stretch of low-lying
moorland--so low that it would be flooded each high tide were it
not for the old sea wall by the shore. There are parts of the
monotonous expanse that may well remind the wayfarer of the
opening lines of one of Ingoldsby's ballads:

  "O, Salisbury Plain is bleak and bare,
  At least so I've heard many people declare,
  For I fairly confess that I never was there.
  Not a shrub nor a tree, nor a bush can you see,
  No hedges, no ditches, no gates, no stiles,
  Much less a house or a cottage for miles."

There are indeed parts of this great plain that are almost
absolutely bare of timber save for a few scanty rows of pollard
willow trees. There are hardly any hedge-rows, there are few
gates, and fewer stiles. The cottages are far apart, built only on
the low risings--once islands in the Severn sea, which the
moorfolk fondly call "hills," because they are not "drownded out"
in flood time.

Yet there is one striking difference. The Somersetshire
marshes--far more level than the green waves of the great
Wiltshire Down--are cut up by a network of innumerable ditches,
narrow indeed, yet not always easily passed, as the little army of
King Monmouth proved only too well. These "rhines," as they are
called in the West Country, take the place of hedge-rows, and
serve also to drain away into the sluggish moorland stream the
water which in rainy seasons would collect on the low ground. Turf
Moor is a strange looking country, with its interminable stacks of
black peat, its great hollows from which turf has been taken, its
miles of straight-cut dykes by which the water is drained away
into the rivers. The sombre hue of the great plain is relieved by
picturesque groups of turf-cutters, by dense masses of noble
Scotch firs--trees that flourish well in the peaty soil--and by an
occasional belt of coppice that runs in among the peat workings--a
jungle of reeds and bulrushes, of bracken and tall royal fern, a
sort of No-Man's Land, a very paradise for beast and bird.

The moormen happen on strange things sometimes when they are
digging in the peat. It is no very rare thing for the
turf-cutter's tool to clash on pottery or rude weapons far below
the present level of the moor. Some years since a bow was thus
discovered, whose once heavy yew wood was so altered by its long
soaking that it was as light as cork. At one place an iron anchor
was found, at another the paddle of an old canoe.

There is a tradition in the marshes that, years ago, whenever
after a dry summer the water was low in one of the great rhines, a
boat became visible, embedded in the bank. "Squire Phippen's Big
Ship," as it was called, has long been lost sight of, but in more
recent times another canoe has been found on the moor, which
happily has met with the attention it deserves.

Some labourers who had been employed every autumn to clear out the
rhines on Cranhill Moor, near Glastonbury, had often been
inconvenienced at one point by what they thought was the trunk of
an old tree--such as are frequently found buried in the peat. The
place was pointed out to a local archæologist, Mr. Arthur Bulleid,
of Glastonbury, and he saw at once that the supposed tree-trunk
was an old British canoe, in splendid preservation, most skilfully
worked out of a single log. The end which had projected from the
bank is damaged by the spades with which the labourers had
repeatedly in past years tried to cut it away, but the rest is
uninjured. This curious old craft is flat-bottomed, and pointed at
each end, just as are the boats that still navigate the rhines of
the district. It measures about seventeen feet in length, is
perhaps thirty inches broad, and ten or eleven inches deep.

This canoe might have continued for years a mere obstacle to the
clearing of the rhine--now a small ditch, but once a navigable
water-way--were it not that the whole district was interested in
the recent discovery of an ancient British village, of which it is
safe to say that few things of more importance have rewarded
recent archæological research in this country.

The ancient Lake Dwellings of Switzerland and Northern Italy,
though our knowledge of them is not yet half-a-century old, are
familiar wherever Archæology is studied. In the forty years which
have elapsed since they were first examined, it has been found
that there are many places, even now, where huts, constructed on
the same plan, are still in use. Such dwellings exist in the
shallows along the Amazon and the Orinoco. Travellers have
described them, as they are at this moment, in Borneo and New
Guinea. Cameron found them in the heart of the Dark Continent. To
this very day Roumelian fishermen inhabit huts built on piles over
the water, in the same spot where, twenty-five centuries ago, the
children of the Paeonian Lake Dwellers were, according to
Herodotus, tied by the leg to prevent them falling into the water.

But, long before the discovery of the Swiss Lake Villages in 1853,
another somewhat similar form of primitive habitation was known,
confined, as far as can be at present ascertained, to countries
inhabited by Celtic races. This was the Crannog, or Marsh Village,
from the Celtic word _crann_, a tree--not built on piles in the
water, but on platforms of timber laid over brushwood arranged on
the soft soil of a morass. The existence of such dwellings had
long been known, but little attention was paid to them before the
famous researches of Keller, in Switzerland. Modern Archæologists
have, however, explored at least a hundred of these Villages in
Ireland, and about half that number in Scotland; and many most
interesting remains have been recovered from them.

The Scotch and Irish Crannogs appear to belong to the Iron Age.
Implements of the more primitive materials have, it is true, been
found in them, but they were not such as were in use in the Bronze
or Stone Ages. They differ both in shape and in the style of their
ornamentation. A few stone celts have been found in Irish
Crannogs, but no object belonging to a time earlier than the Age
of Iron has yet been met with in the Marsh Villages of Scotland.
The metal objects are, as a rule, characteristic of the period
between the 9th and the 12th centuries, though we have evidence
that some of the Irish Crannogs were in use long after that time.
Allusions to them frequently occur in the old writers. We learn
from "The Annals of the Four Masters" that the historic Crannog of
Lough Gabhor--the first that was examined in Ireland--was burnt
A.D. 848, and again, by the Danes, in 933. An account, written at
the time, of the expedition sent by Queen Elizabeth to put down
the rebel Earl of Tyrone, describes a Crannog in County Down,
which "was seated in the midst of a great bog, and no way
accessible but through thick woods, hardly passable. It had about
it two deep ditches, both encompassed with strong pallisadoes, a
very high and thick rampart of timber, and well flanked with
bulwarks. For defence of the place, forty-two musqueteers and some
twenty swordsmen were lodged in it." This was in 1602. Later
still, Sir Felim O'Neill, who had headed the rebellion of 1641,
was captured in a Crannog, in 1642.

Until recent years no Crannog had been found in this country. The
discovery of a very extensive Settlement of this kind, in the turf
moor near Glastonbury, is thus an event of great Archæological
interest, which is much increased by the fact that, whereas the
remains found in the Scotch and Irish Crannogs point to a period
so recent as from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries, the
Marsh Village discovered in Somersetshire has yielded, so far, no
object which appears to be so late even as the Roman occupation.

But these broad flats on Turf Moor, their patches of coppice, the
edges of the green "droves," the waste lands where turf has been
cut, and which have been left to recover themselves by the rest
and growth of perhaps half a century, even the very ditches of the
moor, are in summer-time a happy hunting-ground for the

The plants of these monotonous marshes, the birds, the beasts, the
insects, have a character of their own. In summer-time the meadows
that stretch from rhine to rhine are crimson with orchis and
clover, with sheep sorrel and ragged robin, are golden with
flower-de-luce, whitened with tall oxeye daisies and soft tufts of
cotton grass. Now the whole moorland is sobered to a dull,
monotonous hue of mingled browns and greys tinged with a
sad-coloured note of green. The rhines that to-day are but
straight-cut belts of water, with no beauty and hardly more of
interest, were filled then to the very brim with sedges and iris
and tall stems of flowering rush. Along their hedges grew teazels
and skullcap and comfrey, and down their steep banks the moneywort
poured its lavish streams of gold. Few plants of any sort are
to-day visible in the water. But the still depths were covered
then with a green film of weed, crossed and re-crossed with a very
labyrinth of tracks, where rat or moorhen or water-rail had cut
its devious way. Here grew the arrow-head, with its beautiful
white flowers. Here floated the star-like blossoms of the frogbit.
And here the bladderwort, that now rests unseen on the mud at the
bottom, buoyed up by multitudinous little floats of air, lifted
its exquisite spike above the surface.

The busy life that in the summer filled these interminable ditches
has ebbed away. The green jungle of flags and water plants where
the sedge warbler sang--not from dawn till nightfall only, but
from sundown till the east was grey--is gone. The reeds among
whose slender stems the warbler wove her exquisite nest are
beaten down. The peewits who reared their scanty broods among
these open meadows are here still. Even the quails that hid their
beautiful eggs among the summer clover may still be couching in
the withered grass; and water-rails find shelter still among the
brown and broken reeds.

The banks are honeycombed with the burrows of water-rats--as most
people call them. Beautiful creatures, not really rats at all, and
having little in common with their evil-minded, mischievous,
objectionable namesakes. Their habit of burrowing is perhaps their
one fault, and has more than once helped to break down the bank of
a river here, and so deluge the moors with miles of tawny water.
Water-rats are out at all times, all the year, except in the very
coldest weather. But twilight is their favourite hour. Then as you
steal quietly along by the bank you may watch the soft brown balls
of fur crouched on the narrow fringe of shore; may envy their
incomparable feats of diving; may follow their course by a slight
ripple on the surface as they swim to some secret hiding place.
The owls know their habits well. This very month a barn owl was
seen in the twilight, flying over the moor on its soft and
soundless wings. Suddenly it swooped below the bank of a rhine,
reappearing a moment later with a water-rat in its claws. Scared
by a shout, it dropped its prey, but the rat, though warm, was
stone dead.

Much less often seen are the water-shrews, whose frolics you may
watch in broad daylight if you are so very fortunate as to come
upon a party of them at play, swimming round and round like the
tiny beetles that spin in mazy circles on the surface. The water
itself is, in the summer-time, crowded with life. Over the surface
skim rowing-flies and water-spiders. Under it a countless crowd of
creatures live out their little day--beetles and water-scorpions,
active little boatmen that paddle up and down with dexterous oars,
caddis larvæ carrying about with them their houses built of grains
of sand, or scraps of reed, or of a multitude of tiny shells.
Shells there are everywhere, small some of them, but even the very
smallest revealing under the microscope forms as marvellous as
that of the nautilus itself. Slender newts, too, swarm in the
still water, and great black tritons, the terror of the moorfolk,
in whose eyes even the viper is hardly more venomous.

Not to every one is it given to appreciate the beauty and the
wonder of the inhabitants of this happy hunting-ground. In such a
paradise two naturalists had been hard at work through a hot
summer afternoon. They were stretched contentedly by the roadside,
when a burly, red-faced farmer driving by drew rein, and seeing
their nets upon the grass asked them what sport they had had, and
if it was eels or flounders they had been catching. They proceeded
to explain. "Oh, bitles," said the farmer, somewhat
contemptuously. "And what be they vur, then?" This was a more
difficult point. It was not at all easy to make him see that there
could be any use in hoarding up such "common ornery rubbish" as
that. Butterflies, now, he could understand, or "bird eggs." He
himself had collected "bird eggs" when he was a boy. But "bitles!
Well," said he at last, "good day. I must be gwine"; and he drove
slowly off. He had not got more than fifty yards along the road,
however, when he pulled up again, and turning half round in his
seat, called out, "Hi! but I can't think what ee can want they
bitles vur!"

[Illustration: WINTER IN THE MARSHES.]


It is now some years since, through the giving way of the bank of
one of the moorland rivers, a large part of the low-lying land in
the heart of Somersetshire was under water all through the autumn.
Many tenants of cottages on the moor were, as they would put it,
"drownded out," and there were outlying villages that for a long
while could only be reached by means of boats. During a recent
autumn another wide area in the same county was flooded. Frost
set in while a vast tract of land was still inundated. Miles of
flooded marshland were entirely frozen over, and many cottages,
after standing in the water for months past, were surrounded by
the ice. So sharp was the cold that, on the second day of the
frost, the fortunate few who were able to avail themselves of the
opportunity had a perfect skating-ground, which must have measured
thousands of acres.

A heavy snowfall, however, has changed the face of things
altogether. Some of the moor men, whose ordinary avocations have
long been at a standstill, have cleared a pretty fair piece of
ice. But the rest is covered with snow. Much of it has sunk and
broken, owing to the draining away of the water from beneath it;
so that, vast as is still the frozen area, comparatively little of
it is good enough to satisfy a fastidious performer.

But it is a wonderful landscape that, on every side of the little
house which skaters on this part of the marshes use as their
headquarters, lies glistening in the sunshine. A few old alder
trees and storm-beaten Scotch firs shelter the cottage a little
from the wind. And its all too scanty stacks and its picturesque
sheds and outbuildings, whose roof of tiles are weathered to
every imaginable shade of red and brown, help to give an air of
warmth and comfort. A primitive place. A place such as might have
given shelter to King Alfred before that desperate fight yonder on
the hills of Ethandune. The master of the house is a neatherd too,
as it happens, and his heifers are at this moment all huddled in
the byres about the cottage, only too glad to make the
acquaintance of a sympathetic stranger. There is no entrance at
the front. The frozen ground has "lifted" and has jammed the door.
You must make your way in through the hospitable-looking
brick-floored kitchen at the back.

Before the frost began the water was over the garden, and even on
the cottage floor. And now, though the house is clear, the ice
stretches away almost from the threshold, as far as the eye can
see over the level country. It would be hard to picture a scene
more absolutely desolate. On the skyline to the southward, just
seen through the wintry haze, is a long line of low bluehills,
with patches of snow on them dimly showing. Over a dark belt of
fir trees to the eastward rises the Tor of Glastonbury, snow
covered, too, for once. And right to the bases of the hills, over
field after field, stretches for miles the great white plain,
broken only by lines of pollard willows, by tall aspens and clumps
of alder; with patches of furze that look strangely out of place
rising up through the ice, with here and there a gate,
half-hidden, with haystacks standing forlorn upon the wintry
level, and, sadder still, with cottages that, long since rendered
uninhabitable by the water, are now completely surrounded by the

In that cottage, some hundred yards farther on, whose walls have
settled so much in the soft peat that there is not a straight line
in all its primitive architecture, the water is still nine inches
deep in all the rooms. The tenant of it is that moor man standing
yonder, lending a helping hand to the skaters preparing for the
ice. A picturesque figure, whose old brown coat, with its endless
varieties of shade would delight the soul of an artist. You can
understand why he wears boots up to his knees when you learn that
every day, from the beginning of December until a fortnight since,
he waded to his door through more than a foot of water. He is
better off since the frost, for now he can slide in.

A characteristic touch about these cottages is the store of winter
fuel, the stacks of peat heaped against the wall. Almost more
characteristic still is the quaintly-shaped boat, flat-bottomed,
sharp at both ends, that you see in so many gardens; for not only
are floods here far too common, but the innumerable ditches make
convenient waterways for bringing home grass or peat.

A strange silence broods over the landscape. No birds are visible
save the few that hang about the outbuildings. The flocks of gulls
and the few ducks that were here before the floods were frozen
have all disappeared. Multitudes of skylarks, too, passed over
when the snow set in, but they soon vanished. This was once a
great country for wild-duck. Twenty years ago there were four
decoys almost in sight from this cottage. Now they are all
drained--"let off" as the moor folk put it. The only sound besides
the low lament of the wind among the alders, the plaintive
protests of the heifers in the byres, and the laughter and voices
and occasional clink of steel where the skaters are preparing for
work, is a strange, hollow, booming sound under the ice, or the
sharper crash when it gives way because the water has gone from
under it. It is strange to see great sheets of ice caught in the
bushes or among the alder stems, feet above the general level.

It is a wintry wind that sweeps over the frozen marshes. But here,
in this sunny corner, with a heap of dry peats to sit on, in the
shelter of a stable on whose door is nailed a lucky horseshoe,
there is the warmth of very summer.

But hark, the ring of skates upon the ice! And see, the skaters
are leaving their little camping ground just outside the garden.
Already there are moving figures far out on the frozen meadows. As
you watch them start, some bold and fearless, as to the manner
born, some doubtful and hesitating, and hardly venturing to lift
their feet, you might almost read something of their story in
their very movements.

That tall figure yonder, so absolutely at home upon his skates,
had more time in one long Canadian winter to learn the art he
practises so well than most of us get in a lifetime. And to one
who, in a forced march across the Dominion in the dead of winter,
has tried in vain to sleep on the snow with the thermometer forty
degrees below zero, and who has put down his boiling can of grog
to take it up next minute frozen solid, cold like this is
nothing. And you might have known that the stalwart skater further
out, whose wife is the most graceful among many graceful figures
in the moving throng, gained his first experiences on skates in
latitudes where the frost sometimes holds unbroken for twelve long
dreary weeks.

The frozen-out moor men are ready enough to volunteer assistance.
And as the day wears on it is really marvellous to see with what
dexterity they carry cups of tea to the skaters; while their dogs,
with an eye to biscuits, make friends with each little group in
turn. A kindly race, these Somerset folks, sunny of face, and
pleasant of speech, in spite of the hard times, and the enforced
idleness and the bitter weather. But they hold strong views as to
the incapacity of engineers who fail to guard against such floods
as this. "What be the use," said one, "of they Drainage
Commissioners, what charges we two and eightpence poundage for
keeping the water off of we? This here flood have lasted since
before Christmas. Here be the rent going on all the time, and the
land won't be no use till May."

Pleasant it is to watch from this sheltered corner the evolutions
of the skaters. The wind that blows so keen over the miles of
frozen marshland, and that lends a heightened colour to their
glowing faces, cannot reach you here. Pleasant, too, is the scent
of the hay and the breath of cattle from the byres. But pleasanter
still is the ingle nook within the cottage, in a tiny room, so low
that the beam across its ceiling is a trap for even the shortest
of the group on the old settle, by the fragrant fire of peat. By
such a fire it was that Alfred sat. Yet there is a long gap
between the half-shaped bow of the old story and the gun, ancient
as it is, hanging yonder on the wall; and if there are cakes about
this hearth, you will not hear the tall, blue-eyed, winsome damsel
who dispenses them

  "... scold with kindling eye,
  In good broad Somerset,"

as the neatherd's wife, a thousand years since, scolded the Royal
fugitive in these very marshes.



On the edge of a broad valley in the Mendips, on the gentle slope
of a line of low green hills, there stands a quiet hamlet, almost
hidden now among its clustering trees. At the foot of the slope,
standing some way back from the village street, is a white-walled
cottage, whose lawns and garden grounds only a slender fence
divides from the fields that fringe the village.

On one side of the garden runs a narrow lane, losing itself
presently in the meadows, a quieter backwater of the quiet village
life, in whose old walls and deep-browed hedgerows many birds find
lodging. On the other side, beyond a row of picturesque old sheds
and ruinous old buildings, with brown roofs of thatch and crowns
of thick-growing ivy, stretch the bird-haunted aisles of an
orchard. The nuthatches love its cavernous trees. Its shades are
musical, long before the dawn, with the songs of thrush and
blackbird, of redstart and willow-wren. Among the old buildings
tits and wagtails and robins hide their nests in crannies of the
crumbling masonry.

But to the garden itself, islanded by lanes and meadows, with its
trees and shrubs, its broad thickets of laurel and rhododendron
and arbutus, the birds come as to a Camp of Refuge. In the tall
evergreen above the gate, wreathed in a great bower of ivy,
blackbirds even now are feeding their young. There are nests in
the lilacs, in the laurels, in the hedges, in the trellis on the

Through the open windows the warm air brings all pleasant scents
and sounds. The low of cattle, on distant farms, the mellow
chiming of the old church bells, the rich strains of thrush and
blackbird, the sweet song of the swallow, clink of oxeye, call of
cuckoo, jay's harsh cry, and wood-pecker's light-hearted laughter,
mingle with the perfume of the roses and the woodruff. The
swallows that sing on the brown gable of the barn beyond the
precincts may have their nests plundered by prowling schoolboys.
The hollow trees in the orchard, the chinks in the old wall of the
lane, are not wholly safe from the village birds'-nester. But here
is sanctuary inviolate, from which no bird was ever driven.

Year after year the fly-catchers repair their nest in the plum
tree trained against the wall. No hand disturbs the martins that
build under the broad eaves. No sweet singer ever here paid with
his life the penalty of his taste for cherries.

Here no blackbird ever suffered for his raids upon the strawberry
beds. This garden is to him the garden of the laureate:

  "The espaliers and the standards tall
       Are thine; the range of lawn and park;
       The un-netted black-hearts ripen dark,
  All thine, against the garden wall."

Here the bullfinch may pillage at his will. The only unpardonable
crime that even the house-sparrow can commit is to take wrongful
possession of a martin's nest. Even then the culprit has never
suffered anything but reproaches. Even when, with its own untidy
heap of hay and feathers, it has blocked up a rain-water pipe, the
disaster that it caused was not held warrant for eviction. And
never surely were there sparrows quite so bright of plumage--so
glossy their sleek heads, so rich their chestnut feathers, so
stainless the white bars across their wings.

Here, too, in the hard winter weather, the birds have learnt by
long experience to come as for corn in Egypt. The missel-thrush
and the nuthatch, the marsh-tit and the oxeye, know well the
brilliant berries they may plunder at their will from the tall
Irish yew before the window. In the very bearing of the birds that
haunt the garden, of the robin and the sparrow and the
song-thrush, that in hard times come to the very window to be fed,
with firm faith in their gentle almoners, you may read the
confidence born of long experience, the result of years of welcome
and protection.

The fly-catcher brooding on her nest, her glossy head just
showing over the rim of the little cradle she has slung between
the plum-tree and the wall, watches your approach without the
least alarm. And as you stroll between the borders, bright with
thickets of peonies, covered with great rose-like blooms, with
their flags and pansies and pale yellow poppies, and with all
their hundred flowers, she will flicker lightly by to her
favourite resting-place on the rose-hung arch over the garden
path, or to the handle of the walking-stick set upright in the
grass for her sovereign pleasure, or to the leafless laurel bough
that, while shears and pruning-knife are merciless to every other
dead wood in the garden, is spared for her sake alone.

Watch her for a moment. See how she turns her head this way and
that, keeping a sharp look-out for passing fly or beetle. See how
suddenly she darts from her watch tower, how she hovers for a
moment in the air, with faint click of her sharp bill, flying
lightly back, perhaps beating her prey against the bough a time or
two before she swallows it. There is a saying here that fortune
hangs on giving shelter to the flycatcher:

  "If you scare the flycatcher away,
  No good luck will with you stay."


But there is no thought of fortune, good or ill, mingled with the
kindly care that has made for so many years a sanctuary of this
quiet spot. The very cat seems to have learnt that--under the eyes
of the family at least--there is close time here, all the year
round, for every bird that flies.

When Jock is lying at the door, stretched out at length in the
sunshine, you may see a thrush alight within a yard of him, the
picture of righteous indignation, feathers ruffled, wings adroop,
and storm and scold and flutter and gesticulate; while he, his
conscience pricked perhaps--who knows?--by the remembrance of an
early breakfast some fine morning among the lilac bushes, when
that brood of young thrushes disappeared so strangely, blinks with
affected sleepiness at his fierce little accuser. She has even
been seen to perch upon his back, when he, as if remembering some
previous engagement, stretched himself, and yawned, and meekly
walked away.

At the far end of the lawn, in a nook between the meeting lines of
hedge-row, stand four sheltering elms, joining their heads in a
green canopy, cool and restful. From the seat beneath them you
look out over a broad meadow to the misty hills. The long grass
is bright with myriad flowers, with lotus and hawkweed, and with
yellow crowns of dandelion, whose silvery parachutes now and then
sail over, sinking slowly down the summer air. Somewhere in the
grass, that in a few short weeks will fill the house with the
sweet incense of the hay, a corncrake is calling. It is a strange
note, harsh and unmusical always; heard at night, sometimes
irritating beyond words to paint; yet here, and now, a pleasant
country sound.

You may watch the shrike yonder, perched motionless on his
favourite hawthorn, in whose shadow his mate is doubtless already
brooding on her eggs. You may listen to the goldfinch singing in
the green mist of meeting branches overhead; see the grey cuckoo
alight on the topmost crest of the great elm that towers above the
meadow; watch the busy starlings as they pass and repass with
hurried flight. And, as through the great masses of lilac, now
beginning to abate their rare perfume, you catch glimpses of hills
and meadows, of the white houses of the village, with its orchards
and its elms, and, crowning these, the grey tower of the church,
looking down like a watchful sentinel on the hamlet lying at its
feet, you feel it was to no fairer spot than this that the poet
called his friend, when he sang:

  "Or if thou tarry, come with the summer.
  That welcome comer
                 Welcome as he.
  When noontide sunshine beats on the meadow
  A seat in shadow,
                 We'll keep for thee."

[Illustration: THE MOWERS.]


The whirr of the iron mower has ceased at length. Hour after hour
the clashing blades swept in still narrowing circles round and
round the spacious meadow. Now the last swath has fallen. Now in
the centre of the field the machine stands silent; the tired
horses taking toll of the sweet grass that is strewn about their

The men lie motionless, their sunburned faces buried in the
fragrant coolness. A few short hours ago this broad field was a
sea of nodding grasses, whose tasselled points lent soft and
changing tints of purple to the long waves that betrayed the light
movements of the air. Sheets of great moon-daisies whitened it.
Here it was golden with dyer's weed and lingering buttercups; and
there it was crimson with fiery touches of red sorrel. Under the
hot noonday sun each waft of air that stirred across it was
fragrant with mingled perfumes, of the scent of hawkweed and lotus
and sweet clover blooms. Its cool depths were stirred by
honey-hunting bees. Wandering butterflies floated over it. Burnet
moths in black and crimson sailed across it on their silken wings.
Now the close shaven sward is strewn with drying grass and fading
flowers. Bee nor butterfly will visit it more. To-morrow night not
a touch of colour will remain of all its mingled beauty, ruined
now past all hope; not a petal of its oxeye daisies, not a
hawkweed unwithered, not a lingering clover bloom.

The hour is late. Along the low hills that bound the valley hangs
the haze of sunset. There is a faint flush of rose colour on the
soft clouds that drift slowly overhead. The air is still filled
with fragrance. Instead of the sweet incense of the clover, there
is the scent of new-mown hay.

For the breath of the lost flowers of the meadow there are all the
perfumes of the one garden that gives upon the field--of roses all
in bloom on arch and trellis, of clumps of tall sweet peas, white
and red and rich imperial purple, of the delicate wild pinks,
rooted at will in the old garden wall. And, although the last
blossom has faded from the hawthorns round the meadow, slowly, and
as with reluctance, delicate dog-roses are scattered broadcast all
along the hedge-rows, and the woodbine sprays are rich already
with pale sweet clusters.

This is a flowery haytime. Surely there was never more lavish
wealth of roses on the hedges, nor can one even fancy broader
sheets of oxeye daisies in the mowing grass.

Along the hedges the machine has left a fringe of tall grasses
still unmown. And this green jungle, and the broad thickets behind
it, are all astir with birds, some of them gaining now their first
experiences of the great green world--a world of warmth and
beauty, such as rarely, even in the noon of summer, greets the
young children of the air. Linnets and finches, thrushes and
blackbirds, and a host of other wingèd toilers of the field, are
busy among the fallen swaths--not plundering the seeds, but
seeking treasure-trove of slugs and wire-worms, and all the myriad
creatures whose haunts the fall of the grass forest has laid bare.

Here forages a troop of starlings; the old birds in dark and
glossy plumage, the young brood in sober, unpretending brown. Now
a little cloud of martins wheel over the meadow, fluttering down
to hover above the grass with soft, sweet notes. Now a singing
swallow floats along. And now on dark wings a troop of swifts sail
swarming down the field--labourers in man's service one and all.

On the end of a dead ivy branch that stands out of the garden
hedge sits a solitary flycatcher; a small grey figure that, in her
shape and attitude, is like no other bird that haunts the
precincts. She is silent for the most part, only uttering now and
then a weak, half querulous note, that is answered by notes weaker
and more querulous from the heart of the thick laurel near. Again
and again she takes short flights into the air across the garden,
and even a dozen yards or more out over the grass, fluttering in
the air a moment, and then lightly flitting back to her perch on
the dead ivy stem, or to the rail that parts the garden from the

In a plum tree on the cottage wall, half hidden among clustering
roses, is the empty nest from which the grey youngsters hiding now
among the bushes have but just spread wings to fly. For once they
tried their powers too soon. They ventured over the edge of their
small nursery on wings not yet strong enough for flight, and they
were found one morning on the ground among the stocks and poppies
and sweet-williams underneath the nest, while the anxious parents,
with plaintive cries, fluttered over them with vain attempts at

The fall had been fatal to one of the little aeronauts, but three
were rescued, and, in a small basket filled with hay, were slung
close up under the deserted nest. They made no effort to get back
to their old quarters, but sat content on the edge of the basket,
three little odd owl-like figures; while the old birds, their
minds at rest again, foraged for them all day, from dawn till
dark, chasing moths and flies along the garden paths, in vain
attempts to satisfy their insatiable needs.

Under the eaves above the flycatcher's tree there is a martin's
nest. At least, martins built it, but there was a dispute this
year about the tenancy. It is not a new nest. It is in fact a
tenement of many years' standing. And while two rival couples of
martins were still discussing the question of proprietorship, a
pair of prowling house sparrows stepped in and took possession.
Perhaps they were the arbitrators--who knows?

And now these house sparrows, bent on fitting a warmer lining to
their stolen habitation, cast covetous glances on the young
flycatchers' basket, and when the parent birds were
away--sometimes even under their very eyes--the unscrupulous
brigands carried off the hay by handsful.

Fine fellows, these country sparrows: so very different from their
grimy, scurrilous, soot-stained cousins of the city streets, with
even a note of music on their ready tongues, and with plumage of
such pure white and velvety black, of such rich warm tones of
chestnut, that you would say they were among the handsomest of
birds, might perhaps even go the length of wondering what strange
species they might be.

And now the men, rising reluctantly from their lair among the
grass, unship the long blades of the machine. It goes slowly
jingling up the field, and through the gate at the far end, ready
for more mowing on the morrow.

The sun low down in the west, showing for a brief space through
the trees his face of fiery gold barred with the dark branches,
throws far across the grass the shadows of a group of tall elms
out in the meadow, whose green heads tower a hundred feet into the
clear, pale blue. Motionless they stand, or seem to stand. The
light wafts of scented air may flutter the leaves upon their lofty
crests, but have no power to sway their giant branches. From far
up among their green crown of foliage floats a goldfinch's song--a
pleasant sound, a note of summer and green fields and open
country. Pleasant, too, is the slow clink of a whetted scythe,
sounding faintly from a distant meadow, where some tired haymaker,
perhaps for the last time in the long summer day, is putting a
better edge upon his worn old blade.

Along the hedge yonder a man is finishing off the ragged edges
the machine has left, and the swish, swish of the grass that falls
before his sweeping strokes has almost as sweet a sound to-night
as the vesper of the song-thrush over there, high up among the
branches of a hedgerow elm.

The gentle nurse of the foundling flycatchers is moving slowly
across the meadow, the light of sunset on her white dress, sweet
face, and graceful figure. She is carrying a great handful of
oxeye daisies, gleaned from the new-mown hay--adding now a tall
spray of quaking grass, now a leaf of bright red sorrel, and
looking now and then with wistful eyes at the flowers for whose
brief life she thus provides a little longer span. The sun is
down. The long day's work is ended. In the combe yonder, the
little sleepy hollow that dies away among the quiet hills, the
purple shadows deepen, and the last faint lingering glow fades
slowly from the cliffs along its southern verge.

No clink of scythe-blade now, no sound of toil. The last note of
labour and of daylight is the shouting from some distant farm,
where the last load is being cheered into the stack-yard. A
restless corncrake cries among the long grass of the next meadow
that stands waiting for the scythe. Far off among the elms beyond
the church an owl hoots. It is the hour of rest; the hour when,
over the blue vault above,

  "... The brooding twilight
    Unfolds her starry wings,
  And warm hearts bless with tenderness
    The peace that evetide brings:"

--the peace of God, for this broad hollow in the hills. Slowly on
the quiet landscape falls the restful stillness of the summer

[Illustration: A WEST COUNTRY REAPER.]


It is strange to sit, this bright September morning, under the
shadow of a noble row of limes, and listen to the whirr of the
iron mower as it rattles round and round the wide meadow yonder.
It is late for haymaking. Among the branches overhead are the red
and gold of autumn, and the grass at the feet of the old trees is
strewn with withered leaves. These fly-catchers that flit across
the lawn and sail back to their stations along the fence will soon
be leaving us. It cannot be long before the chiff-chaffs, now
calling so blithely in the limes, are silent. The clear, sweet
singing of the robins is far more in keeping with the spirit of
autumn, than the sound of the machine. But the rain and the sun
between them have brought a noble aftermath to gladden the hearts
of the farmers, whose case will, after all, not be quite so evil
as they feared.

It is a strange experience to hear, in the pauses of the iron
reaper, the mellow sound of bells that are ringing for the Harvest
Home. Strange to cheer the last load into the stack-yard, and to
assemble for a Harvest Festival, while fresh-cut hay is still
lying in the fields. Towards the grand old tower on the hill-slope
yonder, that for so many ages has kept watch and ward over the
parish, the village folk, in all their holiday attire, are
trooping across this pleasantest of Mendip valleys. As we make our
way with them along the green country lanes, we can see how the
hedge-rows are beginning already to wear the hues of autumn. The
Old Man's Beard is all grey with its feathery seeds. Dogwood and
Guelder Rose are bright with wayside fruit. The banks are gay with
St. John's wort and Golden Rod and tall Canterbury Bells.

Pausing a minute under the old churchyard yew, that for unknown
centuries has spread its dark arms over the dust of the
forefathers of the hamlet, the little knots of villagers file into
the church. The porch is hung with oat sheaves and red apples; and
over the door are hung boughs of wild hedge-row plums, bullace,
not sloes, so thickly clustered and with so rare a bloom that they
might pass easily for grapes.

There are but few farmers in the congregation. The hay is "down"
in the meadows; that is one reason. Some farmers, too, have no
mind for thanksgiving--forgetful that half a loaf is, at any rate,
better than no bread at all. But some at least of the villagers
have agreed to carry out the injunction expressed in the wheaten
letters that lie on a green fringe of ferns all along under the
south wall--"Honour the Lord with thy first "fruits"--for the
windows are heaped with fruit and vegetables, with apples and
'taters, and huge marrows--the best of each man's field or garden.
The pulpit is draped with heather and brown bracken, hung with
grapes and apples, and long trails of bryony; while the font, with
which generations of parishioners have made early and perhaps not
altogether agreeable acquaintance, is lost in a great pile of
ferns and flowers. The chancel is a very bower of green. Lectern
and reading-desk are wreathed with creepers and corn sheaves and
trophies of the harvest.

The hour of service is drawing near. The chimes, that just now
were swinging softly overhead, break off into the homing-bell. The
rest of the congregation troop slowly in. Young village beauties,
conscious of admiring glances, are scattered here and
there--bright reliefs of light and colour among the darker
costumes of the men. The choir-boys, conscious too, but more
sheepish as they run the gauntlet of less sympathetic eyes, muster
under the tower, where presently the tall curate joins them, and
the curtain is drawn across like a sort of gigantic conjuring-box.
Young folks they are, for the most part, that fill up the benches.
Yet there is a good sprinkling of the older generation. That is a
fine sample of a West Country farmer yonder, that burly red-faced
figure, glancing idly at the tablets on the wall in "memory" of
long-forgotten yeomen, "late of this parish," or the stony
figures weeping silently into colossal urns--that doubtless are as
great a wonder to him now as when he was a boy.

The bell stops. The whispers cease. A solemn hush falls on the
gathered worshippers. And now the Vicar, from his station under
the tower, calls on his flock to join in the thanksgiving hymn--

  "Come, ye thankful people, come;
  Raise the song of Harvest Home."

Two and two the choir-boys pass, singing, up the aisle, their
clear tones mingling with the deeper voices of their elders. The
old men, no longer strong enough to swing a scythe or turn a
furrow, sit silent. The lines on their reverent faces seem like
records of hard times and bitter weather. Their working days are
done. In the words the choir are singing, they are waiting to

  "... be gathered in,
    Free from sorrow, free from sin:
  All upon the Golden Floor,
    Praising Thee for evermore"

The sweet notes of the anthem, "I will lift up mine eyes to the
hills," roll among the dark rafters overhead. The preacher
exhorts us to thankfulness, even for what we may look on as
adversity. Should we be so ungracious, he asks, as to return no
thanks at all because a gift turned out to be smaller than we
expected? Farmers as a rule certainly have, rightly or wrongly, a
reputation for, let us say, not always being so thankful as they
might be. It was a yeoman of this very parish who, when
congratulated once upon the extraordinary crops, all good alike,
replied--"That's where 'tis; 'tis all so good we shan't have
nothing to give to the _poor_ stock!" A good discourse,
straightforward and hard-hitting, true and telling.

We file out under the ancient doorway, and pass in procession
under the flags and streamers and mottoes that the villagers have
hung at intervals across the green lanes, to the place where, in
less serious fashion, the people of the hamlet, of all sorts and
conditions, are to meet on equal terms--Vicar and Lady Bountiful
and dames of high degree on the one side, and farmers and
labourers on the other--for a frolic in the spacious meadow. It is
an ideal day for it; the air is warm, the grass is dry. Tea in the
tent is the first business; a tent brave with festoons and flags
and decorations. There is a hint in one of the mottoes at the
shortcomings of the season--

  "May the year '93
  Be the worst we shall see."

Follows then a game of rounders, in which the Vicar, after much
persuasion, agrees to play, if another somewhat elderly pillar of
the Church will take a hand too. It were long to tell the varying
fortunes of the game; how the portly figure of the wheelwright was
hampered by the unwonted dignity--as to workadays, that is--of a
long frock coat; how the village butcher, glorious in a white
waistcoat, forgets it in the heat of battle; how a tall young lady
in grey makes the most brilliant of catches; and how the pillar of
the Church was thrown out by the long curate. And if the Vicar
plays no very conspicuous part in the game, his boys are the life
of it; and it is his daughter too, who, in a far corner of the
field, leads a dance of village children, to the old-world ditty,
"As we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May," their
sweet young voices sounding clear above the shouts of the players.

But the game is ended. The next move is to the tent, hung now
with clusters of lamps, and with everything cleared ready for a
dance. The band on a daïs in the centre, an uncommonly good band
too, strikes up a lively air. There is a little shyness at first
starting--not more than fifty couples, perhaps, to begin with; a
little awkwardness, and a few collisions; but the company is
pervaded with such imperturbable good humour that no one cares for
any mishap. As the evening wears on the gaps on the seats against
the canvas walls grow wider. And when the first square dance is
about to begin there is a good deal of active searching for
partners. "Have you got a 'vizzyvizze'?" says a young farmer to a
village belle. The Vicar pleads that his dancing days are over;
but it is clear that no one takes more delight than he in the
innocent merry-making of his flock. A hundred pairs of dancers are
footing merrily on the short, dry turf. "Warm, b'aint it?" says
one sturdy young farmer to another, who stands mopping his brow at
the end of the set.

But as the summer night wears on, and the revellers settle to
their work in earnest, it is a warmer business still. Hats are
tilted further and further back; waistcoats are loosened; and at
length, in the closing reel, hats are tossed aside and coats even
are discarded. It is an orderly company, quiet and well-behaved to
the very last, breaking off their revels on the stroke of
midnight, trooping out of the tent that, with its multitudinous
lamps, is bright against the moonless sky, its festoons of flags
and creepers showing clearly through the canvas walls. They go
their several ways across the wide parish, along the dim,
unlighted lanes, to meet no more, under such conditions at any
rate, until next year brings round another Harvest Home.

[Illustration: COUNTRY LIFE.]


There are many symbols on the dial of Nature to mark the changing
of the year. Such signs are the brightening colours of the
meadows, and the growing hosts of insect life. Such a sign is the
strange, noonday silence of the woodland; and such, too, is the
change in the cuckoo's cry--faltering, even before the longest
day. Such signs are the gathering of the swallows, the purple mist
on the plumed reeds by the river, the blackberry clusters ripening
fast along the hedge-row, the butterflies that flutter in through
the open windows, seeking already some dark nook in which to hide
themselves in good time before the setting in of winter.

But plainer even than these, for most of us at any rate, is the
altered tone of the hedge-rows--ever ready to answer to the
influence of the sunshine. It is under the hedge-row that spring
leaves her fairest traces--violets white and blue, and primroses,
with their soft, delicate perfume. May crowns the thickets with
the foamy fragrance of the hawthorn. June studs the long briar
sprays with sweet wild roses, fairest of all flowers of summer.
And now, again, these hot summer days are lending new beauty to
the country lanes; not of flowers or of fresh young foliage, but
of mellow leaves and gleaming berries.

There is a special charm about these old West Country lanes, worn,
sometimes, by the clumsy wheels and toiling feet of many
centuries, deep down below the fields on either hand; lanes that
lead perhaps to nowhere, or that lose themselves in the meadows;
lanes that in our fathers' time were, it may be, King's highways,
and that now grass-grown and neglected, with deep ruts and
broadening hollows, where water lies in winter, are known only to
the birds'-nester, or to village children in quest of nuts or
blackberries. For most of us these quests are but memories of
childhood. Most of us can but echo the lament of the poet:

  "And blackberries, so mawkish now,
    Were finely flavoured then;
  And nuts, such reddening clusters ripe,
    I ne'er shall pull again."

And yet, perhaps, though the feast of to-day is for the eye rather
than the palate, we welcome as keenly as we ever did, nutting
time, or days of blackberry harvest. We think less of the rich,
ripe clusters, no doubt, but we are more alive to the beauty of
the leaves, of the red stems that show so well among the green
shadows, of the withering foliage, torn and ragged, yet touched in
the autumn with gold and russet and fiery crimson.

The old yew yonder, by the church on the hillside, under whose
broad shadow so many centuries of village folk have gathered week
by week, when service was over, to talk of the haying, and the
weather, and even, it may be, of the business of their neighbours,
stands out a dark, funereal mass against the grey masonry behind
it. A nearer view would show that its heavy green is relieved by a
thousand points of gold, not yet wholly tarnished, but at this
distance they are lost in the surrounding gloom. The copper
beeches by the manor house, that of late gleamed like metal in the
brilliant sunshine, are darkening into black. The larch
plantations, marshalled in well-ordered phalanx along the old road
half up the hill, have long since lost their freshness, and the
leaves of this great pollard oak, whose maimed boughs throw a
shadow none too wide, are bright no longer.

For centuries has the old tree cooled its knotted roots in the
black earth of this swampy hollow. Signs of age are only too plain
to read. The furrowed bark has been split away in patches,
revealing underneath the galleries of wood-boring creatures; and
the old trunk is scarred with pits that the wood-peckers have been
digging, searching for fat white beetle grubs, or for the
evil-smelling caterpillar of the goat-moth. And just below the
pollarded branches there is a woodpecker's hole, whose well-worn
threshold suggests years of occupation.

Round the broad base of the tree marsh plants are
growing--spearwort and water-plantain, broad blades of iris, and
cool green plumes of marestail. In the long grass of the field
that stretches far on either hand, there are crimson spikes of
orchis, pale marsh valerian, and bright ragged robin, and here and
there nods a white plume of early cotton grass. It is a mere
thread of water that, loitering slowly through the meadow, seems
to pause round the roots of this old tree; the very slenderest of
streams. Even the reedy hollow where it steals along, a broken
line of silver, lost at times among sedges and brooklime and
strong meadow grasses, is hardly noticed as it wanders idly
through the field. Yet the birds know it well. Here the snipe lie
in the hard weather. Here, too, in winter, you may watch the
water-rail stealing in and out among the leafless thickets,
through the jungle of dead stems of fig-wort, and hemlock, and
tall hemp agrimony. On the black mud of the shore you may trace
to-day the light footprints of the wagtails that have their
lodging in a cranny of the ruined mill in the next meadow, the
broad sign manual of the moorhens whose nest is nearer still, and
the tracks of many a water-loving bird beside.

And, though the listening ear can but just catch the faint tinkle
of the tiny ripples that fret among the hemlock stems, there is as
much life along this little streamlet as by the mill pool yonder,
though the rumble of the old wheel and the plash of the mill-race
seem louder, even at this distance, than the low murmur of these
tiny waves. There, among the rafters of the boat-house, the
swallows build, and white-breasted martins have their nests under
the broad eaves of the mill. But it is here, by this oozy margin,
that they find the clay to frame their dwellings.

The moorhen rides in company with the little fleet of ducks upon
the pool, though she draws hastily away when the miller lounges
through the door to open the sluice, her nodding head keeping time
to the quick beating of her paddles. But it is here that she hides
her nest. It is behind the stems of that hazel bush, close down by
the stream. Last night, when the old bird went off with a splash
like a water-rat, there was just light enough to count the seven
eggs. But now, when you steal quietly up, there is no old bird on
guard. No eggs are in the nest. It is filled to the very brim with
something dark, like a black shadow. All at once, as you stand
peering down at it from the farther shore, hardly a yard away, the
shadow breaks into fragments that struggle over the edge and
plunge down into the water--seven fluffy little balls of sable
down, each with a touch of scarlet for a beak; seven bold young
moorhens, making their first venture into the great world;
argonauts born, paddling along the diminutive reaches of their
tiny river, and scrambling away into the green jungle on the shore
with a skill and readiness that is the heir-loom of untold

The sedge-warbler, too, loves the reedy fringe of the mill pond,
and he never shows to more advantage than when he balances on one
of those tall spears of bulrush. But his nest is here, in yonder
bush, whose foliage the cows have cropped so close. A strange song
is his, copied now from the skylark, and now from the swallow; and
now again you might think that a party of house-sparrows were
having a real good gossip down by the water.

Sparrow-like, too, is the note of a bird that sits motionless on
the topmost twig of a maple tree that leans over the brook. His
shape and his smart plumage, the flatness of his head and the rich
red brown of his back, mark him for a shrike, a butcher-bird. He,
too, is fond of this quiet corner. Year after year his mate and he
come back to the hawthorn bush below the maple, to repair the
great nest in which so many families have been reared. On a broad
flat stone that serves for a bridge over the meadow ditch near by
are strewn some broken snail shells and a half-eaten cockchafer.
But that was not his doing. If you look closely at the bush below
his perch, the bush that shelters his well-hidden nest, you may
discover the butcher-bird's "larder;" may see spitted on the long
thorns that help to guard his dwelling, beetles, or bees, or even
a young bird, or, it may be, a dragon-fly, who surely must have
been taken unaware, since with those strong gauzy wings it is said
he can distance even the swallow in his swift career.

A man with a pail slung on his shoulder, and with a milking stool
in his hand, comes slowly out from the farm buildings, a dog
following at his heels; a dog grey and shabby and unkempt, of
breed altogether past description. But he is a master of his art,
mongrel though he be. The man points to a group of cattle in the
far corner of the field. At once the dog goes off to bring them
in, heading and turning, and then urging them gently homeward,
with marvellous skill and patience, encouraged now and again by
his master's strange and inarticulate shouts. A troop of goslings
is grazing in the middle of the field, goose and gander standing
sentinel at either end of the extended line. The old birds sound a
challenge as the dog goes by, and lower their silly heads, and
hiss and charge at him; while he, his mind set wholly on the
business of the moment, canters past unmoved. An angry gander is
by no means an antagonist to be despised. There is something
particularly irritating, too, in the style of the attack. We can
hardly wonder at the village urchin who, having been sorely
harassed as to his unprotected legs by vicious digs of the old
bird's beak, tried to soothe his wounded feelings by stoning at
long range the unoffending goslings, blubbering out in mingled
pain and rage to the indignant farmer who presently seized on him
red-handed: "What for they goschicks' fayther bite I, then?"

Round the old farm yonder, whose weather-stained roofs and walls
half ruinous just show among its clustering trees, there is a
picture of quiet autumn life. In the spacious stack-yard a party
of labourers, whose sunburnt faces glow against the green
background of the trees like so many round red autumn suns, are
standing about a great waggon, tossing hay to men at work on the
fast-growing ricks of new, sweet-smelling aftermath. It is an
ancient homestead. A thousand summers, it may be, has hay been
cleared from these broad meadows. A thousand times, at the season
of mists and mellow fruitfulness, have the sheaves been piled in
this old stack-yard. The hamlet of three houses is little changed,
either in name or character, since the days of Edward the
Confessor, when Brictric held it, paying geld for one hide of
land; when two villeins, with as many boors and serfs, made up all
its scanty population. A pleasant place, this warm autumn
afternoon, is the hollow at the back of the farm; a broad space of
level grass land, once an orchard, and with a few forlorn old
apple trees still standing in it; bordered on one side by a green
lane, and on the other by a broken line of hedge-row, through
whose wide gaps the thistles and brake-fern are marching down like
caterans from the hills, bent on reconquering the pasture-land and
turning it once more into a wilderness. All round it rise the
hills, robbing it of some hours of sunshine indeed, yet sheltering
it from every wind that blows. Just showing over a steep brow
above are the white houses of a hill-side village, once in the
heart of a great mining field--the very place Macaulay had in
view when he described how

  "The rugged miners poured to war from Mendip's sunless caves."

The mines have long been deserted. But here and there among the
villages you still may happen on some son of the soil, some
time-worn and bent and wrinkled patriarch, who, in his young days,
dug for ore among these hills; who remembers the time when a
miner, working here for his own hand, could earn a sovereign a
day. But although the miners have been gone these fifty years, the
whole country side is seamed and scarred with traces of their old
workings. There are fields on this farm where the ground is so
broken with heaps of rubbish from the pits, and so full of
barely-covered shafts, that the land is almost valueless. But
there are no buildings to spoil the landscape. There was no
machinery but the windlass and the bucket. And here, as ever,
Nature has done her best to hide the traces of man's ravages. The
heaps of stone and earth she has changed to grassy knolls, covered
them with lotus and burnet and scented clusters of the thyme, and
scattered over them little clumps of dark campanula. Under her
kindly touch the stony shafts are turned to bowery hollows,
green with moss and stone-crop, and long plumes of fern.


A bird-haunted spot is this little hollow in the hills. The clump
of old Scotch firs looking down from the hill-slope yonder is the
harbour of crow and magpie, ever the hangers-on of a West Country
farm. The straggling hedge-rows that part these broad fields are
full of empty nests. Here, among the red fruit of rowan and
whitebeam, the ring-ousel lingers on his southward journey. In
this old apple tree, whose withered arms are hung for once with
fruit, like little golden balls, is a woodpecker's hole, with
marks of the maker's tool about it yet. That stately oak tree,
springing straight and tall in the line of the old
hedge-row--touched above with a hundred points of light where the
pale green acorns hang, and laced below, across its drooping
branches, with silver lines of gossamer--is a resting place for
all the birds of the air. In the spring the cuckoo alights upon
its topmost crown and calls his name to all the neighbourhood.
From its leafy crest the magpie looks down, meditating another
raid upon the hencoop. The brown squirrels too, love to frolic in
its dim green shadows, playing hide and seek among the branches,
and racing headlong down its wrinkled bark to scamper over the
short turf of the meadow. At this moment two linnets on its
topmost spray are filling the air with such a chorus of sweet
notes and breezy chattering that you might think a score of birds
were in the tree.

The sun is sinking low. The shadows of the hedge-row elms are
stealing far down the grassy slope. Sparrows that have been
gleaning in outlying stubble-fields are flying home to roost in
the ivy on the old barn wall, or in the sides of the stacks, or in
snug tunnels that they have made for themselves in the thatched
roof of their thankless lord and suzerain:--quarters infinitely
cleaner and sweeter and more wholesome altogether than those of
their smoke-blackened cousins in the city. The sun is down. A soft
blue mist is gathering in the red heart of the pines. And now

      "The shadows veil the meadows,
  And the sunset's golden ladders
      Sink from twilight's walls of grey."

[Illustration: A GREY OLD HOUSE BY THE SEA.]


The heat-glimmer is still quivering on the sand, and over the vast
mud-flats, bared by the retreating tide, a soft haze hangs. Yet
the sun, sinking slowly through a cloudless sky, reddens as it
nears the low horizon, and the grey grass of the old sea wall is
brightening in the glow of sunset. Over the long curve of the
sand-hills shows a wide sweep of plain, whose level meadows,
freshened by the welcome rain, are still a very blaze of gold.
Against the sky, where, at the far limit of the bay, the ragged
hillocks die away into the shore, stands the white shaft of a
lighthouse. Farther still, across the hazy mud-flats, rise the
faint shapes of shadowy hills. The tide is out. A sea of boulders,
shaggy with dark weed, look like a herd of strange monsters come
ashore to bask upon the sand. There is no sign of human presence
anywhere, save a house roof just showing here and there above the
sand-hills, the distant hamlets scattered at far intervals over
the moor, and the black stakes of fishing nets that stand out on
the grey mud like webs of giant spiders. There is no figure on the
shore, no stranded boat, no idle sail. Nor is there sound, save
the low monotonous murmur of the sea. But here and there over the
desolate expanse dark shapes of birds are moving. Now and then a
troop of dunlins careers along the sand. Surely they are soon back
after their brief northern summer. One can hardly think that they
and the brown whimbrels whose musical trill at times falls softly
on the ear can have been away at all. Now a party of gulls get up
with wild stormy crying, and wheel and eddy in the air, now light,
now dark on the grey sky of the horizon. All the while to the
cliff ledges overhead clamorous daws are drifting, passing to
their nests, or settling on storm-worn pinnacles of rock. That
shrill pipe was the cry of a kestrel. Two rock doves hurrying
homeward, cliff-dwellers like the rest, pay no heed. They know him
well, too well to fear at any time his beak or claw. Here he
comes, wheeling round the headland. With wings and tail spread
wide, he pauses a moment to hover in the air; then sails slowly
by. No shrill clamour from the cliff answers his challenge. No
fierce young eyases yet are on the watch for his return. He
alights on a ledge far overhead, where his mate no doubt is
brooding on her rich brown eggs. Over the sea, trembling in the
sinking sun, lies a gleam as of frosted silver. Suddenly, far out
on the grey level, breaks a line of light. A faint sound falls on
the ear--the low roar of the returning sea, the first wave of the
rising tide. Now troops of daws, rising from the fields along the
shore, fly homeward--a gathering cloud of dusky figures sweeping
towards the cliff, that echoes with their musical clamour.

Right overhead they go, clustering like bees on ledges and
pinnacles and grassy slopes, and settle down to gossip over the
experiences of the day. Again they rise into the air, and wheel
over the sea, and again turn homeward, darkening the cliff as with
innumerable points of shadow. Once more they rise in eddying
crowd. The troop divides. With sharp chorus of farewell one party
flies straight over the hill. Their resting-place is farther on.
They are not dwellers in the cliff. They are making for the low
hills to the northward, a ridge of limestone dwindling into such
another rocky headland. There, in the shelter of the hills, stand
the ruins of a priory, in the niches of whose crumbling tower, or
on the dusty floor of its neglected belfry, their sires and they
have built for generations their untidy nests. It is an ancient
pile. Founded now nearly seven centuries ago, its grey walls
harboured for three hundred years a handful of monks,
black-stoled, black-hooded, darker even than these daws. It has
long been an article of faith in the countryside that the old
tower was

  "... built
  To purge de Traci's soul from guilt,
    Of Becket foully slain."

But in the original letter, still to be read in the Cottonian
library, in which William de Curtenai, grandson of Traci, made
known to the Bishop of the diocese his intention of founding a
"monastic house of the order of monks of St. Augustine," there is
no hint at all of expiation. Nor, indeed, have we any evidence
that the guilt of murder ever did lie heavy on de Traci's soul:
though there is an old tradition that, after a brief reappearance
at Court, he spent the remainder of his stormy life in seclusion
on his manor near Morthoe, where in the old churchyard by the sea

  "Lie all the Tracies, with the wind in their faces."

The founder of the priory seems to have had no other object in
view than "the welfare of the soul of Robert de Curtenai, my
father, ... and of my mother and myself; also of my wife, my
ancestors and descendants." For rather more than three centuries
the "Worspryng" canons, never probably more than ten in number,
lived and died in this grey old house by the sea. We know little
of their story; but the document is still in existence to which
the last of their priors set his name in acknowledgment that the
Pope was a usurper, and that King Henry alone was true head of the
Church. Two years later all the minor monasteries were forfeited
to the Crown--"forasmoche as manifest synne, vicious, carnall and
abomynable lyving is dayly used and comitted amonges the lytell
Abbeys and Pryories." This was one of the "lytell Pryories." Its
revenues from all sources, whether from rents that were reckoned
in horseshoes, or from "arable at iv_d._," or from "wode and waste
at j_d._ the acre," amounted to rather under a hundred a year.

When the little party of friars turned their backs upon their
home, they appear to have carried with them what was probably the
most sacred of their relics: one of those small wooden cups which,
filled with "Canterbury Water"--that is, with water containing a
minute quantity of the martyr's blood--were sold to visitors at
Becket's shrine. Marvellous are the tales related by the
chroniclers of the time as to the virtue of this wonderful water.
By its use sight, hearing, speech, reason, and even life were

The pavement was in fact still sprinkled with his blood when those
supernatural manifestations began, which were to make the martyr's
shrine the richest in the world. On the very day of the murder, a
blind man on his way to seek aid at the church of St. Nicholas,
was accosted by "an appearance in the form of a man, who warned
him to betake himself to the new martyr of Christ." He groped his
way to Becket's body. He touched his own sightless eyes with the
sacred blood, and his vision was immediately restored. This was
the first of many miracles. The pious chroniclers record how men,
women, and children flocked to the shrine from every corner of the
Kingdom, some to ask aid, others to return thanks for favours
granted: as Chaucer puts it:

  "The holy, blisful martyr for to seke,
  That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke."

Captives, who had been taken by the Saracens, travelled all the
way from Damascus, to return thanks at the shrine of Canterbury,
because St. Thomas had appeared to them in the visions of the
night and helped them to escape.

Five writers of the time did their best to record for the benefit
of future ages the miracles of the blessed martyr. These were
Benedict, sometime Prior of Christchurch, Canterbury, and
afterwards Abbot of Peterborough; William of Canterbury, who,
perhaps, held office at the shrine after Benedict; Alan, Abbot of
Tewkesbury; John of Salisbury, who witnessed the murder, and whom
de Traci thought was the man he had wounded; and Grim of
Cambridge,--not a monk, in all probability, nor really connected
in any way with Becket, but his great admirer. It was Grim, it
will be remembered, who was wounded in the vain attempt to save
the Archbishop. The minutest particulars are given in these
chronicles. The names and professions, the counties, the native
towns of many of the pilgrims are recorded.

There are exceptions. In the case of a man who came from "the
province of Surrey," Benedict says "the barbarous name of the town
has not stuck in my memory." The miracles were of every imaginable
description. A sick monk, near Sedan, too ill to leave his cell,
was touched with a mere list of the Saint's achievements, and in a
short time he was able to resume his duties. A monk of Byland was
dying. He had already received the _Viaticum_, when the Abbot,
having made the sign of the Cross in water upon a piece of
Becket's hair-shirt, caused the dying man's mouth to be opened,
and the water administered. Instantly, we are told, the sick man
recovered speech and appetite. It was a common thing to promise a
candle to the Saint. There were men who were too ill to go in
person to Canterbury, and who dated their recovery from the
instant that the candle was lighted for them at the shrine.

There is a description of five widows who tried in vain to restore
life to a child who had been three hours under water. They held
him up by the feet; they repeated nine Paternosters over him in
the name of the blessed St. Thomas, but all with no effect. Then
one of them said to the child's mother: "Run and fetch a piece of
string and measure the child, and promise to the martyr a candle
of the same length." It was done, and the boy at once recovered.

The smallest offerings were not disdained. A Flemish bird-catcher,
having tried in vain for some days to trap a certain falcon, cried
out, "O Blessed Thomas, glorious martyr, I will give thee a penny
if thou wilt give me the falcon." Benedict tells us that "it came
instantly to the bird-catcher, as if used to his hand. We both saw
the falcon," he goes on, "and received the money."

Even more marvellous still are the legends that passed current as
to the wonders wrought by the martyr's blood, which in quantities
about the bulk of a hazel nut, and largely diluted, were sold to
pilgrims under the name of Canterbury Water. A man, journeying
home after visiting the shrine, was belated at Rochester. In vain
he sought shelter for the night. At door after door he was refused
admittance. At last, "for the sake of the blessed martyr," he was
taken in. In the night the town caught fire. When the citizens
were fleeing, panic-stricken, "the pilgrim, whose faith was more
fervent than the material flame, remaining boldly on the roof,
called for a spear, or something long. A fork (hayfork, perhaps)
was handed up to him. Then, taking the reliquary (containing
Canterbury Water) from his neck ... he fastened it to the fork,
held it out towards the fire," and thus kept the flames at bay.
For "the fire, as if fearing a contrary element, turned aside."
Finally the whole town was burnt, with the single exception of its
one hospitable house.

A few drops of Canterbury Water swallowed or administered
externally sufficed to cure the most desperate diseases, and were
quite as efficacious as the pilgrimage itself. By its use the
blind, the deaf, the lame, the palsied, were cured, and even the
dead brought back to life.

The precious liquid was sold at first in small wooden vessels,
fitted with lids, in which mirrors were sometimes fixed, "_specula
mulierum_," as the monkish writer puts it. But as the wood was apt
to split, flasks of lead or earthenware were used instead. These
were hung from the neck, and came to be regarded, like the palm
branch of Jerusalem or the escalop shell of Compostella, as an
emblem of the pilgrimage. It was not an uncommon practice, in old
days, to place in a martyr's tomb a small vessel filled with his
blood. Many such have been discovered in the Catacombs. In the
Kircher Museum at Rome there is an agate cup, containing the
remains of blood, which was found in the Catacombs of St.

A special point of interest attaches to these legends in that
there is reason to think that one of these very reliquaries, one
of the earliest and most primitive form and still actually
containing traces of blood, has been preserved to the present day.
Forty years ago, or rather more--the actual date was 1849--some
workmen, while repairing the interior of a little West Country
church, at Kewstoke in Somersetshire, had occasion to remove an
old carved stone, which had been built into the masonry. It was
apparently the head of a column, worked in Caen stone, a material
not used elsewhere in the building, and the style was earlier than
anything else in the church.

In front of this capital is a niche enclosing a battered effigy,
apparently the half length figure of a veiled woman. At the back,
where it was embedded in the wall, is an arched cavity, about
eight inches high, closed by an oaken panel, and containing a
small cylindrical wooden vessel, three inches in diameter, and but
slightly more in height, broken and decayed, and containing at the
bottom a layer of some dark substance, pronounced, after careful
examination, to be the remains of blood. It is a bold guess, but
still a guess that has much to support it, that this cup was one
of the very reliquaries dispersed through the country after
Becket's martyrdom; that it once held no less precious a relic
than "Canterbury Water"; in short, that the dark layer at the
bottom is what passed, seven centuries ago, for the blood of the
blessed St. Thomas himself.

The monastery is now a dwelling-house. The windows of a modern
farm look out through the walled-up arches of the priory. Quaint
gargoyles peer through the mantling creepers of the ruined
cloister. Grey stems of ivy have sapped right through the
crumbling masonry. Wallflowers bloom on the worn crowns of the
turrets. It is a quiet spot, "here, at the farthest limit of the
world." Yet it is not strange that a corner so remote should have
been chosen for the site of a monastery dedicated "to God, the
blessed Mary, and the blessed Martyr Thomas." All four of Becket's
murderers were men of the West Country.

De Brito and Fitzurse were landowners of this district; De Traci
and De Morville belonged, at farthest, to the neighbouring county.
This crumbling relic is to us but an item on the shelf of a
museum. The great churchman himself is to most of us nothing but a
name, a mere figure in a page of history. And although poet and
player, past and present masters of their art, have done their
best to bring him again before the world; although his counterfeit
presentment stands to-day before us as full of fire, of valour, of
resolute determination as on that fatal Tuesday more than seven
centuries ago--yet the Becket of the players is but "a fable, a
phantom, a show." When the curtain falls upon that last sad
scene, we are conscious of no sinking of heart at the remembrance
of an awful figure lying white and still upon the bloodstained
pavement. The curtain down, our Becket is alive again. The actor
lives, the martyr is forgotten.

There is another figure in the play whose memory lingers in this
far-off spot. At the foot of the low blue hills yonder lies the
village which was the ancient home of the Cliffords.

Rosamund herself,--the fair girl over whose tomb at Godstow her
royal lover wrote--

  "Hic jacet in tumba Rosa mundi non Rosa munda,"

was born almost within sight of Curtenai's tower. When the fair
fugitive pleaded, in excuse for wandering out unguarded, that

  "... there stole into the city a breath
  Full of the meadows,"

she was, it may be, thinking of the hamlet where, in quiet
cloisters, long since gone to ruin, she passed her girlish days.
There by the

  "... river, widening through the meadows green,
  To the vast sea, so near and yet unseen,"

there may have come to her in vision some glimmer of the coming
time, some forerunning shadow of the

  "Love that is born of the deep, coming up with the sun from
  the sea."

[Illustration: THE MONK'S RETREAT.]


A grey November day, with sad-coloured clouds hanging low over a
grey and sullen sea. At intervals there rolls across the water the
dull boom of distant fog-guns, echoing like thunder under the
heavy veil of mist. From the shore below comes the ceaseless fret
of waves sweeping swiftly in across the sand. Along the edge of
the tide and over the wide mud-flats are scattered the white
figures of gulls; and at times there comes faintly up the low
musical call of a whimbrel, or the plaintive wail of a curlew. At
times, too, there rises in the air a great flock of sandpipers,
like a thin smoke-cloud drifting down the shore, until, as they
wheel, their snowy breasts and upturned wings gleam for a moment
silver white on the grey sky behind them.

It is a grey world altogether; grey sea, grey shore, grey shingle.
Grey, too, are the ragged sand hills, whose shifting ramparts the
gales of many winters have piled so high over the old sea wall.
Below this hollow--a narrow gorge worn deep into the hill--there
lies a little hamlet, still half-hidden by the trees, thinned and
tattered though they are, and nestling close under the shelter of
the hill;--a score or so of white-walled houses, with roofs of red
tiles weathered to soft shades of brown and russet, with plumes of
blue smoke all trailing seawards, and with a fringe of orchards
round it, where the mellow fruit is still glowing on the boughs.
High over the roofs of the village rises the grey tower of the
church, its turrets just clear above the clustering elms, in whose
shadow lies the crowded graveyard,

  "Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap."

A wide stretch of pasture-land divides the village from the sea.
Yet, in old days--before the coming of the friars to the priory
yonder, whose tower shows faintly against the low green hill that
dies in a rocky headland by the sea, perhaps even before the
legionaries stormed the great stronghold whose ruins crown this
breezy hill-top--the little hamlet, now so far above the tide
line, was, if antiquaries read its name aright, a place of boats.
The fields about it are still below high-water mark. A high spring
tide, before a gale from the westward, would even now reach right
up to the village, were it not for the sea wall and the sand

The sand hills are mere desert now. Yet they are pleasant enough
in the summer time, when their short turf is bright with
rest-harrow and crowfoot, when the great bells of the
sea-convolvulus open wide on the hot sand, when tufts of pale
thrift blossom in the shingle, and clumps of white campion, and
frail flowers of yellow poppy. Pleasant then is the sweet breath
of thyme and clover. Pleasanter still the smell of the sea, blown
by soft summer airs over the wide mud-flats and the trampled sand.

The little hamlet, high and dry this many a day, is a port no
longer. The only harvest of the sea that the villagers can glean
in our time is that which wind and wave bring ashore upon this
sandy beach. In the broken spars, the splintered timbers, the
nameless waifs and strays of wreckage which the storm brings to
their doors, the dwellers in the cottages that seem to crouch for
shelter behind the old sea wall, find all their winter fuel.

There are traditions that many a cargo of spirits was run ashore
here in smuggling days. Tales are still current of the hiding
places where the goods were stored. It is said that even the
church tower has in its time afforded sanctuary to bales of lace
and kegs of liquor that never paid the King his due. This narrow
pass may well have served the "free-traders" as a secret way into
the hills.

But the long flight of rude stone steps that leads down it towards
the village dates from an earlier time. To its use and history no
clue remains. It is likely enough that it was the pathway to the
camp from the long-vanished port below.

There is a legend in the country-side that it led up to the cell
of an anchorite, a solitary who inhabited this ravine, and who,
with his own hands, hewed and fitted the stones of the old
stairway, now worn smooth by the feet of many centuries. Half-way
up the pass, under the shelter of the limestone cliff, is his
traditional dwelling place, a chamber hollowed in the living rock
and roughly faced with masonry.

Who was he? A monk from the old priory yonder,--an outlaw with
blood upon his soul?

  "Had you, Father, hid away
       In your heart, some load to bury,
  That you chose so long to stay,
       World-forgot and solitary?"

It is a quiet spot. The crumbling walls look down through the
rocky gateway of the gorge to the village at its foot; over the
grey curve of shingle to the wet sands that, as the cloud veil
lifts and scatters, are beginning now to shine like silver in the
sunlight; to the grey sea, with sails showing ghost-like here and
there; to the far shore, whose rugged outline looms faintly
through the haze.

The brown elms of the village redden in the sunshine. There is a
flush of colour on the belfry walls, on the limestone battlements
above the pass, on the worn steps of the old stairway winding
downward to the sea.

Yes, a quiet spot. There is no sound but the slumbrous music of
the waves, at times the bark of a sheep-dog, a cattle-call from
distant meadows, or the chatter of linnets on the hill.

On such a scene the old monk looked down. Such sounds were in his
ears. Such rest and calm brooded over his rude dwelling--beast and
bird his sole companions, the busy world shut out.

Was he the Father of the village, summoned from his cell to
shrieve the dying, bless the dead? Was he a surly recluse, fond of
solitude and silence?

  "Tell, when all the boughs were bare,
       Did you dread each dreary waking?
  Hewing out your stony stair,
       Were you glad at thorn-buds breaking?

  Did you mark the flashing white
       On the breast of earliest swallows,
  Or the wavering, yellow light
       On the cowslips in the hollows?

  As day grew 'twixt dawn and dark
       Did the shy birds learn to love you?
  Sang the silver-throated lark
       Out of sight in skies above you?

  When the burning noontide sun
       Made the gorge grow hot and hazy
  Did you wish your work were done?
       Were you ever tired--or lazy?

  When you sat beside your door
       In the dusk, you ancient man, you,
  Did the broad-leaved sycamore
       Wave and rustle low to fan you?

  Did you sometimes, in the night,
       Rise and quit your quiet shieling,
  Climbing up the grassy height
       With a still, expectant feeling?

  Where the wind went whispering by
       Underneath pale stars that glisten,
  From the open, upper sky
       Did God speak, and did you listen?"

From the rocky brow above the hermit's chamber the eye looks out
over a wider world. A world no longer cold and colourless. The
clouds have lifted from the sea; the sky has cleared; a flood of
sunshine covers the whole landscape. It kindles on the red roofs
of the village, it gilds the sombre leafage of the elms, it
brightens the green meadows, turning all their straight-cut
waterways to lines of silver. A tall beech that lifts its stately
head above its fellows in the wood yonder reddens in the sunset.
And the bright foliage of a row of Spanish chestnuts along the
path that winds upwards from the shore flames like a river of
light among the quiet-coloured elms and larches. A passing sail
gleams white upon an opal sea. Over the wide west is spread a soft
and golden glow; while far hills, range beyond range, are wrought
in amethyst upon the lighted sky.

[Illustration: TINTAGEL.]


The traveller from Clovelly, making his way by coach towards the
northern coast of Cornwall, pays no slight penalty, in the early
stages of his ride at any rate, for the ease and comfort of his
journey. It is but a dull and featureless road that crosses the
miles of windswept moorland which fill so wide a stretch of the
Devonshire marches. We have to leave unseen some of the grandest
coast scenery in the county. We miss altogether the pleasant Vale
of Hartland and the precipitous rocks of Black Mouth; and, above
all, we see nothing of the world-forgotten nook of Hartland Quay,
nestling close under its mighty wall of cliff.

It is a pleasant mode of travelling. There is a much greater charm
about the box-seat of a coach than there is in the cosiest corner
of a railway carriage. There is the charm of freshness and the
open air, of hills and meadows and deep country lanes. But a man
on a coach is not entirely his own master. The coach-ride gives no
opportunity for anything like a leisurely survey. There is little
time for exploring church or manor-house or abbey ruin. The old
encampment, the cluster of grave-mounds, or the ancient cross of
which perhaps the traveller may have caught a glimpse in passing,
appeals to him in vain.

Morwenstow is among the spots we have to pass unseen. Yet it is
well worth a pilgrimage. No picture, either of pen or pencil, can
give a fair idea of that grey old tower by the sea, among its
gnarled and storm-beaten trees, and set round with old
figure-heads,--the sorrowful memorials of lost ships and of
drowned mariners. And as at Clovelly, Kingsley is the central
figure of all legends, old or new, so Morwenstow is haunted by
memories of Hawker, for forty years the Vicar of the parish. He
left his mark there in many ways. He built the vicarage, and above
the vicarage door he traced these lines:--

  "A house, a glebe, a pound a day,
  A pleasant place to watch and pray.
  Be true to Church, be kind to poor
  O minister for evermore."

Morwenstow we have to take on trust. But the coach goes through
Kilkhampton, and here again it is the Church that is the centre of
interest. Outside the old grey walls we are reminded of Hervey,
sometime curate in Bideford, who in this quiet churchyard wrote
his once famous _Meditations_. Within the building lie the ashes
of a line of Grenvilles;--the greatest of them, indeed, rests not
here, but somewhere in the Spanish Main. One monument is in memory
of Sir Beville Grenville, who, after routing on Stamford Hill a
Roundhead army twice as numerous as his own, was killed, a few
weeks later, in the fight on Lansdowne. The field of battle is
only four miles to the southward; and there, on the wall of the
village inn, may still be seen this inscription, from the
monument,--long since destroyed,--which was set up on the scene of

                        "In this Place
  Ye Army of ye Rebells under ye command of
                   ye Earl of Stamford
    Received a signal Overthrow by the Valor
  Of Sir Bevill Grenville and ye Cornish Army,
         On Tuesday, ye 16th of May, 1643."

As we drove out of Kilkhampton a brilliant sunset was flaming in
the west, and the shadow of the coast was strangely lengthened on
the grassy fringes of the road. By the time we had entered on the
last league of the journey, the air, that all day long had been
sweetened by the breath of wide sheets of gorse and heather, was
blowing cool across the moors. And as we slowly descended the long
hill to Bude, darkness was fairly settling down over the

Morning broke almost without a cloud. It was still summer, but
there was a sign of coming change in the great flights of swallows
that had assembled in the village street, clustering in thousands
on roofs and telegraph wires, as if pausing for rest, or waiting
until some coming storm should be overpast.

The sea was in quiet mood as we stood on the grassy brow of the
cliff that skirts the shore; and they were the very gentlest of
waves that rolled lazily in across the shining sand. But on every
side there were tokens, only too plain to read, that this is among
the most perilous of shores. Here a party of men were breaking up
the iron frame-work of a wreck. There the life-boat crew, cleaning
and painting and overhauling, stood ready by their gear. In many
of the gardens by the canal are the battered figure-heads of
ships, half hidden among shrubs and flowers. And in the churchyard
above the village the white effigy of a turbaned warrior that once
looked proudly down from the bows of the _Bencoolen_, now guards
the grave of thirteen of her crew, lost when she came ashore here
on these smooth sands some five-and-thirty years ago. In one of
the houses of the village are preserved some arms--cutlases and
muskets--that have been recovered from the wreck, so corroded and
so encrusted with sand that their original shapes are hardly

The sun went down behind an ominous-looking bank of cloud. That
night the wind roared in the chimneys of the inn, and clouds of
driving sand rattled like shot against the windows. Next morning
found the sea in another temper altogether. Great green rollers
were thundering up the beach, and leaping over the break-water in
sheets of spray. Heavy clouds were rolling up from the southward,
and altogether it was sufficiently clear that the swallows were
well advised to put in for calmer weather.

The day's ride began under no pleasant conditions. Cold squalls of
pitiless rain drove fiercely in our faces as we sat huddled
together on the coach, glad to make use of every wrap and rug we
had, and forcibly reminded of the old fisherman, who surveying the
prostrate forms of his party of holiday makers, lying helpless in
the boat, overcome by dire extremity of sickness, muttered softly
to himself: "And they calls this goin' a-pleasurin!"

But the sun came out again as we went down the long slope into
Boscastle; and, at length, when we drew up before the inn, the sky
was clear. But the wind was blowing harder than ever as we made
our way along the strange little harbour; and by the look-out
station on the cliff it was as much as we could do to hold our
own against the gale. A tremendous sea was breaking on the reefs
outside, and thundering against the rocky wall below. Before us,
far as eye could reach, stretched away the sunlit levels of the
Atlantic, touched with a thousand twinkling points of light, and
shot with changing tones of green and blue and amethyst.

Boscastle Minster lies in an ideal setting in its quiet woodland
valley. But some travellers, at any rate, will look with less
interest on its massive walls, on the decorated timbers of its
noble roof, or on the time-blackened carvings of its beautiful
bench-ends, than on the other church of Boscastle, at Forrabury, a
mile or so to the westward. For this is the Silent Tower of
Bottreaux, whose bells lie at the bottom of the sea, just outside
the harbour.

All the world knows the story. How, when the church was first
built, the village folk petitioned the Lord of Bottreaux for a
peal of bells to hang in the new tower. How the bells were cast,
and were on their way by sea from London. How, as the ship drew
near Boscastle harbour, the pilot, a Tintagel man, heard the
chimes of his own village ringing, and thanked God for fine
weather and a prosperous voyage. How the captain scoffed: "Thank
your own skill," said he, "and our stout craft and able
seamanship." How the words were hardly uttered, when a sudden
storm caught the vessel and dashed her to pieces on the rocks. How
only the pilot reached land alive. And how, on wild nights of
winter, when a storm is coming up from the Atlantic, the fisherman
on the shore still hears the muffled tones of the long-lost
Bottreaux bells, as the unquiet surges swing them in their ocean

But the glory of the whole coast is Tintagel,--the birth-place of
Arthur, the palace of King Marc of Cornwall. Though the village of
Tintagel is half a mile or more inland, the ruins of the ancient
stronghold stand partly on the brink of a cliff that overhangs the
sea, but mainly on a bold headland almost surrounded by the waves.
Some of the masonry is older even than the days of the Round
Table, for in St. Juliet's Chapel there are, it is said, traces of
Roman workmanship. Tintagel was still inhabited, either as a
fortress or a prison until early Tudor times; but Leland describes
it as having wholly gone to ruin. "It hath bene," he says in his
gossiping _Itinerary_, "a marvelus strong and notable forteres,
and almost _situ loci inexpugnabile_, especially for the donjon
that is on the great high terrible cragge. But the residue of the
buildinges of the castel be sore wether-beten an yn mine."

Standing on the brink of the tremendous cliff, with the waves and
the wave-girt rock before, with the wind-swept downs behind, where
the lonely church seems to crouch upon the short turf like a
storm-driven sea-bird, and with the whole air full of the fretful
murmur of the sea, we look down upon a page of old romance.

His must be a dull soul who, when the stern lines of the headland
are dark against the glowing west, cannot people the old halls
with shadowy figures, with the shapes of Arthur and his Knights,
who, more than all other heroes, have been so

  "Magnified by the purple mist
  The dusk of centuries and of song."

As we look over the perilous verge we have no eyes for the dark
hues of the rock, for the whiteness of the leaping foam-cloud, or
for the beauty of the blue levels of "the unquiet, bright Atlantic
main." We have no ears for the croak of the raven, or the wail of
the herring-gull, or even for the thunder of the sea. Our souls
are with the past. As we climb the steep pathway to the summit of
the headland, we think of Uther Pendragon and of Merlin. We see
Sir Bedivere stooping beneath his burden. We hear the clink of

  "... harness in the icy caves
  And barren chasms,"


  "... all to left and right
  The bare, black cliff clanged round him, as he based
  His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
  Sharp-smitten with the dint of armèd heels."

We see in fancy the prostrate figure of the guilty queen. We see

  "Wet with the mists and smitten by the lights,
  The Dragon of the great Pendragonship
  Blaze, making all the night a steam of fire."

We hear the shock of that last battle in the west when

  "... friend and foe were shadows in the mist,
  And friend slew friend not knowing whom he slew;
  And some had visions out of golden youth,
  And some beheld the faces of old ghosts
  Look in upon the battle."

And when at length we stand within the windswept ruin we remember
that it was here King Marc of Cornwall kept his court. It was to
this sea-girt rock that Tristram of Lyonesse, the peerless
hunter, harper, knight, brought home his master's bride, Iseult of
Ireland. Within these very walls stood the two helpless, hapless
lovers, caught all unaware in the fatal mesh of the enchanter. For
among the treasures on board the ship that brought them to
Tintagel was a golden cup, with a love-potion in it, prepared by
the bride's mother, for Iseult and King Marc to drink upon their
marriage day, "and for ever love each other."

But, alas, Iseult and Sir Tristram, in all innocence, drained the
magic cup. The subtle potion fired their veins;

  "... their hands
  Tremble, and their cheeks are flame
  As they feel the fatal bands
  Of a love they dare not name."

In fancy we see that other chamber, far off upon the coast of
Brittany, where, after long years the Knight lay dying. We see him

  "... weak and pale,
  Though the locks are yet brown on his noble head,
  Propt on pillows on his bed,
  Gazing sea-ward for the light
  Of some ship that fights the gale
  On this wild December night."

We see Iseult standing in the moonlight, the spray of the
sea-voyage on her cloak and hair. We hear her singing, in sweet
voice and low, the promised

  "... tales of true, long-parted lovers,
  Joined at evening of their days again."

We catch the last low murmur of the dying Knight:--

  "Now to sail the seas of Death I leave thee--
  One last kiss upon the living shore."

_Printed at the Office of the Publisher, St. Stephen Street,

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the West Country" ***

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