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Title: Le Capitaine Martin. - Le Dernier des commis voyageurs. Les Idoles d'argile. Le - Capitaine Martin. Les Aventures d'un fifre.
Author: Reybaud, Louis
Language: French
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE LAND'S END

A NATURALIST'S IMPRESSIONS IN WEST CORNWALL

By W. H. Hudson

With Forty-Nine Illustrations By A. L. Collins

New York, D. Appleton And Company

1908

[Illustration: 0017]



THE LAND'S END



CHAPTER I WINTERING IN WEST CORNWALL

_England's "observables"--Why I delayed visiting Cornwall--A vision
of the Land's End-Flight to St. Ives-Climate-The old town-The
fishermen-Their love of children-Drowned babes--The fishing fleet going
out at sunset-Old memories suggested-Jackdaws at St. Ives--Feeding the
birds--A greedy sheep-dog-Daws show their intelligence--Daws on the
roofs--Their morning pastime-Dialogue between two daws._

|KNOW," said wise old Fuller, "most of the rooms of thy native country
before thou goest over the threshold thereof. Especially seeing England
presents thee with so many observables." But if we were to follow this
advice there would be no getting out of the country at all. It is too
rich in its way: the rooms are too many and too well-furnished with
observables. Take my case. I have been going on rambles about the land
for a good many years, and though the West Country had the greatest
attraction for me, I never got over the Tamar, nor even so far as
Plymouth, simply because I had not the time, albeit my time was my own.
Or because there was enough and more than enough to satisfy me on this
side of the boundary. It is true that one desires to see and know all
places, but is in no hurry to go from a rich to a poor one. I was told
by every one of my friends that it was the most interesting county in
England, and doubtless it is so to them, but I knew it could not be so
to me because of the comparative poverty of the fauna, seeing that the
observables which chiefly draw me are the living creatures-the wild
life-and not hills and valleys and granite and serpentine cliffs and
seas of Mediterranean blue. These are but the setting of the shining
living gems, and we know the finest of these, which gave most lustre to
the scene, have been taken out and cast away.

Cornwall to me was just the Land's End-"dark Bolerium, seat of
storms"-that famous foreland of which a vast but misty picture formed in
childhood remains in the mind, and if I ever felt any strong desire
to visit Cornwall it was to look upon that scene. Then came a day in
November, 1905, when, having settled to go away somewhere for a season,
I all at once made up my mind to visit the unknown peninsula and to go
straight away to the very end. It almost astonished me when I alighted
from my train at St. Ives to think I had travelled three hundred and
twenty odd miles with less discomfort and weariness than I usually
experience on any journey of a hundred.

It is common, I think, for lovers of walking to dislike the railway. So
smoothly had I been carried in this flight to the furthest west that I
might have been sailing in a balloon; and as for the time occupied it
would surely be no bad progress for a migrating bird, travelling, let
us say, from Middlesex to Africa, to cover the distance I had come in a
little more than seven hours!

St. Ives is on the north side of the rounded western extremity of
Cornwall, and from the little green hill, called the "Island," which
rises above and partly shelters the town, you look out upon the wide
Atlantic, the sea that has always a trouble on it and that cannot be
quiet; and standing there with the great waves breaking on the black
granite rocks at your feet, they will tell you that there is no land
between you and America. Nevertheless, after London, I wanted no better
climate; for though it rained heavily on many days in December and the
wind blew with tremendous force, the temperature was singularly mild,
with an agreeable softness in the air and sunshine breaking out on
the cloudiest days. The weather could be described as "delicate" with
tempestuous intervals. On bright, windless days I saw the peacock
butterfly abroad and heard that idle song of the corn bunting,
associated in our minds with green or yellow fields and sultry weather.
I was still more surprised one day late in December at meeting with a
lively wheatear, flitting from stone to stone near the Land's End. This
one had discovered that it was not necessary to fly all the way to North
Africa to find a place to winter in. Early in February I found the adder
abroad.

[Illustration: 0020]

The town, viewed from the outside-the old fishing town, which does not
include the numerous villas, terraces, and other modern erections on the
neighbouring heights-appears very small indeed. It is small, for when
you once master its intricacies you can walk through from end to end in
about five or six minutes. But the houses are closely packed, or rather
jumbled together with the narrowest and crookedest streets and courts
in which to get about or up and down. They have a look of individuality,
like a crowd of big rough men pushing and elbowing one another for room,
and you can see how this haphazard condition has come about when you
stumble by chance on a huge mass of rock thrusting up out of the
earth among the houses. There was, in fact, just this little sheltered
depression in a stony place to build upon, and the first settlers, no
doubt, set their houses just where and how they could among the rocks,
and when more room was wanted more rocks were broken down and other
houses added until the town as we find it resulted. It is all rude and
irregular, as if produced by chance or nature, and altogether reminds
one of a rabbit warren or the interior of an ants' nest.

It cannot be nice to live in such a warren or rookery, except to those
who were born in it; nevertheless it is curiously attractive, and I,
although a disliker of towns or congeries of houses, found a novel
pleasure in poking about it, getting into doorways and chance openings
to be out of the way of a passing cart which as a rule would take up the
whole width of the street. Outside the houses hung the wet oilskins
and big sea-boots to dry, and at the doors women with shawls over their
heads stand gossiping. When the men are asleep or away and the children
at school these appear to be the only inhabitants, except the cats. You
find one at every few yards usually occupied with the head of a mackerel
or herring. The appearance was perhaps even better by night when the
narrow crooked ways are very dark except at some rare spot where a lamp
casts a mysterious light on some quaint old corner building and affords
a glimpse into a dimly-seen street beyond ending in deep gloom.

In this nest or hive are packed about eight hundred fishermen with their
wives and children, their old fathers and mothers, and other members
of the community who do not go in the boats. The fishermen are the most
interesting in appearance; it is a relief, a positive pleasure to see
in England a people clothed not in that ugly dress which is now so
universal, but in one suitable to their own life and work--their
ponderous sea-boots and short shirt-shaped oilies of many shades of
colour from dirty white and pale yellow to deep reds and maroons. In
speech and manners they are rough and brusque, and this, too, like
their dress and lurching gait, comes, as it were, by nature; for of all
occupations, this of wresting a poor and precarious livelihood from
the wind-vexed seas under the black night skies in their open boats is
assuredly the hardest and most trying to a man's temper. The navvy and
the quarryman, the labourer on the land, here where the land is half
rock, even the tin-miner deep down in the bowels of the earth, have a
less discomfortable and anxious life. That they are not satisfied with
it one soon discovers; Canada calls them, and Africa, and other distant
lands, and unhappily, as in most places, it is always the best men that
go. Possibly this accounts for the change for the worse in the people
which some have noted in recent years. Nevertheless they are a good
people still, righteous in their own peculiar way, and so independent
that in bad times, as when the fishing fails, hunger and cold are more
endurable to them than charity. They are a clannish people, and it is
consequently not to be wondered at that they have no subscription clubs
or friendly societies of any kind to aid them in times of want and
sickness such as are now almost universal among the working classes.
These benefits of our civilisation will doubtless come to them in time:
then their clannishness-the old "One and All" spirit of Cornishmen
generally-being no longer needed, will decay. It is after all but
another word for solidarity, the strong, natural, or family bond
which unites the members of a community which was once, in ruder ages,
everywhere, to make social life possible, and has survived here solely
because of Cornwall's isolated position. Unfortunately we cannot make
any advance-cannot gain anything anywhere without a corresponding loss
somewhere. Will it be better for this people when the change comes-when
the machine we call "civilisation" has taken the place of the spirit
of mutual help in the members of the community? 'Tis an idle question,
since we cannot have two systems of life. At present, in our "backward"
districts, we have two, but they are in perpetual conflict, and one must
overcome the other; and if there be any beautiful growths in the old and
unfit, which is passing away, they must undoubtedly perish with it.

One of the most pleasing traits of the Cornish people, which is but one
manifestation of the spirit I have been speaking about, is their love
for little children. Nowhere in the kingdom, town or country, do you see
a brighter, happier, better-dressed company of small children than here
in the narrow stony ways of the old fishing town. The rudest men exhibit
a strange tenderness towards their little ones; and not only their
own, since they regard all children with a kind of parental feeling. An
incident which occurred in the early part of December, and its effects
on the people, may be given here as an illustration. One morning when
the boats came in it was reported that one of the men had been lost.
"Poor fellow!" was all that was said about it. And that is how it is all
the world over among men who have dangerous occupations: the loss of a
comrade is a not uncommon experience, and the shock is very slight and
quickly vanishes. But there was no such indifference when, two or three
days later, one of the herring-boats brought in the corpse of a small
child which had been fished up in the Bay-a pretty little well-nourished
boy, decently dressed, aged about two years and a half. Where the child
belonged and how it came to be in the sea was not discovered until long
afterwards, but the intensity of the feeling displayed was a surprise to
me. For several days little else was talked of both in St. Ives and the
villages and farms in the neighbourhood, and they talked of it, both
men and women, with tears in their voices as though the death of this
unknown child had been a personal loss.

This incident served to recall others, of St. Ives children lost and
drowned in past years, especially this very pathetic one of three little
things who went out to pick flowers one afternoon and were lost.

[Illustration: 0025]

They were two sisters, aged eight and nine respectively, and their
little brother, about six or seven years old. They rambled along the
rough heath by Carbis Bay to the Towans, near Lelant, where, climbing
about among the sand-hills, they lost all sense of direction. There
meeting a man who spoke roughly to them and ordered them home they
became terrified and ran away to the sea-front, and, climbing down the
cliff, hid themselves in a cave they found there. By and by it began to
grow dark, and there were sounds above as of loud talking and shouts and
of a galloping horse, all which added to their fear and caused them to
go further into their dark wet house of refuge. They did not know, poor
children, that the cries were uttered by those who were seeking for
them! After dark the tide rose and covered the sandy floor of the cave,
and to escape it they climbed on to a rocky shelf where they could keep
dry, and there huddled together to keep warm, and being very tired, they
eventually fell asleep. In the morning when it grew light the sisters
woke, stiff and cold, to find that their poor little brother had fallen
from the ledge in his sleep and had been carried out by the sea. His
body was recovered later. The two survivors, now middle-aged women,
still live in the town.

The most interesting hour of the day at St. Ives was in the afternoon or
evening, the time depending on the tide, when the men issued from their
houses and came lurching down the little crooked stone streets and
courts to the cove or harbour to get the boats out for the night's
fishing. It is a very small harbour in the corner of the bay-a roughly
shaped half-moon with two little stone piers for horns, with just room
enough inside to accommodate the fleet of about 150 boats. The best
spectacle is when they are taken out at or near sunset in fair weather,
when the subdued light gives a touch of tenderness and mystery to sea
and sky, and the boats, singly, in twos and threes, and in groups
of half a dozen, drift out from the harbour and go away in a kind of
procession over the sea. The black forms on the moving darkening water
and the shapely deep-red sails glowing in the level light have then a
beauty, an _expression_, which comes as a surprise to one unaccustomed
to such a scene. The expression is due to association-to vague
suggestions of a resemblance in this to other scenes. We may be unable
to recall them; the feeling returns but without the mental image of the
scene which originally produced it. It was not until I had watched the
boats going out on two or three successive evenings that an ancient
memory returned to me.

Sitting or walking by the margin of some wide lake or marsh in a
distant land, I am watching a company of birds of some large majestic
kind-stork, wood-ibis, or flamingo-standing at rest in the shallow
water, which reflects their forms. By and by one of the birds steps out
of the crowd and moves leisurely away, then, slowly unfolding his broad
wings, launches himself on the air and goes off, flying very low over
the water. Another follows, then, after an interval, another, then
still others, in twos and threes and halfdozens, until the last bird
has opened his wings and the entire flock is seen moving away in a loose
procession over the lake.

Just in that way did the crowd of boats move by degrees from their
resting-place, shake out their wing-like sails, and stream away over the
sea.

That was one scene; there were faint suggestions of many others, only
a few of which I could recover; one was of large, dark red-winged
butterflies, seen at rest with closed wings, congregated on wind-swayed
reeds and other slender plants. It was the shape and deep red colour
of the sails and the way they hung from the masts and cordage which
restored this butterfly picture to my mind. And in every instance in
which a resemblance could be traced it turned out to be to some natural
and invariably to a beautiful object or scene. The spectacle had, in
fact, that charm, which is so rare in man's work, of something wholly
natural, which fits into the scene and is part and parcel with nature
itself.

In buildings we get a similar effect at the two extremes-in the humblest
and the highest work of man's hands; in the small old thatched
and rose-and creeper-covered cottage in perfect harmony with its
surroundings, and in ancient majestic castles and cathedrals, in which
the sharp lines and contours have been blurred by decay of the material
and the whole surface weathered and stained with lichen and alga and in
many cases partially draped with ivy.

It struck me before I had been long in St. Ives that, in spite of the
delightful mildness of the climate and the charm of the place, nobody
but myself was wintering there. The lodging-houses were quite empty; the
people were the natives or else the artists, who form a pretty numerous
colony. The few others to be seen were visitors for the day from
Penzance, Falmouth, or some other spot in the "Cornish Riviera."
This was not a cause of regret, seeing there were birds for society,
especially that old favourite, the jackdaw.

[Illustration: 0029]

Doubtless he is to be seen there all the year round as he is so common
a town bird all over the country, but at St. Ives many of the
cliffbreeding daws settle down regularly for the winter and exist very
comfortably on the fish and other refuse thrown into the streets. Very
soon I established a sort of friendship with a few of these birds; for
birds I must have, in town or country-free birds I mean, as the captive
bird only makes me melancholy--and in winter I feed them whether they
are in want or not. It is an old habit of mine, first practised in
early life in June and July, the cold winter months in the southern
hemisphere, in a land where the English sparrow was not. Now, unhappily,
he is there and a great deal too abundant. I fed a better sparrow in
those vanished days, smaller and more prettily shaped than our bird,
with a small crest on his head and a sweet delicate little song. But
in England one really gets far more pleasure from feeding the birds on
account of the number of different species which are willing to be our
pensioners. At St. Ives I first stayed at a house in The Terrace facing
the sea-front, and there were no gardens there, so that I had to feed
them out in the road. First there were only sparrows, then a pair of
jackdaws turned up, and soon others joined them until I had about a
score of them. By and by a very big shaggy sheep-dog, belonging to a
carter, discovered that there was food to be got at eight o'clock at
that spot in the road, and he too came very punctually every day and
thoughtlessly gobbled it all up himself. After two or three days of this
sort of thing, I felt that it ought not to be allowed to continue, and
as the daws were of the same mind and loyally seconded my efforts to
stop it we were soon successful. My plan was to go out and scatter the
scraps and crusts far and wide over the road, and while the greedy dog
galloped about from crust to crust the daws, hovering overhead, dropped
down and snatched them one by one away before he could reach them.

Later, when leaving St. Ives, I asked the landlady to explain to the
birds on the following morning the reason of there being nothing
for them, and to request them to go quietly away. They were very
intelligent, I said, and would understand; but on my return, a month
later, she said they had not understood the message, or had not believed
her, as they had continued to come for several mornings, and had seemed
very much put out. It was plain they had kept an eye on that house
during my absence, for on going out with scraps on the morning after my
return they promptly reappeared in full force on the scene.

There are few persons to feed the birds in those parts, and those few, I
fancy, are mostly visitors from other counties. It amused me to see how
the natives regarded my action; the passer-by would stop and examine the
scraps or crusts, then stare at me, and finally depart with a puzzled
expression on his countenance, or perhaps smiling at the ridiculous
thing he had witnessed.

The following winter (1906-7) I found a lodging in another part of the
town, in a terrace rather high up, where I could look from my window at
the Bay over the tiled roofs of the old town. Here I had a front garden
to feed the birds in, and, better still, the entire jackdaw population
of St. Ives, living on the roofs as is their custom, were under my eyes
and could be observed very comfortably. I discovered that they filled up
a good deal of their vacant time each morning in visiting the chimneys
from which smoke issued, just to inform themselves, as it seemed, what
was being cooked for breakfast. This was their pastime and watching them
was mine. Numbers of daws would be seen, singly, in pairs, and in groups
of three or four to half a dozen, sitting on the roofs all over the
place. As the morning progressed and more and more chimneys sent out
smoke, they would become active visiting the chimneys, where, perching
on the rims, they would put their heads down to get the smell rising
from the pot or frying-pan on the fire below. If a bird remained long
perched on a chimney-pot, his neighbours would quickly conclude that he
had come upon a particularly interesting smell and rush off to share
it with him. When the birds were too many there would be a struggle for
places, and occasionally it happened that a puff of dense black smoke
would drive them all off together.

A dozen incidents of this kind could be witnessed any morning, and I was
as much entertained as if I had been observing not birds but a lot of
lively, tricky little black men with grey pates inhabiting the roofs.
One morning when watching a pair perched facing each other on a
chimney-top their movements and gestures made me imagine that I knew
just what they were saying.

[Illustration: 0033]

First one leaning over the rim would thrust his head down into the smoke
and keep it there some time, the other would follow suit, then pulling
themselves up they would stare at each other for half a minute, then
poke their heads down again.

"A funny smell that!" one says. "I can't quite make it out, and yet I
seem to know what it is."

"Red herring," suggests the other.

"Nonsense! I know _that_ smell well enough. But I grant you it's just
a little like it, only-what shall I say?-this is a _thicker_ sort of
smell."

"I'll just have another good sniff," says the second bird. "H'm! I
wonder if it's some very old pilchards they've found stowed away in some
corner?"

"No," says the first bird, pulling his head out of the smoke and
blinking his wicked little grey eyes. "It isn't pilchards. Just one
more sniff. I've got it! A very old piece of dry salted conger they're
broiling on the coals."

"By Jove, you're right this time! It is a good thick smell! I only wish
I could drop down the flue, snatch up that bit of conger, and get clear
away with it."

"You'd soon have a jolly lot of jacks after you, I fancy. Hullo!
what are those fellows making such a to-do about--down there on that
chimney-pot? Let's go and find out."

And away they fly, to drop down and fight for places among the others.

[Illustration: 0035]



CHAPTER II GULLS AT ST. IVES

_Gulls in fishing harbours--Their numbers and beautiful appearance
at St. Ives--Different species--Robbing the fishermen--How they are
regarded--The Glaucous gull or Burgomaster--Cause of the fishermen's
feeling--A demonstration of hungry gulls--A gull tragedy._

|TO a bird lover the principal charm of St. Ives is in its gull
population. Gulls greatly outnumber all the other wild birds of the
town and harbour put together, and though they have not the peculiar
fascination of the jackdaw, which is due to that bird's intelligence and
amusing rascalities, they are very much more beautiful.

Of all feathered creatures gulls are ever the quickest to discover food
thrown accidentally in their way by man. In many lands, crows, vultures,
carrion hawks, and omnivorous feeders generally acquire the habit of
watching the movements of the human hunter and of travellers in desert
places for the sake of his leavings.

In the gulls this habit is universal; their "wide eyes that search the
sea" have discovered that where there is a ship or boat something may be
picked up by following it, and in all lands where there is a plough to
share(s.p.) the soil the plougher is pretty sure to have a following
of gulls at his heels. In harbours they are much at home, but are
especially attracted to a fishing town, and it would be hard to find one
where they make a better appearance than at St. Ives. But not solely
on account of their numbers and tameness, since they congregate at all
fishing stations and are just as tame and abundant elsewhere. At St.
Ives they make a better show because of the picturesque character of
the place itself--the small harbour, open to the wide blue bay and the
Atlantic, crowded with its forest of tall slim masts resembling a thick
grove of larches in winter, while for background there is the little
old town, its semicircle of irregular quaint and curious stone-grey and
tile-red buildings.

The gulls that congregate here are of several kinds: on most days one
can easily count five species, the most abundant being the herring and
the lesser black-backed gulls, and with them you generally see one or
two great black-backs. Then there are the two small species, the common
and the black-headed gull. These, when it comes to a general
scramble for the small fishes and other waste, are mere pickers-up of
unconsidered trifles on the outskirts of the whirlwind of wings, the
real fighting area, and their guttural cries--a familiar sound to
Londoners in winter--are drowned in the tempest of hard, piercing, and
grinding metallic noises emitted by the bigger birds.

All this noise and fury and scurry of wings of innumerable white forms,
mixed up with boats and busy shouting men, comes to be regarded by the
people concerned as a necessary part of the whole business, and the
bigger the bird crowd and the louder the uproar the better they appear
to like it. For their gulls are very dear to them.

[Illustration: 8037]

One morning when looking on and enjoying the noisy scene, I saw one of
the smaller boats left unattended by the men.

They had thrown a canvas over the fish, but this the gulls soon
succeeded in pulling aside; then those overhead converging poured down
in the form of a white column, and the boat was covered from stem to
stern with a mass of birds madly fighting for the herrings. The men
in other boats close by looked on and laughed; by and by they began
shouting, but this had no effect, and the struggling and feasting went
on until the master of the boat returned and scared them off. He said
afterwards that they had devoured half his catch, yet the men who had
been standing by looking on had made no real attempt to save the fish.

The gulls know their friends very well; with the man in sea-boots and
oilskins they are tamer than any domestic bird; they will take food from
his hands and love to settle to rest on the boats and to sit perched
like swallows on the mast top. They have not the same confidence towards
strangers, and they positively dislike small boys. When boys appear they
fly away to a distance. One evening, the men being out of sight, I found
three urchins amusing themselves by throwing stones at a few small gulls
flying about the sand in search of scraps. "What would you get," I asked
them, "if one of the men caught you stoning the gulls?" "Oh!" cried the
biggest of the three, drawing his head down between his shoulders in a
most expressive way, "we'd get our ears well cuffed."

"Very well," I said, "I'm here in their place to-day to look after the
birds." In a moment they dropped their stones and taking to their heels
vanished in a neighbouring court.

Yet these very boys in a few years' time, when they will be in the boats
too, will have the same feeling as the men, and be ready to inflict the
severest punishment on any youngster they may catch throwing a pebble at
one of their sacred birds!

[Illustration: 0039]

One day I caught sight of a large ivory-white gull of an unknown species
sitting on the water some distance from the shore, and was very anxious
to see more of this bird. Two or three days later I was with an artist
friend in his studio, and was standing at the window which looks upon
a sandy cove at the back of the town. By and by a wave of the incoming
tide threw up a dead dogfish about three feet long on the white sand
within fifty yards of the window. Scarcely was the fish left by the
retiring water before a big white-winged gull dropped down upon it--the
very bird I had been hoping to encounter again! There it remained,
trying to tear a hole in the tough skin, fully five minutes before
the returning water took the fish away, so that I had a good chance of
examining it through a binocular. It was considerably bigger than the
herring gull, with a much more formidable beak and altogether a bolder
appearance, and the entire plumage was of a chalky white. It was a
Glaucous gull--the famous Burgomaster of the Arctic Sea, probably a
female in immature plumage. In a few moments other gulls dropped down
to get a bite--three herring and one black-backed gull with some smaller
gulls--but they were not allowed to taste the fish. When one attempted
to come near it the white gull looked fixedly at him a couple of
moments, then drawing in its head suddenly tipped its beak upwards--an
expressive gull gesture corresponding to the snarl of a dog when he is
feeding and other dogs approach him. It produced a marked effect on the
other gulls; perhaps the Burgomaster, a rare visitor to our seas, was
known, from hearsay, to them as a great tyrant.

Talking of this noble stranger to one of the fishermen, I remarked that
if a bird collector happened to be about he would certainly have that
bird even if compelled to fire into the whole crowd of gulls to kill it.
"Then," he returned, "perhaps our men would kill him!"

The curious point is that this feeling should exist and be so strong
in a people who have little or no regard for birds generally. The most
religious of men, they are at the same time the least humane. The gull
they tell you is the fisherman's friend; but other sea-birds, which he
kills without compunction--the gannet, for instance--are useful to
him in the same way as the gull. They also say that the gulls keep the
harbour sweet and clean; an explanation probably invented for them by
some stranger within their gates. The fact is, they cherish an affection
for the gulls, though they refuse to confess it, and, being what they
are by race, this feeling has acquired the character of a superstition.
To injure a gull wilfully is to invite disaster. It may be that the
origin of the feeling is simply the fact that gulls gather in vociferous
crowds round the boats and in the harbour when the fishing has
prospered, and in this way become associated in the fisherman's mind
with all those agreeable ideas or images and emotions connected with a
good catch--smiles and cheerful words of greeting in the home, with food
in abundance, money for the rent and for needed clothes and other good
things for the little ones.

On the other hand we may have here a survival of an older superstition,
a notion that gulls are in some degree supernatural beings, perhaps
drowned mariners and fishermen returned in bird forms to haunt their
ancient homes and associate with their human fellow-creatures. The
feeling is certainly very strong: I was told that some of the fishermen
even in their times of greatest scarcity will always manage at mealtime
to put a few crusts and scraps of food into their pockets to throw to
the gulls in the harbour.

[Illustration: 0043]

From all this it might appear that the gulls at St. Ives are having an
exceedingly good time, but they are not wholly happy--not happy every
day, as they very soon let me know. The fishermen, like the Cornish
people generally, are strict Sabbatarians, and from Friday night or
Saturday morning, when the boats come in, they do not go out again until
the following Monday evening. In a neighbouring fishing village the
boats are taken out at the stroke of twelve on Sunday night. The St.
Ives men do not like to run it so fine, and the gulls are never able
to understand this long break in the fishing. On the Saturday, after
feeding, they retire to the sea and the rocks, where they pass the
day comfortably enough, sitting with beaks to the wind and digesting a
plentiful meal. On Sunday morning they congregate in the harbour with
empty stomachs only to find the boats lying empty and idle and all the
men away; they do not like it, but they put up with it, and by and by
loiter off to pick up what they can for themselves, or to wait patiently
on the sea and the rocks, through another long twenty-four hours. On
Monday morning they are very hungry indeed, and come in with stomachs
that scream for food. They come in their thousands, and still nothing
for them--the boats lying empty and idle, the men still at home in bed
and no movement in the harbour! They cannot and they will not endure it.
Then begins a tremendous demonstration of the unemployed. On my first
Monday I was roused from slumber before daylight by the uproar. It
was not now that tempest and tangle of broken, squealing and grinding
metallic noises emitted by the big gulls when they are in numbers
fighting over their food, it was the loud long wailing call of the bird,
incessantly repeated, a thousand wailing like one, and at intervals the
dreary laughter-like chorus of short reiterated cries; then again the
insistent wailing calls. When it became light they could be seen as a
white cloud hanging over the harbour, the birds moving round and round
over the idle boats in endless procession, and this went on for about an
hour, when, finding that nothing came of it all, they went sadly away.

On yet another morning I was awakened before daylight, but this was a
happy occasion, the boats having come in during the small hours laden
with the biggest catch of the season. The noise of the birds made me get
up and dress in a hurry to go and find out what it was all about. For an
hour and a half I stood at the end of the little stone pier watching the
cloud and whirlwind of vociferous birds, and should have remained longer
but for a singular accident--a little gull tragedy--which brought
a sudden end to the feast. The men in fifty boats while occupied in
disengaging the fish from the nets were continually throwing the small
useless fishes away, and these, falling all round in the water, brought
down a perpetual rush and rain of gulls from overhead; everywhere they
were frantically struggling on the water, while every bird rising with
a fish in his beak was instantly swooped down upon and chased by the
others. Now one of the excited birds while rushing down by chance struck
a rope or spar and fell into the water at the side of a boat, about
forty yards from where I was standing. It was a herring gull in mature
plumage, and its wing was broken. The bird could not understand this; it
made frantic efforts to rise, but the whole force exerted being in one
wing merely caused it to spin rapidly round and round. These struggles
eventually caused the shattered bone to break through the skin; the
blood began to flow and redden the plumage on one side. This was again
and again washed off in the succeeding struggles to rise, but every time
a pause came the feathers were reddened afresh. At length the poor thing
became convinced that it could no longer fly, that it could only swim,
and at once ceasing to struggle it swam away from the boats and
out towards the open bay. Hardly had it gone a dozen yards from the
boat-side where it had fallen before some of the gulls flying near
observed it for the first time, and dropping to within three or four
yards of the surface hovered over it. Then a strange thing happened.
Instantly, as if a shot had been fired to silence them, the uproar in
the harbour ceased; the hundreds of gulls fighting on the water rose up
simultaneously to join the cloud of birds above, and the whole concourse
moved silently away in one direction, forming a dense crowd above the
wounded bird. In this formation, suspended at a height of about thirty
yards over and moving with him, they travelled slowly out into the
middle of the bay.

The silence and stillness in the harbour seemed strange after that
tempest of noise and motion, for not a bird had remained behind, nor did
one return for at least half an hour; then in small companies they began
to straggle back to resume the interrupted feast.

[Illustration: 0047]



CHAPTER III CORNWALL'S CONNEMARA

_Aspect of the country--Gilpin on Cornish scenery--The
farm-houses--Footpaths and stiles--Cattle and pigs--A friendly sow--Dogs
and foxes--Stony fields--Farmers' love of their holdings--An old
farmer._

|THE coast country at the end or the western extremity of Cornwall
presents an aspect wild and rough as any spot in England. The
eighty-miles-long county, which some one compares to a malformed knobbly
human leg in shape, narrows down near its termination to a neck or ankle
of land no more than six or seven miles wide, with St. Ives Bay on one
(the north) side, and Mount's Bay on the other, with its group of places
of famous or familiar names--Mousehole, Newlyn, Penzance, Marazion and
St. Michael's Mount. Then the land broadens again, forming that rounded
bit of country, the westernmost part of England, containing seventy-five
or eighty square miles of hilly and moorland country, in great part
treeless, with a coastline, from bay to bay, of about thirty miles.
Following the coast, one does not wish them more: the most enthusiastic
lover of an incult nature, who delights in forcing his way over rocky
barriers and through thickets of furze, bogs and rills innumerable, will
find these thirty miles as satisfying as any sixty elsewhere. And the
roughest, therefore most exhilarating, portion of the coast is that
between St. Ives and Land's End, a distance of about twenty miles. This
strip of country has been called the Connemara of Cornwall. William
Gilpin, that grand old seeker after the picturesque at the end of the
eighteenth century, once journeyed into Cornwall, but got no further
than Bodmin, as he saw nothing but "a barren and naked country, in all
respects as uninteresting as can well be conceived," and he was informed
that west of Bodmin it was no better. It is, indeed, worse, and one
wonders what his feelings would have been had he persevered to the very
end--to rough "Connemara" and flat, naked Bolerium! His strictures
on the scenery would have amused the present generation. For all
that repelled Gilpin and those of his time in nature, the barren or
"undecorated," as he would say, the harsh and savage and unsuited to
human beings, now most attracts us. And of all places inhabited by man
this coast country is the most desert-like and desolate in appearance.
The black, frowning, wave-beaten cliffs on the one hand, the hills and
moors on the other, treeless, strewn abundantly with granite boulders,
rough with heath and furze and bracken, the summits crowned with great
masses of rock resembling ancient ruined castles. Midway between the
hills and the sea, half a mile or so from the cliffs, are the farms, but
the small houses and walled fields on the inhabited strip hardly detract
from the rude and savage aspect of the country. Nature will be Nature
here, and man, like the other inhabitants of the wilderness, has adapted
himself to the conditions. The badgers have their earths, the foxes
their caverns in the rocks, and the linnet, yellow-hammer, and magpie
hide their nests, big and little, in the dense furze bushes: he in like
manner builds his dwelling small and low, sheltering as best he can in
any slight depression in the ground, or behind thickets of furze and
the rocks he piles up. The small naked stone farm-house, with its little
outbuildings, corn-stacks, and wood piles huddling round it, seem like
a little flock of goats drawn together for company and shelter in some
rough desert place on a cold windy day. Looking from a hill-top on one
of the small groups of buildings--and in some instances two or three
farms have clubbed their houses together for better protection from the
blast--they resemble toy houses, and you have the fancy that you could
go down and pick them up and put them in your pocket.

The coast road, running from village to village, winding much, now under
now over the hills, comes close to some of the farms and leaves others
at a distance; but all these little human centres are united by a
footpath across the fields.

[Illustration: 0050]

It is very pleasant to follow this slight track, this connecting thread,
which brings to mind Richard Carew's account of the poor Cornish farmers
of his time, three centuries ago, when he says that "amongst themselves
they agree well and company lovingly together." I recall, too, that some
social rodents, that live in communities, in collections of burrows or
villages, have a track of that kind leading from village to village,
worn by the feet of the little animals in visiting their neighbours. The
fields being small you have innumerable stiles to cross in a five or a
ten miles walk; but they do not want climbing, as they are very nearly
all of that Cornish type made with half a dozen or more large slabs
of granite placed gridiron-wise almost flush with the ground. You step
easily over the stones: but the cattle do not follow, since, owing to
their inability to see just where their feet will be set, their legs
would come down between the slabs.

Cows are in most of the fields, the dairy being the main thing in these
farms; and next to the small Jersey-like cow, the native breed, the pig
ranks in importance. It is pleasant to see the pigs in these parts, as
they are allowed more liberty in the fields and about the house than
they usually get in other places; or, indeed, anywhere on this side of
St. George's Channel. If not "the gintleman that pays the rint," the pig
contributes a good deal towards it, and short of liberty to walk in
at the front door and take his place in the family circle he has every
consideration paid him. On going up to a farm-house one is sometimes
obliged to get round or step over a pig lying comfortably in the path.
One day, going to call on some friends who had taken lodgings at a small
farm, I found a portly sow lying in the way a dozen yards or so from the
front door. My friends were getting ready for a walk, and when we came
out the sow got up and, placing herself at the side of the lady, set out
with us. We all tried our best to turn her back, shouting indignantly at
her and pushing her away with our sticks and boots, but all in vain--she
would come. "I'm to blame," said the lady. "When we first came we had
tea out of doors, and when this pig came up to look at us I foolishly
gave her a slice of bread and butter and spoke kindly to her, and now
I can't get away from her. I give her nothing, and I try to escape her
attention, but she watches the door, and when she sees me with my things
on she insists on keeping with me even if I walk miles. It is most
inconvenient." It certainly was, and we carefully avoided the village
for fear of remarks. Fowls, too, are reared in numbers, and it is a
great grievance of the farmers that foxes must be religiously preserved
along this coast where they cannot be hunted. Here, again, I am reminded
of Carew's _Survey of Cornwall,_ in which he writes: "The fox planteth
his dwelling in the steep cliffs of the seaside, where he possesseth
holds, so many in number, so dangerous of access, and so full of
windings, as in a manner it falleth out a matter impossible to disseize
him of his ancient inheritance." He still keeps it, and after three
centuries is more secure in it than ever, since there is now no stronger
law than this unwritten one which gives immunity to the fox.

As a rule, several dogs are kept on the farm; but he cares little for
them. His fastness is close by in the cliffs, and between it and the
farm there is a wilderness of furze bushes and stone fences, the ins and
outs of which he knows better than the dogs. They cannot come near him.
At one place the farmer's wife told me the foxes came about the house
almost every night and started barking, whereupon the dogs barked in
reply, and this would go on, bark fox, bark dog, by the hour, keeping
them awake, until at last the dogs, tired of the useless contest, would
go to sleep; then the foxes would sneak in to see what they could pick
up.

There is very little cultivation--hardly more than is required for the
use of the farm, and in many fields even this little is carried on under
difficulties on account of the stones. The stones are taken out and
piled on to the walls or hedges at the side, and though this process
has been going on for centuries many boulders and huge blocks of granite
still remain in the little fields. I was amused one day at the sight of
a field of only about two acres on which I counted 135 stones appearing
like huge mushrooms and toadstools over the ground. Corn had been grown
on it, and I asked the farmer how it was managed. He answered that he
would laugh to see a man and horses from any other part of the country
try to cultivate that field and others like it. Here the men are used to
it, and horses know their part so well that if the share touches a stone
they stop instantly and wait for the ploughman's word to move on.

This same farmer told me that one day last summer a lady visitor staying
in the neighbourhood came to where he was doing some work and burst
out in praise of the place, and told him she envied him his home in
the dearest, sweetest, loveliest spot on earth. "That's what you think,
ma'am," he returned, "because you're here for a week or two in summer
when it's fine and the heath in bloom. Now I think it's the poorest,
ugliest, horriblest place in the whole world, because I've got to live
in it and get my living out of it."

They certainly have to work hard to make the per acre they have to
pay for their stony fields. But they are a tough, industrious, frugal
people, in many instances little removed from peasants in their way of
living, and are strongly attached to their rude homes and rough country.
If you tell them that their lot is exceedingly hard, that they pay
too high a rent, and so on, enumerating all the drawbacks, they assent
eagerly, and will put in many little touches to make the picture darker;
but if you then advise them to throw up their farms and migrate to some
place you can name, in the Midlands say, where they will pay less for
better land, and be out of the everlasting wind which tears every green
leaf to shreds and makes their lives a perpetual discomfort, they shake
their heads. They cannot endure the thought of leaving their homes. It
is only the all but complete ruin of the tin-mining industry that has
sent so many Cornishmen into exile in distant lands. But these wanderers
are always thinking of home and come back when they can. One meets
them every day, young and middle-aged men, back from Africa, Australia,
America; not to settle down, since there is nothing for them to do--not
just yet at all events; but because they have saved a little and can
afford to take that long journey for the joy of seeing the dear old
faces again, and the dear familiar land which proved so uninteresting to
the reverend author of _Forest Scenery_.

But farming, unlike the mining and fishing industries, cannot fail
utterly, and so long as a living can be made out of it these men will
stick to their farms.

One brilliant spring-like day in midwinter I came upon an old man on the
footpath at some distance from the nearest house, painfully walking to
and fro on a clean piece of ground with the aid of two sticks. An old
farmer, past work, I thought. His appearance greatly attracted me, for
though his bent shrunken legs could hardly support him, he had a fine
head and a broad, deep, powerful-looking chest. His face was of that
intensely Irish type so common in West Cornwall, but more shapely, more
noble, with a look of strength and resolution not at all common.

Seeing that he was old I supposed he was deaf, and shouted my "Good
day," and the remark that it was a very fine day. But there was no need
to shout, his senses were very good. "Good day to you," he returned,
his stone-grey stern eyes fixed on my face. "Yes, it is a fine day
indeed--very, very fine. And no frost, no cold at all, and the winter
going on, going on. We are getting on very well indeed." And to this
subject he kept in spite of my attempts to lead the talk to something
else. The lovely weather, the extraordinary mildness of the season, the
comfort of a winter with no frost or cold at all--to that he would come
back. And at length, when I said good-bye and left him, the last words
I heard him say were, "Yes, the winter is going--very freely, very
freely."

For he was old--his age was eighty-seven; he had come to that time of
life when the weather becomes strangely important to a man, when winter
is a season of apprehension; when he remembers that the days of our age
are three-score years and ten, and though men be so strong that they
come to four-score years, yet is their strength then but labour and
sorrow, so soon passeth it away. I was told that he had farmed the land
where I found him taking his constitutional since he was a young man;
that some months ago, on account of his infirmities, he had handed
the farm over to one of his sons, and that he was still able to help a
little in the work. His arms were strong still, and once up on the seat
he could drive a cart or trap or reaping machine as well as any one.

He was but one of several grey old men I met with on the farms, and it
seemed to me that they were something like their neighbour the badger,
that they are as tenacious of their dreary-looking little homesteads and
stony fields as that tough beast is of his earth among the rocks.

[Illustration: 0057]



CHAPTER IV OLD CORNISH HEDGES

_Hedges in England--Plant and animal life--Stone hedges in
Cornwall--Effect of wind on trees--How hedges are made--Appearance of
stone hedges--An ancient hedge--Woody ivy--Signs of antiquity--An old
man's testimony._

|EVERY one in England knows what a hedge is--a row of thorn or other
hardy bushes originally planted to protect a field, which, when old
and unkept, has the appearance and character of a brake or thicket. It
consequently comes as a surprise when we first visit the remote and most
un-English county of Cornwall to discover that a hedge there may mean
something quite different. It puzzled me to read in a book on Cornwall
that in some exceedingly rough places near the coast one found it easier
to make one's way over the ground by climbing on to a hedge and walking
along its top.

The oldest, toughest, closest and most evenly-cut hedge one knows would
hardly afford a safe footing for a man; and as to attempting to get upon
or walk on a big unkept hedge, such as are common in the south and west
counties on this side the Tamar, the very thought of it is painful.
In imagination one sees, and seeing feels, oneself stuck fast in a big
bramble bush. In Cornwall I discovered that a stone wall was called a
hedge--the sort of wall which in Scotland I had been taught to call
a dyke. I did not like it so well as the English hedge, that
wild disordered tangle of all the most beautiful plants in these
islands--black and white thorn; privet with its small grape-like
clusters; yew and holly and ivy with late, honeyed blossoms for bees and
wasps and hornets; and briar and sweet-briar, bramble and briony; also
poisonous black briony and traveller's-joy, a green and silver tapestry;
and wayfaring tree, spindle-wood and cornel, with scarlet, purple and
orange-coloured berries; and dark deadly-nightshade, pushing its slender
stems up through the interlaced branches--all massed together for common
protection like a packed herd of wild swine on their defence in some
savage solitude, displaying bristling backs and bared gnashing tushes to
a hostile world.

They are--these wildings of the hedge--the counterparts in the vegetable
world of the creatures called "vermin" in the animal kingdom. In the
recesses of their thorny intertwining boughs, and deep down among their
tough ancient roots, the vermin, the banned ones, have their home and
refuge--the quaint hedgehog and minute long-nosed shrew; black and white
magpie and chacking, tail-shaking butcher-bird; adder and snake and
slow-worm; blood-sucking stoat and weasel with flat heads and serpentine
bodies, and their small quarry, rats and voles and pretty sharpnosed
wood-mice with leaf-like ear, and winter sleeping dormice.

It was fortunate that in the long ago, when our progenitors began to
take plots of ground for cultivation and pasture, they found out this
cheap ready way of marking their boundaries and safeguarding their
cattle and corn. We may say they planted better than they knew: they
planted once, and many and many a hedge--unnumbered miles and leagues of
hedges--that are now great belts of thicket, were first planted by man
in the remote past. Nature took over the thin row of thorn seedlings
and made it what it is, not only the useful thing it was intended for--a
natural barbed-wire entanglement--but a thing of beauty and a joy for
ever.

In West Cornwall, where I first came to know the native hedge, they
cannot have these belts of thicket, rich in a varied plant and animal
life. It is a country of moors and rugged stony hills where nothing
flourishes but heath and furze and bracken. The farming folk have
succeeded in long time in creating small arable and grass fields in the
midst of this desolation, but they cannot grow trees on account of the
violent winds charged with salt moisture that blow incessantly from the
Atlantic. If the farmer plants a few trees so that he may one day eat
an apple of his own growing and sit in the shade, he must build a wall
eight or ten feet high to protect them from the salt blast, and he may
then die of old age before the apple is ripe or the shade created. Nor
can he grow a hedge: the furze, it is true, abounds everywhere, but it
is a most intractable plant that will go (or grow) its own wild way, and
no man has yet subdued it to his will and made it serve as a hedge. Yet
even in this wind-vexed land a few self-planted trees may be seen.

You find them in the strip of farm country between the hills and sea,
in hollows and under high banks, or where a mass of rock affords them
shelter; and they are mostly hawthorns and blackthorns with a few hardy
bush-like trees of other kinds. They are like the trees and bushes on
the most exposed coasts in Yorkshire and in other places, growing all
one way, lying close to and sometimes actually on the ground, stretching
out their branches and every twig towards the inland country. The sight
of these wind-tormented, one-sided trees fascinates me and I stay long
to look at them.

                        A bristled tree

               With branches cedared by the salten gale,

                   Stretched back, as if with wings that cannot flee,

is how Gordon Hake describes the appearance, seeing, as I do, the desire
and struggle to escape--to fly from that pitiless persecution. But the
"wings" I do not see: in summer the foliage is to my sight but a ragged
mantle; in winter the human expression is strongest and most pathetic.
Held by the feet in the grip of earth, the beaten bush strains to get
away; it suggests the figure of a person crawling, or trying to crawl,
the knee-like joints on the ground, the body-like trunk thrown forward,
the long bare branches and terminal twigs, like the brown, thin naked
arms and claw-like opened fingers of a starving scourged slave in the
tropics, extended imploringly towards the land.

This being the nature of the country the farmer can but hedge his land
and fields with stone: he is in a measure compelled to do so, since the
earth is full of it and the land strewn with boulders; to make a field
he must remove it and bestow it somewhere. Now after centuries of this
process of removing and piling up stones, the farm land has become
covered over with a network of these enduring hedges, or fences,
intersecting each other at all angles; and viewed from a hill-top the
country has the appearance of a patched quilt made of pieces of all
sizes and every possible shape, and of all shades of green from darkest
gorse to the delicate and vivid greens of the young winter grass.

That half-reclaimed district, especially the strip of coast from St.
Ives Bay to Cape Cornwall, was a good winter hunting ground, and I spent
many weeks in ranging about the fields and waste or incult places among
them. Here you can wander at will, without fear of hurting the farmer's
feelings, as in Devonshire, by walking on his land. The cultivation is
little, the fields being mostly grass: the small farm-house is out of
sight somewhere behind the stone hedges; it is rare to meet with a human
being, and the few cows or calves you occasionally come across follow
you about as if only too pleased to have a visitor. Climbing over the
next hedge into the next field you find nobody there but a pig who
stares at you, then welcomes you with a good-humoured grunt; or an old
solitary plough-horse; or no semi-human domestic creature at all, only
a crowd of busy starlings; or starlings mixed with daws, field-fares,
missel-thrushes and a few wagtails; or a couple of magpies, or a small
flock of wintering curlews to be found day after day on the same spot.
After crossing two or three such fields you come upon an unreclaimed
patch, or belt, where grey-lichened rocks are mixed with masses of old
furze bushes, and heath and tussocks of pale brome-grass. A lonely,
silent, peaceful place, where, albeit a habitation of man for untold
centuries, it is wild Nature still.

Here, with eyes and mind occupied with the bird, I did not at first pay
much attention to the hedges: I simply got over them, or, in thorny and
boggy places, walked on them, but eventually they began to exercise an
attraction, and I began to recognise that these, too, like the planted
hedges of other districts, were man's creation but in part, since Nature
had added much to make them what they are. Human hands first raised
them: the process is going on all the time; the labourer, the cow-boy,
the farmer himself, when there is nothing else to do, goes out and piles
up stones to stop a gap the cattle have made, to add to the height or
length of an old hedge, and so on, but the wall once made is taken over
by Nature as in the case of the planted hedge. She softens and darkens
the crude harsh surface, clothes it in grey and yellow lichens and
cushioned green moss, and decorates it with everything that will grow on
it, before the time comes for her to ruin and finally to obliterate. But
what time is needed here for demolition with such a material as granite
to work on, where there are no trees to insinuate their roots into the
crevices, slowly to expand the pliant fibres into huge woody wedges
to thrust the loose stones apart and finally to pull them down! We
can imagine how slow the destructive processes are when we look at
innumerable Cornish crosses scattered over the county, showing clearly
the lines cut on them in the early days of Christianity in this
district. Still more do we see it in the ancient sacred stones--the
cromlechs, coits, hurlers and holed stones, moor-stones or "merry
maidens," and many others--which have stood and resisted the
disintegrating effect of the weather since prehistoric times. The wall
built is practically everlasting, but Nature works slowly on it, and the
hedges I had about me differed greatly on this account, from the rude
walls raised but yesterday or a dozen or twenty years ago to those which
must have stood for centuries or for a thousand years or longer. Indeed,
it was the appearance of extreme antiquity in one of these hedges, which
I often crossed and sometimes walked on, which first excited my interest
in the subject. It looked, and probably is, older than the walls of
Silchester, which date back 1700 or 1800 years, and are now being
gradually pulled down by the trees that have grown upon them. It was the
longest of the old hedges I found, beginning among the masses of
granite on the edge of the cliff, and winding away inland to lose itself
eventually among the rocks and gullies and furze-thickets at the foot
of a great boulder-strewn hill. Its sinuosity struck me as a mark of
extreme age, as in this it resembled the huge prehistoric walls or
earthworks made of chalk on the downs in Southern England, which meander
in an extraordinary way. It was also larger than the other hedges, which
crossed its winding course at all angles, being in most parts six to
seven feet high, and exceedingly broad; moreover, where the stones could
be seen they appeared to be more closely fitted together than in other
hedges. Most of the stonework was, however, pretty well covered over,
in some places with a very thick turf, in others by furze and bracken,
rooted in the crevices and in places hiding the wall in a dense thicket.

But of all the plants growing on it the ivy was most remarkable. It is
not a plant that flourishes in this district, where it has as hard a
struggle as any tree to maintain its existence. It is found only in
sheltered situations on this coast, in the villages, and on the landward
side of steep banks and large masses of rock. On this old wall there
was really no shelter, since the furious blasts from the sea swept
both sides of it with the same violence. Yet in places the ivy had got
possession of it, but it was an ivy very much altered in character by
the unfavourable conditions from that greenest luxuriant plant we know
so well. In place of the dark mass of foliage, the leaves were few and
small and far apart, so that viewing the wall from a little distance
away you would not notice that it had any ivy growing on it, but would
see that the more naked portions were covered with a growth of rope-like
stems.

[Illustration: 0065]

The wonder is that with so few leaves it can grow so much wood! The
stems, which are not thick, are smooth and of a pale grey colour and
grow in and out of the crevices, and cross and recross one another,
fitting into all the inequalities of the stony surface and in places
where they cover the wall looking like a numerous brood or tangle of
grey serpents.

This snaky appearance of the almost leafless old wall-ivy fascinated me,
and I went often to look at it on the same spot and was never tired of
the sight.

It struck me as curious that the woody ivy should have this aspect,
since the wall itself in some parts distinctly suggested the serpentine
form and appearance. Here again I was reminded of some of the long
earthworks or walls on the Wiltshire and Dorsetshire downs--the rounded,
thickly turfed bank which winds serpent-like over the hills and across
the valleys, and which often has a green colour differing slightly from
that of the earth it lies across.

The old Cornish hedge had this aspect in places where it was clothed
with turf, and, viewed from a distance and seen winding about in
great curves across the rough brown heath and furze-grown earth, the
serpentine appearance was very marked.

Whether or not the Cornish antiquaries have paid any attention to these
ancient hedges I do not know. The only native I came across who had
anything to say about them was a peasant farmer whose acquaintance
I made at his cottage-like farm, a few miles from the hedge I have
described. He was a man of seventy-nine but vigorous still and of a
lively mind. When I spoke to him about the old hedge and its ancient
appearance, he said he had known it all his life; that he was a native
of a small hamlet close to the hedge, and at the age of seven, when he
first took to birds'-nesting, he used to hunt along it on every summer
day and came to know it as well as he knew the fence round his garden
and the walls of the cottage he lived in. It had not, he assured me,
changed in the least during the last seventy or seventy-two years: it
was to-day exactly what it was in his early boyhood, with thick turf and
furze and bracken and woody ivy covering it in the same way in the same
old places. This made him think it must be very, very old.

It seemed to me that his life, although a long one, was but a short
period to measure by in such a case, that if he could have consulted his
father and grandfather and his remoter ancestors back to the time when
the last Cornish king was cast out by William the Bastard, they would
all have given the same testimony and said that the hedge was very old
when they knew it.

[Illustration: 0068]



CHAPTER V BOLERIUM: THE END OF ALL THE LAND

_Cliff scenery and headlands--The Land's End sentiment--Pilgrims and
how they are affected--Wilkie Collins--The child's vision--Books on
Cornwall--A Trip to the Far West--Sir Humphry Davy--Wesley--Winter
nights at the Land's End--Lighthouses--Associations and
speculations--The scene of great tragedies in the past._

|EVERY day, even in winter, if the weather be not too bad, but chiefly
during the nine months from March to November, pilgrims come to this
wind-swept, wave-beaten point to gaze and set their feet upon the little
rocky promontory of the Land's End. It is less bold and impressive
than many others of the hundred headlands at this western extremity of
England between St. Ives and Mount's Bay. From this or that projecting
point, commanding a view of the coastline for some distance, one
may count a dozen or more of these headlands thrust out aslant like
stupendous half-ruined buttresses supporting the granite walls of the
cliff. They are of a sullen brown colour and rough harsh aspect, and in
places have the appearance of being built up of huge square blocks
of granite, and at other points they form stacks of columns as at
the Giant's Causeway. The summits of these headlands are often high,
resembling ruinous castles placed on projecting points of the cliff;
they are confused masses of rocks of many shapes, piled loosely one upon
the other, their exposed surfaces clothed over with long coarse grey
lichen. Large gulls, daws and cormorants sit or stand here and there
on the ledges and prominent points, the herring gulls clamorous at the
sight of a human form; the restive daws quitting their stands to wheel
about at intervals, rising and falling, soon to settle down again; the
cormorants silent and motionless, standing erect with curved, snaky
necks, like birds carved in ebony.

Stealing quietly among these hoary masses of rock you may see a very
wild rabbit, and on a bright, still, winter day, if you are singularly
fortunate, you may catch sight of a beast better worth seeing, a cliff
fox, lying fast asleep or lightly dozing, stretched at full length on
a ledge, looking intensely red in the sunshine, and very conspicuous
against the hoary lichened rock. This is his home and castle, which
he shares with the rabbits that know his ways, and the birds that are
always just out of his reach. Thus do they live together in one house
like one antagonistic family in a strange artificial harmony, and do
not mix, but come and go and move about freely, and bask in the warm
sunshine, and sit up to rub their long ears and whiskers, and spread out
their wings to dry, and preen their feathers. Peace and quiet in their
castle, while the great waves roll in to beat on its caverned walls
beneath, making the earth tremble with their measured blows, covering
the black rocks with dazzling white foam, and sending up a mist of spray
to the summit.

At intervals between Bay and Bay, a distance of thirty miles, you come
upon headlands of this type--Cape Cornwall, Gurnard's Head, Zennor
Cliffs and others, to the north of Land's End, while just south of
it you have the noblest rock scenery of this coast, including the
stupendous cliffs of Tol-Pedn-Penwith and Treryn Dinas, with its famed
Logan Stone. Bolerium itself, the narrow promontory of piled rocks of
the Land's End and the flat bit of country adjoining it is, sentiment
apart, one of the least interesting points on the coast.

But the sentiment is a very great thing and interesting to observe. And
this is easy, since the pilgrims mostly come by way of Penzance, distant
about a dozen miles, travelling in batches of twenty-five or thirty or
more, packed closely in some public conveyance; so that one has but to
join the crowd and, sitting among them, watch their faces out of the
corners of his eyes. They are a mixed company of men and women of all
conditions, from all parts of the country, with some Americans and
Colonials. It is indeed curious to see an identical feeling on faces so
unlike, from the very young who do not try to conceal it, to the very
aged and almost worn-out globe wanderers, who are now nearly at the end
of their life's pilgrimage, and have seen pretty well all that was worth
seeing on this wide earth except this one famous spot which by chance
has been left to the last.

[Illustration: 0071]

And by and by, after travelling half a dozen miles, they find themselves
in a land unlike any place they know; inhabited, for there are a few
small sad-looking granite cottages and farms and hamlets, but of a rude
and desolate aspect, and therefore in harmony with their emotions and
preconceived ideas about the place. It is a treeless barren country,
hill and moor, with furze and brown heath interspersed with grey boulder
stones, the whole dominated by the great desolate hill of Chapel Carn
Brea. The travellers look out, straining their eyes to see the end; but
before that comes the hilly country is left behind, and at the last it
is flat and tame with a sad-looking granite-built village and the grey
sea beyond. One has watched the bright eager look that expected so much
fade out of the various faces; and by the time the pilgrims get down to
scatter along the cliff or to go at once to their luncheon at the hotel
it is pretty well all gone. And if you go back to Penzance to join the
next lot, and then again, and every day for a week or a month, you will
witness the same thing--the collection of unlike faces with the light
of the same feeling in the eyes of all, increasing as they advance
over that rude moorland country and fading out at the end to that blank
look--"Is this the Land's End--is this all!"

What, then, did they expect? Wilkie Collins best answers that question
in his pleasant book of rambles written more than half a century ago,
when he says that the Land's End is to Cornwall what Jerusalem is to the
Holy Land, the great and final object of a journey to the westernmost
county of England, its Ultima Thule, where it ceases; a name that
strikes us most in childhood when we learnt our geography; which fills
the minds of imaginative people with visions of barrenness and solitude
and dreams of some lonely promontory, the place where the last man in
England will be found waiting for death at the end of the world.

That is indeed the secret of the visitor's expectant feeling and
disappointment--the vague vision of a vastness and grandeur and
desolateness almost preternatural, conceived in childhood, which all
the experience of a long life of disillusionment has been powerless to
eradicate from the mind, or to replace with a mental picture more in
accord with the reality.

But if this disillusionment is plainly visible to an observer on the
faces of many visitors, the books about Cornwall tell a different story;
their writers would have us believe that the reality has surpassed their
expectations, that their emotions of admiration and astonishment have
been deeply moved. When I had been some time in Cornwall and it had
taken hold of me, I sat myself down before a formidable array of
books descriptive of the duchy, only to find that reading them was
an exceedingly wearisome task. By and by I discovered something to
entertain and keep me going; this was the grand business of describing
the Land's End in a suitable manner, but more or less rhetorically and
charged with exalted feeling, which was undertaken in turn by every
visitor. This made many a dull book amusing. I experienced a kind of
sporting interest in the literary traveller's progress through the
county, and looked eagerly forward to his arrival at the famous
spot where he would have to pull himself together and launch himself
bird-like from the cliffs, as it were, on the void sublime. There was
great variety in these utterances, but I think the one that diverted me
most was in a book entitled _A Trip to the Far West_, published in 1840,
as the author, one Baker Peter Smith, was evidently an experimenter in
words, some of his own making; or we might call him an Early Victorian
young man in search of a style.

"I reached the Land's End," he wrote, "and sat down on a protuberant
block of granite, close to the precipice, overhanging the multitangular
rocks which form an impenetrable barrier against the raging tides of the
mighty waters." After lamenting that he had so little time in which to
survey the "multicapsular curiosities of the region," he proceeds: "The
local sublimity of the Land's End affords a commanding view of scenick
expanse; and the colossal columns of rock give an awful effect to
the stupendous vision; whilst, added to these grave and elevating
sentiments, consequent on so grand a sight, the sense of hearing also
acts upon the mind: by the distant roar of the angry sea, ascending from
the caverns below, and the screaming of the Cornish chough assailing
you from above and every side," and so on. He concludes:--"The entranced
spectator has no election, but is engrossed with admiration of that
Great Power by the fiat of whose mere volition nature's chaos was thus
harmonized and stamped with the glorifying impress of multiplicious
beauty."

One is glad that cormorant, book-devouring Time, has spared us Baker
Peter Smith.

But there are a few noble passages to be found as well, and I think
this one of Humphry Davy, written in youth before the flower of poesy
withered in him, pleases me the best:

                        On the sea

               The sunbeams tremble and the purple light

               Illumes the dark Bolerium, seat of storms!

               Dear are his granite wilds, his schistine rocks

               Encircled by the waves, where to the gale

               The haggard cormorant shrieks, and, far beyond

               Where the great ocean mingles with the sky,

               Behold the cloud-like islands, grey in mist.

Another notable utterance was that of John Wesley, when on a Sunday in
September, 1743, after preaching to the people at Sennen, he went down
to look at the Land's End. "It was an awful sight," he wrote. "But how
will this melt away when God ariseth in judgment! The sea beneath doth
indeed boil like a pot. One would think the deep to be hoary. But though
they swell yet can they not prevail. He shall set their bounds which
they cannot pass."

There spoke the founder of Methodism, saturated in Biblical phraseology
until it gushed spontaneously from him even as its song or cry from
a bird. He had forgotten his own language, as it were, and even in an
exalted moment in this grey north land could only express himself in
these old Asiatic figures of speech.

To return from this digression. Although the vague image of an imagined
Land's End fades from the mind and is perhaps lost when the reality is
known, the ancient associations of the place remain, and, if a visit be
rightly timed, they may invest it with a sublimity and fascination not
its own. I loitered many days near that spot in midwinter, in the worst
possible weather, but even when pining for a change to blue skies and
genial sunshine I blessed the daily furious winds which served to keep
the pilgrims away, and to half blot out the vulgar modern buildings with
rain and mist from the Atlantic. At dark I would fight my way against
the wind to the cliff, and down by the sloping narrow neck of land
to the masses of loosely piled rocks at its extremity. It was a very
solitary place at that hour, where one feared not to be intruded on by
any other night-wanderer in human shape. The raving of the wind among
the rocks; the dark ocean--exceedingly dark except when the flying
clouds were broken and the stars shining in the clear spaces touched the
big black incoming waves with a steely grey light; the jagged isolated
rocks, on which so many ships have been shattered, rising in awful
blackness from the spectral foam that appeared and vanished and appeared
again; the multitudinous hoarse sounds of the sea, with throbbing and
hollow booming noises in the caverns beneath--all together served to
bring back something of the old vanished picture or vision of Bolerium
as we first imagine it.

[Illustration: 0071]

The glare from the various lighthouses visible at this point only
served to heighten the inexpressibly sombre effect, since shining from
a distance they made the gloomy world appear vaster. Down in the south,
twenty-five miles away, the low clouds were lit up at short intervals
by wide white flashes as of sheet lightning from the Lizard lights, the
most powerful of all lights, the reflection of which may be seen at a
distance of sixty or seventy miles at sea. In front of the Land's End
promontory, within five miles of it, was the angry red glare from the
Longships tower, and further away to the left the white revolving light
of the Wolf lighthouse.

It was perhaps on some tempestuous winter night at the Land's End that
the fancy, told as a legend or superstitious belief in J. H. Pearce's
_Cornish Drolls_, occurred to him or to some one, that the Wolf Rock was
the habitation of a great black dog, a terrible supernatural beast that
preys on the souls of the dead. For the rock lies directly in the route
of those who die on the mainland and journey over the sea to their
ultimate abode, the Scilly Isles: and when the wind blows hard against
them and they are beaten down like migrating birds and fly close to the
surface, he is able as they come over the rock to capture and devour
them.

During these vigils, when I was in a sense the "last man" in that most
solitary place, its associations, historical and mythical, exercised a
strange power over me. Here, because of its isolation, or remoteness,
from Saxon England, because it is the very end of the land, "the
westeste point of the land of Cornewalle," the ancient wild Spirit
of the people remained longest unchanged, and retained much of its
distinctive character down to within recent times. It was a Celtic
people with an Iberian strain, even as in Wales and Ireland and
Scotland. Now, either because of a different proportion of the dark
aboriginal blood, or of the infusion of Scandinavian and other racial
elements, or some other cause, these four Celtic families differ very
widely, as we know; but we think, or at all events are accustomed
to say, that they are an imaginative, a poetic people. Doubtless in
Cornwall this spirit was always weakest, since it never succeeded in
expressing itself in any permanent form; but albeit feeble it probably
did exist, and in this very district, this end of all the land, it must
have lingered longest. If this be so it is strange to think that it was
perhaps finally extinguished by the Wesley brothers--one with the poetry
of the Hebrews ever on his lips, the other with his own lyrical gift!

It may be said that in the middle of the eighteenth century the light
must have been so feeble that it would have soon expired of itself if
Methodism had not trampled out the last faint sparks; and it may also
be said that the Cornish people did not lose much, seeing that this root
had never flowered; that they had never sung and never said anything
worth remembering; while on the other hand their gain was a substantial
one, for though it imposed an ugly form of religion and ugly houses of
worship, it changed them (so the Methodists say) from brutality and
vice to what they are--a temperate, law-abiding people. But I shall have
something more to say on this subject in a later chapter.

Here among the rocks by night I think less of these moral changes,
and of other events within historical times, than of those which came
before, of which we have no certain knowledge. We can only assume that
in the successive invasions during the Bronze Age this was invariably
the last place conquered and last refuge of a beaten fugitive people.

I recall here a strange phenomenon in wild-bird life occasionally
witnessed in this district. Cornwall has a singularly mild and equable
climate, but great frosts do at long intervals invade it and reach to
the very extremity of the land: and when a cold wave, like that of the
winter of 1906-7, travels west, the birds flying for life before it
advance along the Cornish country until they come to a point beyond
which they cannot go, for the affrighting ocean is before them and they
are spent with hunger and cold. They come in a continuous stream, to
congregate in tens of thousands, covering the cliffs and fields and
stone hedges; and the villagers turn out with guns and nets and sticks
and stones to get their fill of killing.

So in the dreadful past, whenever a wave of Celtic conquest swept west,
the unhappy people were driven further and further from the Tamar along
that tongue of land, their last refuge, but where there were no rivers
and mountains to stay the pursuers, nor forests and marshes in which to
hide, until they could go no further, for the salt sea was in front of
them. They too, like the frost-afflicted birds, gathered in thousands
and sat crowded in every headland and promontory and every stony hill
summit, ever turning their worn dusty faces and glazed eyes to the east
to watch for the coming of the foe--the strong, fiendish, broadfaced,
blue-eyed men with metal weapons in their hands, spear and sword and
battle-axe.

These are the people I think about on dark tempestuous evenings in this
solitary place; Bolerium is haunted by the vast ghostly multitude.

[Illustration: 0083]



CHAPTER VI CASTLES BY THE SEA

CASTLES BY THE SEA

_The rocky forelands--Delightful days--Colour of the sea--Wild-bird
life--Montgomery's Pelican Island--Gulls and daws--We envy birds
their wings--The sense of sublimity--Cormorants--Ravens and
superstition--Gurnard's Head--A first visit--A siesta in a dangerous
place--The hunter's vision._

|IF "dark Bolerium" seemed best on tempestuous midwinter evenings
because of the spirit of the place, the sentiment, it was not so with
the numerous other forelands along this rude coast. I haunted them by
day, and the finer the weather the better I liked them. It is true that
they too have dark associations from which one cannot wholly escape.
The huge masses of rock rising high above the cliff on many of these
promontories have the appearance of gigantic castles by the sea, and
that they served as castles to the ancient inhabitants of the land we
know, as in many instances the primitive earthworks, the trench and
embankment raised to cut them off from the land, remain to this day. Rut
the thought of the "dreadful past" is not so insistent in these castles,
which were my houses by the sea, as at the Land's End promontory, and
would almost vanish in the brilliant sunshine and in view of the wide
expanse of ocean flecked with dazzling foam.

I could hardly imagine a higher pleasure than was mine on many a bright
day in winter and spring, when I had the whole coast pretty well to
myself and spent long hours in rambling from point to point and in
gazing out on the sea from my seat on some rocky pile that crowned one
of the bolder headlands.

I had heard a good deal about the beautiful colour of the sea in these
parts, yet was often surprised at the sight of it. I had seen no such
blues and greens on any other part of the British coast; and no such
purples in the shallower waters within the caves and near the cliffs
where the rocks beneath were overgrown with seaweed. Where these great
purple patches appeared on the pure brilliant green it was veritably a
"wine-purple sea" and looked as if hundreds of hogsheads of claret or
Burgundy had been emptied into it.

But the sea and its colour and the joy of a vast expanse would not have
drawn me so often to the castled forelands nor held me so long but for
the birds that haunted them, seeing that this visible world is to me
but a sad and empty place without wonderful life and the varied forms of
life, which are in harmony with it, and give it a meaning, and a grace
and beauty and splendour not its own. If there be no visible wild life,
then I am like that wandering being or spirit in Montgomery's _Pelican
Island,_ who was alone on the earth before life was, and had no
knowledge or intimation of any intelligence but its own; who roamed over
the seas that tumbled round the globe for thousands and thousands of
years, flying ever from its own loneliness and vainly seeking comfort
and happiness in loving and being the companion of wind and cloud and
wave, and day and night, and sun and moon and stars, and all inanimate
things.

Sitting on a rock on the edge of one of these headlands I could watch
those glorious fishers in the sea, the gannets, by the hour; but this
bird is so great, being now the greatest left to us in Cornwall, or
rather in the seas that wash its shores, and its habits so interesting,
that I must by and by devote an entire chapter to it. Gulls and daws
were the common species, always to be seen floating and wheeling about
the promontory, a black and white company, with sharp yelping voices and
hoarse and laughter-like cries; never wholly free from anxiety when I
was by, never fully convinced of my peaceful intentions. Their habits
are well known: I was not expecting any new discovery about them, it
was simply the delight of seeing them which kept me to the crags. Sturge
Moore says in a poem on "Wings":

               That man who wishes not for wings,

                   Must be the slave of care;

               For birds that have them move so well

                   And softly through the air:

               They venture far into the sky,

               If not so far as thoughts and angels fly.

               Feather from under feather springs;

                   All open like a fan;

               Our eyes upon their beauty dwell

                   And marvel at the plan

               By which things made for use so rare

               Are powerful and delicate and fair.

In Calderon's celebrated drama, _Life's a Dream_, when Sigismund laments
his miserable destiny, comparing it with that of the wild creatures
which inhabited the forest where he is kept a prisoner, the contrast
between his lot and theirs seems greatest when he considers the birds,
perfect in form, lovely in colouring, graceful in their motions, and so
wonderful in their faculty of flight; while he, a being with a higher
nature, a greater, more aspiring soul, had no such liberty! We need not
be so unhappy as the Polish prince to envy the birds their freedom. I
watch and am never tired of watching their play. They rise and fall and
circle, and swerve to this side and to that, and are like sportive
flies in a room which has the wind-roughened ocean for a floor, and the
granite cliffs for walls, and the vast void sky for ceiling. The air is
their element: they float on it and are borne by it, abandoned to it,
effortless, even as a ball of thistledown is borne; and then, merely by
willing it, without any putting forth of strength, without a pulsation,
to rise vertically a thousand feet, to dwell again and float upon an
upper current, to survey the world from a greater altitude and rejoice
in a vaster horizon. To fly like that! To do it all unconsciously,
merely by bringing this or that set of ten thousand flight muscles into
play, as we will to rise, to float, to fall, to go this way or that--to
let the wind do it all for us, as it were, while the sight is occupied
in seeing and the mind is wholly free! The balloons and other wretched
machines to which men tie themselves to mount above the earth serve only
to make the birds' lot more enviable. I would fly and live like them in
the air, not merely for the pleasure of the aerial exercise, but also to
experience in larger measure the sense of sublimity.

But this is a delusion, seeing that we possess such a sense only because
we are bound to earth, because vast cliffs overhanging the sea and other
altitudes are in some degree dangerous. At all events Nature says they
are, and we are compelled to bow to her whether we know better or not.
We cannot get over the instinct of the heavy mammalian that goes on the
ground, whose inherited knowledge is that it is death or terrible injury
to fall from a considerable height. Only so long as we are quite safe
is this instinct a pleasurable one; but when we look over the edge of a
sheer precipice, how often, in spite of reason, does the pleasure, the
fearful joy, lose itself in apprehension! Could we know that it would
not hurt us to drop off, purposely or by accident, that the air itself
and a mysterious faculty in us would sustain us, that it would no more
hurt us to be flung from the summit of a cliff than it would hurt a
jackdaw, we should be as the bird is, without a sense of sublimity.

Daw and herring gull, the most abundant species, were but two of several
kinds I was accustomed to see from the headlands, and some of the others
were greater birds--the great black-backed gull, as big a gull as there
is in the world, who had a rock to himself near the Land's End, where
four or five couples could be seen congregated; and the shag, the
cormorant which abounds most on this coast. They are heavy, ungainly
flyers, and have an ugly reptilian look when fishing in the sea, but
seen standing erect and motionless, airing their spread wings, they have
a noble decorative appearance, like carved bird-figures on the wet black
jagged rocks amid the green and white tumultuous sea. There, too, was
the ancient raven, and he was the most irreconcilable of all. At
one spot on the cliff close to where I was staying a solitary raven
invariably turned up to shadow me. He would fly up and down, then
alight on a rock a hundred yards away or more and watch me, occasionally
emitting his deep hoarse human-like croak; but it failed to frighten me
away or put me in a passion, as I was not a native. The Cornishman of
the coast, when he hears that ominous sound, mocks the bird: "Corpse!
corpse! you devil! If I had a gun I'd give you corpse!" It is not
strange the raven views the human form divine with suspicion in these
parts: he is much persecuted by the religious people hereabouts, and
when they cannot climb up or down to his nest on a ledge of the cliff,
they are sometimes able to destroy it by setting fire to a furze bush
and dropping it upon the nest from above.

[Illustration: 0089]

The rocky forelands I haunted were many, but the favourite one was
Gurnard's Head, situated about midway between St. Ives and Land's End.
It is the grandest and one of the most marked features of that bold
coast. Seen from a distance, from one point of view, the promontory
suggests the figure of a Sphinx, the entire body lying out from the
cliff, the waves washing over its huge black outstretched paws and
beating on its breast, its stupendous deformed face composed of piled
masses of granite looking out on the Atlantic. I was often there
afterwards, spending long hours sitting on the rocks of the great head
and shoulders, watching the sea and the birds that live in it; and
later, when April set the tiny bell of the rock pipit tinkling, and the
wheatear, hovering over the crags, dropped his brief delicious warble,
and when the early delicate flowers touched the rocks and turf with
tender, brilliant colour, I was more enamoured than ever of my lonely
castle by the sea. Forced to leave it I could but chew samphire and fill
my pockets with its clustered green finger-like leaves, so as to have
the wild flavour of that enchanting place as long as possible in my
mouth and its perfume about me.

Now I wish only to relate an adventure which befell me on that midwinter
day on the occasion of my first visit, when nothing happened and I saw
nothing particular except with the mind's eye, for this was an adventure
of the spirit.

It was one of those perfect days when the sun shines from an unclouded
sky and the wind that raves without ceasing at last falls asleep and the
whole world sleeps in the warm, brilliant light, albeit with eyes wide
open like a basking snake. I was abroad early, and after wandering over
a good many miles of moor and climbing several hills I arrived at my
destination, tired and very hungry, and the first thing I did was to
lunch heartily on bread and cheese and beer at the inn which you find
at a short distance from the promontory. Naturally after my meal and an
hour's scramble over the rough rocks of the headland I felt disposed
to take a good rest before setting out on my return, and I soon found a
suitable spot--a slab of stone lying with a slope to the sea on the
edge of the crag. It was like a table-top with a rich cloth of grey and
orange-coloured lichen covering it, and was very warm in the sun, and to
make it more comfortable I rolled up my waterproof and put it under my
head, so that lying there at full length I could still look at the sea
and the gulls and gannets passing and repassing before me.

[Illustration: 0091]

In a very few minutes I began to grow drowsy. So much the better, I
thought; for never is sleep more sweet and refreshing to a tired
man than when it comes to him under the wide sky on a warm day. The
sensation of being overcome is itself very delightful, so I did not
resist but welcomed it, albeit quite conscious that it was there in
me and would soon have me in its power. In a vague way I even felt
interested and amused at the process: I could imagine that the spirit
of sleep was there in person, kneeling on the rock behind my head and
making her passes, until the wide sea and wide sky began to seem all of
one colour and the figures of the gulls and gannets to grow vaguer
as they passed before me. Presently I was in that state when the mind
ceases to think, when the place of thought is taken by pictures from
memory, which come, as it were, floating before us to pass away and be
succeeded by others and still others without any connection. They are
not "suggestions of contiguity" nor even of "analogy": they are not
suggestions at all, and come we know not how or why.

Now among these visions or pictures of things seen or heard or read of
there was one described in a poem called "The Hunter's Vision," which
had been lying for years unknown or forgotten in some dusty lumber-room
of the brain. I read it first in my early years, and though it was poor
poetry it powerfully affected me, partly because I was a hunter myself
in those days, although only a boy hunter, and often wandered far into
lonely places, and sometimes when faint with heat and fatigue I rested
and even fell asleep in the shadow of a bush or of my own horse. The
poem relates how the tired hunter at noon sat down to rest on a jutting
crag on the steep mountain side where he had been climbing, and how when
gazing before him the burning heavens and vast plains of earth, scorched
brown by the summer sun, grew misty and dim to his sight, then gradually
changed to a vision of his early home. He knew it well--the old familiar
scene--and those who were assembled there to welcome him; how could he
but know them--his long dead and long lost; they were there gazing at
him and some were coming with outstretched arms towards him, their faces
shining with joy. The very words of the poem came back to me with the
picture:

                   Forward with fixed and eager eyes

                   The hunter leaned in act to rise.

But he leaned too far in his eagerness and slipped from the crag and
woke, if he ever woke at all, to know for one brief, bitter moment that
he was lost for ever.

It is a story to be told, whether in verse or prose, in the simplest,
directest manner; for is there a more poignant grief than that of the
lonely, weary man, especially in some solitary place, who remembers his
loneliness, that he is divided by death and change and absence from
his own kin who were dearer than all the world to him? And just as his
thought is the saddest, so the dream of a return to and reunion with the
lost ones is assuredly the most blissful he can know.

Now, on the verge of sleep, seeing that picture pass before me--the
ineffable sadness of the lonely hunter in the wilderness, the vision,
the unutterable joy, and the fearful end, I thought (for thought now
came to me) of my own case--my loneliness, for I, too, was lonely, not
because I was there by myself on that promontory, but because a whole
ocean and the impassable ocean of death separated me from my own people.
Then it came into my mind that I, too, fast falling into oblivion, would
experience that blissful vision; that the hoarse sound of the sea far
below on the rocks would sink and change to the sound of the summer wind
in the old poplars, that I would see the old roof and all those I first
knew and loved on the earth--see them as in the old days "returned in
beauty from the dust," and seeing them should start forward "in act to
rise," and so end my wanderings by falling from that sloping, perilous
rock!

In a moment I became wide awake, for I did not wish to perish by
accident just yet, and, jumping up, I stretched out my arms, stamped
with my feet, and rubbed my eyes vigorously to get rid of my drowsiness;
then sat down quietly and resumed my watch of gulls and gannets.

[Illustration: 0096]



CHAPTER VII THE BRITISH PELICAN

_The gannet--Gannets at St. Ives--At Treen Dinas--Appearance of the
bird when fishing--The rise before the fall--Gannet and gull--A
contrast--Gull and Great Northern Diver--Gulls and gannets in the
pilchard season--Bass, pollack and sand-eels--An extraordinary
accident._

|BRITISH pelican" may seem almost too grand a name for a bird the size
of our gannet, or Solan goose; but he is of that family, and was
once, in the Linnæan classification, of the very genus--a _Pelicanus._
Moreover, in this land of small birds--thanks to the barbarians who have
extirpated the big ones--the _Sula bassana_ is very large, being little
inferior to the goose, though he is certainly small compared with his
magnificent rose-coloured relation, the greatest of the true pelicans.

Until I came to Cornwall I never had a proper opportunity of observing
this noble fowl and his fishing methods; here he is common all round the
coast, especially in the winter months, and when, as frequently happens,
he fishes close to the land, he may be watched very comfortably by the
hour from a seat on some high foreland. A rock two or three hundred feet
above the sea is the very best position for the spectator; the birds
float to and fro almost on a level with his eyes, and their beautiful
motions can be better seen than from a boat or ship.

Standing on the yellow sands in the little cove behind St. Ives I
watched the tide coming in one rough cloudy evening, the sea as it
advanced rising into big glassy billows of a clear glaucous green colour
before bursting in foam and spray running far and wide over the pale
smooth sandy floor. Close behind the advancing waves a number of birds
were flying to and fro, mostly herring gulls, but there were also a good
many gannets. These moved up and down in a series of wide curves at a
rate of speed which never varied, with two or three or four beats of the
powerful, pointed, black-tipped white wings, followed by a long interval
of gliding; the bird always keeping at a height of about twenty-five
feet above the surface, and, without an instant's pause or hesitation,
dashing obliquely into the sea after its prey.

That is how they fish sometimes, flying low and seeing the fishes a
good distance ahead, and is but one of several methods. When next I
was watching them their manner was very different. The air was calm
and clear and full of bright sunlight, and I watched them from the
stupendous mass of rock forming the headland on which stands the famous
Logan Rock.

The birds were in considerable numbers, sweeping round in great curves
and circles at a uniform height of about two hundred and fifty feet from
the surface. They were distributed over an immense area; ranging, in
fact, over the entire visible sea, from those that fished within a
couple of hundred yards off the rocks on which I sat, to the furthest
away, which appeared as moving white specks on the horizon. When fishing
from that height the gannet drops straight down on its prey, striking
the sea with such force as to send up a column of water eight or ten
feet high, the bird disappearing from sight for a space of five or six
seconds, or longer, then rising and after floating a few moments on the
surface rising laboriously to resume its flight as before.

The fall of the big white bird from such a height is a magnificent
spectacle, and causes the spectator to hold his breath as he watches
it with closed wings hurl itself down as if to certain perdition. The
tremendous shock of the blow on the sea would certainly kill the bird
but for the wad of dense elastic plumage which covers and protects it.
For it hits itself as hard as it hits the sea, and how hard that is we
may know when we watch the gannet drop perpendicularly like a big white
stone, and when at a distance of a quarter of a mile we can see the
column of water thrown up and distinctly hear the loud splash. Yet no
sooner has it hurled itself into the sea than it is out again as if
nothing had happened, ready for another fall and blow!

One wonders how, when the gannet is flying high, on catching sight of
a fish directly beneath him in the water, he is able instantly to check
his course, get into position and fall just at the right spot. One would
suppose that he could not do it, that the impetus of so heavy a body
moving swiftly through the air would carry him many yards beyond the
spot, and that he would have to return and search again. He does not, in
fact, bring himself to a sudden stop as the small light kestrel is able
to do, nor does he, I think, keep the fish all the time in his eye, but
he is nevertheless able to accomplish his purpose, and in this way: The
instant a fish is detected the bird shoots up a distance of a dozen to
twenty feet; thus the swift motion is not arrested, but its direction
changed from horizontal to vertical, and this is probably brought about
by a lightning-quick change in the set of the wing feathers; but it is
a change which the eye cannot detect, even with the aid of the most
powerful binocular. The upward movement is not exactly vertical; it
describes a slight curve, and, at the top, when the impetus which
carried him up has spent itself, the bird wheels round, turning half
over and bringing his head down, pointing to the sea. I suppose that he
then quickly recovers the fish he had lost sight of for a moment, for
with a pause of scarcely a second he then closes his wings and lets
himself fall.

On this calm, bright day, with scores of birds in sight, I was well able
to observe this beautiful aerial maoeuvre--a sort of looping the loop,
and seemingly an almost impossible feat which they yet accomplish with
such apparent ease.

The spectacle of many gannets fishing, all moving in a perpetual
series of curves, wavering lines and half circles, at exactly the same
altitude, and all performing the same set of actions on spying a fish,
produces the idea that they are automata moved by extraneous forces, and
are incapable of varying their mode of action. As a fact, they vary it
constantly according to the state of the atmosphere and the sea, and
probably also the depth at which the fish are swimming. But whatever the
method for the day may be, one is impressed and amazed at the marvellous
energy of the bird, and this strikes us most when we see gannets and
gulls together.

The gull is a waiter on the tide, and on wind and rain and sunshine and
any change which may bring him something to eat--a sort of feathered Mr.
Micawber among sea-birds. His indolent happy-go-lucky way of making a
living reminds you of his friend the fisherman who, when not fishing,
can do nothing but lounge on the quay with his hands in his pockets, or
stand leaning against a sunny wall revolving the quid in his mouth and
making an occasional remark to the idler nearest to him. H is brief and
furious fits of activity are followed by long intervals of repose, when
he floats at the will of wind and wave on the sea or sits dozing on a
rock. He also spends a good deal of his time in a kind of loitering,
probably waiting for something to turn up, when he is seen in a loose
company scattered far and wide about the sea, one here, two or three a
little distance off, and a few more a hundred yards away; others flying
about in an aimless way, dropping down at intervals as if to exchange
remarks with those on the water, then wandering off again.

One day sitting on a rock at Gurnard's Head, I watched a company of
forty or fifty gannets fishing in a calm sea where a great many herring
and lesser black-backed gulls were scattered about idly rocking on the
surface in their usual way. The gannets were sweeping round at a height
of about a hundred feet, and were finding fish in plenty as their falls
into the sea were pretty frequent. The gulls saw nothing, or knew that
the fishes were not for them, and they were consequently not in the
least excited. By and by I saw a gannet drop upon the sea just where two
gulls were floating, sending a cloud of spray over one bird and causing
both to rock and toss about like little white boats in a whirlpool. I
could imagine one of those gulls gasping with astonishment and remarking
to his fellow: "That was a nice thing, wasn't it! Coming down on me like
that without a by-your-leave! I suppose if the fish had been swimming
right under me he would have run me through with his confounded beak;
and when he had shaken me off and seen me floating dead on the water,
he would have said that it served me jolly well right for getting in
his way! Certainly these gannets are the greatest brutes out--but what
fishers!--and what splendid fellows!"

Gulls are all robbers by instinct but have not the power and courage
of the predaceous Bonxie or Great Skua of the Shetlands, a pirate by
profession who lives mainly on the labours of others. The gull must
fend for himself and levy tribute when he gets the chance, when he can
intimidate some other bird or snatch a morsel from his beak. From the
gannet he gets nothing; it would be dangerous for him to come in that
bird's way, and no sooner is the fish caught than it is swallowed. The
gannet takes no more notice of the gull than of a bubble floating on
the surface, and probably does not even know that the negligible bird
regards his fishing operations with a good deal of interest and hungrily
wishes he could have a share in the spoil. But how far gulls will go in
their desire to get something for nothing may be seen in the following
incident which was witnessed by some fishermen at Sennen Cove, close to
the Land's End. A Great Northern Diver made its appearance at the cove
and spent a part of the winter there, and as he was not disturbed and
grew accustomed to the sight of human beings he lost all shyness and
often fished close to the rocks where the men stood watching him. One
day they saw him with a small flat fish which he could not swallow; it
was too broad to go down his gullet, but he would not let it escape and
continued to toss it up and catch it again, as if determined to get it
down somehow. Or it may have been that he was only playing with it just
as a cat when not hungry plays with a mouse. By and by a black-backed
gull swam to him and began following him and making snatches at the
flounder each time the diver tossed it up. But the diver would not let
him have the fish, he simply turned round to get away from the teasing
gull, and the quiet way in which he took it only emboldened the other
until he became quite excited and was almost violent in his efforts to
get the fish. Then suddenly the diver, dropping the fish, turned on him
and struck him like lightning, driving his sharp powerful beak into his
neck or the base of the skull. The gull flapped his wings violently
once or twice, then turned over and floated away, belly up, quite
dead. Instantly after dealing the blow, the diver went down and quickly
reappeared with the flounder, and resumed tossing and catching it again,
just as if nothing had happened, while the dead gull slowly drifted
further and further away.

What struck the men who witnessed the tragic incident as most remarkable
was the sudden change in the temper of the diver, when he turned at
last on the other, dealt him the swift killing blow, then immediately
returned to his play with the fish as if the slaying of that big
formidable bird had affected him no more than it would have done to
shake off a drop of water. My thought on hearing about it was that the
act of the diver was wonderfully like that of many a human being to
whom killing is no murder, who kills in a casual way because of some
religious or ethical or political idea, or merely because he has
been annoyed or stung into a fit of anger, and who, the killing done,
recovers his normal placid temper and thinks no more about it.

An exceedingly painful incident of this kind is related by Darwin
in describing the natives of Tierra del Fuego in his _Voyage of a
Naturalist_. Another very pathetic case is related by Browning, in the
_Dramatic Idylls_, in which the woodcutter in a Russian village who is
able to handle his axe so deftly strikes off the head of a young woman
who has just escaped from the wolves that pursued her in the forest.
They sprang upon her in her sleigh and dragged her child from her arms;
the pious woodcutter thought she should have allowed herself to be torn
to pieces before releasing the child. Then, after striking her head off
he goes to his cottage, puts down the axe, and plays with his children
on the floor and is greatly surprised that any fuss should be made by
his fellow-villagers at what he had done.

The gulls have a particularly uncomfortable time when, as occasionally
happens during the pilchard fishing, a number of gannets appear to claim
their share in the spoil. No sooner has the circle of the seine been
completed, forming a pool teeming with fish in the sea as it were,
than the gulls are there in a dense crowd. Then if the gannets appear
hovering over them and hurling themselves down like rocks into the seine
the gulls scatter in consternation and have to wait their turn. The
wonder is that the gannets diving with such violence, bird following
bird so closely, all in so small an area, do not collide and kill each
other. Somehow as by a miracle they escape accidents, and when they have
gorged until they can gorge no more they retire to digest their meal at
sea, and immediately the gulls return to feast with a tremendous noise
and much squabbling, each bird fighting to deprive his neighbour of the
fish he picks up. This lasts until the gannets, having quickly digested
their first meal or got rid of it by drinking sea-water, return with
a fresh appetite for a second one, and the poor gulls are once more
compelled to leave that delectable spot, teeming and glittering with
myriads of rushing, leaping, terrified pilchards.

At other times, when fishing-birds are attracted to one spot by shoals
of mackerel, herring, sprats or pilchards, gulls and gannets feast
together very comfortably, and as the gulls take good care not to get
in the way of their too energetic neighbours there are probably no
accidents. Occasionally at such times they have an opportunity of
feeding on the launce or sand-eel, a favourite food of all the rapacious
creatures, fish and fowl, that get their living in the sea. The launce
is a long slender eel-like silvery fish that has the curious habit of
burying itself in the sand, and it is said that when out feeding if
pursued it instinctively darts down to the bottom of the sea to escape
by burying itself in the sand. Bass and pollack are the greatest
persecutors of the launce, and when a number of these greedy fishes come
upon a shoal of sand-eels in deep water they get beneath them to hold
them up, and surround them as well to prevent their escape. Day, in his
_British Fishes_, states that pollack have been observed acting in this
way on the coast of Norway; but many Cornish fishermen have witnessed
it too, though it has not been described by Jonathan Couch and other
writers on the habits of the native fishes as occurring in our waters.
A native of Hayle, a boatman and a keen observer of bird and fish life,
gave me the following account of a scene he witnessed in St. Ives Bay,
not far from the Godrevy Lighthouse. His attention was attracted by a
great concourse of gulls and gannets, and rowing to the spot he found
the surface of the sea boiling with an immense shoal of sand-eels
rushing about on the surface and leaping clean out of the water in their
efforts to escape from their pursuers. It was a very unusual sight, as
the shoals of sand-eels are usually small, but here they swarmed at the
surface over a very large area--probably six or seven acres. It was a
fine bright day and the water being marvellously clear he could see
the pollack ranging swiftly about at a considerable depth and rising at
intervals to the surface to capture their prey. Meanwhile the birds in
hundreds were hovering overhead, the gannets coming down in their usual
way like huge stones hurled into the sea, the gulls swooping lightly and
snatching their prey and rising with the long silvery wriggling fishes
in their beaks.

Every gull thus rising with a launce in its beak was of course instantly
pursued and set upon by all the others flying near and had to fight
furiously to retain his capture.

That is invariably the gull's way: even when fish are swarming on
the surface and easily taken they must give vent to their predatory
instincts and waste time and energy in robbing one another and in
squabbling and screaming, instead of every bird trying to catch as many
as he can for himself. It is very different with the gannet; he never
in all his life--and it may be a life of a century or longer for all we
know to the contrary--wastes as much energy as would be the equivalent
of a single feather's weight in trying to take a morsel out of the beak
of another gannet or bird of any kind. One might say that his faculties
are so perfect, his power so great, that he has no need to descend to
such courses. Indeed, so admirably is he fitted for his sea life, that
when we view him in very bad weather, when he is travelling, following
the coastline, in an everlasting succession of beautiful curves and
wave-like risings and fallings; and when he is fishing, even when the
sky is black with tempests and the tumbling ocean is all grey and white
with whirling spindrift; when the furious wind has blown the whole tribe
of gulls inland many a league, he appears to us as a part of it all--of
wave and spray and wind and cloud--a fragment, one of a million, torn
away by the blast, into which a guiding spirit or intelligent principle
or particle has been blown to make it cohere and give it form and weight
and indestructibility.

I can but express it in my blundering fashion, but the thought has been
in my mind when, sitting on a rock on some high foreland, I have watched
the gannets passing by the hour, travelling to some distant feeding area
or to their breeding haunts in the far north; a procession many a league
long, but a very thin procession of twos and twos, every bird with his
mate, following the trend of the coast, each bird in turn now above the
sea, now down in the shelter of a big incoming wave, and every curve and
every rise and fall of one so exactly repeated by the other as to
give the idea of a bird and its shadow or reflection, with bird and
reflection continually changing places.

After seeing the gannet every day for months one would be apt to think
that this species is incapable of making a mistake and is beyond reach
of accidents, but that cannot be supposed of any living creature,
however perfect the correspondence may appear between it and the
environment. At Sennen I heard of an extraordinary mishap which befell
and caused the destruction of a large number of gannets. It was told to
me by several of the fishermen who witnessed it at Sennen Cove, at the
Land's End, and by a gentleman of the place, who is a keen ornithologist
and was present at the time. A strong wind was blowing straight into the
bay, and there was a very big sea on. The sea, they told me, presented
a singular appearance on account of the enormous waves rolling in; the
village people, in fact, were all out watching it. A large number
of gannets were busy fishing and were coming further and further in,
following the shoal. Then a wonderful thing happened on this day of
wonders; the wind which had been blowing a gale fell quite suddenly and
was succeeded in a very few minutes by a perfect calm. Some of the men
assured me they had never known such a thing happen before. I have known
it once, and that was in South America, when a violent southwest wind
which had been blowing for many hours dropped suddenly, and the air was
a dead calm before the loud noise of the gale in the trees was out of
my ears. The change was disastrous to the gannets; in that windless
atmosphere in the sheltered bay and with the sea in that state they
could not rise. They were seen struggling on the water and carried
shore-wards by the huge incoming waves; but their fellows flying to
and fro above them, intent on their prey, did not see or heed their
distress; they continued dashing down into the sea, bird after bird, and
every one that hurled itself down remained down, until they were all in
the sea, all vainly flapping and struggling to keep out and still being
carried nearer and nearer to the shore. Then the waves began to fling
them out on the flat sandy beach, and as wave followed wave, bringing
more and more of the birds, the men and boys who were watching went mad
with excitement and set off at a run, every one as he went snatching up
a stick or an iron bar or whatever would serve as a weapon. There was no
escape for the birds, for their wings could not lift them, and they
were slaughtered without mercy, even as shipwrecked men on this dreadful
coast in the ancient days had been slaughtered, and the sands were
covered with their carcasses. The ancient wreckers got something from
the unhappy wretches they slew, but these people got nothing from the
gannets. I asked them why they slew the birds, and they could only shrug
their shoulders or answer that they had the birds cast out by the sea
at their mercy--what was there to do but to kill them? And it was added
that after all, being dead, they did serve some good purpose, for by and
by a farmer came and carried them away by cartloads to manure his land.

[Illustration: 0111]



CHAPTER VIII BIRD LIFE IN WINTER

_Land birds--Gulls in bad weather--Jackdaw and donkeys--Birds in the
field--Yellowhammers--A miracle of the sun--The common sparrow--An
old disused tin-mine--Sparrows roosting in a pit--Magpies'
language--Goldcrests in the furze bushes--The Cornish wren--The sad
little Meadow Pipit._

|A GOOD deal of space has already been given to the sea-birds of this
coast, but the land-birds deserve a chapter too. I do not wish, however,
to give an account or a list of all of them, but would rather follow
Carew's example, and note only "such as minister some particular cause
of remembrance." The reader who would have more than this must seek for
it in one of those "hasty schedules or inventories of God's property
made by some clerk"--the local ornithologies and lists of species in the
Victorian and other histories and various other works. On this exposed,
wind-beaten, treeless coast country one does not expect to find an
abundant or varied bird life; nevertheless in this unpromising place
and in winter I had altogether a very pleasant time with the feathered
people.

When the weather was too bad for the cliffs the gulls were driven
inland. Gannets and cormorants could endure it; the sea was their true
home and abiding-place and they were not to be torn from it; but the
vagrant, unsettled and somewhat unballasted gulls would not or could not
stay, and were like froth of the breakers which is caught up and whirled
inland by the blast. On such days (and they were many) the gulls were
all over the land, wandering about in their usual aimless manner, or
in flocks seen resting on the grass in the shelter of a stone wall, or
mixing loosely with companies of daws, rooks, peewits and other skilful
worm and grub hunters, waiting idly for the chance of snatching a morsel
from a neighbour's beak.

I was a little like the gulls in my habits: on fine days the cliffs and
cliff castles were my favourite haunts; in very rough weather my rambles
were mostly away from the sea, where I had my old companions of the sea
wall, the gulls and daws, still with me. So much has already been said
of this last species in former chapters that I might appear to be giving
him too great prominence to bring him in again. Yet I must do so just
to relate a little scene I witnessed in which this bird had a principal
part, the other characters being donkeys.

The donkey is almost the only domestic creature one meets with out
on the rough high moor and among the stony hills. Cows and horses are
occasionally seen, but they do not strike one as native to the place
as the donkey does. He is a sort of link between the homestead and
the wilderness. The donkey is man's poor, patient, anciently-broken
creature, but when he roams abroad in quest of that tough and juiceless
fodder on the desolate heath and hillsides--a food thought good enough
for the likes of him, or the likes of he, as his master would say--he
fits into the scene as the cow and horse certainly do not. He is not so
big, and his rough, dirty or dusty coat of dull indeterminate greys
and earthy and heather-like browns makes him harmonise with his
surroundings. His long-drawn reiterated droning and whistling cry
strikes one, too, as a voice of the wild incult places. On this account
I have a very friendly feeling for him, and was always pleased at
meeting with donkeys in my solitary walks, which was often enough, as
most persons keep one or more in these parts. He is a good servant, and
costs nothing to keep. Frequently I turn aside to speak to them, and as
a rule they turn their backs or hinder parts on me, as much as to say
that they have enough of human beings in the village: here they prefer
to be left alone. But when I produce an apple from my pocket they at
once think better of it, and gather round me very much interested in the
apple, and quite willing for the sake of the apple to let me rub their
noses and pull their ears.

One day, walking softly through a thicket of very high furze bushes, I
came to a small green open space in which were three donkeys, one lying
stretched out full length on the bed of moss with a jackdaw sitting
on his ribs busily searching for ticks or parasites of some kind and
picking them from his skin. The other two donkeys were standing by,
gazing at the busy bird and probably envying their comrade his good
luck. My sudden appearance at a distance of two or three yards greatly
alarmed them. Away flew the daw, and up jumped the recumbent donkey, and
then all three stared at me, not at all pleased at the intrusion.

It seemed to me on this occasion that in the daw, the friend and helper
of our poor slave the donkey, the bird that in its corvine intelligence
and cunning approaches nearest to ourselves among the avians, we have
yet another link uniting man to his wild fellow-creatures.

There is a good deal of rough weather but little frost in this district;
behind the cliffs, sheltered by stone hedges and thickets of furze, the
green field is the chief feeding-ground of the birds; there with the
rooks and daws and gulls and peewits you find fieldfares--the bluebird
of the natives--and missel-thrushes in flocks, and the greybird, as
the song-thrush is called, the blackbird and small troops of wintering
larks. Most abundant is the starling, a winter visitor too, for he
does not breed in this part of Cornwall. You will find a flock in every
little field, and the sight of your head above the stone wall sends them
off with a rush, emitting the low guttural alarm note which sounds like
running water.

[Illustration: 0115]

The yellowhammer is a common resident species here. We usually think
him an uninteresting bird on account of his phlegmatic disposition and
monotonous song, but in this district, in winter, I found him curiously
attractive, and among the modestly-coloured birds that were his
neighbours he was certainly the most splendid. That may appear a word
better suited to the golden oriole, but I am thinking of one of his
aspects, as I frequently saw him, and of a miracle of the sun. Here, in
winter, he congregates in small companies or flocks at the farms, and at
one small farm where there was a rather better shelter than at most of
the others, owing to the way the houses and outhouses and ricks were
grouped together, the company of wintering yellowhammers numbered about
eighty or ninety. Every evening, when there was any sun, these birds
would gather on some spot--a rick or barn roof or on the dark green
bushes--sheltered from the sea wind, where they could catch the last
rays. Sitting motionless grouped together in such numbers they made a
strangely pretty picture.

One evening, at another farm-house, I was standing out of doors talking
with the farmer, when the sun came out beneath a bank of dark cloud and
shone level on the slate roof of a cow-house near us. It was an old
roof on which the oxidised slate had taken a soft blue-grey or dove
colour--the one beautiful colour ever seen in weathered slate; and no
sooner had the light fallen on it than a number of yellow-hammers flew
from some other point where they had been sitting and dropped down upon
this roof. They were scattered over the slates, and, sitting motionless
with heads drawn in and plumage bunched out, they were like golden
images of birds, as if the sun had poured a golden-coloured light into
their loose feathers to make them shine.

The grey wagtail and the goldfinch, in small numbers, both beautiful
birds, were wintering here, but they could not compare with those
transfigured yellowhammers I had seen.

As for the vulgar sparrow, nothing--not even the miracle-working
sun--could make him brilliant or beautiful to look at, and I have indeed
acquired the habit of not looking and not seeing the undesired thing.
That is, in the country: in London it is different; there I can be
thankful for the sparrow where he does us (and the better birds) no harm
and lives very comfortably on the crumbs that fall from our tables. Yet
now, at one spot on this coast, I was surprised into paying particular
attention to the sparrows on account of a winter custom they had
acquired.

One day on very rough land, half a mile from the cliff, I came on a
piece of ground of about two acres in extent surrounded by a big stone
hedge, without gap or gate. It was the site of an old tin-mine abandoned
fifty or sixty years ago and walled round to prevent the domestic
animals from the neighbouring farms falling into the pits. It was
strange that so much trouble had been taken for such an object, as in
all the other disused mining pits I had come upon in the district the
holes had simply been covered over with wood and big stones, or they
remained open and the cattle were left to take their chance. The stone
hedge was covered with a thick growth of furze, and the ground inside,
protected as it was from the cattle and sheltered by the wall from the
furious winds, had become a dense and in places impenetrable thicket of
blackthorn, bramble, furze and ivy. So close did the blackthorn bushes
grow with their upper branches tightly interwoven that it would have
been possible to walk on the top of the thicket at a height of twelve or
fourteen feet from the ground without the foot slipping through. There
were three pits, and one, very much enlarged owing to the quantity of
earth which had fallen in, was entirely occupied with a big elder bush,
or tree--a curiosity in this treeless district. It was rooted in the
side of the pit about fourteen feet below the surface, and its whole
height was about thirty feet. Near the root the trunk divided into
three great branches, or boles, and on the middle one there was an old
magpie's nest on a level with my shoulders and a little beyond the reach
of my hand. The birds were perhaps wise to build in such a place, since
a boy could not easily rob it without danger of falling into the pit.

On going to this walled-in thicket one evening I observed a vast
concourse of sparrows. They were sitting on the bushes in thousands, and
more birds in small companies of a dozen or so, and in small flocks of
fifty to a hundred, were continually arriving and settling down among
the others to add their voices to the extraordinary hubbub they kept up.
It was like a starling's winter roosting-place, and the birds must have
come from all the homesteads on either side for a good many miles.
These birds, I found, roosted in the old pits, and when they had all
disappeared from sight and the loud noise of chirruping had died into
silence I walked up to one of the pits and stood over it. The birds took
alarm and began to issue out, coming up in rushes of several hundreds at
a time, rush succeeding rush at intervals of a few seconds while I stood
by, but when I retired to some distance the birds would come up in a
continuous stream which sometimes looked in the fading light like a
column of smoke rising from the ground.

Three months later, when the sparrows were breeding and spending their
nights at home, I revisited the spot, and going to the pit with the
elder tree growing in it had a fresh look at the old magpie nest. And
there was Mag herself, sitting on her pretty eggs under her roof of
thorny sticks! After suffering my presence for about two minutes she
slipped off and went away without a sound. Wishing her good luck I came
away, as I did not want to make her unhappy by too long a visit.

The magpie is extremely common in these parts although there are no
trees for them to breed in. You meet with him twenty times a day when
out walking. He flies up a distance ahead, rising vertically, and hovers
a moment to get a good look at you, then hastens away on rapidly-beating
wings and slopes off into the furze bushes, displaying his open
graduated tail. He haunts the homestead and is frequently to be seen
associating with the poultry; there are no pheasants here and no
gamekeepers to shoot him, and, as in Ireland, the people do not like to
injure though they do not love him.

If you chance to hear a bird note or phrase that is new to you in this
place you may be sure the magpie is its author. Like the jay he is an
inventor of new sounds and has a somewhat different language for every
part of the country. The loud brisk chatter, his alarm note, which
resembles the tremulous bleat of a goat, is always the same; but his
ordinary language, used in conversation, when he is with his mate or a
small party of friends, is curiously varied and full of surprises. It
was one of my amusements in genial days in winter when a confabulation
was in progress to steal as near as I could and sit down among the
bushes to listen.

On one such occasion, where the furze was very thick and high,
I discovered that the bushes all round me teemed with minute,
shadowy-looking bird-forms silently hopping and flitting about.
They were golden-crested wrens wintering in this treeless place in
considerable numbers. Some of the small boys I talked to in this
neighbourhood knew the bird as the "Golden Christian Wrennie"--a rather
pretty variant.

But the Golden Christian Wrennie is not _the_ wren--not the Cornish
wren; for there is a proper Cornish wren, even as there is a St. Kilda
wren, and as there is a native wren, or local race or _Troglodytes
parvulus_, in every county, in every village and farm-house and wood
and coppice and hedge in the United Kingdom. He is a home-keeping little
bird, and when you find him, summer or winter, in town or country, you
know that he is a native, that his family is a very old one in that part
and was probably settled there before the advent of blue-eyed man and
the dawn of a Bronze Age.

He is universal, and that gives one the idea that he is very evenly
distributed; but I had no sooner set foot in this "westest" part of all
England than I found the wren more common than in any other part of the
country known to me, and this greatly pleased me because of my love
of him. Indeed, it was the prevalence of the wren which made the West
Cornwall bird life seem very much to me, despite the fact that the best
species have been extirpated or driven away and that no peregrine or
chough or hoopoe, or other distinguished feathered stranger, can
return to these shores and not be instantly massacred by the sportsmen,
ornithologists and private collectors. But the common little wren is
admired and respected by every one, even by the philistines. It is not
that he seeks to ingratiate himself with us like the robin; he is the
very opposite of that friendly little creature, and indeed I like him as
much for his independence as for his other sterling qualities. You may
feed the birds every day in cold weather and have them gather in crowds
to gobble up your scraps, but you will not find the wren among them. He
doesn't want of your charity, and can get his own living in all seasons
and in all places, rough or smooth, as you will find if you walk round
the coast from St. Ives to Land's End or to Mount's Bay.

Not a furze clump, nor stone hedge, nor farm building, nor old ruined
tin-mine, nor rocky headland, but has its wren, and go where you will
in this half-desert silent place you hear at intervals his sharp strident
note; but not to welcome you. Your heavy footsteps have disturbed
and brought him out of his hiding-place to look at you and vehemently
express his astonishment and disapproval. And having done so he vanishes
back into seclusion and dismisses the fact of your existence from his
busy practical little mind. He is at home, but not to you. 'Tis the only
home he knows and he likes it very well, finding his food and roosting
by night and rearing his young just in that place, with fox and adder
and other deadly creatures for only neighbours. Such a mite of a bird
with such small round feeble wings and no more blood in him than would
serve to wet a weasel's whistle! Best of all it is to see him among the
rude granite rocks of a headland, living in the roar of the sea: when
the wind falls or a gleam of winter sunshine visits earth you will find
him at a merry game of hide-and-seek with his mate among the crags,
pausing from time to time in his chase to pour out that swift piercing
lyric which you will hear a thousand times and never without surprise at
its power and brilliance.

In these waste stony places, where the wren is common, another small
feathered creature was with me just as often--the anxious, irresolute
meadow pipit, or titlark, who is the very opposite in character to the
brisk, vigorous, positive little brown bird whose mind is made up and
who does everything straight off. Nevertheless he gave me almost as
much pleasure, only it was a somewhat different feeling--a pleasure of
a pensive kind with something of mystery in it. He did not sing, even on
those bright days or hours in January, which caused such silent ones as
the corn bunting and pied wagtail to break out in melody. The bell-like
tinkling strain he utters when soaring up and dropping to earth is for
summer only: it is that faint fairy-like aerial music which you hear
on wide moors and commons and lonely hillsides. In winter he has no
language but that one sharp sorrowful little call, or complaint, the
most anxious sound uttered by any small bird in these islands. It is a
sound that suits the place, and when the wind blows hard, bringing the
noise of the waves to your ears, and the salt spray; when all the sky is
one grey cloud, and sea mists sweep over the earth at intervals blurring
the outline of the hills, that thin but penetrative little sad call
seems more appropriate than ever and in tune with Nature and the mind.
The movements, too, of the unhappy little creature have a share in
the impression he makes; he flings himself up, as it were, before
your footsteps out of the brown heath, pale tall grasses and old dead
bracken, and goes off as if blown away by the wind, then returns to you
as if blown back, and hovers and goes to this side, then to that, now
close to you, a little sombre bird, and anon in appearance a mere dead
leaf or feather whirled away before the blast. During the uncertain
flight, and when, at intervals, he drops upon a rock close by, he
continues to emit the sharp sorrowful note, and if you listen it
infects your mind with its sadness and mystery. You can imagine that
the wind-blown feathered mite is not what it seems, a mere pipit, but
a spirit of that place in the shape and with the voice of a mournful
little bird--a spirit that cannot go away nor die, nor ever forget the
unhappy things it witnessed in pity and terror long ages gone when an
ancient people, or a fugitive remnant, gathered at this desolate end of
all the land--a tragedy so old that it was forgotten on the earth and
those who had part in it turned to dust thousands of years ago.

[Illustration: 0126]



CHAPTER IX THE PEOPLE AND THE FARMS

_A primitive type--Unintelligible speech--The little dark man--The
prevailing type blonde--The Dawn in Britain---Cornish speech and
"naughty English"--Two modes of speaking--Voice and intonation--Chapel
singing--The farmer's politics--Preachers and people--Life on a
farm--Furze as fuel--Food--Healthy and happy children--Children in
procession--The power of the child._

|ONE afternoon I watched the gambols and mock fights of three ravens
among the big boulder stones at a spot a little way back from the cliff,
and seeing a man occupied in pulling up swedes in a field not very far
off, I thought I would go and speak to him about the birds, as they
haunted the spot regularly and he would perhaps be able to tell me if
they ever bred in the neighbouring cliffs. I knew the man by sight, also
that he was a native of the place and never in his fifty odd years had
been further than about ten miles away from it. He called himself
a "farmer," being the tenant of a small holding of about a dozen or
fifteen acres and a small cottage which was the "farm-house." He was a
curious-looking undersized man with a small narrow wizened face,
small cunning restless eyes of no colour, and reddish yellow eyebrows,
perpetually moving up and down. He reminded me of an orangutan and at
the same time of a wild Irishman of a very low type.

I talked to him about the ravens, pointing to them, and he, presently
recalling I dare say some exciting adventure he had met with in
connection with the birds, began to tell me the strangest story I had
ever listened to. It was absolutely unintelligible; the strangeness was
in his manner of delivering it. He grinned and he grimaced, swinging his
long thin sinewy monkey-like arms about, jerking his body, and
making many odd gestures, while pouring out a torrent of gibberish,
interspersed with Caffre-like clicks and other inarticulate sounds;
then throwing himself back he stared up at me, wrinkling his forehead,
winking and blinking, as much as to say "Now what do you think of that?"

"Yes, just so; dear me! very wonderful!" I returned; and then, after
treating me to another torrent, he threw himself back on his swedes and
I walked off. I discovered that this little man, who, when excitedly
talking and gesticulating, was hardly like a human being, was one of
a type which is not excessively rare on this coast. He differed from
others of his kind whom I met only in his reddish colour. The proper
colour of this kind is dark. On the St. Ives beach I one day saw another
specimen. He was in the middle of an altercation with a carter who was
loading his cart with dogfish which the fish-buyers had turned up their
noses at and so it had to be sold for manure. He was in a state of
intense excitement, dancing about on the sands and discharging a torrent
of wild gibberish at the other. I remarked to a young Cornishman who was
standing there looking on and listening, that I could not understand
a word and could hardly believe that all the man's jabber really meant
anything. "I can understand him very well," said the young man: "he is
talking _proper Cornish_."

At Sennen Cove I came upon yet another example: he too was in a dancing
rage when I first saw him, chattering, screeching and gesticulating more
like a frenzied monkey than a human being. The man he was abusing was a
big stolid fisherman, who stood with his hands in his trouser pockets,
a clay pipe in his mouth, perfectly unmoved, like a post: it was a
wonderful contrast and altogether a very strange scene.

This small, dark, peppery man, who is found throughout the country, and
whose chief characteristics appear to be intensified in West Cornwall,
is no doubt a survival or, more properly speaking, a reversion to a very
ancient type in this country. At all events, there is a vast difference
between this little blackie or brownie of Bolerium and the prevailing
type. The man of the ordinary type is medium-sized and has a broad
head, high cheek-bones, light hair, and grey-blue eyes. The "recognised
authorities" are not, I imagine, wholly to be trusted on the question of
colour: the southern half of Hampshire appears to me more of a dark or
black province than Cornwall. Probably the author of the noble epic,
_The Dawn in Britain_, was misled by the anthropologists when he made
his Cornishmen who came to the war against the Roman a dark people:

               Who came, strange island people, to the war,

               Men bearded, bearing moon-bent shields, unlike,

               Of a dark speech, to other Britons are

               Belerians, workers in the tinny mines

               Of Penrhyn Gnawd, which Bloody Foreland named,

               Decit their king upleads them, now in arms.

At Calleva, in which the Romans were besieged by the Britons, in Book
xiii, and again in Books xv and xvi, after the tremendous battle of the
Thames, when the army of Claudius was opposed in its march to Verulam,
and, finally, at Camulodunum, we meet with this contingent:

               When swart Belerians, on blue Briton's part...

               Who midst moon-shielded swart Belerians rides

                        Is Decit....

               Halts swart Belerian king, lo, on his spear...

               Therefore have swart Belerians crowned his brow

                        With holy misselden.

This is odd in one to whom the Celts were a tall, fair-skinned, god-like
people, and who, worshipping their memory, abhors and hurls curses at
all the nations and races of the earth that were at enmity with them,
from the conquering Romans back even to the little fierce, shrill,
brown-skinned Iberians, "greedy as hawks," who had the temerity to
oppose them even as in our own day the little yellow Japanese opposed
the white and god-like Muscovites.

[Illustration: 9130]

For to his mind the events he relates are true, and the mighty men he
brings before us, from Brennus to Caractacus, as real as any Beduin he
hobnobbed with in Arabia Deserta. Perhaps it is even odder, with regard
to this epic, which is undoubtedly the greatest piece of literature the
young century has produced, that it should be the work of an Irishman,
and from beginning to end a glorification of the Celts, yet wholly and
intensely Saxon in its character, with no trace of that special quality
which distinguishes the Celtic imagination.

To return. The speech of the Cornish people is another subject about
which erroneous ideas may be got from reading. Norden wrote that the
native language was declining in his day, and adds: "But of late the
Cornishe men have much conformed themselves to the use of the Englishe
toung and their Englishe is equall to the beste." There is no doubt that
he was speaking of the gentry, but hasty makers of books who came after
him took it to mean that the people generally spoke good English, and
this statement has been repeated in books down to the present day.
Andrew Borde, in his Bohe of the Introduction of Knoledge, 1542, wrote:
"In Cornwall is two speeches, the one is naughty Englische, and the
other Cornysshe speeche." The last has been long dead, and dead will
remain in spite of the efforts of one enthusiast who hopes to revive it
and has actually written a sonnet in Cornish just to prove that it can
be done; but "naughty Englische" is still generally spoken, though very
much less naughty than the "proper Cornish" which I have described as
quite unintelligible to a stranger.

It was explained to me by a gentleman, resident for many years in West
Cornwall, a student of the people, that they have two distinct ways of
speaking, especially in the villages along the coast and in places much
frequented by visitors. In speaking to strangers they enunciate their
words with deliberation so as to be understood, and those among them
who have a good deal of practice succeed very well; but among themselves
they speak in a hurried manner, slurring over or omitting half the
syllables in half the words, so that it is most difficult to follow
them. I am convinced from my own observation that he is right. I have
sat conversing with a knot of fishermen, and after a while become
silent, pretending to fall into a brown study while listening all the
time, and they, seeing me absorbed in my own thoughts, as they imagined,
have dropped quite naturally into their own familiar lingo.

Here is another instance. There was one cottage I always liked to visit
to sit for an hour with the family and sometimes have a meal with them
just for the pleasure of listening to the wife, a thin, active, voluble
woman, who was a remarkably good speaker, and what was even more to me,
a lover of all wild creatures--a rare thing in a Cornish peasant. Or
perhaps I should say all creatures save one--the adder. Once, she told
me, when she was a little girl she was running home over the furze-grown
hill from school when she came upon an adder in the act of devouring a
nestful of fledglings. She stood still and gazed, horror-stricken, as it
slowly bolted bird after bird, and then fled home crying with grief and
pain at what she had witnessed, and never from that day had she seen
or thought of an adder without shuddering. Now it almost invariably
happened that in relating her experiences she would become excited at
the most interesting part, and in her heat speak more and more rapidly
and change from plain understandable English to "naughty English" or
"proper Cornish," and so cause me to lose the very point of the story.
Tonkin, the Cornish historian, when the old language was well-nigh dead,
described the people's speech as a jargon "the peculiarity of which was
a striking uncertainty of the speaker as to where one word left off and
another began."

The voice is not musical, but in young people who have not lost the
quiet low manner of speaking acquired at school and gone back to the
original noisy gabble, it often sounds pleasant. There is an intonation,
or sing-song, which varies slightly in different localities: some fine
ears can tell you to which village or "church-town," as they say, a man
belongs by his intonation. As a rule it is a slight raising of the voice
at the last, and dwelling on it, and on any word in the sentence on
which the emphasis naturally falls, and is like singing. When you get
young people with fresh, clear voices talking together with animation,
the speech falls into a kind of recitative and has a rather pleasing
effect. But the voice appears to harden and grow harsh with years, and
acquires a disagreeable metallic quality. A good singer is, I imagine,
a great rarity. The loud and hearty singing in the chapels is rather
distressing. In a Bible Christian place of worship, when Baring Gould's
hymn "Onward, Christian soldiers," was being sung, I was almost deafened
by the way in which the congregation bellowed out the lines--

                   Hell's foundations tremble

                        At our shout of praise.

And small wonder, I thought, if any sense of harmony survives down
there!

Of speaking and singing I heard more than enough during my first winter
(1905-6), as it was a time of political agitation. The excitement was,
however, mostly in the towns. Fishermen and miners were almost to a man
on the Liberal side, led by their ministers, who were eagerly looking to
have their revenge on the Church; while those on the land were, despite
their Methodism, on the other side, but with small hopes of winning.
They appeared to be in a reticent and somewhat sullen humour: it was
hard to get a word out of them, but I one day succeeded with a farmer I
was slightly acquainted with. I found him in a field mending a gate, and
after telling him the news and guessing what his politics were, I teased
him with little mocking remarks about the way things electoral were
going, until he was thoroughly aroused, and burst out in a manner that
fairly astonished me. Yes, he was a Conservative, he angrily exclaimed.
Being on the land, what else could he be? Only a blind fool or a traitor
to his fellows could be anything different if he got his living from the
land. He didn't knaw the man as thought different to he. But they--the
farmers--were going to be beat, he knew well enough. 'Twas bound to be,
seeing the other side had the numbers. They had the town people--small
tradesmen, fishers, workmen and all them that passed their time leaning
against a wall with their hands in their pockets--the unemployed as they
was called now-days. We didn't use to call them _that!_ The Liberals
with their promises had got them on their side. What did they think
they'd get? To live without work? That pay would be better, clothes
and food cheaper--miners to get two pounds a week, or three, 'stead of
thirty shillings; a fisherman to get twice as much for his fish, so that
after a good catch he'd be able to sit down and rest for six months?
No more work for we! Yes, many expected that. Anyhow they'd all git
something because 'twas promised 'em--better pay, better times. But you
can't have something for nothing, can you? Who's to pay for it then?
They don't bother about that; 'twill have to come somehow--maybe from
the land. Yes, the land's to pay for everything! Did any of them town
idlers, them that worked a day or two once a week or month--did they
knaw what the land gave? Did they knaw what 'tis to git up before dawn
every day, Sundays as well, and work all day till after dark, all just
for a bare living? But you work the land, they'll say, you don't own
it--'tis the landlords we've got to get it out of. 'Twill come out of
the profits. Will it? That's just what I'd like to knaw. We pay a pound
or two an acre with all the rough and stones, and we pay tithes. And
what do the landlords git? There's rich and poor and big and little
among 'em, the same as in everything. If he owns a hundred thousand
acres he's well off, however little the land pays. But what if he owns
only a few small farms, like most of them in these parts--can he live
and bring up his sons to be anything better than labourers, or just what
we farmers are, out of it? If I owned this land myself and had to pay
all my landlord pays, I don't think I'd be much better off than I am
now. I'd have to work the same. What do they mean, then, by saying the
land will pay? I knaw--I'll tell you. It means that the land's here and
can't be hidden and can't be taken out of the country, and them who own
it and them that make their living out of it can be robbed better than
anybody else. That's how them that are not on the land will get their
something for nothing.

What most interested me was the manner in which this discourse was
delivered. In conversation he had the hard metallic Cornish voice
without any perceptible intonation; now in his excitement he fell into
something like a chant, keeping time with hands and legs, swinging his
arms, striking his foot on the ground, and jerking his whole body up
and down. Even so might some Cornish warrior of the ancient days have
harangued his followers and tried to inspire in them a fury equal to his
own. Even the cows two or three fields away raised their heads and gazed
in our direction, wondering what the shouting was about.

As for the matter of his discourse, he expressed the feeling common
among the farming people--the fear of change was on them. The odd thing
is that the people generally, including miners, fishermen and others of
their class, are haters of innovation, even as the farmers are, which
does not promise them some material benefit, and there is no doubt that
in this case they did confidently expect some good thing, and it pleased
them to think their ministers were on their side. They knew that their
ministers were aiming at something which they cared very little about:
it was an alliance and nothing more. They are not dominated by their
ministers, and, excepting some of the local preachers, do not share
their malignant hatred of the Church. On the contrary I found it a usual
thing for the chapel people to go occasionally to church as well, and
many made it a practice to go every Sunday to the evening service. It is
also common for the chapel-goers to send for the vicar when in want of
spiritual aid. The minister often enough tells the applicant to go to
the vicar who is "paid to do it." I talked to scores of people about
the education question and could hardly find one in ten to manifest the
slightest interest in it. The people had no quarrel with the Church on
that question, although their ministers were preaching to them
every Sunday about it. These preachers were Scotchmen, Midlanders,
Londoners--anything but Cornishmen--and in most cases knew as much about
the Cornish as they did of the inhabitants of Mars. They knew what the
Methodist Society wanted and that was enough for them.

Now I cared little about all this political pother. While I listened and
could not avoid listening, I was like one who hears a military band with
loud braying of brass instruments and rub-a-dub of drums, but is at the
same time giving an attentive ear to some small sound issuing from
some leafy hiding-place in the vicinity--the delicate small warble of a
willow-wren, let us say. And the willow-wren in this case was the real
heart of the people, not all this imported artificial noise in the air.
That alone was what interested me; it was a relief to escape from the
ridiculous hubbub into one of the small farm-houses, to live with the
people in a house that never saw a newspaper, where the farmer and his
wife minded their farm and were very proud of getting the highest price
in the market for their butter.

Life on these small farms is incredibly rough. One may guess what it is
like from the outward aspect of such places. Each, it is true, has its
own individual character, but they are all pretty much alike in their
dreary, naked and almost squalid appearance. Each, too, has its own
ancient Cornish name, some of these very fine or very pretty, but you
are tempted to rename them in your own mind Desolation Farm, Dreary
Farm, Stony Farm, Bleak Farm, and Hungry Farm. The farm-house is a small
low place and invariably built of granite, with no garden or bush or
flower about it. The one I stayed at was a couple of centuries old, but
no one had ever thought of growing anything, even a marigold, to soften
its bare harsh aspect. The house itself could hardly be distinguished
from the outhouses clustered round it. Several times on coming back to
the house in a hurry and not exercising proper care I found I had made
for the wrong door and got into the cow-house, or pig-house, or a shed
ol some sort, instead of into the human habitation. The cows and
other animals were all about and you came through deep mud into the
living-room. The pigs and fowls did not come in but were otherwise free
to go where they liked.

[Illustration: 0139]

The rooms were very low; my hair, when I stood erect, just brushed the
beams; but the living-room or kitchen was spacious for so small a house,
and had the wide old open fireplace still common in this part of the
country. Any other form of fireplace would not be suitable when the fuel
consists of furze and turf.

[Illustration: 0141]

Here I had the feeling of being back in one of those primitive
cattle-breeding establishments, or estancias as they are called, on the
South American pampas, where every one, dogs and cats included, lived in
the big smoke-blackened kitchen by day, and the fuel was dried stalks of
Cardoon thistle and various other stout annuals, with dried cow-dung for
peat, and greasy strong-smelling bones of dead horses, cows and sheep.
It was like an illusion, so that I was continually on the point of
addressing the children playing on the floor in Spanish, or in gaucho
lingo, to name every dog "Pechicho" and call "Mees-mees" instead of
"Pussy-pussy" to a cat.

By day I was out of doors, wet or fine, but in the evening--and it was
when evenings were longest--I sat with the others and gazed into the
cavernous fireplace and basked and shivered in the alternating bursts of
heat and cold. As a rule, the round baking-pot was on its polished stone
on the hearth, with smouldering turves built up round it and heaped
on the flat lid. In some parts of Cornwall they have good peat, called
"pudding turves," which makes a hot and comparatively lasting fire. In
the Land's End district they have only the turf taken from the surface,
which makes the poorest of all fires, but it has to serve. By and by the
big home-made loaf would be done, and when taken out would fill the room
with its wholesome smell--one is almost tempted to call it fragrance.
But to make a blaze and get any warmth furze was burnt. On the floor at
one side of the hearth there was always a huge pile of it; the trouble
was that it burnt up too quickly and took one person's whole time to
keep the fire going. This onerous task was usually performed by the
farmer's wife, who, after an exceedingly busy day beginning at five
o'clock in the morning, appeared to regard it as a kind of rest or
recreation. Standing between the hearth and pile she would pick up the
top branch, and if too big with all its load of dry spines she would
divide it, using her naked hands, and fling a portion on to the hearth.
In a few moments the dry stuff would ignite and burn with a tremendous
hissing and crackling, the flames springing up to a height of seven or
eight feet in the vast hollow chimney. For a minute or two the whole big
room would be almost too hot and lit up as by a flash of lightning. Then
the roaring flames would sink and vanish, leaving nothing but a bed of
grey ashes, jewelled with innumerable crimson and yellow sparks, rapidly
diminishing. Then I would begin to think that "sitting by the fire" in
this land was a mockery, that I was not warmed and made happy like
a serpent in the sun, but was overcome from time to time by gusts of
intolerable heat and light, with intervals of gloom that was almost
darkness and bitter cold between. I should not have cared to spend the
entire bitterly-cold winter of 1906-7 with no better fuel, but for a
time I liked it well enough; it was a pleasure to feel the stirring to
life of old instincts, to recover the associations which fire has for
one that has lived in rude lands; and then, too, the glorious effect
of the blaze at its greatest was intensified by the cold and gloom that
preceded and followed it.

As I wished to know how they lived I had the ordinary fare and found
it quite good enough for any healthy person: pork fattened on milk and
home-cured; milk (from the cow) and Cornish clotted cream, which is
unrivalled; sometimes a pasty, in which a little chopped-up meat is
mixed with sliced turnip and onion and baked in a crust, and finally the
thin Cornish broth with sliced swedes which give it a sweetish taste.
Then there was the very excellent home-made bread, and saffron cake, on
which the Cornish child is weaned and which he goes on eating until the
last day of his life. With every meal they drink tea. They are very
good eaters: one day the farmer's wife told me that each one of her six
little children consumed just double what I did. And the result of this
abundance and of an open-air life in that wet and windy country is that
the people are as healthy and strong and long-lived as any in the world.

The children are wonderful. You may go to village after village and look
in vain for a sickly or unhappy face among them. It is true you do not
find the very beautiful children one often sees in both England and
Ireland, the angelic children with shining golden hair, eyes of violet
or pure forget-me-not blue and exquisite flesh tints, nor do you
find children with so much charm. They are, generally speaking, more
commonplace; the wonder is in their uniform high state of well-being.
One of the prettiest scenes I ever beheld was a procession on Empire
Day, May 24, of all the school children in Penzance. They were all, even
to the poorest, prettily dressed, and those of a good number of schools,
Catholic, Methodist and Anglican, had very beautiful distinctive
costumes. As I watched the mile-long procession going by in Market Jew
Street, every face aglow with happy excitement, I began to search in
the ranks for one that was thin and sad-looking or pale or anæmic, but
failed to find such a one.

We have been told by an English traveller in Japan that children are
best off in that land where a mother is never seen to slap or heard to
scold her child, and where a child is never heard to cry. Now a Japanese
visitor to England has informed us that it is not so, that mothers do
sometimes slap or scold a child, and children do sometimes cry. I can
say the same of West Cornwall, and nevertheless believe that compared
with other parts of England it is a children's paradise. A common
complaint made by English residents is that the children are not taught
to know their place--that they do just what they like. "When my
children want to go anywhere," a mother said to me, "they do not ask my
permission: but they are very good--they always tell me where they are
going. I do not forbid them because I know they would go just the same."
The schoolmaster in a village I stayed at told me as an instance of the
power the children have that one morning on passing a cottage he heard
sounds of crying and voices in loud argument and went in to ascertain
the cause. He found the man and his wife and their two little
children--Billy the boy and Winnie the girl, aged nine--all in great
distress. The man had received a letter from his cousin in Constantine
to say that the village festival was about to take place and inviting
him to go to him on a two or three days' visit and to take Billy. He
wanted to go and so, of course, did Billy, and now Winnie had said that
she must be taken too! In vain they had reasoned with her, pointing
out that she could not go because she had not been included in the
invitation; she simply said that if Billy went she would go, and from
that position they could not move her. The result was that the visit
to Constantine had to be abandoned; the good man sadly informed the
schoolmaster a day or two later that Winnie had refused to let them go
without her! The odd thing, my informant said, was that there was no
attempt on the parents' part to put the child down. The children, he
said, are masters of the situation in these parts: the way they lorded
it over their parents had amazed him when he first came from a Midland
district to live among them.

But I must say for the little ones that they do not as a rule
abuse their authority. They are so healthy, and have such happy and
affectionate dispositions, that they do behave very well. Winnie was an
exceptionally naughty little maid and required some such drastic method
as that which Solomon advocated, but for the generality the system in
favour is after all the one best suited to them.

[Illustration: 0147]



CHAPTER X AN IMPRESSION OF PENZANCE

_Value of first impressions--Market day in Penzance--Cornish cows--The
main thoroughfare--Characteristics--Temperance in drink--A foreigner
on English drinking habits--Irish intemperance--The craving for
drink--False ideas--Wales--Methodism and temperance--Carew's
testimony--Conclusion._

|PLACES are like faces--a first sight is almost invariably the one
that tells you most. When the first sharp, clear impression has grown
blurred, or is half forgotten or overlaid with subsequent impressions,
we have as a rule lost more than we have gained: it is hardly too much
to say in a majority of instances that the more familiar a place becomes
to us the less well we know it. At all events we have ceased to know
it in the same way; we no longer vividly, consciously, see it in its
distinctive character.

Here it must be explained that by "place" several things are meant--the
appearance of the buildings, if it be a town or village; its scenery
and physical conditions generally; and, finally, its inhabitants, their
physique, dress, speech and character.

Now that I know Penzance fairly well, having visited it a dozen or
twenty times, occasionally staying a week or longer in it, I am glad to
be able to go back to my very first impression, which, fortunately, I
did not leave wholly to memory.

The first visit was on a Tuesday, which is market day in Penzance,
always the best day on which to visit a country town if one is
interested in the people and their domestic animals. Although in
midwinter, the day was exceptionally mild and very fine, and arriving
early, I spent some hours in strolling about the streets, peeping
into the churches, and visiting the public gardens, the sea-front and
cattle-market. The town itself, despite its fine situation on Mount's
Bay, with the famous castle on the island hill, opposite Marazion,
on one hand and the bold coast scenery by Newlyn and Mousehole on the
other, interested me as little as any country town I have seen. Streets
narrow and others narrower still, some straight, some very crooked,
with houses on either side, mostly modern, all more or less mean or
commonplace in appearance. The market, too, was curiously mean, and the
animals poor; it was a surprise to see such cattle in a district which
is chiefly dependent on dairy produce. The cows were small, mostly lean
and all in an incredibly rough and dirty condition, their haunches,
and in many instances half their coats, covered with an old crust of
indurated mud and dung. The farmers do nothing to improve their cattle
and are not only satisfied to go on keeping these small beasts of no
particular breed--a red and white animal which looks like a degenerated
Jersey--but it is customary to allow them to breed a year too soon.

[Illustration:0149]

This, however, is not a question to dogmatise about; one would certainly
wish to see the beasts better cared for in the winter months and brought
to market in a less filthy state, but I doubt that any improved breed
would flourish in the conditions in which these animals exist in the
small dairy farms on the stony moors in this rough unsheltered district.
The cow of the Land's End country is, in some degree, a product of the
place and in harmony with its environment, like the Land's End fox and
badger.

At noon the market was over, but the town continued full of people until
long after dark, the main thoroughfare, Market Jew Street, and one or
two streets adjoining, being thronged with farmer folk and people
from the villages who had come in to sell their produce and do their
shopping. Carriers' carts stood in rows by the side of the pavements,
and as in other market towns each had brought in its little cargo
of humanity, mostly women with sun-browned faces, all in that rusty
respectable dowdy black dress which is universal in rural England and
would make an ugly object of any woman in the world. Again, as is the
custom in market towns, the thoroughfare was the place where the people
congregated to meet and converse with their friends and relations. This
meeting with friends appeared to be a principal object of a visit to
Penzance on market day. It was a sort of social function, and the longer
I remained in the street, sauntering about, watching the people and
listening to endless dialogues, the more I was interested. Not only was
this the healthiest-looking crowd I had ever seen in a town, without a
sickly or degraded face in it, but it was undoubtedly the most cheerful,
and at the same time the most sober. The liveliness of the crowd,
its perpetual flow of hilarious talk, its meetings and greetings and
handshakings, and its numerous little groups in eager good-humoured
discussion, made me very watchful, but down to the end I was unable
to detect the slightest sign of inebriety. It was a new and curious
experience to find myself in a considerable gathering of rustics who
had succeeded in getting through their day away from home so pleasantly
without the aid of intoxicants.

Some of the town police I conversed with on the subject during the day
assured me there was very little drinking going on; and that on the last
occasion of the great annual fair of Corpus Christi, which lasts two
or three days, when the people of all the country round are gathered in
Penzance and a good deal of merry-making goes on, they had not a single
case of drunkenness. The policemen, abstainers themselves they informed
me, believed the people were sober because they were mostly church and
chapel goers and had been brought up to regard intemperance as a great
defect in a man and a great sin.

This explanation of the soberness of the Cornish people, especially in
the west part, is, I found, the usual one: it is short and easy to carry
about in the brain, and a policeman or any one you question on the point
is as ready to supply you with it as he would be to give you a match to
light your pipe. Religion may be one cause, but I imagine that another
and a much more important one is to be traced in the character of this
people.

I here recall a striking explanation of the drinking habit in England
given me by an independent witness and a very keen observer. He was an
Argentine of an old native family. I first knew him as a young student;
he rose afterwards to a very high place in the government of his
country, and a few years ago, while on a visit to England, he looked me
up and we renewed our old friendship.

His idea about drinking in England was that it was indulged in to remedy
a defect in us, a certain slowness or dullness of thought or feeling
from which we desired at times to escape. He gave the following
illustration. Two British workmen, old friends, meet by chance after a
long interval and clasp hands delightedly and each asks the other how
he is. One says "Just so so" or "Pretty well," the other says "Mustn't
grumble." They appear, then, to have got to the end of their powers of
speech, yet are conscious that there is more to be said if they are
ever to get back into the old comfortable intimacy. Suddenly one has
an inspiration and proposes a drink. The other agrees with a sense of
relief, and they incontinently repair to the nearest public, where,
after a glass or two, what they desired and tried to get but could not
is at once theirs: their tongues are loosed, they laugh in pure joy at
their new-found freedom and ability to express themselves; they talk of
their work, their families, of a hundred things they had forgotten but
remember now, and are glad to feel in sympathy with each other.

Now, he continued, we of another race and disposition in our country
when we meet an old friend, although it may not be very long since we
last saw him, feel no such restraint, but at once the joy of meeting
him sets us off. The pleasure is stimulus enough of itself; it sends
the blood spinning through our brains, and we are, in fact, almost
intoxicated by it. To take alcohol is unnecessary, and would, indeed, be
very foolish.

So far my Argentine friend, and whether he was right or wrong it struck
me at Penzance that the naturally lively disposition of Cornishmen,
their quick feeling and responsiveness, was the chief cause of their
temperance in drink. This made it easy for them to practise temperance;
it made it possible for friend to meet friend and spend the day without
an artificial aid to cheerfulness.

It is true that the Irish, racially related to the Cornish and
resembling them in disposition, are not a sober people; on this point I
will only venture to suggest that their love of whisky and ether may not
result from the same cause as the Anglo-Saxon's love of drink. Probably
their misery has got a great deal to do with it, for just as whisky
or beer will unfreeze the currents of the soul in two stolid English
friends and set them flowing merrily, so in men of all races will
alcohol lift them above themselves and give them a brief happiness.

It may seem odd to quote the Rev. R. J. Campbell in this connection,
but I find in a recent pronouncement of his a curiously apposite remark
about drunkenness. "The man," he says, "who got dead drunk last night
did so because of the inspiration in him to break through the barriers
of his limitations, to express himself and realize the more abundant
life." We need not follow him any further in his quaint contention that
sin is, after all, nothing but a spasmodic effort of the sinner to reach
to or capture higher things--a "quest of God" as he curiously puts it.
It is nothing but a prolonged and somewhat shrill echo of a wiser or a
saner man's thoughts. "The sway of alcohol over mankind," says
Professor William James in his _Varieties of Religious Experience_, "is
unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties
of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry
criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and
says, No; drunkenness expands, unites and says, Yes.... It brings its
votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes
him for the moment one with truth... it is part of the deeper mystery
and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we
immediately recognise as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of
us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its totality is so
degrading a poisoning."

Mr. Campbell's striver after the higher life who got dead drunk last
night is brother to the savage. It is stated by no less an authority
on the drink question than Dr. Archdall Reid that there is in man a
passion, an instinct, for alcohol, and that the savage has a craving for
drink. There is no such craving. The natural happiness of the savage,
as I know him, is in hunting and fighting; and in the intervals of those
stirring pursuits he has a somewhat dull, lethargic existence. Alcohol
produces the state of mind he is in when occupied with the chase or
in raiding and fighting. It is a joyful excitement, a short cut to
happiness and glory which he will take at every opportunity. They will
even sell their weapons and the skins that cover them for a little of
this happiness; but when there is no more of it to be had they return
to their normal life, and think no more about it unless the poison has
permanently or very seriously injured them. One effect on the poisoned
man, savage or civilised, is that "craving", or mad thirst, with which,
Dr. Reid imagines, Nature has cursed her human children.

We have now got a good distance away from the subject we started with;
but I have no intention of returning to Penzance. That town interested
me solely as a place where Cornishmen may be seen and studied. To go
back a little further in time to my first impressions of Cornwall, I
was struck, as most persons are on a first visit, with its unlikeness to
other parts of England. You find the unlikeness, not only in the aspect
of the country, but in the people too; you would hardly feel that
you had gone so far from the England you know if you had crossed the
Atlantic. The differences are many and great, but in this chapter I am
concerned with only one--the greater temperance of the people: indeed,
my impression of Penzance was given mainly to serve as an introduction
to this subject. It is a very important one. Our judges and magistrates
are always telling us that most of the crimes committed in this country
are due to drink. The case of Cornwall certainly favours that view: it
is, if the statistics are accepted as showing the true state of things,
the most sober and has the cleanest record in the land. The Devonians
are not a vicious people; they compare well enough with most counties,
and they are next-door neighbours to the Cornish; yet the indictable
offences in Devon are about double per thousand of the population to
those of Cornwall. What is the reason of this? Why are the Cornish more
temperate than others?

I am sorry I ever wasted an hour over a book on Cornwall with the idea
that it would be helpful to me. The time would have been more profitably
spent if I had stood with my hands in my pockets watching a sparrow
carry up straws to its nesting-hole under the eaves; or, better still,
if I had talked to a child or an old man in some village street. To
read is to imbibe false ideas, and in the end, if you are capable of
observing for yourself and care anything about the matter, you are put
to the trouble of ridding yourself of them.

When the Penzance policemen--abstainers and religious men
themselves--gave me a reason for the people's soberness they were
telling me what they had been taught, and I accepted it as probably
true. I too had read that statement and here was a confirmation of it!
It is a great satisfaction, a relief, to have our problems solved for
us. Blessings on the man who runs out before us to remove some obstacle
from the path!

But the relief was not for long: doubts began to assail me. What the
good policemen had said was what the Methodists have been saying in
their writings these hundred years or longer: they are saying it now,
all the time, and believe it because it flatters them, and poor weak
humanity is ever credulous of a flattering falsehood.

One day, a few miles from Penzance, I met a young coastguardsman and
had a nice long talk with him, in the course of which he gave me his
impression of the country. For he was not a native and had not long been
in Cornwall; he came from South Wales where he had been stationed two
or three years. The people of that place--I will not mention the
locality--were, he said, horrible to live with, degraded and brutish
beyond what he could have imagined possible in any civilised
country. They were drunkards, fighters, dreadfully profane, and as to
lechery--called _immorality_ in the journals and blue-books--no woman
could go out after dark, or by day into any lonely place, without danger
of assault. The change to West Cornwall was so great that for several
weeks he could not realise it; he could not believe that the people were
all sober and decent and friendly in disposition as he had been assured.
When he spied a man coming along the road his impulse was to lower his
eyes or turn his face away to avoid seeing a brutalised countenance.
He always expected to hear some obscene expression or a torrent of
profanity from every stranger he met. Even now, after some months in
this new clean land, he had not grown quite accustomed to regard every
one, stranger or not, as a being just like himself, one he could freely
address and feel sure of receiving friendly pleasant words in return.

It was interesting to hear the coastguardsman's story because of his
feelings in the matter and what the change to Cornwall meant to him.
That he was right in his facts we know. We know, for instance, that
just as Cornwall is the cleanest county, so some of the Welsh
counties--especially in the coalmining districts--are the foulest. Yet
the Welsh are Celts too and Methodists of a hundred and fifty years
standing! They are, in fact, the truer Methodists if we consider what
that creed is and that its most essential point is that there can be no
salvation without a sudden conversion, with or without the accompaniment
of groanings, shriekings, and other manifestations of the kind. But what
are the facts of the case as to the condition of Cornwall, with regard
to drunkenness, before its conversion to Methodism? They are not so
easily got as one may think. There is plenty of material, and any
one with a preconceived opinion on the question would doubtless find
something to confirm him in it. I had no opinion, and my sole desire was
to find out the truth. My first superficial study of the question made
me a believer in the claim made by the Methodists, but it did not bear
a closer investigation. What I found was that when tin-mining was in a
highly prosperous state and the population of the mining centres vastly
greater than it is now there was a good deal of intemperance among the
miners; but there is nothing to show that they were as degraded as the
Welsh of to-day. It is also indisputable that Wesley's preaching had a
profound effect on the tin-miners. That is the most that can be said.
That the Methodism invented after Wesley's death and imposed on his
followers in his name--the name of one who abhorred Dissent--is the
cause of the temperance of the Cornish people generally there is no
evidence to show, and no reason to believe. On the contrary there is
very good reason for disbelief.

The Cornish people are incomparably better off now, so far as material
comforts go, than they were in the last half of the sixteenth century,
when Richard Carew wrote his _Survey of Cornwall_; but there have been
no really great, no radical changes--no transformations, as in so many
other parts of Britain. The life of to-day is very much like the old
life, and the people now are like their forefathers of three centuries
ago as described by Carew. He pointed out that the tin-mines were a
great evil--the curse of Cornwall, since it was impossible for the
miners to escape the abominable temptations to drink which were thrust
in their way. Every second house was a drinking-place, into which the
poor wretches were enticed to waste their earnings, with the result that
their families were in a chronic state of want. But the rural population
were in a very different case; those who worked on the land were indeed
poor, fared coarsely, dressed meanly and wore no shoes, but they were
sober and industrious and lived in decent homes, and their wives and
children were properly fed and clothed; so that in the end they were far
better off and happier than the workers in the mines.

So we arrive at the conclusion that the Cornish people are not, and
never have been, intemperate generally; for one reason, because they
are of a singularly happy disposition, lively and sociable, with a very
intense love of their families and homes; and, secondly, because of the
idyllic conditions in which they exist, and always have existed, in a
country thinly populated, without big towns, with the healthiest, most
equable and genial climate in Britain; and, best of all, isolated,
outside of and remote from civilisation with its feverish restlessness,
vices and dreadful problems.

[Illustration: 0161]



CHAPTER XI MANNERS AND MORALS

_Carew's Survey of Cornwall--Books on Cornwall--Excessive praise
and dispraise--Saxon and Celt--Charge of insincerity--"One-and-all"
spirit--Dishonesty--Untruthfulness--An Englishman's view of the
Welsh--The question of immorality--Cruelty to animals--Offences
unpunished--Cornish civilisation a "veneer"--Wrecking and what it
means--Sunday observance--Cornish and English consistency--Englishmen
who understand._

|AFTER having marched over the land, and waded through the sea, to
describe all the creatures therein, insensible and sensible, the course
of method summoneth me to discourse of the reasonable, to wit, the
inhabitants."

Thus said Richard Carew in his _Survey of Cornwall_, written at the end
of the sixteenth century. I have no course of method, nor any order
in which to record these impressions of rocks and waters and birds and
flowers, or any other thing, insensible or sensible; but now, after
having written one entire long chapter on the soberness of the Cornish
people, explaining the causes, as I conceive them, of this peculiar
state, I think it may be just as well to go on about the reasonable, to
wit the inhabitants, and endeavour to get a little nearer to a proper
understanding of them. And here I must modify what I said in my haste
about the worthlessness (to me) of all books on Cornwall, protesting
that my time would have been better spent in listening to the chirruping
of a cock sparrow than in reading them. Carew's book is a notable
exception, pleasant and profitable to read after three centuries, and,
if we exclude living authors, it may be described as the one very good
book ever written by a Cornishman.

Having said so much it strikes me as an odd fact that the boast Carew
made about his important and long-living book--that it was his very own,
or, to use his more picturesque expression, that he gathered the sticks
for the building of his poor nest--I, too, can make of this unimportant
work which may not have more years of life than the _Survey_ has had
centuries.

For impressions of nature one goes to nature--the visible world which
lies open before us; but when it comes to that other nature of the human
heart, half-hidden in clouds and mist and half-revealed in gleams of the
sun, one modestly looks to others for guidance and to the books which
have been written in the past. And of books there are plenty--histories,
topographies, guides, hand-books, tours, travels, itineraries, journeys
and journals, wherein are many useful facts originally collected very
long ago and carried on from book to book--facts about the pilchard
fishery, tin and tin-mining, geology and natural history, Cornish
crosses and cromlechs with other antiquities; also legends of saints
and giants and the happenings of a thousand years ago. But about the
reasonable, to wit the inhabitants, next to nothing, and that very
little as a rule misleading. It is mostly of a flattering description.

It is indeed curious to note that while those who have written on the
Cornish people almost invariably say the pleasantest things about them,
the English, or Anglo-Saxons, who live among them, the strangers who
reside permanently or for long periods within their gates, have a very
different opinion. The praise and the dispraise to my mind are equally
far from the truth; moreover, it is not difficult to discover the reason
of such widely divergent opinions. Those who visit the land to write a
book about it, or for some other purpose, but do not remain long enough
to know anything properly, are charmed and misled by the exceedingly
friendly and pleasant demeanour towards strangers which is almost
universal, seeing in it only the outward expression of divers delightful
qualities. Those who live with the people, if they happen to be Saxons,
discover that the friendliness is a manner, that when you penetrate
beneath it you come upon a character wholly un-Saxon, therefore of a
wrong description or an inferior quality. For it is a fact that the
Englishman is endowed with a very great idea of himself, of the absolute
rightness of his philosophy of life, his instincts, prepossessions, and
the peculiar shape and shade of his morality. He is, so to speak, his
own standard, and measures everybody from China to Peru by it, and those
who fall short of it, who have a somewhat different code or ideal, are
of the meaner sort of men which one expects to find outside of
these islands. It is undoubtedly a noble state of mind, befitting a
world-conquering people, and has served to make us respected, feared and
even disliked in other countries, but some small disadvantages and some
friction result from it at home, and one is that the lord of human kind
residing among inferior Celts finds himself out of harmony with the
people about him. He is not as a rule quick, but after a few months or
years in a place he begins to find his neighbours out, and they on their
side are not insensible of the change in his regard. He sees that they
have faults and vices which being unlike those of the English he finds
it hard to tolerate. Not only does he disapprove of them on this account
but he resents having been taken in. "You are charmed with this people,
you tell me! Wait till you have lived years with them as I have done and
know them as I do, then give me your opinion," they are accustomed to
say in their bitterness--the feeling which cannot but make a man unjust.

It is not easy or not pleasant to descend to particulars, but having
gone so far as to state the question it would hardly be fair not to
go further, although by so doing I shall most probably incur the
displeasure of both sides.

A common charge against the Cornish is a want of solidity or stability
of character. You cannot rely on them. You are constantly deceived by
their manner: they are the readiest of any people on earth to fall in
with your views and do exactly what you want. _But they don't do it_.
You may waste years or indeed your whole life in striving to make them
see things in your better way, and give them every instruction and make
them understand (for they are not stupid) how much more may be done by
following an improved method, and you will always be brought back to the
same old _We don't belong to do it that way_, and after a hundred or a
thousand trials you give it up in despair. Or you may take your defeat
philosophically (with a little added wormwood) and say that although
they are not stupid, their intelligence, like that of the lower animals,
is non-progressive.

Then as to the one-and-all spirit. This, I am assured on all hands, is
the veriest fiction, or at all events it is quite a different thing from
what it is usually supposed to be. The members of each little community
are as a fact more unfriendly and spiteful towards one another than is
the case in an English village: they are _one_ only when they make a
combined attack on some person who has been so unfortunate as to offend
everybody at the same time. So envious are they that every one hates to
see any benefit or gift bestowed on another. You must treat all alike;
you may not give a hundred of coals to the poorest, most suffering old
woman without exciting general ill-will, unless you are prepared to give
as much to every other old woman in the parish. They would rather the
old creature should be left to shiver in a fireless room. Nor must you
speak in praise of another: do not say to Mrs. Trevenna, what a nice,
or what a well-behaved, or pretty, or attractive child that is of your
sister or friend or neighbour, Mrs. Trevasgis, if you do not want to set
the Trevenna tongue wagging against both you and the Trevasgis woman.

These little uncharitablenesses--to describe them all in one word--are
universal in man or woman, perhaps in both, and being part of our nature
they probably have their uses: if they strike us more in the Cornish
than in our own people it is because of the difference of temperament
or disposition--because their feelings, good or bad, are more readily
excited and are expressed with less restraint.

That they are not truthful and not honest is another count in the
long indictment. With regard to honesty it is one I always hear with
surprise; for can it be said that we are as a people honest? Consider
the one matter of our food and drink--the amount of legislation we have
found necessary on the subject, the cost to the country of maintaining
a vast army of inspectors and analysts to prevent us from poisoning each
other for the sake of a small extra gain! Would any one in England give
me for love or money a glass of milk or beer, or a slice of bread and
butter, which would not seriously injure my health but for the fear of
the law? And after all we have done to protect ourselves we are assured
every day by the experts that we are living in a fool's paradise seeing
that dishonesty is so ingrained in us that it will always find out a way
to defeat our best efforts.

_This_ charge may then be dropped--for the present at all events.
When our moral condition has been properly examined and reported on by
travellers and missionaries from Thibet or some undiscovered country on
the other side of the Mountains of the Moon we may be in a position to
affirm that Cornwall is not as honest as, say, Middlesex.

But if honesty is or ought to be a painful subject, perhaps in
discussing the question of truthfulness we shall be able to make out a
better case and recover our self-esteem. Here we have it as it is
stated by one of my correspondents: "However bad the English commercial
morality may be, the average Englishman's word still stands for
something. When he lies he does so deliberately for some important
purpose. Some other races, including the Celts, appear to have a
different perception of truth, and to lie, as children do, readily and
gracefully, because lies and exaggerations are more interesting and
agreeable than plain truth. A difference of temperament: the Englishman
may be better or worse, but he knows where he is and resents being
fooled."

This reminds me of the experience of a young friend of mine, a pure
Englishman, exceptionally intelligent, and so sympathetic and adaptive
that he is happy with all sorts of people and they with him. From
boyhood he has lived in Wales, a somewhat rambling life, in towns,
villages and farm-houses, and his playmates, fellow-students and
companions have been natives. Yet he assures me that he has never been
able to feel himself one of them, and never been able to see anything
eye to eye with even his most intimate and dearest friends of that race.
It all seems to come to an ineradicable difference of mind in the two
races. There is no better and no worse, and the only quarrel is when any
one, Saxon or Celt, is offended at another's inability to see eye to eye
with him, regarding it as a bad habit which ought to be overcome, or a
sheer piece of perversity on his part.

Then we have the complicated question of morality, or rather of
"immorality," by which some journalists, authors and compilers of
blue-books mean sexual intercourse unsanctified by marriage. Norden, who
wrote nigh on three centuries before the nice modern mind invented a
new meaning for an old word, described it as the "sweet synn" which
was regarded as venial in Cornwall. But Norden spoke of the gentry;
the manners and morals of what he described as the "baser sort of
men," including rustics, miners, mechanics, farmers and yeomen, did
not interest his lofty mind. But the sweet sin was also common among
Norden's "baser sort of men," and exists to-day as it did in the past,
and as it exists in the Principality, and perhaps in Ireland, where the
power and vigilance of the priests are now able to keep it dark. It is
really not so much a vice as a custom of the country, perhaps of the
race, seeing that the illicit intercourse usually ends in marriage. It
has been said that in Cornwall matrimony is the result of maternity. For
it must be borne in mind that I am speaking only of Cornwall.

[Illustration: 0169]

We have seen in the last chapter how it is in Wales, in some of the
mining districts; but these bestial developments are not known and have
probably never existed in the duchy. It is true that some poor women are
left to bear their burden alone, and that their frail sisters who have
had better fortune are as ready as others to persecute them, but the
proportion of these unhappy ones is really less than in very many
English villages.

It is of the villages and small towns I speak: the towns are mostly
very small; but as population increases with the revival of the mining
industry (the curse of the country "from ancientie") the extraordinary
liberty which young women are allowed, or have taken for themselves, and
their pleasant ways with men may result in a troublesome problem in the
larger centres.

It is said of the Cornish, as it has been said of the Irish and of
Celtic people generally, that they are cruel. I doubt if they are more
cruel than others if we restrict the word to its proper meaning--the
infliction of pain for the pleasure of it; but there is a great deal of
barbarity of the kind one sees in Spanish and Italian countries which
results from temper. The Cornish, like the Spanish, are passionate and
when anything goes wrong they are apt to wreak their fury on the poor
unresisting beast--cow, calf, horse, donkey or sheep. I have witnessed
many shocking acts of this kind which it would be too painful to me to
have to describe, and in discussing this subject with others, some of
them Cornishmen who naturally love their people and are anxious to see
them in the most favourable light, they have confessed to me that this
kind of brutality is very common; that it is the greatest blot on the
Cornishman's character and a constant cause of pain to persons of
a humane disposition. What to me makes it peculiarly painful is the
knowledge that the man I have witnessed horribly ill-treating some
patient dumb beast, and hated and wished that I had had the power to
annihilate him--this very man, his fit of fury over, would prove himself
a genuine Cornishman, a very pleasant fellow, temperate, religious,
hospitable, a good husband, devoted to his children.

Celtic cruelty, Tennyson said, was due to want of imagination. He was
speaking of the Irish, who are not supposed to be without that faculty.
Whether or not the Cornish have it is another question, but it may be
that Celtic cruelty, like the Spanish, is due rather to a drop of
black blood in the heart--an ancient latent ferocity which comes out in
moments of passion.

The fact that prosecutions for cruelty to animals are so rare--one case,
I should say, in about every five thousand getting into court--reminds
me here of another charge brought against the Cornish by the strangers
within their gates. If Cornwall, the critics say, is able to show
the cleanest record in England it is because the law-breakers are not
treated as in other counties. Offences are winked at or overlooked
by the police in many instances, and when a prosecution takes place
magistrates will not convict if they can possibly help it. Not only are
they too tolerant and hate to hurt one of their own people, but they
think of themselves, of their own material interests, and are anxious
above all things that their county should maintain its nice reputation.

Something more will have to be said on the subject of cruelty to animals
in another chapter about wild birds during severe weather. At present,
to conclude this chapter, we have to consider another matter which is
that of the gravest charge of all and is indicated in the following
words spoken to me by a professional man, a resident in West Cornwall.
"I have lived and worked for twenty years among this people and have
long lost the last vestige of respect and affection I once had for them.
They are at heart what their forefathers were; their religion, softer
manners and apparent friendliness to strangers, is all on the surface--a
veneer. The old barbarism lives and burns under it, and if it were not
for the watch kept on them and the altered conditions generally they
would go gladly back to the ancient trade of wrecking."

This spontaneous outburst on the part of a person occupying an important
position in the community made me curious to know more about the man
himself. He was in a sense a good man, a generous giver according to his
means, and as he gave secretly even those who hated him (because they
knew, I imagine, that he despised and hated them) were never unwilling
to go to him for help when they required it. But he was by nature an
alien, one of those downright uncompromising Saxons who cannot get on
with those of a different and in some things antagonistic race. He had
tried his best to bridge the gulf over. His ambition had been to make
himself the most loved man in the place and naturally his signal failure
had embittered him.

But what about the charge? Was there a particle of truth in it? And,
finally, what is meant by _wrecking?_

I take it that two distinct things are meant--one a very black crime
indeed, the other nothing worse than a disregard of regulations and
petty pilfering. With regard to the first it is believed from certain
stories and traditions which have come down to us, the origin of which
is lost in the mists of antiquity, that the natives of the dangerous
parts of the coast made it a custom to lure vessels on to the rocks to
their destruction by displaying false lights. This may be true: we
know that the various races and tribes composing the nation--Celts
and Saxons, Danes and Normans--vied with each other in every form of
atrocity and of cruelty; but no instance of the crime in question can
be authenticated as having taken place in recent times. Nevertheless the
belief is cherished and kept alive in books, mainly religious tales and
novels, that this frightful custom continued down to the middle of the
eighteenth century when Wesley appeared to convert the Cornish people
from their vicious ways and all kinds of wickedness, including that of
deliberately wrecking vessels and murdering the unhappy wretches
who succeeded in escaping from the fury of the waves. As the books
containing these veracious statements, so flattering to the Cornish,
are exceedingly popular in the Duchy and nowhere out of it, the Cornish
people are themselves responsible for keeping these fables alive.

As for the other lesser crime or offence, I fancy that it is not one an
Englishman can look on as a very serious matter.

I was one day discussing the Sunday observance question with an English
clergyman whose parish lies on the Cornish coast, and related the
following incident to him. I was lodging with an intelligent and
well-to-do artisan and his wife in a Somerset village when one Sunday
morning, the weather being very fine, my host, finding that I was not
going to church, asked me if I would take a walk with him as he wished
to show me some nice spots in the neighbouring woods and copses where
he was accustomed to go. The woods were certainly very beautiful, with
green open spaces and a fine stream where we watched the trout and saw
a kingfisher flash by. We said it was not a bad place to spend a Sunday
morning in and then fell into a long talk about Sunday observance, and
the fact that village people, the men especially, had lost the habit of
going to church but had discovered no way of spending the day pleasantly
or profitably. I thought that outdoor games ought to be encouraged as it
was plainly beneficial both to mind and body and saved them from tedium
and the temptations to drink and smoke more than was good for them. I
thought too that when the parson of the parish took this line the effect
was entirely good; it taught them to look on him as more human and one
of themselves and capable of putting himself in their place.

My companion looked grave and shook his head at this, and when I told
him that I knew clergymen who were as good men as could be found in the
land who agreed with my view, and were the promoters of Sunday games in
their parishes, he answered that if a thing were wrong, even ministers
of the Gospel could not make it right. He was in the middle of his
argument when we came out from a big copse into a large open space,
and created a panic in a multitude of rabbits feeding there. Away they
scuttled in every direction--hundreds of rabbits, old and half-grown
young. Going a little further we noticed our small spaniel sniffing at
a burrow. "He's a clever little dog," said my companion; "he always lets
me know when a rabbit is not too far down." With that he got down on
the turf, and thrusting his arm in to the shoulder, quickly pulled out
a young rabbit, which, after snapping its neck, he thrust into his large
coat-tail pocket. Putting his arm down again he pulled out a second one,
then a third, and having snapped their necks and pocketed them, he got
up and we resumed our walk and our discussion. "No, no," he said. "I'm
not a religious man, and don't go to church as a rule, but I draw the
line at playing games on a Sunday."

Then he came to a stop beside a close thicket of brambles and thorn,
and began pulling the rabbits out of his pocket. "After all I don't want
them, and they are a nuisance to carry," he said, and with that he threw
them into the thicket.

That was my story.

"We are just as consistent here," said the Cornish clergyman. "The
people are religious and strict Sabbatarians; they go regularly to
church or chapel, but if a vessel in distress is in sight, and there is
a chance of its going on the rocks, they make an exception; they will
pace the cliffs all day long in the hope of a bit of flotsam coming in
their way."

They may appear equally inconsistent--the Somerset man and the
Cornishman--but can we say that one is morally worse than the other? The
case of the good artisan who drew the line at cricket on Sunday is not a
singular one: one doubts if there is a peasant in England, however truly
religious a man he may be, who would not pick up a rabbit or hare if he
got the chance on any day of the week. They do not believe it is wrong,
consequently it does not hurt their conscience, and the only fear they
have is to be found out. And so with the Cornishman; it is ingrained in
him, and is like an inherited knowledge, that if the Power that rules
the winds and waves, and who holds the lives of all men in the hollow of
his hand, sends a ship upon the rocks, it is because he thinks proper
to destroy that ship and incidentally to scatter gifts among his people
living on the coast. Shall they refuse to take any good thing he chooses
to send them? If their minister tells them it is wrong it is because
he does not know the rights of it. Their fathers did it, and their
forefathers, for generations back and were no worse for it. It
would indeed be strange if they did not resent as an injustice, an
interference with their natural rights, that so strict a watch is kept
on them, and that they are forbidden to take anything the waves may cast
up in their way.

Quite recently we had some rather startling manifestations of this
feeling and one amusing instance may be given. Just after a big ship had
come to grief on the rocks, at the most dangerous point on the coast,
another ship was in great peril near the same spot; fortunately, towards
evening, the weather moderated a little and it began to look as if
there was not going to be a second disaster just then. My informant was
standing on the shore with some of the fishermen of the place looking at
the sea. The sky was clearing and the sun, near the horizon, came
forth a great globe of red fire and threw its light over the tumultuous
waters. Then all at once one of the men burst out in a storm of
execration, and cursed the sun and wind and sea and pretty well the
whole universe. For it seemed so hard just when things were looking so
well that the sun should shine and the wind begin to fall and the sea
moderate! My informant asked him indignantly how he, a Christian man,
could entertain such feelings and how he dared to express them. He
answered by putting out his right arm and baring it to the elbow, then,
feeling the muscles with the fingers of the left hand, he said with a
somewhat rueful expression, "It's in the bone, _and we cant help it!_"

Yet this very man had been foremost in the work of rescuing the people
in the ship that had gone on the rocks.

My informant happens to be one of the Englishmen in Cornwall who do not
experience that antipathy or sense of separation in mind from the people
they live with, and are not looked at as foreigners. I have met with
several such who have very pleasant relations with their neighbours, and
can love and are loved by them, and are almost able to forget that they
are not natives. But, unless I am mistaken, in such cases the stranger
is not wholly a stranger; in other words he is partly of the same race,
therefore able to sympathise and to identify himself with them. And it
may be due to the Celtic element in me that I feel very much at home
with the people. A Dumnonian, if not a "swart Belerian," with an
admixture of Irish blood, I feel myself related to them and therefore
do not think they can justly resent my having described them as I
have found them without the usual pretty little lying flatteries. Your
relations are privileged critics. Moreover, if I love them they cannot,
according to their own saying, have any but a kindly feeling forme.
"Karenza whelas Karenza" is all the Cornish I know.

[Illustration: 0179]



CHAPTER XII CORNISH HUMOUR

_Native humour--Deceptive signs--Adventures in search of humour--Irish
and Cornish expression--A traveller in a stony country--The
stone-digger--Taking you literally--The danger of using figures
of speech--Anecdotes--The Cornish funny man--English and Cornish
humour--Unconscious humour of two kinds--A woman preacher--A story of
Brett the artist--Examples of unconscious humour--A local preacher--An
old man and a parrot--Children's humour--Guize-dancing._

|IT is permissible to a writer once in a lifetime to illustrate his work
by an allusion to that celebrated "Chapter on Snakes," in an island in
which these reptiles are not found. But I am not saying that there is no
humour in Cornwall. There may be such a thing; but if you meet with
it you will find that it is of the ordinary sort, only of an inferior
quality, and that there is very little. What I can say is there is no
Cornish humour, no humour of the soil and race, as there is an Irish and
a Scotch humour, and even as there is an English humour, which may be
of a poor description in comparison with the Hibernian, but is
humour nevertheless, native and local, and not confined to Dorset and
Warwickshire but to be met with in every county from the Tamar to the
Tweed.

This came as a great surprise to me since I had often read in books
and articles about the county that the Cornish are a humorous folk, and
those who have been there and profess to know the people say that it
is so. Their humour, like their imagination (for they are also credited
with that faculty), is sometimes vaguely described as of the Celtic
sort. My surprise was all the greater when I came and saw the people and
received confirmation, as I imagined, through the sense of sight of
all I had been told. They looked it, yet were without it; the signs,
"gracious as rainbows," deceived me (as they had doubtless deceived
others), but only for a season; they were the outward marks of quite
other pleasing qualities with which we are not now concerned. I looked
for humour and met with some amusing adventures in my search for that
rare, elusive quality.

Walking to a village one day I fell in with a man who had, like many a
West Cornishman, a strikingly Irish countenance, also an Irish voice and
flow of spirits. Hearing where I was going he at once undertook to show
me the nearest way. It would, he asserted, save me a good mile: _his_
way proved in the end two miles further than the one I had chosen, but
it led him near to his own cottage and he wanted badly to shorten the
way with talk--that was all.

I did not mind, because I wished to listen to him, thinking that I had
at length got hold of the right person, one who would give me a taste
of the genuine native humour. Not a bit of it! He talked freely of many
things--his native place, his family, his neighbours, the good and
the bad in them, his past life and labours, future prospects and much
more--a long talk which an Irishman would have enlivened with many
flashes of quaint humour, but there was not the faintest trace of such a
quality in it.

Later in the same day I walked by a footpath which led me through what
is called the "town-place" of a small farm-house. Here I found two men
engaged in an animated discussion, and one, in ragged clothes with a
pitchfork in his hand, was the very type of a wild Irishman; in all
Connemara you would not find a more perfect specimen--rags, old battered
hat, twinkling grey-blue Irish eyes, a shock of the most fiery carroty
red hair, and, finally, a short black clay pipe, or dhudeen, in his
mouth. Yet even this man, delightful to look at, proved when I conversed
with him just as prosaic and disappointing as the other.

I certainly did not expect to find anything in these two and in scores
more I had intercourse with which could be set down in a note-book as
specimens of Cornish humour. One may spend days among Irish peasants and
never hear anything worth repeating, especially in writing. Indeed, most
of what we recognise as Irish humour is not translatable into written
language. It is like the quality of charm in women, something personal
which you receive directly and cannot convey to another. But you are all
the time conscious of the humorous spirit in them; you see it in their
eyes and mobile mouth and gestures, and you catch its accent in their
speech. And you feel how good a thing it is; that a people possessing
this quality, or faculty, in so eminent a degree is not so poor as
others who have more comforts and are more civilised; that even want and
squalor, and misery, and vice, and crime, are not as ugly and disgusting
as they appear among those who are without this sparkling spirit, this
lightning of the soul, with its unexpected flashes, which throws a
brightness on everything.

The people of the extreme west of Cornwall have so close a resemblance
to the Irish in feature and expression that quite often enough when
with them, in farms and hamlets, I could hardly avoid falling into the
illusion that I was in Ireland. It is this look in them, or in many of
them, which makes the want of the Irishman's most engaging quality
so strange and almost incredible. There is an expression of the Irish
peasant's face which is exceedingly common--one could almost say that it
is universal--which one comes to regard as an expression of a humorous
mind. It is most marked in those who see you as a stranger among them,
or in those you meet casually and converse with. It is a peculiarly
shrewd penetrating look in the eyes, which appear to be examining you
very narrowly while passing itself off as mere friendly interest in you;
and with that look in the eye there is a lighting up of the whole face.
The man, you imagine, is looking out for some signal of a sympathetic or
understanding spirit in you, a token of kinship: but when we go further
and imagine it a humorous spirit we are probably mistaken. We associate
that peculiar expression of the eyes with the humorous mind because we
have found them together in so many persons--if we have been in Ireland.
In the Cornishman, too, that same expression of the eyes is exceedingly
common--an expression which even more than feature makes him differ so
greatly from the Anglo-Saxon. But it does not denote humour, seeing that
he is inferior to the dullest of the English in this respect. But he is
more alive than the Englishman, and his ever-fresh child-like curiosity
makes him seem more human.

This peculiar Irish-like alertness and liveliness of mind, with a total
want of a sense of humour, struck me forcibly in the case of another
Cornishman I encountered in my rambles. But before I get to this story
another must be told by way of introduction.

Frequently in my wanderings on foot in that stoniest part of a stony
land, called the Connemara of Cornwall, where indeed the likeness of the
people to the Irish is most marked, I recalled an old anecdote about a
stony country which I heard in boyhood. I heard it one morning at the
breakfast table in my early home in South America. We had a big party
in the house, and the talk turned on the subject of sharp and clever
replies made by natives to derisive questions asked by travellers.
Several of the men present had been great travellers themselves, and
almost every one had a good story or two to relate, but the best of all
was one of a traveller who had been walking for many hours in one of the
stoniest districts he had ever been in. As far as he could see on every
side the earth was strewn with masses of stone, and he was quite tired
of the endless desolation. At length he came on a native engaged in
piling up stones in a field, and approaching him addressed him as
follows: "My good man, can you tell me where the people of these parts
procure stone with which to build their houses?" That was the mocking
question, and the witty answer of the native created a great laugh at
the table, but unfortunately I have forgotten what it was. I have tried
in that stony place to recall it without success. It may be that some
reader of this chapter has heard and remembers the answer; if so, I hope
he will have the goodness to communicate it to me, and relieve my tired
mind from further efforts to recover it.

Now one day in Cornwall, while walking on a vast stony hill above the
little village of Towednack, I spied a man at work digging up stone in
the middle of a freshly ploughed field at the foot of the hill. He had
a crowbar, which he would thrust down into the soil to find where there
was stone near the surface; then with his three-cornered, long-handled
spade he would dig down and expose it, and if too large to be lifted he
would, with drill and wedges and iron mallet, split it up into pieces
of a convenient size. In this way he had raised a vast heap of stones,
which would be carted away by and by.

It came into my head to try my old story as an experiment on this man,
and I went down the hill to him and after saluting him stood some time
admiring his tremendous energy. He was a slim wiry man of about thirty
or thirty-five, good-looking, with a Celtic face and that lively shrewd
expression which one associates with the Irishman's humorous spirit.
After watching him for a few minutes at his frantic task I said, "By the
by, I wish you would tell me where they get the stone in this part of
the country to build their houses with?"

He turned and stared me in the face with the greatest astonishment, then
throwing out his hand in an angry way towards the vast heap of black wet
chunks of granite he had dragged out of the earth, he cried, "This is
stone! This is what they build houses with in this part of the country!
Stone!--granite!--there's enough of it in the ground to build all the
houses we want, and _on_ the ground too!"

Then he stared again and finally waved his arm towards the hill I
had descended from, strewn all over with huge boulders and masses of
granite, and added, "All you've got to do is to use your own eyes and
they'll show you where we get stone to build houses with!"

I was obliged to explain that I had only asked that preposterous
question in fun: then he calmed down and stood silent for some time,
with eyes resting on a chunk of granite at his feet, revolving the
matter in his mind, but he did not appear to think there was anything
very funny in it. But the extraordinary thing was that after he had
quite got over the uncomfortable feeling I had given him--the suspicion,
perhaps, that his interlocutor was not quite right in his head--he
proved as lively and agreeable a talker as I have met among the Cornish
people of his class, and gave me an entertaining account of the various
occupations he had followed since the tin-mine in which he had worked
as a boy had been abandoned. He was, in fact, a very intelligent fellow,
with nice feelings and sentiments, and as pleasant to talk with as any
one could be without a sense of humour.

When we look for something and find it not our non-success is apt to
produce a dogged spirit in us and we go on looking even after our
reason has assured us that the object sought for is not there, or has
no existence. That is how it was with me; I was determined to find that
rarity in Cornwall--a man with a sense of humour. And in my quest I did
not hold my tongue about my encounter with the stone-digger; I told it
to at least a dozen persons and they one and all received it coldly. The
last one was a farmer; he listened attentively, then after an interval
of silence remarked, "Yes, I see; the man did not understand your
question in the sense you meant. It was a joke and he took it seriously;
I see." He saw but he didn't smile, and I thereupon resolved never again
to tell the story of the man digging granite in a ploughed field to any
one in Cornwall.

Another instance of this curious child-like simplicity of mind in the
native was almost painful.

[Illustration: 0187]

To have one's words taken literally in some cases produces the
uncomfortable feeling that there is something wrong with the brain of
the person spoken to. I was walking on the moor one day in spring in
oppressingly warm weather when, on passing close by a small farm-house,
I caught sight of the farmer standing outside and stopped to have a
little talk with him.

He was a handsome intelligent fellow with a very pleasing expression,
and in a few minutes we were talking and laughing like old friends. "How
far is it to Zennor?" I said; "I'm walking there." He answered that it
was exactly five miles from his door. "Then," I returned, "I wish you
could tell me how to get there without going through the intervening
space." He looked strangely puzzled. "Wel----" he began, and then
stopped and cast down his eyes. "Really--I don't quite see----------" he
started again, and again stopped, more puzzled than ever. Then he made a
desperate effort to grapple with the problem. "You see, it's this way,"
he said; "the space is there--you can't get over that, and so I can't
quite make out how---------" But I was sorry to see him distressed and
quickly changed the subject, to his great relief.

I was told by the vicar of a parish I was staying in that one had always
to remember that the Cornish people take what is said literally; if you
forget this and inadvertently make use of some little figure of speech
so common in conversation that it is hard not to use it, you are apt
to get into trouble. The vicar himself, after twenty years' intimate
relations with his parishioners, was liable to little slips of this
kind, as I found. One day when I was there a man from a neighbouring
hamlet came to the village and by chance met the vicar. "Why, Mr.
So-and-so," exclaimed the latter, shaking hands with him, "it's a
hundred years since I saw you!" Then after a little friendly talk they
separated. But that unlucky phrase stuck in the man's mind, and he spent
most of the day in going into the houses of all his intimates in the
village and discussing the subject with them. "He said it were a hundred
years since he saw me--now what did parson mean by that?" When, anxious
to make a little mischief (having nothing else to do), I reported the
matter to the vicar, he slapped his leg angrily and exclaimed, "That's
how it is with them! There's an instance for you!" But it was a very
delightful one, and in another moment his vexation vanished in a burst
of laughter.

One might imagine that such misunderstandings simply result from
stupidity. It is not so, unless we say that stupidity is nothing but
the want of that sense which acts on our social intercourse much as the
thyroid gland does on the bodily system, or, to take another image, like
that subtle ingredient of a salad which animates the whole. Curious to
say, the most striking instance I met with of this want was from a man
of that unpleasant class who must be for ever doing or saying something
to raise a laugh. They are found everywhere, even in Cornwall, and are
common as is the "merry fellow" described over a century ago in the
_Rambler_--the man whose ready hearty laugh and perpetual good humour
and desire to say something to make you happy proceed from his high
spirits. He is quite tolerable: the would-be witty or humorous person,
the clown in the company, determined to live up to his reputation, is
rather detestable, and reminds one of the actor who can never be himself
but is always posing to an audience even when alone with his wife or
nursing the baby when his wife is asleep.

I travelled with my Cornish funny man from Truro to Exeter, and as
we talked the whole time I got to know him pretty well. He was a
middle-aged, strong, good-looking fellow, and a good type of the shrewd,
hard-headed Cornishman of the small-farmer class; he was a farmer and
cattle-dealer, and had been head gamekeeper on a large landowner's
estate. The trouble was that he prided himself on his wit and humour, or
for what passes as wit among the people of his class, and, above all,
on his good stories. He would now tell us a story, he would say, which
would make us "die with laughing," and when it was received without a
smile he was puzzled, and assured us that he had always considered it
one of his best stories. However, he had others, plenty of them, which
we would perhaps think better; but these were better only because they
were coarser and more plentifully garnished with swear words, and in the
end the other passengers--two or three grave elderly gentlemen, who had
an armful of books and papers to occupy their minds--refused to listen
any longer. He then gave it up, but being of a social disposition he
continued to converse with me in a quiet sober way, but there was now
a little cloud on his countenance which had been so sunny before, as if
our want of appreciation had hurt him in a tender part. The hurt had,
perhaps, made him quarrelsome; at all events we presently fell out over
a very trivial matter. We were discussing the scenery through which we
were passing when he remarked on the prettiness of a scene that came
before our eyes and I agreed; but by and by when he used the same
expression about another scene I disagreed. "Do you not then see
anything to admire in it?" he asked, and when I said that I admired it
he wanted to know why I refused to allow that it was pretty after having
called something else pretty because I admired it? He began to harp on
this subject and to grow satirical, and wanted to know of every scene we
passed whether I called it pretty or not, and if not why not. My replies
did not seem to enlighten him much, and at last in a passion he begged
me to tell him in plain language, if of two scenes we both admired one
was pretty and the other not pretty, why he called them both pretty. I
answered that it was because he had a limited vocabulary.

He threw himself back in his seat and looked at me as if I had struck
or insulted him, then exclaimed, "Oh, that's it--I have a limited
vocabulary!" and presently he added bitterly, "This is the first time
in my life that I have been charged with having a limited vocabulary."
Without saying more he got up, and going into the corridor planted
his elbows on the sill, and supporting his head with his hands, stared
gloomily at the landscape for about a quarter of an hour. Then he came
back to his seat and looked at me with a different countenance; the
expression of sullen resentment had changed to a quite friendly one but
overcast with something like regret or shame, and speaking in a subdued
manner he said, "You are right, and I deserved it. I know it is a great
fault in me, but I assure you that when I use bad words in conversation
I mean no more harm than--what shall I say?--than a woman when she
says, 'Oh, bother it!' or 'Drat the thing!' because she can't fasten her
blouse or her belt. 'Pon my soul I don't! It's just a way I've got into,
and the words you didn't like slip out without my knowing it." And so
on, with much more in the same apologetic strain. After that there was
peace between us. I was indeed rather sorry to lose him at Exeter: as a
"funny man," without a sense of humour, he had greatly entertained me,
and wishing him well, I hoped he would continue in his mistake about a
"limited vocabulary" in the sense in which he had taken the phrase.

My friend the vicar, who made the mistake of saying it was a hundred
years since he had seen some one, told me one day that he had been
attending a meeting of the clergy of the district, and finding himself
in conversation with three friends who were all Cornishmen of good old
local families, it occurred to him that it was a good opportunity to
find out what educated men in the county would have to say on such a
subject. The question, Did the Cornish people have a sense of humour?
took them by surprise; they had never considered it--it had never come
before them until that moment. After some discussion it was decided
in the affirmative; the Cornish _have_ a sense of humour, but--a very
important but--it is not the same as the sense of humour in the English
people.

[Illustration: 0193]

English humour, they said, fell flat in Cornwall, even where it was
seen, or guessed, that the words spoken were intended to be humorous. If
they laughed or smiled, it was out of politeness or good nature, just to
please you.

And as our humour failed with them, so did theirs fail with us: we
did not appreciate it simply because it was impossible for us, being
Englishmen, to see it as they did with their Cornish minds.

A local writer, the late J. T. Tregellas, who wrote funny poems in
dialect, and surveyed life generally from the comic point of view, has
a considerable reputation in the county. In one of his works, entitled
_Peeps into the Haunts and Homes of the Population of Cornwall_ (Truro,
1879), his avowed intention is to "place before the reader a tolerably
exact picture of a Cornishman as he is, with all his rough sense of
honour, his kind heart, his self-reliance, his naivete, his ingenuity,
and his keen quiet power of wit and observation." There are scores
of more or less funny stories in this book, but one is soon weary of
reading it, because there is little or no evidence in it of the "keen
quiet power of wit" one looks for. One finds what may be described as
primitive humour--the humour of children and of men in a low state
of culture who delight in practical jokes, rough banter, farcical
adventures, grotesque blunders and misunderstandings and horse-play. Of
unconscious humour there are many examples, which undoubtedly shows a
sense of humour in the narrator: and I will quote the conclusion of one
of the tales, perhaps the gem of the book, in which an old widow relates
her three matrimonial ventures. "And then I married a tailor who did
praich sometimes, and was a soort of a teetotaler in his way, and never
drinked nothing but tay and sich like; and then he faded away to a
shaade, and this day three weeks he died; and ater he was dead they
cut un oppen to see what was the matter with un. But waan of the young
doctors that helped to do ut towled me that he died all feer and they
couldn't find nuthin in un but grooshuns [tea sediment.] I woant have
nothin' of that soort agen, but I'll get a farmer with a little money;
and so I oft to, for I've got twenty pounds a year and a house to live
in."

Books of this kind do not help us much; they are, on the contrary, apt
to be misleading when the author has an intimate knowledge of the people
and dialect--and, besides, a little invention.

There are, I take it, two common sorts of unconscious humour; one into
which persons who may be of humorous minds are apt to tumble through
thinking too quickly and being too intent on their point, and who in
their haste snatch at any expression that offers to illustrate their
meaning without considering its suitability. The result may be a bull or
a mixed metaphor. An Irishman, asked to define a bull, after a moment's
thought replied, "Well, if you were to see two cows lying down in a
field, and one was standing up, that would be a bull." A Cornishman
would be incapable of such a reply; or of the Irishman's retort when his
companion, accused of being drunk, protested that he was sober: "If ye
was sober ye'd have the sinse to know ye was dhrunk." He makes no bulls
and does not know what they are. His unconscious humour is of the second
kind, which consists in saying things in a way which would be impossible
to any person possessing a sense of humour. Here is an example:--

At St. Ives, one Sunday, I went to a Methodist chapel to hear a woman
preach--a missioner or gospeller, I think she was called. I did not find
her a Dinah, for she was rather large and stout, of a high colour, with
black eyes and hair. But it was a singularly intelligent and sympathetic
face, and to hear her was a pleasure and a relief, for it was on the eve
of the last general election, when all the Little Bethels of Bolerium
were being put to strange uses and pulpits were the rostrums of enraged
politicians in white ties. She, sweet woman, preached only religion
pure and simple in a nice voice without hysteria and with a charming
persuasiveness. To hear her was to love her. A few days later she left
the town, and then one who was interested in her work rushed in to the
minister of the chapel to ask how many souls she had won for Christ on
this occasion. For she had on previous visits been very successful in
making converts. "Not one this time," answered the minister. "We were
too busy with the elections."

A remark made by one of the fishermen at a small coast village near
Land's End about Brett, the marine painter, affords another pretty
example of the native unconscious humour. Brett's outspoken atheism and
brusque manners greatly offended the fisherfolk, and when he began work
they watched him very narrowly, curious to know what kind of picture so
extraordinary a person would produce. It astonished them to see him use
his palette-knife instead of a brush to put on paint and spread it over
the canvas. They had never seen such a method before, and it appeared
to them wrong or not a legitimate way. One day on the beach they were
discussing the strange artist within their gates with reference to some
fresh cause of offence on his part, when the remark was made by one,
"What can you expect of a man who says there's no God and paints his
pictures with a knife?"

Here is another instance from Penzance. There is a public garden in the
town, with beds of flowers, benches, a bandstand, a fountain, and at one
side some tall elm trees with a rookery. The little fishes in the basin
of water attracted a pair of kingfishers, and they haunted the gardens,
flashing a wonderful blue in the eyes of the people. But they took
the fry--the little sickly fishes which had cost the town several
shillings--and the Town Council forthwith had them destroyed. I should
have said that only in a Cornish town could so abominable an instance of
Philistinism be found had I not witnessed an even worse one when staying
at Bath, when the Corporation of that noble town ordered the killing of
the kingfishers that frequented the old Roman baths.

After the kingfishers had been destroyed at Penzance, the question of
the rooks came up for discussion, and it was resolved to shoot the birds
and pull the nests down; but here, as I was informed, the town clerk
intervened and pleaded so eloquently for the birds that they were
spared. Now one day a group of old men, habitués of the gardens, were
sunning themselves there and discussing this question of the rooks. The
birds were there, repairing their old nests in the elms with a good deal
of caw, caw. They were as talkative as the old men, but "deep in their
day's employ" at the same time. Joining in the conversation, I expressed
my opinion of the councillors for wanting to destroy the rookery, and
was asked indignantly by one of the old men how I would like it if, on a
Sunday on my way to chapel in a black coat and silk hat, I were to pass
under the rookery and something were to happen to my hat. I replied
that I always attended chapel in tweeds and that if I wore a silk hat it
would serve me right to have something happen to it. Such an occurrence
would only afford an additional reason for preserving the birds. My
questioner glared at me, and I judged from their looks that the others
did not approve of such sentiments.

It was very funny, but I heard an even funnier one when listening to the
talk of a knot of elderly and middle-aged men discussing the treatment
the Education Bill was receiving in the House of Lords. But it was not
in Penzance, and I will mercifully conceal the name of the little town
in Bolerium where I heard it. The men, it must be observed, were all
Methodists who had adopted the view of the question which the ministers
had been expounding in the chapels. "What we want in England," said one,
"is the Russian system, just to remove the men in the two Houses who are
opposing the will of the people." The sentiment was heartily applauded
by all the others. It was delightfully Cornish--just the sentiment one
would expect to hear from the deeply religious Cornishman.

At this same place I heard about a local preacher, a man of a very fine
character, who was taxed one day by his employer with having served as
a model to an artist of the town, a Mr. Charles. "Yes," he said, "I have
been sitting to Mr. Charles, and have had a good deal of conversation
with him." Then after a long interval of silence he added, "Yes, I have
been sitting to him. Mr. Charles has religion, but it is very, very,
very, very, very deep down."

This appeared to be a clue worth following up, and I at once sought out
this man and was delighted to know him; he was, physically and mentally,
a type of all that is best in the Cornishman, but after a long talk on
many subjects with him I was convinced that he was without the sense of
humour. At the same time I felt that this was scarcely a defect in one
of his nature. I felt, too, that something like this might be said of
the people generally--the sense which they lack seems less important in
their case than in that of others; it is not so much missed--because
of their perennial vitality, their fresh impressible mind and sense of
eternal youth and curious interest in little things which never fades
and fails. Here I made the acquaintance of four men whose respective
ages were eighty-one, eighty-five, eighty-six, and eighty-eight. There
was no sign of weariness in any of them; they were as much alive and in
love with life as their middle-aged neighbours and as the young, down
even to the children.

These general reflections bring back to mind yet one more incident
bearing on the point--an example of the buoyant child surviving in a man
well advanced in years.

I had wasted a day indoors at Penzance reading books when, hearing the
hour of four strike, I flew out for a walk to the neighbouring hills
before dark. Hurrying along the street, which led me away from the
front, I felt that I wanted my afternoon cup of tea and thought I had
better get it before quitting the town. I soon came to a small baker's
shop, and going in and pushing open the door at the back discovered the
baker and his family just sitting down to their tea. The women made room
for me at the table and spoke welcoming words, while the baker himself
looked at me but said nothing. He was a fine specimen of a Cornishman:
old and strongly built, with a large perfectly bald head, on which he
wore a skull cap, and a vast cloud of white hair which covered the lower
half of his face and flowed over his chest. He had the broad head, high
cheek-bones, large mouth and depressed nose, wide at the nostrils, of
the pure Cornish Celt, and, most marked feature of all, the shrewd,
prying, almost inquisitorial, yet friendly, blue-grey eyes. Those eyes,
I observed out of the corners of mine, were furtively watching me, but
I did not resent it. By and by I caught sight of another member of the
family I had not observed before also watching me very attentively with
the most brilliant eyes in the world--a fine grey parrot in a big tin
cage at the far end of the room. He was standing at the open door of
the cage, silent and motionless, with his neck craned out in a listening
attitude. I went over to him and gave him some cake, which he accepted
in a gentle manner and began eating. Then, coming back to my tea, I
began praising the bird, saying that I knew a lot about parrots and
admired and respected them because they were nearest to our noble selves
in intelligence, and that I had never seen a finer grey parrot than this
one. He was silent with me: that was the parrot's way; he was like a
wise man, very still and very observant of a stranger in the house; he
would watch and listen to know what the strange person was like before
declaring himself.

The old man did not smile nor speak but got up, went to the cage, and
taking the bird on his hand returned to his seat. Then began a lively
game between the two: the parrot climbed over and about the man,
was snatched up and tossed as a mother tosses her babe, and finally
deposited on the big bald head from which the skull-cap had been
removed. The parrot rubbed his feathered head over the shining pate and
wiped his beak on it. Then followed a fight with lightning-quick thrust
and parry, a finger and a beak for weapons, after which the bird was
snatched up and popped, back down, on the table. There he remained some
time, perfectly still, his feet stuck up in the air, but not pretending
to be dead, for the brilliant white eyes were wide open, keenly watching
us all the time. Finally the bird twisted his head round, and using his
beak as a lever turned over on his feet, and was invited to kiss and be
friends. This the bird did, pushing his way with careful deliberation
through the cloud of beard so as to plant his kisses on the lips.

During the performance I could not help remarking a singular resemblance
between man and bird: the same love of fun appeared in their bright,
watchful, penetrating eyes; one had as much pleasure in the game as the
other; they were, man and parrot, very much on a level, very like little
children, and like children they were without a sense of humour.

Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that children's humour is
rudimentary. Undoubtedly there are individuals who possess it in a
higher or more developed state, just as there are children who possess
the sense of beauty, an ear for music, and other faculties of the adult,
but such cases are exceptional.

It chanced that just before my meeting with the old man of the parrot
I had been discussing the subject of this chapter with a gentleman of
culture in the district, a member of an old and distinguished Cornish
family, who has worked in his profession among the people and knows them
intimately. He demurred to my idea that his countrymen (of the lower
ranks be it understood) were without the sense of humour, and he
instanced their "love of fun" as a proof of the contrary. Mere love of
fun, however, always strongest in children and animals, is not the
same thing as that finer, brighter, more intellectual sense we are
discussing.

But how strong the simple primitive love of fun is in the Cornish people
may be seen at Christmas time in St. Ives in their "Guize-dancing," when
night after night a considerable portion of the inhabitants turn out in
masks and any fantastic costume they can manufacture out of old garments
and bright-coloured rags to parade the streets in groups and processions
and to dance on the beach to some simple music till eleven o'clock or
later.

[Illustration: 0203]

This goes on for a fortnight. Just think of it, men, women and children
in their masks and gaudy get-up, parading the little narrow crooked
muddy streets, for long hours in all weathers! And they are Methodists,
good, sober people who crowd into their numerous chapels on Sundays to
sing hymns and listen to their preachers!

It is fun, pure and simple, and if you mix with them and witness their
gaiety and listen to their bantering talk and happy laughter you will
not discover the faintest flicker of humour in it all, and if you have
witnessed the people of some French, Italian or Spanish town amusing
themselves in this fashion, the Guize-dance will seem like a poor, rude
imitation of the carnival got up by children.

[Illustration: 0205]



CHAPTER XIII THE POETIC SPIRIT

_The naturalist's mind and men's complex nature--An eminent
ethnologist--The use of fools--The simple animal mind--Herring gull and
rock-pipit--Man and animals compared--The imaginative faculty--Cornish
poets--Hawker of Morwenstow--Prose writers--Thomas Carew--Purity of race
in Cornwall--Dearth of imaginative work--A prosaic people--Cornwall
and Ireland contrasted--Reason of difference--Cornish legends--Mystery
plays--Wesley's mission and greatness--Ugliness of Methodism--Effect on
the child's mind._

|THE naturalist's mental habit of always trying to get at the reason and
hidden significance of things is apt to become a worry when he begins to
look closely at his fellow-creatures with the object of finding out what
they really are, or what the character of this particular human family
or herd is compared with that of some other herd which he has studied
and thinks he knows. Or perhaps it would be nearer the mark to say that
his anxiety to classify everything is the source of his trouble, when
with a Réaumur's skill his curious mind would distinguish men according
to their racial and temperamental characters. It vexes his little busy
brain, which loves neatness and symmetry, that men are so various,
so complex, that they have so many hidden meanings and motives and
instincts--so many invisible threads in the woven texture of their
natures, which occasionally shine out, yellow and purple and scarlet
among the threads of sober grey, yet when looked at closely, or examined
with a magnifying-glass, become invisible again. Either he must give up
the quest and the task in despair or else go doggedly on with a sort of
stupid courage, trying not to think that he is blundering all the time.
It is consoling in a difficulty of this kind to recall the case of an
eminent ethnologist, who was exceedingly industrious and prolific and
was very great a short generation ago, about which time his learned
contemporaries, vexed at his facile method of overcoming all
difficulties, rose up against and overthrew him, smashing and
pulverising his beautiful theories. After which, with a very engaging,
proud humility, he boasted that he had been the fool to rush in where
the angels (his opponents) had feared to tread, and that to attack and
overthrow they had had to follow him into new and wider fields where
they otherwise would never have ventured. We must all be fools in
the same way, if we have a little of that courage which I have called
stupid, each in his own small sphere, and we certainly do a useful thing
if, in exposing our thick skulls to knocks (which don't matter), we
succeed in giving courage to better men.

If I had not been a fool, or had not troubled myself with this serious
question, it would have been much pleasanter for me in my rambles at
this end of all the land, seeing that the inferior animals are so very
much simpler and more easy to read than men. Those donkeys, for example,
which I meet on the moor, and their scarcely less intelligent friends
the jackdaws, I know them a hundred times better than I can know any
man--even my own self. And the house-dog too, who is supposed to be
mentally more like his masters than any other beast--this dog who
watches my comings and goings out of the corners of his eyes and who
thinks himself wonderfully clever when, knowing that I don't want him,
he steals secretly off an hour before I go out and meets me (by chance)
among the furze bushes a mile from home--do I not know every thought in
his curly black head, if his little mental trick of putting two and two
together can be called thought? And the gulls on the cliff--do I not
know just how they will comport themselves; how each bird will eye me
suspiciously, sideways, with one brilliant eye at a time; how they will
rise and float and dwell on the air, or sit on a rock with beaks to
the wind--do I not know every word they will say in their herring-gull
language?

It is true they will now and then do a thing which will come as a
surprise. Here is an example--an incident I have just witnessed. All day
the wind had been blowing half a gale from the sea when I went down to
the rocks to get a good mouthful of air before it was dark. There
were the gulls at the usual spot; and no sooner had I climbed into a
sheltered nook among the rocks than they were all up floating overhead,
swooping and rising, and pouring out their insistent loud anxious angry
cries. For they were just beginning to nest on the ledges of the cliff
beneath me and were troubled at my presence. In spite of the very cold
wind and the growing obscurity, when the sun had gone down, I kept
my place for upwards of an hour, and for the whole of the time they
continued soaring and screaming above me: now with extended motionless
wings seeming not to move yet mounting all the time, higher and higher,
until they would be four or five hundred yards above me and would begin
to look very small; then down and down again in the same imperceptible
way, but sometimes descending with an angry rush until they were no more
than thirty or forty yards high and one bird among them would make a
violent swoop to intimidate me, coming to within a couple of yards of my
head with loud swish of wings and sudden savage scream. I noticed
that the swoops were all made by one bird, that this same bird acted
throughout as fugleman and leader, that whenever the others began to
drift away, further and further apart, and their cries grew fainter and
less persistent, he or she reanimated them and brought them back with
a fresh outburst of fury, emitting louder screams and dashing down in
a more violent manner. The longer I watched them the more wonderful
appeared the difference in disposition between this one bird, this white
flying image of wrath, and the others.

Now at intervals of about three or four minutes my attention would
wander from the gull to see and listen to a rock-pipit that had its home
at that spot and was also nesting in a chink quite close to the gullery.
Every day and all day long, in all weathers, the little singer could be
seen and heard at that exposed spot, soaring up at intervals to a height
of a couple of hundred yards; then slowly falling back to the rocks,
head down, tail spread and wings pressed to its sides with the quills
standing out--a shuttlecock or miniature parachute in figure; and while
descending he emitted the series of airy tinkling sounds that make his
melody. And now, in spite of the lateness of the hour and increasing
gloom on the sea and clouded sky and of the cold wind, the little
creature would not desist from its flight and song. Its little big
passion was as strong and inexhaustible as that of the enraged gull.
Then occurred the incident I set out to tell: the gulls with their
prolonged monotonous wailing cries were balanced in the air at a height
of ninety or a hundred yards, their trumpeter and inspirer keeping in
the centre of the scattered company directly above my head. The
pipit shot up from the pile of rocks in which I was lying, and rising
obliquely from the land side reached the highest point of its flight
well over the sea, and then just as it set its feathers to begin its
descent a furious gust of wind caught and whirled it landwards, still
emitting its tinkling sound, into the very midst of the company of
hovering gulls. No sooner was it among them than the angry, alert
leading bird, half closing its wings, swooped down on the little
tinkler, and instantly a frantic chase began, with lightning-quick
doublings, now over the sea, now the land, the gull with its open beak
almost touching the terrified little fugitive. "Save yourself, pipit!" I
exclaimed, for another inch and the small spotted singer would have been
in the big hungry yellow beak and flight and tinkling song ended for
ever. And in another moment the tension was ended, for the little thing
had gained the rocks and was safe: but it sang no more that evening.

Now, strange as all this may seem--that the pipit should live and breed
just by or among the herring gulls, ready at all times to seize and
devour any living creature that comes by chance in their way, and that
it should go on ascending and descending, singing and singing, every
day and all day long, just where the gulls are perpetually floating
and flying hither and thither, always on the look-out for something to
devour--it is but acting in accordance with its known character. The
small bird is without fear of its big rapacious neighbours: it has its
own quickness and adroitness to save it from all natural dangers of
winds and waves and killing birds; it was only the rare chance of that
gust of wind striking it just when it paused in mid-air before dropping,
and carrying it away sideways into the midst of the herring gulls, which
so nearly cost it its life. On the following morning the gulls would
be there, flying about hungry as ever, and the pipit would go on with
flight and song in the same old way, free as ever from apprehension.
And as with the pipits so it is with all creatures that are preyed upon:
sudden violent death as the result of any failure, or mistake, or slight
accident, is a condition of wild life, else its vigour would not be so
perfect and its faculties so bright.

Every day, in fact, when I am observing the actions of birds, or of
animals generally, from a dog or a donkey to a fly, I may witness
something unexpected, an action which will come as a surprise; but this
will be only because of its rarity, or because it comes about through
a rare concurrence of circumstances, but not because the creature has
acted in any way contrary to its nature.

It is sadly different (sadly, I mean, for the naturalist) with regard to
human beings. You cannot generalise from the actions of an individual
as you may safely do in the case of a titlark or a gull or a donkey. You
study a dozen or a hundred, and then begin to think that you have not
had a sufficient number owing to the variety you have noticed, and you
study a hundred more and after all you are still in doubt. It may appear
that, in the last chapter, I have not shown much doubt as to the want of
a sense of humour (as we understand it) in the Cornish. J have not; but
when it comes to another and a greater faculty--imagination, to wit--I
am not very sure.

If it could be taken for granted that a people who have never produced
any artistic or literary work worth preserving are without imagination,
to use the word in its higher sense, as the creative faculty, the
question would be a very simple one, seeing that Cornwall has given
us nothing or next to nothing. Compare it in that respect with the
adjoining county, divided from it by a little river, but distinct
racially: what lustre Devon has shed on the whole kingdom! how many of
her sons are so great in arms and arts, above all in literature, that we
regard them as among the immortals; and what a multitude of lesser men
who have made us richer in many ways! Now as one with a very superficial
knowledge on this subject I have put the following question to the three
men of my acquaintance who have the widest knowledge of English poetic
literature: "Has Cornwall ever produced a poet?" and in each case came
the quick reply, "Y es, Hawker of Morwenstow." Now Hawker is a great man
to us on account of his strong and original character, but he was a very
small poet; I should say that during the last half-century England has
always had twenty or thirty living minor poets who rank high above him.
Finally, he was not a Cornish but a Devon man, and it therefore struck
me as exceedingly curious that I should have had that same answer from
the last of the three friends interrogated, seeing that he is himself
a highly accomplished poet, a Devonian whose birthplace is just on the
borders of the duchy. The reply--"Yes, Hawker of Morwenstow" may then be
taken to mean "No, not one."

Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Cornwall has contributed absolutely
nothing to literature. I have already sung the praises of Richard
Carew's work; but he was a prose writer--he failed pitifully when he
attempted verse; he therefore stands on a lower level, with perhaps two
or three more who have written good prose--William Scawen and Borlase,
the antiquary, may be mentioned. But there is Thomas Carew, the lyrist,
and friend of Donne, Suckling and Ben Jonson--if he may be called a
Cornishman. His name is not included in Boase and Courtney's monumental
_Bibliotheca Cornubiensis_, in the preface of which work they
courageously say, "The writers of Cornwall bear no inconsiderable place
in the literature of their country." But if we take it that this Carew
was a Cornishman, though born out of the county, we must admit that
Cornwall has produced one good poet. He does not count for very much,
however--this one poet who lived three centuries ago and wrote half a
dozen little things that sparkle like diamonds--seeing that he was of
that class which is never native, of the soil. Even in those old days
men of birth did not spend their lives at home; they attended the court
and went forth wide in the world wonders for to see, and intermarried
with families outside of their own class, so that, like the Jews among
us, they were and always are, racially as well as socially, a distinct
people among the people. Norman and Saxon and Dane are we, says the poet
truly enough, and he might have added Celt, but the mixing process has
been infinitely greater in the upper ranks. The Cornish people, I take
it, are Celts with less alien blood in their veins than any other branch
of their race in the British Islands.

One day in a village street I met a fine athletic-looking oldish man
with a very marked characteristic Cornish face, but painted by alien
suns to deepest brown, and that colour of the tropics contrasted oddly
with the bright blue-grey eyes and reddish-grey beard. He laughed when
I said that I supposed he was a stranger there. Yes, a stranger in a
sense, he said, since he had been away over forty years, working in the
mines, in America, Africa and Australia. But his forty years' labour had
not hurt him much; he felt young still and was going back to Queensland
after a little look round. For one thing he had never touched alcohol in
his life and he would like to pit his strength against that of any man
of thirty in that village where he was born sixty-seven years ago. Yes,
it was his own native place which he had come back after forty years to
have a look at. His people were there still, and had been there to their
certain knowledge over six hundred years. And I dare say, he added, if
we knew all we could say a thousand.

Five or ten thousand would perhaps have been nearer the truth. And so
it is with the common people generally. They have become great roamers
nowadays; they go forth in hundreds every year into all parts of the
world, but they appear to cherish the old Cornish feeling against
marrying among strangers; they return after few or many years to find
wives, and that, I conjectured, was the old miner's motive in coming
back to his village "just to have a look round." One of the saddest
things in this perpetual going and coming is that a great many men,
young and in the prime of life, return after contracting miner's
disease, usually in Africa; and though it is known to every one that
they are doomed men, they marry and live just long enough to leave a
child or two before they are gathered to their fathers.

To return to the main point. Is this surprising dearth of the creative
faculty, or of genius, in art and literature a good criterion--does it
justify us in saying that the people are devoid of imagination?

For an answer one can only go to the people themselves--not to those of
good birth who are in a sense foreigners, or different racially as
we have seen, but to the true natives who remain from generation to
generation on the land. We are told so often and so insistently by
persons who speak with authority that the Celts are an imaginative
people that we come to regard it as an established fact, beyond
controversy, as true, for instance, as that the blood of a dark-haired
person is heavier than the blood of a blonde. It consequently came to
me as a great surprise to find that a people so markedly Celtic as the
Cornish were the most prosaic I had ever known. At first I could not
quite believe that it was so: it was only that I was a stranger among
them and had not yet found the way to the hidden romantic vein and
poetic spirit in them. Gradually it was borne in on me that the vein was
not there, that it had no existence--that my wish and no secret living
spring or hidden treasure in the earth had caused the hazel twig to
dance and dip in my hand. Or, if they had it, then, like their sense of
humour, it was of that lower or undeveloped root kind discoverable in
children and in primitive people.

Undoubtedly this is contrary to the conclusion any person would most
probably form on a first and superficial acquaintance with the people,
on account of their manner and disposition, in which they differ so
greatly from the more stolid, slower-moving, thinking and speaking
English peasant. Nevertheless in the English peasant in the north, south
and Midlands, in spite of that seemingly mental and physical heaviness
and absorption in the purely material things which concern him in his
struggle for existence, I have found that hidden vein of romance and
that poetic feeling which I have failed to find in West Cornwall.

On this subject I do not venture to speak of the Cornish people
generally. There may be important differences. I have been told that in
the more easterly parts, particularly in mining districts, the people
are not of so lively, friendly and communicative a disposition as in
West Cornwall; but I assume that here, in Bolerium, we get the least
mixed, the truer, Cornishman. Here it seemed to me that not only with
regard to the æsthetic faculties, but in various other ways too, in
mind and disposition, they are like children of a larger growth. On this
point however, one may very easily go wrong, since the same thought
will sometimes strike us with regard to other Celtic families. Yet in
Cornwall I could not get away from the idea that the child-like traits
in the character of the people were not merely a matter of disposition,
of the buoyant child surviving in the man, but that it marked a lower
stage in mental development.

[Illustration: 0217]

This may be wrong: but after all what one wants is a working theory, and
it does not very much matter whether it be true or false so long as it
enables us to get over the ground.

When we live with savages, or uncivilised people, it is very much like
living with children; we get to know them as we never know the civilised
beings we spend our lives with although they are our own people.
For however unexpected their changes of temper and actions may be,
especially where these place us in sudden peril, we yet know that they
are only feeling, thinking and acting in accordance with their true
natures. They are not quite so simple and easy to read as the lower
animals; nevertheless the difference between the uncivilised and
civilised man is so immense that we can say of the first that it is as
easy to understand him as it is to understand a dog or a donkey or a
child.

It may also be observed that there is a vast difference in this respect
between the members of separate classes in the same community, in spite
of their racial relationship--between peasant and gentleman; and it may
perhaps be taken as a truth that complex conditions of life make complex
characters. The Cornish peasant appeared to me easier to understand than
the English, and, as I imagined, because he was nearer, mentally, to
the child. It may even be that the greater sympathy with children of the
Cornish people, men and women, is due to this fact that man and child
are nearer in mind than is the case with the English people. They are
moved emotionally in the same way as children and are liable to gusts
of passion, and, like children, are apt to be cruel in their anger.
They are candid, pliant and delighted to serve you when pleased, but
are subject to petulant and stubborn fits, and will brood in sullen
resentment for days, meditating revenge, for some trivial imaginary
slight. And they are intensely fond of things which please
children--gifts, shows, gay colours, noise and excitement. Here is a
little characteristic incident in which we see the bad stubborn boy
surviving in the adult. The late Royal Academician, Hook, was on the
sands at Whitesand Bay working at a sea-piece when two natives came up
and planted themselves just behind him. There was nothing the artist
hated more than to be watched by strangers over his shoulders in this
way, and pretty soon he wheeled round on them and angrily asked them how
long they were going to stand there. His manner served to arouse their
spirit and they replied brusquely that they were going to stay as long
as they thought proper. He insisted on knowing just how long they were
going to stay there to his annoyance, and by and by, after some more
loud and angry discussion one of them incautiously declared that he
intended standing at that spot for an hour. "Do you mean that?" shouted
Hook, pulling out his watch. Yes, they returned, they would not stir one
inch from that spot for an hour. "Very well!" he said, and pulled up his
easel, then marching off to a distance of thirty yards, set it up again
and resumed his painting. And there within thirty yards of his back the
two men stood for one hour and a quarter, for as they did not have a
watch they were afraid of going away before the hour had expired. Then
they marched off muttering curses.

In all this, and still more in their occasional emotional outbreaks,
which when produced by religious excitement are so painful to witness,
the Cornish are no doubt very much like other Celts in Britain; but in
some things, with one of which alone I am concerned here--to wit, the
imaginative faculty--these separate branches of the race have diverged
very widely indeed. The old literatures of Ireland and Wales live to
show it, and in Ireland, at all events, this fountain of inspiration has
never ceased to flow. It is flowing copiously as ever now, and making
us richer every day. What is the secret of this great difference--the
reason of this creative faculty which has given Ireland, in spite of
her misery, so splendid a place in our literature, which appears like
a touch of rainbow colour in the humblest peasant's mind, and does not
exist and never has been in Cornwall? Doubtless from that mixture of
blood which came to pass in Ireland during those restless centuries of
tremendous changes, when ancient nations were cast into another mould,
of emigration and conquest and colonisation; and of the fusion of races
by intermarriage of the Irish Celts with the mentally more virile and
imaginative invaders from the north. We must assume, too, that this
fusion of blood did not go so far and hardly took place at all in
Cornwall. We see that the conquerors left but few and slight traces of
their occupancy in the peninsula, and the presumption is that they did
not take root in it, that when they had come and conquered and had their
carousal of blood they were glad to sail or march away, like William
Gilpin in search of the picturesque, from a country of so barren and
repellent an aspect, to seek for a permanent resting-place in a softer,
more fertile land. Lord Courtney, in a presidential address to the
Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance, said: "While the
wave of conquest swept completely over other parts of England, it only
just reached this part and then receded. The population of Cornwall in
general has remained much more homogeneous, much more Celtic in type,
than in other parts; and of all Cornwall there is no part like this in
which we are met with probably so pure a breed of human beings."

The people were left in their rocky land, and what they had been--an
ancient crystallised race with the imaginative faculty undeveloped--they
remained and remain to this day.

It has been thought that because Cornwall is preeminently the land of
strange beliefs and of old tales and legends relating to mythical saints
and heroes, to giants and demons with a great variety of fantastic
beings--mermaids, fairies, pigsies and piskies and other little
people--the Cornish are a highly imaginative people. These things are
old survivals, and are of the imagination in its childish or primitive
stage. The belief in all these fanciful beings is pretty well dead and
gone now; at all events, I was unable to find even an old woman who
had anything to say of the old beliefs which was not disrespectful. But
these beliefs undoubtedly kept their hold on the Cornish mind very much
longer than in any other part of the country, and with these beliefs
certain pagan, or Druidical, observances were also kept up, and have
only died out within the last thirty or forty years. Similar beliefs and
observances were as common all over England as in Cornwall; there was
not a hill or down, or lake or stream, or singular tree or rock, which
did not have its own special demon or genius. All this passed away
with the fusion of the British Celts with a people in a more advanced
psychological stage. But although these childish things have been put
away so long, you will still find faint traces of them everywhere,
even in the most Saxon districts in England. They inspire little or no
belief, but are kept in memory, like old ballads, and passed on from
generation to generation. In Cornwall belief in them continued to within
very recent times, and they are remembered still. It was said not very
long ago by a well-known Penzance writer that folklorists, when they
come to Cornwall, especially the west, complain that the materials are
so abundant they do not know how to manage them. Merely to enumerate
and classify legends and beliefs in giants, little men, and fairies of
a dozen denominations, ghosts, souls, semi-devils and phantoms of divers
sorts, goblins, monsters and mermaids, is more than they can do. A very
large number of these legends, enough, one would imagine, to satisfy the
greatest enthusiast, have been collected by Robert Hunt in his Popular
Romances of the West of England, and by William Bottrell in Stories and
P'olflore of West Cornwall, in three series. There we have it, or as
much of it as we want, a huge crude mass, the rough material out of
which an early literature might have come had there ever been a mind
capable of assimilating and giving it literary form.

When the old language was in a moribund state during the seventeenth
and early eighteenth centuries, there appeared to be but one man in the
county to lament its passing--William Scawen, who loved the old things,
old usages and traditions, and who rebuked his fellow-Cornishmen for
their indifference with a bitter eloquence. But he did not grieve over
the dying language on account of any noble or beautiful or otherwise
valuable work enshrined in it. The few mystery or miracle plays and
other native productions which existed (and exist still) were not worth
preserving. What troubled him was the thought that the old ways and
spirit were to a great extent dependent on the old tongue. The plays
were valueless as literature and were of the same quality as a thousand
more which were once performed in most parts of England, the loss of
which nobody regrets, but their performance drew people together from
all parts to the vast open-air theatre, the _plan-au-Guare_, and in
this way whatever little romance and poetry existed in the minds of the
people was kept alive.

A mightier change was to come later, when Wesley made his descent on
the county about the middle of the eighteenth century and converted the
people wholesale to Methodism. This was in many ways the very worst form
of religion for a people of the temper and character of the Cornish, but
it suited them exactly at the time it came to them--a dull and stagnant
period in their history when the Church was indifferent. They were a
highly emotional race and were in a starved condition, hungry for some
great excitement, some outlet for their repressed natures, some excuse
for a mad outburst, and this gave it them--these wonderful gatherings of
miners, fishermen and labourers on the land, in the old disused theatres
under the wide open sky, listening to that mysterious supernatural man
who had it in his power to call down God to them. That same God who had
been growing further removed from their lives and dimmer in their minds
for years and for generations, until He was little more than one of
the Cornish giants or supernatural monsters believed in by the "old
people"--now once more an awful stupendous reality, a gigantic kite
hovering on broad black wings over their congregated thousands, his
burning, rapacious eyes fixed on them, while from time to time he made
his little tentative swoops to set them fluttering and screaming.
For they were like terrified fowls and chickens in a farm-yard, each
expecting and dreading to be made a victim--each knowing that his
miserable soul might not be saved until the winged terror fell upon him
to grip and bury its crooked lacerating talons in his flesh. And when
the stoop and grip came he rolled on the ground bellowing and shrieking
to the accompaniment of groans and sobs and piercing cries of those
around him. Dreadful as this was, and horrible and loathsome to witness
by any person of a decent or reverent mind, it was yet a joy to them and
gave them what they wanted--a glorious emotional feast. From the days
of Wesley to the present time these unseemly spectacles have been common
throughout the length and breadth of the peninsula, as they have been in
Wales, and one may be thankful that the Irish kept the old faith,
which does not permit such things, since it saved them from a like
degradation.

I rejoice, and all who have any respect and love for humanity will
rejoice, that in Cornwall at all events these exhibitions are declining.

Last year one day a Truro acquaintance of mine got into a railway
carriage in which were five Methodist ministers returning from a
conference they had been attending. They were discussing the decrease in
the number of converts and the decline of revivals during the last few
years. One of them, a stout, elderly person, said he did not take so
pessimistic a view of the position as the others appeared to do. He
thought the falling off, if there were any, was perhaps attributable to
the ministers themselves, and then added, "All I have got to do is to
preach my Judgment-Day sermon to set them howling." The others were
silent for a little, and then one said, "Do you think it wise to say
much about everlasting punishment at the present juncture?" No one
replied to the question, and after an uncomfortable interval they
changed the subject.

One would hardly suppose that the "present juncture" would be causing
much anxiety in far Bolerium; yet even here in this ancient rocky
fastness of Dissent the trumpets of the New Theology are beginning to
sound in some of the chapels. Methodism, on account of its wealth and
the perfection of its machine, will be the last of the sects to feel the
impending changes; but this is a subject which does not concern us here,
and enough has perhaps been said to show that Methodism with its
revival campaigns and notion as to the necessity of sudden conversion,
accompanied with the outward visible signs of the inner struggle and
change--sobbings, howlings, contortions and Glory Hallelujahs--is not a
healthy one for so extremely emotional a people.

Wesley's fame does not however suffer from these sad incidental results
of his great propaganda. He remains a very great man, the greatest of
all the sons of the Anglican Church, one who went about his work among
Celts and Saxons indifferently in a white heat which set men's hearts on
fire. He had no pleasure in seeing people carried so completely away by
their feelings and behaving like lunatics or frenzied wild beasts in a
cage; on the contrary, he abhorred the sight of such things even as
he abhorred Dissent and that "odious familiarity with the Deity" which
grieved and disgusted his reverent mind in his preachers. Nor did he
consider, nor was it possible for him to know, in his long strenuous
life, which was but a battle and a march, as the poet has said of
another leader of men, while like the wind, homeless, without resting,
he stormed across a world convulsed by a tremendous religious awakening
and excitement--he did not know that he was inflicting a deadly injury
on the Church which he loved above all things and clung to all his life
long, and, finally, that in the end it would all make for ugliness.

This is indeed the chief cause of the repulsion with which Methodism
and Nonconformity in general is regarded by those who have the sense of
beauty, whose hearts echo the poet's cry

               Beauty is truth, truth beauty: that is all

               Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

There is one God; but the gods which men worship are innumerable as
the stars in heaven and as the sands on the seashore, and they vary in
character even as their worshippers do. To go back to the dark days of
the seventeenth century, we see that beauty and whatever was of good
report, which became associated in the Puritan mind with the life and
forms of worship of their enemies, was a thing accurst. And, the human
mind being what it is, it was but natural that the particular god of
their worship came to be the very god of ugliness, a despiser of beauty
who looked with jealousy on those who were won by it even as he did on
those who kissed their hands to the rising moon. He was not the God to
whose glory the great fanes of England were raised. And from that
far time "of Oliver's usurpation when all monumental things became
despicable" this same temper of mind and dismal delusion has come
down to us in a hundred denominations with their temples of ugliness
sprinkled over all the land.

Any house is good enough to worship God in, is a treasured saying, and
it has been remarked that no place of worship has ever been raised by
Nonconformity in England which any person would turn aside from the
road to look at. This would be too little to say of the chapels in West
Cornwall, where the principle of any-house-good-enough has been carried
to an extreme. The principle may or may not be insulting to a personal
Deity, mindful of man and anxious that man should do Him honour--we
cannot know _His_ mind on such a question; but these square naked
granite boxes set up in every hamlet and at roadsides, hideous to look
at and a blot and disfigurement to the village and to God's earth, are
assuredly an insult to every person endowed with a sense of beauty
and fitness. You will notice that a cow-house, or a barn or any other
outbuilding at even the most squalid-looking little farm in a
Cornish hamlet strikes one as actually beautiful by contrast with the
neighbouring conventicle. And in a way it is so, being suited to its
purpose and in its lines in harmony with the surrounding buildings, with
the entire village grouped or scattered round the old church with its
dignified old stone tower, and finally with the rocky land in which it
is placed. From such a building--barn or cow-house--one turns to the
chapel with a feeling of amazement, and asks for the thousandth time,
How can men find it in them to do such things?

The interior of these chapels is on a par with their exterior
appearance. A square naked room, its four dusty walls distempered a
crude blue or red or yellow, with a loud-ticking wooden kitchen clock
nailed high up on one of them to tell how the time goes. Of the service
I can only say that after a good deal of experience of chapel services
in many parts of England I have found nothing so unutterably repellent
as the services here, often enough conducted by a "local preacher," an
illiterate native who holds forth for an hour on the Lord's dealings
with the Israelites in a loud metallic harsh Cornish voice.

I observed that as a rule but few adults attended the morning services
in the villages and small towns; the women had their housework to do and
dinner to cook; the men liked a long rest on a Sunday morning, and did
not care to wear their best suit of clothes the whole day. These all
flocked to the afternoon or evening services; but alas for the little
ones!--they were all packed off to chapel in the morning. Again and
again on taking my seat in a chapel at the early service I found myself
in a congregation chiefly composed of children. What can be the effect
on the child mind of such an interior and of such a service--the
intolerable sermon, the rude singing, the prayers of the man who with
"odious familiarity" buttonholes the Deity and repeats his "And now, O
Lord" at every second sentence--the whole squalid symbolism! One can but
say that if any imagination, any sense of beauty, any feeling of wonder
and reverence at the mystery of life and nature had survived in their
young minds it must inevitably perish in such an atmosphere.

[Illustration: 0230]



CHAPTER XIV WINTER ASPECTS AND A BIRD VISITATION

_Back to the land--Golden days in winter--Colour of dead bracken--Lichen
on trees in winter--Furze and bracken in winter--A New Forest
memory--Effect of rain on dead bracken--An artist in the rain--Snow and
bird migration from the east--The birds return east--How the
migrants are received at St. Ives--Birds taken with
fish-hooks--Bush-beating--Dolls and gins for the children--Maimed
birds--Wesley revisits St. Ives--A compassionate woman--Story of a
robin--Mr. Ebblethwaite and the gulls--The author follows Ruskin's
advice._

|HAVING finished, not very satisfactorily perhaps either to myself or
readers, with the difficult subjects which occupy the last few chapters,
I returned with renewed zest to my solitary rambles among the hills and
along the coast, particularly to that most fascinating strip of country
named "Cornwall's Connemara." It was going back to the land and the
simple life in a fresh sense--to have moorland donkeys and conies, and
daws, gulls and yellow-hammers, instead of men for company; creatures
whose lowly minds do not baffle us. I doubt if even the wildest American
of the "new school of natural history" would maintain that these friends
in fur and feathers possess the faculty of imagination in any degree.
It was very pleasant and restful to sit on a granite boulder on the
hillside and gaze by the hour, thinking of nothing, on the blue expanse
of ocean and the more ethereal blue of the sky beyond, with perhaps a
few floating white clouds and soaring white gulls in the void to add to
the sense of height and vastness.

There is no question that the best days in the six months from October
to March, which are more or less charged with gloom in these northern
realms, are those rare days when the sky is clear, the wind still, and
the sun floods the world with light and heat. Such days are apt to be
warmer here than in other parts; even the adder, hibernating in his deep
dark den beneath the rocks, is stirred by the heavenly influence, and
crawls forth on a midwinter day to lie basking in the delicious beams.
And the entire visible world, sea and land, is a glittering serpent, its
discontent now forgotten, slumbering peacefully, albeit with wide-open
eyes, in the face of the sun.

Here, in such weather, the futility of all our efforts, whether with
pen or pencil, to convey the picture to another has forced itself on
me. Some of the details in a description are visualised and remain, but
refuse to arrange themselves in their proper place and order, and the
result is a mere confusion. I can but go down to a distance of a mile or
two from the hills and, turning my back to the sea, look at the prospect
before me, and omitting all the small details speak only of its shape
and colour. On the right hand and on the left it stretches away to the
horizon, and it rises before me up to the rock-crowned peaks and ridges
of the hills, the slopes and the moor below splashed and variegated
with dead heath-brown, darkest green, and dull red, the hues of heather,
furze and dead bracken; and everywhere among the harsh, rough, almost
verdureless vegetation appear the granite boulders and masses of rock
cropping out of the earth. A scene that enchants with its wildness and
desolation; also, on wet days and when the air is charged with moisture,
with its novel and strikingly beautiful colour.

The colour of bracken, living or dead--of a plant so universal and
abundant--is familiar to everybody, yet I would like now to dwell
at some length on its winter colour because it is a strange thing in
itself--one of the most beautiful hues in nature which appears in a
dead and faded vegetation after the beech-like brilliant autumn tints of
russet, gold and copper-red have vanished, and glows and lives again
as it were, and fades and vanishes only to return again and yet again,
right on to the time when the deep undying roots shall thrust up new
stems to uncurl at their tips, spreading out green fresh fronds to cover
and conceal that mystery, even as we cover our dead, beautiful in death,
with earth and with green and flowering plant. This phenomenon is common
enough, but in no place known to me is the landscape so deeply and so
constantly coloured by dead bracken as on these slopes, on account
of the great abundance of the plant and the excessive moisture in the
atmosphere.

In other parts of the county where trees grow a curious effect of the
excessive humidity is seen in some woods, especially in deep valleys
and coombes sheltered from the winds, in which the mists remain longest.
Here you will find the trees thickly clothed from the roots to the
highest terminal twigs with long coarse grey lichen like that which
grows so abundantly on the granite boulders on the slopes and the rocks
on the headlands. The trees are leafless but not naked in winter and
look as if covered with a grey foliage, or grey with a faint tinge of
green. The effect is not only singular; in walking through such a wood
under the grey canopy of branches, and when you come out into an open
glade and see the trees in multitudes extending far beyond and all
clothed in the same dim mysterious unearthly colour, you are apt to
have the fancy that you are in a ghostly wood and are, perhaps, a ghost
yourself.

Another singular and magnificent effect of dead bracken where it
flourishes greatly among furze bushes can be best seen among the hills.

The first time I particularly noticed this effect was in April near
Boldre, in the New Forest, a good many years ago. There was a patch of
furze about three acres in extent, where the big rounded bushes grew so
close as to touch one another and appeared to occupy the ground to the
exclusion of all other plant life; yet it could be seen that bracken had
also flourished there during the previous summer, growing tall among the
bushes; for now the old dead and withered fronds were everywhere visible
lying against or mixed with the dark massy spiky branchlets of
the furze. Only it was so shrivelled and pale in colour, or rather
colourless, amid the mound-like masses of the dark living green as
almost to escape the sight. The mind at all events took no account of
those thin and bleached lace-like rags of dead vegetable matter.

One day I walked in this place when it was raining, and after rain had
been steadily falling for several hours; but the grey sky was now full
of light and the wet grass and foliage had a silvery brightness that was
full of promise of fair weather. The rain-soaked dead bracken had now
opened and spread out its shrivelled and curled-up fronds and changed
its colour from ashen grey and the pallid neutral tints of old dead
grass to a beautiful, deep rich mineral red. It astonished me to
think that I had never observed the effect before--this marvellous
transformation of the sere and almost invisible lace rags to these rich
red fabrics of curious design spread upon the monotonous dark green
bushes like deepest red cornelian or reddest serpentine on malachite.

This peculiar beauty and richness of hue is seen in its perfection only
while the rain is falling and the streaming water is glistening on the
surface of the leaf, but is best when the rain is nearly over and the
clouds are full of light. No sooner does the rain cease than the rich
glistening red begins to grow dull and fades as the wet dries. In a
little while, in a drying sun and wind, the red hue quite vanishes and
the fern is again the old faded rag it was before.

In this part of West Cornwall there was more furze and bracken together
than I had ever seen, where both plants grow in the greatest luxuriance,
unmixed with other tree and bush vegetation, and with nothing among it
but the grey lichened rocks which served to intensify the effect of the
intermingled sombre green and glistening rich red. Nor had I long to
wait for the falling drops which brought the loveliness into existence,
seeing that it rains on most days, and when it was mild and the wind not
too strong the rainy day was nearly as good as the rare golden day of
clear skies and genial sunshine.

On one occasion when I was out in the hills feasting my sight on the
beautiful strange aspect of things, when the rain was so heavy and
continuous that it soaked through my waterproof and wetted me, I was
surprised to find a lady artist at work under a big umbrella. She was
one of a colony of forty or fifty artists in the small town close by,
but the first one I had seen out in that wild place in wet weather. Her
subject was a small, rather squalid-looking farm-house on the further
side of a narrow green field--one which could have been better painted
on a fine day. I was told that the artists of this one colony alone turn
out about a thousand landscapes a year, and I wondered if any one
had ever attempted to paint that wonderful sight just at their
threshold--the dead bracken among the furze with the silvery-grey rain
on it.

On the higher slopes where the furze is less abundant the bracken
predominates, covering large areas with its red tapestry, and on most
days throughout the winter it keeps its deep strong colour, owing to the
excessive amount of moisture in the air. It disappears only when the new
fern springs and spreads a wave of monotonous green over the rough
land and well-nigh obliterates all other plant life. Only at very long
intervals there is another winter aspect of the hills and moors, when
they are whitened with a heavy fall of snow. "About every ten years,"
people say; but although the weather was exceptionally cold in December,
1906, I had no hope of witnessing that change, and going away to spend
my Christmas elsewhere missed the very thing I wanted to see. It was not
so much the sight of the hills in their ghostly white I desired as the
accompanying phenomenon of the vast multitude of birds flying from the
fury of winter; for whenever a wave of cold, with snow, comes over the
southern half of England, the birds, wintering in myriads all over that
part of the country, are driven further west, and finally concentrate on
the Cornish peninsula and stream down to the very end of the land.

No sooner had I gone away than the bitterly cold weather with snow and
sleet, which prevailed over a great part of the country at Christmas,
swept over the southern and western counties and drove the birds before
it. The first news I had of it was in a letter, dated December 30, from
a naturalist friend, Mr. G. A. B. Dewar, who was staying on the towans,
overlooking St. Ives Bay, close to Hayle. "I wonder," he wrote, "did
you see much of the marvellous migration scene which took place here on
Friday morning? For hours--till about midday--redwings, thrushes, larks
and fieldfares streamed across St. Ives Bay, coming from the east. There
was a great highway of birds, which must have been miles broad. We saw
them first from the window as we dressed.... Most of the birds crossed
the Bay, going towards Land's End, but thousands and tens of thousands
dropped exhausted among the sand dunes, or towans, here, and among
these I found golden plover, ring plover, sanderlings, lapwings,
etc.--altogether an extraordinary assemblage. On Saturday morning,
lasting till one o'clock p.m., the birds returned in a great highway
east again. Mingled among them were many small birds, linnets, etc. A
most wonderful pathetic scene, I assure you. I wondered if any ol the
travellers crossed the Channel, or whether they all stopped in this
extreme westerly bit of land. I did not think England had so many
fieldfares and redwings."

On my return a few days later, I found on inquiring along the coast
that large numbers of the birds had appeared at the Land's End towards
evening and settled down to roost in the furze and heath and among the
stones. At one house, I was told, numbers of thrushes and starlings
crowded on the window sills, and some of them that were stiff with cold
were taken in but were found dead in the morning. From all I could hear
the migration appears to have spent itself at this spot.

To me the "pathetic" part of it was the reception the starved fugitives
met with from the good people along the coast, especially at St. Ives
with its horn or "island" beyond the town thrust out into the sea, a
convenient resting-place for the birds after flying across the bay.
My information on the subject, which would fill some twenty pages of
a blue-book, was gathered from men and lads, mostly fishermen, who
had taken part in the massacre. Each person buys a handful of small
fish-hooks, manufactured for the purpose and sold, a dozen for a penny,
by a tradesman in the town. Ten to twenty baited hooks are fastened with
short threads to a string, two or three feet long, called a "teagle,"
and placed on a strip of ground from which the snow has been cleared. To
these strips of mould or turf the birds fly and seize the hooks, and so
blind to danger are they made by hunger that they are not deterred by
the frantic struggles of those already hooked. Many birds succeed in
freeing themselves by breaking the thread in their struggles, but always
with that bit of barbed bent wire in their mouths or stomachs, which
must eventually cause their death. In one garden where food was placed
for the birds and their hunters kept out, eleven dead and dying birds
were picked up in one day among the shrubs, all with hooks in their
gullets.

One young fisherman told me with great glee that he had found two
hooks besides his own in the mouth of a blackbird he had taken from his
teagle.

[Illustration: 0239]

This method of slaying the small birds, most common in seasons of snow
and frost, and practised without a qualm by the pious natives of all
ages from the small shiny-faced boy to the hoary-headed ancient who can
no longer take his seat in a boat--a method one would imagine which even
the most hardened Italian, hungering for the flesh of robins, tomtits
and jenny wrens, would be ashamed to follow--is not the only cruel
and brutish one practised. Bush-beating is also common in many of the
villages and hamlets along the coast and in the country generally. Even
here at this extreme end of Cornwall, a treeless district, there are
bits of hedge and sheltered spots with a dense bush growth to which
birds resort in crowds to roost, and these are the places where
bush-beating, or "bush-picking" as it is often called, is practised.
It is a favourite pastime, men and boys going out in gangs with dark
lanterns and sticks to massacre the birds. It is a primitive sort of
battue with brooms and caps and jackets for weapons, and very many
of the victims are lost in the dense thicket or in the surrounding
blackness--little bruised and broken-winged birds left to perish slowly
of cold and hunger and of their hurts.

Even more hateful than these battues and wholesale slaughter of the
starving immigrants in times of severe weather is the little daily
dribbling warfare which the boys are permitted to wage at all seasons
in many villages and hamlets against the birds. They are actually
encouraged to do it; and it is a common thing to find fathers and
mothers after a visit to their market town, giving little hooks and wire
and steel gins to their small boys. Dolls for the girls and steel gins
for the boys! Where there is a little strip of sand on the beach the gin
is set, covered with a little sand, and a few crumbs strewn on it. One
result of this practice is that many little birds after having been
caught get away with the loss of a leg or foot. Every day at St. Ives
I used to see one or more of these poor maimed creatures--sparrows,
wagtails, rock and meadow pipits, and other species--painfully hopping
on one foot or crawling with the help of their wings over the ground in
search of food. Yet the boys and men who do these things every day and
are not rebuked by their pastors and masters are, or are supposed to be,
the spiritual children and descendants of John Wesley, who converted and
made them what they are, the most religious people in Britain! Wesley,
the most compassionate of men, who not only loved all creatures but
actually believed that they too, like men, were destined to know a
future life!

"One most excellent end may undoubtedly be answered by the present
considerations," he said in concluding a sermon on this subject. "They
may encourage us to imitate Him whose mercy is over all His works. They
may soften our hearts towards the meaner creatures, knowing that the
Lord careth for all."

I think if he could revisit the scene of his greatest triumph of over a
century and a half ago; if he could stand, perched like a cormorant, on
the rocky headland above the town on a misty Sunday morning in November
or December, and look down on the numerous chapels and the people in
their best black clothes thronging into them; if he could listen to
their eager conversation as they went and know that they were greatly
concerned about the precise differences between Methodist and Primitive
Methodist, between Wesleyans, Bible Christians and the New Connexion,
with other minute variations in form and shades of colouring; and if he
then, casting his eyes down to where at the foot of the rock a faint,
sharp, sorrowful little note is heard at frequent intervals, he should
catch sight of a maimed rock-pipit or titlark, creeping painfully about
the beach with the aid of its wings in search of small morsels of food
among the shingle and sea-wrack, his soul would be filled with exceeding
bitterness. "They do not know, they never knew, me!" I think he would
turn away from a people who call themselves by his name but are not his
followers in that which was best in his teaching--not in that divine
spirit of love and tenderness which was in Jesus of Nazareth, in St.
Francis of Assisi, and in all men whose memories are sacred in the
earth. I think he would pass away in the sea mist with a mournful cry
which would perhaps be audible to the chapel-goers; and they would
wonder at it and ask each other what this strange fowl could be that
uttered a cry as of a soul in pain.

It is something to be able to say that not all of the inhabitants are
indifferent to these things. Even in St. Ives, where bird-killing is
most popular and a wholesale slaughter of the spent and hungry fugitives
intoxicates with joy like a big catch of pilchards--where, indeed,
bird-killing appears like an instinct as well as a pastime, having come
down "from ancientie," to quote a phrase of Carew--there are some who
are revolted by it. I am speaking not of visitors and English residents,
but of native Cornishmen; and a few of these have begged me "to do or
say something to put a stop to these disgusting barbarities"; and again
they have said to me, "We can do nothing--they abuse us because we
forbid them putting their traps and hooks on our ground--but _you_ can
perhaps do something."

Of these compassionate persons, of different social ranks, I will speak
particularly of only one, a very tender-hearted woman, the wife of a
working man, a huge fellow with the strength of an ox; and whenever the
winter-driven birds arrived and were slaughtered in great numbers with
circumstance of shocking cruelty, it was a consolation to her in her
distress to think that he, her life-mate, although a native of the town,
had never killed a bird in his life. There was doubtless a strain of
mercy in both of them. She told me of an uncle who had inherited a house
and garden in the town, where he had spent his life, whose habit it was
to take out a basket of food every day for the birds. For some two or
three years before his death one of his little pensioners was a robin
with a crushed or broken leg that lived in his garden, and the woman
assured me that when he was taken to be buried this bird followed the
funeral, and was seen by many of those present flitting about close
to the grave. On inquiry I found that this story was believed by many
persons in St. Ives.

I have spoken in this chapter of the little crippled birds so often seen
in this town and in some of the villages, and my belief was that these
had all been caught in gins and had got away, leaving a foot or leg
behind. But I occasionally saw a bird with a dangling leg, and could
only account for it by supposing that in such cases the leg had been
broken by a stone, the boys of the place all being greatly addicted to
stone-throwing at the birds. Later I discovered that they were birds
which had been caught in gins and liberated by their captors. At least
a dozen of the big boys who spend all their leisure time in taking birds
with gins on the sands at St. Ives assured me that they did not kill
the small birds they caught, which were not wanted to eat. They killed
starlings, blackbirds, thrushes and some other kinds, but liberated the
wagtails, titlarks, robins and a few other small species. I also
found out that when birds arrive in vast numbers in a severe frost or
snowstorm and are caught with small baited hooks many of the smaller
birds after the hook has been taken from the mouth or gullet are allowed
to fly away. One man, the most enthusiastic bird-catcher with the teagle
in the place, after removing the hook from the mouth or gullet of the
bird he does not want, takes the two little mandibles between his thumbs
and forefingers and wrenches the face open, then tosses the bird up to
fly away to a little distance, soon to drop down and perish in agony.
Small birds that are not wanted, he says, will sometimes return after
being liberated and get caught again; those he liberates will trouble
him no more.

These things are perfectly well known to every one in the place, and
as this man has not been taken by his fellow-townsmen to the cliff and
stoned and his carcass thrown into the sea as food for dogfishes, but,
on the contrary, as they have friendly relations with him and sit in
the same chapel on Sundays and regard him as a respectable member of the
community, one can only suppose that nothing in the way of cruelty to
God's creatures can be hellish enough to touch the St. Ives mind.

But, as we know, there are some exceptions, and I must now go back to
the compassionate woman and to a word she dropped when she spoke to me
with tears in her eyes of these cruelties. "I'm sure," she said, "that
if some one living here, who loves the birds, would go about among the
people and talk to the men and boys and not be afraid of anything but
try to get the police and magistrates to help him, he could get these
things stopped in time, just as Mr. Ebblethwaite did about the gulls."

But who was Mr. Ebblethwaite, and what was it he did about the gulls?
I had been off and on a long time in the place and had talked about the
birds with scores of persons without ever hearing this name mentioned.
And as to the gulls, they were well enough protected by the sentiment
of the fisher-folk. But it was not always so. On inquiry I found twenty
persons to tell me all about Mr. Ebblethwaite, who had been very well
known to everybody in the town, but as he had been dead some years
nobody had remembered to tell me about him. It now came out that the
very strict protection awarded to the gulls at St. Ives dates back only
about fifteen to eighteen years. The fishermen always had a friendly
feeling for the birds, as is the case in all the fishing places on the
coast, but they did not protect them from persecution, although the
chief persecutors were their own children. People, natives and visitors,
amused themselves by shooting the gulls along the cliff and in the
harbour. Harrying the gulls was the most popular amusement of the boys;
they were throwing stones at them all day long and caught them with
baited hooks and set gins baited with fish on the sands and no person
forbade them. Then Mr. Ebblethwaite appeared on the scene. He came from
a town in the north of England, in broken health, and here he stayed a
number of years, living alone in a small house down by the waterside. He
was very fond of the gulls and fed them every day, but his example had
no effect on others, nor did his words when he went about day after day
on the beach trying to persuade people to desist from these senseless
brutalities. Finally he succeeded in getting a certain number of boys
summoned for cruelty before the magistrates, and though no convictions
followed nor could be obtained, since there was no law or by-law to help
him in such a case, he yet in this indirect way accomplished his object.
He made himself unpopular, and was jeered and looked black at and
denounced as an interfering person, especially by the women, but some of
the fishermen now began to pluck up spirit and second his efforts, and
in a little while it came to be understood that, law or no law, the
gulls must not be persecuted.

That is what Mr. Ebblethwaite did. For me it was to "say something," and
I have now said it.

Doing and saying comes to pretty much the same thing; at all events
I have on this occasion kept Ruskin's words in mind concerning the
futility of prodding and scratching at that thick insensible crust which
lies above the impressible part in men unless we come through with a
deep thrust somewhere.

The majority may hate me for having followed this counsel, but there
will be one or two here and there who will applaud my courage for having
spoken in this book of the ugly things as well as of the things which
flatter. And I will add--in no boastful spirit, Heaven knows--that what
I have written will not be forgotten to-morrow, nor next year, nor the
year after, but will be read some day, with a sense of shame, I trust,
by the children of the very men who could do something and that now, but
who refuse to listen to me and others, or listen coldly, when we plead
for the birds. I refer to the landlords, who are absent or else shut
up and inaccessible in their houses where they see nothing and hear
nothing; the local editors; the ministers of religion (God save
the mark!); and, above all, the authorities, and county and borough
councillors and magistrates. They are all very careful of their
"position" and their "reputation" and cannot afford to and dare not
denounce or interfere with these old pastimes or customs of the people,
to which they are attached and upon which they look as a right.

[Illustration: 0248]



CHAPTER XV A GREAT FROST

_A second wave of cold--Migrating goldfinches--Increase in number of
wintering birds--Beginning of the frost--At Zennor--Feeding the birds
under difficulties--A crippled robin--Crystal fruit--Prowess of a
fox--Fox and raven--The foxes' larder--Migrating ravens--Frosted window
panes--Starving birds--Starlings going to roost--Evening on Zennor
Hill--Heath fires--The windy night--Animism and personifications of
nature--The end of the frost._

|THERE was no second westward movement of birds in the winter of 1906-7,
although another and more intense spell of cold weather occurred a month
after the one described in the last chapter. It looked as if the birds
had exhausted their powers in their long disastrous flight to and from
the Land's End, or that some saving instinct had failed to come to them
on this occasion. Doubtless many thousands had perished in that journey
over a snow-covered country to the extremity of Cornwall, and we
may suppose that when the weather moderated the surviving millions
redistributed themselves over the southern counties from Somerset to
Kent; also that many birds had been continually slipping away across the
Channel. Many of our migrants, which have not a strict migration like
the swallow and cuckoo, the species which shift their quarters or of
which considerable numbers remain in this country throughout the year,
do annually come down in batches to the south and remain for a month
or so, in some cases until December, then vanish, and these no doubt
continue their journey over the sea. Thus, every autumn there is a
migration of goldfinches into Cornwall, many birds appearing in the
neighbourhood of Mount's Bay in September and remaining until November.
These goldfinches have a brighter plumage than those which winter in
England, and appear to form a body or race distinct from the earlier
migrants having their own seasons and perhaps a route of their own.

To return to the great visitation of birds in December. I am sure that
very many of these, exhausted by hunger and cold, dropped out of the
winged army at the extremity of Cornwall, and remained there until the
end of the cold season. At all events, when I returned to the scene
in January, I noticed a very great increase in the number of wintering
birds, particularly starlings, larks, song-thrushes, fieldfares and
redwings. The weather continued cold and rough, with storms of wind and
sleet and occasional flurries of snow, until January 21, when the cold
became intense, and that rare phenomenon in West Cornwall, a severe
frost, began, which lasted several days, and was said by some of the old
natives to be the greatest frost in forty years, while others affirmed
they had not experienced anything like it in their lives.

I was staying at Zennor at the time--that lonely little village nestling
among its furze thickets and stone hedges, with the rough granite hills,
clothed in brown dead bracken, before it and the black granite cliffs
and sea behind. I had been amusing myself by feeding a few birds that
came to the door, and now my small company of pensioners, suddenly grown
tame, began to interest me very much. There was no garden to the house,
which was situated in the centre of the village, with the church on one
side and the inn on the other--nothing but the road, broadening out into
a wide bare space on which my window looked, with a stone hedge and a
fountain of gushing water on the other side, where the people dipped
their buckets and the animals came to drink. Here the cows came on their
way to and from the farm, and the pigs and dogs and a flock of geese;
and as some of these animals were always about, they very naturally
helped themselves to the bread they found in the public road.
Fortunately the ground-floor window had a raised stone platform before
it, surrounded by iron railings, and I started putting out the food for
the birds in this area. The cows and pigs could not get in there, but
some of the most intelligent of the village dogs managed to get a share
by thrusting their paws far in and dragging the scraps out, and the
geese would follow suit, putting their long necks between the rails. The
birds, however, fared better than before; thrushes, blackbirds, robins,
dunnocks, pied wagtails, meadow pipits and one grey wagtail were the
usual feeders; the daws, too, would occasionally pluck up courage enough
to drop down between the railings and snatch up something.

[Illustration:0251]

One of my guests was a robin of exceptionally small size with a withered
leg. This bird was first brought to me one evening by some of the
children, who had caught it in the schoolroom, and thought I would
be able to do something for it. A more pitiable object could not
be imagined; it was nothing but a little feathered skeleton; the
"comfortable little red waistcoat with legs to it" was now a sharp keel,
but behind the bone one could feel the little muscular heart working
away violently. One leg was crushed above the knee and was now dead
and dried, the closed claws hardened into a ball. I assured them that
nothing could be done to save it, that the most merciful thing we could
do would be to let it fly away into the bushes, where it would quickly
fall asleep and die without pain in the intense cold. I opened my
hand and it darted away into the black bitter night, but great was
my surprise next morning, when looking at the company gathered at the
window, to find the wasted little cripple among them, eagerly picking up
crumbs! I was foolishly pleased to see it there; nevertheless it was
a pity that it had survived the night and in the end lived through the
frost, seeing that a hopelessly injured and maimed bird is, like the
caged bird, incapable of its proper life, and to any one who can feel
for a bird is better dead.

The second day of the frost made a wonderful difference in the
appearance of the birds out in the fields, especially the starlings.
These had now lost all energy and were seen everywhere moving languidly
about over the pale frosty turf in a hopeless search for a soft place,
while others were found gathered at some spot sheltered by a stone hedge
from the bitter north-east wind, standing crowded together in listless
attitudes, with drooping wings. By degrees the fieldfares and redwings
disappeared. The song-thrushes which, next to the starlings, were
the most numerous, appeared to fare better than the other soft-billed
species, owing to the abundance of snails in the stone hedges. It was
a mystery to me how with nothing but those poor beaks they were able to
get them out. Snails were exceedingly plentiful in the crevices between
the stones, many of them easily got at, but so tightly were they glued
and frozen to the stone that I could not pull them off with my fingers.
They were like limpets on a rock, yet it was plain to see that
the thrushes did get a good many out and so saved themselves from
starvation. Their anvils were everywhere near the walls, each with its
litter of broken shells about it. The hibernating snails were not only
found in the stone hedges; they were also extraordinarily abundant
among the sandhills or towans at Lelant and Phillack on the coast near
St. Ives. They were hidden in the sand at the roots of the coarse marram
grass growing on the hills. Here the thrushes had less difficulty in
getting them out, and every stone lying in the sand was made use of. It
amused me to find that the favourite anvil at one spot was a soda-water
bottle which had been stuck deep in the soft sand, leaving the round end
about two inches above the ground. Its form and the faint bluish tinge
in the clear thick glass gave it the exact appearance of a round lump of
ice, but the thrushes had discovered that it was not ice but something
as hard as stone, and being immovable, better suited to their purpose
than the pebbles and small fragments of stone lying about on the
sand. All round the useful bottle the ground was thickly strewn with
many-coloured broken snail-shells.

The soda-water bottle reminds me of the appearance of a singular and
beautiful form of icicle which became common on the water-courses on the
second and third days of the frost. I saw it chiefly on a stream near
Zennor that gushes and tumbles over the rocks on its way to the sea and
is in great part almost covered with a dense growth of dwarf blackthorn,
bramble and furze bushes. Where the water pouring over the boulders
splashes the overhanging branches the constant drops running down the
pendent twigs grew into globular or oval crystals; these were mostly
about the size as well as shape of ducks' eggs, pure as the purest
glass, and had the appearance of a wonderful crystal fruit hanging from
stems on the dark purple-red sloe bushes.

I greatly liked to follow this same stream in its swift downward course,
as it ran through the roughest bit of ground in all this roughest spot
in West Cornwall, and where it finished its course, rushing down through
a cleft into the sea, the sloping shore was abundantly strewn with
masses of granite lying everywhere among the furze thicket, a spot
where adders and lizards (the longcripple, as called here) are common
in summer and a favourite refuge and dwelling-place of the fox. A
fox belonging to this spot distinguished himself at one of the small
neighbouring farms at the beginning of the cold spell. There were
two small farm-houses very little bigger than cottages together, with
nothing but a cart-road to divide them, and each one had its hen-house
close by. The fox came, and the door not being properly fastened got
in and succeeded in carrying away eight fowls besides injuring several
more, without disturbing either the inmates of the house or the dogs.
A few nights later he came again and finding the door locked turned his
attention to the second hen-house. It was built of stone and the door
was securely fastened, but it had a thatched roof, and getting on it he
gnawed a hole big enough to let himself in. The fowls screamed, the
dogs barked, and the farmer, roused from slumber, jumped out of bed and
seizing his gun rushed out. Just as he got up to the hen-house he saw
the fox pop up out of the hole in the thatch, leap down and vanish into
the black night. Twelve fowls were found dead or dying of their bites as
the result of this attempt which was not a complete success.

The poor man was very much cast down at his loss when I saw him next
day. "I've been feeding them all the winter," he said, "and they never
laid an egg until now, and now just when they begin to lay the fox comes
and kills them! If I go to the gentleman of the hunt he perhaps gives me
a shilling a head at the outside, and perhaps nothing at all. He'll say,
We're very sorry for you, but we can't do anything for you because the
money isn't enough and you should take better care of your fowls." He
went on in this mournful strain for about half an hour and said that
what made it seem worse to him was the fact that the foxes had bred
during the summer in the rocks quite near the farm, down by the sea, and
he never disturbed them--never had a thought against them! I agreed that
it was very hard lines and all the rest, but secretly my sympathies were
with the fox rather than with him and his fowls.

It was certainly an almost incredibly audacious act on the part of
the fox, seeing that in letting himself down through the hole he had
made--"hardly big enough for a cat" the farmer said--he had put himself
in a trap; yet in spite of the joyful excitement of killing and of the
screaming and the fluttering of the birds he became aware of the danger
he was in and made good his escape. His mouth must have watered for many
a day at the recollection of the fowls he had killed and left behind,
and in the following month he actually came again one dark night and
made a hole as before in the roof and then smelling danger made off.

The day after the second raid I was down among the rocks and bushes
by the sea, half a mile from the farm, when I heard the repeated angry
croak of a raven not far away. He was perched on a rock on the further
side of a gully a couple of hundred yards from me, and getting my
binocular on to him I was surprised at his excited appearance as I
could see nothing to account for such a state. Presently he rose up to
a height of about a hundred yards in the air, then turning and letting
himself go he came down like a raven gone mad, violently doubling about
this way and that in his descent until, nearing the ground, he struck
savagely at a fox which I now perceived for the first time. A big
gaunt-looking dog-fox standing motionless on a large rock rising about
three feet above the surface. Just as the raven made the last sudden
twist in his flight and delivered his blow the fox dropped flat down on
the stone as if he had dropped dead, then, as the raven rose, he got
up and stood again, motionless as before. Again and again the raven
repeated the mad swoop, eight or nine swoops following in quick
succession, and on every occasion the fox threw himself down just as the
blow was struck, but invariably keeping his face towards the assailant
with his mouth wide open and all his dangerous teeth displayed. Then the
raven gave it up; he could not drive the fox from the big flat-topped
rock on which he had placed himself apparently to defy the bird, and he
knew, I imagined, that he was playing an exceedingly dangerous game.
The extraordinary manner in which he twisted about in descending was
evidently meant to intimidate and confuse his enemy and enable him to
deliver his blow in an unexpected place, but there was danger in this
method, seeing that the least miscalculation or the slightest accident
would have placed him at the mercy of the savage beast hungry to get his
sharp teeth into his hated black carcass.

The bird rose high up with a sullen croak and flew away out of sight,
and only then the fox quitted his post. He did not see me among the
rocks on my side of the gully, although I was able to keep my glass on
him all the time. He came at a quiet trot straight towards me, springing
lightly from stone to stone and only dropping down to the rough frozen
ground when there was no other way. After travelling about a hundred
yards in this way he turned aside at right angles and went a distance of
about forty yards straight to a spot where a mass of heather grew in the
cleft of a rock. Thrusting his head and half his body into the heather
he began digging and presently pulled out something which he had
concealed there and which he now proceeded to devour, holding it down
with his paws. Having eaten it he sat down and licked his chops, then
picked up the crumbs so to speak and sat down and licked his chops once
more. Evidently the meat had not satisfied his hunger, for by and by he
thrust himself into the clump and began digging again, but there was no
more, and coming out he sat up again and with head inclining downwards
remained for some moments in a dejected attitude, revolving things in
his mind perhaps, and then, perhaps all at once remembering that he had
another little hoard somewhere else, he started up and went off in a new
direction with the same quiet trot as before, jumping lightly from stone
to stone, and was soon lost to sight.

The raven I have spoken of was one of four that haunted this part of
the coast, where they were very much hated by a pair of kestrels. One
evening just before sunset I had a great surprise--when standing in a
field half a mile from the sea talking to a farmer a flock of thirty-two
ravens flew over our heads. It was impossible to make a mistake in this
case, as the birds were flying quietly and low, passing directly over
us at a height of scarcely forty yards. Undoubtedly they were strangers
from a great distance, perhaps from the northern extremity of Scotland,
and were making a tour round the whole island, but I had never heard of
a migration of ravens into Cornwall in winter.

The two coldest days during the frost were the one on which I watched
the fox and the day following. In the morning I had found the large
window panes of my sitting-room thickly coated with a beautiful frost
pattern, but the sky was clear and with the sun shining on the window
and a big fire in the grate I thought it would soon be gone. It
continued all day, although the fire never went out! The birds were now
in desperate case: it appeared as if they had given up searching for
food in despair, and were now idly waiting for a change or for the end,
hunched up in any shelter they could find from the deadly north-east
wind. The very daws were silent now, and dropped their wings like the
others, as if they had not energy enough to fold them over their backs.
Even the wren, that most vigorous little creature, the very type and
embodiment of cheerfulness, had now too fallen into the universal
misery, and came out of hiding languidly if it came at all, its feathers
fluffed out and not a ghost of its sharp angry little voice to scold you
with.

Towards evening on the second of the two worst days I went out to Zennor
Hill to see the sun set from the top and watch the big furze and heath
fires which were burning far and wide on the moor. On the slope of the
hill I found a number of small companies of starlings, huddled together
as usual by a hedge-side, making no attempt to feed, there being nothing
to be got from the iron earth; and as the sun declined they began to
rise and fly away southwards to their roosting-place--a spot three or
four miles inland, where a depression in the moor is covered with a
dense growth of old furze mixed with blackthorn and brambles. Their
miserable day was ended and numbers of small flocks of from a dozen to
forty or fifty birds could now be seen against the sky, all directing
their flight to the same point. It was a strangely slow and laborious
flight, and many of the birds were going for the last time to their
roost. From the summit where I tried to shelter myself from the fury
of the wind among the large black masses of granite, the scene I looked
upon was exceedingly desolate. The brown moor stretched away inland,
lonely and dark, to the horizon. There was on all that expanse but one
small object to arrest the sight--a frozen pool a couple of miles away
which gleamed like grey glass in the level beams. Many heath fires were
burning, one not above a mile from the hill and near enough for one to
see the yellow flames running before the wind and leaping a dozen to
twenty yards high. The sun seen through the vast clouds of dun smoke had
the appearance of a globe of fiery red copper. After it had gone down
and the earth began to darken the smoke took an intense orange colour
from the flames, which seen against the pale blue sky gave a dreadful
magnificence to the scene.

With this picture in my mind I went down the hill, chilled to the
marrow, thinking of the birds asleep and occasionally disturbing one as
I stumbled over the stones in the dark and picked my way among the black
furze bushes. Indoors it was very comfortable, sitting by the fire, with
the lighted lamp on the table and a book waiting to be read; then supper
and a pipe, but through it all that strange and desolate aspect of
nature remained persistently before my inner sight. I went to bed and
lay soft and warm, covered with many blankets, but did not sleep; the
wind increased in violence as the hours went on, making its doleful
wailing and shrieking noises all round the house and causing the doors
and windows to rattle in their frames. In spirit I was in it, out on
the hillside where the birds were in their secret hiding-places, in the
black furze and heath, in holes and crevices in the hedges, their little
hearts beating more languidly each hour, their eyes glazing, until stiff
and dead they dropped from their perches. And I was on the summit of
the hill among the rude granite castles and sacred places of men who had
their day on this earth thousands and thousands of years ago. Here
there are great blocks and slabs of granite which have been artificially
hollowed into basins--for what purpose, who shall say? The rain falls
and fills them to the brim with crystal-clear water, and in summer the
birds drink and bathe in these basins. But they were doubtless made for
another, possibly for some dreadful, purpose. Perhaps they were filled
from time to time with the blood of captive men sacrificed on the
hill-top to some awful god of the ancient days. Now it seemed to me,
out there in spirit on the hill, that the darkest imaginings of men--the
blackest phantom or image of himself which he has sacrificed to--was
not so dark as this dreadful unintelligible and unintelligent power that
made us, in which we live and move and have our being.

It was this terrible aspect of nature, as I had seen it on that evening,
which was uppermost in the mind of the race at an earlier stage of
culture before man's cunning brain had found out so many inventions and
created new and pleasant conditions for his own species. When animistic
promptings survive in him he is now apt to personify nature in its
milder beneficent aspects. Such personifications, fanciful and religious
at the same time, are common in our imaginative writers, especially
in the poets, but, when lying awake that night, I tried to recall the
passages I had read just to contrast the brighter picture with that dark
one in my mind, I could only remember one, in a prose writer, and it was
this:--

"Nature is now at her evening prayers, kneeling before the red hills.
On the steps of her great altar she is praying for a fair night for
mariners at sea, for travellers in lonely deserts, for lambs on moors
and for unfledged little birds in their nests. She appears to me as
a Titanic woman, her robe of blue air spread to the outskirts of the
heath; a veil white as an avalanche extends from her head to her feet
with arabesques of lightning flame on its borders. Under her breasts is
seen her purple zone, and through its blush shines the evening star. Her
eyes are clear and deep as lakes, and are lifted and full of worship and
tremble with the softness of love and the lustre of prayer."

Very curiously in this the only poetic passage I could recall the
author's religion has mixed itself with the sense of a living and
intelligent principle in nature--that which at times makes nature seem a
person to us. The person may be interested in or indifferent to us, but
is all-knowing and all-powerful and cannot be an intercessor. There is
no doubt that this sense or feeling in us, when strong, is disturbing
to the religious mind, producing as it does the notion of a something
unknown and uncanny (probably the devil) in nature--something which is
ever trying in all solitary places to seduce the soul from a jealous
and watchful God. It was, I think, a religious poet and an American who
wrote of the "dreadful wilderness of mind"--I read it when a boy:

                   There is a wilderness more dark

                   Than groves of fir on Huron's shore.

Many of us have just such visions of the person that nature is on
occasions to us: a woman-Titan, a beautiful female, the mother of
men and of all life, all breathing sentient things, and of grass
and flowers; a being in whom all beauty in the visible world and all
sweetness and love and compassion in a mother's heart and in all hearts
are concentrated and intensified. But it is a personification of a
reclaimed and softened nature and of the soft conditions of life in
which we are nursed. My vision of nature as a person that night had no
softness or beauty in it and was not woman. Standing on the hills I saw
him coming up from the illimitable moaning sea, riding on the blast as
on a chariot, and he was himself wind and cloud and sea and land.
He towered above the granite hills, blotting out the stars with his
streaming hair which covered the heavens like a cloud. I saw his face,
dark as granite, as he rose up before me and passed over the stony
desolate hills, and his eyes gazing straight before him were like two
immense round shields of grey ice and had no speculation in them.
This indeed was to my mind the most dreadful thing, that this being,
all-powerful and everlasting, creator and slayer of all things that
live, of all beauty and sweetness and compassion, was himself without
knowledge or thought or emotion, and that that which he had made and
would unmake was without significance to him.

If there be nothing but this mechanical world, and if the pure
materialist even in spite of his materialism should invent for himself
or imagine a god, it would be such a one as I beheld on that windy
night.

So passed the miserable darkling hours, "as I lay a-thynkinge," and saw
no hope until I slept, and when I woke and the grey morning was come,
the wind had fallen and the cold was not so intense.

The frost continued that day and the next, and although very cold with
occasional storms of sleet and snow, it was getting milder all the time.
The change was so gradual one could hardly feel it, but it had a great
effect on the birds; they were recovering very rapidly, and on the
morning of the 27th, when the ground had once more grown soft except in
shady places, my birds did not turn up at feeding-time in the morning:
they were back in the fields getting their natural food, which no doubt
tasted best after their long abstinence. It was a pleasure to go out
again to see the thrush standing up stiff and alert on the green turf
in the old way, and the speckled starlings scattered about and once more
busily prodding the turf. The daws rose up with the old insolent ring in
their clamouring voices, and the wren was himself again, briskly hopping
out of his hiding-place in the stones for a moment or two just to fling
that sharp little note of indignation at you for disturbing him--"Go
away--mind your own business!"

The mortality had undoubtedly been very great, but a majority of the
birds died in the night-time, dropping from their perches in the close
bushes and dying in holes in the hedges, where their bodies remained
hidden. But they had died in the daytime too, and I found their remains
all about the fields, mostly starlings, but dead redwings and thrushes
were also plentiful.

[Illustration: 0268]



CHAPTER XVI A NATIVE NATURALIST

_The towans or sandhills--Their destructive progress over the
land--Sea rush introduced--The ferry at Lelant--Among the towans--The
meadow-pipit--The ferryman--Knowledge of wild life in country boys and
men--Countryman and chaffinch--The native naturalist--A strange story of
a badger--Great black-backed gull and young guillemot--Sparrow-hawk and
curlew--Fight between a seal and a conger--Story of a young seal--An
osprey--A great northern diver--The killing passion in sportsmen--Story
of a meadow-pipit--The seal colony threatened._

|THE Towans, as the sandhills or dunes on the north-east side of St.
Ives Bay are called--that barren place mentioned in the last chapter
where a horde of fugitive thrushes found snails enough to save them
from starving--is a curiously attractive bit of country. It is plainly
visible from St. Ives, looking east over the water--a stretch of yellow
sands where the Hayle River empties itself in the Bay, and, behind it,
a grey-green desert of hummocky or hilly earth, where the hills are like
huge broken waves in "fluctuation fixed." And in a sense they are waves,
formed of sand which the ocean brings out of its depths and exposes at
low water, to be swept up by the everlasting winds and heaped in hills
along the sea-front; and no sooner are the hills built than the wind
unbuilds them again, carrying the yellow dust further inland to build
other hills and yet others, burying the green farm-lands and houses and
entire villages in their desolating progress. This, they say, was the
state of things no longer ago than the eighteenth century, when some
wise person discovered or remembered that Nature herself has a remedy
for this evil, a means of staying the wind-blown sands in their march.
The common sea rush, Psomma arenaria, the long coarse grass which grows
on the sand by the sea, was introduced--the roots or seed, I do not
know which; and it grew and spread, and in a little while took complete
possession of all that desolate strip of land, clothing the deep hollows
and wave-like hills to their summits with its pale, sere-looking,
grey-green tussocks. As you walk there, when the wind blows from the
sea, the fine, dry, invisible particles rain on your face and sting your
eyes; but all this travelling sand comes from the beach and can do
no harm, for where it falls it must lie and serve as food for the
conquering sea rush. If you examine the earth you will find it bound
down with a matting of tough roots and rootlets, and that in the spaces
between the tussocks the decaying rush has formed a thin mould and is
covered with mosses and lichens, and in many places with a turf as on
the chalk downs.

The Towans occupy the ground on both sides of the estuary. On the south
side is the ancient village of Lelant, once threatened with destruction
by the shifting sands; now the square old church tower, as you approach
it from St. Ives, is seen standing bravely above the rush-grown hills
and hummocks made harmless for ever. On the north side of the estuary
is Hayle, a small decayed town, and the ancient village and church of
Phillack, and behind the village to the sea and on either hand miles
upon miles of towans. There is a ferry at Lelant, and the ferryman has
his little ramshackle hut at the foot of a sandhill, a little below the
church, and here I often came to be rowed over to the other side, where
it was wilder and more solitary. There I could spend hours at a stretch
without seeing a human being or hearing any sound of human life. From
the top of a high towan I could get a fine view of the Bay, with St.
Ives' little town and rocky island on the further side; while looking
along the coastline on the right hand, the white tower of Godrevy
Lighthouse on its rock was seen at the end of the Bay, and beyond it the
blue Atlantic. Coming down from my look-out all the wide exhilarating
prospect would vanish--ocean and Bay and distant town, with cliffs and
hills--and I would be in another world, walking on the soft sand and
moss in hollow places among the tall sere rushes with their old bleached
seed spikes. "They have no song the sedges dry," sings the poet, but in
his heart, he adds, they touched a string and for him they had a song.
So it was with these dry rushes; they touched a string in me, and that
low, rustling, sibilant sound, and mysterious whispering which the wind
made in them, was to me a song. There was not even a bird voice to break
the silence, except when I disturbed a meadow-pipit and it rose and flew
to this side and that in its usual uncertain way, uttering its sharp,
thin, melancholy note of alarm--a sound which serves to intensify the
feeling of wildness and to give an expression to earth in lonely desert
places.

In my visits to the Towans I had a double motive and pleasure: one in
communing with nature in that "empty and solitary place," the other in
talking with the ferryman who took me to and fro across the river:
he was a native of the place, a pure Cornishman in appearance and
disposition, and a naturalist. I do not say a "born naturalist"
because I fancy we are most of us that, and yet the countryman who is a
naturalist is a rarity. As a rule, what he knows about nature and wild
life is the little that survives in his memory of all he learnt in his
boyhood. He learns a good deal then, when the mind is fresh, the senses
keen and the ancient hunting and exploring instincts most active.
In woods and wilds the naked savage ran, and the civilised boy still
preserves the old tradition, and as he runs he picks up a good deal of
knowledge which will be of no use to him. If he is a country boy of
the labouring class he no sooner arrives at an age to leave school and
idling and do something for a living than the change begins--a change
which is like a metamorphosis. However small a part he is called on to
fill, though he be but a carter's boy, it serves to open a new prospect
to his mind, and to give him a new and absorbing interest in life. His
work is the most important thing in the world: he ponders on it, and on
the money it brings him; on the tremendous question of food and clothing
and shelter; and by and by on love and marriage and children to follow;
on the struggle to live and the great difference that a shilling or two
more or less per week will be to him. One effect of all this is to make
the interests and occupations of his early years appear trivial; his
days with wild nature were all idle and useless and the knowledge of
animal life he acquired of as little consequence as that of the old
boyish games. The country youth would perhaps be astonished if he could
be conscious of the change going on in him, or if some one were to tell
him that the mental images of things seen and heard in nature will soon
grow dim and eventually fade out of his mind. It is really surprising
to find how far this dimming and obliterating process will go; for here
(let us say) is a man whose whole life is passed amidst the same rural
scenes, who has seen and heard the same bird forms and sounds from
infancy, who knew them all as intimately as he knew his mother's face
and voice in his early years, and yet he has ceased to know them! All
because he has not renewed or refreshed the early images; because his
mind has been occupied with other things exclusively, and his faculty of
observation, with regard to nature at all events, has practically ceased
to exist.

An amusing instance of this state of mind occurs to me here. I was
staying in a small rustic village in the cottage of one of the most
interesting men I have met. He was a working man, better educated than
most of his class, and at the age of sixty-five had saved enough to buy
a plot of ground and build himself a little house with his own hands in
which to spend the remnant of his life without further labour. But he
was of an active mind and an enthusiast inflamed with one great idea
and hope, which was to raise the people of his own class to a better
position and a higher life--morally and intellectually--to make them, in
fact, as sober, righteous, independent and wise as he was himself. And
as he was a man of character and courage, and gifted with a kind of
eloquence, he had come to be very widely known and greatly respected;
he had even been led to fight a hard fight in a populous borough as a
Labour candidate for Parliament. He had lost but was not in the least
soured by defeat and was still a leader of men, a sort of guide,
philosopher and friend to very many of his own class, especially in
matters political. Finally, he was a man of a noble presence, large and
powerfully built, with a genial open countenance and a magnificent white
beard--a sort of Walt Whitman both in appearance and temper of mind, his
love of humanity, his tolerance and above all his unshakable faith in a
glorious democracy.

All this about my leader of working men has nothing to do with the
subject under discussion, but I could not resist the temptation of
giving a portrait of the man.

One bright spring day I was with him, pacing his garden walk, discussing
a variety of important matters relating to man's spiritual nature, and
so forth, when by and by we drifted into other themes--wild nature, and
then wild bird life. "There is," he said, "one curious thing about birds
in which they differ from other creatures and which makes them a little
more puzzling to a man with just the ordinary knowledge of nature. They
have wings to carry them about and they roam from place to place so
that at any moment a man may be confronted with a bird of a perfectly
unfamiliar appearance. Or he may hear a cry or song which he has never
heard before, and in such a case he can only say that the bird must be
a stranger in that locality--a wanderer from some distant place. But one
would always like to know what the bird is; it adds to the interest, and
I have very often wished when seeing or hearing some such strange bird
that some one like yourself, with an intimate knowledge of all the
species in our country, had been with me to satisfy my curiosity."

Just as he was finishing a chaffinch flew down and vanished into the
dense foliage of a young horse-chestnut tree growing a dozen yards from
where we stood, and no sooner had it come down than it burst out in its
familiar loud ringing lyric.

He started round and held up his hand. "There!" he exclaimed when the
bird ended his song. "A case in point! Now can you tell me what bird was
that?"

"A chaffinch," I said.

He looked sharply, almost resentfully, at me, thinking it a poor joke
on my part, and when I smiled at his expression he was more put out than
ever. But I could not help admiring him as he stood there staring into
my face. He had put down his spade when our talk began; his coat
was off, his cloudy old brown waistcoat unbuttoned, his blue cotton
shirt-sleeves rolled up to the elbows, his hands and arms smeared with
dried clay--a grand figure of a man with the white beard mixed with a
little red falling to his waist, his grey old shapeless felt hat thrust
back on his head and his long hair down to his shoulders.

He assured me with dignity that if there was a bird he was familiar with
it was the chaffinch, that as a person born and bred in the country he
could not make a mistake about such a bird. Nevertheless, I returned,
the bird we had heard was a chaffinch, and familiar as he was with such
a bird he could not put his knowledge against mine in such a case. He
assented but still felt dissatisfied. "You will allow, I suppose," he
said, "that there are great differences in individual singers and that
some one bird may be so different from the generality as to deceive one
who is not an ornithologist as to its species."

He was right there, I said, and that consoled him, and he concluded
that this particular bird had uttered an unusual sort of song which no
person, not a trained naturalist, would have identified as that of a
chaffinch.

It was not so, but I let it pass, and he was glad to get back to other
higher subjects where he was, so to speak, on his native heath and could
be my guide.

This may appear an extreme case: I do not think so: I have conversed
about the creatures with too many rustics and country people of all
denominations to think it anything out of the common--scores and
hundreds of rustics all over the country, and if I want to hear
something fresh and interesting I go to the boy and not to his stolid
father, or hoary-headed less stolid grandfather, who have both pretty
well forgotten all they once knew.

Of course there are exceptions, especially among gamekeepers, although
in a majority of cases their observation is of that baser kind which
concerns itself solely with the things that profit. But there is also
the nobler kind of observer, the one in a thousand whose keen boyish
interest in all living things is not lost when he is called on to take
a part in the serious business of life. Ceasing to be a boy he does not
put away this boyish thing, this secret delight in nature which others
outlive. It is in him like the memory of a first love, the image of a
vanished form which endures in the mind to extreme old age and outlasts
and has a lustre beyond all others. It is this surviving feeling of the
boy which makes the native naturalist, the man with keen observant eye
and retentive memory; and however illiterate he may be, or unsocial in
disposition, or uncouth or repellent in manners, it is always a delight
to meet him, to conquer his rudeness or reserve and to listen to the
strange experiences garnered in his memory.

In the chapter on Cornish imagination something was said about the
actions of animals, even of those we are most familiar with, which
come as a great surprise, and I gave an account of one--an incident I
witnessed of a rock-pipit which, caught by a violent gust of wind just
at the moment when its wings being set for the gliding descent to earth
could not be used to resist the current, was blown away into the midst
of a band of hovering herring gulls and very nearly lost its life. One
knows that one will never witness just such an incident again, but there
will be others equally unexpected and strange for the watcher. In the
course of this book I have related a few: one of a gannet falling from
a great height like a stone into the sea just by the side of a herring
gull floating on the surface, and one of a fox, standing like a carved
figure on a big rock, savagely attacked by a raven and refusing to be
driven from its stand.

Here I cannot resist the temptation to introduce an incident of this
kind, but far more wonderful than any one I have related in this or any
other book, which was witnessed not by a naturalist but an artist, my
friend Mr. R. H. Carter, of the Land's End. He was with his friend,
the late Rev. F. C. Jackson, Rector of Stanmore, who used to take his
holidays in West Cornwall and was himself something of an artist. They
were sketching one day on the huge cliffs of Tol-Pedn-Penwith, near the
Land's End, when Mr. Carter noticed that some animal had been recently
scratching the earth at the foot of a huge pile of rocks near where he
was sitting. There was a large hollow place under the rock into which
one could see, as there was an opening on a level with the ground on one
side, and it struck him that a badger had taken refuge in this cavity,
and had been obliged to scratch a little earth away to squeeze his body
in. He called his companion's attention to it, and getting down on the
turf and lying flat so as to bring their eyes on to a level with the
floor they gazed into the cavity. They could see no animal, but the
light was dim inside, and Mr. Jackson proceeded to twist up half a
dozen wax matches into a small compact ball, which he lighted and then
carefully pushed in right to the middle of the hollow space. The burning
wax made a good light, but still they could see no creature, only at
one side, a foot or so from the light, there was a dark patch which
they could not make out; it was, they imagined, a hole in the rock which
showed black. Presently, as they gazed in, still trying to penetrate
into that dark hole with their sight, a paw was seen to emerge and move
towards the light until the whole foreleg of a badger was revealed; then
the paw scraped up a little loose soil from the floor and carefully drew
or jerked it over the burning ball of wax and put the light out.

They had both witnessed the whole action, and by and by with a long
stick or pole they succeeded in ousting the badger from his niche in the
little cave. Had they not done so the sceptical reader might have said
that what they had seen was an illusion--that they were looking for a
badger and expecting to see one and had badger on the brain so to speak;
and by and by when a slight moving shadow caused by the flickering flame
made its appearance it took the form of a badger's paw and leg in their
sight, and when the flame expired they imagined that the illusory
paw had extinguished it. I dare say that if such an incident had been
related by the Canadian, Charles Roberts, or by any of the writers of
the "new or romantic school" of natural history in America, it would be
set down by most readers as an unusually wild invention of the author.

The ferryman had no such wonderful story to tell when we compared notes,
and I intend here to relate only a few of the curious incidents he had
witnessed, and this mainly for a purpose of my own. They were mostly
little tragedies.

One summer day when he was out in his boat fishing for pollack at his
favourite ground a mile or two beyond the Godrevy Lighthouse he noticed
three guillemots near him, one old bird with its half-grown young one,
and a second young bird which accompanied the others but kept at a
little distance from them. This young guillemot had doubtless been lost
or left by its parents. There was no other bird in sight except a great
black-backed gull, flying idly about, now making a wide circle and
occasionally dropping on to the water to examine some small floating
object, then flying off again. He appeared to pay no attention to the
guillemots, nor they to him, and it therefore came as a great surprise
when all at once in passing over the three birds he dropped down upon
the second young guillemot and seized it before it had time to dive. The
captive struggled in vain, sending forth its shrill cries for help
far and wide over the still sea, while the great gull, sitting on the
surface, proceeded in a leisurely manner to despatch and then devour his
victim, tearing it to pieces with his big powerful yellow beak.

He told me of several other little tragedies of the kind which he had
witnessed with surprise, one of a curlew which at the moment of flying
past him was suddenly chased by a sparrow-hawk and pressed so hard
that it dashed down to the beach, where it was instantly grappled.
The ferryman made all haste to the spot, and the hawk flew off at his
approach, leaving the curlew dead and bleeding on the sands. He picked
it up and took it home to eat it himself. But of all these cases the one
of the great black-backed gull impressed him the most on account of the
casual way in which it came about, just as if the gull had been taken by
a sudden impulse to drop upon and slaughter the young guillemot. Such an
incident serves to show how perilous a world the wild creature exists
in and on how small a matter its safety often depends, and it also gives
the idea of an almost uncanny intelligence in the birds that live by
violence. No doubt the gull was tempted to fall on that young bird
solely because of its keeping a little apart from the other two, because
it had no parent of its own to protect it.

The rocks to the north of St. Ives Bay are an ancient haunt of the
common seal, one of the few colonies of this animal now left on the
south coast of Britain. The ferryman was one day fishing in his boat at
this point close to the mouth of that vast cavern in the rocks where the
seals have their home, when a loud king cry or roar made him jump in his
boat, and looking round he caught sight of a seal thrusting his head and
half his body out of the water with a conger about seven to eight feet
long fastened to his ear. The blood was streaming from the seal's head
and he was trying to shake his enemy off and at the same time turning
round and round in his efforts to bite the conger; but the black
serpentine body wriggled and floated out of his reach, and in a very few
moments they went down. Again and again they rose, the seal coming out
each time with the same savage cry, shaking himself and biting, the
conger still holding on with bull-dog tenacity. But on the last occasion
there was no cry and commotion; the conger had lost his hold and the
seal had him by the middle of the body in his jaws. On coming up he swam
quietly to the sloping rock close by, and half in, half out of the water
began tearing up and devouring his victim, the blood still running from
his own head.

He had another seal story which interested me even more than the last,
since the chief actor and conqueror in this instance was the nobler
animal man, the seal being: the victim.

In the early autumn of 1907 there were mighty winds on this coast, with
tremendous seas and very high tides, which made it impossible to use the
ferry; but when the weather moderated and the ferryman took to his boat
once more he came upon a young seal, which had, no doubt, taken refuge
in the Hayle estuary and was lost from its parents. The days went by
and it did not leave the river: the mother seal had not found it, and
apparently the poor young thing had no sure instinct to guide it across
St. Ives Bay to the seal caverns in the cliffs to the north of the
lighthouse, which was probably its birthplace. And probably finding
itself very lonely in the estuary, it came by and by to look on the man
in the boat, who was always there, as a sort of companion--perhaps as
a seal of curious habits, which looked a little like an adult seal, but
progressed in a somewhat different manner, keeping always to the surface
of the water and swimming with the aid of two long wing-like fins. But
it appeared to be a good-natured seal, and always regarded the orphaned
youngster with a mild and welcoming expression. First it watched the
ferryman from a little distance, then approached him every time he
appeared, then began to follow, coming nearer and nearer, and would swim
behind the boat, quite close, just as a spaniel or other water-loving
dog will swim after its master's boat.

This was a delightful experience to the ferryman, and the sight of the
dog-like creature swimming after the boat was also an entertainment to
the passengers and a cause of surprise to many. But there was nothing
remarkable in its action; the seal, like the dog, is a social creature;
it is well known that he readily grows tame towards, and even attached
to, the human beings he is accustomed to see who do not persecute him.
The old Cornish author, Borlase, refers to this character of the seal,
which he classes with his "Quadruped Reptiles," in the following quaint
passage: "Whether it is delighted with music or any land voice, or
whether it is to alleviate the toil of swimming, it shows itself almost
wholly above the water frequently, or near the shore, _ibid_. Add to
this that the great docility of the creature (little short of that of
the human species) and his being so easily trained to be familiar with
and obedient to man, may make us with some grounds conclude, that this
is the creature to which imagination has given the shape of half-fish
half-man, a shape nowhere else to be found."

The estuary attracts a good number of wild fowl, duck and shore birds,
in winter, and as a consequence is much frequented by sportsmen. One
day the ferryman took one of these gentlemen, a visitor from a distance,
across the river, and was not half-way over before the seal appeared as
usual and with its head well up swam after the boat, and gaining
quickly on it was soon not more than an oar's length from the stern.
The ferryman, looking back, was watching it, and by and by, thinking it
would be a pleasant surprise to the other, he remarked, "My baby seal
is just behind you, coming after us." The other looked around,
and instantly, before the boatman could cry out or even divine his
intention, threw up his gun and fired and the brains of the young seal
were scattered on the water. "You have killed my pet seal--the animal
I loved best," the boatman cried, and the other was surprised and
expressed regret.

He wished he had known it was a pet seal; he wouldn't have killed it,
no, not for anything, if he had only known. And why had he not been
warned? and so on, until he stepped out of the boat and went his way
with his gun.

He had not been warned because in spite of all the ferryman had seen of
sportsmen and their ways he never imagined that any one would have done
so brutal a thing or that the murderous shot would have been fired so
quickly.

He also told me about an osprey which appeared one autumn at the
estuary. It was the first bird of its species he had ever seen, and when
it first appeared, flying high in the air and hovering directly over his
hut where he kept a number of fowls and turkeys, he became alarmed for
their safety, thinking it was a kite or other large destructive hawk. By
and by the strange bird sailed away and began circling above the water,
coming lower down, then after hovering at one spot like a kestrel for
some moments he saw it drop into the water and rise with a good-sized
fish in its talons. Then he knew that the strange big hawk was the
famous osprey.

For some days it displayed its magnificent powers to all who came to the
water-side, exciting a great deal of interest; then one of the sporting
gentlemen succeeded in getting a shot at it and wounding it badly. But
it did not drop; it was watched flying laboriously away over the moor
until out of sight and was never seen again.

Another season he had a great northern diver in the river, and this bird
after a week or ten days lost its wildness and took no notice of the
ferryman, although he sometimes rowed his boat to within forty yards of
it to watch its movements when it was fishing. The sportsmen he ferried
across wanted to shoot the diver, but he prevented them. Then one
gentleman told him that he would hire a boat and go out and shoot it, in
spite of him. He said that a bird so destructive to fish should not be
allowed to live in the river. The ferryman said he would prove to him
that the diver was doing no harm, and rowing him out to where the bird
was diving at its usual feeding-ground they watched, and presently
saw it come up with a small green crab in its beak. The sportsman was
convinced that the bird was not taking fish, and gave his promise that
he would not shoot it. However, a day or two later it was shot at by one
of the sportsmen and badly wounded in the side, and from that time the
sight of it was a constant pain to him as it moved continually round and
round in a circle when attempting to swim and was hardly able to dive.
Finally he took his gun and put it out of its misery.

The young seal, the osprey, the great northern diver were but a few
of the creatures he told me of, which, when living, were a source of
delight to every one who watched them, whose lives had been wantonly
taken in the estuary by gentlemen sportsmen. Stories equally sad and
shocking were told me by other lovers of nature and observers of wild
life at other points on the coast, of how every rare and beautiful
species, every owl, buzzard, harrier, chough, hoopoe and many other
species, had been slaughtered by men who call themselves sportsmen and
gentlemen. How is one to explain such a thing--this base destructive
passion--unless it be that the gentleman, like the gamekeeper, cannot
escape the reflex effect on his mind of the gun in his hand? He too has
grown incapable of pleasure in any rare or noble or beautiful form of
life until he has it in his hands--until he has exercised his awful
power and blotted out its existence. And how hard of heart the exercise
has made him!

One afternoon at Wells-by-the-Sea I entered into conversation with a
sportsman I found sitting on a grassy slope, where he was waiting for
the wild geese which would come in by and by from feeding to roost on
the sand spit outside. He was, physically, a very fine fellow in his
prime, tall, athletic-looking, with a handsome typical English face of
that hard colour which comes of an open-air life, with the hard keen
eyes so often seen in the sportsman. Talking with him I discovered
that he was also a man of culture, a great traveller, a reader and a
collector of rare and costly books on certain subjects, especially on
the forms of sport he loved best. It was impossible for me not to admire
him as he sat there reclining idly on his rug, thrown on the green
slope, smoking his pipe, his gun lying across his knees, his big black
curly-haired retriever stretched out at his side. And at intervals, as
we talked, a little meadow-pipit, the only other living creature near
us, flitted out of the grass and, rising to a height of twenty or thirty
feet, hovered over the still water beneath, as if to get a better view
of us, to find out what we were doing there; and as it hovered before
us it emitted those sharp, sorrowful little call-notes which have such
a charm for me. And every time the small bird rose and hovered before
us the dog raised his head and watched it excitedly, then looked up into
his master's face. Then the little thing with an anxious mind would drop
back on the turf again and go on seeking its food as before, so near
to us that we could distinctly see its bright eyes and thin little
pale brown legs and all the markings and shadings of its pretty winter
plumage--the olive-browns and dull blacks, the whites and the cream
faintly tinged with buff on the striped breast.

By and by I got up and strolled away to the dunes on the sea-front, and
when I had gone about seventy or eighty yards a shot rang out behind
me. Glancing back I saw that the sportsman had also got up and was now
walking to a point among the dunes where he had planned to lie in wait
for the geese. The retriever was some distance behind, playing with
something; and then, instead of following his master, he came on to me,
and seeing that he was carrying something I stooped down and drew it
from his mouth. It was the titling--the little meadow-pipit; its anxious
little question and challenge had been answered with an idle charge of
shot when it flew up and hovered before the man with a gun.

I suppose that his motive, if he had one, was to give his dog a few
minutes' amusement in retrieving the shattered little bird from the
water and in playing with and carrying it. But if I had gone to him
and demanded to know why he had taken that happy little life, which was
sacred to me, I think his answer, if he had condescended to make one,
would have been very contemptuous--I think he would have said that he
perceived me to be a sentimentalist and that he declined to say anything
to a person of that sort.

There are not, I imagine, many men of so fine a temper of mind as to
escape this hardening effect of the gun in the hand.

In conclusion of this chapter I will go back to the subject of the
Cornish seals of that small surviving colony which has its ancestral
home in the caves outside the Bay of St. Ives. Sportsmen occasionally
shoot them just for the pleasure of the thing, but the fishermen of St.
Ives do not consider that they suffer any injury from the animals and
have consequently refrained from persecuting them. Unhappily they are
now threatened with extermination from a new quarter: the students at
the Camborne Mining School have recently found out a new and pleasant
pastime, which is to seat themselves with rifle or fowling-piece on the
cliff and watch for the appearance of a brown head above the water below
of a seal going out of or coming in to the caves and letting fly at it.
When they hit the seal it sinks and is seen no more, but the animal
is not wanted, the object is to shoot it, and this accomplished the
sportsman goes back happy and proud at his success in having murdered so
large and human-like a creature.

[Illustration: 0289]



CHAPTER XVII THE COMING OF SPRING

_Spring in winter--John Cocking--Antics and love-flights of the
shag--Herring gull mocked by a jackdaw--Migrating sea-birds--Departure
of winter visitors--Appearance of the wheatear--Resident songsters--The
frogs' carnival--A Dominican adder--Willow-wren and chiffchaff--Nesting
birds and washing-day--A merciful woman--Pied wagtails in a quarry--Boys
and robins._

|AFTER the frost described two chapters back, the change to the normal
winter temperature was so great as to make it seem like spring before
the end of January. When spring does come to England, known to all by
many welcome signs, it makes but a very slight difference in this West
Cornwall district and is hardly recognised. For more than half the year,
from October to May, it is comparatively a verdureless and flowerless
land, dark with furze and grey with rocks and heather, splashed with
brown-red of dead bracken. Not till the end of May will the bracken live
again and make the rough wilderness green, and not till July will the
dead-looking heath have its flush of purple colour. Nevertheless, from
autumn onwards the sense of spring in the earth is never long absent. It
rains and rains; sea-mists come up and blot out the sight of all things,
and the wind raves everlastingly, and, finally, there may be a spell of
frost or a fall of snow; but through it all, at very frequent intervals,
the subtle influence, the "ethereal mildness," makes itself felt. It
is as if the sweet season had never really forsaken this end of all the
land, following the receding sun, but rather as if it had retired with
the adder and the mother bumble-bee into some secret hiding-place to
sleep a little while and wake as often as the rain ceased and the wind
grew still to steal forth and give a mysterious gladness to the air. It
is felt even more by the wild creatures than by man, and I think that
John Cocking is one of the first to show it, for by mid-January he has
got himself a curly crest and a new spirit.

John Cocking is the local name of the shag, the commonest species of
cormorant on the coast, a big, heavy, ungainly-looking creature, the
ugliest fowl in Britain, half bird and half reptile in appearance on
the water, where he spends half his time greedily devouring fish and the
other half sitting on the rocks digesting his food and airing his wings.
It is hard to imagine any softening or beautifying change in such a
being, and indeed the only alteration to be observed in him at first is
that he begins to pay some attention to his fellow shags and to find out
occasion to quarrel with them. I watched the behaviour of one, a
tyrant and hooligan, at Gurnard's Head, at a spot where a mass of rocks
overlooking the sea has one perfectly flat stone on the top. This stone
was a favourite standing-place of the shags on account of its position
and flat surface, and it afforded space enough to accommodate a score or
more birds. The bird I watched had placed himself in the centre of the
flat rock and would not allow another to share it with him. At intervals
of a few minutes a cormorant coming up from the sea would settle on it,
as he had always or for a long time been accustomed to do, whereupon the
John Cocking in possession would twist his snaky head round and glare at
him with his malignant emerald-green eyes. If this produced no effect he
would open wide his beak and dart his head out towards the intruder just
as an irritated adder lunges at you when you are out of his reach. Then,
if the new-comer still refused to quit, he would pull himself up erect
and hurl his heavy body against the other and send him flying off the
rock. The ejected one would then either fly away or find himself a place
on the sloping rock among the nine or ten others who had been treated in
the same way. Meanwhile the ruffian himself would go back to the middle
of the stone platform, holding his tail stuck up vertically like a staff
and turn himself about this way and that as if asking the whole company
if there was any other Johnny there who would like to try conclusions
with him.

The softening of the ugly bird comes a little later when the hooligan
has got a mate and both are half beside themselves with joy which they
express by rubbing their snaky necks together, crossing and seesawing
them, first on one side then the other, like knife and steel in the
butcher's hands. When the nesting-site has been chosen, John Cocking
is seen at his best, playing the attentive young husband; he visits
her twenty times an hour, always with something in his beak, a bit of
seaweed or a stick, just because he must give her something, and she
takes it from him and bows this way and that and puts it down and takes
it up again, and out of her overflowing affection gives it back to
him--"Dear, you must not be so generous!" And he flies away with it
again just to have an excuse to fly back the next minute and insist on
her accepting it. The great change, greater even than his new charming
manner towards his mate, is in his flight on quitting the nesting-place:
he flies and returns, and passes and repasses before her, and alights on
the rock for a moment and then off again--all to exhibit his grace, his
imitation of the love-flight of the cushat and turtle-dove. The curious
thing is that so heavy and ungainly a creature, with such a laboured
flight at other times, does succeed fairly well, as if that new fire in
him had made him lighter, more volatile and like the white-winged birds
about him.

The cormorants are the earliest breeders, excepting the ravens, now
so much persecuted by the injurious idiots and Philistines who call
themselves collectors and naturalists that they rarely succeed in
rearing their young; and the next to follow are the herring gulls. The
gull fixes on a site for his nest, but long before building begins he
appears anxious to let all his neighbours know that this particular spot
is his very own and that he looks on their approach with jealous eyes.
Not green eyes like the cormorant's, but of a very pure luminous yellow
like the vivid eyes of a harrier hawk, or some brilliant yellow gem,
or like the glazed petal of a buttercup lit by a sunbeam. His gull
neighbours respect his rights, but the jackdaws mock at his feeling of
proprietorship and amuse themselves very much at his expense.

One day I watched a pair of gulls on a rock they had recently taken
possession of--a large mass of granite thrust out from the cliff over
the sea. The female was reposing at the spot where it was intended the
nest should be, while the male kept guard, walking proudly about on his
little domain, now turning an eye up to watch the birds flying overhead,
then stooping to pick up a pebble to hold it a few moments in his bill
and drop it again, and then marching up to his mate, whereupon they
would open wide their yellow beaks, stretch out their necks and join
their voices in a loud triumphant chant. "Here we are," he appeared to
be saying, "established on our own rock, which belongs exclusively to us
with everything on it, even to the smallest pebble and to every leaf and
flower of the thrift and sea-campion growing on it. Not a bird of them
all will venture to alight on this rock. Come now, stand up and let us
shout together!"

And shout they did, their loudest, and in the middle of their shouting
performance a jackdaw, detaching himself from a company of thirty or
forty birds wheeling about overhead, dropped plump down on to the rock.
Instantly the gull dashed at and drove him away, but no sooner was he
back on his rock than he found the daw back too, and had to hunt him
away again, and then again to the ninth time. And at last when he had
been mocked nine times he became furious and set himself to give the
insolent daw a lesson he would not forget: over the sea and land and
along the face of the cliff he chased him, and up into the sky they rose
and down again, the daw at his greatest speed, the pursuer screaming
with wrath close behind him, but he could not catch or hurt him, and at
last giving up the chase returned to alight once more on his rock. But
the daw had followed him back, and no sooner had the gull folded his
wings than down on the rock he dropped once more and sat there, a
picture of impudence, eyeing the other's movements with his little white
mocking eyes. What will happen now? I asked myself. But the gull was
not going to be made a fool of any more; he put up with the insult, and
after two or three minutes, finding he was to have no more fun, the daw
flew off to rejoin his companions.

Sea-birds, visible from the headlands, are common enough throughout the
cold season, but after midwinter their numbers increase, until at last
you may see the travellers passing by in small flocks of a dozen to a
hundred or even two hundred birds, almost every day and often all
day long, flock succeeding flock as if they were all keeping in a
line--puffins, razorbills, guillemots--flying low on rapidly-beating
wings, their bodies showing black and white just above the rough
surface of the sea. More interesting than these in appearance are those
dusky-winged swifts of the ocean, the shearwaters, travellers the same
way, not in flocks but singly and in twos and threes and sometimes as
many as half a dozen, all keeping wide apart, searching the sea as
they go, moving very swiftly above the water in a series of wide curves
looking like shadows of birds passing, invisible, far up in the sky.
Sometimes they seemed like shadows, and sometimes I imagined them to
be the ghosts of those pelagic birds which had recently died in all the
seas which flow round the world, travelling by some way mysteriously
known to them to their ultimate bourne in the furthest north, beyond
the illimitable fields of ice where, according to Court-hope, dead birds
have their paradise.

While this migration is visibly going on at sea another is in progress
all over the land which is not seen or not noticed, and this is the
departure of visitants from the northern parts of Britain which have
been wintering in Cornwall. From day to day their numbers diminish
imperceptibly--first fieldfares and redwings; then starlings, thrushes,
larks, pipits, wagtails and some other species which come in smaller
numbers. By the end of February or quite early in March the winter
visitors, British and foreign, have all slipped quietly away, their
eastward movement unmarked, and still no new bird from oversea has come
to take their place. Then, one day in March when the sun shines, as
you stroll by the sea, suddenly a flash of white comes before you at
a distance of forty or fifty yards and you see your first wheatear, or
whitaker as the natives call him, back in his old home among the rocks.
And as he is the first to come you think him the most beautiful bird in
the world in his chaste and delicate dress of black and white and buff
and clear blue-grey. And so when you first hear him uttering his wild
brief warble, as he flutters in the air in appearance a great black
and white butterfly, you think that no sound can compare with it in
exquisite purity and sweetness.

Away from the sea you will hear no spring bird; the only songs are of
the resident species which you have heard at intervals throughout the
winter--robin and wren and dunnock and lark and corn bunting. The only
new song--if song it may be called--is not uttered by a bird at all,
although it often has a curiously bird-like musical tinkle. You begin to
hear it as you ramble among the furze thickets in the neighbourhood
of some hidden stream--a succession of chirping and croaking sounds
in various keys, and sounds like the craking of corncrakes, and at
intervals the little musical sounds as of birds and of running water.
The frogs are having their grand annual carnival, and when seen
congregated at the water-courses, it is strange to think they should be
so abundant in this stony district overgrown with harsh furze, ling and
bracken. You have perhaps spent months in the place without seeing a
frog, now following the stream you could count hundreds at their revels
in the water, brown and olive frogs, clay colour, yellow and old gold,
and some strangely marked with black and brown on a pale ground. These
congregations which begin to form before March are continued until May.

Adders, seen occasionally on warm days in February, are common enough in
March and April if one knows how to find them. Here, at two spots
within half a mile of each other, I found two of the most singular and
beautifully coloured adders I had ever seen. One was of so pale a grey
in its ground colour as to appear white at a little distance; the other
was perfectly white, the zigzag band intensely black with a narrow
border of delicate buff. I turned him over expecting to find some
curious variation in the colour of the belly, and was disappointed
to find it the usual dark blue; but I was so charmed with this rare
Dominican adder that I kept it half an hour, carrying it to a piece of
level green turf for the pleasure of watching the sinuous movements of
so strange a serpent over the ground before I finally let it go into
hiding among the bushes.

After you have seen and heard the wheatears you begin to listen in the
furze and thorn grown bottoms for that bright, airy, tender, running,
rippling little melody of the willow-wren, which should come next,
and is so universal in England, and it will surprise you to hear the
chiffchaff before him, for in this treeless district the species
so abundant everywhere else is comparatively rare, while the local
chiffchaff is exceedingly common.

Before the earliest summer migrants are heard some of the resident
species are breeding, not only on the cliffs, but the small birds in
the bushes--thrushes, blackbirds, dunnocks, wrens and others. I was
surprised to find that clothes-drying was a very serious trouble to
these bush-breeders where there are no trees. Monday is washing-day at
the farms and cottages, and it is usual to use the stone hedges covered
with their luxuriant crop of furze as a drying-place. Looking over the
land from some elevated place you see the gleam of white linen far and
near as of hedges covered with snow. Passing one of these hedges one
evening I found a gathering of about a dozen blackbirds in a state
of great excitement, hopping and flying up and down, chuckling and
screaming before the white sheets and counterpanes covering some of the
large round bushes. Poor birds! it was late in the day and they were
getting desperate, since if these hateful white coverings were not
removed soon so as to let them return to their nests their eggs would be
chilled beyond hope. Some of the birds care as little for the covering
sheet as rooks and jackdaws do for the grotesque imitations of a human
figure set up in the ploughed fields to frighten them. A woman in one of
the cottages told me that once when going round among the furze bushes
where her things were drying she noticed a dunnock slip out from under
a sheet and fly away. She lifted the sheet and found a nest with
fledglings in it close to the top of the bush. "Why, gracious me!" she
exclaimed, "perhaps I've been covering their dear little nesties with my
washing without ever knowing such a thing. I'll just have a look at
the other bushes." And at the very next bush on peering under the cloth
spread over it she spied a dunnock sitting on its nest--sitting, she
soon found, on five lovely little blue eggs! In the evening when the
family were having tea she told them about it, and immediately her boys
began to tease her to tell them where the nest was, and after a good
deal of talk and solemn promise on the part of the boys that they would
not take nor even touch one of the little blue eggs, and many warnings
on her side that they would have the rope's end if they ever dared to do
such a cruel thing, she led the way to the bush and allowed them all
to have a good look at the nest and the five little gems of blue colour
lying in it. But from that day she had no peace, for now her bad boys
had got a means of coercing her, and she had to let them stay away from
school and go where and do what they liked and to give them bread and
butter and pasties at all hours of the day and whatever they asked for;
for if she refused them anything they would say, "Then we'll go and get
the eggs out of the hedge-sparrow's nest"; nor could she punish them for
anything they did for the same reason. It was only when the blue eggs
hatched and the young birds were safely reared that she got the upper
hand in her house once more. Poor, anxious, thin, shrill-voiced woman,
fighting for a small bird with her rough sons, her husband standing
silent by listening with amused contempt to the dispute; for he too had
been a boy, and was not the harrying of birds a boy's proper pastime?
But she was one of the few who made it possible for me to live with and
not hate my fellow-creatures even in these habitations of cruelty.

In conclusion of this chapter I will relate two other little incidents
of this kind which show that the spirit of mercy is not wholly dead.
A pair of pied wagtails were constantly seen at a stone quarry near
a village I stayed at, and as they appeared very tame I spoke to the
quarrymen about them. They said the birds had lived there, winter and
summer, five years, and bred every spring in a hole among the stones
at the side of the quarry. They were as tame as chickens and came for
crumbs every day at dinner time, and when it was raining and the men
had to take shelter in their little stone hut inside the quarry, the
wagtails, or _tinners_ as they are called in West Cornwall, would run in
and feed at their feet.

On my return, in the spring of 1907, to this place I found a pair of
wheatears in possession; they had fought the wagtails and driven them
away and made their nest in the same place. The same kindly protection
was given to them as to the old favourites, though they never became so
tame; and I saw the young safely brought off.

We have seen in a former chapter that the robin is somewhat of a sacred
bird, or at all events that the feeling in its favour, superstitious or
not, is so general that even in the darkest part of the country the bird
when caught in a gin is released and allowed to fly away, to perish of
its hurts or drag out a miserable existence in a maimed condition.
This feeling is a great protection to the bird, but in many boys the
bird-hunting and nest-destroying passion overmasters it, so that I am
not greatly surprised when I find boys persecuting robin redbreast.

One very warm morning in early spring, walking uphill from Penzance
to Castle-an-Dinas, I came on two boys, aged about ten and eleven
respectively, lying on the green turf by the side of the hedge. A nice
place to rest and nice company; so I threw myself down by them and
started talking, naturally about the birds. They replied reluctantly,
exchanging glances and looking very uncomfortable. There were plenty of
nests now, I said; I was finding a good many, and I asked them directly
how many they knew of with eggs and young birds in them. Seeing that I
put it that way they recovered courage and one, after a brief whispered
consultation with the other, said that there was a robin's nest close
to my side, and on looking round I spied a fully-fledged young robin
standing on a trodden-down little nest on the bank-side. I picked the
bird up and was surprised at its docility, for it made no effort to
escape, and then, more surprising still, the old bird flew down and
perched a yard off, but did not appear at all anxious about the safety
of its young. "I wonder," said I, "what has become of the others? There
must have been more young robins in this nest--it looks as if it had had
three or four to tread it down."

Whereupon one of the boys produced a second robin from his jacket
pocket, and when I took it from him the other boy pulled out two more
robins from his pockets and handed them to me.

"Now look here," I began in my severest tone, and proceeded to give them
a lecture on their unkindness in taking young robins, and did not forget
to quote Blake on the subject, for of all birds the robin was the least
fitted to be made a prisoner, and so on until I finished.

But the boys showed no sense of guilt or repentance and were no more
disturbed at my words than the robins were at being handled, and at
length one of them said that they had no intention of taking the birds
home.

"What, then, did you have them in your pockets for?" I demanded.

He replied that they put them in their pockets just to keep them out of
my sight. They were playing with the birds when I found them, and they
had known the nest since it was made, and every day after the young
had come out one or both of them had paid them a visit, and they always
brought a small supply of caterpillars to feed the robins with.

It was quite true, the tameness of the four young robins sitting on our
hands and knees was a proof of it. From time to time while we sat there
with them the old birds flew down near us just to take a look round as
it seemed and then flew off again, but by and by when we put them back
on their little platform the parents came and fed them close to our
side.

[Illustration:0303]



CHAPTER XVIII SOME EARLY FLOWERS

_Late flowers at Land's End--Sweet-scented colt's-foot--Its
luxuriance and beauty--A pretty and singular girl--A gardener on the
colt's-foot--Colt's-foot in Madron churchyard--A vegetable rat--Billy
and his charlock bouquet--"Farmer's Glory"--Early blue flowers--A
matter-of-fact girl--Vernal squill--Beauty and habits--A blue band
by the sea--The glory of flowers--Secret of the charm of
flowers--Expression of the blue flower._

|BIRDS are perhaps too much to me; at all events, I find that an entire
chapter has been written on the coming of spring without a word in it
about flowers; it was nearly all taken up with the feathered people.
Yet one cannot think of spring without those little touches of moist
brilliant colour shining gem-like among the old dead brown leaves and
herbage and in all green places. Even here, in a district comparatively
flowerless for many months, as I have said, there are flowers to be seen
if looked for pretty well all the year round. Just now, before sitting
down to write this chapter at the windy bleak Land's End, a very few
days before Christmas, I went out in the late afternoon, and seeing
herb-robert looking very pretty in the shelter of a stone hedge, then
some other small flower, and then others, I began idly plucking a spray
or two of each, and after crossing three or four fields and home again
I found that my little bouquet contained blooms of seventeen different
species. If I had gone on a few fields further the number might have
been twenty-five or thirty. These little summer and autumn flowers that
bloom on till frosts come are all of very common kinds, except, perhaps,
the yellow pansy which is confined to the western extremity of the
county. There are other flowers proper to the early spring which were
a delight to me and which will ever be associated in my mind with the
thoughts of Cornwall.

Curiously enough the one which comes first to my mind is a plant
universally despised and disliked by the common people and, for all I
know to the contrary, by the people who are not common: they speak of
it as a "weed" and a "nuisance"; nor is it a spring or summer flower but
blooms in midwinter. It is already coming out now and before the middle
of January will be in full bloom. This is the sweet-scented colt's-foot,
sometimes called winter heliotrope, on account both of the purple
colour and powerful scent of the flower. The books say that it smells
of vanilla, also that the plant is an alien, but when introduced they
do not say. The Victorian History of Cornwall does not mention such a
plant. I have looked at the MS. work of John Rolfe (1878) on the plants
of West Cornwall, in the Penzance Library, but he does not tell us
how long ago it ran wild in this district. It flourishes greatly at
Penzance, St. Ives and many of the neighbouring villages, rooting itself
in the stone hedges and covering them entirely with a marvellously
beautiful garment of round, disc-shaped, flat leaves, of all sizes from
that of a crown piece to that of a dessert plate, all of the most
vivid green in nature. The flowers, of a dim lilac-purple, are on thick
straight stems which spring directly from the roots, and, like sweet
violets, they are mostly hidden by the luxuriant leaves. The leaves,
which come in winter and spring, last pretty well all the year round,
and the roots, the gardeners say, are enormous, and as they push through
the crevices and wind themselves about among the stones it is impossible
to get rid of the plant.

One of the prettiest scenes I witnessed in West Cornwall is associated
with this plant. I saw a girl of about seventeen, small for her age and
of a slim figure, come out of a cottage door and walk down to the little
garden gate just as I came abreast of it. At the gate was a little
foot-bridge over a stream which rushed by with a good deal of noise and
foam over the rocks in its bed. The stone hedges and detached masses
of rock on both sides of the bridge were covered over with an enormous
growth of colt's-foot, the plants flowing over into the stream and even
covering some of the big boulder stones in it. That was the setting and
the girl was worthy of it, standing there, fresh from the wash-tub, her
arms bare to the shoulders, in her thin blue cotton gown, regarding
me with lively inquisitive eyes. She had the double attraction
of prettiness and singularity. It was a Cornish face, healthy
but colourless as in the majority of the women, very broad, high
cheek-bones; but it differed in the fineness of the features and in the
pointed chin which together with the large eyes gave it that peculiar
interesting cat-like form seen in some pretty women, and which is so
marked in a well-known portrait of Queen Mary at Holyrood. The large
eyes were of the greyish-blue colour so common in this district, with
large pupils and that deepening of colour at the outer edge of the iris
which takes the appearance of a black ring. These ringed blue eyes are
sometimes seen in other counties but are most common in the part of
Cornwall where I have observed the people. Finally in strange contrast
with the large blue eyes her hair was black and being unbound the wind
was blowing it all about her face and neck.

I stopped to talk to the girl and had plenty of time to get my mental
sketch of her. Speaking of the colt's-foot, so abundant at her own door,
she told me that she had never heard it named anything but "weed." She
also assured me that she hated it, and so did every one, and she could
see nothing to admire in it.

At Penzance a gardener told me he had been fighting this weed all his
life and that his father before him had fought with it all his life, so
that it must have established itself in that place a very long time ago.

At Madron, the famous and beautiful old village on the heights above
Penzance, I saw a curious thing in January, 1907. A great part of the
extensive churchyard is covered with colt's-foot, and after it had come
into bloom the whole of the mass of vivid green leaves was killed by
the great frost I have described in chapter xv., but strange to say the
flowers were not hurt. The ground was covered with the upright thick
stems, crowned with their pale purple fragrant flowers, and beneath
them, dead and brown and flat on the earth, lay the leaves that lately
hid them with their multitudinous green discs.

One day, meeting some boys by the side of a hedge overgrown with
colt's-foot, I asked them what they called the plant, and was answered
by the biggest boy who knew most that it was called "rat-plant." It was
named so, perhaps, because a rat could take shelter in the leaves and
run very freely about among them without being seen. Or it may be that
the name was bestowed to express a feeling of dislike and contempt--the
idea that it was a vegetable rat, something to be warred against, dug
up and if possible extirpated. It is a pleasure to me to think we can no
more get rid of _Petasites fragrans_, alias "rat-plant," than we can
of _Mus decumanus_ itself, or _Blatta orientalis_, or any other of the
undesirable aliens, plant or animal, which succeed in defying our best
efforts to oust them.

Perhaps some of my sober-minded readers, who know the colt's-foot and
have not seen its beauty, may smile at my enthusiasm even as I have
smiled at my Cornish landlady's story of Billy and his enthusiasm for
another species of wild flower. Billy is a youth of about twenty, son
of a small farmer in one of the villages I stayed at. This, like most
of the villages on this coast, receives its quota of summer visitors who
come from distant inland towns, and some of these found accommodation at
Billy's parents' farm. They were ladies, and Billy was greatly impressed
with their beauty and affability, their dainty dresses, and the nice
way in which they passed the time, strolling about, sketching, reading,
lying on the turf, and sitting in picturesque attitudes on the rocks.
But what perhaps interested him most was the keen pleasure they took in
the common natural objects of the place, especially the wild flowers.
They talked to Billy on the subject with the result that he, too, became
an admirer of wild flowers, greatly to the amusement of his neighbours.

One day my landlady, going along the village street, saw Billy driving
home in the farm trap with what looked like a gigantic yellow buttonhole
in his coat. "Why, Billy, whatever have you got there?" she cried when
he pulled the horse up to speak to her. "Flowers," said Billy. "I saw
them in a cornfield, and I left the horse and went right out into the
middle of the field to get them. Ain't they pretty?" And taking the
bunch, the stems of which he had thrust into his top pocket, he handed
it down for her to admire.

"Goodness me, boy, it's nothing but charlock!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, I know," said Billy. "And they are very pretty; just you look
at them--perhaps you never knew how pretty they are." Then he added
sententiously, "They are flowers, and all flowers are beautiful."

"Dear, dear!" said she for only reply, handing him back his bouquet.

"When I get home," continued Billy, "I'll put them in water to keep them
fresh and set them on the table," and away he drove.

Billy with his charlock flowers reminds me of an incident on a farm in
Hampshire where I was staying. The farmer was a hard-headed and very
hard-working man absorbed in the great business of keeping his farm like
a farm and of making it pay. Tares, turnip-fly, charlock, couch-grass
and their like--these were his enemies which he hated. And his wife was
his worthy helpmate.

One day I brought in a big bunch of poppies, and after arranging them on
their tall stems with some feathery grasses in a vase I put them on the
table just laid for the midday meal. The farmer came in fresh from his
work, his mind as usual absorbed in his affairs, and first taking up
the carving-knife and fork hurriedly said, "For what we are about to
receive," and was just going to plunge the fork into the joint when
he caught sight of the splendid flowers before him on his own table,
audaciously smiling their scarlet smile right at him.

"What are those?" he said, pointing with his knife at the flowers and
addressing his wife in no pleasant tones. "What does this mean?"

She cast down her eyes and kept silence.

"I can tell you," I said. "I gathered them myself in one of your fields
and put them on the table much against your wife's wish. I can't imagine
why she objected. It is one of our finest wild flowers--I call it the
Farmer's Glory."

"The Farmer's Glory!--Oh, that's what you call it--well----," and then
he suddenly sat down and began carving with tremendous energy and in
grim silence.

My pen has run away with me, since I had the images of but two or three
wild flowers in my mind to write about in this chapter--flowers of the
early spring only--and then the winter heliotrope came up and would not
be denied. True, it was of the winter, like Kirke White's "Rosemary"

               Sweet-scented flower! who art wont to bloom

                   On January's front severe,

               And o'er the wintry desert drear

                   To waft thy sweet perfume--

still, I had to write about it. A flower, like a bird or anything in
nature, is little to me unless it "ministers some particular cause
of remembrance," which means in my case that either on account of its
intrinsic beauty or charm or of its associations it moves my emotions
more strongly than others.

The colt's-foot having come first, there are but two others to speak
particularly of--a yellow and a blue flower. But the yellow is the
furze, so important a flower in this part of England and so much to me,
that it must have a chapter to itself, so that in this chapter there
will be but one described; but I shall speak of others incidentally and
of several things besides.

In my early spring rambles I found that blue flowers were more abundant
than all of other colours put together; but this was in the rough places
and lanes and by the stone and furze hedges. Here in places almost all
the flowers appeared to be blue, from the tall blue columbine to the
small ground ivy and the tiniest veronica. Of these I think the most
remarkable was the wild hyacinth on account of its habit of growing on
the tops of the old stone hedges. The effect is not so charming as when
we see them covering the ground under the trees; but it is most singular
and beautiful too when the band of blue has the furze bushes covered
with yellow blossoms for background.

One April day I had a talk with a native about the blue flowers which
were abundant and in great variety at the side of the path. This was on
the slope of a hill looking to the sea, about a mile from Mousehole.
I saw a girl crossing a grass field, and as she was making for a gate
opening on to the path, I waited for her and when she came out we went
on together for some distance. She had been to take her father his
dinner in a field where he was working and was now on her way back to
their cottage. Her age was about nineteen or twenty and she was of the
most common type found in these parts--short, strongly built, somewhat
dumpy; a blonde with grey or bluish-grey eyes, light fluffy hair, and
broad colourless face. There was not a good feature in it, yet it did
not strike one as homely but was pleasant to look at on account of the
lively, intelligent and good-natured expression. Finally, she was not
flustered or put out in the least degree at being spoken to and joined
in her walk by a stranger, but conversed freely with me in that simple
natural frank way which seems to me the usual way in Cornwall.

Mr. Ford Madox Hueffer, in his book _The Heart of the Country_, has
a good deal to say about the separation of the classes in rural
England--the great impassable gulf which exists between gentleman
and peasant. As an instance of this he relates that one evening, when
walking from a station to the village he was staying at, he overtook
a young woman going the same way, and keeping together they conversed
quite naturally and pleasantly until they got to the end of the dark
lane to where there was a lamp, when it was revealed to the young woman
that her companion was not of her own class. "Why," she exclaimed,
staring at him in astonishment, "you are a gentleman!" And with that
took to her heels and vanished in the dark.

Such an incident would read like a fable in Cornwall--in West Cornwall
at all events--for it could not possibly happen there. The caste feeling
so common elsewhere hardly exists, and if a gentleman speaks to a young
woman in a quiet lane she does not suspect that he has any designs
on her nor feel any sense of awe or strangeness to make her silent or
awkward. She talks to him as naturally as to one of her own class. It
is this common bond between people which one finds a relief and pleasure
when going from an English, or an Anglo-Saxon, county to Cornwall
and which made it pleasant to me to walk with this homely commonplace
peasant girl.

But when I talked to her about the flowers growing in profusion by the
hedge-side and along the borders of the path she assured me that she
never looked at them and knew nothing about them. Well, yes, she did
know three or four wild flowers by their names.

"But surely," I said, "you must know these that are so common--these
little blue flowers, for instance, what do you call them?" and I plucked
a spray of speedwell. She said they were violets, and when I picked a
violet and pointed out the difference in shape and size and colour she
agreed that they were a little unlike when you looked at them, "but,"
she said, "we never look at them and we call all these little blue ones
violets."

"But," I persisted, "flowers are the most beautiful things on the
earth and we all love and admire them and are glad to see them again in
spring--surely you must know something more than you say about them--you
must have been accustomed to gather them in your childhood." But she
would not have it. "We never take notice of wild flowers," she said;
"they are no use and we call them all violets--all these blue ones." And
she pointed to the hedge-side, where there were violet, forget-me-not,
bird's-eye and ground-ivy all growing together.

The poor girl did not know much--less than most, perhaps--even less than
Billy of the charlock bouquet who had got the one parrot phrase that all
flowers are beautiful in his brain; but that which I sought in her and
in the pretty, lively Cornish, kitten-like girl already described, and
in dozens more, does not come from reading books, nor is it found only
in the intelligent. That something lacking in them which you can find by
seeking in the more stolid and seemingly duller Anglo-Saxon peasant is
of the race.

But enough of adventures in this vain quest of the elusive spirit
of romance or poetry. It still remains to speak of the early spring
flowers, and of the blue one, which was no common and universal flower
like those I have just mentioned, but one I had never seen growing
wild until I came to Cornwall. This was the vernal squill, a small blue
lily-shaped flower of a delicate, very beautiful blue, hardly deeper
than that of the hairbell, growing in clusters of three or four on a
polished stalk an inch or two or three in height. The stem varies in
length according to the depth of the grass or herbage or dwarf heath
among which it grows, as the flower likes to keep itself on a level
with the surface of the grass, or nestling in it, like a stone in its
setting. In April I first found it, a flower or two here and there, in
small depressions and on sunny slopes sheltered from the blast by the
huge rocks of the headlands: it was one of the few first early flowers
which produce that most fairy-like beautifying effect on these castled
promontories, blossoming at the feet of and among the rugged masses of
granite overgrown with coarse grey lichen.

By and by I was delighted to find that these few scattered blooms were
but the first comers of an innumerable multitude, for day by day and
week by week the number of them increased, first keeping to the sunniest
and most sheltered places, then spreading until they were everywhere
along the coast. But always within its own curiously narrow limit,
blooming close to the cliff, in some places right to the very brink,
but usually some yards back from it, distributed over the ground to a
breadth of a dozen or fifteen yards, thus forming a band. Where the soil
is favourable and the flowers abundant the band is very conspicuous, and
in places where the land slopes to the cliff it broadens and occupies
the ground to a breadth of fifty to a hundred yards or even more, then
narrows again and pursues its way, following the numberless indentations
of the coastline, climbing up and down the steep slopes and sides of
gullies and fading and almost vanishing on the barren heath on the
highest cliffs.

Now when I first saw the vernal squill, when it had been nothing in my
mind but a little blue flower with a pretty book name, it captivated me
with its delicate loveliness--its little drop of cerulean colour in a
stony desolate place--and with its delightful perfume, but it certainly
did not affect me greatly as I have been affected time and again by
other flowers, first seen in the greatest profusion and in their best
aspect.

The commonest of all flowers, the buttercup, is one of these, as I first
beheld it covering whole meadows with its pure delicately brilliant
yellow. I remember at the end of the African War coming up one day in
April from Southampton in a train full of soldiers just back from the
veldt, and when a meadow bright with buttercups came in sight the men in
my compartment all jumped up and shouted with joy. That sight made them
realise as no other could have done, that they were at home once more in
England. The wild hyacinth is another flower which took a distinguished
place in my mind from the first moment of its coming before my sight,
a sea of misty blue beneath the woodland trees in their tender early
spring foliage. Another is the gorse from the day I looked on a wide
common aflame with its bloom, still another the briar rose first beheld
in the greatest luxuriance and abundance on a vast unkept hedge in
Southern England. Then, too, the fritillary on the occasion of my first
finding it growing wild in a water-meadow and standing, as in a field
of corn, knee-deep amidst the tens and hundreds of thousands of crowded
slender stems with their nodding pendulous tulips so strangely chequered
with darkest purple and luminous pink. But over all the revelations of
the glory of flowers I have experienced in this land I hold my first
sight of heather in bloom on the Scottish moors in August shortly after
coming to this country. I remember how I went out and walked many miles
over the moors, lured ever on by the sight of that novel loveliness
until I was lost in a place where no house was visible, and how at
intervals when the sun broke through the clouds and shone on some
distant hill or slope from which the grey mist had just lifted,
revealing the purple colour beneath, it appeared like a vision of the
Delectable Mountains.

From the flowers which are greatest only because of their numbers,
seeing that, comparing flower with flower, they are equalled and
surpassed in lustre by very many other species, it may appear a far
descent to my little inconspicuous lily by the sea. For what was there
beyond the mere fact of its rarity to make it seem more than many
others--than herb-robert in the hedge, for instance, or any small
delicate red geranium or brighter lychnis; or, to come to its own
colour, veronica with its "darling blue," and, lovelier still, water
forget-me-not, with a yellow pupil to its turquoise iris; or the minute
bird-shaped blue milkwort, and gentian and bluebell and hairbell and
borage and periwinkle and blue geranium, and that delicate rarity the
blue pimpernel, and the still rarer and more beautiful blue anemone?
Nevertheless, after many days with this unimportant little flower, one
among many, from its earliest appearance, when it blossomed sparingly
at the foot of the rock, to the time when it had increased and spread
to right and left and formed that blue-sprinkled band or path by which
I walked daily by the sea, often sitting or lying on the turf the better
to inhale its delicious perfume, it came to be more to me than all those
unimportant ones which I have named, with many others equally beautiful,
and was at last regarded as among the best in the land. For it had
entered into my soul, and was among flowers an equal of the briar rose
and honeysuckle in the English hedges and of the pale and varicoloured
Cornish heath as I saw it in August in lonely places among the Goonhilly
Downs in the Lizard district, and, like that heath, it had become for
ever associated in my mind with the thought of Cornwall.

Its charm was due both to its sky-colour and perfume and its curious
habit of growing just so far and no further from the edge of the cliff,
so that when I walked by the sea I had that blue-flecked path constantly
before me. One day I made the remark mentally that it appeared as if the
sky itself, the genius or blue lady of the sky, had come down to walk by
the sea and had left that sky-colour on the turf where she had trailed
her robe, and this shade or quality of the hue set me thinking of a
chapter I once wrote on the "Secret of the Charm of Flowers" (-Birds
and Man-, pp. 140-62), in which the peculiar pleasure which certain
flowers produce in us was traced to their human colouring--in other
words, the _expression_ was due to human associations. Some of my
friends would not accept this view, and although I still believe it the
right one I became convinced in the course of the argument of a grave
omission in my account of the blue flower--that it was unconsciously
associated with the blue eye in man and received its distinctive
expression from this cause alone. One of my correspondents, anxious to
prove me wrong, quoted an idea expressed by some one that flowers are
beautiful and precious to us because, apart from their intrinsic charm
of colour, fragrance and form, they are absolutely unrelated to our
human life with its passions, sorrows and tragedies; and, finally, he
said of the blue flower, that if it had any associations at all they
were not human; the suggestion was of the blue sky, the open air, of
fair weather. It was so in his own case--"I can _feel_ the different
blues of skies and air and distances in flower blue."

Undoubtedly he was right as to the fair-weather suggestion in the blue
flower--I could not look at the vernal squill without feeling convinced
of it. Then, oddly enough, another correspondent who was also among my
opponents kindly sent me this striking passage from an old writer, Sir
John Feme, on azure in blazonry: "Which blew colour representeth the
Aire amongst the elements, that of all the rest is the greatest favourer
of life, as the only nurse and maintainer of spirits in any living
creature. The colour blew is commonly taken from the clear skye which
appeareth so often as the tempests be overblowne, and note prosperous
successe and good fortune to the wearer in all his affayres."

My view now is that the human association is a chief factor in the
expression of blue flowers in some species, such as pansy, violet,
speedwell and various others, which bloom sparsely and are seen
distinctly as single flowers and not as mere splashes of colour; and
that with blue flowers seen in masses, as in the case of the wild
hyacinth and sometimes the viper's bugloss, the association is more
with the clear blue sky. But doubtless both elements are present in
all cases, that is to say with our race; among dark-eyed people the
expression of the blue flower would have the fair-weather association
alone.

[Illustration: 0321]



CHAPTER XIX THE FURZE IN ITS GLORY

_Fascination of the furze--The furze in literature--Evelyn on the
furze--Furze faggots--The beauty the effect of contrast--Large masses
of bloom--Various aspects of the furze--Fragrance--Linnæus and the
furze--'The cynic a spiritual harpy--Furze at the Land's End--The stone
hedges ropes of bloom--Eye-dazzling colour--Furze by the sea--Yellow and
blue._

|I THINK that of all plants indigenous in this island the furze delights
me the most. This says a good deal for a man who takes as much pleasure
as any one in green and growing things; in all of them, from the elm of
greatest girth at Windsor or Badminton, or the noblest pine at Eversley,
or the most aged oak at Aldermaston, down to the little ivy-leafed
toad-flax growing on the wall. They move me, each in its way, according
to its character, to admiration, love and reverence. No sooner do I
begin to speak or even to think of them than they, or their images, are
seen springing up as by a miracle round me, until I seem to be in a vast
open forest where all beautiful things flourish exceedingly and each in
turn claims my attention. Merely to name them, with just a word or two
added to characterise the special feeling produced in each case, would
fill a page or more; and the end of it all would be that the words used
at the beginning would have to be said again--I think the furze is the
one which pleases me best.

Now here is something which has been a puzzle to me and a cause of
regret, or a sense of something missed--the fact that, excepting a word
or two or a line about it in the poets, the furze is hardly to be found
in literature. Think of the oak in this connection; think of the elm,
the yew, the ash, the rowan, the holly, hawthorn, blackthorn, bramble,
briar, bulrush and flowering rush and heather, with many, many more
trees, bushes and herbs, down even to the little pimpernel, the daisy,
the forget-me-not and the lesser celandine. But who, beyond the line or
two, has ever in verse or prose said anything in praise of the furze?

One day, in conversation with Sir William Thisel-ton-Dyer, the late
Director of Kew Gardens, who knows a great deal more of books about
plants than I do, I mentioned this fact to him, and, after taking
thought, he said, "It is true, there isn't much to find, but let me
recommend you to read Evelyn."

It happened that I knew Evelyn and admired him for his noble diction:
one really wonders how a man who looked at plants with his hard,
utilitarian eyes, considering them solely for their uses, could write as
he did. It is true that he saw some beauty in the holly, his favourite,
but in little else. He mentions the furze as a "vegetable trifle,"
and even goes so far as to give it a few favourable words, but without
anything about its appearance, for that did not touch him. It is not
a wholly useless plant, says Evelyn; it is good for faggots, also it
affords covert for wild fowl, and the tops (bruised) may be recommended
for a sickly horse. "It will thoroughly recover and plump him."

I have often watched the semi-wild ponies of the New Forest browsing
quite freely on the blossomed tops, which they bruised for themselves
with their own molars; and now I know that the furze is also "good for
faggots." I have described how, while staying at a small moorland farm
during the winter, we had furze for fuel, and how the dried bushes made
a glorious heat and illumination in the open wide fireplace of the old
dark kitchen and living-room. A couple of months later when the plant
was in full blossom--acres and miles and leagues of it--I could do no
less than sing my poor little prose song of praise and gratitude. To me
it is never "unprofitably gay," nor, when I handle it, does it wound my
hardened fingers, causing me to recoil and cry out with the sensitive
poet of the Task that it repels us with its treacherous spines as much
as it attracts with its yellow bloom.

The beauty of the furze in flower--that special beauty and charm in
which it excels all other plants--is an effect of contrast, and is
a beauty only seen in the entire plant, over which the bloom is
distributed. We see that in shape and size, and almost in colour, the
blossom nearly resembles that of the broom, but the effect is far
more beautiful on account of the character of the plant--the exceeding
roughness of its spiny surface, the rude shapes it takes and its
darkness, over which the winged flame-coloured blossoms are profusely
sprinkled. And when we see many contiguous bushes they do not lose their
various individual forms, nor do the blossoms, however abundant, unite,
as is the case with the broom, into very large masses of brilliant
colour.

I like to come upon a furze-patch growing on a slope, to sit below it
and look up over its surface, thrown into more or less rounded forms,
broken and roughened into sprays at the top, as of a sea churned by
winds and cross-currents to lumpy waves, all splashed and crowned as it
were with flame-coloured froth. With a clear blue sky beyond I do not
know in all nature a spectacle to excel it in beauty. It is beautiful,
perhaps above all things, just because the blossoming furze is not
the "sheet of gold" it is often described, but gold of a flame-like
brilliance sprinkled on a ground of darkest, harshest green. Sheets of
brilliant colour are not always beautiful. I have looked on leagues of
forest of _Erythrina crista-galli_ covering a wet level marsh when the
leafless trees were clothed in their blood-red blossoms and have not
admired the spectacle. Again, I have ridden through immense fields of
viper's bugloss, growing as high as the horse's breast and so dense that
he could hardly force his way through it, and the sheet of vivid blue in
a dazzling sunlight affected me very disagreeably. It is the same with
cultivated fields of daffodils, tulips and other flowers, grown to
supply the market; the sight pleases best at a distance of a mile
or half a mile; and so in the case of a sheet of wild hyacinths, it
delights the eye because it is seen under trees with a cloud of green
foliage above to soften and bring the vivid hue into harmony with the
general colouring.

Now in the furze, or the dark green prickly sprays, the colour and
roughness of which are never wholly covered and extinguished by the
blossoms, there is an appearance which has probably never been described
and perhaps not observed. The plant, we see, changes its colour somewhat
with the seasons. It is darkest in winter, when, seen at a distance on
the pale green or grey-green chalk downs, it looks almost black. Again,
in summer when the rusty appearance which follows the flowering time is
put off, the new terminal sprays have a blue-green or glaucous hue like
the pine and juniper. But the most interesting change, which contributes
to the beauty of the furze at its best, is in the spring, when the
spines are tipped with straw-yellow and minute lines of the same
colour appear along the spines and finer stems, and the effect of these
innumerable specks and lines which catch the light is to give a bronzed
appearance to the dark mass. It is curious that that change of colour
does not always take place; in many places you find the plants keep
the uniform deep green of winter through the blossoming season; but the
bronzed aspect is the loveliest, and makes the most perfect setting for
the bloom.

There are few things in nature that more delight the eye than a wild
common or other incult place overgrown with bramble mixed with furze in
flower and bracken in its vivid green, and scattered groups or thickets
of hawthorn and blackthorn, with tangles and trails of ivy, briony,
traveller's joy and honeysuckle. Yet the loveliness of our plant in such
surroundings is to my mind exceeded by the furze when it possesses the
entire ground and you have its splendour in fullest measure. Then, too,
you can best enjoy its fragrance. This has a peculiar richness, and has
been compared with pineapple and cocoanut; I should say cocoanut and
honey, and we might even liken it to apple-tart with clove for scent and
flavour. Anyway, there is something fruity and appetising in the smell;
but this is not all, since along with that which appeals to the lower
sense there is a more subtle quality, ethereal and soul-penetrating,
like the perfume of the mignonette, the scented orchis, violet, bog
asphodel, narcissus and vernal squill. It may be said that flower-scents
are of two sorts: those which, like fruits, suggest flavours, and those
which are wholly unassociated with taste, and are of all odours the most
emotional because of their power of recalling past scenes and events. In
the perfume of the furze both qualities, the sensuous and the spiritual,
are combined: doubtless it was the higher quality which Swinburne had in
his mind when he sang

               The whin was frankincense and flame.

But we regard vision as the higher or more intellectual sense, and
seeing is best; and it was the sight of blossoming furze which caused
Linnæus, on his first visit to England, when he was taken to see it
at Putney Heath, to fall on his knees and thank God for creating so
beautiful a plant.

I bring in this old story so that the cynical reader may not be cheated
of his smile. He it is who said, and I believe he has had even the
courage to print it, that there was nothing spontaneous in the act of
the great Swedish naturalist, that he had rehearsed it beforehand, and
doubtless dropped upon his knees several times in front of a pier-glass
in his bedroom that very morning to make himself perfect in the action
before being driven to Putney.

Linnaeus is good enough for me, and for the majority of us I imagine,
but what shall we say of the mockers, the spiritual harpies who come
unbidden to our sacred feasts to touch and handle everything, and to
defile and make hateful whatsoever they touch? Alas, we cannot escape
and cannot silence them, and may only say that we compassionate them;
since, however great they may be in the world, and though intellectually
they may be but little lower than the gods, yet do they miss all that is
sweetest and most precious in life. And further, we can only hope that
when they have finished their little mocking day, that which they now
are may be refashioned by wonderful Nature into some better thing--a
dark, prickly bush, let us say, with blossoms that are frankincense and
flame.

Let this same fragrance sweeten our imaginations; or, better still,
let us forget that such beings exist in the world--intellectuals with
atrophied hearts--and see what the furze looks like in this Land's End
district where it most abounds and the earth is clothed with it. In
some places where the moorland has been reclaimed and parcelled out into
grass fields the furze flourishes on the stone hedges: the effect is
here singular as well as magnificent, when, standing on a high stone
wall, you survey the surrounding country with innumerable furze-clothed
hedges dividing the green fields around you in every direction, and
appearing like stupendous ropes of shining golden bloom. Hedge beyond
hedge they stretch away for miles to grey distant hills and the pale
blue sky beyond. On some hedges the plant grows evenly, as if it had
been cultivated and trimmed, forming a smooth rope of bloom and black
prickles. In other and indeed most instances, the rounded big luxuriant
bushes occur at intervals, like huge bosses, on the rope.

Walking by one of these hedges in a very strong sunlight about mid-May
when the bloom is in its greatest perfection, the sight is actually
dazzling and hurts by the intense luminous colour. It is an unusual
experience, but after a mile or so one almost unconsciously averts
or veils the eye in passing one of these splendid bushes on which the
blossoms are too closely crowded.

Perhaps the best aspect of the plant is that of the rough unreclaimed
places where the high land slopes down to the cliff and the furze grows
luxuriantly along the edges and slopes of the deep clefts or little
ravine-like valleys, the beds of crystal noisy little water-courses,
peopled with troutlets no bigger than minnows. Here the rude, untamable
plant has its wildest and most striking appearance, now in the form of a
huge mound where several bushes are closely interwoven, and now growing
separately like ancient dwarf trees, mixed with brown heath and grey
masses of granite. Here, too, you may come upon a clump of dwarf
blackthorn bushes thickly covered with their luminous crystalline white
little roses, never looking so wonderful in their immaculate whiteness
as when thus seen contrasted with the rough black and flame-colour of
the furze.

Better still, you can here see the yellow and orange flame of the furze
against the blue of the sea--a marvellously beautiful effect. I was
reminded of a similar effect observed in a furzy place among the South
Wiltshire downs a year before. It was one of those days when there
are big dark masses of cloud in a clear sky and when the cloud shadows
falling on distant woods and hills give them a deep indigo blue. The
furze was in full bloom and had a new and strange glory in my eyes when
seen against this deep blue of the distant landscape.

Yellow and blue--yellow and blue! A lady on the other side of the globe
wrote complaining that these two colours in association had got on her
nerves on account of something I had said in some book. That was the
fault of the writing. In nature they never get on our nerves: they
surprise us, because the sight is not an everyday one, and in some cases
where they occupy a large field they intoxicate the mind with their
unparalleled loveliness. It has ever been a delight to me just before
harvest time to walk in fine weather near the sea just to look at the
red gold of the ripe corn against the blue water. We get a similar
effect from these two complementary colours at sunset when the clouds
are flushed yellow and orange in a blue sky. Also in the beech woods
in October the sight of the great trees in their magnificent red-gold
foliage would not impress us so deeply but for the blue sky seen through
and above the wood.

[Illustration:0331]



CHAPTER XX PILGRIMS AT THE LAND'S END

_How this book came to be written--Fascination of the Land's End--Aged
pilgrims--A vision of the land of rest--An Unsentimental Journey through
Cornwall---A horde of trippers from Lancashire--A sentiment to be
cherished--An appeal._

|I RECALL now that I did not come to Cornwall to write a book about it,
or any part of it. But like many others I had to see the Land's End; and
it was winter, when the Wiltshire Downs, where it was my desire to be,
are bleak, and I had a cold to get rid of, so I came to the "rocky land
of strangers," to look once in my life on the famous headland and return
with the wheatear and stone curlew to the lonely green hills. Being here
I put down some impressions of gulls and fishing-boats at St. Ives for
a weekly journal; other impressions followed, and because the place
held me month after month, and the old habit of taking notes, or
stick-gathering, even when the sticks are of no more use than the vast
store of stolen objects which my friend's pet white rat, who has the
run of a big house, is accustomed to accumulate, the material grew on my
hands, until in the end I determined to put the best of it in a volume.
In that way the book and every chapter grew. One chapter, headed
"Bolerium", contained my impressions of the famous headland itself, and
having written it I imagined there would be no more for me to say on
that subject. Nevertheless, I continued to haunt the spot; familiarity
had not lessened its fascination, and there, by chance, one day in
spring, I witnessed a scene which suggested, or perhaps I should say
compelled me to write, this additional chapter as a conclusion to the
book.

[Illustration: 0333]

There were days at the headland when I observed a goodish number
of elderly men among the pilgrims, some very old, and this at first
surprised me, but by and by it began to seem only natural. I was
particularly impressed one day at noon in early spring in clear but cold
weather with a biting north-east wind, when I found six or seven aged
men sitting about on the rocks that lie scattered over the green slope
behind the famous promontory. They were too old or too feeble to venture
down on the rough headland: their companions had strayed away, some to
the fishing cove, others along the higher cliffs, and left them there to
rest. They were in great-coats with scarves and comforters round their
necks, and hats or caps drawn well down; and they sat mostly in dejected
attitudes, bending forward, their hands resting on the handles of their
sticks, some with their chins on their hands, but all gazed in one
direction over the cold grey sea. Strangers to each other, unlike in
life and character, coming from widely separated places, some probably
from countries beyond the ocean, yet all here, silently gazing in one
direction beyond that rocky foreland, with the same look of infinite
weariness on their grey faces and in their dim sad eyes, as if one
thought and feeling and motive had drawn them to this spot. Can it be
that the sentiment or fancy which is sown in our minds in childhood and
lies asleep and forgotten in us through most of our years, revives and
acquires towards the end a new and strange significance when we have
entered upon our second childhood? The period, I mean, when we recover
our ancient mental possessions--the heirlooms which cannot be alienated
or lost, which have descended to us from our remotest progenitors
through centuries and thousands of years. These old men cannot see the
objects which appear to younger eyes--the distant passing ships, and
the land--that dim, broken line as of a low cloud on the horizon, of the
islands: their sight is altered from what it was, yet is, perhaps, now
able to discern things invisible to us--other islands, uncharted, not
the Cassiterides. What are they, these other islands, and what do
we know of them? Nothing at all; indeed, nothing can be known to the
generality; only these life-weary ancients, sitting on rocks and gazing
at vacancy, might enlighten us if they would. Undoubtedly there are
differences of sight among them which would make their descriptions
vary, but they would probably all agree in affirming that the scene
before them has no resemblance to the earlier vision. This grey-faced
very old man with his chin on his hands, who looks as if he had not
smiled these many years, would perhaps smile now if he were to recall
that former vision, which came by teaching and served well enough during
his hot youth and strenuous middle age. He does not see before him
a beautiful blessed land bright with fadeless flowers, nor a great
multitude of people in shining garments and garlands who will come down
to the shore to welcome him with sounds of shouting and singing and
playing on instruments of divers forms, and who will lead him in triumph
to the gardens of everlasting delight and to mansions of crystal
with emerald and amethyst colonnades and opal domes and turrets and
pinnacles. Those glories and populous realms of joy have quite vanished:
he sees now only what his heart desires--a silent land of rest. No
person will greet him there; he will land and go up alone into that
empty and solitary place, a still grey wilderness extending inland and
upward hundreds of leagues, an immeasurable distance, into infinity,
and rising to mountain ridges compared with which the Himalayas are
but mole-hills. The sky in that still land is always pale grey-blue in
colour, and the earth, too, is grey like the rocks, and the trees have
a grey-green foliage--trees more ancient in appearance than the worn
granite hills, with gnarled and buttressed trunks like vast towers and
immense horizontal branches, casting a slight shade over many acres of
ground. Onwards and upwards, with eyes downcast, he will slowly take his
devious way to the interior, feeling the earth with his staff, in search
of a suitable last resting-place. And when he has travelled many, many
leagues and has found it--a spot not too sunny nor too deeply shaded,
where the old fallen dead leaves and dry moss have formed a thick soft
couch to recline on and a grey exposed root winding over the earth
offers a rest to his back--there at length he will settle himself. There
he will remain motionless and contented for ever in that remote desert
land where is no sound of singing bird nor of running water nor of rain
or wind in the grey ancient trees: waking and sleeping he will rest
there, dreaming little and thinking less, while year by year and age by
age the memory of the world of passion and striving of which he was so
unutterably tired grows fainter and fainter in his mind. And he will
have neither joy nor sorrow, nor love nor hate, nor wish to know them
any more; and when he remembers his fellow-men it will comfort him to
think that his peace will never be broken by the sight of human face or
the sound of human speech, since never by any chance will any wanderer
from the world discover him in that illimitable wilderness.

This may not have been the precise vision of that old man, sitting on a
rock with chin resting on his hands; it is merely my interpretation of
his appearance and expression at that spot--his grey weary face, his
dejected attitude, his immobility; his and that of the five or six
others--those grey old men who, by a strange chance, had all come to
the place one day at the same hour, and had been left to their own
melancholy thoughts by their younger, more active companions. It was
mere chance, but the sight profoundly impressed me and gave me a more
vivid idea than I had hitherto had of the fascination this last rocky
headland has for our minds.

Then, when the strange spectacle of those aged men on that bleak day,
seated, each on his rock, twenty or thirty yards apart, absorbed in his
own mournful thoughts and gazing out fixedly on the troubled sea, was
still fresh, other incidents came to keep the subject uppermost in
my mind and to compel me to return to it and to make in conclusion a
practical suggestion.

One of the "incidents" mentioned was the perusal of a book on
Cornwall which I picked up in Penzance for the sake of the excellent
illustrations rather than to read it. I had already read or glanced
through forty or fifty or, it may be, a hundred books on Cornwall with
little pleasure or profit and did not want to read any more. It was _An
Unsentimental Journey through Cornwall_, by the author of _John Halifax,
Gentleman_, a lady who could not be unsentimental if she tried ever so
hard.

The book is dated 1884, but a few years before the author's death, when
she was a feeble old lady whose long life-work of producing novels was
over, and her time in Cornwall was limited to seventeen September days.
We are concerned only with her visit to the Land's End, and I quote here
a portion of her account of it:--

"It would be hard if, after journeying thus far and looking forward to
it so many years, the day on which we went to the Land's End should turn
out a wet day!... We wondered for the last time, as we had wondered for
half a century, what the Land's End would be like....

"At first our thought had been What in the world shall we do here for
two mortal hours? Now we wished we had two whole days. A sunset, a
sunrise, a starlit night, what would they have been in this grand lonely
place--almost as lonely as a ship at sea!...

"The bright day was darkening, and a soft greyness began to creep over
land and sea. No, not soft, that is the very last adjective applicable
to the Land's End. Even on that calm day there was a fresh wind--there
must be always a wind--and the air felt sharper and more salt than any
sea-air I ever knew, stimulating too, so that our nerves were strung
to the highest pitch of excitement. We felt able to do anything without
fear and without fatigue.... Still, though a narrow and giddy path,
there was a path, and the exploit, though a little risky, was not
foolhardy. We should have been bitterly sorry not to have done it--not
to have stood for one grand ten minutes where in all our lives we may
never stand again, at the furthest point where footing is possible,
gazing out on that magnificent circle of sea which sweeps over the
submerged land of Lyonesse, far, far away into the wide Atlantic....

"Half a mile from Marazion the rain ceased, and a light like that of a
rising moon began to break through the clouds. What a night it might be,
or might have been, could we have stayed at the Land's End!

"That ghastly 'might have been'! It is in great things as in small, the
worry, the torment, the paralyzing burden of life. Away with it! We
have done our best to be happy and we have been happy. We have seen the
Land's End."

Her cheerfulness makes one's eyes moisten--that one day at the Land's
End, when her life's work was over, when in spite of her years and weak
nerves she ventured painfully down and out among those rough crags,
assisted by her guide and companion, for one grand ten minutes on the
outermost rock--the fulfilment of a dream of fifty years!

She was a very gentle, tender-hearted woman, as sweet and lovable a
soul as ever dwelt on earth, but her mind was only an average one,
essentially mediocre; in her numerous works she never rose above the
commonplace. There are thousands of women all over the country who
could produce as many and as good books as hers if they were industrious
enough and thought it worth their while to take up novel-writing as a
profession. She wrote for the million and is understood by them, and
I take it that in her dream and sentiment about the Land's End she
represents her public--the mass of the educated women in England--just
as she represents their feeling about love and the domestic virtues and
life generally in her _John Halifax, Mistress and Maid, A Life for a
Life_ and scores of other works.

But books, however eloquent and heart-searching they may be, cannot
produce an effect comparable to that of seeing and hearing--to the sight
and sound of emotion in men's faces and voices and in their words. The
passage I have quoted, and all the other passages on the subject in the
other books I had read, gave me no such vivid idea of the strength of
the sentiment we are considering as did the other incident I wish to
relate when, on May 24, at Penzance station, I witnessed the arrival,
in four trains, of about twelve hundred trippers from some of the
cotton-spinning centres forty or fifty miles north of Manchester. The
first train steamed into the station, where a crowd had gathered to see
the horde of strange people from the north, at 10.45 the last of the
four arrived a little before 12 at noon. The return journey would begin
at 6.30 on the same day: the entire distance to and from Penzance was
considerably over eight hundred miles; the time it took, twenty-six to
twenty-eight hours, and the time the travellers had at their disposal
at their destination was about seven hours. I was amazed that twelve
hundred men had been found to undertake such a journey just to see
Penzance--one of the least interesting towns in the kingdom; but when I
mixed with and talked with them on their arrival, they assured me they
had not come for such an object and would be content to go back without
seeing Penzance. Nor did they come for the sake of anything in fine
scenery which Cornwall could show them; North Wales with its bold
sea-coast and magnificent mountain scenery was easily accessible to
them. What they came to see was the Land's End.

The Cornishmen who were present could not understand this. I talked with
one poor fellow, who sat down on a bench looking very pale, saying that
after thirteen hours in the train without a wink of sleep he felt very
tired; but he was greatly disappointed at not having got a seat in the
first lot of conveyances which were driving off loaded with his fellow
travellers to the Land's End, and feared that he might miss seeing it
after all. Among those who had gathered round to hear what was said were
two old Penzance men and they laughed heartily. "Why," said one, "I've
been here within ten miles of the Land's End all my life and have never
seen it." "I can say as much, and more," said the other; "I've never
seen it and never want to see it."

"Perhaps," I remarked, "if you had been born five hundred or five
thousand miles away you would have felt differently about it." The poor
pale Lancastrian looked pleased. "That's true!" he exclaimed. "I've
always wanted to see the Land's End, and it's the same with all of us:
we've come to see it and for nothing else."

It was the literal truth, as I found by hanging about and talking
with these men from the north all that day, watching them going and
returning. But the motor buses, char-a-bancs and other vehicles were not
enough to take them all, and when it came to three o'clock and half-past
three, and there was but time left to go with all speed, look for a few
brief minutes at the rocks, and hasten back in time for the last train,
the poor fellows began offering five shillings per man to be driven
there and back, and then at the last some offered ten shillings. But it
was too late and they could not be taken!

Is this sentiment, which is not confined to our island country but
survives in the transplanted race in other regions of the globe, this
feeling which the matter-of-fact Cornishman laughs at and which may make
many of us smile when we meet with it in a printed book, but is in us
all the same and a part of our life--is this sentiment of any value and
worth cherishing? I take it that it is, since if we were stripped of
sentiment, illusions and such traditions, romance and dreams, as we
inherit or which gather about and remain with us to the end of our days,
we should be beggared indeed. Well, let it be so, it may be said in
reply; 'tis in you and in many of us, and some have it not, and that's
all there is to be said about it--why then speak of cherishing? For the
following reason in this particular case: the sentiment relates to a
locality, a spot of land with peculiar features and character, a rocky
headland with the boundless ocean in front and the desolate wind-swept
moor behind. These features, an image of which is carried in our
minds from childhood, are bound up with and are part and parcel of
the feeling, so that to make any change in such a spot, to blow up the
headland, for instance, as any one could do with a few shillings' worth
of dynamite, or to alter and deface the surface of the adjacent land and
build big houses and other ugly structures on it, would be felt by every
pilgrim as an indignity, a hateful vandalism. We have seen in the case
of Hindhead and of many other places which powerfully attract us, what
the greed and philistinism of man will do to destroy an ancient charm.
A man may do what he likes with his own--a frightful liberty when
we remember how God's footstool has been parcelled out among private
persons, and what brutish men, or men without the sense of beauty,
have done and may do to spoil it. I suppose that if Sir Edmund Antrobus
thought proper he could run up a red-brick hotel or sanatorium high
as Hankey's Mansions at Stonehenge: but not Stonehenge, nor Mona, nor
Senlac, nor that hoary fane where Britain buries her great dead, nor any
castle or cathedral, or tower or river or mountain or plain in all the
land draws us so powerfully as this naked moor and rude foreland with
its ancient dim memories and associations. And we now see what is being
done with it--how plots of land for building purposes are being sold
right and left, and the place in every way vulgarised and degraded.

Undoubtedly there are men so devoid of sentiment and imagination that
they would not hesitate to stamp out the last beautiful thing on earth,
if its beauty, or some sentiment connected with it which made it seem
beautiful, is the only reason or the only excuse that can be given for
its existence. But all are not of this character, and to those who have
something besides Cornish tin and copper in their souls, who are not
wholly devoted to their own and, incidentally, to their county's,
material prosperity, I would appeal to rescue from degradation and to
preserve unspoilt for all time this precious spot to which pilgrims
resort from all the land.

It is not necessary, I hope, to describe the Land's End as the county's
best "asset" or as the "goose that lays the golden eggs", or by some
such abominable phrase, which is yet well understood by all since it
appeals to the baser nature in every man--to his greed and his cunning;
still, it might be well to remind even those who are wholly concerned
with material things that the sentiment they make light of probably
exists in some degree in a majority of the inhabitants of this
country--which, be it remembered, is mainly Anglo-Saxon, a sentimental
race, to use the word in its better sense--and that it is the desire of
most persons to see the Land's End; also that probably nine of every ten
visitors to Cornwall think of that headland as their objective point.

To save this spot it would undoubtedly have to be taken from private
ownership; and, given the desire, there would be small difficulty in
obtaining an Act of Parliament for the compulsory sale of a strip of the
sea-front with, let us say, a couple of thousand acres of the adjoining
moor. The buildings which now deform the place, the unneeded hotels,
with stables, shanties, zinc bungalows sprawling over the cliff, and
the ugly big and little houses could be cleared away, leaving only the
ancient village of St. Sennen, the old farm-houses, the coastguard and
Trinity House stations, and the old fishing hamlet under the cliff.

If a Cornish Society, formed for the purpose, and working with the
County Council, could not do this without outside help, the money needed
could no doubt be easily raised by public subscription. We know that
very large sums are frequently given by the public for similar purposes,
also for various other purposes which appeal to comparatively very few,
as, for example, when the sum of £45,000 was recently given by private
subscribers to purchase the Rokeby "Venus" for the National Gallery.
Yet for every single subscriber to that fund, and, I may say, for every
person in England who regards that canvas as a valuable acquisition,
there are probably thousands who would gladly see the Land's End made
a National possession, and who would willingly subscribe for such an
object.

[Illustration: 0347]





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