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´╗┐Title: A Shepherd's Life: Impressions of the South Wiltshire Downs
Author: Hudson, W. H. (William Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A SHEPHERD'S LIFE

IMPRESSIONS OF THE SOUTH WILTSHIRE DOWNS

BY W. H. HUDSON



NOTE

I an obliged to Messrs. Longmans, Green, & Co. for permission to make
use of an article entitled "A Shepherd of the Downs," which appeared in
the October and November numbers of _Longmans' Magazine_ in 1902.
With the exception of that article, portions of which I have
incorporated in different chapters, the whole of the matter contained in
this work now appears for the first time.



CONTENTS

Chapter.

      I. SALISBURY PLAIN

     II. SALISBURY AS I SEE IT

    III. WINTERBOURNE BISHOP

     IV. A SHEPHERD OF THE DOWNS

      V. EARLY MEMORIES

     VI. SHEPHERD ISAAC BAWCOMBE

    VII. THE DEER-STEALERS

   VIII. SHEPHERDS AND POACHING

     IX. THE SHEPHERD ON FOXES

      X. BIRD LIFE ON THE DOWNS

     XI. STARLINGS AND SHEEP-BELLS

    XII. THE SHEPHERD AND THE BIBLE

   XIII. VALE OF THE WYLYE

    XIV. A SHEEP-DOG'S LIFE

     XV. THE ELLERBYS OF DOVETON

    XVI. OLD WILTSHIRE DAYS

   XVII. OLD WILTSHIRE DAYS (_continued_)

  XVIII. THE SHEPHERD'S RETURN

    XIX. THE DARK PEOPLE OF THE VILLAGE

     XX. SOME SHEEP-DOGS

    XXI. THE SHEPHERD AS NATURALIST

   XXII. THE MASTER OF THE VILLAGE

  XXIII. ISAAC'S CHILDREN

   XXIV. LIVING IN THE PAST



A SHEPHERD'S LIFE

SALISBURY PLAIN

CHAPTER I

  Introductory remarks--Wiltshire little favoured by tourists--Aspect of
  the downs--Bad weather--Desolate aspect--The bird-scarer--Fascination
  of the downs--The larger Salisbury Plain--Effect of the military
  occupation--A century's changes--Birds--Old Wiltshire sheep--Sheep-horns
  in a well--Changes wrought by cultivation--Rabbit-warrens on the
  downs--Barrows obliterated by the plough and by rabbits


Wiltshire looks large on the map of England, a great green county, yet
it never appears to be a favourite one to those who go on rambles in the
land. At all events I am unable to bring to mind an instance of a lover
of Wiltshire who was not a native or a resident, or had not been to
Marlborough and loved the country on account of early associations. Nor
can I regard myself as an exception, since, owing to a certain kind of
adaptiveness in me, a sense of being at home wherever grass grows, I am
in a way a native too. Again, listen to any half-dozen of your friends
discussing the places they have visited, or intend visiting, comparing
notes about the counties, towns, churches, castles, scenery--all that
draws them and satisfies their nature, and the chances are that they
will not even mention Wiltshire. They all know it "in a way"; they have
seen Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge, which everybody must go to look
at once in his life; and they have also viewed the country from the
windows of a railroad carriage as they passed through on their flight to
Bath and to Wales with its mountains, and to the west country, which
many of us love best of all--Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. For there is
nothing striking in Wiltshire, at all events to those who love nature
first; nor mountains, nor sea, nor anything to compare with the places
they are hastening to, west or north. The downs! Yes, the downs are
there, full in sight of your window, in their flowing forms resembling
vast, pale green waves, wave beyond wave, "in fluctuation fixed"; a fine
country to walk on in fine weather for all those who regard the mere
exercise of walking as sufficient pleasure. But to those who wish for
something more, these downs may be neglected, since, if downs are
wanted, there is the higher, nobler Sussex range within an hour of
London. There are others on whom the naked aspect of the downs has a
repelling effect. Like Gilpin they love not an undecorated earth; and
false and ridiculous as Gilpin's taste may seem to me and to all those
who love the chalk, which "spoils everything" as Gilpin said, he
certainly expresses a feeling common to those who are unaccustomed to
the emptiness and silence of these great spaces.

As to walking on the downs, one remembers that the fine days are not so
many, even in the season when they are looked for--they have certainly
been few during this wet and discomfortable one of 1909. It is indeed
only on the chalk hills that I ever feel disposed to quarrel with this
English climate, for all weathers are good to those who love the open
air, and have their special attractions. What a pleasure it is to be out
in rough weather in October when the equinoctial gales are on, "the wind
Euroclydon," to listen to its roaring in the bending trees, to watch the
dead leaves flying, the pestilence-stricken multitudes, yellow and black
and red, whirled away in flight on flight before the volleying blast,
and to hear and see and feel the tempests of rain, the big silver-grey
drops that smite you like hail! And what pleasure too, in the still grey
November weather, the time of suspense and melancholy before winter, a
strange quietude, like a sense of apprehension in nature! And so on
through the revolving year, in all places in all weathers, there is
pleasure in the open air, except on these chalk hills because of their
bleak nakedness. There the wind and driving rain are not for but against
you, and may overcome you with misery. One feels their loneliness,
monotony, and desolation on many days, sometimes even when it is not
wet, and I here recall an amusing encounter with a bird-scarer during
one of these dreary spells.

It was in March, bitterly cold, with an east wind which had been blowing
many days, and overhead the sky was of a hard, steely grey. I was
cycling along the valley of the Ebble, and finally leaving it pushed up
a long steep slope and set off over the high plain by a dusty road with
the wind hard against me. A more desolate scene than the one before me
it would be hard to imagine, for the land was all ploughed and stretched
away before me, an endless succession of vast grey fields, divided by
wire fences. On all that space there was but one living thing in sight,
a human form, a boy, far away on the left side, standing in the middle
of a big field with something which looked like a gun in his hand.
Immediately after I saw him he, too, appeared to have caught sight of
me, for turning he set off running as fast as he could over the ploughed
ground towards the road, as if intending to speak to me. The distance he
would have to run was about a quarter of a mile and I doubted that he
would be there in time to catch me, but he ran fast and the wind was
against me, and he arrived at the road just as I got to that point.
There by the side of the fence he stood, panting from his race, his
handsome face glowing with colour, a boy about twelve or thirteen, with
a fine strong figure, remarkably well dressed for a bird-scarer. For
that was what he was, and he carried a queer, heavy-looking old gun. I
got off my wheel and waited for him to speak, but he was silent, and
continued regarding me with the smiling countenance of one well pleased
with himself. "Well?" I said, but there was no answer; he only kept on
smiling.

"What did you want?" I demanded impatiently.

"I didn't want anything."

"But you started running here as fast as you could the moment you caught
sight of me."

"Yes, I did."

"Well, what did you do it for--what was your object in running here?"

"Just to see you pass," he answered.

It was a little ridiculous and vexed me at first, but by and by when I
left him, after some more conversation, I felt rather pleased; for it
was a new and somewhat flattering experience to have any person run a
long distance over a ploughed field, burdened with a heavy gun, "just to
see me pass."

But it was not strange in the circumstances; his hours in that grey,
windy desolation must have seemed like days, and it was a break in the
monotony, a little joyful excitement in getting to the road in time to
see a passer-by more closely, and for a few moments gave him a sense of
human companionship. I began even to feel a little sorry for him, alone
there in his high, dreary world, but presently thought he was better off
and better employed than most of his fellows poring over miserable books
in school, and I wished we had a more rational system of education for
the agricultural districts, one which would not keep the children shut
up in a room during all the best hours of the day, when to be out of
doors, seeing, hearing, and doing, would fit them so much better for the
life-work before them. Squeers' method was a wiser one. We think less of
it than of the delightful caricature, which makes Squeers "a joy for
ever," as Mr. Lang has said of Pecksniff. But Dickens was a Londoner,
and incapable of looking at this or any other question from any other
than the Londoner's standpoint. Can you have a better system for the
children of all England than this one which will turn out the most
perfect draper's assistant in Oxford Street, or, to go higher, the most
efficient Mr. Guppy in a solicitor's office? It is true that we have
Nature's unconscious intelligence against us; that by and by, when at
the age of fourteen the boy is finally released, she will set to work to
undo the wrong by discharging from his mind its accumulations of useless
knowledge as soon as he begins the work of life. But what a waste of
time and energy and money! One can only hope that the slow intellect of
the country will wake to this question some day, that the countryman
will say to the townsman, Go on making your laws and systems of
education for your own children, who will live as you do indoors; while
I shall devise a different one for mine, one which will give them hard
muscles and teach them to raise the mutton and pork and cultivate the
potatoes and cabbages on which we all feed.

To return to the downs. Their very emptiness and desolation, which
frightens the stranger from them, only serves to make them more
fascinating to those who are intimate with and have learned to love
them. That dreary aspect brings to mind the other one, when, on waking
with the early sunlight in the room, you look out on a blue sky,
cloudless or with white clouds. It may be fancy, or the effect of
contrast, but it has always seemed to me that just as the air is purer
and fresher on these chalk heights than on the earth below, and as the
water is of a more crystal purity, and the sky perhaps bluer, so do all
colours and all sounds have a purity and vividness and intensity beyond
that of other places. I see it in the yellows of hawkweed, rock-rose,
and birds'-foot-trefoil, in the innumerable specks of brilliant
colour--blue and white and rose--of milk-wort and squinancy-wort, and in
the large flowers of the dwarf thistle, glowing purple in its green
setting; and I hear it in every bird-sound, in the trivial songs of
yellow-hammer and corn-bunting, and of dunnock and wren and whitethroat.

The pleasure of walking on the downs is not, however, a subject which
concerns me now; it is one I have written about in a former work,
"Nature in Downland," descriptive of the South Downs. The theme of the
present work is the life, human and other, of the South Wiltshire Downs,
or of Salisbury Plain. It is the part of Wiltshire which has most
attracted me. Most persons would say that the Marlborough Downs are
greater, more like the great Sussex range as it appears from the Weald:
but chance brought me farther south, and the character and life of the
village people when I came to know them made this appear the best place
to be in.

The Plain itself is not a precisely denned area, and may be made to
include as much or little as will suit the writer's purpose. If you want
a continuous plain, with no dividing valley cutting through it, you must
place it between the Avon and Wylye Rivers, a distance about fifteen
miles broad and as many long, with the village of Tilshead in its
centure; or, if you don't mind the valleys, you can say it extends from
Downton and Tollard Royal south of Salisbury to the Pewsey vale in the
north, and from the Hampshire border on the east side to Dorset and
Somerset on the west, about twenty-five to thirty miles each way. My own
range is over this larger Salisbury Plain, which includes the River
Ebble, or Ebele, with its numerous interesting villages, from Odstock
and Combe Bisset, near Salisbury and "the Chalks," to pretty Alvediston
near the Dorset line, and all those in the Nadder valley, and westward
to White Sheet Hill above Mere. You can picture this high chalk country
as an open hand, the left hand, with Salisbury in the hollow of the
palm, placed nearest the wrist, and the five valleys which cut through
it as the five spread fingers, from the Bourne (the little finger)
succeeded by Avon, Wylye, and Nadder, to the Ebble, which comes in lower
down as the thumb and has its junction with the main stream below
Salisbury.

A very large portion of this high country is now in a transitional
state, that was once a sheep-walk and is now a training ground for the
army. Where the sheep are taken away the turf loses the smooth, elastic
character which makes it better to walk on than the most perfect lawn.
The sheep fed closely, and everything that grew on the down--grasses,
clovers, and numerous small creeping herbs--had acquired the habit of
growing and flowering close to the ground, every species and each
individual plant striving, with the unconscious intelligence that is in
all growing things, to hide its leaves and pushing sprays under the
others, to escape the nibbling teeth by keeping closer to the surface.
There are grasses and some herbs, the plantain among them, which keep
down very close but must throw up a tall stem to flower and seed. Look
at the plantain when its flowering time comes; each particular plant
growing with its leaves so close down on the surface as to be safe from
the busy, searching mouths, then all at once throwing up tall, straight
stems to flower and ripen its seeds quickly. Watch a flock at this time,
and you will see a sheep walking about, rapidly plucking the flowering
spikes, cutting them from the stalk with a sharp snap, taking them off
at the rate of a dozen or so in twenty seconds. But the sheep cannot be
all over the downs at the same time, and the time is short, myriads of
plants throwing up their stems at once, so that many escape, and it has
besides a deep perennial root so that the plant keeps its own life
though it may be unable to sow any seeds for many seasons. So with other
species which must send up a tall flower stem; and by and by, the
flowering over and the seeds ripened or lost, the dead, scattered stems
remain like long hairs growing out of a close fur. The turf remains
unchanged; but take the sheep away and it is like the removal of a
pressure, or a danger: the plant recovers liberty and confidence and
casts off the old habit; it springs and presses up to get the better of
its fellows--to get all the dew and rain and sunshine that it can--and
the result is a rough surface.

Another effect of the military occupation is the destruction of the wild
life of the Plain, but that is a matter I have written about in my last
book, "Afoot in England," in a chapter on Stonehenge, and need not dwell
on here. To the lover of Salisbury Plain as it was, the sight of
military camps, with white tents or zinc houses, and of bodies of men in
khaki marching and drilling, and the sound of guns, now informs him that
he is in a district which has lost its attraction, where nature has been
dispossessed.

Meanwhile, there is a corresponding change going on in the human life of
the district. Let anyone describe it as he thinks best, as an
improvement or a deterioration, it is a great change nevertheless, which
in my case and probably that of many others is as disagreeable to
contemplate as that which we are beginning to see in the down, which was
once a sheep-walk and is so no longer. On this account I have ceased to
frequent that portion of the Plain where the War Office is in possession
of the land, and to keep to the southern side in my rambles, out of
sight and hearing of the "white-tented camps" and mimic warfare. Here is
Salisbury Plain as it has been these thousand years past, or ever since
sheep were pastured here more than in any other district in England, and
that may well date even more than ten centuries back.

Undoubtedly changes have taken place even here, some very great, chiefly
during the last, or from the late eighteenth century. Changes both in
the land and the animal life, wild and domestic. Of the losses in wild
bird life there will be something to say in another chapter; they relate
chiefly to the extermination of the finest species, the big bird,
especially the soaring bird, which is now gone out of all this wide
Wiltshire sky. As a naturalist I must also lament the loss of the old
Wiltshire breed of sheep, although so long gone. Once it was the only
breed known in Wilts, and extended over the entire county; it was a big
animal, the largest of the fine-woolled sheep in England, but for looks
it certainly compared badly with modern downland breeds and possessed,
it was said, all the points which the breeder, or improver, was against.
Thus, its head was big and clumsy, with a round nose, its legs were long
and thick, its belly without wool, and both sexes were horned. Horns,
even in a ram, are an abomination to the modern sheep-farmer in Southern
England. Finally, it was hard to fatten. On the other hand it was a
sheep which had been from of old on the bare open downs and was modified
to suit the conditions, the scanty feed, the bleak, bare country, and
the long distances it had to travel to and from the pasture ground. It
was a strong, healthy, intelligent animal, in appearance and character
like the old original breed of sheep on the pampas of South America,
which I knew as a boy, a coarse-woolled sheep with naked belly, tall and
hardy, a greatly modified variety of the sheep introduced by the Spanish
colonist three centuries ago. At all events the old Wiltshire sheep had
its merits, and when the Southdown breed was introduced during the late
eighteenth century the farmer viewed it with disfavour; they liked their
old native animal, and did not want to lose it. But it had to go in
time, just as in later times the Southdown had to go when the Hampshire
Down took its place--the breed which is now universal, in South Wilts at
all events.

A solitary flock of the pure-bred old Wiltshire sheep existed in the
county as late as 1840, but the breed has now so entirely disappeared
from the country that you find many shepherds who have never even heard
of it. Not many days ago I met with a curious instance of this ignorance
of the past. I was talking to a shepherd, a fine intelligent fellow,
keenly interested in the subjects of sheep and sheep-dogs, on the high
down above the village of Broad Chalk on the Ebble, and he told me that
his dog was of mixed breed, but on its mother's side came from a Welsh
sheep-dog, that his father had always had the Welsh dog, once common in
Wiltshire, and he wondered why it had gone out as it was so good an
animal. This led me to say something about the old sheep having gone out
too, and as he had never heard of the old breed I described the animal
to him.

What I told him, he said, explained something which had been a puzzle to
him for some years. There was a deep hollow in the down near the spot
where we were standing, and at the bottom he said there was an old well
which had been used in former times to water the sheep, but masses of
earth had fallen down from the sides, and in that condition it had
remained for no one knew how long--perhaps fifty, perhaps a hundred
years. Some years ago it came into his master's head to have this old
well cleaned out, and this was done with a good deal of labour, the
sides having first been boarded over to make it safe for the workmen
below. At the bottom of the well a vast store of rams' horns was
discovered and brought out; and it was a mystery to the fanner and the
men how so large a number of sheep's horns had been got together; for
rams are few and do not die often, and here there were hundreds of
horns. He understood it now, for if all the sheep, ewes as well as rams,
were horned in the old breed, a collection like this might easily have
been made.

The greatest change of the last hundred years is no doubt that which the
plough has wrought in the aspect of the downs. There is a certain
pleasure to the eye in the wide fields of golden corn, especially of
wheat, in July and August; but a ploughed down is a down made ugly, and
it strikes one as a mistake, even from a purely economic point of view,
that this old rich turf, the slow product of centuries, should be ruined
for ever as sheep-pasture when so great an extent of uncultivated land
exists elsewhere, especially the heavy clays of the Midlands, better
suited for corn. The effect of breaking up the turf on the high downs is
often disastrous; the thin soil which was preserved by the close, hard
turf is blown or washed away, and the soil becomes poorer year by year,
in spite of dressing, until it is hardly worth cultivating. Clover may
be grown on it but it continues to deteriorate; or the tenant or
landlord may turn it into a rabbit-warren, the most fatal policy of all.
How hideous they are--those great stretches of downland, enclosed in big
wire fences and rabbit netting, with little but wiry weeds, moss, and
lichen growing on them, the earth dug up everywhere by the disorderly
little beasts! For a while there is a profit--"it will serve me my
time," the owner says--but the end is utter barrenness.

One must lament, too, the destruction of the ancient earth-works,
especially of the barrows, which is going on all over the downs, most
rapidly where the land is broken up by the plough. One wonders if the
ever-increasing curiosity of our day with regard to the history of the
human race in the land continues to grow, what our descendants of the
next half of the century, to go no farther, will say of us and our
incredible carelessness in the matter! So small a matter to us, but one
which will, perhaps, be immensely important to them! It is, perhaps,
better for our peace that we do not know; it would not be pleasant to
have our children's and children's children's contemptuous expressions
sounding in our prophetic ears. Perhaps we have no right to complain of
the obliteration of these memorials of antiquity by the plough; the
living are more than the dead, and in this case it may be said that we
are only following the Artemisian example in consuming (in our daily
bread) minute portions of the ashes of our old relations, albeit
untearfully, with a cheerful countenance. Still one cannot but
experience a shock on seeing the plough driven through an ancient,
smooth turf, curiously marked with barrows, lynchetts, and other
mysterious mounds and depressions, where sheep have been pastured for a
thousand years, without obscuring these chance hieroglyphs scored by men
on the surface of the hills.

It is not, however, only on the cultivated ground that the destruction
is going on; the rabbit, too, is an active agent in demolishing the
barrows and other earth-works. He burrows into the mound and throws out
bushels of chalk and clay, which is soon washed down by the rains; he
tunnels it through and through and sometimes makes it his village; then
one day the farmer or keeper, who is not an archaeologist, comes along
and puts his ferrets into the holes, and one of them, after drinking his
fill of blood, falls asleep by the side of his victim, and the keeper
sets to work with pick and shovel to dig him out, and demolishes half
the barrow to recover his vile little beast.



CHAPTER II

SALISBURY AS I SEE IT

  The Salisbury of the villager--The cathedral from the meadows--Walks to
  Wilton and Old Sarum--The spire and a rainbow--Charm of Old Sarum--The
  devastation--Salisbury from Old Sarum--Leland's description--Salisbury
  and the village mind--Market-day--The infirmary--The cathedral--The
  lesson of a child's desire--In the streets again--An Apollo of the downs


To the dwellers on the Plain, Salisbury itself is an exceedingly
important place--the most important in the world. For if they have seen
a greater--London, let us say--it has left but a confused, a
phantasmagoric image on the mind, an impression of endless thoroughfares
and of innumerable people all apparently in a desperate hurry to do
something, yet doing nothing; a labyrinth of streets and wilderness of
houses, swarming with beings who have no definite object and no more to
do with realities than so many lunatics, and are unconfined because they
are so numerous that all the asylums in the world could not contain
them. But of Salisbury they have a very clear image: inexpressibly rich
as it is in sights, in wonders, full of people--hundreds of people in
the streets and market-place--they can take it all in and know its
meaning. Every man and woman, of all classes, in all that concourse, is
there for some definite purpose which they can guess and understand; and
the busy street and market, and red houses and soaring spire, are all
one, and part and parcel too of their own lives in their own distant
little village by the Avon or Wylye, or anywhere on the Plain. And that
soaring spire which, rising so high above the red town, first catches
the eye, the one object which gives unity and distinction to the whole
picture, is not more distinct in the mind than the entire Salisbury with
its manifold interests and activities.

There is nothing in the architecture of England more beautiful than that
same spire. I have seen it many times, far and near, from all points of
view, and am never in or near the place but I go to some spot where I
look at and enjoy the sight; but I will speak here of the two best
points of view.

The nearest, which is the artist's favourite point, is from the meadows;
there, from the waterside, you have the cathedral not too far away nor
too near for a picture, whether on canvas or in the mind, standing
amidst its great old trees, with nothing but the moist green meadows and
the river between. One evening, during the late summer of this wettest
season, when the rain was beginning to cease, I went out this way for my
stroll, the pleasantest if not the only "walk" there is in Salisbury. It
is true, there are two others: one to Wilton by its long, shady avenue;
the other to Old Sarum; but these are now motor-roads, and until the
loathed hooting and dusting engines are thrust away into roads of their
own there is little pleasure in them for the man on foot. The rain
ceased, but the sky was still stormy, with a great blackness beyond the
cathedral and still other black clouds coming up from the west behind
me. Then the sun, near its setting, broke out, sending a flame of orange
colour through the dark masses around it, and at the same time flinging
a magnificent rainbow on that black cloud against which the immense
spire stood wet with rain and flushed with light, so that it looked like
a spire built of a stone impregnated with silver. Never had Nature so
glorified man's work! It was indeed a marvellous thing to see, an effect
so rare that in all the years I had known Salisbury, and the many times
I had taken that stroll in all weathers, it was my first experience of
such a thing. How lucky, then, was Constable to have seen it, when he
set himself to paint his famous picture! And how brave he was and even
wise to have attempted such a subject, one which, I am informed by
artists with the brush, only a madman would undertake, however great a
genius he might be. It was impossible, we know, even to a Constable, but
we admire his failure nevertheless, even as we admire Turner's many
failures; but when we go back to Nature we are only too glad to forget
all about the picture.

The view from the meadows will not, in the future, I fear, seem so
interesting to me; I shall miss the rainbow, and shall never see again
except in that treasured image the great spire as Constable saw and
tried to paint it. In like manner, though for a different reason, my
future visits to Old Sarum will no longer give me the same pleasure
experienced on former occasions.

Old Sarum stands over the Avon, a mile and a half from Salisbury; a
round chalk hill about 300 feet high, in its round shape and isolation
resembling a stupendous tumulus in which the giants of antiquity were
buried, its steeply sloping, green sides ringed about with vast,
concentric earth-works and ditches, the work of the "old people," as
they say on the Plain, when referring to the ancient Britons, but how
ancient, whether invading Celts or Aborigines--the true Britons, who
possessed the land from neolithic times--even the anthropologists, the
wise men of to-day, are unable to tell us. Later, it was a Roman
station, one of the most important, and in after ages a great Norman
castle and cathedral city, until early in the thirteenth century, when
the old church was pulled down and a new and better one to last for ever
was built in the green plain by many running waters. Church and people
gone, the castle fell into ruin, though some believe it existed down to
the fifteenth century; but from that time onwards the site has been a
place of historical memories and a wilderness. Nature had made it a
sweet and beautiful spot; the earth over the old buried ruins was
covered with an elastic turf, jewelled with the bright little flowers of
the chalk, the ramparts and ditches being all overgrown with a dense
thicket of thorn, holly, elder, bramble, and ash, tangled up with ivy,
briony, and traveller's-joy. Once only during the last five or six
centuries some slight excavations were made when, in 1834, as the result
of an excessively dry summer, the lines of the cathedral foundations
were discernible on the surface. But it will no longer be the place it
was, the Society of Antiquaries having received permission from the Dean
and Chapter of Salisbury to work their sweet will on the site. That
ancient, beautiful carcass, which had long made their mouths water, on
which they have now fallen like a pack of hungry hyenas to tear off the
old hide of green turf and burrow down to open to the light or drag out
the deep, stony framework. The beautiful surrounding thickets, too, must
go, they tell me, since you cannot turn the hill inside out without
destroying the trees and bushes that crown it. What person who has known
it and has often sought that spot for the sake of its ancient
associations, and of the sweet solace they have found in the solitude,
or for the noble view of the sacred city from its summit, will not
deplore this fatal amiability of the authorities, this weak desire to
please every one and inability to say no to such a proposal!

But let me now return to the object which brings me to this spot; it was
not to lament the loss of the beautiful, which cannot be preserved in
our age--even this best one of all which Salisbury possessed cannot be
preserved--but to look at Salisbury from this point of view. It is not
as from "the meadows" a view of the cathedral only, but of the whole
town, amidst its circle of vast green downs. It has a beautiful aspect
from that point: a red-brick and red-tiled town, set low on that
circumscribed space, whose soft, brilliant green is in lovely contrast
with the paler hue of the downs beyond, the perennial moist green of its
water-meadows. For many swift, clear currents flow around and through
Salisbury, and doubtless in former days there were many more channels in
the town itself. Leland's description is worth quoting: "There be many
fair streates in the Cite Saresbyri, and especially the High Streate and
Castle Streate.... Al the Streates in a maner, in New Saresbyri, hath
little streamlettes and arms derivyd out of Avon that runneth through
them. The site of the very town of Saresbyri and much ground thereabout
is playne and low, and as a pan or receyvor of most part of the waters
of Wiltshire."

On this scene, this red town with the great spire, set down among
water-meadows, encircled by paler green chalk hills, I look from the top
of the inner and highest rampart or earth-work; or going a little
distance down sit at ease on the turf to gaze at it by the hour. Nor
could a sweeter resting-place be found, especially at the time of ripe
elder-berries, when the thickets are purple with their clusters and the
starlings come in flocks to feed on them, and feeding keep up a
perpetual, low musical jangle about me.

It is not, however, of "New Saresbyri" as seen by the tourist, with a
mind full of history, archaeology, and the aesthetic delight in
cathedrals, that I desire to write, but of Salisbury as it appears to
the dweller on the Plain. For Salisbury is the capital of the Plain, the
head and heart of all those villages, too many to count, scattered far
and wide over the surrounding country. It is the villager's own peculiar
city, and even as the spot it stands upon is the "pan or receyvor of
most part of the waters of Wiltshire," so is it the receyvor of all he
accomplishes in his laborious life, and thitherward flow all his
thoughts and ambitions. Perhaps it is not so difficult for me as it
would be for most persons who are not natives to identify myself with
him and see it as he sees it. That greater place we have been in, that
mighty, monstrous London, is ever present to the mind and is like a mist
before the sight when we look at other places; but for me there is no
such mist, no image so immense and persistent as to cover and obscure
all others, and no such mental habit as that of regarding people as a
mere crowd, a mass, a monstrous organism, in and on which each
individual is but a cell, a scale. This feeling troubles and confuses my
mind when I am in London, where we live "too thick"; but quitting it I
am absolutely free; it has not entered my soul and coloured me with its
colour or shut me out from those who have never known it, even of the
simplest dwellers on the soil who, to our sophisticated minds, may seem
like beings of another species. This is my happiness--to feel, in all
places, that I am one with them. To say, for instance, that I am going
to Salisbury to-morrow, and catch the gleam in the children's eye and
watch them, furtively watching me, whisper to one another that there
will be something for them, too, on the morrow. To set out betimes and
overtake the early carriers' carts on the road, each with its little
cargo of packages and women with baskets and an old man or two, to
recognize acquaintances among those who sit in front, and as I go on
overtaking and passing carriers and the half-gipsy, little "general
dealer" in his dirty, ramshackle, little cart drawn by a rough,
fast-trotting pony, all of us intent on business and pleasure, bound for
Salisbury--the great market and emporium and place of all delights for
all the great Plain. I remember that on my very last expedition, when I
had come twelve miles in the rain and was standing at a street corner,
wet to the skin, waiting for my carrier, a man in a hurry said to me, "I
say, just keep an eye on my cart for a minute or two while I run round
to see somebody. I've got some fowls in it, and if you see anyone come
poking round just ask them what they want--you can't trust every one.
I'll be back in a minute." And he was gone, and I was very pleased to
watch his cart and fowls till he came back.

Business is business and must be attended to, in fair or foul weather,
but for business with pleasure we prefer it fine on market-day. The one
great and chief pleasure, in which all participate, is just to be there,
to be in the crowd--a joyful occasion which gives a festive look to
every face. The mere sight of it exhilarates like wine. The numbers--the
people and the animals! The carriers' carts drawn up in rows on
rows--carriers from a hundred little villages on the Bourne, the Avon,
the Wylye, the Nadder, the Ebble, and from all over the Plain, each
bringing its little contingent. Hundreds and hundreds more coming by
train; you see them pouring down Fisherton Street in a continuous
procession, all hurrying market-wards. And what a lively scene the
market presents now, full of cattle and sheep and pigs and crowds of
people standing round the shouting auctioneers! And horses, too, the
beribboned hacks, and ponderous draught horses with manes and tails
decorated with golden straw, thundering over the stone pavement as they
are trotted up and down! And what a profusion of fruit and vegetables,
fish and meat, and all kinds of provisions on the stalls, where women
with baskets on their arms are jostling and bargaining! The Corn
Exchange is like a huge beehive, humming with the noise of talk, full of
brown-faced farmers in their riding and driving clothes and leggings,
standing in knots or thrusting their hands into sacks of oats and
barley. You would think that all the farmers from all the Plain were
congregated there. There is a joyful contagion in it all. Even the
depressed young lover, the forlornest of beings, repairs his wasted
spirits and takes heart again. Why, if I've seen a girl with a pretty
face to-day I've seen a hundred--and more. And she thinks they be so few
she can treat me like that and barely give me a pleasant word in a
month! Let her come to Salisbury and see how many there be!

And so with every one in that vast assemblage--vast to the dweller in
the Plain. Each one is present as it were in two places, since each has
in his or her heart the constant image of home--the little, peaceful
village in the remote valley; of father and mother and neighbours and
children, in school just now, or at play, or home to dinner--home cares
and concerns and the business in Salisbury. The selling and buying;
friends and relations to visit or to meet in the market-place, and--how
often!--the sick one to be seen at the Infirmary. This home of the
injured and ailing, which is in the mind of so many of the people
gathered together, is indeed the cord that draws and binds the city and
the village closest together and makes the two like one.

That great, comely building of warm, red brick in Fisherton Street, set
well back so that you can see it as a whole, behind its cedar and
beech-trees--how familiar it is to the villagers! In numberless humble
homes, in hundreds of villages of the Plain, and all over the
surrounding country, the "Infirmary" is a name of the deepest meaning,
and a place of many gad and tender and beautiful associations. I heard
it spoken of in a manner which surprised me at first, for I know some of
the London poor and am accustomed to their attitude towards the
metropolitan hospitals. The Londoner uses them very freely; they have
come to be as necessary to him as the grocer's shop and the
public-house, but for all the benefits he receives from them he has no
faintest sense of gratitude, and it is my experience that if you speak
to him of this he is roused to anger and demands, "What are they for?"
So far is he from having any thankful thoughts for all that has been
given him for nothing and done for him and for his, if he has anything
to say at all on the matter it is to find fault with the hospitals and
cast blame on them for not having healed him more quickly or thoroughly.

This country town hospital and infirmary is differently regarded by the
villagers of the Plain. It is curious to find how many among them are
personally acquainted with it; perhaps it is not easy for anyone, even
in this most healthy district, to get through life without sickness, and
all are liable to accidents. The injured or afflicted youth, taken
straight from his rough, hard life and poor cottage, wonders at the
place he finds himself in--the wide, clean, airy room and white, easy
bed, the care and skill of the doctors, the tender nursing by women, and
comforts and luxuries, all without payment, but given as it seems to him
out of pure divine love and compassion--all this comes to him as
something strange, almost incredible. He suffers much perhaps, but can
bear pain stoically and forget it when it is past, but the loving
kindness he has experienced is remembered.

That is one of the very great things Salisbury has for the villagers,
and there are many more which may not be spoken of, since we do not want
to lose sight of the wood on account of the trees; only one must be
mentioned for a special reason, and that is the cathedral. The villager
is extremely familiar with it as he sees it from the market and the
street and from a distance, from all the roads which lead him to
Salisbury. Seeing it he sees everything beneath it--all the familiar
places and objects, all the streets--High and Castle and Crane Streets,
and many others, including Endless Street, which reminds one of Sydney
Smith's last flicker of fun before that candle went out; and the "White
Hart" and the "Angel" and "Old George," and the humbler "Goat" and
"Green Man" and "Shoulder of Mutton," with many besides; and the great,
red building with its cedar-tree, and the knot of men and boys standing
on the bridge gazing down on the trout in the swift river below; and the
market-place and its busy crowds--all the familiar sights and scenes
that come under the spire like a flock of sheep on a burning day in
summer, grouped about a great tree growing in the pasture-land. But he
is not familiar with the interior of the great fane; it fails to draw
him, doubtless because he has no time in his busy, practical life for
the cultivation of the aesthetic faculties. There is a crust over that
part of his mind; but it need not always and ever be so; the crust is
not on the mind of the child.

Before a stall in the market-place a child is standing with her
mother--a commonplace-looking, little girl of about twelve, blue-eyed,
light-haired, with thin arms and legs, dressed, poorly enough, for her
holiday. The mother, stoutish, in her best but much-worn black gown and
a brown straw, out-of-shape hat, decorated with bits of ribbon and a few
soiled and frayed artificial flowers. Probably she is the wife of a
labourer who works hard to keep himself and family on fourteen shillings
a week; and she, too, shows, in her hard hands and sunburnt face, with
little wrinkles appearing, that she is a hard worker; but she is very
jolly, for she is in Salisbury on market-day, in fine weather, with
several shillings in her purse--a shilling for the fares, and perhaps
eightpence for refreshments, and the rest to be expended in necessaries
for the house. And now to increase the pleasure of the day she has
unexpectedly run against a friend! There they stand, the two friends,
basket on arm, right in the midst of the jostling crowd, talking in
their loud, tinny voices at a tremendous rate; while the girl, with a
half-eager, half-listless expression, stands by with her hand on her
mother's dress, and every time there is a second's pause in the eager
talk she gives a little tug at the gown and ejaculates "Mother!" The
woman impatiently shakes off the hand and says sharply, "What now,
Marty! Can't 'ee let me say just a word without bothering!" and on the
talk runs again; then another tug and "Mother!" and then, "You promised,
mother," and by and by, "Mother, you said you'd take me to the cathedral
next time."

Having heard so much I wanted to hear more, and addressing the woman I
asked her why her child wanted to go. She answered me with a
good-humoured laugh, "'Tis all because she heard 'em talking about it
last winter, and she'd never been, and I says to her, 'Never you mind,
Marty, I'll take you there the next time I go to Salisbury.'"

"And she's never forgot it," said the other woman.

"Not she--Marty ain't one to forget."

"And you been four times, mother," put in the girl.

"Have I now! Well, 'tis too late now--half-past two, and we must be't'
Goat' at four."

"Oh, mother, you promised!"

"Well, then, come along, you worriting child, and let's have it over or
you'll give me no peace"; and away they went. And I would have followed
to know the result if it had been in my power to look into that young
brain and see the thoughts and feelings there as the crystal-gazer sees
things in a crystal. In a vague way, with some very early memories to
help me, I can imagine it--the shock of pleased wonder at the sight of
that immense interior, that far-extending nave with pillars that stand
like the tall trunks of pines and beeches, and at the end the light
screen which allows the eye to travel on through the rich choir, to see,
with fresh wonder and delight, high up and far off, that glory of
coloured glass as of a window half-open to an unimaginable place
beyond--a heavenly cathedral to which all this is but a dim porch or
passage!

We do not properly appreciate the educational value of such early
experiences; and I use that dismal word not because it is perfectly
right or for want of a better one, but because it is in everybody's
mouth and understood by all. For all I know to the contrary, village
schools may be bundled in and out of the cathedral from time to time,
but that is not the right way, seeing that the child's mind is not the
crowd-of-children's mind. But I can imagine that when we have a wiser,
better system of education in the villages, in which books will not be
everything, and to be shut up six or seven hours every day to prevent
the children from learning the things that matter most--I can imagine at
such a time that the schoolmaster or mistress will say to the village
woman, "I hear you are going to Salisbury to-morrow, or next Tuesday,
and I want you to take Janie or little Dan or Peter, and leave him for
an hour to play about on the cathedral green and watch the daws flying
round the spire, and take a peep inside while you are doing your
marketing."

Back from the cathedral once more, from the infirmary, and from shops
and refreshment-houses, out in the sun among the busy people, let us
delay a little longer for the sake of our last scene.

It was past noon on a hot, brilliant day in August, and that splendid
weather had brought in more people than I had ever before seen
congregated in Salisbury, and never had the people seemed so talkative
and merry and full of life as on that day. I was standing at a busy spot
by a row of carriers' carts drawn up at the side of the pavement, just
where there are three public-houses close together, when I caught sight
of a young man of about twenty-two or twenty-three, a shepherd in a grey
suit and thick, iron-shod, old boots and brown leggings, with a soft
felt hat thrust jauntily on the back of his head, coming along towards
me with that half-slouching, half-swinging gait peculiar to the men of
the downs, especially when they are in the town on pleasure bent.
Decidedly he was there on pleasure and had been indulging in a glass or
two of beer (perhaps three) and was very happy, trolling out a song in a
pleasant, musical voice as he swung along, taking no notice of the
people stopping and turning round to stare after him, or of those of his
own party who were following and trying to keep up with him, calling to
him all the time to stop, to wait, to go slow, and give them a chance.
There were seven following him: a stout, middle-aged woman, then a
grey-haired old woman and two girls, and last a youngish, married woman
with a small boy by the hand; and the stout woman, with a red, laughing
face, cried out, "Oh, Dave, do stop, can't 'ee! Where be going so fast,
man--don't 'ee see we can't keep up with 'ee?" But he would not stop nor
listen. It was his day out, his great day in Salisbury, a very rare
occasion, and he was very happy. Then she would turn back to the others
and cry, "'Tisn't no use, he won't bide for us--did 'ee ever see such a
boy!" and laughing and perspiring she would start on after him again.

Now this incident would have been too trivial to relate had it not been
for the appearance of the man himself--his powerful and perfect physique
and marvellously handsome face--such a face as the old Greek sculptors
have left to the world to be universally regarded and admired for all
time as the most perfect. I do not think that this was my feeling only;
I imagine that the others in that street who were standing still and
staring after him had something of the same sense of surprise and
admiration he excited in me. Just then it happened that there was a
great commotion outside one of the public-houses, where a considerable
party of gipsies in their little carts had drawn up, and were all
engaged in a violent, confused altercation. Probably they, or one of
them, had just disposed of a couple of stolen ducks, or a sheepskin, or
a few rabbits, and they were quarrelling over the division of the spoil.
At all events they were violently excited, scowling at each other and
one or two in a dancing rage, and had collected a crowd of amused
lookers-on; but when the young man came singing by they all turned to
stare at him.

As he came on I placed myself directly in his path and stared straight
into his eyes--grey eyes and very beautiful; but he refused to see me;
he stared through me like an animal when you try to catch its eyes, and
went by still trolling out his song, with all the others streaming after
him.



CHAPTER III

WINTERBOURNE BISHOP

  A favourite village--Isolated situation--Appearance of the
  village--Hedge-fruit--The winterbourne--Human interest--The home
  feeling--Man in harmony with nature--Human bones thrown out by a
  rabbit--A spot unspoiled and unchanged


Of the few widely separated villages, hidden away among the lonely downs
in the large, blank spaces between the rivers, the one I love best is
Winterbourne Bishop. Yet of the entire number--I know them all
intimately--I daresay it would be pronounced by most persons the least
attractive. It has less shade from trees in summer and is more exposed
in winter to the bleak winds of this high country, from whichever
quarter they may blow. Placed high itself on a wide, unwooded valley or
depression, with the low, sloping downs at some distance away, the
village is about as cold a place to pass a winter in as one could find
in this district. And, it may be added, the most inconvenient to live in
at any time, the nearest town, or the easiest to get to, being
Salisbury, twelve miles distant by a hilly road. The only means of
getting to that great centre of life which the inhabitants possess is by
the carrier's cart, which makes the weary four-hours' journey once a
week, on market-day. Naturally, not many of them see that place of
delights oftener than once a year, and some but once in five or more
years.

Then, as to the village itself, when you have got down into its one
long, rather winding street, or road. This has a green bank, five or
six feet high, on either side, on which stand the cottages, mostly
facing the road. Real houses there are none--buildings worthy of
being called houses in these great days--unless the three small
farm-houses are considered better than cottages, and the rather
mean-looking rectory--the rector, poor man, is very poor. Just in
the middle part, where the church stands in its green churchyard,
the shadiest spot in the village, a few of the cottages are close
together, almost touching, then farther apart, twenty yards or so,
then farther still, forty or fifty yards. They are small, old cottages;
a few have seventeenth-century dates cut on stone tablets on their
fronts, but the undated ones look equally old; some thatched,
others tiled, but none particularly attractive. Certainly they are
without the added charm of a green drapery--creeper or ivy rose,
clematis, and honeysuckle; and they are also mostly without the
cottage-garden flowers, unprofitably gay like the blossoming furze,
but dear to the soul: the flowers we find in so many of the villages
along the rivers, especially in those of the Wylye valley to be
described in a later chapter.

The trees, I have said, are few, though the churchyard is shady, where
you can refresh yourself beneath its ancient beeches and its one
wide-branching yew, or sit on a tomb in the sun when you wish for warmth
and brightness. The trees growing by or near the street are mostly ash
or beech, with a pine or two, old but not large; and there are small or
dwarf yew-, holly-, and thorn-trees. Very little fruit is grown; two or
three to half a dozen apple- and damson-trees are called an orchard, and
one is sorry for the children. But in late summer and autumn they get
their fruit from the hedges. These run up towards the downs on either
side of the village, at right angles with its street; long, unkept
hedges, beautiful with scarlet haws and traveller's-joy, rich in bramble
and elder berries and purple sloes and nuts--a thousand times more nuts
than the little dormice require for their own modest wants.

Finally, to go back to its disadvantages, the village is waterless; at
all events in summer, when water is most wanted. Water is such a
blessing and joy in a village--a joy for ever when it flows throughout
the year, as at Nether Stowey and Winsford and Bourton-on-the-Water, to
mention but three of all those happy villages in the land which are
known to most of us! What man on coming to such places and watching the
rushing, sparkling, foaming torrent by day and listening to its
splashing, gurgling sounds by night, does not resolve that he will live
in no village that has not a perennial stream in it! This unblessed,
high and dry village has nothing but the winter bourne which gives it
its name; a sort of surname common to a score or two of villages in
Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, and Hants. Here the bed of the stream lies
by the bank on one side of the village street, and when the autumn and
early winter rains have fallen abundantly, the hidden reservoirs within
the chalk hills are filled to overflowing; then the water finds its way
out and fills the dry old channel and sometimes turns the whole street
into a rushing river, to the immense joy of the village children. They
are like ducks, hatched and reared at some upland farm where there was
not even a muddy pool to dibble in. For a season (the wet one) the
village women have water at their own doors and can go out and dip pails
in it as often as they want. When spring comes it is still flowing
merrily, trying to make you believe that it is going to flow for ever;
beautiful, green water-loving plants and grasses spring up and flourish
along the roadside, and you may see comfrey and water forget-me-not in
flower. Pools, too, have been formed in some deep, hollow places; they
are fringed with tall grasses, whitened over with bloom of
water-crowfoot, and poa grass grows up from the bottom to spread its
green tresses over the surface. Better still, by and by a couple of
stray moorhens make their appearance in the pool--strange birds,
coloured glossy olive-brown, slashed with white, with splendid scarlet
and yellow beaks! If by some strange chance a shining blue kingfisher
were to appear it could not create a greater excitement. So much
attention do they receive that the poor strangers have no peace of their
lives. It is a happy time for the children, and a good time for the busy
housewife, who has all the water she wants for cooking and washing and
cleaning--she may now dash as many pailfuls over her brick floors as she
likes. Then the clear, swift current begins to diminish, and scarcely
have you had time to notice the change than it is altogether gone! The
women must go back to the well and let the bucket down, and laboriously
turn and turn the handle of the windlass till it mounts to the top
again. The pretty moist, green herbage, the graceful grasses, quickly
wither away; dust and straws and rubbish from the road lie in the dry
channel, and by and by it is filled with a summer growth of dock and
loveless nettles which no child may touch with impunity.

No, I cannot think that any person for whom it had no association, no
secret interest, would, after looking at this village with its dried-up
winterbourne, care to make his home in it. And no person, I imagine,
wants to see it; for it has no special attraction and is away from any
road, at a distance from everywhere. I knew a great many villages in
Salisbury Plain, and was always adding to their number, but there was no
intention of visiting this one. Perhaps there is not a village on the
Plain, or anywhere in Wiltshire for that matter, which sees fewer
strangers. Then I fell in with the old shepherd whose life will be
related in the succeeding chapters, and who, away from his native place,
had no story about his past life and the lives of those he had known--no
thought in his mind, I might almost say, which was not connected with
the village of Winterbourne Bishop. And many of his anecdotes and
reflections proved so interesting that I fell into the habit of putting
them down in my notebook; until in the end the place itself, where he
had followed his "homely trade" so long, seeing and feeling so much,
drew me to it. I knew there was "nothing to see" in it, that it was
without the usual attractions; that there was, in fact, nothing but the
human interest, but that was enough. So I came to it to satisfy an idle
curiosity--just to see how it would accord with the mental picture
produced by his description of it. I came, I may say, prepared to like
the place for the sole but sufficient reason that it had been his home.
Had it not been for this feeling he had produced in me I should not, I
imagine, have cared to stay long in it. As it was, I did stay, then came
again and found that it was growing on me. I wondered why; for the mere
interest in the old shepherd's life memories did not seem enough to
account for this deepening attachment. It began to seem to me that I
liked it more and more because of its very barrenness--the entire
absence of all the features which make a place attractive, noble
scenery, woods, and waters; deer parks and old houses, Tudor,
Elizabethan, Jacobean, stately and beautiful, full of art treasures;
ancient monuments and historical associations. There were none of these
things; there was nothing here but that wide, vacant expanse, very
thinly populated with humble, rural folk--farmers, shepherds,
labourers--living in very humble houses. England is so full of riches in
ancient monuments and grand and interesting and lovely buildings and
objects and scenes, that it is perhaps too rich. For we may get into the
habit of looking for such things, expecting them at every turn, every
mile of the way.

I found it a relief, at Winterbourne Bishop, to be in a country which
had nothing to draw a man out of a town. A wide, empty land, with
nothing on it to look at but a furze-bush; or when I had gained the
summit of the down, and to get a little higher still stood on the top of
one of its many barrows, a sight of the distant village, its low, grey
or reddish-brown cottages half hidden among its few trees, the square,
stone tower of its little church looking at a distance no taller than a
milestone. That emptiness seemed good for both mind and body: I could
spend long hours idly sauntering or sitting or lying on the turf,
thinking of nothing, or only of one thing--that it was a relief to have
no thought about anything.

But no, something was secretly saying to me all the time, that it was
more than what I have said which continued to draw me to this vacant
place--more than the mere relief experienced on coming back to nature
and solitude, and the freedom of a wide earth and sky. I was not fully
conscious of what the something more was until after repeated visits. On
each occasion it was a pleasure to leave Salisbury behind and set out on
that long, hilly road, and the feeling would keep with me all the
journey, even in bad weather, sultry or cold, or with the wind hard
against me, blowing the white chalk dust into my eyes. From the time I
left the turnpike to go the last two and a half to three miles by the
side-road I would gaze eagerly ahead for a sight of my destination long
before it could possibly be seen; until, on gaining the summit of a low,
intervening down, the wished scene would be disclosed--the vale-like,
wide depression, with its line of trees, blue-green in the distance,
flecks of red and grey colour of the houses among them--and at that
sight there would come a sense of elation, like that of coming home.

This in fact was the secret! This empty place was, in its aspect,
despite the difference in configuration between down and undulating
plain, more like the home of my early years than any other place known
to me in the country. I can note many differences, but they do not
deprive me of this home feeling; it is the likenesses that hold me, the
spirit of the place, one which is not a desert with the desert's
melancholy or sense of desolation, but inhabited, although thinly and by
humble-minded men whose work and dwellings are unobtrusive. The final
effect of this wide, green space with signs of human life and labour on
it, and sight of animals--sheep and cattle--at various distances, is
that we are not aliens here, intruders or invaders on the earth, living
in it but apart, perhaps hating and spoiling it, but with the other
animals are children of Nature, like them living and seeking our
subsistence under her sky, familiar with her sun and wind and rain.

If some ostentatious person had come to this strangely quiet spot and
raised a staring, big house, the sight of it in the landscape would have
made it impossible to have such a feeling as I have described--this
sense of man's harmony and oneness with nature. From how much of England
has this expression which nature has for the spirit, which is so much
more to us than beauty of scenery, been blotted out! This quiet spot in
Wiltshire has been inhabited from of old, how far back in time the
barrows raised by an ancient, barbarous people are there to tell us, and
to show us how long it is possible for the race of men, in all stages of
culture, to exist on the earth without spoiling it.

One afternoon when walking on Bishop Down I noticed at a distance of a
hundred yards or more that a rabbit had started making a burrow in a new
place and had thrown out a vast quantity of earth. Going to the spot to
see what kind of chalk or soil he was digging so deeply in, I found that
he had thrown out a human thigh-bone and a rib or two. They were of a
reddish-white colour and had been embedded in a hard mixture of chalk
and red earth. The following day I went again, and there were more
bones, and every day after that the number increased until it seemed to
me that he had brought out the entire skeleton, minus the skull, which I
had been curious to see. Then the bones disappeared. The man who looked
after the game had seen them, and recognizing that they were human
remains had judiciously taken them away to destroy or stow them away in
some safe place. For if the village constable had discovered them, or
heard of their presence, he would perhaps have made a fuss and even
thought it necessary to communicate with the coroner of the district.
Such things occasionally happen, even in Wiltshire where the chalk hills
are full of the bones of dead men, and a solemn Crowner's quest is held
on the remains of a Saxon or Dane or an ancient Briton. When some
important person--a Sir Richard Colt Hoare, for example, who dug up 379
barrows in Wiltshire, or a General Pitt Rivers throws out human remains
nobody minds, but if an unauthorized rabbit kicks out a lot of bones the
matter should be inquired into.

But the man whose bones had been thus thrown out into the sunlight after
lying so long at that spot, which commanded a view of the distant,
little village looking so small in that immense, green space--who and
what was he, and how long ago did he live on the earth--at Winterbourne
Bishop, let us say? There were two barrows in that part of the down, but
quite a stone's-throw away from the spot where the rabbit was working,
so that he may not have been one of the people of that period. Still, it
is probable that he was buried a very long time ago, centuries back,
perhaps a thousand years, perhaps longer, and by chance there was a
slope there which prevented the water from percolating, and the soil in
which he had been deposited, under that close-knit turf which looked as
if it had never been disturbed, was one in which bones might keep
uncrumbled for ever.

The thought that occurred to me at the time was that if the man himself
had come back to life after so long a period, to stand once more on that
down surveying the scene, he would have noticed little change in it,
certainly nothing of a startling description. The village itself,
looking so small at that distance, in the centre of the vast depression,
would probably not be strange to him. It was doubtless there as far back
as history goes and probably still farther back in time. For at that
point, just where the winterbourne gushes out from the low hills, is the
spot man would naturally select to make his home. And he would see no
mansion or big building, no puff of white steam and sight of a long,
black train creeping over the earth, nor any other strange thing. It
would appear to him even as he knew it before he fell asleep--the same
familiar scene, with furze and bramble and bracken on the slope, the
wide expanse with sheep and cattle grazing in the distance, and the dark
green of trees in the hollows, and fold on fold of the low down beyond,
stretching away to the dim, farthest horizon.



CHAPTER IV

A SHEPHERD OF THE DOWNS

  Caleb Bawcombe--An old shepherd's love of his home--Fifty years'
  shepherding--Bawcombe's singular appearance--A tale of a titlark--Caleb
  Bawcombe's father--Father and son--A grateful sportsman and Isaac
  Bawcombe's pension--Death following death in old married couples--In a
  village churchyard--A farm-labourer's gravestone and his story


It is now several years since I first met Caleb Bawcombe, a shepherd of
the South Wiltshire Downs, but already old and infirm and past work. I
met him at a distance from his native village, and it was only after I
had known him a long time and had spent many afternoons and evenings in
his company, listening to his anecdotes of his shepherding days, that I
went to see his own old home for myself--the village of Winterbourne
Bishop already described, to find it a place after my own heart. But as
I have said, if I had never known Caleb and heard so much from him about
his own life and the lives of many of his fellow-villagers, I should
probably never have seen this village.

One of his memories was of an old shepherd named John, whose
acquaintance he made when a very young man--John being at that time
seventy-eight years old--on the Winterbourne Bishop farm, where he had
served for an unbroken period of close on sixty years. Though so aged he
was still head shepherd, and he continued to hold that place seven years
longer--until his master, who had taken over old John with the place,
finally gave up the farm and farming at the same time. He, too, was
getting past work and wished to spend his declining years in his native
village in an adjoining parish, where he owned some house and cottage
property. And now what was to become of the old shepherd, since the new
tenant had brought his own men with him?--and he, moreover, considered
that John, at eighty-five, was too old to tend a flock on the hills,
even of tegs. His old master, anxious to help him, tried to get him some
employment in the village where he wished to stay; and failing in this,
he at last offered him a cottage rent free in the village where he was
going to live himself, and, in addition, twelve shillings a week for the
rest of his life. It was in those days an exceedingly generous offer,
but John refused it. "Master," he said, "I be going to stay in my own
native village, and if I can't make a living the parish'll have to keep
I; but keep or not keep, here I be and here I be going to stay, where I
were borned."

From this position the stubborn old man refused to be moved, and there
at Winterbourne Bishop his master had to leave him, although not without
having first made him a sufficient provision.

The way in which my old friend, Caleb Bawcombe, told the story plainly
revealed his own feeling in the matter. He understood and had the
keenest sympathy with old John, dead now over half a century; or rather,
let us say, resting very peacefully in that green spot under the old
grey tower of Winterbourne Bishop church where as a small boy he had
played among the old gravestones as far back in time as the middle of
the eighteenth century. But old John had long survived wife and
children, and having no one but himself to think of was at liberty to
end his days where he pleased. Not so with Caleb, for, although his
undying passion for home and his love of the shepherd's calling were as
great as John's, he was not so free, and he was compelled at last to
leave his native downs, which he may never see again, to settle for the
remainder of his days in another part of the country.

Early in life he "caught a chill" through long exposure to wet and cold
in winter; this brought on rheumatic fever and a malady of the thigh,
which finally affected the whole limb and made him lame for life. Thus
handicapped he had continued as shepherd for close on fifty years,
during which time his sons and daughters had grown up, married, and gone
away, mostly to a considerable distance, leaving their aged parents
alone once more. Then the wife, who was a strong woman and of an
enterprising temper, found an opening for herself at a distance from
home where she could start a little business. Caleb indignantly refused
to give up shepherding in his place to take part in so unheard-of an
adventure; but after a year or more of life in his lonely hut among the
hills and cold, empty cottage in the village, he at length tore himself
away from that beloved spot and set forth on the longest journey of his
life--about forty-five miles--to join her and help in the work of her
new home. Here a few years later I found him, aged seventy-two, but
owing to his increasing infirmities looking considerably more. When he
considered that his father, a shepherd before him on those same
Wiltshire Downs, lived to eighty-six, and his mother to eighty-four, and
that both were vigorous and led active lives almost to the end, he
thought it strange that his own work should be so soon done. For in
heart and mind he was still young; he did not want to rest yet.

Since that first meeting nine years have passed, and as he is actually
better in health to-day than he was then, there is good reason to hope
that his staying power will equal that of his father.

I was at first struck with the singularity of Caleb's appearance, and
later by the expression of his eyes. A very tall, big-boned, lean,
round-shouldered man, he was uncouth almost to the verge of
grotesqueness, and walked painfully with the aid of a stick, dragging
his shrunken and shortened bad leg. His head was long and narrow, and
his high forehead, long nose, long chin, and long, coarse, grey
whiskers, worn like a beard on his throat, produced a goat-like effect.
This was heightened by the ears and eyes. The big ears stood out from
his head, and owing to a peculiar bend or curl in the membrane at the
top they looked at certain angles almost pointed. The hazel eyes were
wonderfully clear, but that quality was less remarkable than the unhuman
intelligence in them--fawn-like eyes that gazed steadily at you as one
may gaze through the window, open back and front, of a house at the
landscape beyond. This peculiarity was a little disconcerting at first,
when, after making his acquaintance out of doors, I went in uninvited
and sat down with him at his own fireside. The busy old wife talked of
this and that, and hinted as politely as she knew how that I was in her
way. To her practical, peasant mind there was no sense in my being
there. "He be a stranger to we, and we be strangers to he." Caleb was
silent, and his clear eyes showed neither annoyance nor pleasure but
only their native, wild alertness, but the caste feeling is always less
strong in the hill shepherd than in other men who are on the land; in
some cases it will vanish at a touch, and it was so in this one. A
canary in a cage hanging in the kitchen served to introduce the subject
of birds captive and birds free. I said that I liked the little yellow
bird, and was not vexed to see him in a cage, since he was cage-born;
but I considered that those who caught wild birds and kept them
prisoners did not properly understand things. This happened to be
Caleb's view. He had a curiously tender feeling about the little wild
birds, and one amusing incident of his boyhood which he remembered came
out during our talk. He was out on the down one summer day in charge of
his father's flock, when two boys of the village on a ramble in the
hills came and sat down on the turf by his side. One of them had a
titlark, or meadow pipit, which he had just caught, in his hand, and
there was a hot argument as to which of the two was the lawful owner of
the poor little captive. The facts were as follows. One of the boys
having found the nest became possessed with the desire to get the bird.
His companion at once offered to catch it for him, and together they
withdrew to a distance and sat down and waited until the bird returned
to sit on the eggs. Then the young birdcatcher returned to the spot, and
creeping quietly up to within five or six feet of the nest threw his hat
so that it fell over the sitting titlark; but after having thus secured
it he refused to give it up. The dispute waxed hotter as they sat there,
and at last when it got to the point of threats of cuffs on the ear and
slaps on the face they agreed to fight it out, the victor to have the
titlark. The bird was then put under a hat for safety on the smooth turf
a few feet away, and the boys proceeded to take off their jackets and
roll up their shirt-sleeves, after which they faced one another, and
were just about to begin when Caleb, thrusting out his crook, turned the
hat over and away flew the titlark.

The boys, deprived of their bird and of an excuse for a fight, would
gladly have discharged their fury on Caleb, but they durst not, seeing
that his dog was lying at his side; they could only threaten and abuse
him, call him bad names, and finally put on their coats and walk off.

That pretty little tale of a titlark was but the first of a long
succession of memories of his early years, with half a century of
shepherding life on the downs, which came out during our talks on many
autumn and winter evenings as we sat by his kitchen fire. The earlier of
these memories were always the best to me, because they took one back
sixty years or more, to a time when there was more wildness in the earth
than now, and a nobler wild animal life. Even more interesting were some
of the memories of his father, Isaac Bawcombe, whose time went back to
the early years of the nineteenth century. Caleb cherished an admiration
and reverence for his father's memory which were almost a worship, and
he loved to describe him as he appeared in his old age, when upwards of
eighty. He was erect and tall, standing six feet two in height, well
proportioned, with a clean-shaved, florid face, clear, dark eyes, and
silver-white hair; and at this later period of his life he always wore
the dress of an old order of pensioners to which he had been admitted--a
soft, broad, white felt hat, thick boots and brown leather leggings, and
a long, grey cloth overcoat with red collar and brass buttons.

According to Caleb, he must have been an exceedingly fine specimen of a
man, both physically and morally. Born in 1800, he began following a
flock as a boy, and continued as shepherd on the same farm until he was
sixty, never rising to more than seven shillings a week and nothing
found, since he lived in the cottage where he was born and which he
inherited from his father. That a man of his fine powers, a
head-shepherd on a large hill-farm, should have had no better pay than
that down to the year 1860, after nearly half a century of work in one
place, seems almost incredible. Even his sons, as they grew up to man's
estate, advised him to ask for an increase, but he would not. Seven
shillings a week he had always had; and that small sum, with something
his wife earned by making highly finished smock-frocks, had been
sufficient to keep them all in a decent way; and his sons were now all
earning their own living. But Caleb got married, and resolved to leave
the old farm at Bishop to take a better place at a distance from home,
at Warminster, which had been offered him. He would there have a cottage
to live in, nine shillings a week, and a sack of barley for his dog. At
that time the shepherd had to keep his own dog--no small expense to him
when his wages were no more than six to eight shillings a week. But
Caleb was his father's favourite son, and the old man could not endure
the thought of losing sight of him; and at last, finding that he could
not persuade him not to leave the old home, he became angry, and told
him that if he went away to Warminster for the sake of the higher wages
and barley for the dog he would disown him! This was a serious matter to
Caleb, in spite of the fact that a shepherd has no money to leave to his
children when he passes away. He went nevertheless, for, though he loved
and reverenced his father, he had a young wife who pulled the other way;
and he was absent for years, and when he returned the old man's heart
had softened, so that he was glad to welcome him back to the old home.

Meanwhile at that humble cottage at Winterbourne Bishop great things had
happened; old Isaac was no longer shepherding on the downs, but living
very comfortably in his own cottage in the village. The change came
about in this way.

The downland shepherds, Caleb said, were as a rule clever poachers; and
it is really not surprising, when one considers the temptation to a man
with a wife and several hungry children, besides himself and a dog, to
feed out of about seven shillings a week. But old Bawcombe was an
exception: he would take no game, furred or feathered, nor, if he could
prevent it, allow another to take anything from the land fed by his
flock. Caleb and his brothers, when as boys and youths they began their
shepherding, sometimes caught a rabbit, or their dog caught and killed
one without their encouragement; but, however the thing came into their
hands, they could not take it home on account of their father. Now it
happened that an elderly gentleman who had the shooting was a keen
sportsman, and that in several successive years he found a wonderful
difference in the amount of game at one spot among the hills and in all
the rest of his hill property. The only explanation the keeper could
give was that Isaac Bawcombe tended his flock on that down where
rabbits, hares, and partridges were so plentiful. One autumn day the
gentleman was shooting over that down, and seeing a big man in a
smock-frock standing motionless, crook in hand, regarding him, he called
out to his keeper, who was with him, "Who is that big man?" and was told
that it was Shepherd Bawcombe. The old gentleman pulled some money out
of his pocket and said, "Give him this half-crown, and thank him for the
good sport I've had to-day." But after the coin had been given the giver
still remained standing there, thinking, perhaps, that he had not yet
sufficiently rewarded the man; and at last, before turning away, he
shouted, "Bawcombe, that's not all. You'll get something more by and
by."

Isaac had not long to wait for the something more, and it turned out not
to be the hare or brace of birds he had half expected. It happened that
the sportsman was one of the trustees of an ancient charity which
provided for six of the most deserving old men of the parish of Bishop;
now, one of the six had recently died, and on this gentleman's
recommendation Bawcombe had been elected to fill the vacant place. The
letter from Salisbury informing him of his election and commanding his
presence in that city filled him with astonishment; for, though he was
sixty years old and the father of three sons now out in the world, he
could not yet regard himself as an old man, for he had never known a
day's illness, nor an ache, and was famed in all that neighbourhood for
his great physical strength and endurance. And now, with his own cottage
to live in, eight shillings a week, and his pensioners' garments, with
certain other benefits, and a shilling a day besides which his old
master paid him for some services at the farm-house in the village,
Isaac found himself very well off indeed, and he enjoyed his prosperous
state for twenty-six years. Then, in 1886, his old wife fell ill and
died, and no sooner was she in her grave than he, too, began to droop;
and soon, before the year was out, he followed her, because, as the
neighbours said, they had always been a loving pair and one could not
'bide without the other.

This chapter has already had its proper ending and there was no
intention of adding to it, but now for a special reason, which I trust
the reader will pardon when he hears it, I must go on to say something
about that strange phenomenon of death succeeding death in old married
couples, one dying for no other reason than that the other has died. For
it is our instinct to hold fast to life, and the older a man gets if he
be sane the more he becomes like a newborn child in the impulse to grip
tightly. A strange and a rare thing among people generally (the people
we know), it is nevertheless quite common among persons of the labouring
class in the rural districts. I have sometimes marvelled at the number
of such cases to be met with in the villages; but when one comes to
think about it one ceases to wonder that it should be so. For the
labourer on the land goes on from boyhood to the end of life in the same
everlasting round, the changes from task to task, according to the
seasons, being no greater than in the case of the animals that alter
their actions and habits to suit the varying conditions of the year.
March and August and December, and every month, will bring about the
changes in the atmosphere and earth and vegetation and in the animals,
which have been from of old, which he knows how to meet, and the old,
familiar task, lambing-time, shearing-time, root and seed crops hoeing,
haymaking, harvesting. It is a life of the extremest simplicity, without
all those interests outside the home and the daily task, the innumerable
distractions, common to all persons in other classes and to the workmen
in towns as well. Incidentally it may be said that it is also the
healthiest, that, speaking generally, the agricultural labourer is the
healthiest and sanest man in the land, if not also the happiest, as some
believe.

It is this life of simple, unchanging actions and of habits that are
like instincts, of hard labour in sun and wind and rain from day to day,
with its weekly break and rest, and of but few comforts and no luxuries,
which serves to bind man and wife so closely. And the longer their life
goes on together the closer and more unbreakable the union grows. They
are growing old: old friends and companions have died or left them;
their children have married and gone away and have their own families
and affairs, so that the old folks at home are little remembered, and to
all others they have become of little consequence in the world. But they
do not know it, for they are together, cherishing the same memories,
speaking of the same old, familiar things, and their lost friends and
companions, their absent, perhaps estranged, children, are with them
still in mind as in the old days. The past is with them more than the
present, to give an undying interest to life; for they share it, and it
is only when one goes, when the old wife gets the tea ready and goes
mechanically to the door to gaze out, knowing that her tired man will
come in no more to take his customary place and listen to all the things
she has stored up in her mind during the day to tell him; and when the
tired labourer comes in at dusk to find no old wife waiting to give him
his tea and talk to him while he refreshes himself, he all at once
realizes his position; he finds himself cut off from the entire world,
from all of his kind. Where are they all? The enduring sympathy of that
one soul that was with him till now had kept him in touch with life, had
made it seem unchanged and unchangeable, and with that soul has vanished
the old, sweet illusion as well as all ties, all common, human
affection. He is desolate, indeed, alone in a desert world, and it is
not strange that in many and many a case, even in that of a man still
strong, untouched by disease and good for another decade or two, the
loss, the awful solitude, has proved too much for him.

Such cases, I have said, are common, but they are not recorded, though
it is possible with labour to pick them out in the church registers; but
in the churchyards you do not find them, since the farm-labourer has
only a green mound to mark the spot where he lies. Nevertheless, he is
sometimes honoured with a gravestone, and last August I came by chance
on one on which was recorded a case like that of Isaac Bawcombe and his
life-mate.

The churchyard is in one of the prettiest and most secluded villages in
the downland country described in this book. The church is ancient and
beautiful and interesting in many ways, and the churchyard, too, is one
of the most interesting I know, a beautiful, green, tree-shaded spot,
with an extraordinary number of tombs and gravestones, many of them
dated in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries, inscribed with names
of families which have long died out.

I went on that afternoon to pass an hour in the churchyard, and finding
an old man in labourer's clothes resting on a tomb, I sat down and
entered into conversation with him. He was seventy-nine, he told me, and
past work, and he had three shillings a week from the parish; but he was
very deaf and it fatigued me to talk to him, and seeing the church open
I went in. On previous visits I had had a good deal of trouble to get
the key, and to find it open now was a pleasant surprise. An old woman
was there dusting the seats, and by and by, while I was talking with
her, the old labourer came stumping in with his ponderous, iron-shod
boots and without taking off his old, rusty hat, and began shouting at
the church-cleaner about a pair of trousers he had given her to mend,
which he wanted badly. Leaving them to their arguing I went out and
began studying the inscriptions on the stones, so hard to make out in
some instances; the old man followed and went his way; then the
church-cleaner came out to where I was standing. "A tiresome old man!"
she said. "He's that deaf he has to shout to hear himself speak, then
you've got to shout back--and all about his old trousers!"

"I suppose he wants them," I returned, "and you promised to do them, so
he has some reason for going at you about it."

"Oh no, he hasn't," she replied. "The girl brought them for me to mend,
and I said, 'Leave them and I'll do them when I've time'--how did I know
he wanted them in a hurry? A troublesome old man!"

By and by, taking a pair of spectacles out of her pocket, she put them
on, and going down on her knees she began industriously picking the old,
brown, dead moss out of the lettering on one side of the tomb. "I'd like
to know what it says on this stone," she said.

"Well, you can read it for yourself, now you've got your glasses on."

"I can't read. You see, I'm old--seventy-six years, and when I were
little we were very poor and I couldn't get no schooling. I've got these
glasses to do my sewing, and only put them on to get this stuff out so's
you could read it. I'd like to hear you read it."

I began to get interested in the old dame who talked to me so freely.
She was small and weak-looking, and appeared very thin in her limp, old,
faded gown; she had a meek, patient expression on her face, and her
voice, too, like her face, expressed weariness and resignation.

"But if you have always lived here you must know what is said on this
stone?"

"No, I don't; nobody never read it to me, and I couldn't read it because
I wasn't taught to read. But I'd like to hear you read it."

It was a long inscription to a person named Ash, gentleman, of this
parish, who departed this life over a century ago, and was a man of a
noble and generous disposition, good as a husband, a father, a friend,
and charitable to the poor. Under all were some lines of verse, scarcely
legible in spite of the trouble she had taken to remove the old moss
from the letters.

She listened with profound interest, then said, "I never heard all that
before; I didn't know the name, though I've known this stone since I was
a child. I used to climb on to it then. Can you read me another?"

I read her another and several more, then came to one which she said she
knew--every word of it, for this was the grave of the sweetest, kindest
woman that ever lived. Oh, how good this dear woman had been to her in
her young married life more'n fifty years ago! If that dear lady had
only lived it would not have been so hard for her when her trouble come!

"And what was your trouble?"

"It was the loss of my poor man. He was such a good man, a thatcher; and
he fell from a rick and injured his spine, and he died, poor fellow, and
left me with our five little children." Then, having told me her own
tragedy, to my surprise she brightened up and begged me to read other
inscriptions to her.

I went on reading, and presently she said, "No, that's wrong. There
wasn't ever a Lampard in this parish. That I know."

"You don't know! There certainly was a Lampard or it would not be stated
here, cut in deep letters on this stone."

"No, there wasn't a Lampard. I've never known such a name and I've lived
here all my life."

"But there were people living here before you came on the scene. He died
a long time ago, this Lampard--in 1714, it says. And you are only
seventy-six, you tell me; that is to say, you were born in 1835, and
that would be one hundred and twenty-one years after he died."

"That's a long time! It must be very old, this stone. And the church
too. I've heard say it was once a Roman Catholic church. Is that true?"

"Why, of course it's true--all the old churches were, and we were all of
that faith until a King of England had a quarrel with the Pope and
determined he would be Pope himself as well as king in his own country.
So he turned all the priests and monks out, and took their property and
churches and had his own men put in. That was Henry VIII."

"I've heard something about that king and his wives. But about Lampard,
it do seem strange I've never heard that name before."

"Not strange at all; it was a common name in this part of Wiltshire in
former days; you find it in dozens of churchyards, but you'll find very
few Lampards living in the villages. Why, I could tell you a dozen or
twenty surnames, some queer, funny names, that were common in these
parts not more than a century ago which seem to have quite died out."

"I should like to hear some of them if you'll tell me."

"Let me think a moment: there was Thorr, Pizzie, Gee, Every, Pottle,
Kiddle, Toomer, Shergold, and--"

Here she interrupted to say that she knew three of the names I had
mentioned. Then, pointing to a small, upright gravestone about twenty
feet away, she added, "And there's one."

"Very well," I said, "but don't keep putting me out--I've got more names
in my mind to tell you. Maidment, Marchmont, Velvin, Burpitt, Winzur,
Rideout, Cullurne."

Of these she only knew one--Rideout.

Then I went over to the stone she had pointed to and read the
inscription to John Toomer and his wife Rebecca. She died first, in
March 1877, aged 72; he in July the same year, aged 75.

"You knew them, I suppose?"

"Yes, they belonged here, both of them."

"Tell me about them."

"There's nothing to tell; he was only a labourer and worked on the same
farm all his life."

"Who put a stone over them--their children?"

"No, they're all poor and live away. I think it was a lady who lived
here; she'd been good to them, and she came and stood here when they put
old John in the ground."

"But I want to hear more."

"There's no more, I've said; he was a labourer, and after she died he
died."

"Yes? go on."

"How can I go on? There's no more. I knew them so well; they lived in
the little thatched cottage over there, where the Millards live now."

"Did they fall ill at the same time?"

"Oh no, he was as well as could be, still at work, till she died, then
he went on in a strange way. He would come in of an evening and call his
wife. 'Mother! Mother, where are you?' you'd hear him call, 'Mother, be
you upstairs? Mother, ain't you coming down for a bit of bread and
cheese before you go to bed?' And then in a little while he just died."

"And you said there was nothing to tell!"

"No, there wasn't anything. He was just one of us, a labourer on the
farm."

I then gave her something, and to my surprise after taking it she made
me an elaborate curtsy. It rather upset me, for I had thought we had got
on very well together and were quite free and easy in our talk, very
much on a level. But she was not done with me yet. She followed to the
gate, and holding out her open hand with that small gift in it, she said
in a pathetic voice, "Did you think, sir, I was expecting this? I had no
such thought and didn't want it."

And I had no thought of saying or writing a word about her. But since
that day she has haunted me--she and her old John Toomer, and it has
just now occurred to me that by putting her in my book I may be able to
get her out of my mind.



CHAPTER V

EARLY MEMORIES

  A child shepherd--Isaac and his children--Shepherding in boyhood--Two
  notable sheep-dogs--Jack, the adder-killer--Sitting on an adder--Rough
  and the drovers--The Salisbury coach--A sheep-dog suckling a lamb


Caleb's shepherding began in childhood; at all events he had his first
experience of it at that time. Many an old shepherd, whose father was
shepherd before him, has told me that he began to go with the flock very
early in life, when he was no more than ten to twelve years of age.
Caleb remembered being put in charge of his father's flock at the tender
age of six. It was a new and wonderful experience, and made so vivid and
lasting an impression on his mind that now, when he is past eighty, he
speaks of it very feelingly as of something which happened yesterday.

It was harvesting time, and Isaac, who was a good reaper, was wanted in
the field, but he could find no one, not even a boy, to take charge of
his flock in the meantime, and so to be able to reap and keep an eye on
the flock at the same time he brought his sheep down to the part of the
down adjoining the field. It was on his "liberty," or that part of the
down where he was entitled to have his flock. He then took his very
small boy, Caleb, and placing him with the sheep told him they were now
in his charge; that he was not to lose sight of them, and at the same
time not to run about among the furze-bushes for fear of treading on an
adder. By and by the sheep began straying off among the furze-bushes,
and no sooner would they disappear from sight than he imagined they were
lost for ever, or would be unless he quickly found them, and to find
them he had to run about among the bushes with the terror of adders in
his mind, and the two troubles together kept him crying with misery all
the time. Then, at intervals, Isaac would leave his reaping and come to
see how he was getting on, and the tears would vanish from his eyes, and
he would feel very brave again, and to his father's question he would
reply that he was getting on very well.

Finally his father came and took him to the field, to his great relief;
but he did not carry him in his arms; he strode along at his usual pace
and let the little fellow run after him, stumbling and falling and
picking himself up again and running on. And by and by one of the women
in the field cried out, "Be you not ashamed, Isaac, to go that pace and
not bide for the little child! I do b'lieve he's no more'n seven
year--poor mite!"

"No more'n six," answered Isaac proudly, with a laugh.

But though not soft or tender with his children he was very fond of
them, and when he came home early in the evening he would get them round
him and talk to them, and sing old songs and ballads he had learnt in
his young years--"Down in the Village," "The Days of Queen Elizabeth,"
"The Blacksmith," "The Gown of Green," "The Dawning of the Day," and
many others, which Caleb in the end got by heart and used to sing, too,
when he was grown up.

Caleb was about nine when he began to help regularly with the flock;
that was in the summer-time, when the flock was put every day on the
down and when Isaac's services were required for the haymaking and later
for harvesting and other work. His best memories of this period relate
to his mother and to two sheepdogs, Jack at first and afterwards Rough,
both animals of original character. Jack was a great favourite of his
master, who considered him a "tarrable good dog." He was rather
short-haired, like the old Welsh sheepdog once common in Wiltshire, but
entirely black instead of the usual colour--blue with a sprinkling of
black spots. This dog had an intense hatred of adders and never failed
to kill every one he discovered. At the same time he knew that they were
dangerous enemies to tackle, and on catching sight of one his hair would
instantly bristle up, and he would stand as if paralysed for some
moments, glaring at it and gnashing his teeth, then springing like a cat
upon it he would seize it in his mouth, only to hurl it from him to a
distance. This action he would repeat until the adder was dead, and
Isaac would then put it under a furze-bush to take it home and hang it
on a certain gate. The farmer, too, like the dog, hated adders, and paid
his shepherd sixpence for every one his dog killed.

One day Caleb, with one of his brothers, was out with the flock, amusing
themselves in their usual way on the turf with nine morris-men and the
shepherd's puzzle, when all at once their mother appeared unexpectedly
on the scene. It was her custom, when the boys were sent out with the
flock, to make expeditions to the down just to see what they were up to;
and hiding her approach by keeping to a hedge-side or by means of the
furze-bushes, she would sometimes come upon them with disconcerting
suddenness. On this occasion just where the boys had been playing there
was a low, stout furze-bush, so dense and flat-topped that one could use
it as a seat, and his mother taking off and folding her shawl placed it
on the bush, and sat down on it to rest herself after her long walk. "I
can see her now," said Caleb, "sitting on that furze-bush, in her smock
and leggings, with a big hat like a man's on her head--for that's how
she dressed." But in a few moments she jumped up, crying out that she
felt a snake under her, and snatched off the shawl, and there, sure
enough, out of the middle of the flat bush-top appeared the head of an
adder, flicking out its tongue. The dog, too, saw it, dashed at the
bush, forcing his muzzle and head into the middle of it, seized the
serpent by its body and plucked it out and threw it from him, only to
follow it up and kill it in the usual way.

Rough was a large, shaggy, grey-blue bobtail bitch with a white collar.
She was a clever, good all-round dog, but had originally been trained
for the road, and one of the shepherd's stories about her relates of her
intelligence in her own special line--the driving of sheep.

One day he and his smaller brother were in charge of the flock on the
down, and were on the side where it dips down to the turnpike-road about
a mile and a half from the village, where a large flock, driven by two
men and two dogs, came by. They were going to the Britford sheep-fair
and were behind time; Isaac had started at daylight that morning with
sheep for the same fair, and that was the reason of the boys being with
the flock. As the flock on the down was feeding quietly the boys
determined to go to the road to watch the sheep and men pass, and
arriving at the roadside they saw that the dogs were too tired to work
and the men were getting on with great difficulty. One of them, looking
intently at Rough, asked if she would work. "Oh, yes, she'll work," said
the boy proudly, and calling Rough he pointed to the flock moving very
slowly along the road and over the turf on either side of it. Rough knew
what was wanted; she had been looking on and had taken the situation in
with her professional eye; away she dashed, and running up and down,
first on one side then on the other, quickly put the whole flock,
numbering 800, into the road and gave them a good start.

"Why, she be a road dog!" exclaimed the drover delightedly. "She's
better for me on the road than for you on the down; I'll buy her of
you."

"No, I mustn't sell her," said Caleb.

"Look here, boy," said the other, "I'll give 'ee a sovran and this young
dog, an' he'll be a good one with a little more training."

"No, I mustn't," said Caleb, distressed at the other's persistence.

"Well, will you come a little way on the road with us?" asked the
drover.

This the boys agreed to and went on for about a quarter of a mile, when
all at once the Salisbury coach appeared on the road, coming to meet
them. This new trouble was pointed out to Rough, and at once when her
little master had given the order she dashed barking into the midst of
the mass of sheep and drove them furiously to the side from end to end
of the extended flock, making a clear passage for the coach, which was
not delayed a minute. And no sooner was the coach gone than the sheep
were put back into the road.

Then the drover pulled out his sovereign once more and tried to make the
boy take it.

"I mustn't," he repeated, almost in tears. "What would father say?"

"Say! He won't say nothing. He'll think you've done well."

But Caleb thought that perhaps his father would say something, and when
he remembered certain whippings he had experienced in the past he had an
uncomfortable sensation about his back. "No, I mustn't," was all he
could say, and then the drovers with a laugh went on with their sheep.

When Isaac came home and the adventure was told to him he laughed and
said that he meant to sell Rough some day. He used to say this
occasionally to tease his wife because of the dog's intense devotion to
her; and she, being without a sense of humour and half thinking that he
meant it, would get up out of her seat and solemnly declare that if he
ever sold Rough she would never again go out to the down to see what the
boys were up to.

One day she visited the boys when they had the flock near the turnpike,
and seating herself on the turf a few yards from the road got out her
work and began sewing. Presently they spied a big, singular-looking man
coming at a swinging pace along the road. He was in shirt-sleeves,
barefooted, and wore a straw hat without a rim. Rough eyed the strange
being's approach with suspicion, and going to her mistress placed
herself at her side. The man came up and sat down at a distance of three
or four yards from the group, and Rough, looking dangerous, started up
and put her forepaws on her mistress's lap and began uttering a low
growl.

"Will that dog bite, missus?" said the man.

"Maybe he will," said she. "I won't answer for he if you come any
nearer."

The two boys had been occupied cutting a faggot from a furze-bush with a
bill-hook, and now held a whispered consultation as to what they would
do if the man tried to "hurt mother," and agreed that as soon as Rough
had got her teeth in his leg they would attack him about the head with
the bill-hook. They were not required to go into action; the stranger
could not long endure Rough's savage aspect, and very soon he got up and
resumed his travels.

The shepherd remembered another curious incident in Rough's career. At
one time when she had a litter of pups at home she was yet compelled to
be a great part of the day with the flock of ewes as they could not do
without her. The boys just then were bringing up a motherless lamb by
hand and they would put it with the sheep, and to feed it during the day
were obliged to catch a ewe with milk. The lamb trotted at Caleb's heels
like a dog, and one day when it was hungry and crying to be fed, when
Rough happened to be sitting on her haunches close by, it occurred to
him that Rough's milk might serve as well as a sheep's. The lamb was put
to her and took very kindly to its canine foster-mother, wriggling its
tail and pushing vigorously with its nose. Rough submitted patiently to
the trial, and the result was that the lamb adopted the sheep-dog as its
mother and sucked her milk several times every day, to the great
admiration of all who witnessed it.



CHAPTER VI

SHEPHERD ISAAC BAWCOMBE

  A noble shepherd--A fighting village blacksmith--Old Joe the collier--A
  story of his strength--Donkeys poisoned by yew--The shepherd without his
  sheep--How the shepherd killed a deer


To me the most interesting of Caleb's old memories were those relating
to his father, partly on account of the man's fine character, and partly
because they went so far back, beginning in the early years of the last
century.

Altogether he must have been a very fine specimen of a man, both
physically and morally. In Caleb's mind he was undoubtedly the first
among men morally, but there were two other men supposed to be his
equals in bodily strength, one a native of the village, the other a
periodical visitor. The first was Jarvis the blacksmith, a man of an
immense chest and big arms, one of Isaac's greatest friends, and very
good-tempered except when in his cups, for he did occasionally get
drunk, and then he quarrelled with anyone and every one.

One afternoon he had made himself quite tipsy at the inn, and when going
home, swaying about and walking all over the road, he all at once caught
sight of the big shepherd coming soberly on behind. No sooner did he see
him than it occurred to his wild and muddled mind that he had a quarrel
with this very man, Shepherd Isaac, a quarrel of so pressing a nature
that there was nothing to do but to fight it out there and then. He
planted himself before the shepherd and challenged him to fight. Isaac
smiled and said nothing.

"I'll fight thee about this," he repeated, and began tugging at his
coat, and after getting it off again made up to Isaac, who still smiled
and said no word. Then he pulled his waistcoat off, and finally his
shirt, and with nothing but his boots and breeches on once more squared
up to Isaac and threw himself into his best fighting attitude.

"I doan't want to fight thee," said Isaac at length, "but I be thinking
'twould be best to take thee home." And suddenly dashing in he seized
Jarvis round the waist with one arm, grasped him round the legs with the
other, and flung the big man across his shoulder, and carried him off,
struggling and shouting, to his cottage. There at the door, pale and
distressed, stood the poor wife waiting for her lord, when Isaac
arrived, and going straight in dropped the smith down on his own floor,
and with the remark, "Here be your man," walked off to his cottage and
his tea.

The other powerful man was Old Joe the collier, who flourished and was
known in every village in the Salisbury Plain district during the first
thirty-five years of the last century. I first heard of this once famous
man from Caleb, whose boyish imagination had been affected by his
gigantic figure, mighty voice, and his wandering life over all that wide
world of Salisbury Plain. Afterwards when I became acquainted with a
good many old men, aged from 75 to 90 and upwards, I found that Old
Joe's memory is still green in a good many villages of the district,
from the upper waters of the Avon to the borders of Dorset. But it is
only these ancients who knew him that keep it green; by and by when they
are gone Old Joe and his neddies will be remembered no more.

In those days--down to about 1840, it was customary to burn peat in the
cottages, the first cost of which was about four and sixpence the
wagon-load--as much as I should require to keep me warm for a month in
winter; but the cost of its conveyance to the villages of the Plain was
about five to six shillings per load, as it came from a considerable
distance, mostly from the New Forest. How the labourers at that time,
when they were paid seven or eight shillings a week, could afford to buy
fuel at such prices to bake their rye bread and keep the frost out of
their bones is a marvel to us. Isaac was a good deal better off than
most of the villagers in this respect, as his master--for he never had
but one--allowed him the use of a wagon and the driver's services for
the conveyance of one load of peat each year. The wagon-load of peat and
another of faggots lasted him the year with the furze obtained from his
"liberty" on the down. Coal at that time was only used by the
blacksmiths in the villages, and was conveyed in sacks on ponies or
donkeys, and of those who were engaged in this business the best known
was Old Joe. He appeared periodically in the villages with his eight
donkeys, or neddies as he called them, with jingling bells on their
headstalls and their burdens of two sacks of small coal on each. In
stature he was a giant of about six feet three, very broad-chested, and
invariably wore a broad-brimmed hat, a slate-coloured smock-frock, and
blue worsted stockings to his knees. He walked behind the donkeys, a
very long staff in his hand, shouting at them from time to time, and
occasionally swinging his long staff and bringing it down on the back of
a donkey who was not keeping up the pace. In this way he wandered from
village to village from end to end of the Plain, getting rid of his
small coal and loading his animals with scrap iron which the blacksmiths
would keep for him, and as he continued his rounds for nearly forty
years he was a familiar figure to every inhabitant throughout the
district.

There are some stories still told of his great strength, one of which is
worth giving. He was a man of iron constitution and gave himself a hard
life, and he was hard on his neddies, but he had to feed them well, and
this he often contrived to do at some one else's expense. One night at a
village on the Wylye it was discovered that he had put his eight donkeys
in a meadow in which the grass was just ripe for mowing. The enraged
farmer took them to the village pound and locked them up, but in the
morning the donkeys and Joe with them had vanished and the whole village
wondered how he had done it. The stone wall of the pound was four feet
and a half high and the iron gate was locked, yet he had lifted the
donkeys up and put them over and had loaded them and gone before anyone
was up.

Once Joe met with a very great misfortune. He arrived late at a village,
and finding there was good feed in the churchyard and that everybody was
in bed, he put his donkeys in and stretched himself out among the
gravestones to sleep. He had no nerves and no imagination; and was
tired, and slept very soundly until it was light and time to put his
neddies out before any person came by and discovered that he had been
making free with the rector's grass. Glancing round he could see no
donkeys, and only when he stood up he found they had not made their
escape but were there all about him, lying among the gravestones, stone
dead every one! He had forgotten that a churchyard was a dangerous place
to put hungry animals in. They had browsed on the luxuriant yew that
grew there, and this was the result.

In time he recovered from his loss and replaced his dead neddies with
others, and continued for many years longer on his rounds.

To return to Isaac Bawcombe. He was born, we have seen, in 1800, and
began following a flock as a boy and continued as shepherd on the same
farm for a period of fifty-five years. The care of sheep was the one
all-absorbing occupation of his life, and how much it was to him appears
in this anecdote of his state of mind when he was deprived of it for a
time. The flock was sold and Isaac was left without sheep, and with
little to do except to wait from Michaelmas to Candlemas, when there
would be sheep again at the farm. It was a long time to Isaac, and he
found his enforced holiday so tedious that he made himself a nuisance to
his wife in the house. Forty times a day he would throw off his hat and
sit down, resolved to be happy at his own fireside, but after a few
minutes the desire to be up and doing would return, and up he would get
and out he would go again. One dark cloudy evening a man from the farm
put his head in at the door. "Isaac," he said, "there be sheep for 'ee
up't the farm--two hunderd ewes and a hunderd more to come in dree days.
Master, he sent I to say you be wanted." And away the man went.

Isaac jumped up and hurried forth without taking his crook from the
corner and actually without putting on his hat! His wife called out
after him, and getting no response sent the boy with his hat to overtake
him. But the little fellow soon returned with the hat--he could not
overtake his father!

He was away three or four hours at the farm, then returned, his hair
very wet, his face beaming, and sat down with a great sigh of pleasure.
"Two hunderd ewes," he said, "and a hunderd more to come--what d'you
think of that?"

"Well, Isaac," said she, "I hope thee'll be happy now and let I alone."

After all that had been told to me about the elder Bawcombe's life and
character, it came somewhat as a shock to learn that at one period
during his early manhood he had indulged in one form of poaching--a
sport which had a marvellous fascination for the people of England in
former times, but was pretty well extinguished during the first quarter
of the last century. Deer he had taken; and the whole tale of the
deer-stealing, which was a common offence in that part of Wiltshire down
to about 1834, sounds strange at the present day.

Large herds of deer were kept at that time at an estate a few miles from
Winterbourne Bishop, and it often happened that many of the animals
broke bounds and roamed singly and in small bands over the hills. When
deer were observed in the open, certain of the villagers would settle on
some plan of action; watchers would be sent out not only to keep an eye
on the deer but on the keepers too. Much depended on the state of the
weather and the moon, as some light was necessary; then, when the
conditions were favourable and the keepers had been watched to their
cottages, the gang would go out for a night's hunting. But it was a
dangerous sport, as the keepers also knew that deer were out of bounds,
and they would form some counter-plan, and one peculiarly nasty plan
they had was to go out about three or four o'clock in the morning and
secrete themselves somewhere close to the village to intercept the
poachers on their return.

Bawcombe, who never in his life associated with the village idlers and
frequenters of the alehouse, had no connexion with these men. His
expeditions were made alone on some dark, unpromising night, when the
regular poachers were in bed and asleep. He would steal away after
bedtime, or would go out ostensibly to look after the sheep, and, if
fortunate, would return in the small hours with a deer on his back.
Then, helped by his mother, with whom he lived (for this was when he was
a young unmarried man, about 1820), he would quickly skin and cut up the
carcass, stow the meat away in some secret place, and bury the head,
hide, and offal deep in the earth; and when morning came it would find
Isaac out following his flock as usual, with no trace of guilt or
fatigue in his rosy cheeks and clear, honest eyes.

This was a very astonishing story to hear from Caleb, but to suspect him
of inventing or of exaggerating was impossible to anyone who knew him.
And we have seen that Isaac Bawcombe was an exceptional man--physically
a kind of Alexander Selkirk of the Wiltshire Downs. And he, moreover,
had a dog to help him--one as superior in speed and strength to the
ordinary sheep-dog as he himself was to the rack of his fellow-men. It
was only after much questioning on my part that Caleb brought himself to
tell me of these ancient adventures, and finally to give a detailed
account of how his father came to take his first deer. It was in the
depth of winter--bitterly cold, with a strong north wind blowing on the
snow-covered downs--when one evening Isaac caught sight of two deer out
on his sheep-walk. In that part of Wiltshire there is a famous monument
of antiquity, a vast mound-like wall, with a deep depression or fosse
running at its side. Now it happened that on the highest part of the
down, where the wall or mound was most exposed to the blast, the snow
had been blown clean off the top, and the deer were feeding here on the
short turf, keeping to the ridge, so that, outlined against the sky,
they had become visible to Isaac at a great distance.

He saw and pondered. These deer, just now, while out of bounds, were no
man's property, and it would be no sin to kill and eat one--if he could
catch it!--and it was a season of bitter want. For many many days he had
eaten his barley bread, and on some days barley-flour dumplings, and had
been content with this poor fare; but now the sight of these animals
made him crave for meat with an intolerable craving, and he determined
to do something to satisfy it.

He went home and had his poor supper, and when it was dark set forth
again with his dog. He found the deer still feeding on the mound.
Stealing softly along among the furze-bushes, he got the black line of
the mound against the starry sky, and by and by, as he moved along, the
black figures of the deer, with their heads down, came into view. He
then doubled back and, proceeding some distance, got down into the fosse
and stole forward to them again under the wall. His idea was that on
taking alarm they would immediately make for the forest which was their
home, and would probably pass near him. They did not hear him until he
was within sixty yards, and then bounded down from the wall, over the
dyke, and away, but in almost opposite directions--one alone making for
the forest; and on this one the dog was set. Out he shot like an arrow
from the bow, and after him ran Isaac "as he had never runned afore in
all his life." For a short space deer and dog in hot pursuit were
visible on the snow, then the darkness swallowed them up as they rushed
down the slope; but in less than half a minute a sound came back to
Isaac, flying, too, down the incline--the long, wailing cry of a deer in
distress. The dog had seized his quarry by one of the front legs, a
little above the hoof, and held it fast, and they were struggling on the
snow when Isaac came up and flung himself upon his victim, then thrust
his knife through its windpipe "to stop its noise." Having killed it, he
threw it on his back and went home, not by the turnpike, nor by any road
or path, but over fields and through copses until he got to the back of
his mother's cottage. There was no door on that side, but there was a
window, and when he had rapped at it and his mother opened it, without
speaking a word he thrust the dead deer through, then made his way round
to the front.

That was how he killed his first deer. How the others were taken I do
not know; I wish I did, since this one exploit of a Wiltshire shepherd
has more interest for me than I find in fifty narratives of elephants
slaughtered wholesale with explosive bullets, written for the delight
and astonishment of the reading public by our most glorious Nimrods.



CHAPTER VII

THE DEER-STEALERS

  Deer-stealing on Salisbury Plain--The head-keeper Harbutt--Strange
  story of a baby--Found as a surname--John Barter the village
  carpenter--How the keeper was fooled--A poaching attack planned--The
  fight--Head-keeper and carpenter--The carpenter hides his son--The
  arrest--Barter's sons forsake the village


There were other memories of deer-taking handed down to Caleb by his
parents, and the one best worth preserving relates to the head-keeper of
the preserves, or chase, and to a great fight in which he was engaged
with two brothers of the girl who was afterwards to be Isaac's wife.

Here it may be necessary to explain that formerly the owner of
Cranbourne Chase, at that time Lord Rivers, claimed the deer and the
right to preserve and hunt deer over a considerable extent of country
outside of his own lands. On the Wiltshire side these rights extended
from Cranbourne Chase over the South Wiltshire Downs to Salisbury, and
the whole territory, about thirty miles broad, was divided into beats or
walks, six or eight in number, each beat provided with a keeper's lodge.
This state of things continued to the year 1834, when the chase was
"disfranchised" by Act of Parliament.

The incident I am going to relate occurred about 1815 or perhaps two or
three years later. The border of one of the deer walks was at a spot
known as Three Downs Place, two miles and a half from Winterbourne
Bishop. Here in a hollow of the downs there was an extensive wood, and
just within the wood a large stone house, said to be centuries old but
long pulled down, called Rollston House, in which the head-keeper lived
with two under-keepers. He had a wife but no children, and was a
middle-aged, thick-set, very dark man, powerful and vigilant, a
"tarrable" hater and persecutor of poachers, feared and hated by them in
turn, and his name was Harbutt.

It happened that one morning, when he had unbarred the front door to go
out, he found a great difficulty in opening it, caused by a heavy object
having been fastened to the door-handle. It proved to be a basket or
box, in which a well-nourished, nice-looking boy baby was sleeping, well
wrapped up and covered with a cloth. On the cloth a scrap of paper was
pinned with the following lines written on it:

  Take me in and treat me well,
  For in this house my father dwell.


Harbutt read the lines and didn't even smile at the grammar; on the
contrary, he appeared very much upset, and was still standing holding
the paper, staring stupidly at it, when his wife came on the scene.
"What be this?" she exclaimed, and looked first at the paper, then at
him, then at the rosy child fast asleep in its cradle; and instantly,
with a great cry, she fell on it and snatched it up in her arms, and
holding it clasped to her bosom, began lavishing caresses and endearing
expressions on it, tears of rapture in her eyes! Not one word of inquiry
or bitter, jealous reproach--all that part of her was swallowed up and
annihilated in the joy of a woman who had been denied a child of her own
to love and nourish and worship. And now one had come to her and it
mattered little how. Two or three days later the infant was baptized at
the village church with the quaint name of Moses Found.

Caleb was a little surprised at my thinking it a laughable name. It was
to his mind a singularly appropriate one; he assured me it was not the
only case he knew of in which the surname Found had been bestowed on a
child of unknown parentage, and he told me the story of one of the
Founds who had gone to Salisbury as a boy and worked and saved and
eventually become quite a prosperous and important person. There was
really nothing funny in it.

The story of Moses Found had been told him by his old mother; she, he
remarked significantly, had good cause to remember it. She was herself a
native of the village, born two or three years later than the mysterious
Moses; her father, John Barter by name was a carpenter and lived in an
old, thatched house which still exists and is very familiar to me. He
had five sons; then, after an interval of some years, a daughter was
born, who in due time was to be Isaac's wife. When she was a little girl
her brothers were all grown up or on the verge of manhood, and Moses,
too, was a young man--"the spit of his father" people said, meaning the
head-keeper--and he was now one of Harbutt's under-keepers.

About this time some of the more ardent spirits in the village, not
satisfied with an occasional hunt when a deer broke out and roamed over
the downs, took to poaching them in the woods. One night, a hunt having
been arranged, one of the most daring of the men secreted himself close
to the keeper's house, and having watched the keepers go in and the
lights put out, he actually succeeded in fastening up the doors from the
outside with screws and pieces of wood without creating an alarm. He
then met his confederates at an agreed spot and the hunting began,
during which one deer was chased to the house and actually pulled down
and killed on the lawn.

Meanwhile the inmates were in a state of great excitement; the
under-keepers feared that a force it would be dangerous to oppose had
taken possession of the woods, while Harbutt raved and roared like a
maddened wild beast in a cage, and put forth all his strength to pull
the doors open. Finally he smashed a window and leaped out, gun in hand,
and calling the others to follow rushed into the wood. But he was too
late; the hunt was over and the poachers had made good their escape,
taking the carcasses of two or three deer they had succeeded in killing.

The keeper was not to be fooled in the same way a second time, and
before very long he had his revenge. A fresh raid was planned, and on
this occasion two of the five brothers were in it, and there were four
more, the blacksmith of Winterbourne Bishop, their best man, two famous
shearers, father and son, from a neighbouring village, and a young farm
labourer.

They knew very well that with the head-keeper in his present frame of
mind it was a risky affair, and they made a solemn compact that if
caught they would stand by one another to the end. And caught they were,
and on this occasion the keepers were four.

At the very beginning the blacksmith, their ablest man and virtual
leader, was knocked down senseless with a blow on his head with the butt
end of a gun. Immediately on seeing this the two famous shearers took to
their heels and the young labourer followed their example. The brothers
were left but refused to be taken, although Harbutt roared at them in
his bull's voice that he would shoot them unless they surrendered. They
made light of his threats and fought against the four, and eventually
were separated. By and by the younger of the two was driven into a
brambly thicket where his opponents imagined that it would be impossible
for him to escape. But he was a youth of indomitable spirit, strong and
agile as a wild cat; and returning blow for blow he succeeded in tearing
himself from them, then after a running fight through the darkest part
of the wood for a distance of two or three hundred yards they at length
lost him or gave him up and went back to assist Harbutt and Moses
against the other man. Left to himself he got out of the wood and made
his way back to the village. It was long past midnight when he turned up
at his father's cottage, a pitiable object covered with mud and blood,
hatless, his clothes torn to shreds, his face and whole body covered
with bruises and bleeding wounds.

The old man was in a great state of distress about his other son, and
early in the morning went to examine the ground where the fight had
been. It was only too easily found; the sod was trampled down and
branches broken as though a score of men had been engaged. Then he found
his eldest son's cap, and a little farther away a sleeve of his coat;
shreds and rags were numerous on the bramble bushes, and by and by he
came on a pool of blood. "They've kill 'n!" he cried in despair,
"they've killed my poor boy!" and straight to Rollston House he went to
inquire, and was met by Harbutt himself, who came out limping, one boot
on, the other foot bound up with rags, one arm in a sling and a cloth
tied round his head. He was told that his son was alive and safe indoors
and that he would be taken to Salisbury later in the day. "His clothes
be all torn to pieces," added the keeper. "You can just go home at once
and git him others before the constable comes to take him."

"You've tored them to pieces yourself and you can git him others,"
retorted the old man in a rage.

"Very well," said the keeper. "But bide a moment--I've something more
to say to you. When your son comes out of jail in a year or so you tell
him from me that if he'll just step up this way I'll give him five
shillings and as much beer as he likes to drink. I never see'd a better
fighter!"

It was a great compliment to his son, but the old men was troubled in
his mind. "What dost mean, keeper, by a year or so?" he asked.

"When I said that," returned the other, with a grin, "I was just
thinking what 'twould be he deserves to git."

"And you'd agot your deserts, by God," cried the angry father, "if that
boy of mine hadn't a-been left alone to fight ye!"

Harbutt regarded him with a smile of gratified malice.

"You can go home now," he said. "If you'd see your son you'll find'n in
Salisbury jail. Maybe you'll be wanting new locks on your doors; you can
git they in Salisbury too--you've no blacksmith in your village now. No,
your boy weren't alone and you know that damned well."

"I know naught about that," he returned, and started to walk home with a
heavy heart. Until now he had been clinging to the hope that the other
son had not been identified in the dark wood. And now what could he do
to save one of the two from hateful imprisonment? The boy was not in a
fit condition to make his escape; he could hardly get across the room
and could not sit or lie down without groaning. He could only try to
hide him in the cottage and pray that they would not discover him. The
cottage was in the middle of the village and had but little ground to
it, but there was a small, boarded-up cavity or cell at one end of an
attic, and it might be possible to save him by putting him in there.
Here, then, in a bed placed for him on the floor, his bruised son was
obliged to lie, in the close, dark hole, for some days.

One day, about a week later, when he was recovering from his hurts, he
crawled out of his box and climbed down the narrow stairs to the ground
floor to see the light and breathe a better air for a short time, and
while down he was tempted to take a peep at the street through the
small, latticed window. But he quickly withdrew his head and by and by
said to his father, "I'm feared Moses has seen me. Just now when I was
at the window he came by and looked up and see'd me with my head all
tied up, and I'm feared he knew 'twas I."

After that they could only wait in fear and trembling, and on the next
day quite early there came a loud rap at the door, and on its being
opened by the old man the constable and two keepers appeared standing
before him.

"I've come to take your son," said the constable.

The old man stepped back without a word and took down his gun from its
place on the wall, then spoke: "It you've got a search-warrant you may
come in; if you haven't got 'n I'll blow the brains out of the first man
that puts a foot inside my door."

They hesitated a few moments then silently withdrew. After consulting
together the constable went off to the nearest magistrate, leaving the
two keepers to keep watch on the house: Moses Found was one of them.
Later in the day the constable returned armed with a warrant and was
thereupon admitted, with the result that the poor youth was soon
discovered in his hiding-place and carried off. And that was the last he
saw of his home, his young sister crying bitterly and his old father
white and trembling with grief and impotent rage.

A month or two later the two brothers were tried and sentenced each to
six months' imprisonment. They never came home. On their release they
went to Woolwich, where men were wanted and the pay was good. And by and
by the accounts they sent home induced first one then the other brother
to go and join them, and the poor old father, who had been very proud of
his five sons, was left alone with his young daughter--Isaac's destined
wife.



CHAPTER VIII

SHEPHERDS AND POACHING

  General remarks on poaching--Farmer, shepherd, and dog--A sheep-dog
  that would not hunt--Taking a partridge from a hawk--Old Gaarge and
  Young Gaarge--Partridge-poaching--The shepherd robbed of his
  rabbits--Wisdom of Shepherd Gathergood--Hare-trapping on the
  down--Hare-taking with a crook


When Caleb was at length free from his father's tutelage, and as an
under-shepherd practically independent, he did not follow Isaac's strict
example with regard to wild animals, good for the pot, which came by
chance in his way; he even allowed himself to go a little out of his way
on occasion to get them.

We know that about this matter the law of the land does not square with
the moral law as it is written in the heart of the peasant. A wounded
partridge or other bird which he finds in his walks abroad or which
comes by chance to him is his by a natural right, and he will take and
eat or dispose of it without scruple. With rabbits he is very free--he
doesn't wait to find a distressed one with a stoat on its track--stoats
are not sufficiently abundant; and a hare, too, may be picked up at any
moment; only in this case he must be very sure that no one is looking.
Knowing the law, and being perhaps a respectable, religious person, he
is anxious to abstain from all appearance of evil. This taking a hare or
rabbit or wounded partridge is in his mind a very different thing from
systematic poaching; but he is aware that to the classes above him it is
not so--the law has made them one. It is a hard, arbitrary, unnatural
law, made by and for them, his betters, and outwardly he must conform to
it. Thus you will find the best of men among the shepherds and labourers
freely helping themselves to any wild creature that falls in their way,
yet sharing the game-preserver's hatred of the real poacher. The village
poacher as a rule is an idle, dissolute fellow, and the sober,
industrious, righteous shepherd or ploughman or carter does not like to
be put on a level with such a person. But there is no escape from the
hard and fast rule in such things, and however open and truthful he may
be in everything else, in this one matter he is obliged to practise a
certain amount of deception. Here is a case to serve as an illustration;
I have only just heard it, after putting together the material I had
collected for this chapter, in conversation with an old shepherd friend
of mine.

He is a fine old man who has followed a flock these fifty years, and
will, I have no doubt, carry his crook for yet another ten. Not only is
he a "good shepherd," in the sense in which Caleb uses that phrase, with
a more intimate knowledge of sheep and all the ailments they are subject
to than I have found in any other, but he is also a truly religious man,
one that "walks with God." He told me this story of a sheep-dog he owned
when head-shepherd on a large farm on the Dorsetshire border with a
master whose chief delight in life was in coursing hares. They abounded
on his land, and he naturally wanted the men employed on the farm to
regard them as sacred animals. One day he came out to the shepherd to
complain that some one had seen his dog hunting a hare.

The shepherd indignantly asked who had said such a thing.

"Never mind about that," said the farmer. "Is it true?"

"It is a lie," said the shepherd. "My dog never hunts a hare or anything
else. 'Tis my belief the one that said that has got a dog himself that
hunts the hares and he wants to put the blame on some one else."

"May be so," said the farmer, unconvinced.

Just then a hare made its appearance, coming across the field directly
towards them, and either because they never moved or it did not smell
them it came on and on, stopping at intervals to sit for a minute or so
on its haunches, then on again until it was within forty yards of where
they were standing. The farmer watched it approach and at the same time
kept an eye on the dog sitting at their feet and watching the hare too,
very steadily. "Now, shepherd," said the farmer, "don't you say one word
to the dog and I'll see for myself." Not a word did he say, and the hare
came and sat for some seconds near them, then limped away out of sight,
and the dog made not the slightest movement. "That's all right," said
the farmer, well pleased. "I know now 'twas a lie I heard about your
dog. I've seen for myself and I'll just keep a sharp eye on the man that
told me."

My comment on this story was that the farmer had displayed an almost
incredible ignorance of a sheepdog--and a shepherd. "How would it have
been if you had said, 'Catch him, Bob,' or whatever his name was?" I
asked.

He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and replied, "I do b'lieve
he'd ha' got 'n, but he'd never move till I told 'n."

It comes to this: the shepherd refuses to believe that by taking a hare
he is robbing any man of his property, and if he is obliged to tell a
lie to save himself from the consequences he does not consider that it
is a lie.

When he understood that I was on his side in this question, he told me
about a good sheep-dog he once possessed which he had to get rid of
because he would not take a hare!

A dog when broken is made to distinguish between the things he must and
must not do. He is "feelingly persuaded" by kind words and caresses in
one case and hard words and hard blows in the other. He learns that if
he hunts hares and rabbits it will be very bad for him, and in due time,
after some suffering, he is able to overcome this strongest instinct of
a dog. He acquires an artificial conscience. Then, when his education is
finished, he must be made to understand that it is not quite finished
after all--that he must partially unlearn one of the saddest of the
lessons instilled in him. He must hunt a hare or rabbit when told by his
master to do so. It is a compact between man and dog. Thus, they have
got a law which the dog has sworn to obey; but the man who made it is
above the law and can when he thinks proper command his servant to break
it. The dog, as a rule, takes it all in very readily and often allows
himself more liberty than his master gives him; the most highly
accomplished animal is one that, like my shepherd's dog in the former
instance, will not stir till he is told. In the other case the poor
brute could not rise to the position; it was too complex for him, and
when ordered to catch a rabbit he could only put his tail between his
legs and look in a puzzled way at his master. "Why do you tell me to do
a thing for which I shall be thrashed?"

It was only after Caleb had known me some time, when we were fast
friends, that he talked with perfect freedom of these things and told me
of his own small, illicit takings without excuse or explanation.

One day he saw a sparrowhawk dash down upon a running partridge and
struggle with it on the ground. It was in a grass field, divided from
the one he was walking in by a large, unkept hedge without a gap in it
to let him through. Presently the hawk rose up with the partridge still
violently struggling in its talons, and flew over the hedge to Caleb's
side, but was no sooner over than it came down again and the struggle
went on once more on the ground. On Caleb running to the spot the hawk
flew off, leaving his prey behind. He had grasped it in its sides,
driving his sharp claws well in, and the partridge, though unable to
fly, was still alive. The shepherd killed it and put it in his pocket,
and enjoyed it very much when he came to eat it.

From this case, a most innocent form of poaching, he went on to relate
how he had once been able to deprive a cunning poacher and bad man, a
human sparrowhawk, of his quarry.

There were two persons in the village, father and son, he very heartily
detested, known respectively as Old Gaarge and Young Gaarge, inveterate
poachers both. They were worse than the real reprobate who haunted the
public-house and did no work and was not ashamed of his evil ways, for
these two were hypocrites and were outwardly sober, righteous men, who
kept themselves a little apart from their neighbours and were very
severe in their condemnation of other people's faults.

One Sunday morning Caleb was on his way to his ewes folded at a distance
from the village, walking by a hedgerow at the foot of the down, when he
heard a shot fired some way ahead, and after a minute or two a second
shot. This greatly excited his curiosity and caused him to keep a sharp
look-out in the direction the sounds had come from, and by and by he
caught sight of a man walking towards him. It was Old Gaarge in his long
smock-frock, proceeding in a leisurely way towards the village, but
catching sight of the shepherd he turned aside through a gap in the
hedge and went off in another direction to avoid meeting him. No doubt,
thought Caleb, he has got his gun in two pieces hidden under his smock.
He went on until he came to a small field of oats which had grown badly
and had only been half reaped, and here he discovered that Old Gaarge
had been lying in hiding to shoot at the partridges that came to feed.
He had been screened from the sight of the birds by a couple of hurdles
and some straw, and there were feathers of the birds he had shot
scattered about. He had finished his Sunday morning's sport and was
going back, a little too late on this occasion as it turned out.

Caleb went on to his flock, but before getting to it his dog discovered
a dead partridge in the hedge; it had flown that far and then dropped,
and there was fresh blood on its feathers. He put it in his pocket and
carried it about most of the day while with his sheep on the down. Late
in the afternoon he spied two magpies pecking at something out in the
middle of a field and went to see what they had found. It was a second
partridge which Old Gaarge had shot in the morning and had lost, the
bird having flown to some distance before dropping. The magpies had
probably found it already dead, as it was cold; they had begun tearing
the skin at the neck and had opened it down to the breast-bone. Caleb
took this bird, too, and by and by, sitting down to examine it, he
thought he would try to mend the torn skin with the needle and thread he
always carried inside his cap. He succeeded in stitching it neatly up,
and putting back the feathers in their place the rent was quite
concealed. That evening he took the two birds to a man in the village
who made a livelihood by collecting bones, rags, and things of that
kind; the man took the birds in his hand, held them up, felt their
weight, examined them carefully, and pronounced them to be two good, fat
birds, and agreed to pay two shillings for them.

Such a man may be found in most villages; he calls himself a "general
dealer," and keeps a trap and pony--in some cases he keeps the
ale-house--and is a useful member of the small, rural community--a sort
of human carrion-crow.

The two shillings were very welcome, but more than the money was the
pleasing thought that he had got the bird shot by the hypocritical old
poacher for his own profit. Caleb had good cause to hate him. He, Caleb,
was one of the shepherds who had his master's permission to take rabbits
on the land, and having found his snares broken on many occasions he
came to the conclusion that they were visited in the night time by some
very cunning person who kept a watch on his movements. One evening he
set five snares in a turnip field and went just before daylight next
morning in a dense fog to visit them. Every one was broken! He had just
started on his way back, feeling angry and much puzzled at such a thing,
when the fog all at once passed away and revealed the figures of two men
walking hurriedly off over the down. They were at a considerable
distance, but the light was now strong enough to enable him to identify
Old Gaarge and Young Gaarge. In a few moments they vanished over the
brow. Caleb was mad at being deprived of his rabbits in this mean way,
but pleased at the same time in having discovered who the culprits were;
but what to do about it he did not know.

On the following day he was with his flock on the down and found himself
near another shepherd, also with his sheep, one he knew very well, a
quiet but knowing old man named Joseph Gathergood. He was known to be a
skilful rabbit-catcher, and Caleb thought he would go over to him and
tell him about how he was being tricked by the two Gaarges and ask him
what to do in the matter.

The old man was very friendly and at once told him what to do. "Don't
you set no more snares by the hedges and in the turmots," he said. "Set
them out on the open down where no one would go after rabbits and
they'll not find the snares." And this was how it had to be done. First
he was to scrape the ground with the heel of his boot until the fresh
earth could be seen through the broken turf; then he was to sprinkle a
little rabbit scent on the scraped spot, and plant his snare. The scent
and smell of the fresh earth combined would draw the rabbits to the
spot; they would go there to scratch and would inevitably get caught if
the snare was properly placed.

Caleb tried this plan with one snare, and on the following morning found
that he had a rabbit. He set it again that evening, then again, until he
had caught five rabbits on five consecutive nights, all with the same
snare. That convinced him that he had been taught a valuable lesson and
that old Gathergood was a very wise man about rabbits; and he was very
happy to think that he had got the better of his two sneaking enemies.

But Shepherd Gathergood was just as wise about hares, and, as in the
other case, he took them out on the down in the most open places. His
success was due to his knowledge of the hare's taste for blackthorn
twigs. He would take a good, strong blackthorn stem or shoot with twigs
on it, and stick it firmly down in the middle of a large grass field or
on the open down, and place the steel trap tied to the stick at a
distance of a foot or so from it, the trap concealed under grass or moss
and dead leaves. The smell of the blackthorn would draw the hare to the
spot, and he would move round and round nibbling the twigs until caught.

Caleb never tried this plan, but was convinced that Gathergood was right
about it.

He told me of another shepherd who was clever at taking hares in another
way, and who was often chaffed by his acquaintances on account of the
extraordinary length of his shepherd's crook. It was like a lance or
pole, being twice the usual length. But he had a use for it. This
shepherd used to make hares' forms on the downs in all suitable places,
forming them so cunningly that no one seeing them by chance would have
believed they were the work of human hands. The hares certainly made use
of them. When out with his flock he would visit these forms, walking
quietly past them at a distance of twenty to thirty feet, his dog
following at his heels. On catching sight of a hare crouching in a form
he would drop a word, and the dog would instantly stand still and remain
fixed and motionless, while the shepherd went on but in a circle so as
gradually to approach the form. Meanwhile the hare would keep his eyes
fixed on the dog, paying no attention to the man, until by and by the
long staff would be swung round and a blow descend on the poor, silly
head from the opposite side, and if the blow was not powerful enough to
stun or disable the hare, the dog would have it before it got many yards
from the cosy nest prepared for its destruction.



CHAPTER IX

THE SHEPHERD ON FOXES

  A fox-trapping shepherd--Gamekeepers and foxes--Fox and stoat--A
  gamekeeper off his guard--Pheasants and foxes--Caleb kills a fox--A
  fox-hunting sheep-dog--Two varieties of foxes--Rabbits playing with
  little foxes--How to expel foxes--A playful spirit in the
  fox--Fox-hunting a danger to sheep


Caleb related that his friend Shepherd Gathergood was a great fox-killer
and, as with hares, he took them in a way of his own. He said that the
fox will always go to a heap of ashes in any open place, and his plan
was to place a steel trap concealed among the ashes, made fast to a
stick about three feet high, firmly planted in the middle of the heap,
with a piece of strong-smelling cheese tied to the top. The two
attractions of an ash-heap and the smell of strong cheese was more than
any fox could resist. When he caught a fox he killed and buried it on
the down and said "nothing to nobody" about it. He killed them to
protect himself from their depredations; foxes, like Old Gaarge and his
son in Caleb's case, went round at night to rob him of the rabbits he
took in his snares.

Caleb never blamed him for this; on the contrary, he greatly admired him
for his courage, seeing that if it had been found out he would have been
a marked man. It was perhaps intelligence or cunning rather than
courage; he did not believe that he would be found out, and he never
was; he told Caleb of these things because he was sure of his man. Those
who were interested in the hunt never suspected him, and as to
gamekeepers, they hardly counted. He was helping them; no one hates a
fox more than they do. The farmer gets compensation for damage, and the
hen-wife is paid for her stolen chickens by the hunt, The keeper is
required to look after the game, and at the same time to spare his chief
enemy, the fox. Indeed, the keeper's state of mind with regard to foxes
has always been a source of amusement to me, and by long practice I am
able to talk to him on that delicate subject in a way to make him
uncomfortable and self-contradictory. There are various, quite innocent
questions which the student of wild life may put to a keeper about foxes
which have a disturbing effect on his brain. How to expel foxes from a
covert, for example; and here is another: Is it true that the fox
listens for the distressed cries of a rabbit pursued by a stoat and that
he will deprive the stoat of his captive? Perhaps; Yes; No, I don't
think so, because one hunts by night, the other by day, he will answer,
but you see that the question troubles him. One keeper, off his guard,
promptly answered, "I've no doubt of it; I can always bring a fox to me
by imitating the cry of a rabbit hunted by a stoat." But he did not say
what his object was in attracting the fox.

I say that the keeper was off his guard in this instance, because the
fiction that foxes were preserved on the estate was kept up, though as a
fact they were systematically destroyed by the keepers. As the
pheasant-breeding craze appears to increase rather than diminish,
notwithstanding the disastrous effect it has had in alienating the
people from their lords and masters, the conflict of interest between
fox-hunter and pheasant-breeder will tend to become more and more acute,
and the probable end will be that fox-hunting will have to go. A
melancholy outlook to those who love the country and old country sports,
and who do not regard pheasant-shooting as now followed as sport at all.
It is a delusion of the landlords that the country people think most
highly of the great pheasant-preserver who has two or three big shoots
in a season, during which vast numbers of birds are slaughtered--every
bird "costing a guinea," as the saying is. It brings money into the
country, he or his apologist tells you, and provides employment for the
village poor in October and November, when there is little doing. He
does not know the truth of the matter. A certain number of the poorer
people of the village are employed as beaters for the big shoots at a
shilling a day or so, and occasionally a labourer, going to or from his
work, finds a pheasant's nest and informs the keeper and receives some
slight reward. If he "keeps his eyes open" and shows himself anxious at
all times to serve the keeper he will sometimes get a rabbit for his
Sunday dinner.

This is not a sufficient return for the freedom to walk on the land and
in woods, which the villager possessed formerly, even in his worst days
of his oppression, a liberty which has now been taken from him. The
keeper is there now to prevent him; he was there before, and from of
old, but the pheasant was not yet a sacred bird, and it didn't matter
that a man walked on the turf or picked up a few fallen sticks in a
wood. The keeper is there to tell him to keep to the road and sometimes
to ask him, even when he is on the road, what is he looking over the
hedge for. He slinks obediently away; he is only a poor labourer with
his living to get, and he cannot afford to offend the man who stands
between him and the lord and the lord's tenant. And he is inarticulate;
but the insolence and injustice rankle in his heart, for he is not
altogether a helot in soul; and the result is that the sedition-mongers,
the Socialists, the furious denouncers of all landlords, who are now
quartering the country, and whose vans I meet in the remotest villages,
are listened to, and their words--wild and whirling words they may
be--are sinking into the hearts of the agricultural labourers of the new
generation.

To return to foxes and gamekeepers. There are other estates where the
fiction of fox-preserving is kept up no longer, where it is notorious
that the landlord is devoted exclusively to the gun and to
pheasant-breeding. On one of the big estates I am familiar with in
Wiltshire the keepers openly say they will not suffer a fox, and every
villager knows it and will give information of a fox to the keepers, and
looks to be rewarded with a rabbit. All this is undoubtedly known to the
lord of the manor; his servants are only carrying out his own wishes,
although he still subscribes to the hunt and occasionally attends the
meet. The entire hunt may unite in cursing him, but they must do so
below their breath; it would have a disastrous effect to spread it
abroad that he is a persecutor of foxes.

Caleb disliked foxes, too, but not to the extent of killing them. He did
once actually kill one, when a young under-shepherd, but it was accident
rather than intention.

One day he found a small gap in a hedge, which had been made or was
being used by a hare, and, thinking to take it, he set a trap at the
spot, tying it securely to a root and covering it over with dead leaves.
On going to the place the next morning he could see nothing until his
feet were on the very edge of the ditch, when with startling suddenness
a big dog fox sprang up at him with a savage snarl. It was caught by a
hind-leg, and had been lying concealed among the dead leaves close under
the bank. Caleb, angered at finding a fox when he had looked for a hare,
and at the attack the creature had made on him, dealt it a blow on the
head with his heavy stick--just one blow given on the impulse of the
moment, but it killed the fox! He felt very bad at what he had done and
began to think of consequences. He took it from the trap and hid it away
under the dead leaves beneath the hedge some yards from the gap, and
then went to his work. During the day one of the farm hands went out to
speak to him. He was a small, quiet old man, a discreet friend, and
Caleb confided to him what he had done. "Leave it to me," said his old
friend, and went back to the farm. In the afternoon Caleb was standing
on the top of the down looking towards the village, when he spied at a
great distance the old man coming out to the hills, and by and by he
could make out that he had a sack on his back and a spade in his hand.
When half-way up the side of the hill he put his burden down and set to
work digging a deep pit. Into this he put the dead fox, and threw in and
trod down the earth, then carefully put back the turf in its place,
then, his task done, shouldered the spade and departed. Caleb felt
greatly relieved, for now the fox was buried out on the downs, and no
one would ever know that he had wickedly killed it.

Subsequently he had other foxes caught in traps set for hares, but was
always able to release them. About one he had the following story. The
dog he had at that time, named Monk, hated foxes as Jack hated adders,
and would hunt them savagely whenever he got a chance. One morning Caleb
visited a trap he had set in a gap in a hedge and found a fox in it. The
fox jumped up, snarling and displaying his teeth, ready to fight for
dear life, and it was hard to restrain Monk from flying at him. So
excited was he that only when his master threatened him with his crook
did he draw back and, sitting on his haunches, left him to deal with the
difficult business in his own way. The difficulty was to open the steel
trap without putting himself in the way of a bite from those "tarrable
sharp teeth." After a good deal of manoeuvring he managed to set the
butt end of his crook on the handle of the gin, and forcing it down
until the iron teeth relaxed their grip, the fox pulled his foot out,
and darting away along the hedge side vanished into the adjoining copse.
Away went Monk after him, in spite of his master's angry commands to him
to come back, and fox and dog disappeared almost together among the
trees. Sounds of yelping and of crashing through the undergrowth came
back fainter and fainter, and then there was silence. Caleb waited at
the spot full twenty minutes before the disobedient dog came back,
looking very pleased. He had probably succeeded in overtaking and
killing his enemy.

About that same Monk a sad story will have to be told in another
chapter.

When speaking of foxes Caleb always maintained that in his part of the
country there were two sorts: one small and very red, the larger one of
a lighter colour with some grey in it. And it is possible that the hill
foxes differed somewhat in size and colour from those of the lower
country. He related that one year two vixens littered at one spot, a
deep bottom among the downs, so near together that when the cubs were
big enough to come out they mixed and played in company; the vixens
happened to be of the different sorts, and the difference in colour
appeared in the little ones as well.

Caleb was so taken with the pretty sight of all these little foxes,
neighbours and playmates, that he went evening after evening to sit for
an hour or longer watching them. One thing he witnessed which will
perhaps be disbelieved by those who have not closely observed animals
for themselves, and who still hold to the fable that all wild creatures
are born with an inherited and instinctive knowledge and dread of their
enemies. Rabbits swarmed at that spot, and he observed that when the old
foxes were not about the young, half-grown rabbits would freely mix and
play with the little foxes. He was so surprised at this, never having
heard of such a thing, that he told his master of it, and the farmer
went with him on a moonlight night and the two sat for a long time
together, and saw rabbits and foxes playing, pursuing one another round
and round, the rabbits when pursued often turning very suddenly and
jumping clean over their pursuer.

The rabbits at this place belonged to the tenant, and the farmer, after
enjoying the sight of the little ones playing together, determined to
get rid of the foxes in the usual way by exploding a small quantity of
gunpowder in the burrows. Four old foxes with nine cubs were too many
for him to have. The powder was duly burned, and the very next day the
foxes had vanished.

In Berkshire I once met with that rare being, an intelligent gamekeeper
who took an interest in wild animals and knew from observation a great
deal about their habits. During an after-supper talk, kept up till past
midnight, we discussed the subject of strange, erratic actions in
animals, which in some cases appear contrary to their own natures. He
gave an instance of such behaviour in a fox that had its earth at a spot
on the border of a wood where rabbits were abundant. One evening he was
at this spot, standing among the trees and watching a number of rabbits
feeding and gambolling on the green turf, when the fox came trotting by
and the rabbits paid no attention. Suddenly he stopped and made a dart
at a rabbit; the rabbit ran from him a distance of twenty to thirty
yards, then suddenly turning round went for the fox and chased it back
some distance, after which the fox again chased the rabbit, and so they
went on, turn and turn about, half a dozen times. It was evident, he
said, that the fox had no wish to catch and kill a rabbit, that it was
nothing but play on his part, and that the rabbits responded in the same
spirit, knowing that there was nothing to fear.

Another instance of this playful spirit of the fox with an enemy, which
I heard recently, is of a gentleman who was out with his dog, a
fox-terrier, for an evening walk in some woods near his house. On his
way back he discovered on coming out of the woods that a fox was
following him, at a distance of about forty yards. When he stood still
the fox sat down and watched the dog. The dog appeared indifferent to
its presence until his master ordered him to go for the fox, whereupon
he charged him and drove him back to the edge of the wood, but at that
point the fox turned and chased the dog right back to its master, then
once more sat down and appeared very much at his ease. Again the dog was
encouraged to go for him and hunted him again back to the wood, and was
then in turn chased back to its master, After several repetitions of
this performance, the gentleman went home, the fox still following, and
on going in closed the gate behind him, leaving the fox outside, sitting
in the road as if waiting for him to come out again to have some more
fun.

This incident serves to remind me of an experience I had one evening in
King's Copse, an immense wood of oak and pine in the New Forest near
Exbury. It was growing dark when I heard on or close to the ground, some
twenty to thirty yards before me, a low, wailing cry, resembling the
hunger-cry of the young, long-eared owl. I began cautiously advancing,
trying to see it, but as I advanced the cry receded, as if the bird was
flitting from me. Now, just after I had begun following the sound, a fox
uttered his sudden, startlingly loud scream about forty yards away on my
right hand, and the next moment a second fox screamed on my left, and
from that time I was accompanied, or shadowed, by the two foxes, always
keeping abreast of me, always at the same distance, one screaming and
the other replying about every half-minute. The distressful bird-sound
ceased, and I turned and went off in another direction, to get out of
the wood on the side nearest the place where I was staying, the foxes
keeping with me until I was out.

What moved them to act in such a way is a mystery, but it was perhaps
play to them.

Another curious instance of foxes playing was related to me by a
gentleman at the little village of Inkpen, near the Beacon, in
Berkshire. He told me that when it happened, a good many years ago, he
sent an account of it to the "Field." His gamekeeper took him one day
"to see a strange thing," to a spot in the woods where a fox had a
litter of four cubs, near a long, smooth, green slope. A little distance
from the edge of the slope three round swedes were lying on the turf.
"How do you think these swedes came here?" said the keeper, and then
proceeded to say that the old fox must have brought them there from the
field a long distance away, for her cubs to play with. He had watched
them of an evening, and wanted his master to come and see too.
Accordingly they went in the evening, and hiding themselves among the
bushes near waited till the young foxes came out and began rolling the
swedes about and jumping at and tumbling over them. By and by one rolled
down the slope, and the young foxes went after it all the way down, and
then, when they had worried it sufficiently, they returned to the top
and played with another swede until that was rolled down, then with the
third one in the same way. Every morning, the keeper said, the swedes
were found back on top of the ground, and he had no doubt that they were
taken up by the old fox again and left there for her cubs to play with.

Caleb was not so eager after rabbits as Shepherd Gathergood, but he
disliked the fox for another reason. He considered that the hunted fox
was a great danger to sheep when the ewes were heavy with lambs and when
the chase brought the animal near if not right into the flock. He had
one dreadful memory of a hunted fox trying to lose itself in his flock
of heavy-sided ewes and the hounds following it and driving the poor
sheep mad with terror. The result was that a large number of lambs were
cast before their time and many others were poor, sickly things; many of
the sheep also suffered in health. He had no extra money from the lambs
that year. He received but a shilling (half a crown is often paid now)
for every lamb above the number of ewes, and as a rule received from
three to six pounds a year from this source.



CHAPTER X

BIRD LIFE ON THE DOWNS

  Great bustard--Stone curlew--Big hawks--Former abundance of the
  raven--Dogs fed on carrion--Ravens fighting--Ravens' breeding-places
  in Wilts--Great Ridge Wood ravens--Field-fare breeding in
  Wilts--Pewit--Mistle-thrush--Magpie and turtledove--Gamekeepers and
  magpies--Rooks and farmers--Starling, the shepherd's favourite
  bird--Sparrowhawk and "brown thrush"


Wiltshire, like other places in England, has long been deprived of its
most interesting birds--the species that were best worth preserving. Its
great bustard, once our greatest bird--even greater than the golden and
sea eagles and the "giant crane" with its "trumpet sound" once heard in
the land--is now but a memory. Or a place name: Bustard Inn, no longer
an inn, is well known to the many thousands who now go to the mimic wars
on Salisbury Plain; and there is a Trappist monastery in a village on
the southernmost border of the county, which was once called, and is
still known to old men as, "Bustard Farm." All that Caleb Bawcombe knew
of this grandest bird is what his father had told him; and Isaac knew of
it only from hearsay, although it was still met with in South Wilts when
he was a young man.

The stone curlew, our little bustard with the long wings, big, yellow
eyes, and wild voice, still frequents the uncultivated downs, unhappily
in diminishing numbers. For the private collector's desire to possess
British-taken birds' eggs does not diminish; I doubt if more than one
clutch in ten escapes the searching eyes of the poor shepherds and
labourers who are hired to supply the cabinets. One pair haunted a
flinty spot at Winterbourne Bishop until a year or two ago; at other
points a few miles away I watched other pairs during the summer of 1909,
but in every instance their eggs were taken.

The larger hawks and the raven, which bred in all the woods and forests
of Wiltshire, have, of course, been extirpated by the gamekeepers. The
biggest forest in the county now affords no refuge to any hawk above the
size of a kestrel. Savernake is extensive enough, one would imagine, for
condors to hide in, but it is not so. A few years ago a buzzard made its
appearance there--just a common buzzard, and the entire surrounding
population went mad with excitement about it, and every man who
possessed a gun flew to the forest to join in the hunt until the
wretched bird, after being blazed at for two or three days, was brought
down. I heard of another case at Fonthill Abbey. Nobody could say what
this wandering hawk was--it was very big, blue above with a white breast
barred with black--a "tarrable" fierce-looking bird with fierce, yellow
eyes. All the gamekeepers and several other men with guns were in hot
pursuit of it for several days, until some one fatally wounded it, but
it could not be found where it was supposed to have fallen. A fortnight
later its carcass was discovered by an old shepherd, who told me the
story. It was not in a fit state to be preserved, but he described it to
me, and I have no doubt that it was a goshawk.

The raven survived longer, and the Shepherd Bawcombe talks about its
abundance when he was a boy, seventy or more years ago. His way of
accounting for its numbers at that time and its subsequent, somewhat
rapid disappearance greatly interested me.

We have seen his account of deer-stealing, by the villagers in those
brave, old, starvation days when Lord Rivers owned the deer and hunting
rights over a large part of Wiltshire, extending from Cranborne Chase to
Salisbury, and when even so righteous a man as Isaac Bawcombe was
tempted by hunger to take an occasional deer, discovered out of bounds.
At that time, Caleb said, a good many dogs used for hunting the deer
were kept a few miles from Winterbourne Bishop and were fed by the
keepers in a very primitive manner. Old, worn-out horses were bought and
slaughtered for the dogs. A horse would be killed and stripped of his
hide somewhere away in the woods, and left for the hounds to batten on
its flesh, tearing at and fighting over it like so many jackals. When
only partially consumed the carcass would become putrid; then another
horse would be killed and skinned at another spot perhaps a mile away,
and the pack would start feeding afresh there. The result of so much
carrion lying about was that ravens were attracted in numbers to the
place and were so numerous as to be seen in scores together. Later, when
the deer-hunting sport declined in the neighbourhood, and dogs were no
longer fed on carrion, the birds decreased year by year, and when Caleb
was a boy of nine or ten their former great abundance was but a memory.
But he remembers that they were still fairly common, and he had much to
say about the old belief that the raven "smells death," and when seen
hovering over a flock, uttering its croak, it is a sure sign that a
sheep is in a bad way and will shortly die.

One of his recollections of the bird may be given here. It was one of
those things seen in boyhood which had very deeply impressed him. One
fine day he was on the down with an elder brother, when they heard the
familiar croak and spied three birds at a distance engaged in a fight in
the air. Two of the birds were in pursuit of the third, and rose
alternately to rush upon and strike at their victim from above. They
were coming down from a considerable height, and at last were directly
over the boys, not more than forty or fifty feet from the ground; and
the youngsters were amazed at their fury, the loud, rushing sound of
their wings, as of a torrent, and of their deep, hoarse croaks and
savage, barking cries. Then they began to rise again, the hunted bird
trying to keep above his enemies, they in their turn striving to rise
higher still so as to rush down upon him from overhead; and in this way
they towered higher and higher, their barking cries coming fainter and
fainter back to earth, until the boys, not to lose sight of them, cast
themselves down flat on their backs, and, continuing to gaze up, saw
them at last no bigger than three "leetle blackbirds." Then they
vanished; but the boys, still lying on their backs, kept their eyes
fixed on the same spot, and by and by first one black speck reappeared,
then a second, and they soon saw that two birds were swiftly coming down
to earth. They fell swiftly and silently, and finally pitched upon the
down not more than a couple of hundred yards from the boys. The hunted
bird had evidently succeeded in throwing them off and escaping. Probably
it was one of their own young, for the ravens' habit is when their young
are fully grown to hunt them out of the neighbourhood, or, when they
cannot drive them off, to kill them.

There is no doubt that the carrion did attract ravens in numbers to this
part of Wiltshire, but it is a fact that up to that date--about
1830--the bird had many well-known, old breeding-places in the county.
The Rev. A. C. Smith, in his "Birds of Wiltshire," names twenty-three
breeding-places, no fewer than nine of them on Salisbury Plain; but at
the date of the publication of his work, 1887, only three of all these
nesting-places were still in use: South Tidworth, Wilton Park, and
Compton Park, Compton Chamberlain. Doubtless there were other ancient
breeding-places which the author had not heard of: one was at the Great
Ridge Wood, overlooking the Wylye valley, where ravens bred down to
about thirty-five or forty years ago. I have found many old men in that
neighbourhood who remember the birds, and they tell that the raven tree
was a great oak which was cut down about sixty years ago, after which
the birds built their nest in another tree not far away. A London friend
of mine, who was born in the neighbourhood of the Great Ridge Wood,
remembers the ravens as one of the common sights of the place when he
was a boy. He tells of an unlucky farmer in those parts whose sheep fell
sick and died in numbers, year after year, bringing him down to the
brink of ruin, and how his old head-shepherd would say, solemnly shaking
his head, "'Tis not strange--master, he shot a raven."

There was no ravens' breeding-place very near Winterbourne Bishop. Caleb
had "never heared tell of a nestie"; but he had once seen the nest of
another species which is supposed never to breed in this country. He was
a small boy at the time, when one day an old shepherd of the place going
out from the village saw Caleb, and calling to him said, "You're the boy
that likes birds; if you'll come with me, I'll show 'ee what no man ever
seed afore"; and Caleb, fired with curiosity, followed him away to a
distance from home, out from the downs, into the woods and to a place
where he had never been, where there were bracken and heath with birch
and thorn-trees scattered about. On cautiously approaching a clump of
birches they saw a big, thrush-like bird fly out of a large nest about
ten feet from the ground, and settle on a tree close by, where it was
joined by its mate. The old man pointed out that it was a felt or
fieldfare, a thrush nearly as big as the mistle-thrush but different in
colour, and he said that it was a bird that came to England in flocks in
winter from no man knows where, far off in the north, and always went
away before breeding-time. This was the only felt he had ever seen
breeding in this country, and he "didn't believe that no man had ever
seed such a thing before." He would not climb the tree to see the eggs,
or even go very near it, for fear of disturbing the birds.

This man, Caleb said, was a great one for birds: he knew them all, but
seldom said anything about them; he watched and found out a good deal
about them just for his private pleasure.

The characteristic species of this part of the down country, comprising
the parish of Winterbourne Bishop, are the pewit, magpie, turtledove,
mistle-thrush, and starling. The pewit is universal on the hills, but
will inevitably be driven away from all that portion of Salisbury Plain
used for military purposes. The mistle-thrush becomes common in summer
after its early breeding season is ended, when the birds in small flocks
resort to the downs, where they continue until cold weather drives them
away to the shelter of the wooded, low country.

In this neighbourhood there are thickets of thorn, holly, bramble, and
birch growing over hundreds of acres of down, and here the hill-magpie,
as it is called, has its chief breeding-ground, and is so common that
you can always get a sight of at least twenty birds in an afternoon's
walk. Here, too, is the metropolis of the turtledove, and the low sound
of its crooning is heard all day in summer, the other most common sound
being that of magpies--their subdued, conversational chatter and their
solo-singing, the chant or call which a bird will go on repeating for a
hundred times. The wonder is how the doves succeed in such a place in
hatching any couple of chalk-white eggs, placed on a small platform of
sticks, or of rearing any pair of young, conspicuous in their blue skins
and bright yellow down!

The keepers tell me they get even with these kill-birds later in the
year, when they take to roosting in the woods, a mile away in the
valley. The birds are waited for at some point where they are accustomed
to slip in at dark, and one keeper told me that on one evening alone
assisted by a friend he had succeeded in shooting thirty birds.

On Winterbourne Bishop Down and round the village the magpies are not
persecuted, probably because the gamekeepers, the professional
bird-killers, have lost heart in this place. It is a curious and rather
pretty story. There is no squire, as we have seen; the farmers have the
rabbits, and for game the shooting is let, or to let, by some one who
claims to be lord of the manor, who lives at a distance or abroad. At
all events he is not known personally to the people, and all they know
about the overlordship is that, whereas in years gone by every villager
had certain rights in the down--to cut furze and keep a cow, or pony, or
donkey, or half a dozen sheep or goats--now they have none; but how and
why and when these rights were lost nobody knows. Naturally there is no
sympathy between the villagers and the keepers sent from a distance to
protect the game, so that the shooting may be let to some other
stranger. On the contrary, they religiously destroy every nest they can
find, with the result that there are too few birds for anyone to take
the shooting, and it remains year after year unlet.

This unsettled state of things is all to the advantage of the black and
white bird with the ornamental tail, and he flourishes accordingly and
builds his big, thorny nests in the roadside trees about the village.

The one big bird on these downs, as in so many other places in England,
is the rook, and let us humbly thank the gods who own this green earth
and all the creatures which inhabit it that they have in their goodness
left us this one. For it is something to have a rook, although he is not
a great bird compared with the great ones lost--bustard and kite and
raven and goshawk, and many others. His abundance on the cultivated
downs is rather strange when one remembers the outcry made against him
in some parts on account of his injurious habits; but here it appears
the sentiment in his favour is just as strong in the farmer, or in a
good many farmers, as in the great landlord. The biggest rookery I know
on Salisbury Plain is at a farm-house where the farmer owns the land
himself and cultivates about nine hundred acres. One would imagine that
he would keep his rooks down in these days when a boy cannot be hired to
scare the birds from the crops.

One day, near West Knoyle, I came upon a vast company of rooks busily
engaged on a ploughed field where everything short of placing a
bird-scarer on the ground had been done to keep the birds off. A score
of rooks had been shot and suspended to long sticks planted about the
field, and there were three formidable-looking men of straw and rags
with hats on their heads and wooden guns under their arms. But the rooks
were there all the same; I counted seven at one spot, prodding the earth
close to the feet of one of the scarecrows. I went into the field to see
what they were doing, and found that it was sown with vetches, just
beginning to come up, and the birds were digging the seed up.

Three months later, near the same spot, on Mere Down, I found these
birds feasting on the corn, when it had been long cut but could not be
carried on account of the wet weather. It was a large field of fifty to
sixty acres, and as I walked by it the birds came flying leisurely over
my head to settle with loud cawings on the stocks. It was a magnificent
sight--the great, blue-black bird-forms on the golden wheat, an animated
group of three or four to half a dozen on every stock, while others
walked about the ground to pick up the scattered grain, and others were
flying over them, for just then the sun was shining on the field and
beyond it the sky was blue. Never had I witnessed birds so manifestly
rejoicing at their good fortune, with happy, loud caw-caw. Or rather
haw-haw! what a harvest, what abundance! was there ever a more perfect
August and September! Rain, rain, by night and in the morning; then sun
and wind to dry our feathers and make us glad, but never enough to dry
the corn to enable them to carry it and build it up in stacks where it
would be so much harder to get at. Could anything be better!

But the commonest bird, the one which vastly outnumbers all the others I
have named together, is the starling. It was Caleb Bawcombe's favourite
bird, and I believe it is regarded with peculiar affection by all
shepherds on the downs on account of its constant association with sheep
in the pasture. The dog, the sheep, and the crowd of starlings--these
are the lonely man's companions during his long days on the hills from
April or May to November. And what a wise bird he is, and how well he
knows his friends and his enemies! There was nothing more beautiful to
see, Caleb would say, than the behaviour of a flock of starlings when a
hawk was about. If it was a kestrel they took little or no notice of it,
but if a sparrowhawk made its appearance, instantly the crowd of birds
could be seen flying at furious speed towards the nearest flock of
sheep, and down into the flock they would fall like a shower of stones
and instantly disappear from sight. There they would remain on the
ground, among the legs of the grazing sheep, until the hawk had gone on
his way and passed out of sight.

The sparrowhawk's victims are mostly made among the young birds that
flock together in summer and live apart from the adults during the
summer months after the breeding season is over.

When I find a dead starling on the downs ranged over by sparrowhawks, it
is almost always a young bird--a "brown thrush" as it used to be called
by the old naturalists. You may know that the slayer was a sparrowhawk
by the appearance of the bird, its body untouched, but the flesh picked
neatly from the neck and the head gone. That was swallowed whole, after
the beak had been cut off. You will find the beak lying by the side of
the body. In summertime, when birds are most abundant, after the
breeding season, the sparrowhawk is a fastidious feeder.



CHAPTER XI

STARLINGS AND SHEEP-BELLS

  Starlings' singing--Native and borrowed sounds--Imitations of
  sheep-bells--The shepherd on sheep-bells--The bells for pleasure,
  not use--A dog in charge of the flock--Shepherd calling his
  sheep--Richard Warner of Bath--Ploughmen singing to their oxen
  in Cornwall--A shepherd's loud singing


The subject of starlings associating with sheep has served to remind me
of something I have often thought when listening to their music. It
happens that I am writing this chapter in a small village on Salisbury
Plain, the time being mid-September 1909, and that just outside my door
there is a group of old elder-bushes laden just now with clusters of
ripe berries on which the starlings come to feed, filling the room all
day with that never-ending medley of sounds which is their song. They
sing in this way not only when they sing--that is to say, when they make
a serious business of it, standing motionless and a-shiver on the tiles,
wings drooping and open beak pointing upwards, but also when they are
feasting on fruit--singing and talking and swallowing elderberries
between whiles to wet their whistles. If the weather is not too cold you
will hear this music daily, wet or dry, all the year round. We may say
that of all singing birds they are most vocal, yet have no set song. I
doubt if they have more than half a dozen to a dozen sounds or notes
which are the same in every individual and their very own. One of them
is a clear, soft, musical whistle, slightly inflected; another a kissing
sound, usually repeated two or three times or oftener, a somewhat
percussive smack; still another, a sharp, prolonged hissing or sibilant
but at the same time metallic note, compared by some one to the sound
produced by milking a cow into a tin pail--a very good description.
There are other lesser notes: a musical, thrush-like chirp, repeated
slowly, and sometimes rapidly till it runs to a bubbling sound; also
there is a horny sound, which is perhaps produced by striking upon the
edges of the lower mandible with those of the upper. But it is quite
unlike the loud, hard noise made by the stork; the poor stork being a
dumb bird has made a sort of policeman's rattle of his huge beak. These
sounds do not follow each other; they come from time to time, the
intervals being filled up with others in such endless variety, each bird
producing its own notes, that one can but suppose that they are
imitations. We know, in fact, that the starling is our greatest mimic,
and that he often succeeds in recognizable reproductions of single
notes, of phrases, and occasionally of entire songs, as, for instance,
that of the blackbird. But in listening to him we are conscious of his
imitations; even when at his best he amuses rather than delights--he is
not like the mocking-bird. His common starling pipe cannot produce
sounds of pure and beautiful quality, like the blackbird's "oboe-voice,"
to quote Davidson's apt phrase: he emits this song in a strangely
subdued tone, producing the effect of a blackbird heard singing at a
considerable distance. And so with innumerable other notes, calls, and
songs--they are often to their originals what a man's voice heard on a
telephone is to his natural voice. He succeeds best, as a rule, in
imitations of the coarser, metallic sounds, and as his medley abounds in
a variety of little, measured, tinkling, and clinking notes, as of
tappings on a metal plate, it has struck me at times that these are
probably borrowed from the sheep-bells of which the bird hears so much
in his feeding-grounds. It is, however, not necessary to suppose that
every starling gets these sounds directly from the bells; the birds
undoubtedly mimic one another, as is the case with mocking-birds, and
the young might easily acquire this part of their song language from the
old birds without visiting the flocks in the pastures.

The sheep-bell, in its half-muffled strokes, as of a small hammer
tapping on an iron or copper plate, is, one would imagine, a sound well
within the starling's range, easily imitated, therefore specially
attractive to him.

But--to pass to another subject--what does the shepherd himself think or
feel about it; and why does he have bells on his sheep?

He thinks a great deal of his bells. He pipes not like the shepherd of
fable or of the pastoral poets, nor plays upon any musical instrument,
and seldom sings, or even whistles--that sorry substitute for song; he
loves music nevertheless, and gets it in his sheep-bells; and he likes
it in quantity. "How many bells have you got on your sheep--it sounds as
if you had a great many?" I asked of a shepherd the other day, feeding
his flock near Old Sarum, and he replied, "Just forty, and I wish there
were eighty." Twenty-five or thirty is a more usual number, but only
because of their cost, for the shepherd has very little money for bells
or anything else. Another told me that he had "only thirty," but he
intended getting more. The sound cheers him; it is not exactly
monotonous, owing to the bells being of various sizes and also greatly
varying in thickness, so that they produce different tones, from the
sharp tinkle-tinkle of the smallest to the sonorous klonk-klonk of the
big, copper bell. Then, too, they are differently agitated, some quietly
when the sheep are grazing with heads down, others rapidly as the animal
walks or trots on; and there are little bursts or peals when a sheep
shakes its head, all together producing a kind of rude harmony--a music
which, like that of bagpipes or of chiming church-bells, heard from a
distance, is akin to natural music and accords with rural scenes.

As to use, there is little or none. A shepherd will sometimes say, when
questioned on the subject, that the bells tell him just where the flock
is or in which direction they are travelling; but he knows better. The
one who is not afraid to confess the simple truth of the matter to a
stranger will tell you that he does not need the bells to tell him where
the sheep are or in which direction they are grazing. His eyes are good
enough for that. The bells are for his solace or pleasure alone. It may
be that the sheep like the tinkling too--it is his belief that they do
like it. A shepherd said to me a few days ago: "It is lonesome with the
flock on the downs; more so in cold, wet weather, when you perhaps don't
see a person all day--on some days not even at a distance, much less to
speak to. The bells keep us from feeling it too much. We know what we
have them for, and the more we have the better we like it. They are
company to us."

Even in fair weather he seldom has anyone to speak to. A visit from an
idle man who will sit down and have a pipe and talk with him is a day to
be long remembered and even to date events from. "'Twas the month--May,
June, or October--when the stranger came out to the down and talked to I."

One day, in September, when sauntering over Mere Down, one of the most
extensive and loneliest-looking sheep-walks in South Wilts--a vast,
elevated plain or table-land, a portion of which is known as White Sheet
Hill--I passed three flocks of sheep, all with many bells, and noticed
that each flock produced a distinctly different sound or effect, owing
doubtless to a different number of big and little bells in each; and it
struck me that any shepherd on a dark night, or if taken blindfolded
over the downs, would be able to identify his own flock by the sound. At
the last of the three flocks a curious thing occurred. There was no
shepherd with it or anywhere in sight, but a dog was in charge; I found
him lying apparently asleep in a hollow, by the side of a stick and an
old sack. I called to him, but instead of jumping up and coming to me,
as he would have done if his master had been there, he only raised his
head, looked at me, then put his nose down on his paws again. I am on
duty--in sole charge--and you must not speak to me, was what he said.
After walking a little distance on, I spied the shepherd with a second
dog at his heels, coming over the down straight to the flock, and I
stayed to watch. When still over a hundred yards from the hollow the dog
flew ahead, and the other jumping up ran to meet him, and they stood
together, wagging their tails as if conversing. When the shepherd had
got up to them he stood and began uttering a curious call, a somewhat
musical cry in two notes, and instantly the sheep, now at a considerable
distance, stopped feeding and turned, then all together began running
towards him, and when within thirty yards stood still, massed together,
and all gazing at him. He then uttered a different call, and turning
walked away, the dogs keeping with him and the sheep closely following.
It was late in the day, and he was going to fold them down at the foot
of the slope in some fields half a mile away.

As the scene I had witnessed appeared unusual I related it to the very
next shepherd I talked with.

"Oh, there was nothing in that," he said. "Of course the dog was behind
the flock."

I said, "No, the peculiar thing was that both dogs were with their
master, and the flock followed."

"Well, my sheep would do the same," he returned. "That is, they'll do it
if they know there's something good for them--something they like in the
fold. They are very knowing." And other shepherds to whom I related the
incident said pretty much the same, but they apparently did not quite
like to hear that any shepherd could control his sheep with his voice
alone; their way of receiving the story confirmed me in the belief that
I had witnessed something unusual.

Before concluding this short chapter I will leave the subject of the
Wiltshire shepherd and his sheep to quote a remarkable passage about men
singing to their cattle in Cornwall, from a work on that county by
Richard Warner of Bath, once a well-known and prolific writer of
topographical and other books. They are little known now, I fancy, but
he was great in his day, which lasted from about the middle of the
eighteenth to about the middle of the nineteenth century--at all events,
he died in 1857, aged ninety-four. But he was not great at first, and
finding when nearing middle age that he was not prospering, he took to
the Church and had several livings, some of them running concurrently,
as was the fashion in those dark days. His topographical work included
Walks in Wales, in Somerset, in Devon, Walks in many places, usually
taken in a stage-coach or on horseback, containing nothing worth
remembering except perhaps the one passage I have mentioned, which is as
follows:--

"We had scarcely entered Cornwall before our attention was agreeably
arrested by a practice connected with the agriculture of the people,
which to us was entirely novel. The farmers judiciously employ the fine
oxen of the country in ploughing, and other processes of husbandry, to
which the strength of this useful animal can be employed"--the Rev.
Richard Warner is tedious, but let us be patient and see what
follows--"to which the strength of this useful animal can be employed;
and while the hinds are thus driving their patient slaves along the
furrows, they continually cheer them with conversation, denoting
approbation and pleasure. This encouragement is conveyed to them in a
sort of chaunt, of very agreeable modulation, which, floating through
the air from different distances, produces a striking effect both on the
ear and imagination. The notes are few and simple, and when delivered by
a clear, melodious voice, have something expressive of that tenderness
and affection which man naturally entertains for the companions of his
labours, in a _pastoral state_ of society, when, feeling more
forcibly his dependence upon domesticated animals for support, he gladly
reciprocates with them kindness and protection for comfort and
subsistence. This wild melody was to me, I confess, peculiarly
affecting. It seemed to draw more closely the link of friendship between
man and the humbler tribes of _fellow mortals_. It solaced my heart
with the appearance of humanity, in a world of violence and in times of
universal hostile rage; and it gladdened my fancy with the contemplation
of those days of heavenly harmony, promised in the predictions of
eternal truth, when man, freed at length from prejudice and passion,
shall seek his happiness in cultivating the mild, the benevolent, and
the merciful sensibilities of his nature; and when the animal world,
catching the virtues of its lord and master, shall soften into
gentleness and love; when the wolf"....

And so on, clause after clause, with others to be added, until the whole
sentence becomes as long as a fishing-rod. But apart from the
fiddlededee, is the thing he states believable? It is a charming
picture, and one would like to know more about that "chaunt," that "wild
melody." The passage aroused my curiosity when in Cornwall, as it had
appeared to me that in no part of England are the domestic animals so
little considered by their masters. The R.S.P.C.A. is practically
unknown there, and when watching the doings of shepherds or drovers with
their sheep the question has occurred to me, What would my Wiltshire
shepherd friends say of such a scene if they had witnessed it? There is
nothing in print which I can find to confirm Warner's observations, and
if you inquire of very old men who have been all their lives on the soil
they will tell you that there has never been such a custom in their
time, nor have they ever heard of it as existing formerly. Warner's Tour
through Cornwall is dated 1808.

I take it that he described a scene he actually witnessed, and that he
jumped to the conclusion that it was a common custom for the ploughman
to sing to his oxen. It is not unusual to find a man anywhere singing to
his oxen, or horses, or sheep, if he has a voice and is fond of
exercising it. I remember that in a former book--"Nature in Downland"--I
described the sweet singing of a cow-boy when tending his cows on a
heath near Trotton, in West Sussex; and here in Wiltshire it amused me
to listen, at a vast distance, to the robust singing of a shepherd while
following his flock on the great lonely downs above Chitterne. He was a
sort of Tamagno of the downs, with a tremendous voice audible a mile
away.



CHAPTER XII

THE SHEPHERD AND THE BIBLE

  Dan'l Burdon, the treasure-seeker--The shepherd's feeling for the
  Bible--Effect of the pastoral life--The shepherd's story of Isaac's
  boyhood--The village on the Wylye


One of the shepherd's early memories was of Dan'l Burdon, a labourer on
the farm where Isaac Bawcombe was head-shepherd. He retained a vivid
recollection of this person, who had a profound gravity and was the most
silent man in the parish. He was always thinking about hidden treasure,
and all his spare time was spent in seeking for it. On a Sunday morning,
or in the evening after working hours, he would take a spade or pick and
go away over the hills on his endless search after "something he could
not find." He opened some of the largest barrows, making trenches six to
ten feet deep through them, but found nothing to reward him. One day he
took Caleb with him, and they went to a part of the down where there
were certain depressions in the turf of a circular form and six to seven
feet in circumference. Burdon had observed these basin-like depressions
and had thought it possible they marked the place where things of value
had been buried in long-past ages. To begin he cut the turf all round
and carefully removed it, then dug and found a thick layer of flints.
These removed, he came upon a deposit of ashes and charred wood. And
that was all. Burdon without a word set to work to put it all back in
its place again--ashes and wood, and earth and flints--and having trod
it firmly down he carefully replaced the turf, then leaning on his spade
gazed silently at the spot for a space of several minutes. At last he
spoke. "Maybe, Caleb, you've beared tell about what the Bible says of
burnt sacrifice. Well now, I be of opinion that it were here. They
people the Bible says about, they come up here to sacrifice on White
Bustard Down, and these be the places where they made their fires."

Then he shouldered his spade and started home, the boy following.
Caleb's comment was: "I didn't say nothing to un because I were only a
leetel boy and he were a old man; but I knowed better than that all the
time, because them people in the Bible they was never in England at all,
so how could they sacrifice on White Bustard Down in Wiltsheer?"

It was no idle boast on his part. Caleb and his brothers had been taught
their letters when small, and the Bible was their one book, which they
read not only in the evenings at home but out on the downs during the
day when they were with the flock. His extreme familiarity with the
whole Scripture narrative was a marvel to me; it was also strange,
considering how intelligent a man he was, that his lifelong reading of
that one book had made no change in his rude "Wiltsheer" speech.

Apart from the feeling which old, religious country people, who know
nothing about the Higher Criticism, have for the Bible, taken literally
as the Word of God, there is that in the old Scriptures which appeals in
a special way to the solitary man who feeds his flock on the downs. I
remember well in the days of my boyhood and youth, when living in a
purely pastoral country among a semi-civilized and very simple people,
how understandable and eloquent many of the ancient stories were to me.
The life, the outlook, the rude customs, and the vivid faith in the
Unseen, were much the same in that different race in a far-distant age,
in a remote region of the earth, and in the people I mixed with in my
own home. That country has been changed now; it has been improved and
civilized and brought up to the European standard; I remember it when it
was as it had existed for upwards of two centuries before it had caught
the contagion. The people I knew were the descendants of the Spanish
colonists of the seventeenth century, who had taken kindly to the life
of the plains, and had easily shed the traditions and ways of thought of
Europe and of towns. Their philosophy of life, their ideals, their
morality, were the result of the conditions they existed in, and wholly
unlike ours; and the conditions were like those of the ancient people of
which the Bible tells us. Their very phraseology was strongly
reminiscent of that of the sacred writings, and their character in the
best specimens was like that of the men of the far past who lived nearer
to God, as we say, and certainly nearer to nature than it is possible
for us in this artificial state. Among these sometimes grand old men who
were large landowners, rich in flocks and herds, these fine old,
dignified "natives," the substantial and leading men of the district who
could not spell their own names, there were those who reminded you of
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brethren, and
even of David the passionate psalmist, with perhaps a guitar for a harp.

No doubt the Scripture lessons read in the thousand churches on every
Sunday of the year are practically meaningless to the hearers. These old
men, with their sheep and goats and wives, and their talk about God, are
altogether out of our ways of thought, in fact as far from us--as
incredible or unimaginable, we may say--as the neolithic men or the
inhabitants of another planet. They are of the order of mythical heroes
and the giants of antiquity. To read about them is an ancient custom,
but we do not listen.

Even to myself the memories of my young days came to be regarded as very
little more than mere imaginations, and I almost ceased to believe in
them until, after years of mixing with modern men, mostly in towns, I
fell in with the downland shepherds, and discovered that even here, in
densely populated and ultra-civilized England, something of the ancient
spirit had survived. In Caleb, and a dozen old men more or less like
him, I seemed to find myself among the people of the past, and sometimes
they were so much like some of the remembered, old, sober, and
slow-minded herders of the plains that I could not help saying to
myself, Why, how this man reminds me of Tio Isidoro, or of Don Pascual
of the "Three Poplar Trees," or of Marcos who would always have three
black sheep in a flock. And just as they reminded me of these men I had
actually known, so did they bring back the older men of the Bible
history--Abraham and Jacob and the rest.

The point here is that these old Bible stories have a reality and
significance for the shepherd of the down country which they have lost
for modern minds; that they recognize their own spiritual lineaments in
these antique portraits, and that all these strange events might have
happened a few years ago and not far away.

One day I said to Caleb Bawcombe that his knowledge of the Bible,
especially of the old part, was greater than that of the other shepherds
I knew on the downs, and I would like to hear why it was so. This led to
the telling of a fresh story about his father's boyhood, which he had
heard in later years from his mother. Isaac was an only child and not
the son of a shepherd; his father was a rather worthless if not a wholly
bad man; he was idle and dissolute, and being remarkably dexterous with
his fists he was persuaded by certain sporting persons to make a
business of fighting--quite a common thing in those days. He wanted
nothing better, and spent the greater part of the time in wandering
about the country; the money he made was spent away from home, mostly in
drink, while his wife was left to keep herself and child in the best way
she could at home or in the fields. By and by a poor stranger came to
the village in search of work and was engaged for very little pay by a
small farmer, for the stranger confessed that he was without experience
of farm work of any description. The cheapest lodging he could find was
in the poor woman's cottage, and then Isaac's mother, who pitied him
because he was so poor and a stranger alone in the world, a very silent,
melancholy man, formed the opinion that he had belonged to another rank
in life. His speech and hands and personal habits betrayed it.
Undoubtedly he was a gentleman; and then from something in his manner,
his voice, and his words whenever he addressed her, and his attention to
religion, she further concluded that he had been in the Church; that,
owing to some trouble or disaster, he had abandoned his place in the
world to live away from all who had known him, as a labourer.

One day he spoke to her about Isaac; he said he had been observing him
and thought it a great pity that such a fine, intelligent boy should be
allowed to grow up without learning his letters. She agreed that it was,
but what could she do? The village school was kept by an old woman, and
though she taught the children very little it had to be paid for, and
she could not afford it. He then offered to teach Isaac himself and she
gladly consented, and from that day he taught Isaac for a couple of
hours every evening until the boy was able to read very well, after
which they read the Bible through together, the poor man explaining
everything, especially the historical parts, so clearly and beautifully,
with such an intimate knowledge of the countries and peoples and customs
of the remote East, that it was all more interesting than a fairy tale.
Finally he gave his copy of the Bible to Isaac, and told him to carry it
in his pocket every day when he went out on the downs, and when he sat
down to take it out and read in it. For by this time Isaac, who was now
ten years old, had been engaged as a shepherd-boy to his great
happiness, for to be a shepherd was his ambition.

Then one day the stranger rolled up his few belongings in a bundle and
put them on a stick which he placed on his shoulder, said good-bye, and
went away, never to return, taking his sad secret with him.

Isaac followed the stranger's counsel, and when he had sons of his own
made them do as he had done from early boyhood. Caleb had never gone
with his flock on the down without the book, and had never passed a day
without reading a portion.

The incidents and observations gathered in many talks with the old
shepherd, which I have woven into the foregoing chapters, relate mainly
to the earlier part of his life, up to the time when, a married man and
father of three small children, he migrated to Warminster. There he was
in, to him, a strange land, far away from friends and home and the old
familiar surroundings, amid new scenes and new people, But the few years
he spent at that place had furnished him with many interesting memories,
some of which will be narrated in the following chapters.

I have told in the account of Winterbourne Bishop how I first went to
that village just to see his native place, and later I visited Doveton
for no other reason than that he had lived there, to find it one of the
most charming of the numerous pretty villages in the vale. I looked for
the cottage in which he had lived and thought it as perfect a home as a
quiet, contemplative man who loved nature could have had: a small,
thatched cottage, very old looking, perhaps inconvenient to live in, but
situated in the prettiest spot, away from other houses, near and within
sight of the old church with old elms and beech-trees growing close to
it, and the land about it green meadow. The clear river, fringed with a
luxuriant growth of sedges, flag, and reeds, was less than a
stone's-throw away.

So much did I like the vale of the Wylye when I grew to know it well
that I wish to describe it fully in the chapter that follows.



CHAPTER XIII

VALE OF THE WYLYE

  Warminster--Vale of the Wylye--Counting the villages--A lost
  church--Character of the villages--Tytherington church--Story of the
  dog--Lord Lovell--Monuments in churches--Manor-houses--Knook--The
  cottages--Yellow stonecrop--Cottage gardens--Marigolds--Golden-rod--Wild
  flowers of the water-side--Seeking for the characteristic expression


The prettily-named Wylye is a little river not above twenty miles in
length from its rise to Salisbury, where, after mixing with the Nadder
at Wilton, it joins the Avon. At or near its source stands Warminster, a
small, unimportant town with a nobler-sounding name than any other in
Wiltshire. Trowbridge, Devizes, Marlborough, Salisbury, do not stir the
mind in the same degree; and as for Chippenham, Melksham, Mere, Calne,
and Corsham, these all are of no more account than so many villages in
comparison. Yet Warminster has no associations--no place in our mental
geography; at all events one remembers nothing about it. Its name, which
after all may mean nothing more than the monastery on the Were--one of
the three streamlets which flow into the Wylye at its source--is its
only glory. It is not surprising that Caleb Bawcombe invariably speaks
of his migration to, and of the time he passed at Warminster, when, as a
fact, he was not there at all, but at Doveton, a little village on the
Wylye a few miles below the town with the great name.

It is a green valley--the greenness strikes one sharply on account of
the pale colour of the smooth, high downs on either side--half a mile to
a mile in width, its crystal current showing like a bright serpent for a
brief space in the green, flat meadows, then vanishing again among the
trees. So many are the great shade trees, beeches and ashes and elms,
that from some points the valley has the appearance of a continuous
wood--a contiguity of shade. And the wood hides the villages, at some
points so effectually that looking down from the hills you may not catch
a glimpse of one and imagine it to be a valley where no man dwells. As a
rule you do see something of human occupancy--the red or yellow roofs of
two or three cottages, a half-hidden grey church tower, or column of
blue smoke, but to see the villages you must go down and look closely,
and even so you will find it difficult to count them all. I have tried,
going up and down the valley several times, walking or cycling, and have
never succeeded in getting the same number on two occasions. There are
certainly more then twenty, without counting the hamlets, and the right
number is probably something between twenty-five and thirty, but I do
not want to find out by studying books and maps. I prefer to let the
matter remain unsettled so as to have the pleasure of counting or trying
to count them again at some future time. But I doubt that I shall ever
succeed. On one occasion I caught sight of a quaint, pretty little
church standing by itself in the middle of a green meadow, where it
looked very solitary with no houses in sight and not even a cow grazing
near it. The river was between me and the church, so I went up-stream, a
mile and a half, to cross by the bridge, then doubled back to look for
the church, and couldn't find it! Yet it was no illusory church; I have
seen it again on two occasions, but again from the other side of the
river, and I must certainly go back some day in search of that lost
church, where there may be effigies, brasses, sad, eloquent
inscriptions, and other memorials of ancient tragedies and great
families now extinct in the land.

This is perhaps one of the principal charms of the Wylye--the sense of
beautiful human things hidden from sight among the masses of foliage.
Yet another lies in the character of the villages. Twenty-five or
twenty-eight of them in a space of twenty miles; yet the impression,
left on the mind is that these small centres of population are really
few and far between. For not only are they small, but of the old, quiet,
now almost obsolete type of village, so unobtrusive as to affect the
mind soothingly, like the sight of trees and flowery banks and grazing
cattle. The churches, too, as is fit, are mostly small and ancient and
beautiful, half-hidden in their tree-shaded churchyards, rich in
associations which go back to a time when history fades into myth and
legend. Not all, however, are of this description; a few are naked,
dreary little buildings, and of these I will mention one which, albeit
ancient, has no monuments and no burial-ground. This is the church of
Tytherington, a small, rustic village, which has for neighbours Codford
St. Peter one one side and Sutton Veny and Norton Bavant on the other.
To get into this church, where there was nothing but naked walls to look
at, I had to procure the key from the clerk, a nearly blind old man of
eighty. He told me that he was shoemaker but could no longer see to make
or mend shoes; that as a boy he was a weak, sickly creature, and his
father, a farm bailiff, made him learn shoemaking because he was unfit
to work out of doors. "I remember this church," he said, "when there was
only one service each quarter," but, strange to say, he forgot to tell
me the story of the dog! "What, didn't he tell you about the dog?"
exclaimed everybody. There was really nothing else to tell.

It happened about a hundred years ago that once, after the quarterly
service had been held, a dog was missed, a small terrier owned by the
young wife of a farmer of Tytherington named Case. She was fond of her
dog, and lamented its loss for a little while, then forgot all about it.
But after three months, when the key was once more put into the rusty
lock and the door thrown open, there was the dog, a living "skelington"
it was said, dazed by the light of day, but still able to walk! It was
supposed that he had kept himself alive by "licking the moisture from
the walls." The walls, they said, were dripping with wet and covered
with a thick growth of mould. I went back to interrogate the ancient
clerk, and he said that the dog died shortly after its deliverance; Mrs.
Case herself told him all about it. She was an old woman then, but was
always willing to relate the sad story of her pet.

That picture of the starving dog coming out, a living skeleton, from the
wet, mouldy church, reminds us sharply of the changed times we live in
and of the days when the Church was still sleeping very peacefully, not
yet turning uneasily in its bed before opening its eyes; and when a
comfortable rector of Codford thought it quite enough that the people of
Tytherington, a mile away, should have one service every three months.

As a fact, the Tytherington dog interested me as much as the story of
the last Lord Lovell's self-incarceration in his own house in the
neighbouring little village of Upton Lovell. He took refuge there from
his enemies who were seeking his life, and concealed himself so
effectually that he was never seen again. Centuries later, when
excavations were made on the site of the ruined mansion, a secret
chamber was discovered, containing a human skeleton seated in a chair at
a table, on which were books and papers crumbling into dust.

A volume might be filled with such strange and romantic happenings in
the little villages of the Wylye, and for the natural man they have a
lasting fascination; but they invariably relate to great people of their
day--warriors and statesmen and landowners of old and noble lineage,
the smallest and meanest you will find being clothiers, or merchants,
who amassed large fortunes and built mansions for themselves and
almshouses for the aged poor, and, when dead, had memorials placed to
them in the churches. But of the humble cottagers, the true people of
the vale who were rooted in the soil, and nourished and died like trees
in the same place--of these no memory exists. We only know that they
lived and laboured; that when they died, three or four a year, three or
four hundred in a century, they were buried in the little shady
churchyard, each with a green mound over him to mark the spot. But in
time these "mouldering heaps" subsided, the bodies turned to dust, and
another and yet other generations were laid in the same place among the
forgotten dead, to be themselves in turn forgotten. Yet I would rather
know the histories of these humble, unremembered lives than of the great
ones of the vale who have left us a memory.

It may be for this reason that I was little interested in the
manor-houses of the vale. They are plentiful enough, some gone to decay
or put to various uses; others still the homes of luxury, beauty,
culture: stately rooms, rich fabrics; pictures, books, and manuscripts,
gold and silver ware, china and glass, expensive curios, suits of
armour, ivory and antlers, tiger-skins, stuffed goshawks and peacocks'
feathers. Houses, in some cases built centuries ago, standing
half-hidden in beautiful wooded grounds, isolated from the village; and
even as they thus stand apart, sacred from intrusion, so the life that
is in them does not mix with or form part of the true native life. They
are to the cottagers of to-day what the Roman villas were to the native
population of some eighteen centuries ago. This will seem incredible to
some: to me, an untrammelled person, familiar in both hall and cottage,
the distance between them appears immense.

A reader well acquainted with the valley will probably laugh to be told
that the manor-house which most interested me was that of Knook, a poor
little village between Heytesbury and Upton Lovell. Its ancient and
towerless little church with rough, grey walls is, if possible, even
more desolate-looking than that of Tytherington. In my hunt for the
key to open it I disturbed a quaint old man, another octogenarian,
picturesque in a vast white beard, who told me he was a thatcher, or had
been one before the evil days came when he could work no more and was
compelled to seek parish relief. "You must go to the manor-house for the
key," he told me. A strange place in which to look for the key, and it
was stranger still to see the house, close to the church, and so like it
that but for the small cross on the roof of the latter one could not
have known which was the sacred building. First a monks' house, it fell
at the Reformation to some greedy gentleman who made it his dwelling,
and doubtless in later times it was used as a farm-house. Now a house
most desolate, dirty, and neglected, with cracks in the walls which
threaten ruin, standing in a wilderness of weeds, tenanted by a poor
working-man whose wages are twelve shillings a week, and his wife and
eight small children. The rent is eighteen-pence a week--probably the
lowest-rented manor-house in England, though it is not very rare to
find such places tenanted by labourers.

But let us look at the true cottages. There are, I imagine,
few places in England where the humble homes of the people
have so great a charm. Undoubtedly they are darker inside, and not so
convenient to live in as the modern box-shaped, red-brick, slate-roofed
cottages, which have spread a wave of ugliness over the country;
but they do not offend--they please the eye. They are smaller than
the modern-built habitations; they are weathered and coloured by
sun and wind and rain and many lowly vegetable forms to a harmony
with nature. They appear related to the trees amid which they
stand, to the river and meadows, to the sloping downs at the side,
and to the sky and clouds over all. And, most delightful feature,
they stand among, and are wrapped in, flowers as in a garment--rose
and vine and creeper and clematis. They are mostly thatched, but some
have tiled roofs, their deep, dark red clouded and stained with lichen
and moss; and these roofs, too, have their flowers in summer. They are
grown over with yellow stonecrop, that bright cheerful flower that
smiles down at you from the lowly roof above the door, with such an
inviting expression, so delighted to see you no matter how poor and
worthless a person you may be or what mischief you may have been at,
that  you begin to understand the significance of a strange vernacular
name of this plant--Welcome-home-husband-though-never-so-drunk.

But its garden flowers, clustering and nestling round it, amid which its
feet are set--they are to me the best of all flowers. These are the
flowers we know and remember for ever. The old, homely, cottage-garden
blooms, so old that they have entered the soul. The big house garden, or
gardener's garden, with everything growing in it I hate, but these I
love--fragrant gillyflower and pink and clove-smelling carnation;
wallflower, abundant periwinkle, sweet-william, larkspur,
love-in-a-mist, and love-lies-bleeding, old-woman's-nightcap, and
kiss-me-John-at-the-garden-gate, some times called pansy. And best of
all and in greatest profusion, that flower of flowers, the marigold.

How the townsman, town born and bred, regards this flower, I do not
know. He is, in spite of all the time I have spent in his company, a
comparative stranger to me--the one living creature on the earth who
does not greatly interest me. Some over-populated planet in our system
discovered a way to relieve itself by discharging its superfluous
millions on our globe--a pale people with hurrying feet and eager,
restless minds, who live apart in monstrous, crowded camps, like wood
ants that go not out to forage for themselves--six millions of them
crowded together in one camp alone! I have lived in these colonies,
years and years, never losing the sense of captivity, of exile, ever
conscious of my burden, taking no interest in the doings of that
innumerable multitude, its manifold interests, its ideals and
philosophy, its arts and pleasures. What, then, does it matter how they
regard this common orange-coloured flower with a strong smell? For me it
has an atmosphere, a sense or suggestion of something immeasurably
remote and very beautiful--an event, a place, a dream perhaps, which has
left no distinct image, but only this feeling unlike all others,
imperishable, and not to be described except by the one word Marigold.

But when my sight wanders away from the flower to others blooming with
it--to all those which I have named and to the taller ones, so tall that
they reach half-way up, and some even quite up, to the eaves of the
lowly houses they stand against--hollyhocks and peonies and crystalline
white lilies with powdery gold inside, and the common sunflower--I begin
to perceive that they all possess something of that same magical
quality.

These taller blooms remind me that the evening primrose, long
naturalized in our hearts, is another common and very delightful
cottage-garden flower; also that here, on the Wylye, there is yet
another stranger from the same western world which is fast winning our
affections. This is the golden-rod, grandly beautiful in its great,
yellow, plume-like tufts. But it is not quite right to call the tufts
yellow: they are green, thickly powdered with the minute golden florets.
There is no flower in England like it, and it is a happiness to know
that it promises to establish itself with us as a wild flower.

Where the village lies low in the valley and the cottage is near the
water, there are wild blooms, too, which almost rival those of the
garden in beauty--water agrimony and comfrey with ivory-white and dim
purple blossoms, purple and yellow loosestrife and gem-like, water
forget-me-not; all these mixed with reeds and sedges and water-grasses,
forming a fringe or border to the potato or cabbage patch, dividing it
from the stream.

But now I have exhausted the subject of the flowers, and enumerated and
dwelt upon the various other components of the scene, it comes to me
that I have not yet said the right thing and given the Wylye its
characteristic expression. In considering the flowers we lose sight of
the downs, and so in occupying ourselves with the details we miss the
general effect. Let me then, once more, before concluding this chapter,
try to capture the secret of this little river.

There are other chalk streams in Wiltshire and Hampshire and
Dorset--swift crystal currents that play all summer long with the
floating poa grass fast held in their pebbly beds, flowing through
smooth downs, with small ancient churches in their green villages, and
pretty thatched cottages smothered in flowers--which yet do not produce
the same effect as the Wylye. Not Avon for all its beauty, nor Itchen,
nor Test. Wherein, then, does the "Wylye bourne" differ from these
others, and what is its special attraction? It was only when I set
myself to think about it, to analyse the feeling in my own mind, that I
discovered the secret--that is, in my own case, for of its effect on
others I cannot say anything. What I discovered was that the various
elements of interest, all of which may be found in other chalk-stream
valleys, are here concentrated, or comprised in a limited space, and
seen together produce a combined effect on the mind. It is the
narrowness of the valley and the nearness of the high downs standing
over it on either side, with, at some points, the memorials of antiquity
carved on their smooth surfaces, the barrows and lynchetts or terraces,
and the vast green earth-works crowning their summit. Up here on the
turf, even with the lark singing his shrill music in the blue heavens,
you are with the prehistoric dead, yourself for the time one of that
innumerable, unsubstantial multitude, invisible in the sun, so that the
sheep travelling as they graze, and the shepherd following them, pass
through their ranks without suspecting their presence. And from that
elevation you look down upon the life of to-day--the visible life, so
brief in the individual, which, like the swift silver stream beneath,
yet flows on continuously from age to age and for ever. And even as you
look down you hear, at that distance, the bell of the little hidden
church tower telling the hour of noon, and quickly following, a shout of
freedom and joy from many shrill voices of children just released from
school. Woke to life by those sounds, and drawn down by them, you may
sit to rest or sun yourself on the stone table of a tomb overgrown on
its sides with moss, the two-century-old inscription well-nigh
obliterated, in the little grass-grown, flowery churchyard which serves
as village green and playground in that small centre of life, where the
living and the dead exist in a neighbourly way together. For it is not
here as in towns, where the dead are away and out of mind and the past
cut off. And if after basking too long in the sun in that tree-sheltered
spot you go into the little church to cool yourself, you will probably
find in a dim corner not far from the altar a stone effigy of one of an
older time; a knight in armour, perhaps a crusader with legs crossed,
lying on his back, dimly seen in the dim light, with perhaps a coloured
sunbeam on his upturned face. For this little church where the villagers
worship is very old; Norman on Saxon foundations; and before they were
ever laid there may have been a temple to some ancient god at that spot,
or a Roman villa perhaps. For older than Saxon foundations are found in
the vale, and mosaic floors, still beautiful after lying buried so long.

All this--the far-removed events and periods in time--are not in the
conscious mind when we are in the vale or when we are looking down on it
from above: the mind is occupied with nothing but visible nature. Thus,
when I am sitting on the tomb, listening to the various sounds of life
about me, attentive to the flowers and bees and butterflies, to man or
woman or child taking a short cut through the churchyard, exchanging a
few words with them; or when I am by the water close by, watching a
little company of graylings, their delicately-shaded, silver-grey scales
distinctly seen as they lie in the crystal current watching for flies;
or when I listen to the perpetual musical talk and song combined of a
family of green-finches in the alders or willows, my mind is engaged
with these things. But if one is familiar with the vale; if one has
looked with interest and been deeply impressed with the signs and
memorials of past life and of antiquity everywhere present and forming
part of the scene, something of it and of all that it represents remains
in the subconscious mind to give a significance and feeling to the
scene, which affects us here more than in most places; and that, I take
it, is the special charm of this little valley.



CHAPTER XIV

A SHEEP-DOG'S LIFE

  Watch--His visits to a dew-pond--David and his dog Monk--Watch goes to
  David's assistance--Caleb's new master objects to his dog--Watch and the
  corn-crake--Watch plays with rabbits and guinea-pigs--Old Nance the
  rook-scarer--The lost pair of spectacles--Watch in decline--Grey hairs
  in animals--A grey mole--Last days of Watch--A shepherd on old
  sheep-dogs


Perhaps the most interesting of the many sheep-dog histories the
shepherd related was that of Watch, a dog he had at Winterbourne Bishop
for three years before he migrated to Warminster. Watch, he said, was
more "like a Christian," otherwise a reasonable being, than any other
dog he had owned. He was exceedingly active, and in hot weather suffered
more from heat than most dogs. Now the only accessible water when they
were out on the down was in the mist-pond about a quarter of a mile from
his "liberty," as he called that portion of the down on which he was
entitled to pasture his sheep. When Watch could stand his sufferings no
longer, he would run to his master, and sitting at his feet look up at
his face and emit a low, pleading whine.

"What be you wanting, Watch--a drink or a swim?" the shepherd would say,
and Watch, cocking up his ears, would repeat the whine.

"Very well, go to the pond," Bawcombe would say, and off Watch would
rush, never pausing until he got to the water, and dashing in he would
swim round and round, lapping the water as he bathed.

At the side of the pond there was a large, round sarsen-stone, and
invariably on coming out of his bath Watch would jump upon it, and with
his four feet drawn up close together would turn round and round,
surveying the country from that elevation; then jumping down he would
return in all haste to his duties.

Another anecdote, which relates to the Winterbourne Bishop period, is a
somewhat painful one, and is partly about Monk, the sheep-dog already
described as a hunter of foxes, and his tragic end. Caleb had worked him
for a time, but when he came into possession of Watch he gave Monk to
his younger brother David, who was under-shepherd on the same farm.

One morning Caleb was with the ewes in a field, when David, who was in
charge of the lambs two or three fields away, came to him looking very
strange--very much put out.

"What are you here for--what's wrong with 'ee?" demanded Caleb.

"Nothing's wrong," returned the other.

"Where's Monk then?" asked Caleb.

"Dead," said David.

"Dead! How's he dead?"

"I killed'n. He wouldn't mind me and made me mad, and I up with my stick
and gave him one crack on the head and it killed'n."

"You killed 'n!" exclaimed Caleb. "An' you come here an' tell I
nothing's wrong! Is that a right way to speak of such a thing as that?
What be you thinking of? And what be you going to do with the lambs?"

"I'm just going back to them--I'm going to do without a dog. I'm going
to put them in the rape and they'll be all right."

"What! put them in the rape and no dog to help 'ee?" cried the other.
"You are not doing things right, but master mustn't pay for it. Take
Watch to help 'ee--I must do without'n this morning."

"No, I'll not take'n," he said, for he was angry because he had done an
evil thing and he would have no one, man or dog, to help him. "I'll do
better without a dog," he said, and marched off.

Caleb cried after him: "If you won't have the dog don't let the lambs
suffer but do as I tell 'ee. Don't you let 'em bide in the rape more 'n
ten minutes; then chase them out, and let 'em stand twenty minutes to
half an hour; then let them in another ten minutes and out again for
twenty minutes, then let them go back and feed in it quietly, for the
danger 'll be over. If you don't do as I tell 'ee you'll have many
blown."

David listened, then without a word went his way. But Caleb was still
much troubled in his mind. How would he get that flock of hungry lambs
out of the rape without a dog? And presently he determined to send
Watch, or try to send him, to save the situation. David had been gone
half an hour when he called the dog, and pointing in the direction he
had taken he cried, "Dave wants 'ee--go to Dave."

Watch looked at him and listened, then bounded away, and after running
full speed about fifty yards stopped to look back to make sure he was
doing the right thing. "Go to Dave," shouted Caleb once more; and away
went Watch again, and arriving at a very high gate at the end of the
field dashed at and tried two or three times to get over it, first by
jumping, then by climbing, and falling back each time. But by and by he
managed to force his way through the thick hedge and was gone from
sight.

When David came back that evening he was in a different mood, and said
that Watch had saved him from a great misfortune: he could never have
got the lambs out by himself, as they were mad for the rape. For some
days after this Watch served two masters. Caleb would take him to his
ewes, and after a while would say, "Go--Dave wants 'ee," and away Watch
would go to the other shepherd and flock.

When Bawcombe had taken up his new place at Doveton, his master, Mr.
Ellerby, watched him for a while with sharp eyes, but he was soon
convinced that he had not made a mistake in engaging a head-shepherd
twenty-five miles away without making the usual inquiries but merely on
the strength of something heard casually in conversation about this man.
But while more than satisfied with the man he remained suspicious of the
dog. "I'm afraid that dog of yours must hurt the sheep," he would say,
and he even advised him to change him for one that worked in a quieter
manner. Watch was too excitable, too impetuous--he could not go after
the sheep in that violent way and grab them as he did without injuring
them with his teeth.

"He did never bite a sheep in his life," Bawcombe assured him, and
eventually he was able to convince his master that Watch could make a
great show of biting the sheep without doing them the least hurt--that
it was actually against his nature to bite or injure anything.

One day in the late summer, when the corn had been cut but not carried,
Bawcombe was with his flock on the edge of a newly reaped cornfield in a
continuous, heavy rain, when he spied his master coming to him. He was
in a very light summer suit and straw hat, and had no umbrella or other
protection from the pouring rain. "What be wrong with master to-day?"
said Bawcombe. "He's tarrably upset to be out like this in such a rain
in a straw hat and no coat."

Mr. Ellerby had by that time got into the habit when troubled in his
mind of going out to his shepherd to have a long talk with him. Not a
talk about his trouble--that was some secret bitterness in his
heart--but just about the sheep and other ordinary topics, and the talk,
Caleb said, would seem to do him good. But this habit he had got into
was observed by others, and the farm-men would say, "Something's wrong
to-day--the master's gone off to the head-shepherd."

When he came to where Bawcombe was standing, in a poor shelter by the
side of a fence, he at once started talking on indifferent subjects,
standing there quite unconcerned, as if he didn't even know that it was
raining, though his thin clothes were wet through, and the water coming
through his straw hat was running in streaks down his face. By and by he
became interested in the dog's movements, playing about in the rain
among the stocks. "What has he got in his mouth?" he asked presently.

"Come here, Watch," the shepherd called, and when Watch came he bent
down and took a corncrake from his mouth. He had found the bird hiding
in one of the stocks and had captured without injuring it.

"Why, it's alive--the dog hasn't hurt it," said the farmer, taking it in
his hands to examine it.

"Watch never hurted any creature yet," said Bawcombe. He caught things
just for his own amusement, but never injured them--he always let them
go again. He would hunt mice in the fields, and when he captured one he
would play with it like a cat, tossing it from him, then dashing after
and recapturing it. Finally, he would let it go. He played with rabbits
in the same way, and if you took a rabbit from him and examined it you
would find it quite uninjured.

The farmer said it was wonderful--he had never heard of a case like it
before; and talking of Watch he succeeded in forgetting the trouble in
his mind which had sent him out in the rain in his thin clothes and
straw hat, and he went away in a cheerful mood.

Caleb probably forgot to mention during this conversation with his
master that in most cases when Watch captured a rabbit he took it to his
master and gave it into his hands, as much as to say, Here is a very big
sort of field-mouse I have caught, rather difficult to manage--perhaps
_you_ can do something with it?

The shepherd had many other stories about this curious disposition of
his dog. When he had been some months in his new place his brother David
followed him to the Wylye, having obtained a place as shepherd on a farm
adjoining Mr. Ellerby's. His cottage was a little out of the village and
had some ground to it, with a nice lawn or green patch. David was fond
of keeping animal pets--birds in cages, and rabbits and guinea-pigs in
hutches, the last so tame that he would release them on the grass to see
them play with one another. When Watch first saw these pets he was very
much attracted, and wanted to get to them, and after a good deal of
persuasion on the part of Caleb, David one day consented to take them
out and put them on the grass in the dog's presence. They were a little
alarmed at first, but in a surprisingly short time made the discovery
that this particular dog was not their enemy but a playmate. He rolled
on the grass among them, and chased them round and round, and sometimes
caught and pretended to worry them, and they appeared to think it very
good fun.

"Watch," said Bawcombe, "in the fifteen years I had 'n, never killed and
never hurt a creature, no, not even a leetel mouse, and when he caught
anything 'twere only to play with it."

Watch comes into a story of an old woman employed at the farm at this
period. She had been in the Warminster workhouse for a short time, and
had there heard that a daughter of a former mistress in another part of
the county had long been married and was now the mistress of Doveton
Farm, close by. Old Nance thereupon obtained her release and trudged to
Doveton, and one very rough, cold day presented herself at the farm to
beg for something to do which would enable her to keep herself. If there
was nothing for her she must, she said, go back and end her days in the
Warminster workhouse. Mrs. Ellerby remembered and pitied her, and going
in to her husband begged him earnestly to find some place on the farm
for the forlorn old creature. He did not see what could be done for her:
they already had one old woman on their hands, who mended sacks and did
a few other trifling things, but for another old woman there would be
nothing to do. Then he went in and had a good long look at her,
revolving the matter in his mind, anxious to please his wife, and
finally, he asked her if she could scare the crows. He could think of
nothing else. Of course she could scare crows--it was the very thing for
her! Well, he said, she could go and look after the swedes; the rooks
had just taken a liking to them, and even if she was not very active
perhaps she would be able to keep them off.

Old Nance got up to go and begin her duties at once. Then the farmer,
looking at her clothes, said he would give her something more to protect
her from the weather on such a bleak day. He got her an old felt hat, a
big old frieze overcoat, and a pair of old leather leggings. When she
had put on these somewhat cumbrous things, and had tied her hat firmly
on with a strip of cloth, and fastened the coat at the waist with a
cord, she was told to go to the head-shepherd and ask him to direct her
to the field where the rooks were troublesome. Then when she was setting
out the farmer called her back and gave her an ancient, rusty gun to
scare the birds. "It isn't loaded," he said, with a grim smile. "I don't
allow powder and shot, but if you'll point it at them they'll fly fast
enough."

Thus arrayed and armed she set forth, and Caleb seeing her approach at a
distance was amazed at her grotesque appearance, and even more amazed
still when she explained who and what she was and asked him to direct
her to the field of swedes.

Some hours later the farmer came to him and asked him casually if he had
seen an old gallus-crow about.

"Well," replied the shepherd, "I seen an old woman in man's coat and
things, with an old gun, and I did tell she where to bide."

"I think it will be rather cold for the old body in that field," said
the farmer. "I'd like you to get a couple of padded hurdles and put them
up for a shelter for her."

And in the shelter of the padded or thatched hurdles, by the hedge-side,
old Nance spent her days keeping guard over the turnips, and afterwards
something else was found for her to do, and in the meanwhile she lodged
in Caleb's cottage and became like one of the family. She was fond of
the children and of the dog, and Watch became so much attached to her
that had it not been for his duties with the flock he would have
attended her all day in the fields to help her with the crows.

Old Nance had two possessions she greatly prized--a book and a pair of
spectacles, and it was her custom to spend the day sitting, spectacles
on nose and book in hand, reading among the turnips. Her spectacles were
so "tarrable" good that they suited all old eyes, and when this was
discovered they were in great request in the village, and every person
who wanted to do a bit of fine sewing or anything requiring young vision
in old eyes would borrow them for the purpose. One day the old woman
returned full of trouble from the fields--she had lost her spectacles;
she must, she thought, have lent them to some one in the village on the
previous evening and then forgotten all about it. But no one had them,
and the mysterious loss of the spectacles was discussed and lamented by
everybody. A day or two later Caleb came through the turnips on his way
home, the dog at his heels, and when he got to his cottage Watch came
round and placed himself square before his master and deposited the lost
spectacles at his feet. He had found them in the turnip-field over a
mile from home, and though but a dog he remembered that he had seen them
on people's noses and in their hands, and knew that they must therefore
be valuable--not to himself, but to that larger and more important kind
of dog that goes about on its hind legs.

There is always a sad chapter in the life-history of a dog; it is the
last one, which tells of his decline; and it is ever saddest in the case
of the sheep-dog, because he has lived closer to man and has served him
every day of his life with all his powers, all his intelligence, in the
one useful and necessary work he is fitted for or which we have found
for him to do. The hunting and the pet, or parasite, dogs--the "dogs for
sport and pleasure"--though one in species with him are not like beings
of the same order; they are like professional athletes and performers,
and smart or fashionable people compared to those who do the work of the
world--who feed us and clothe us. We are accustomed to speak of dogs
generally as the servants and the friends of man; it is only of the
sheep-dog that this can be said with absolute truth. Not only is he the
faithful servant of the solitary man who shepherds his flock, but the
dog's companionship is as much to him as that of a fellow-being would
be.

Before his long and strenuous life was finished. Watch, originally
jet-black without a spot, became quite grey, the greyness being most
marked on the head, which became at last almost white.

It is undoubtedly the case that some animals, like men, turn grey with
age, and Watch when fifteen was relatively as old as a man at sixty-five
or seventy. But grey hairs do not invariably come with age, even in our
domestic animals, which are more subject to this change than those in a
state of nature. But we are never so well able to judge of this in the
case of wild animals, as in most cases their lives end prematurely.

The shepherd related a curious instance in a mole. He once noticed
mole-heaps of a peculiar kind in a field of sainfoin, and it looked to
him as if this mole worked in a way of his own, quite unlike the others.
The hills he threw up were a good distance apart, and so large that you
could fill a bushel measure with the mould from any one of them. He
noticed that this mole went on burrowing every day in the same manner;
every morning there were new chains or ranges of the huge mounds. The
runs were very deep, as he found when setting a mole-trap--over two feet
beneath the surface. He set his trap, filling the deep hole he had made
with sods, and on opening it next day he found his mole and was
astonished at its great size. He took no measurements, but it was
bigger, he affirmed, than he could have believed it possible for a mole
to be. And it was grey instead of black, the grey hairs being so
abundant on the head as to make it almost white, as in the case of old
Watch. He supposed that it was a very old mole, that it was a more
powerful digger than most of its kind, and had perhaps escaped death so
long on account of its strength and of its habit of feeding deeper in
the earth than the others.

To return to Watch. His hearing and eyesight failed as he grew older
until he was practically blind and too deaf to hear any word given in
the ordinary way. But he continued strong as ever on his legs, and his
mind was not decayed, nor was he in the least tired. On the contrary, he
was always eager to work, and as his blindness and deafness had made him
sharper in other ways he was still able to make himself useful with the
sheep. Whenever the hurdles were shifted to a fresh place and the sheep
had to be kept in a corner of the enclosure until the new place was
ready for them, it was old Watch's duty to keep them from breaking away.
He could not see nor hear, but in some mysterious way he knew when they
tried to get out, even if it was but one. Possibly the slight vibration
of the ground informed him of the movement and the direction as well. He
would make a dash and drive the sheep back, then run up and down before
the flock until all was quiet again. But at last it became painful to
witness his efforts, especially when the sheep were very restless, and
incessantly trying to break away; and Watch finding them so hard to
restrain would grow angry and rush at them with such fury that he would
come violently against the hurdles at one side, then getting up, howling
with pain, he would dash to the other side, when he would strike the
hurdles there and cry out with pain once more.

It could not be allowed to go on; yet Watch could not endure to be
deprived of his work; if left at home he would spend the time whining
and moaning, praying to be allowed to go to the flock, until at last his
master with a very heavy heart was compelled to have him put to death.

This is indeed almost invariably the end of a sheepdog; however zealous
and faithful he may have been, and however much valued and loved, he
must at last be put to death. I related the story of this dog to a
shepherd in the very district where Watch had lived and served his
master so well--one who had been head-shepherd for upwards of forty
years at Imber Court, the principal farm at the small downland village
of Imber. He told me that during all his shepherding years he had never
owned a dog which had passed out of his hands to another; every dog had
been acquired as a pup and trained by himself; and he had been very fond
of his dogs, but had always been compelled to have them shot in the end.
Not because he would have found them too great a burden when they had
become too old and their senses decayed, but because it was painful to
see them in their decline, perpetually craving to be at their old work
with the sheep, incapable of doing it any longer, yet miserable if kept
from it.



CHAPTER XV

THE ELLERBYS OF DOVETON

  The Bawcombes at Doveton Farm--Caleb finds favour with his master--Mrs.
  Ellerby and the shepherd's wife--The passion of a childless wife--The
  curse--A story of the "mob"--The attack on the farm--A man transported
  for life--The hundred and ninth Psalm--The end of the Ellerbys


Caleb and his wife invariably spoke of their time at Doveton Farm in a
way which gave one the idea that they regarded it as the most important
period of their lives. It had deeply impressed them, and doubtless it
was a great change for them to leave their native village for the first
time in their lives and go long miles from home among strangers to serve
a new master. Above everything they felt leaving the old father who was
angry with them, and had gone to the length of disowning them for taking
such a step. But there was something besides all this which had served
to give Doveton an enduring place in their memories, and after many
talks with the old couple about their Warminster days I formed the idea
that it was more to them than any other place where they had lived,
because of a personal feeling they cherished for their master and
mistress there.

Hitherto Caleb had been in the service of men who were but a little way
removed in thought and feeling from those they employed. They were
mostly small men, born and bred in the parish, some wholly self-made,
with no interest or knowledge of anything outside their own affairs, and
almost as far removed as the labourers themselves from the ranks above.
The Ellerbys were of another stamp, or a different class. If not a
gentleman, Mr. Ellerby was very like one and was accustomed to associate
with gentlemen. He was a farmer, descended from a long line of farmers;
but he owned his own land, and was an educated and travelled man,
considered wealthy for a farmer; at all events he was able to keep his
carriage and riding and hunting horses in his stables, and he was
regarded as the best breeder of sheep in the district. He lived in a
good house, which with its pictures and books and beautiful decorations
and furniture appeared to their simple minds extremely luxurious. This
atmosphere was somewhat disconcerting to them at first, for although he
knew his own value, priding himself on being a "good shepherd," Caleb
had up till now served with farmers who were in a sense on an equality
with him, and they understood him and he them. But in a short time the
feeling of strangeness vanished: personally, as a fellow-man, his master
soon grew to be more to him than any farmer he had yet been with. And he
saw a good deal of his master. Mr. Ellerby cultivated his acquaintance,
and, as we have seen, got into the habit of seeking him out and talking
to him even when he was at a distance out on the down with his flock.
And Caleb could not but see that in this respect he was preferred above
the other men employed on the farm--that he had "found favour" in his
master's eyes.

When he had told me that story about Watch and the corn-crake, it stuck
in my mind, and on the first opportunity I went back to that subject to
ask what it really was that made his master act in such an extraordinary
manner--to go out on a pouring wet day in a summer suit and straw hat,
and walk a mile or two just to stand there in the rain talking to him
about nothing in particular. What secret trouble had he--was it that his
affairs were in a bad way, or was he quarrelling with his wife? No,
nothing of the kind; it was a long story--this secret trouble of the
Ellerbys, and with his unconquerable reticence in regard to other
people's private affairs he would have passed it off with a few general
remarks.

But there was his old wife listening to us, and, woman-like, eager to
discuss such a subject, she would not let it pass. She would tell it and
would not be silenced by him: they were all dead and gone--why should I
not be told if I wanted to hear it? And so with a word put in here and
there by him when she talked, and with a good many words interposed by
her when he took up the tale, they unfolded the story, which was very
long as they told it and must be given briefly here.

It happened that when the Bawcombes settled at Doveton, just as Mr.
Ellerby had taken to the shepherd, making a friend of him, so Mrs.
Ellerby took to the shepherd's wife, and fell into the habit of paying
frequent visits to her in her cottage. She was a very handsome woman, of
a somewhat stately presence, dignified in manner, and she wore her
abundant hair in curls hanging on each side to her shoulders--a fashion
common at that time. From the first she appeared to take a particular
interest in the Bawcombes, and they could not but notice that she was
more gracious and friendly towards them than to the others of their
station on the farm. The Bawcombes had three children then, aged six,
four, and two years respectively, all remarkably healthy, with rosy
cheeks and black eyes, and they were merry-tempered little things. Mrs.
Ellerby appeared much taken with the children; praised their mother for
always keeping them so clean and nicely dressed, and wondered how she
could manage it on their small earnings. The carter and his wife lived
in a cottage close by, and they, too, had three little children, and
next to the carter's was the bailiff's cottage, and he, too, was married
and had children; but Mrs. Ellerby never went into their cottages, and
the shepherd and his wife concluded that it was because in both cases
the children were rather puny, sickly-looking little things and were
never very clean. The carter's wife, too, was a slatternly woman. One
day when Mrs. Ellerby came in to see Mrs. Bawcombe the carter's wife was
just going out of the door, and Mrs. Ellerby appeared displeased, and
before leaving she said, "I hope, Mrs. Bawcombe, you are not going to
mix too freely with your neighbours or let your children go too much
with them and fall into their ways." They also observed that when she
passed their neighbours' children in the lane she spoke no word and
appeared not to see them. Yet she was kind to them too, and whenever she
brought a big parcel of cakes, fruit, and sweets for the children, which
she often did, she would tell the shepherd's wife to divide it into
three lots, one for her own children and the others for those of her two
neighbours. It was clear to see that Mrs. Ellerby had grown fond of her
children, especially of the eldest, the little rosy-cheeked six-year-old
boy. Sitting in the cottage she would call him to her side and would
hold his hand while conversing with his mother; she would also bare the
child's arm just for the pleasure of rubbing it with her hand and
clasping it round with her fingers, and sometimes when caressing the
child in this way she would turn her face aside to hide the tears that
dropped from her eyes.

She had no child of her own--the one happiness which she and her husband
desired above all things. Six times in their ten married years they had
hoped and rejoiced, although with fear and trembling, that their prayer
would be answered, but in vain--every child born to them came lifeless
into the world. "And so 'twould always be, for sure," said the
villagers, "because of the curse."

For it was a cause of wonder to the shepherd and his wife that this
couple, so strong and healthy, so noble-looking, so anxious to have
children, should have been so unfortunate, and still the villagers
repeated that it was the curse that was on them.

This made the shepherd angry. "What be you saying about a curse that is
on them?--a good man and a good woman!" he would exclaim, and taking up
his crook go out and leave them to their gossip. He would not ask them
what they meant; he refused to listen when they tried to tell him; but
in the end he could not help knowing, since the idea had become a fixed
one in the minds of all the villagers, and he could not keep it out.
"Look at them," the gossipers would say, "as fine a couple as you ever
saw, and no child; and look at his two brothers, fine, big, strong,
well-set-up men, both married to fine healthy women, and never a child
living to any of them. And the sisters unmarried! 'Tis the curse and
nothing else."

The curse had been uttered against Mr. Ellerby's father, who was in his
prime in the year 1831 at the time of the "mob," when the introduction
of labour-saving machinery in agriculture sent the poor farm-labourers
mad all over England. Wheat was at a high price at that time, and the
farmers were exceedingly prosperous, but they paid no more than seven
shillings a week to their miserable labourers. And if they were
half-starved when there was work for all, when the corn was reaped with
sickles, what would their condition be when reaping machines and other
new implements of husbandry came into use? They would not suffer it;
they would gather in bands everywhere and destroy the machinery, and
being united they would be irresistible; and so it came about that there
were risings or "mobs" all over the land.

Mr. Ellerby, the most prosperous and enterprising farmer in the parish,
had been the first to introduce the new methods. He did not believe that
the people would rise against him, for he well knew that he was regarded
as a just and kind man and was even loved by his own labourers, but even
if it had not been so he would not have hesitated to carry out his
resolution, as he was a high-spirited man. But one day the villagers got
together and came unexpectedly to his barns, where they set to work to
destroy his new thrashing machine. When he was told he rushed out and
went in hot haste to the scene, and as he drew near some person in the
crowd threw a heavy hammer at him, which struck him on the head and
brought him senseless to the ground.

He was not seriously injured, but when he recovered the work of
destruction had been done and the men had gone back to their homes, and
no one could say who had led them and who had thrown the hammer. But by
and by the police discovered that the hammer was the property of a
shoemaker in the village, and he was arrested and charged with injuring
with intent to murder. Tried with many others from other villages in the
district at the Salisbury Assizes, he was found guilty and sentenced to
transportation for life. Yet the Doveton shoemaker was known to every
one as a quiet, inoffensive young man, and to the last he protested his
innocence, for although he had gone with the others to the farm he had
not taken the hammer and was guiltless of having thrown it.

Two years after he had been sent away Mr. Ellerby received a letter with
an Australian postmark on it, but on opening it found nothing but a long
denunciatory passage from the Bible enclosed, with no name or address.
Mr. Ellerby was much disturbed in his mind, and instead of burning the
paper and holding his peace, he kept it and spoke about it to this
person and that, and every one went to his Bible to find out what
message the poor shoemaker had sent, for it had been discovered that it
was the one hundred and ninth Psalm, or a great portion of it, and this
is what they read:--

"Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let
not the sin of his mother be blotted out.

"Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory
of them from the earth.

"Because that he remembered not to show mercy, but persecuted the poor
and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart.

"As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in
blessing, so let it be far from him.

"As he clothed himself with cursing like as with a garment, so let it
come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.

"Let it be unto him as a garment which covereth him, and for a girdle
wherewith he is girded continually.

"But do Thou for me, O God the Lord, for Thy name's sake. For I am poor
and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.

"I am come like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as
the locust.

"My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness."

From that time the hundred and ninth Psalm became familiar to the
villagers, and there were probably not many who did not get it by heart.
There was no doubt in their minds of the poor shoemaker's innocence.
Every one knew that he was incapable of hurting a fly. The crowd had
gone into his shop and swept him away with them--all were in it; and
some person seeing the hammer had taken it to help in smashing the
machinery. And Mr. Ellerby had known in his heart that he was innocent,
and if he had spoken a word for him in court he would have got the
benefit of the doubt and been discharged. But no, he wanted to have his
revenge on some one, and he held his peace and allowed this poor fellow
to be made the victim. Then, when he died, and his eldest son succeeded
him at Doveton Farm, and he and the other sons got married, and there
were no children, or none born alive, they went back to the Psalm again
and read and re-read and quoted the words: "Let his posterity be cut
off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out."
Undoubtedly the curse was on them!

Alas! it was; the curse was their belief in the curse, and the dreadful
effect of the knowledge of it on a woman's mind--all the result of Mr.
Ellerby the father's fatal mistake in not having thrown the scrap of
paper that came to him from the other side of the world into the fire.
All the unhappiness of the "generation following" came about in this
way, and the family came to an end; for when the last of the Ellerbys
died at a great age there was not one person of the name left in that
part of Wiltshire.



CHAPTER XVI

OLD WILTSHIRE DAYS

  Old memories--Hindon as a borough and as a village--The Lamb Inn and its
  birds--The "mob" at Hindon--The blind smuggler--Rawlings of Lower
  Pertwood Farm--Reed, the thresher and deer-stealer--He leaves a
  fortune--Devotion to work--Old Father Time--Groveley Wood and the
  people's rights--Grace Reed and the Earl of Pembroke--An illusion of the
  very aged--Sedan-chairs in Bath--Stick-gathering by the
  poor--Game-preserving


The incident of the unhappy young man who was transported to Australia
or Tasmania, which came out in the shepherd's history of the Ellerby
family, put it in my mind to look up some of the very aged people of the
downland villages, whose memories could go back to the events of eighty
years ago. I found a few, "still lingering here," who were able to
recall that miserable and memorable year of 1830 and had witnessed the
doings of the "mobs." One was a woman, my old friend of Fonthill Bishop,
now aged ninety-four, who was in her teens when the poor labourers, "a
thousand strong," some say, armed with cudgels, hammers, and axes,
visited her village and broke up the thrashing machines they found
there.

Another person who remembered that time was an old but remarkably
well-preserved man of eighty-nine at Hindon, a village a couple of miles
distant from Fonthill Bishop. Hindon is a delightful little village, so
rustic and pretty amidst its green, swelling downs, with great woods
crowning the heights beyond, that one can hardly credit the fact that it
was formerly an important market and session town and a Parliamentary
borough returning two members; also that it boasted among other
greatnesses thirteen public-houses. Now it has two, and not flourishing
in these tea- and mineral-water drinking days. Naturally it was an
exceeedingly corrupt little borough, where free beer for all was the
order of the day for a period of four to six weeks before an election,
and where every householder with a vote looked to receive twenty guineas
from the candidate of his choice. It is still remembered that when a
householder in those days was very hard up, owing, perhaps, to his too
frequent visits to the thirteen public-houses, he would go to some
substantial tradesman in the place and pledge his twenty guineas, due at
the next election! In due time, after the Reform Bill, it was deprived
of its glory, and later when the South-Western Railway built their line
from Salisbury to Yeovil and left Hindon some miles away, making their
station at Tisbury, it fell into decay, dwindling to the small village
it now is; and its last state, sober and purified, is very much better
than the old. For although sober, it is contented and even merry, and
exhibits such a sweet friendliness toward the stranger within its gates
as to make him remember it with pleasure and gratitude.

What a quiet little place Hindon has become, after its old noisy period,
the following little bird story will show. For several weeks during the
spring and summer of 1909 my home was at the Lamb Inn, a famous
posting-house of the great old days, and we had three pairs of
birds--throstle, pied wagtail, and flycatcher--breeding in the ivy
covering the wall facing the village street, just over my window. I
watched them when building, incubating, feeding their young, and
bringing their young off. The villagers, too, were interested in the
sight, and sometimes a dozen or more men and boys would gather and stand
for half an hour watching the birds flying in and out of their nests
when feeding their young. The last to come off were the flycatchers, on
18th June. It was on the morning of the day I left, and one of the
little things flitted into the room where I was having my breakfast. I
succeeded in capturing it before the cats found out, and put it back on
the ivy. There were three young birds; I had watched them from the time
they hatched, and when I returned a fortnight later, there were the
three, still being fed by their parents in the trees and on the roof,
their favourite perching-place being on the swinging sign of the "Lamb."
Whenever an old bird darted at and captured a fly the three young would
flutter round it like three butterflies to get the fly. This continued
until 18th July, after which date I could not detect their feeding the
young, although the hunger-call was occasionally heard.

If the flycatcher takes a month to teach its young to catch their own
flies, it is not strange that it breeds but once in the year. It is a
delicate art the bird practises and takes long to learn, but how
different with the martin, which dismisses its young in a few days and
begins breeding again, even to the third time!

These three broods over my window were not the only ones in the place;
there were at least twenty other pairs in the garden and outhouses of
the inn--sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds, dunnocks, wrens, starlings, and
swallows. Yet the inn was in the very centre of the village, and being
an inn was the most frequented and noisiest spot.

To return to my old friend of eighty-nine. He was but a small boy,
attending the Hindon school, when the rioters appeared on the scene, and
he watched their entry from the schoolhouse window. It was market-day,
and the market was stopped by the invaders, and the agricultural
machines brought for sale and exhibition were broken up. The picture
that remains in his mind is of a great excited crowd in which men and
cattle and sheep were mixed together in the wide street, which was the
market-place, and of shouting and noise of smashing machinery, and
finally of the mob pouring forth over the down on its way to the next
village, he and other little boys following their march.

The smuggling trade flourished greatly at that period, and there were
receivers and distributors of smuggled wine, spirits, and other
commodities in every town and in very many villages throughout the
county in spite of its distance from the sea-coast. One of his memories
is of a blind man of the village, or town as it was then, who was used
as an assistant in this business. He had lost his sight in childhood,
one eye having been destroyed by a ferret which got into his cradle;
then, when he was about six years old he was running across the room one
day with a fork it his hand when he stumbled, and falling on the floor
had the other eye pierced by the prongs. But in spite of his blindness
he became a good worker, and could make a fence, reap, trim hedges, feed
the animals, and drive a horse as well as any man. His father had a
small farm and was a carrier as well, a quiet, sober, industrious man
who was never suspected by his neighbours of being a smuggler, for he
never left his house and work, but from time to time he had little
consignments of rum and brandy in casks received on a dark night and
carefully stowed away in his manure heap and in a pit under the floor of
his pigsty. Then the blind son would drive his old mother in the
carrier's cart to Bath and call at a dozen or twenty private houses,
leaving parcels which had been already ordered and paid for--a gallon of
brandy at one, two or four gallons of rum at another, and so on, until
all was got rid of, and on the following day they would return with
goods to Hindon. This quiet little business went on satisfactorily for
some years, during which the officers of the excise had stared a
thousand times with their eagle's eyes at the quaint old woman in her
poke bonnet and shawl, driven by a blind man with a vacant face, and had
suspected nothing, when a little mistake was made and a jar of brandy
delivered at a wrong address. The recipient was an honest gentleman, and
in his anxiety to find the rightful owner of the brandy made extensive
inquiries in his neighbourhood, and eventually the excisemen got wind of
the affair, and on the very next visit of the old woman and her son to
Bath they were captured. After an examination before a magistrate the
son was discharged on account of his blindness, but the cart and horses,
as well as the smuggled spirits, were confiscated, and the poor blind
man had to make his way on foot to Hindon.

Another of his recollections is of a family named Rawlings, tenants of
Lower Pertwood Farm, near Hindon, a lonely, desolate-looking house
hidden away in a deep hollow among the high downs. The Farmer Rawlings
of seventy or eighty years ago was a man of singular ideas, and that he
was permitted to put them in practice shows that severe as was the law
in those days, and dreadful the punishments inflicted on offenders,
there was a kind of liberty which does not exist now--the liberty a man
had of doing just what he thought proper in his own house. This Rawlings
had a numerous family, and some died at home and others lived to grow up
and go out into the world under strange names--Faith, Hope, and Charity
were three of his daughters, and Justice, Morality, and Fortitude three
of his sons. Now, for some reason Rawlings objected to the burial of his
dead in the churchyard of the nearest village--Monkton Deverill, and the
story is that he quarrelled with the rector over the question of the
church bell being tolled for the funeral. He would have no bell tolled,
he swore, and the rector would bury no one without the bell. Thereupon
Rawlings had the coffined corpse deposited on a table in an outhouse and
the door made fast. Later there was another death, then a third, and all
three were kept in the same place for several years, and although it was
known to the whole countryside no action was taken by the local
authorities.

My old informant says that he was often at the farm when he was a young
man, and he used to steal round to the "Dead House," as it was called,
to peep through a crack in the door and see the three coffins resting on
the table in the dim interior.

Eventually the dead disappeared a little while before the Rawlings gave
up the farm, and it was supposed that the old farmer had buried them in
the night-time in one of the neighbouring chalk-pits, but the spot has
never been discovered.

One of the stories of the old Wiltshire days I picked up was from an old
woman, aged eighty-seven, in the Wilton workhouse. She has a vivid
recollection of a labourer named Reed, in Odstock, a village on the
Ebble near Salisbury, a stern, silent man, who was a marvel of strength
and endurance. The work in which he most delighted was precisely that
which most labourers hated, before threshing machines came in despite
the action of the "mobs"--threshing out corn with the flail. From
earliest dawn till after dark he would sit or stand in a dim, dusty
barn, monotonously pounding away, without an interval to rest, and
without dinner, and with no food but a piece of bread and a pinch of
salt. Without the salt he would not eat the bread. An hour after all
others had ceased from work he would put on his coat and trudge home to
his wife and family.

The woman in the workhouse remembers that once, when Reed was a very old
man past work, he came to their cottage for something, and while he
stood waiting at the entrance, a little boy ran in and asked his mother
for a piece of bread and butter with sugar on it. Old Reed glared at
him, and shaking his big stick, exclaimed, "I'd give you sugar with this
if you were my boy!" and so terrible did he look in his anger at the
luxury of the times, that the little boy burst out crying and ran away!

What chiefly interested me about this old man was that he was a
deer-stealer of the days when that offence was common in the country. It
was not so great a crime as sheep-stealing, for which men were hanged;
taking a deer was punished with nothing worse than hard labour, as a
rule. But Reed was never caught; he would labour his full time and steal
away after dark over the downs, to return in the small hours with a deer
on his back. It was not for his own consumption; he wanted the money for
which he sold it in Salisbury; and it is probable that he was in league
with other poachers, as it is hard to believe that he could capture the
animals single-handed.

After his death it was found that old Reed had left a hundred pounds to
each of his two surviving daughters, and it was a wonder to everybody
how he had managed not only to bring up a family and keep himself out of
the workhouse to the end of his long life, but to leave so large a sum
of money. One can only suppose that he was a rigid economist and never
had a week's illness, and that by abstaining from beer and tobacco he
was able to save a couple of shillings each week out of his wages of
seven or eight shillings; this, in forty years, would make the two
hundred pounds with something over.

It is not a very rare thing to find a farm-labourer like old Reed of
Odstock, with not only a strong preference for a particular kind of
work, but a love of it as compelling as that of an artist for his art.
Some friends of mine whom I went to visit over the border in Dorset told
me of an enthusiast of this description who had recently died in the
village. "What a pity you did not come sooner," they said. Alas! it is
nearly always so; on first coming to stay at a village one is told that
it has but just lost its oldest and most interesting inhabitant--a
relic of the olden time.

This man had taken to the scythe as Reed had to the flail, and was never
happy unless he had a field to mow. He was a very tall old man, so lean
that he looked like a skeleton, the bones covered with a skin as brown
as old leather, and he wore his thin grey hair and snow-white beard very
long. He rode on a white donkey, and was usually seen mounted galloping
down the village street, hatless, his old brown, bare feet and legs
drawn up to keep them from the ground, his scythe over his shoulder.
"Here comes old Father Time," they would cry, as they called him, and
run to the door to gaze with ever fresh delight at the wonderful old man
as he rushed by, kicking and shouting at his donkey to make him go
faster. He was always in a hurry, hunting for work with furious zeal,
and when he got a field to mow so eager was he that he would not sleep
at home, even if it was close by, but would lie down on the grass at the
side of the field and start working at dawn, between two and three
o'clock, quite three hours before the world woke up to its daily toil.

The name of Reed, the zealous thresher with the flail, serves to remind
me of yet another Reed, a woman who died a few years ago aged
ninety-four, and whose name should be cherished in one of the downland
villages. She was a native of Barford St. Martin on the Nadder, one of
two villages, the other being Wishford, on the Wylye river, the
inhabitants of which have the right to go into Groveley Wood, an immense
forest on the Wilton estate, to obtain wood for burning, each person
being entitled to take home as much wood as he or she can carry. The
people of Wishford take green wood, but those of Barford only dead, they
having bartered their right at a remote period to cut growing trees for
a yearly sum of five pounds, which the lord of the manor still pays to
the village, and, in addition, the right to take dead wood.

It will be readily understood that this right possessed by the people of
two villages, both situated within a mile of the forest, has been a
perpetual source of annoyance to the noble owners in modern times, since
the strict preservation of game, especially of pheasants, has grown to
be almost a religion to the landowners. Now it came to pass that about
half a century or longer ago, the Pembroke of that time made the happy
discovery, as he imagined, that there was nothing to show that the
Barford people had any right to the dead wood. They had been graciously
allowed to take it, as was the case all over the country at that time,
and that was all. At once he issued an edict prohibiting the taking of
dead wood from the forest by the villagers, and great as the loss was to
them they acquiesced; not a man of Barford St. Martin dared to disobey
the prohibition or raise his voice against it. Grace Reed then
determined to oppose the mighty earl, and accompanied by four other
women of the village boldly went to the wood and gathered their sticks
and brought them home. They were summoned before the magistrates and
fined, and on their refusal to pay were sent to prison; but the very
next day they were liberated and told that a mistake had been made, that
the matter had been inquired into, and it had been found that the people
of Barford did really have the right they had exercised so long to take
dead wood from the forest.

As a result of the action of these women the right has not been
challenged since, and on my last visit to Barford, a few days before
writing this chapter, I saw three women coming down from the forest with
as much dead wood as they could carry on their heads and backs. But how
near they came to losing their right! It was a bold, an unheard-of thing
which they did, and if there had not been a poor cottage woman with the
spirit to do it at the proper moment the right could never have been
revived.

Grace Reed's children's children are living at Barford now; they say
that to the very end of her long life she preserved a very clear memory
of the people and events of the village in the old days early in the
last century. They say, too, that in recalling the far past, the old
people and scenes would present themselves so vividly to her mind that
she would speak of them as of recent things, and would say to some one
fifty years younger than herself, "Can't you remember it? Surely you
haven't forgotten it when 'twas the talk of the village!"

It is a common illusion of the very aged, and I had an amusing instance
of it in my old Hindon friend when he gave me his first impressions of
Bath as he saw it about the year 1835. What astonished him most were the
sedan-chairs, for he had never even heard of such a conveyance, but here
in this city of wonders you met them in every street. Then he added,
"But you've been to Bath and of course you've seen them, and know all
about it."

About firewood-gathering by the poor in woods and forests, my old friend
of Fonthill Bishop says that the people of the villages adjacent to the
Fonthill and Great Ridge Woods were allowed to take as much dead wood as
they wanted from those places. She was accustomed to go to the Great
Ridge Wood, which was even wilder and more like a natural forest in
those days than it is now. It was fully two miles from her village, a
longish distance to carry a heavy load, and it was her custom after
getting the wood out to bind it firmly in a large barrel-shaped bundle
or faggot, as in that way she could roll it down the smooth steep slopes
of the down and so get her burden home without so much groaning and
sweating. The great wood was then full of hazel-trees, and produced such
an abundance of nuts that from mid-July to September people flocked to
it for the nutting from all the country round, coming even from Bath and
Bristol to load their carts with nuts in sacks for the market. Later,
when the wood began to be more strictly preserved for sporting purposes,
the rabbits were allowed to increase excessively, and during the hard
winters they attacked the hazel-trees, gnawing off the bark, until this
most useful and profitable wood the forest produced--the scrubby oaks
having little value--was well-nigh extirpated. By and by pheasants as
well as rabbits were strictly preserved, and the firewood-gatherers were
excluded altogether. At present you find dead wood lying about all over
the place, abundantly as in any primitive forest, where trees die of old
age or disease, or are blown down or broken off by the winds and are
left to rot on the ground, overgrown with ivy and brambles. But of all
this dead wood not a stick to boil a kettle may be taken by the
neighbouring poor lest the pheasants should be disturbed or a rabbit be
picked up.

Some more of the old dame's recollections will be given in the next
chapter, showing what the condition of the people was in this district
about the year 1830, when the poor farm-labourers were driven by hunger
and misery to revolt against their masters--the farmers who were
everywhere breaking up the downs with the plough to sow more and still
more corn, who were growing very fat and paying higher and higher rents
to their fat landlords, while the wretched men that drove the plough had
hardly enough to satisfy their hunger.



CHAPTER XVII

OLD WILTSHIRE DAYS--_CONTINUED_

  An old Wiltshire woman's memories--Her home--Work on a farm--A little
  bird-scarer--Housekeeping--The agricultural labourers' rising--Villagers
  out of work--Relief work--A game of ball with barley
  bannocks--Sheep-stealing--A poor man hanged--Temptations to steal--A
  sheep-stealing shepherd--A sheep-stealing farmer--Story of Ebenezer
  Garlick--A sheep-stealer at Chitterne--The law and the judges--A "human
  devil" in a black cap--How the revolting labourers were punished--A last
  scene at Salisbury Court House--Inquest on a murdered man--Policy of the
  farmers


The story of her early life told by my old friend Joan, aged
ninety-four, will serve to give some idea of the extreme poverty and
hard suffering life of the agricultural labourers during the thirties of
last century, at a time when farmers were exceedingly prosperous and
landlords drawing high rents.

She was three years old when her mother died, after the birth of a boy,
the last of eleven children. There was a dame's school in their little
village of Fonthill Abbey, but the poverty of the family would have made
it impossible for Joan to attend had it not been for an unselfish person
residing there, a Mr. King, who was anxious that every child should be
taught its letters. He paid for little Joan's schooling from the age of
four to eight; and now, in the evening of her life, when she sits by the
fire with her book, she blesses the memory of the man, dead these
seventy or eighty years, who made this solace possible for her.

After the age of eight there could be no more school, for now all the
older children had gone out into the world to make their own poor
living, the boys to work on distant farms, the girls to service or to be
wives, and Joan was wanted at home to keep house for her father, to do
the washing, mending, cleaning, cooking, and to be mother to her little
brother as well.

Her father was a ploughman, at seven shillings a week; but when Joan was
ten he met with a dreadful accident when ploughing with a couple of
young or intractable oxen; in trying to stop them he got entangled in
the ropes and one of his legs badly broken by the plough. As a result it
was six months before he could leave his cottage. The overseer of the
parish, a prosperous farmer who had a large farm a couple of miles away,
came to inquire into the matter and see what was to be done. His
decision was that the man would receive three shillings a week until
able to start work again, and as that would just serve to keep him, the
children must go out to work. Meanwhile, one of the married daughters
had come to look after her father in the cottage, and that set the
little ones free.

The overseer said he would give them work on his farm and pay them a few
pence apiece and give them their meals; so to his farm they went,
returning each evening home. That was her first place, and from that
time on she was a toiler, indoors and out, but mainly in the fields,
till she was past eighty-five;--seventy-five years of hard work--then
less and less as her wonderful strength diminished, and her sons and
daughters were getting grey, until now at the age of ninety-four she
does very little--practically nothing.

In that first place she had a very hard master in the farmer and
overseer. He was known in all the neighbourhood as "Devil Turner," and
even at that time, when farmers had their men under their heel as it
were, he was noted for his savage tyrannical disposition; also for a
curious sardonic humour, which displayed itself in the forms of
punishment he inflicted on the workmen who had the ill-luck to offend
him. The man had to take the punishment, however painful or disgraceful,
without a murmur, or go and starve. Every morning thereafter Joan and
her little brother, aged seven, had to be up in time to get to the farm
at five o'clock in the morning, and if it was raining or snowing or
bitterly cold, so much the worse for them, but they had to be there, for
Devil Turner's bad temper was harder to bear than bad weather. Joan was
a girl of all work, in and out of doors, and, in severe weather, when
there was nothing else for her to do, she would be sent into the fields
to gather flints, the coldest of all tasks for her little hands.

"But what could your little brother, a child of seven, do in such a
place?" I asked.

She laughed when she told me of her little brother's very first day at
the farm. The farmer was, for a devil, considerate, and gave him
something very light for a beginning, which was to scare the birds from
the ricks. "And if they will come back you must catch them," he said,
and left the little fellow to obey the difficult command as he could.
The birds that worried him most were the fowls, for however often he
hunted them away they would come back again. Eventually, he found some
string, with which he made some little loops fastened to sticks, and
these he arranged on a spot of ground he had cleared, scattering a few
grains of corn on it to attract the "birds." By this means he succeeded
in capturing three of the robbers, and when the farmer came round at
noon to see how he was getting on, the little fellow showed him his
captures. "These are not birds," said the farmer, "they are fowls, and
don't you trouble yourself any more about them, but keep your eye on the
sparrows and little birds and rooks and jackdaws that come to pull the
straws out."

That was how he started; then from the ricks to bird-scaring in the
fields and to other tasks suited to one of his age, not without much
suffering and many tears. The worst experience was the punishment of
standing motionless for long hours at a time on a chair placed out in
the yard, full in sight of the windows of the house, so that he could be
seen by the inmates; the hardest, the cruellest task that could be
imposed on him would come as a relief after this. Joan suffered no
punishment of that kind; she was very anxious to please her master and
worked hard; but she was an intelligent and spirited child, and as the
sole result of her best efforts was that more and more work was put on
her, she revolted against such injustice, and eventually, tried beyond
endurance, she ran away home and refused to go back to the farm any
more. She found some work in the village; for now her sister had to go
back to her husband, and Joan had to take her place and look after her
father and the house as well as earn something to supplement the three
shillings a week they had to live on.

After about nine months her father was up and out again and went back to
the plough; for just then a great deal of down was being broken up and
brought under cultivation on account of the high price of wheat and good
ploughmen were in request. He was lame, the injured limb being now
considerably shorter than the other, and when ploughing he could only
manage to keep on his legs by walking with the longer one in the furrow
and the other on the higher ground. But after struggling on for some
months in this way, suffering much pain and his strength declining, he
met with a fresh accident and was laid up once more in his cottage, and
from that time until his death he did no more farm work. Joan and her
little brother lived or slept at home and worked to keep themselves and
him.

Now in this, her own little story, and in her account of the condition
of the people at that time; also in the histories of other old men and
women whose memories go back as far as hers, supplemented by a little
reading in the newspapers of that day, I can understand how it came
about that these poor labourers, poor, spiritless slaves as they had
been made by long years of extremest poverty and systematic oppression,
rose at last against their hard masters and smashed the agricultural
machines, and burnt ricks and broke into houses to destroy and plunder
their contents. It was a desperate, a mad adventure--these gatherings of
half-starved yokels, armed with sticks and axes, and they were quickly
put down and punished in a way that even William the Bastard would not
have considered as too lenient. But oppression had made them mad; the
introduction of thrashing machines was but the last straw, the
culminating act of the hideous system followed by landlords and their
tenants--the former to get the highest possible rent for his land, the
other to get his labour at the lowest possible rate. It was a compact
between landlord and tenant aimed against the labourer. It was not
merely the fact that the wages of a strong man were only seven shillings
a week at the outside, a sum barely sufficient to keep him and his
family from starvation and rags (as a fact it was not enough, and but
for a little poaching and stealing he could not have lived), but it was
customary, especially on the small farms, to get rid of the men after
the harvest and leave them to exist the best way they could during the
bitter winter months. Thus every village, as a rule, had its dozen or
twenty or more men thrown out each year--good steady men, with families
dependent on them; and besides these there were the aged and weaklings
and the lads who had not yet got a place. The misery of these
out-of-work labourers was extreme. They would go to the woods and gather
faggots of dead wood, which they would try to sell in the villages; but
there were few who could afford to buy of them; and at night they would
skulk about the fields to rob a swede or two to satisfy the cravings of
hunger.

In some parishes the farmer overseers were allowed to give relief
work--out of the rates, it goes without saying--to these unemployed men
of the village who had been discharged in October or November and would
be wanted again when the winter was over. They would be put to
flint-gathering in the fields, their wages being four shillings a week.
Some of the very old people of Winterbourne Bishop, when speaking of the
principal food of the labourers at that time, the barley bannock and its
exceeding toughness, gave me an amusing account of a game of balls
invented by the flint-gatherers, just for the sake of a little fun
during their long weary day in the fields, especially in cold, frosty
weather. The men would take their dinners with them, consisting of a few
barley balls or cakes, in their coat pockets, and at noon they would
gather at one spot to enjoy their meal, and seat themselves on the
ground in a very wide circle, the men about ten yards apart, then each
one would produce his bannocks and start throwing, aiming at some other
man's face; there were hits and misses and great excitement and hilarity
for twenty or thirty minutes, after which the earth and gravel adhering
to the balls would be wiped off, and they would set themselves to the
hard task of masticating and swallowing the heavy stuff.

At sunset they would go home to a supper of more barley bannocks, washed
down with hot water flavoured with some aromatic herb or weed, and then
straight to bed to get warm, for there was little firing.

It was not strange that sheep-stealing was one of the commonest offences
against the law at that time, in spite of the dreadful penalty. Hunger
made the people reckless. My old friend Joan, and other old persons,
have said to me that it appeared in those days that the men were
strangely indifferent and did not seem to care whether they were hanged
or not. It is true they did not hang very many of them--the judge, as a
rule, after putting on his black cap and ordering them to the gallows,
would send in a recommendation to mercy for most of them; but the mercy
of that time was like that of the wicked, exceedingly cruel. Instead of
swinging, it was transportation for life, or for fourteen, and, at the
very least, seven years. Those who have read Clarke's terrible book "For
the Term of His Natural Life" know (in a way) what these poor Wiltshire
labourers, who in most cases were never more heard of by their wives and
children, were sent to endure in Australia and Tasmania.

And some were hanged; my friend Joan named some people she knows in the
neighbourhood who are the grandchildren of a young man with a wife and
family of small children who was hanged at Salisbury. She had a vivid
recollection of this case because it had seemed so hard, the man having
been maddened by want when he took a sheep; also because when he was
hanged his poor young wife travelled to the place of slaughter to beg
for his body, and had it brought home and buried decently in the village
churchyard.

How great the temptation to steal sheep must have been, anyone may know
now by merely walking about among the fields in this part of the country
to see how the sheep are folded and left by night unguarded, often at
long distances from the village, in distant fields and on the downs.
Even in the worst times it was never customary, never thought necessary,
to guard the flock by night. Many cases could be given to show how easy
it was to steal sheep. One quite recent, about twenty years ago, is of a
shepherd who was frequently sent with sheep to the fairs, and who on his
way to Wilton fair with a flock one night turned aside to open a fold
and let out nineteen sheep. On arriving at the fair he took out the
stolen sheep and sold them to a butcher of his acquaintance who sent
them up to London. But he had taken too many from one flock; they were
quickly missed, and by some lucky chance it was found out and the
shepherd arrested. He was sentenced to eight months' hard labour, and it
came out during the trial that this poor shepherd, whose wages were
fourteen shillings a week, had a sum of L400 to his credit in a
Salisbury bank!

Another case which dates far back is that of a farmer named Day, who
employed a shepherd or drover to take sheep to the fairs and markets and
steal sheep for him on the way. It is said that he went on at this game
for years before it was discovered. Eventually master and man quarrelled
and the drover gave information, whereupon Day was arrested and lodged
in Fisherton Jail at Salisbury. Later he was sent to take his trial at
Devizes, on horseback, accompanied by two constables. At the "Druid's
Head," a public-house on the way, the three travellers alighted for
refreshments, and there Day succeeded in giving them the slip, and
jumping on a fast horse, standing ready saddled for him, made his
escape. Farmer Day never returned to the Plain and was never heard of
again.

There is an element of humour in some of the sheep-stealing stories of
the old days. At one village where I often stayed, I heard about a
certain Ebenezer Garlick, who was commonly called, in allusion no doubt
to his surname, "Sweet Vi'lets." He was a sober, hard-working man, an
example to most, but there was this against him, that he cherished a
very close friendship with a poor, disreputable, drunken loafer
nicknamed "Flittermouse," who spent most of his time hanging about the
old coaching inn at the place for the sake of tips. Sweet Vi'lets was
always giving coppers and sixpences to this man, but one day they fell
out when Flittermouse begged for a shilling. He must, he said, have a
shilling, he couldn't do with less, and when the other refused he
followed him, demanding the money with abusive words, to everybody's
astonishment. Finally Sweet Vi'lets turned on him and told him to go to
the devil. Flittermouse in a rage went straight to the constable and
denounced his patron as a sheep-stealer. He, Flittermouse, had been his
servant and helper, and on the very last occasion of stealing a sheep he
had got rid of the skin and offal by throwing them down an old disused
well at the top of the village street. To the well the constable went
with ropes and hooks, and succeeded in fishing up the remains described,
and he thereupon arrested Garlick and took him before a magistrate, who
committed him for trial. Flittermouse was the only witness for the
prosecution, and the judge in his summing up said that, taking into
consideration Garlick's known character in the village as a sober,
diligent, honest man, it would be a little too much to hang him on the
unsupported testimony of a creature like Flittermouse, who was half fool
and half scoundrel. The jury, pleased and very much surprised at being
directed to let a man off, obediently returned a verdict of Not Guilty,
and Sweet Vi'lets returned from Salisbury triumphant, to be
congratulated on his escape by all the villagers, who, however, slyly
winked and smiled at one another.

Of sheep-stealing stories I will relate one more--a case which never
came into court and was never discovered. It was related to me by a
middle-aged man, a shepherd of Warminster, who had it from his father, a
shepherd of Chitterne, one of the lonely, isolated villages on Salisbury
Plain, between the Avon and the Wylye. His father had it from the person
who committed the crime and was anxious to tell it to some one, and knew
that the shepherd was his true friend, a silent, safe man. He was a
farm-labourer, named Shergold--one of the South Wiltshire surnames very
common in the early part of last century, which now appear to be dying
out--described as a very big, powerful man, full of life and energy. He
had a wife and several young children to keep, and the time was near
mid-winter; Shergold was out of work, having been discharged from the
farm at the end of the harvest; it was an exceptionally cold season and
there was no food and no firing in the house.

One evening in late December a drover arrived at Chitterne with a flock
of sheep which he was driving to Tilshead, another downland village
several miles away. He was anxious to get to Tilshead that night and
wanted a man to help him. Shergold was on the spot and undertook to go
with him for the sum of fourpence. They set out when it was getting
dark; the sheep were put on the road, the drover going before the flock
and Shergold following at the tail. It was a cold, cloudy night,
threatening snow, and so dark that he could hardly distinguish the dim
forms of even the hindmost sheep, and by and by the temptation to steal
one assailed him. For how easy it would be for him to do it! With his
tremendous strength he could kill and hide a sheep very quickly without
making any sound whatever to alarm the drover. He was very far ahead;
Shergold could judge the distance by the sound of his voice when he
uttered a call or shout from time to time, and by the barking of the
dog, as he flew up and down, first on one side of the road, then on the
other, to keep the flock well on it. And he thought of what a sheep
would be to him and to his hungry ones at home until the temptation was
too strong, and suddenly lifting his big, heavy stick he brought it down
with such force on the head of a sheep as to drop it with its skull
crushed, dead as a stone. Hastily picking it up he ran a few yards away,
and placed it among the furze-bushes, intending to take it home on his
way back, and then returned to the flock.

They arrived at Tilshead in the small hours, and after receiving his
fourpence he started for home, walking rapidly and then running to be in
time, but when he got back to where the sheep was lying the dawn was
coming, and he knew that before he could get to Chitterne with that
heavy burden on his back people would be getting up in the village and
he would perhaps be seen. The only thing to do was to hide the sheep and
return for it on the following night. Accordingly he carried it away a
couple of hundred yards to a pit or small hollow in the down full of
bramble and furze-bushes, and here he concealed it, covering it with a
mass of dead bracken and herbage, and left it. That afternoon the
long-threatening snow began to fall, and with snow on the ground he
dared not go to recover his sheep, since his footprints would betray
him; he must wait once more for the snow to melt. But the snow fell all
night, and what must his feelings have been when he looked at it still
falling in the morning and knew that he could have gone for the sheep
with safety, since all traces would have been quickly obliterated!

Once more there was nothing to do but wait patiently for the snow to
cease falling and for the thaw. But how intolerable it was; for the
weather continued bitterly cold for many days, and the whole country was
white. During those hungry days even that poor comfort of sleeping or
dozing away the time was denied him, for the danger of discovery was
ever present to his mind, and Shergold was not one of the callous men
who had become indifferent to their fate; it was his first crime, and he
loved his own life and his wife and children, crying to him for food.
And the food for them was lying there on the down, close by, and he
could not get it! Roast mutton, boiled mutton--mutton in a dozen
delicious forms--the thought of it was as distressing, as maddening, as
that of the peril he was in.

It was a full fortnight before the wished thaw came; then with fear and
trembling he went for his sheep, only to find that it had been pulled to
pieces and the flesh devoured by dogs and foxes!

From these memories of the old villagers I turn to the newspapers of the
day to make a few citations.

The law as it was did not distinguish between a case of the kind just
related, of the starving, sorely tempted Shergold, and that of the
systematic thief: sheep-stealing was a capital offence and the man must
hang, unless recommended to mercy, and we know what was meant by "mercy"
in those days. That so barbarous a law existed within memory of people
to be found living in most villages appears almost incredible to us; but
despite the recommendations to "mercy" usual in a large majority of
cases, the law of that time was not more horrible than the temper of the
men who administered it. There are good and bad among all, and in all
professions, but there is also a black spot in most, possibly in all
hearts, which may be developed to almost any extent, and change the
justest, wisest, most moral men into "human devils"--the phrase invented
by Canon Wilberforce in another connexion. In reading the old reports
and the expressions used by the judges in their summings up and
sentences, it is impossible not to believe that the awful power they
possessed, and its constant exercise, had not only produced the
inevitable hardening effect, but had made them cruel in the true sense
of the word. Their pleasure in passing dreadful sentences was very
thinly disguised, indeed, by certain lofty conventional phrases as to
the necessity of upholding the law, morality, and religion; they were,
indeed, as familiar with the name of the Deity as any ranter in a
conventicle, and the "enormity of the crime" was an expression as
constantly used in the case of the theft of a loaf of bread, or of an
old coat left hanging on a hedge, by some ill-clad, half-starved wretch,
as in cases of burglary, arson, rape, and murder.

It is surprising to find how very few the real crimes were in those
days, despite the misery of the people; that nearly all the "crimes" for
which men were sentenced to the gallows and to transportation for life,
or for long terms, were offences which would now be sufficiently
punished by a few weeks', or even a few days', imprisonment. Thus in
April 1825, I note that Mr. Justice Park commented on the heavy
appearance of the calendar. It was not so much the number (170) of the
offenders that excited his concern as it was the nature of the crimes
with which they were charged. The worst crime in this instance was
sheep-stealing!

Again, this same Mr. Justice Park, at the Spring Assizes at Salisbury
1827, said that though the calendar was a heavy one, he was happy to
find on looking at the depositions of the principal cases, that they
were not of a very serious character. Nevertheless he passed sentence of
death on twenty-eight persons, among them being one for stealing half a
crown!

Of the twenty-eight all but three were eventually reprieved, one of the
fated three being a youth of nineteen, who was charged with stealing a
mare and pleaded guilty in spite of a warning from the judge not to do
so. This irritated the great man who had the power of life and death in
his hand. In passing sentence the judge "expatiated on the prevalence of
the crime of horse-stealing and the necessity of making an example. The
enormity of Read's crime rendered him a proper example, and he would
therefore hold out no hope of mercy towards him." As to the plea of
guilty, he remarked that nowadays too many persons pleaded guilty,
deluded with the hope that it would be taken into consideration and they
would escape the severer penalty. He was determined to put a stop to
that sort of thing; if Read had not pleaded guilty no doubt some
extenuating circumstance would have come up during the trial and he
would have saved his life.

There, if ever, spoke the "human devil" in a black cap!

I find another case of a sentence of transportation for life on a youth
of eighteen, named Edward Baker, for stealing a pocket-handkerchief. Had
he pleaded guilty it might have been worse for him.

At the Salisbury Spring Assizes, 1830, Mr. Justice Gazalee, addressing
the grand jury, said that none of the crimes appeared to be marked with
circumstances of great moral turpitude. The prisoners numbered one
hundred and thirty; he passed sentences of death on twenty-nine, life
transportations on five, fourteen years on five, seven years on eleven,
and various terms of hard labour on the others.

The severity of the magistrates at the quarter-sessions was equally
revolting. I notice in one case, where the leading magistrate on the
bench was a great local magnate, an M.P. for Salisbury, etc., a poor
fellow with the unfortunate name of Moses Snook was charged with
stealing a plank ten feet long, the property of the aforesaid local
magnate, M.P., etc., and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation.
Sentenced by the man who owned the plank, worth perhaps a shilling or
two!

When such was the law of the land and the temper of those who
administered it--judges and magistrates or landlords--what must the
misery of the people have been to cause them to rise in revolt against
their masters! They did nothing outrageous even in the height of their
frenzy; they smashed the thrashing machines, burnt some ricks, while the
maddest of them broke into a few houses and destroyed their contents;
but they injured no man; yet they knew what they were facing--the
gallows or transportation to the penal settlements ready for their
reception at the Antipodes. It is a pity that the history of this rising
of the agricultural labourer, the most patient and submissive of men,
has never been written. Nothing, in fact, has ever been said of it
except from the point of view of landowners and farmers, but there is
ample material for a truer and a moving narrative, not only in the brief
reports in the papers of the time, but also in the memories of many
persons still living, and of their children and children's children,
preserved in many a cottage throughout the south of England.

Hopeless as the revolt was and quickly suppressed, it had served to
alarm the landlords and their tenants, and taken in conjunction with
other outbreaks, notably at Bristol, it produced a sense of anxiety in
the mind of the country generally. The feeling found a somewhat amusing
expression in the House of Commons, in a motion of Mr. Perceval, on 14th
February 1831. This was to move an address to His Majesty to appoint a
day for a general fast throughout the United Kingdom. He said that "the
state of the country called for a measure like this--that it was a state
of political and religious disorganization--that the elements of the
Constitution were being hourly loosened--that in this land there was no
attachment, no control, no humility of spirit, no mutual confidence
between the poor man and the rich, the employer and the employed; but
fear and mistrust and aversion, where, in the time of our fathers, there
was nothing but brotherly love and rejoicing before the Lord."

The House was cynical and smilingly put the matter by, but the anxiety
was manifested plainly enough in the treatment meted out to the poor men
who had been arrested and were tried before the Special Commissions sent
down to Salisbury, Winchester, and other towns. No doubt it was a
pleasant time for the judges; at Salisbury thirty-four poor fellows were
sentenced to death; thirty-three to be transported for life, ten for
fourteen years, and so on.

And here is one last little scene about which the reports in the
newspapers of the time say nothing, but which I have from one who
witnessed and clearly remembers it, a woman of ninety-five, whose whole
life has been passed at a village within sound of the Salisbury
Cathedral bells.

It was when the trial was ended, when those who were found guilty and
had been sentenced were brought out of the court-house to be taken back
to prison, and from all over the Plain and from all parts of Wiltshire
their womenfolk had come to learn their fate, and were gathered, a pale,
anxious, weeping crowd, outside the gates. The sentenced men came out
looking eagerly at the people until they recognized their own and cried
out to them to be of good cheer. "'Tis hanging for me," one would say,
"but there'll perhaps be a recommendation to mercy, so don't you fret
till you know." Then another: "Don't go on so, old mother, 'tis only for
life I'm sent." And yet another: "Don't you cry, old girl, 'tis only
fourteen years I've got, and maybe I'll live to see you all again." And
so on, as they filed out past their weeping women on their way to
Fisherton Jail, to be taken thence to the transports in Portsmouth and
Plymouth harbours waiting to convey their living freights to that hell
on earth so far from home. Not criminals but good, brave men were
these!--Wiltshiremen of that strong, enduring, patient class, who not
only as labourers on the land but on many a hard-fought field in many
parts of the world from of old down to our war of a few years ago in
Africa, have shown the stuff that was in them!

But, alas! for the poor women who were left--for the old mother who
could never hope to see her boy again, and for the wife and her children
who waited and hoped against hope through long toiling years,

  And dreamed and started as they slept
  For joy that he was come,

but waking saw his face no more. Very few, so far as I can make out, not
more than one in five or six, ever returned.

This, it may be said, was only what they might have expected, the law
being what it was--just the ordinary thing. The hideous part of the
business was that, as an effect of the alarm created in the minds of
those who feared injury to their property and loss of power to oppress
the poor labourers, there was money in plenty subscribed to hire
witnesses for the prosecution. It was necessary to strike terror into
the people. The smell of blood-money brought out a number of scoundrels
who for a few pounds were only too ready to swear away the life of any
man, and it was notorious that numbers of poor fellows were condemned in
this way.

One incident as to this point may be given in conclusion of this chapter
about old unhappy things. It relates not to one of those who were
sentenced to the gallows or to transportation, but to an inquest and the
treatment of the dead.

I have spoken in the last chapter of the mob that visited Hindon,
Fonthill, and other villages. They ended their round at Pytt House, near
Tisbury, where they broke up the machinery. On that occasion a body of
yeomanry came on the scene, but arrived only after the mob had
accomplished its purpose of breaking up the thrashing machines. When the
troops appeared the "rioters," as they were called, made off into the
woods and escaped; but before they fled one of them had met his death. A
number of persons from the farms and villages around had gathered at the
spot and were looking on, when one, a farmer from the neighbouring
village of Chilmark, snatched a gun from a gamekeeper's hand and shot
one of the rioters, killing him dead. On 27th January 1831 an inquest
was held on the body, and some one was found to swear that the man had
been shot by one of the yeomanry, although it was known to everybody
that, when the man was shot, the troop had not yet arrived on the scene.
The man, this witness stated, had attacked, or threatened, one of the
soldiers with his stick, and had been shot. This was sufficient for the
coroner; he instructed his jury to bring in a verdict of "Justifiable
homicide," which they obediently did. "This verdict," the coroner then
said, "entailed the same consequences as an act of _felo-de-se_,
and he felt that he could not give a warrant for the burial of the
deceased. However painful the duty devolved on him in thus adding to the
sorrows of the surviving relations, the law appeared too clear to him to
admit of an alternative."

The coroner was just as eager as the judges to exhibit his zeal for the
gentry, who were being injured in their interests by these disturbances;
and though he could not hang anybody, being only a coroner, he could at
any rate kick the one corpse brought before him. Doubtless the
"surviving relations," for whose sorrows he had expressed sympathy,
carried the poor murdered man off by night to hide him somewhere in the
earth.

After the law had been thus vindicated and all the business done with,
even to the corpse-kicking by the coroner, the farmers were still
anxious, and began to show it by holding meetings and discussions on the
condition of the labourers. Everybody said that the men had been very
properly punished; but at the same time it was admitted that they had
some reason for their discontent, that, with bread so dear, it was
hardly possible for a man with a family to support himself on seven
shillings a week, and it was generally agreed to raise the wages one
shilling. But by and by when the anxiety had quite died out, when it was
found that the men were more submissive than they had ever been, the
lesson they had received having sunk deep into their minds, they cut off
the extra shilling and wages were what they had been--seven shillings a
week for a hard-working seasoned labourer, with a family to keep, and
from four to six shillings for young unmarried men and for women, even
for those who did as much work in the field as any man.

But there were no more risings.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE SHEPHERD'S RETURN

  Yarnborough Castle sheep-fair--Caleb leaves Doveton and goes into
  Dorset--A land of strange happenings--He is home-sick and returns to
  Winterbourne Bishop--Joseph, his brother, leaves home--His meeting with
  Caleb's old master--Settles in Dorset and is joined by his sister
  Hannah--They marry and have children--I go to look for them--Joseph
  Bawcombe in extreme old age--Hannah in decline


Caleb's shepherding period in Doveton came to a somewhat sudden
conclusion. It was nearing the end of August and he was beginning to
think about the sheep which would have to be taken to the "Castle"
sheep-fair on 5th October, and it appeared strange to him that his
master had so far said nothing to him on the subject. By "Castle" he
meant Yarnborough Castle, the name of a vast prehistoric earthwork on
one of the high downs between Warminster and Amesbury. There is no
village there and no house near; it is nothing but an immense circular
wall and trench, inside of which the fair is held. It was formerly one
of the most important sheep-fairs in the country, but for the last two
or three decades has been falling off and is now of little account. When
Bawcombe was shepherd at Doveton it was still great, and when he first
went there as Mr. Ellerby's head-shepherd he found himself regarded as a
person of considerable importance at the Castle. Before setting out with
the sheep he asked for his master's instructions, and was told that when
he got to the ground he would be directed by the persons in charge to
the proper place. The Ellerbys, he said, had exhibited and sold their
sheep there for a period of eighty-eight years, without missing a year,
and always at the same spot. Every person visiting the fair on business
knew just where to find the Ellerbys' sheep, and, he added with pride,
they expected them to be the best sheep at the Castle.

One day Mr. Ellerby came to have a talk with his shepherd, and in reply
to a remark of the latter about the October sheep-fair he said that he
would have no sheep to send. "No sheep to send, master!" exclaimed Caleb
in amazement. Then Mr. Ellerby told him that he had taken a notion into
his head that he wanted to go abroad with his wife for a time, and that
some person had just made him so good an offer for all his sheep that he
was going to accept it, so that for the first time in eighty-eight years
there would be no sheep from Doveton Farm at the Castle fair. When he
came back he would buy again; but if he could live away from the farm,
he would probably never come back--he would sell it.

Caleb went home with a heavy heart and told his wife. It grieved her,
too, because of her feeling for Mrs. Ellerby, but in a little while she
set herself to comfort him. "Why, what's wrong about it?" she asked.
"'Twill be more 'n three months before the year's out, and master'll
pay for all the time sure, and we can go home to Bishop and bide a
little without work, and see if that father of yours has forgiven 'ee
for going away to Warminster."

So they comforted themselves, and were beginning to think with pleasure
of home when Mr. Ellerby informed his shepherd that a friend of his, a
good man though not a rich one, was anxious to take him as
head-shepherd, with good wages and a good cottage rent free. The only
drawback for the Bawcombes was that it would take them still farther
from home, for the farm was in Dorset, although quite near the Wiltshire
border.

Eventually they accepted the offer, and by the middle of September were
once more settled down in what was to them a strange land. How strange
it must have seemed to Caleb, how far removed from home and all familiar
things, when even to this day, more than forty years later, he speaks of
it as the ordinary modern man might speak of a year's residence in
Uganda, Tierra del Fuego, or the Andaman Islands! It was a foreign
country, and the ways of the people were strange to him, and it was a
land of very strange things. One of the strangest was an old ruined
church in the neighbourhood of the farm where he was shepherd. It was
roofless, more than half fallen down, and all the standing portion, with
the tower, overgrown with old ivy; the building itself stood in the
centre of a huge round earthwork and trench, with large barrows on the
ground outside the circle. Concerning this church he had a wonderful
story: its decay and ruin had come about after the great bell in the
tower had mysteriously disappeared, stolen one stormy night, it was
believed, by the Devil himself. The stolen bell, it was discovered, had
been flung into a small river at a distance of some miles from the
church, and there in summer-time, when the water was low, it could be
distinctly seen lying half buried in the mud at the bottom. But all the
king's horses and all the king's men couldn't pull it out; the Devil,
who pulled the other way, was strongest. Eventually some wise person
said that a team of white oxen would be able to pull it out, and after
much seeking the white oxen were obtained, and thick ropes were tied to
the sunken bell, and the cattle were goaded and yelled at, and tugged
and strained until the bell came up and was finally drawn right up to
the top of the steep, cliff-like bank of the stream. Then one of the
teamsters shouted in triumph, "Now we've got out the bell, in spite of
all the devils in hell," and no sooner had he spoken the bold words than
the ropes parted, and back tumbled the bell to its old place at the
bottom of the river, where it remains to this day. Caleb had once met a
man in those parts who assured him that he had seen the bell with his
own eyes, lying nearly buried in mud at the bottom of the stream.

The legend is not in the history of Dorset; a much more prosaic account
of the disappearance of the bell is there given, in which the Devil took
no part unless he was at the back of the bad men who were concerned in
the business. But in this strange, remote country, outside of
"Wiltsheer," Bawcombe was in a region where anything might have
happened, where the very soil and pasture were unlike that of his native
country, and the mud adhered to his boots in a most unaccountable way.
It was almost uncanny. Doubtless he was home-sick, for a month or two
before the end of the year he asked his master to look out for another
shepherd.

This was a great disappointment to the farmer: he had gone a distance
from home to secure a good shepherd, and had hoped to keep him
permanently, and now after a single year he was going to lose him. What
did the shepherd want? He would do anything to please him, and begged
him to stay another year. But no, his mind was set on going back to his
own native village and to his own people. And so when his long year was
ended he took his crook and set out over the hills and valleys, followed
by a cart containing his "sticks" and wife and children. And at home
with his old parents and his people he was happy once more; in a short
time he found a place as head-shepherd, with a cottage in the village,
and followed his flock on the old familiar down, and everything again
was as it had been from the beginning of life and as he desired it to be
even to the end.

His return resulted incidentally in other changes and migrations in the
Bawcombe family. His elder brother Joseph, unmarried still although his
senior by about eight years, had not got on well at home. He was a
person of a peculiar disposition, so silent with so fixed and unsmiling
an expression, that he gave the idea of a stolid, thick-skinned man, but
at bottom he was of a sensitive nature, and feeling that his master did
not treat him properly, he gave up his place and was for a long time
without one. He was singularly attentive to all that fell from Caleb
about his wide wanderings and strange experiences, especially in the
distant Dorset country; and at length, about a year after his brother's
return, he announced his intention of going away from his native place
for good to seek his fortune in some distant place where his services
would perhaps be better appreciated. When asked where he intended going,
he answered that he was going to look for a place in that part of Dorset
where Caleb had been shepherd for a year and had been so highly thought
of.

Now Joseph, being a single man, had no "sticks"; all his possessions
went into a bundle, which he carried tied to his crook, and with his
sheep-dog following at his heels he set forth early one morning on the
most important adventure of his life. Then occurred an instance of what
we call a coincidence, but which the shepherd of the downs, nursed in
the old beliefs and traditions, prefers to regard as an act of
providence.

About noon he was trudging along in the turnpike road when he was met by
a farmer driving in a trap, who pulled up to speak to him and asked him
if he could say how far it was to Winterbourne Bishop. Joseph replied
that it was about fourteen miles--he had left Bishop that morning.

Then the farmer asked him if he knew a man there named Caleb Bawcombe,
and if he had a place as shepherd there, as he was now on his way to
look for him and to try and persuade him to go back to Dorset, where he
had been his head-shepherd for the space of a year.

Joseph said that Caleb had a place as head-shepherd on a farm at Bishop,
that he was satisfied with it, and was, moreover, one that preferred to
bide in his native place.

The farmer was disappointed, and the other added, "Maybe you've heard
Caleb speak of his elder brother Joseph--I be he."

"What!" exclaimed the farmer. "You're Caleb's brother! Where be going
then?--to a new place?"

"I've got no place; I be going to look for a place in Dorsetsheer."

"'Tis strange to hear you say that," exclaimed the farmer. He was going,
he said, to see Caleb, and if he would not or could not go back to
Dorset himself to ask him to recommend some man of the village to him;
for he was tired of the ways of the shepherds of his own part of the
country, and his heart was set on getting a man from Caleb's village,
where shepherds understood sheep and knew their work. "Now look here,
shepherd," he continued, "if you'll engage yourself to me for a year
I'll go no farther, but take you right back with me in the trap."

The shepherd was very glad to accept the offer; he devoutly believed
that in making it the farmer was but acting in accordance with the will
of a Power that was mindful of man and kept watch on him, even on His
poor servant Joseph, who had left his home and people to be a stranger
in a strange land.

So well did servant and master agree that Joseph never had occasion to
look for another place; when his master died an old man, his son
succeeded him as tenant of the farm, and he continued with the son until
he was past work. Before his first year was out, his younger sister,
Hannah, came to live with him and keep house, and eventually they both
got married, Joseph to a young woman of the place, and Hannah to a small
working farmer whose farm was about a mile from the village. Children
were born to both, and in time grew up, Joseph's sons following their
father's vocation, while Hannah's were brought up to work on the farm.
And some of them, too, got married in time and had children of their
own.

These are the main incidents in the lives of Joseph and Hannah, related
to me at different times by their brother; he had followed their
fortunes from a distance, sometimes getting a message, or hearing of
them incidentally, but he did not see them. Joseph never returned to his
native village, and the visits of Hannah to her old home had been few
and had long ceased. But he cherished a deep enduring affection for
both; he was always anxiously waiting and hoping for tidings of them,
for Joseph was now a feeble old man living with one of his sons, and
Hannah, long a widow, was in declining health, but still kept the farm,
assisted by one of her sons and two unmarried daughters. Though he had
not heard for a long time it never occurred to him to write, nor did
they ever write to him.

Then, when I was staying at Winterbourne Bishop and had the intention of
shortly paying a visit to Caleb, it occurred to me one day to go into
Dorset and look for these absent ones, so as to be able to give him an
account of their state. It was not a long journey, and arrived at the
village I soon found a son of Joseph, a fine-looking man, who took me to
his cottage, where his wife led me into the old shepherd's room. I found
him very aged in appearance, with a grey face and sunken cheeks, lying
on his bed and breathing with difficulty; but when I spoke to him of
Caleb a light of joy came into his eyes, and he raised himself on his
pillows, and questioned me eagerly about his brother's state and family,
and begged me to assure Caleb that he was still quite well, although too
feeble to get about much, and that his children were taking good care of
him.

From the old brother I went on to seek the young sister--there was a
difference of more than twenty years in their respective ages--and found
her at dinner in the large old farm-house kitchen. At all events she was
presiding, the others present being her son, their hired labourer, the
farm boy, and two unmarried daughters. She herself tasted no food. I
joined them at their meal, and it gladdened and saddened me at the same
time to be with this woman, for she was Caleb's sister, and was
attractive in herself, looking strangely young for her age, with
beautiful dark, soft eyes and but few white threads in her abundant
black hair. The attraction was also in her voice and speech and manner;
but, alas! there was that in her face which was painful to witness--the
signs of long suffering, of nights that bring no refreshment, an
expression in the eyes of one that is looking anxiously out into the dim
distance--a vast unbounded prospect, but with clouds and darkness
resting on it.

It was not without a feeling of heaviness at the heart that I said
good-bye to her; nor was I surprised when, less than a year later, Caleb
received news of her death.



CHAPTER XIX

THE DARK PEOPLE OF THE VILLAGE

  How the materials for this book were obtained--The hedgehog-hunter--A
  gipsy taste--History of a dark-skinned family--Hedgehog eaters--Half-bred
  and true gipsies--Perfect health--Eating carrion--Mysterious knowledge
  and faculties--The three dark Wiltshire types--Story of another dark
  man of the village--Account of Liddy--His shepherding--A happy life
  with horses--Dies of a broken heart--His daughter


I have sometimes laughed to myself when thinking how a large part of the
material composing this book was collected. It came to me in
conversations, at intervals, during several years, with the shepherd. In
his long life in his native village, a good deal of it spent on the
quiet down, he had seen many things it was or would be interesting to
hear; the things which had interested him, too, at the time, and had
fallen into oblivion, yet might be recovered. I discovered that it was
of little use to question him: the one valuable recollection he
possessed on any subject would, as a rule, not be available when wanted;
it would lie just beneath the surface so to speak, and he would pass and
repass over the ground without seeing it. He would not know that it was
there; it would be like the acorn which a jay or squirrel has hidden and
forgotten all about, which he will nevertheless recover some day if by
chance something occurs to remind him of it. The only method was to talk
about the things he knew, and when by chance he was reminded of some old
experience or some little observation or incident worth hearing, to make
a note of it, then wait patiently for something else. It was a very slow
process, but it is not unlike the one we practise always with regard to
wild nature. We are not in a hurry, but are always watchful, with eyes
and ears and mind open to what may come; it is a mental habit, and when
nothing comes we are not disappointed--the act of watching has been a
sufficient pleasure: and when something does come we take it joyfully as
if it were a gift--a valuable object picked up by chance in our walks.

When I turned into the shepherd's cottage, if it was in winter and he
was sitting by the fire, I would sit and smoke with him, and if we were
in a talking mood I would tell him where I had been and what I had heard
and seen, on the heath, in the woods, in the village, or anywhere, on
the chance of its reminding him of something worth hearing in his past
life.

One Sunday morning, in the late summer, during one of my visits to him,
I was out walking in the woods and found a man of the village, a farm
labourer, with his small boy hunting for hedgehogs. He had caught and
killed two, which the boy was carrying. He told me he was very fond of
the flesh of hedgehogs--"pigs," he called them for short; he said he
would not exchange one for a rabbit. He always spent his holidays
pig-hunting; he had no dog and didn't want one; he found them himself,
and his method was to look for the kind of place in which they were
accustomed to live--a thick mass of bramble growing at the side of an
old ditch as a rule. He would force his way into it and, moving round
and round, trample down the roots and loose earth and dead leaves with
his heavy iron-shod boots until he broke into the nest or cell of the
spiny little beast hidden away under the bush.

He was a short, broad-faced man, with a brown skin, black hair, and
intensely black eyes. Talking with the shepherd that evening I told him
of the encounter, and remarked that the man was probably a gipsy in
blood, although a labourer, living in the village and married to a woman
with blue eyes who belonged to the place.

This incident reminded him of a family, named Targett, in his native
village, consisting of four brothers and a sister. He knew them first
when he was a boy himself, but could not remember their parents. "It
seemed as if they didn't have any," he said. The four brothers were very
much alike: short, with broad faces, black eyes and hair, and brown
skins. They were good workers, but somehow they were never treated by
the farmers like the other men. They were paid less wages--as much as
two to four shillings a week less per man--and made to do things that
others would not do, and generally imposed upon. It was known to every
employer of labour in the place that they could be imposed upon; yet
they were not fools, and occasionally if their master went too far in
bullying and abusing them and compelling them to work overtime every
day, they would have sudden violent outbursts of rage and go off without
any pay at all. What became of their sister he never knew: but none of
the four brothers ever married; they lived together always, and two died
in the village, the other two going to finish their lives in the
workhouse.

One of the curious things about these brothers was that they had a
passion for eating hedgehogs. They had it from boyhood, and as boys used
to go a distance from home and spend the day hunting in hedges and
thickets. When they captured a hedgehog they would make a small fire in
some sheltered spot and roast it, and while it was roasting one of them
would go to the nearest cottage to beg for a pinch of salt, which was
generally given.

These, too, I said, must have been gipsies, at all events on one side.
Where there is a cross the gipsy strain is generally strongest, although
the children, if brought up in the community, often remain in it all
their lives; but they are never quite of it. Their love of wildness and
of eating wild flesh remains in them, and it is also probable that there
is an instability of character, a restlessness, which the small farmers
who usually employ such men know and trade on; the gipsy who takes to
farm work must not look for the same treatment as the big-framed,
white-skinned man who is as strong, enduring, and unchangeable as a
draught horse or ox, and constant as the sun itself.

The gipsy element is found in many if not most villages in the south of
England. I know one large scattered village where it appears
predominant--as dirty and disorderly-looking a place as can be imagined,
the ground round every cottage resembling a gipsy camp, but worse owing
to its greater litter of old rags and rubbish strewn about. But the
people, like all gipsies, are not so poor as they look, and most of the
cottagers keep a trap and pony with which they scour the country for
many miles around in quest of bones, rags, and bottles, and anything
else they can buy for a few pence, also anything they can "pick up" for
nothing.

This is almost the only kind of settled life which a man with a good
deal of gipsy blood in him can tolerate; it affords some scope for his
chaffering and predatory instincts and satisfies the roving passion,
which is not so strong in those of mixed blood. But it is too
respectable or humdrum a life for the true, undegenerate gipsy. One wet
evening in September last I was prowling in a copse near Shrewton,
watching the birds, when I encountered a young gipsy and recognized him
as one of a gang of about a dozen I had met several days before near
Salisbury. They were on their way, they had told me, to a village near
Shaftesbury, where they hoped to remain a week or so.

"What are you doing here?" I asked my gipsy.

He said he had been to Idmiston; he had been on his legs out in the rain
and wet to the skin since morning. He didn't mind that much as the wet
didn't hurt him and he was not tired; but he had eight miles to walk yet
over the downs to a village on the Wylye where his people were staying.

I remarked that I had thought they were staying over Shaftesbury way.

He then looked sharply at me. "Ah, yes," he said, "I remember we met you
and had some talk a fortnight ago. Yes, we went there, but they wouldn't
have us. They soon ordered us off. They advised us to settle down if we
wanted to stay anywhere. Settle down! I'd rather be dead!"

There spoke the true gipsy; and they are mostly of that mind. But what a
mind it is for human beings in this climate! It is in a year like this
of 1909, when a long cold winter and a miserable spring, with frosty
nights lasting well into June, was followed by a cold wet summer and a
wet autumn, that we can see properly what a mind and body is his--how
infinitely more perfect the correspondence between organism and
environment in his case than in ours, who have made our own conditions,
who have not only houses to live in, but a vast army of sanitary
inspectors, physicians and bacteriologists to safeguard us from that
wicked stepmother who is anxious to get rid of us before our time! In
all this miserable year, during which I have met and conversed with and
visited many scores of gipsies, I have not found one who was not in a
cheerful frame of mind, even when he was under a cloud with the police
on his track; nor one with a cold, or complaining of an ache in his
bones, or of indigestion.

The subject of gipsies catching cold connects itself just now in my mind
with that of the gipsy's sense of humour. He has that sense, and it
makes him happy when he is reposing in the bosom of his family and can
give it free vent; but the instant you appear on the scene its gracious
outward signs vanish like lightning and he is once more the sly, subtle
animal, watching you furtively, but with intensity. When you have left
him and he relaxes the humour will come back to him; for it is a humour
similar to that of some of the lower animals, especially birds of the
crow family, and of primitive people, only more highly developed, and is
concerned mainly with the delight of trickery--with getting the better
of some one and the huge enjoyment resulting from the process.

One morning, between nine and ten o'clock, during the excessively cold
spell near the end of November 1909, I paid a visit to some gipsies I
knew at their camp. The men had already gone off for the day, but some
of the women were there--a young married woman, two big girls, and six
or seven children. It was a hard frost and their sleeping accommodation
was just as in the summer-time--bundles of straw and old rugs placed in
or against little half-open canvas and rag shelters; but they all
appeared remarkably well, and some of the children were standing on the
hard frozen ground with bare feet. They assured me that they were all
well, that they hadn't caught colds and didn't mind the cold. I remarked
that I had thought the severe frost might have proved too much for some
of them in that high, unsheltered spot in the downs, and that if I had
found one of the children down with a cold I should have given it a
sixpence to comfort it. "Oh," cried the young married woman, "there's my
poor six months' old baby half dead of a cold; he's very bad, poor dear,
and I'm in great trouble about him."

"He is bad, the darling!" cried one of the big girls. "I'll soon show
you how bad he is!" and with that she dived into a pile of straw and
dragged out a huge fat sleeping baby. Holding it up in her arms she
begged me to look at it to see how bad it was; the fat baby slowly
opened its drowsy eyes and blinked at the sun, but uttered no sound, for
it was not a crying baby, but was like a great fat retriever pup pulled
out of its warm bed.

How healthy they are is hardly known even to those who make a special
study of these aliens, who, albeit aliens, are yet more native than any
Englishman in the land. It is not merely their indifference to wet and
cold; more wonderful still is their dog-like capacity of assimilating
food which to us would be deadly. This is indeed not a nice or pretty
subject, and I will give but one instance to illustrate my point; the
reader with a squeamish stomach may skip the ensuing paragraph.

An old shepherd of Chitterne relates that a family, or gang, of gipsies
used to turn up from time to time at the village; he generally saw them
at lambing-time, when one of the heads of the party with whom he was
friendly would come round to see what he had to give them. On one
occasion his gipsy friend appeared, and after some conversation on
general subjects, asked him if he had anything in his way. "No, nothing
this time," said the shepherd. "Lambing was over two or three months ago
and there's nothing left--no dead lamb. I hung up a few cauls on a beam
in the old shed, thinking they would do for the dogs, but forgot them
and they went bad and then dried up."

"They'll do very well for us," said his friend.

"No, don't you take them!" cried the shepherd in alarm; "I tell you they
went bad months ago, and 'twould kill anyone to eat such stuff. They've
dried up now, and are dry and black as old skin."

"That doesn't matter--we know how to make them all right," said the
gipsy. "Soaked with a little salt, then boiled, they'll do very well."
And off he carried them.

In reading the reports of the Assizes held at Salisbury from the late
eighteenth century down to about 1840, it surprised me to find how
rarely a gipsy appeared in that long, sad, monotonous procession of
"criminals" who passed before the man sitting with his black cap on his
head, and were sent to the gallows or to the penal settlements for
stealing sheep and fowls and ducks or anything else. Yet the gipsies
were abundant then as now, living the same wild, lawless life,
quartering the country, and hanging round the villages to spy out
everything stealable. The man caught was almost invariably the poor,
slow-minded, heavy-footed agricultural labourer; the light,
quick-moving, cunning gipsy escaped. In the "Salisbury Journal" for 1820
I find a communication on this subject, in which the writer says that a
common trick of the gipsies was to dig a deep pit at their camp in which
to bury a stolen sheep, and on this spot they would make their camp
fire. If the sheep was not missed, or if no report of its loss was made
to the police, the thieves would soon be able to dig it up and enjoy it;
but if inquiries were made they would have to wait until the affair had
blown over.

It amused me to find, from an incident related to me by a workman in a
village where I was staying lately, that this simple, ancient device is
still practised by the gipsies. My informant said that on going out at
about four o'clock one morning during the late summer he was surprised
at seeing two gipsies with a pony and cart at the spot where a party of
them had been encamped a fortnight before. He watched them, himself
unseen, and saw that they were digging a pit on the spot where they had
had their fire. They took out several objects from the ground, but he
was too far away to make out what they were. They put them in the cart
and covered them over, then filled up the pit, trampled the earth well
down, and put the ashes and burnt sticks back in the same place, after
which they got into the cart and drove off.

Of course a man, even a nomad, must have some place to conceal his
treasures or belongings in, and the gipsy has no cellar nor attic nor
secret cupboard, and as for his van it is about the last place in which
he would bestow anything of value or incriminating, for though he is
always on the move, he is, moving or sitting still, always under a
cloud. The ground is therefore the safest place to hide things in,
especially in a country like the Wiltshire Downs, though he may use
rocks and hollow trees in other districts. His habit is that of the jay
and magpie, and of the dog with a bone to put by till it is wanted.
Possibly the rural police have not yet discovered this habit of the
gipsy. Indeed, the contrast in mind and locomotive powers between the
gipsy and the village policeman has often amused me; the former most
like the thievish jay, ever on mischief bent; the other, who has his eye
on him, is more like the portly Cochin-China fowl of the farmyard, or
the Muscovy duck, or stately gobbler.

To go back. When the buried sheep had to be kept too long buried and was
found "gone bad" when disinterred, I fancy it made little difference to
the diners. One remembers Thoreau's pleasure at the spectacle of a crowd
of vultures feasting on the carrion of a dead horse; the fine healthy
appetite and boundless vigour of nature filled him with delight. But it
is not only some of the lower animals--dogs and vultures, for
instance--which possess this power and immunity from the effects of
poisons developed in putrid meat; the Greenlanders and African savages,
and many other peoples in various parts of the world, have it as well.

Sometimes when sitting with gipsies at their wild hearth, I have felt
curious as to the contents of that black pot simmering over the fire. No
doubt it often contains strange meats, but it would not have been
etiquette to speak of such a matter. It is like the pot on the fire of
the Venezuela savage into which he throws whatever he kills with his
little poisoned arrows or fishes out of the river. Probably my only
quarrel with them would be about the little fledgelings: it angers me to
see them beating the bushes in spring in search of small nesties and the
callow young that are in them. After all, the gipsies could retort that
my friends the jays and magpies are at the same business in April and
May.

It is just these habits of the gipsy which I have described, shocking to
the moralist and sanitarian and disgusting to the person of delicate
stomach, it may be, which please me, rather than the romance and poetry
which the scholar-gipsy enthusiasts are fond of reading into him. He is
to me a wild, untameable animal of curious habits, and interests me as a
naturalist accordingly. It may be objected that being a naturalist
occupied with the appearance of things, I must inevitably miss the one
thing which others find.

In a talk I had with a gipsy a short time ago, he said to me: "You know
what the books say, and we don't. But we know other things that are not
in the books, and that's what we have. It's ours, our own, and you can't
know it."

It was well put; but I was not perhaps so entirely ignorant as he
imagined of the nature of that special knowledge, or shall we say
faculty, which he claimed. I take it to be cunning--the cunning of a
wild animal with a man's brain--and a small, an infinitesimal, dose of
something else which eludes us. But that something else is not of a
spiritual nature: the gipsy has no such thing in him; the soul growths
are rooted in the social instinct, and are developed in those in whom
that instinct is strong. I think that if we analyse that dose of
something else, we will find that it is still the animal's cunning, a
special, a sublimated cunning, the fine flower of his whole nature, and
that it has nothing mysterious in it. He is a parasite, but free and as
well able to exist free as the fox or jackal; but the parasitism pays
him well, and he has followed it so long in his intercourse with social
man that it has come to be like an instinct, or secret knowledge, and is
nothing more than a marvellously keen penetration which reveals to him
the character and degree of credulity and other mental weaknesses of his
subject.

It is not so much the wind on the heath, brother, as the fascination of
lawlessness, which makes his life an everlasting joy to him; to pit
himself against gamekeeper, farmer, policeman, and everybody else, and
defeat them all, to flourish like the parasitic fly on the honey in the
hive and escape the wrath of the bees.

I must now return from this long digression to my conversation with the
shepherd about the dark people of the village.

There were, I continued, other black-eyed and black-haired people in the
villages who had no gipsy blood in their veins. So far as I could make
out there were dark people of three originally distinct and widely
different races in the Wiltshire Downs. There was a good deal of mixed
blood, no doubt, and many dark persons could not be identified as
belonging to any particular race. Nevertheless three distinct types
could be traced among the dark people, and I took them to be, first, the
gipsy, rather short of stature, brown-skinned, with broad face and high
cheek-bones, like the men we had just been speaking of. Secondly, the
men and women of white skins and good features, who had rather broad
faces and round heads, and were physically and mentally just as good as
the best blue-eyed people; these were probably the descendants of the
dark, broad-faced Wilsetas, who came over at the time when the country
was being overrun with the English and other nations or tribes, and who
colonized in Wiltshire and gave it their name. The third type differed
widely from both the others. They were smallest in size and had narrow
heads and long or oval faces, and were very dark, with brown skins; they
also differed mentally from the others, being of a more lively
disposition and hotter temper. The characters which distinguish the
ancient British or Iberian race appeared to predominate in persons of
this type.

The shepherd said he didn't know much about "all that," but he
remembered that they once had a man in the village who was like the last
kind I had described. He was a labourer named Tark, who had several
sons, and when they were grown up there was a last one born: he had to
be the last because his mother died when she gave him birth; and that
last one was like his father, small, very dark-skinned, with eyes like
sloes, and exceedingly lively and active.

Tark, himself, he said, was the liveliest, most amusing man he had ever
known, and the quickest to do things, whatever it was he was asked to
do, but he was not industrious and not thrifty. The Tarks were always
very poor. He had a good ear for music and was a singer of the old
songs--he seemed to know them all. One of his performances was with a
pair of cymbals which he had made for himself out of some old metal
plates, and with these he used to play while dancing about, clashing
them in time, striking them on his head, his breast, and legs. In these
dances with the cymbals he would whirl and leap about in an astonishing
way, standing sometimes on his hands, then on his feet, so that half the
people in the village used to gather at his cottage to watch his antics
on a summer evening.

One afternoon he was coming down the village street and saw the
blacksmith standing near his cottage looking up at a tall fir-tree which
grew there on his ground. "What be looking at?" cried Tark. The
blacksmith pointed to a branch, the lowest branch of all, but about
forty feet from the ground, and said a chaffinch had his nest in it,
about three feet from the trunk, which his little son had set his heart
on having. He had promised to get it down for him, but there was no long
ladder and he didn't know how to get it.

Tark laughed and said that for half a gallon of beer he would go up legs
first and take the nest and bring it down in one hand, which he would
not use in climbing, and would come down as he went up, head first.

"Do it, then," said the blacksmith, "and I'll stand the half gallon."

Tark ran to the tree, and turning over and standing on his hands,
clasped the bole with his legs and then with his arms and went up to the
branch, when taking the nest and holding it in one hand, he came down
head first to the ground in safety.

There were other anecdotes of his liveliness and agility. Then followed
the story of the youngest son, known as Liddy. "I don't rightly know,"
said Caleb, "what the name was he was given when they christened 'n; but
he were always called Liddy, and nobody knowed any other name for him."

Liddy's grown-up brothers all left home when he was a small boy: one
enlisted and was sent to India and never returned; the other two went to
America, so it was said. He was twelve years old when his father died,
and he had to shift for himself; but he was no worse off on that
account, as they had always been very poor owing to poor Tark's love of
beer. Before long he got employed by a small working farmer who kept a
few cows and a pair of horses and used to buy wethers to fatten them,
and these the boy kept on the down.

Liddy was always a "leetel chap," and looked no more than nine when
twelve, so that he could do no heavy work; but he was a very willing and
active little fellow, with a sweet temper, and so lively and full of fun
as to be a favourite with everybody in the village. The men would laugh
at his pranks, especially when he came from the fields on the old plough
horse and urged him to a gallop, sitting with his face to the tail; and
they would say that he was like his father, and would never be much good
except to make people laugh. But the women had a tender feeling for him,
because, although motherless and very poor, he yet contrived to be
always clean and neat. He took the greatest care of his poor clothes,
washing and mending them himself. He also took an intense interest in
his wethers, and almost every day he would go to Caleb, tending his
flock on the down, to sit by him and ask a hundred questions about sheep
and their management. He looked on Caleb, as head-shepherd on a
good-sized farm, as the most important and most fortunate person he
knew, and was very proud to have him as guide, philosopher, and friend.

Now it came to pass that once in a small lot of thirty or forty wethers
which the farmer had bought at a sheep-fair and brought home it was
discovered that one was a ewe--a ewe that would perhaps at some future
day have a lamb! Liddy was greatly excited at the discovery; he went to
Caleb and told him about it, almost crying at the thought that his
master would get rid of it. For what use would it be to him? but what a
loss it would be! And at last, plucking up courage, he went to the
farmer and begged and prayed to be allowed to keep the ewe, and the
farmer laughed at him; but he was a little touched at the boy's feeling,
and at last consented. Then Liddy was the happiest boy in the village,
and whenever he got the chance he would go out to Caleb on the down to
talk about and give him news of the one beloved ewe. And one day, after
about nineteen or twenty weeks, Caleb, out with his flock, heard shouts
at a distance, and, turning to look, saw Liddy coming at great speed
towards him, shouting out some great news as he ran; but what it was
Caleb could not make out, even when the little fellow had come to him,
for his excitement made him incoherent. The ewe had lambed, and there
were twins--two strong healthy lambs, most beautiful to see! Nothing so
wonderful had ever happened in his life before! And now he sought out
his friend oftener than ever, to talk of his beloved lambs, and to
receive the most minute directions about their care. Caleb, who is not a
laughing man, could not help laughing a little when he recalled poor
Liddy's enthusiasm. But that beautiful shining chapter in the poor boy's
life could not last, and when the lambs were grown they were sold, and
so were all the wethers, then Liddy, not being wanted, had to find
something else to do.

I was too much interested in this story to let the subject drop. What
had been Liddy's after-life? Very uneventful: there was, in fact,
nothing in it, nor in him, except an intense love for all things,
especially animals; and nothing happened to him until the end, for he
has been dead now these nine or ten years. In his next place he was
engaged, first, as carter's boy, and then under-carter, and all his love
was lavished on the horses. They were more to him than sheep, and he
could love them without pain, since they were not being prepared for the
butcher with his abhorred knife. Liddy's love and knowledge of horses
became known outside of his own little circle, and he was offered and
joyfully accepted a place in the stables of a wealthy young gentleman
farmer, who kept a large establishment and was a hunting man. From
stable-boy he was eventually promoted to groom. Occasionally he would
reappear in his native place. His home was but a few miles away, and
when out exercising a horse he appeared to find it a pleasure to trot
down the old street, where as a farmer's boy he used to make the village
laugh at his antics. But he was very much changed from the poor boy, who
was often hatless and barefooted, to the groom in his neat, well-fitting
black suit, mounted on a showy horse.

In this place he continued about thirty years, and was married and had
several children and was very happy, and then came a great disaster. His
employer having met with heavy losses sold all his horses and got rid of
his servants, and Liddy had to go. This great change, and above all his
grief at the loss of his beloved horses, was more than he could endure.
He became melancholy and spent his days in silent brooding, and by and
by, to everybody's surprise, Liddy fell ill, for he was in the prime of
life and had always been singularly healthy. Then to astonish people
still more, he died. What ailed him--what killed him? every one asked of
the doctor; and his answer was that he had no disease--that nothing
ailed him except a broken heart; and that was what killed poor Liddy.

In conclusion I will relate a little incident which occurred several
months later, when I was again on a visit to my old friend the shepherd.
We were sitting together on a Sunday evening, when his old wife looked
out and said, "Lor, here be Mrs. Taylor with her children coming in to
see us." And Mrs. Taylor soon appeared, wheeling her baby in a
perambulator, with two little girls following. She was a comely, round,
rosy little woman, with black hair, black eyes, and a singularly sweet
expression, and her three pretty little children were like her. She
stayed half an hour in pleasant chat, then went her way down the road to
her home. Who, I asked, was Mrs. Taylor?

Bawcombe said that in a way she was a native of their old village of
Winterbourne Bishop: at least her father was. She had married a man who
had taken a farm near them, and after having known her as a young girl
they had been glad to have her again as a neighbour. "She's a daughter
of that Liddy I told 'ee about some time ago," he said.



CHAPTER XX

SOME SHEEP-DOGS

  Breaking a sheep-dog--The shepherd buys a pup--His training--He
  refuses to work--He chases a swallow and is put to death--The
  shepherd's remorse--Bob, the sheep-dog--How he was bitten by an
  adder--Period of the dog's receptivity--Tramp, the sheep-dog--Roaming
  lost about the country--A rage of hunger--Sheep-killing dogs--Dogs
  running wild--Anecdotes--A Russian sheep-dog--Caleb parts with Tramp


To Caleb the proper training of a dog was a matter of the very first
importance. A man, he considered, must have not only a fair amount of
intelligence, but also experience, and an even temper, and a little
sympathy as well, to sum up the animal in hand--its special aptitudes,
its limitations, its disposition, and that something in addition, which
he called a "kink," and would probably have described as its
idiosyncrasy if he had known the word. There was as much individual
difference among dogs as there is in boys; but if the breed was right,
and you went the right way about it, you could hardly fail to get a good
servant. If a dog was not properly broken, if its trainer had not made
the most of it, he was not a "good shepherd": he lacked the
intelligence--"understanding" was his word--or else the knowledge or
patience or persistence to do his part. It was, however, possible for
the best shepherd to make mistakes, and one of the greatest to be made,
which was not uncommon, was to embark on the long and laborious business
of training an animal of mixed blood--a sheep-dog with a taint of
terrier, retriever, or some other unsuitable breed in him. In discussing
this subject with other shepherds I generally found that those who were
in perfect agreement with Caleb on this point were men who were somewhat
like him in character, and who regarded their work with the sheep as so
important that it must be done thoroughly in every detail and in the
best way. One of the best shepherds I know, who is sixty years old and
has been on the same downland sheep-farm all his life, assures me that
he has never had and never would have a dog which was trained by
another. But the shepherd of the ordinary kind says that he doesn't care
much about the animal's parentage, or that he doesn't trouble to inquire
into its pedigree: he breaks the animal, and finds that he does pretty
well, even when he has some strange blood in him; finally, that all dogs
have faults and you must put up with them. Caleb would say of such a man
that he was not a "good shepherd." One of his saddest memories was of a
dog which he bought and broke without having made the necessary
inquiries about its parentage.

It happened that a shepherd of the village, who had taken a place at a
distant farm, was anxious to dispose of a litter of pups before leaving,
and he asked Caleb to have one. Caleb refused. "My dog's old, I know,"
he said, "but I don't want a pup now and I won't have 'n."

A day or two later the man came back and said he had kept one of the
best of the five for him--he had got rid of all the others. "You can't
do better," he persisted. "No," said Caleb, "what I said I say again. I
won't have 'n, I've no money to buy a dog."

"Never mind about money," said the other. "You've got a bell I like the
sound of; give he to me and take the pup." And so the exchange was made,
a copper bell for a nice black pup with a white collar; its mother,
Bawcombe knew, was a good sheep-dog, but about the other parent he made
no inquiries.

On receiving the pup he was told that its name was Tory, and he did not
change it. It was always difficult, he explained, to find a name for a
dog--a name, that is to say, which anyone would say was a proper name
for a dog and not a foolish name. One could think of a good many proper
names--Jack and Watch, and so on--but in each case one would remember
some dog which had been called by that name, and it seemed to belong to
that particular well-remembered dog and to no other, and so in the end
because of this difficulty he allowed the name to remain.

The dog had not cost him much to buy, but as it was only a few weeks old
he had to keep it at his own cost for fully six months before beginning
the business of breaking it, which would take from three to six months
longer. A dog cannot be put to work before he is quite half a year old
unless he is exceptionally vigorous. Sheep are timid creatures, but not
unintelligent, and they can distinguish between the seasoned old
sheep-dog, whose furious onset and bite they fear, and the raw young
recruit as easily as the rook can distinguish between the man with a gun
and the man of straw with a broomstick under his arm. They will turn
upon and attack the young dog, and chase him away with his tail between
his legs. He will also work too furiously for his strength and then
collapse, with the result that he will make a cowardly sheep-dog, or, as
the shepherds say, "brokenhearted."

Another thing. He must be made to work at first with an old sheep-dog,
for though he has the impulse to fly about and do something, he does not
know what to do and does not understand his master's gestures and
commands. He must have an object-lesson, he must see the motion and hear
the word and mark how the old dog flies to this or that point and what
he does. The word of command or the gesture thus becomes associated in
his mind with a particular action on his part. But he must not be given
too many object-lessons or he will lose more than he will gain--a
something which might almost be described as a sense of individual
responsibility. That is to say, responsibility to the human master who
delegates his power to him. Instead of taking his power directly from
the man he takes it from the dog, and this becomes a fixed habit so
quickly that many shepherds say that if you give more than from three to
six lessons of this kind to a young dog you will spoil him. He will need
the mastership of the other dog, and will thereafter always be at a loss
and work in an uncertain way.

A timid or unwilling young dog is often coupled with the old dog two or
three times, but this method has its dangers too, as it may be too much
for the young dog's strength, and give him that "broken-heart" from
which he will never recover; he will never be a good sheep-dog.

To return to Tory. In due time he was trained and proved quick to learn
and willing to work, so that before long he began to be useful and was
much wanted with the sheep, as the old dog was rapidly growing stiffer
on his legs and harder of hearing.

One day the lambs were put into a field which was half clover and half
rape, and it was necessary to keep them on the clover. This the young
dog could not or would not understand; again and again he allowed the
lambs to go to the rape, which so angered Caleb that he threw his crook
at him. Tory turned and gave him a look, then came very quietly and
placed himself behind his master. From that moment he refused to obey,
and Bawcombe, after exhausting all his arts of persuasion, gave it up
and did as well as he could without his assistance.

That evening after folding-time he by chance met a shepherd he was well
acquainted with and told him of the trouble he was in over Tory.

"You tie him up for a week," said the shepherd, "and treat him well till
he forgets all about it, and he'll be the same as he was before you
offended him. He's just like old Tom--he's got his father's temper."

"What's that you say?" exclaimed Bawcombe. "Be you saying that Tory's
old Tom's son? I'd never have taken him if I'd known that. Tom's not
pure-bred--he's got retriever's blood."

"Well, 'tis known, and I could have told 'ee, if thee'd asked me," said
the shepherd. "But you do just as I tell 'ee, and it'll be all right
with the dog."

Tory was accordingly tied up at home and treated well and spoken kindly
to and patted on the head, so that there would be no unpleasantness
between master and servant, and if he was an intelligent animal he would
know that the crook had been thrown not to hurt but merely to express
disapproval of his naughtiness.

Then came a busy day for the shepherd, when the lambs were trimmed
before being taken to the Wilton sheep-fair. There was Bawcombe, his
boy, the decrepit old dog, and Tory to do the work, but when the time
came to start Tory refused to do anything.

When sent to turn the lambs he walked off to a distance of about twenty
yards, sat down and looked at his master. Caleb hoped he would come
round presently when he saw them all at work, and so they did the best
they could without him for a time; but the old dog was stiffer and
harder of hearing than ever, and as they could not get on properly Caleb
went at intervals to Tory and tried to coax him to give them his help;
and every time he was spoken to he would get up and come to his master,
then when ordered to do something he would walk off to the spot where he
had chosen to be and calmly sit down once more and look at them. Caleb
was becoming more and more incensed, but he would not show it to the
dog; he still hoped against hope; and then a curious thing happened. A
swallow came skimming along close to the earth and passed within a yard
of Tory, when up jumped the dog and gave chase, darting across the field
with such speed that he kept very near the bird until it rose and passed
over the hedge at the farther side. The joyous chase over Tory came back
to his old place, and sitting on his haunches began watching them again
struggling with the lambs. It was more than the shepherd could stand; he
went deliberately up to the dog, and taking him by the straw collar
still on his neck drew him quietly away to the hedge-side and bound him
to a bush, then getting a stout stick he came back and gave him one blow
on the head. So great was the blow that the dog made not the slightest
sound: he fell; his body quivered a moment and his legs stretched
out--he was quite dead. Bawcombe then plucked an armful of bracken and
threw it over his body to cover it, and going back to the hurdles sent
the boy home, then spreading his cloak at the hedge-side, laid himself
down on it and covered his head.

An hour later the fanner appeared on the scene. "What are you doing
here, shepherd?" he demanded in surprise. "Not trimming the lambs!"

Bawcombe, raising himself on his elbow, replied that he was not trimming
the lambs--that he would trim no lambs that day.

"Oh, but we must get on with the trimming!" cried the farmer.

Bawcombe returned that the dog had put him out, and now the dog was
dead--he had killed him in his anger, and he would trim no more lambs
that day. He had said it and would keep to what he had said.

Then the farmer got angry and said that the dog had a very good nose and
would have been useful to him to take rabbits.

"Master," said the other, "I got he when he were a pup and broke 'n to
help me with the sheep and not to catch rabbits; and now I've killed 'n
and he'll catch no rabbits."

The farmer knew his man, and swallowing his anger walked off without
another word.

Later on in the day he was severely blamed by a shepherd friend who said
that he could easily have sold the dog to one of the drovers, who were
always anxious to pick up a dog in their village, and he would have had
the money to repay him for his trouble; to which Bawcombe returned, "If
he wouldn't work for I that broke 'n he wouldn't work for another. But
I'll never again break a dog that isn't pure-bred."

But though he justified himself he had suffered remorse for what he had
done; not only at the time, when he covered the dead dog up with bracken
and refused to work any more that day, but the feeling had persisted all
his life, and he could not relate the incident without showing it very
plainly. He bitterly blamed himself for having taken the pup and for
spending long months in training him without having first taken pains to
inform himself that there was no bad blood in him. And although the dog
was perhaps unfit to live he had finally killed him in anger. If it had
not been for that sudden impetuous chase after a swallow he would have
borne with him and considered afterwards what was to be done; but that
dash after the bird was more than he could stand; for it looked as if
Tory had done it purposely, in something of a mocking spirit, to exhibit
his wonderful activity and speed to his master, sweating there at his
task, and make him see what he had lost in offending him.

The shepherd gave another instance of a mistake he once made which
caused him a good deal of pain. It was the case of a dog named Bob which
he owned when a young man. He was an exceptionally small dog, but his
quick intelligence made up for lack of strength, and he was of a very
lively disposition, so that he was a good companion to a shepherd as
well as a good servant.

One summer day at noon Caleb was going to his flock in the fields,
walking by a hedge, when he noticed Bob sniffing suspiciously at the
roots of an old holly-tree growing on the bank. It was a low but very
old tree with a thick trunk, rotten and hollow inside, the cavity being
hidden with the brushwood growing up from the roots. As he came abreast
of the tree, Bob looked up and emitted a low whine, that sound which
says so much when used by a dog to his master and which his master does
not always rightly understand. At all events he did not do so in this
case. It was August and the shooting had begun, and Caleb jumped to the
conclusion that a wounded bird had crept into the hollow tree to hide,
and so to Bob's whine, which expressed fear and asked what he was to do,
the shepherd answered, "Get him." Bob dashed in, but quickly recoiled,
whining in a piteous way, and began rubbing his face on his legs.
Bawcombe in alarm jumped down and peered into the hollow trunk and heard
a slight rustling of dead leaves, but saw nothing. His dog had been
bitten by an adder, and he at once returned to the village, bitterly
blaming himself for the mistake he had made and greatly fearing that he
would lose his dog. Arrived at the village his mother at once went off
to the down to inform Isaac of the trouble and ask him what they were to
do. Caleb had to wait some time, as none of the villagers who gathered
round could suggest a remedy, and in the meantime Bob continued rubbing
his cheek against his foreleg, twitching and whining with pain; and
before long the face and head began to swell on one side, the swelling
extending to the nape and downwards to the throat. Presently Isaac
himself, full of concern, arrived on the scene, having left his wife in
charge of the flock, and at the same time a man from a neighbouring
village came riding by and joined the group. The horseman got off and
assisted Caleb in holding the dog while Isaac made a number of incisions
with his knife in the swollen place and let out some blood, after which
they rubbed the wounds and all the swollen part with an oil used for the
purpose. The composition of this oil was a secret: it was made by a man
in one of the downland villages and sold at eighteenpence a small
bottle; Isaac was a believer in its efficacy, and always kept a bottle
hidden away somewhere in his cottage.

Bob recovered in a few days, but the hair fell out from all the part
which had been swollen, and he was a curious-looking dog with half his
face and head naked until he got his fresh coat, when it grew again. He
was as good and active a dog as ever, and lived to a good old age, but
one result of the poison he never got over: his bark had changed from a
sharp ringing sound to a low and hoarse one. "He always barked," said
the shepherd, "like a dog with a sore throat."

To go back to the subject of training a dog. Once you make a beginning
it must be carried through to a finish. You take him at the age of six
months, and the education must be fairly complete when he is a year old.
He is then lively, impressionable, exceedingly adaptive; his
intelligence at that period is most like man's; but it would be a
mistake to think that it will continue so--that to what he learns now in
this wonderful half-year, other things may be added by and by as
opportunity arises. At a year he has practically got to the end of his
capacity to learn. He has lost his human-like receptivity, but what he
has been taught will remain with him for the rest of his life. We can
hardly say that he remembers it; it is more like what is called
"inherited memory" or "lapsed intelligence."

All this is very important to a shepherd, and explains the reason an old
head-shepherd had for saying to me that he had never had, and never
would have, a dog he had not trained himself. No two men follow
precisely the same method in training, and a dog transferred from his
trainer to another man is always a little at a loss; method, voice,
gestures, personality, are all different; his new master must study him
and in a way adapt himself to the dog. The dog is still more at a loss
when transferred from one kind of country to another where the sheep are
worked in a different manner, and one instance Caleb gave me of this is
worth relating. It was, I thought, one of his best dog stories.

His dogs as a rule were bought as pups; occasionally he had had to get a
dog already trained, a painful necessity to a shepherd, seeing that the
pound or two it costs--the price of an ordinary animal--is a big sum of
money to him. And once in his life he got an old trained sheep-dog for
nothing. He was young then, and acting as under-shepherd in his native
village, when the report came one day that a great circus and menagerie
which had been exhibiting in the west was on its way to Salisbury, and
would be coming past the village about six o'clock on the following
morning. The turnpike was a little over a mile away, and thither Caleb
went with half a dozen other young men of the village at about five
o'clock to see the show pass, and sat on a gate beside a wood to wait
its coming. In due time the long procession of horses and mounted men
and women, and gorgeous vans containing lions and tigers and other
strange beasts, came by, affording them great admiration and delight.
When it had gone on and the last van had disappeared at the turning of
the road, they got down from the gate and were about to set out on their
way back when a big, shaggy sheepdog came out of the wood and running to
the road began looking up and down in a bewildered way. They had no
doubt that he belonged to the circus and had turned aside to hunt a
rabbit in the wood; then, thinking the animal would understand them,
they shouted to it and waved their arms in the direction the procession
had gone. But the dog became frightened, and turning fled back into
cover, and they saw no more of it.

Two or three days later it was rumoured that a strange dog had been seen
in the neighbourhood of Winterbourne Bishop, in the fields; and women
and children going to or coming from outlying cottages and farms had
encountered it, sometimes appearing suddenly out of the furze-bushes and
staring wildly at them; or they would meet him in some deep lane between
hedges, and after standing still a moment eyeing them he would turn and
fly in terror from their strange faces. Shepherds began to be alarmed
for the safety of their sheep, and there was a good deal of excitement
and talk about the strange dog. Two or three days later Caleb
encountered it. He was returning from his flock at the side of a large
grass field where four or five women were occupied cutting the thistles,
and the dog, which he immediately recognized as the one he had seen at
the turnpike, was following one of the women about. She was greatly
alarmed, and called to him, "Come here, Caleb, for goodness' sake, and
drive this big dog away! He do look so desprit, I'm afeared of he."

"Don't you be feared," he shouted back. "He won't hurt 'ee; he's
starving--don't you see his bones sticking out? He's asking to be fed."
Then going a little nearer he called to her to take hold of the dog by
the neck and keep him while he approached. He feared that the dog on
seeing him coming would rush away. After a little while she called the
dog, but when he went to her she shrank away from him and called out,
"No, I daren't touch he--he'll tear my hand off. I never see'd such a
desprit-looking beast!"

"'Tis hunger," repeated Caleb, and then very slowly and cautiously he
approached, the dog all the time eyeing him suspiciously, ready to rush
away on the slightest alarm. And while approaching him he began to speak
gently to him, then coming to a stand stooped and patting his legs
called the dog to him. Presently he came, sinking his body lower as he
advanced and at last crawling, and when he arrived at the shepherd's
feet he turned himself over on his back--that eloquent action which a
dog uses when humbling himself before and imploring mercy from one
mightier than himself, man or dog.

Caleb stooped, and after patting the dog gripped him firmly by the neck
and pulled him up, while with his free hand he undid his leather belt to
turn it into a dog's collar and leash; then, the end of the strap in his
hand, he said "Come," and started home with the dog at his side. Arrived
at the cottage he got a bucket and mixed as much meal as would make two
good feeds, the dog all the time watching him with his muscles twitching
and the water running from his mouth. The meal well mixed he emptied it
out on the turf, and what followed, he said, was an amazing thing to
see: the dog hurled himself down on the food and started devouring it as
if the mass of meal had been some living savage creature he had captured
and was frenziedly tearing to pieces. He turned round and round,
floundering on the earth, uttering strange noises like half-choking
growls and screams while gobbling down the meal; then when he had
devoured it all he began tearing up and swallowing the turf for the sake
of the little wet meal still adhering to it.

Such rage of hunger Caleb had never seen, and it was painful to him to
think of what the dog had endured during those days when it had been
roaming foodless about the neighbourhood. Yet it was among sheep all the
time--scores of flocks left folded by night at a distance from the
village; one would have imagined that the old wolf and wild-dog instinct
would have come to life in such circumstances, but the instinct was to
all appearance dead.

My belief is that the pure-bred sheep-dog is indeed the last dog to
revert to a state of nature; and that when sheep-killing by night is
traced to a sheep-dog, the animal has a bad strain in him, of retriever,
or cur, or "rabbit-dog," as the shepherds call all terriers. When I was
a boy on the pampas sheep-killing dogs were common enough, and they were
always curs, or the common dog of the country, a smooth-haired animal
about the size of a coach-dog, red, or black, or white. I recall one
instance of sheep-killing being traced to our own dogs--we had about six
or eight just then. A native neighbour, a few miles away, caught them at
it one morning; they escaped him in spite of his good horse, with lasso
and bolas also, but his sharp eyes saw them pretty well in the dim
light, and by and by he identified them, and my father had to pay him
for about thirty slain and badly injured sheep; after which a gallows
was erected and our guardians ignominiously hanged. Here we shoot dogs;
in some countries the old custom of hanging them, which is perhaps less
painful, is still followed.

To go back to our story. From that time the stray dog was Caleb's
obedient and affectionate slave, always watching his face and every
gesture, and starting up at his slightest word in readiness to do his
bidding. When put with the flock he turned out to be a useful sheep-dog,
but unfortunately he had not been trained on the Wiltshire Downs. It was
plain to see that the work was strange to him, that he had been taught
in a different school, and could never forget the old and acquire a new
method. But as to what conditions he had been reared in or in what
district or country no one could guess. Every one said that he was a
sheep-dog, but unlike any sheep-dog they had ever seen; he was not
Wiltshire, nor Welsh, nor Sussex, nor Scotch, and they could say no
more. Whenever a shepherd saw him for the first time his attention was
immediately attracted, and he would stop to speak with Caleb. "What sort
of a dog do you call that?" he would say. "I never see'd one just like
'n before."

At length one day when passing by a new building which some workmen had
been brought from a distance to erect in the village, one of the men
hailed Caleb and said, "Where did you get that dog, mate?"

"Why do you ask me that?" said the shepherd.

"Because I know where he come from: he's a Rooshian, that's what he is.
I've see'd many just like him in the Crimea when I was there. But I
never see'd one before in England."

Caleb was quite ready to believe it, and was a little proud at having a
sheep-dog from that distant country. He said that it also put something
new into his mind. He didn't know nothing about Russia before that,
though he had been hearing so much of our great war there and of all the
people that had been killed. Now he realized that Russia was a great
country, a land where there were hills and valleys and villages, where
there were flocks and herds, and shepherds and sheepdogs just as in the
Wiltshire Downs. He only wished that Tramp--that was the name he had
given his dog--could have told him his history.

Tramp, in spite of being strange to the downs and the downland
sheep-dog's work, would probably have been kept by Caleb to the end but
for his ineradicable passion for hunting rabbits. He did not neglect his
duty, but he would slip away too often, and eventually when a man who
wanted a good dog for rabbits one day offered Caleb fifteen shillings
for Tramp, he sold him, and as he was taken away to a distance by his
new master, he never saw him again.



CHAPTER XXI

THE SHEPHERD AS NATURALIST

  General remarks--Great Ridge Wood--Encounter with a roe-deer--A hare
  on a stump--A gamekeeper's memory--Talk with a gipsy--A strange story
  of a hedgehog--A gipsy on memory--The shepherd's feeling for
  animals--Anecdote of a shrew--Anecdote of an owl--Reflex effect of the
  gamekeeper's calling--We remember best what we see emotionally


It will appear to some of my readers that the interesting facts about
wild life, or rather about animal life, wild and domestic, gathered in
my talks with the old shepherd, do not amount to much. If this is all
there is to show after a long life spent out of doors, or all that is
best worth preserving, it is a somewhat scanty harvest, they will say.
To me it appears a somewhat abundant one. We field naturalists, who set
down what we see and hear in a notebook, lest we forget it, do not
always bear in mind that it is exceedingly rare for those who are not
naturalists, whose senses and minds are occupied with other things, to
come upon a new and interesting fact in animal life, or that these
chance observations are quickly forgotten. This was strongly borne in
upon me lately while staying in the village of Hindon in the
neighbourhood of the Great Ridge Wood, which clothes the summit of the
long high down overlooking the vale of the Wylye. It is an immense wood,
mostly of scrub or dwarf oak, very dense in some parts, in others thin,
with open, barren patches, and like a wild forest, covering altogether
twelve or fourteen square miles--perhaps more. There are no houses near,
and no people in it except a few gamekeepers: I spent long days in it
without meeting a human being. It was a joy to me to find such a spot in
England, so wild and solitary, and I was filled with pleasing
anticipation of all the wild life I should see in such a place,
especially after an experience I had on my second day in it. I was
standing in an open glade when a cock-pheasant uttered a cry of alarm,
and immediately afterwards, startled by the cry perhaps, a roe-deer
rushed out of the close thicket of oak and holly in which it had been
hiding, and ran past me at a very short distance, giving me a good sight
of this shyest of the large wild animals still left to us. He looked
very beautiful to me, in that mouse-coloured coat which makes him
invisible in the deep shade in which he is accustomed to pass the
daylight hours in hiding, as he fled across the green open space in the
brilliant May sunshine. But he was only one, a chance visitor, a
wanderer from wood to wood about the land; and he had been seen once, a
month before my encounter with him, and ever since then the keepers had
been watching and waiting for him, gun in hand, to send a charge of shot
into his side.

That was the best and the only great thing I saw in the Great Ridge
Wood, for the curse of the pheasant is on it as on all the woods and
forests in Wiltshire, and all wild life considered injurious to the
semi-domestic bird, from the sparrowhawk to the harrier and buzzard and
goshawk, and from the little mousing weasel to the badger; and all the
wild life that is only beautiful, or which delights us because of its
wildness, from the squirrel to the roe-deer, must be included in the
slaughter.

One very long summer day spent in roaming about in this endless wood,
always on the watch, had for sole result, so far as anything out of the
common goes, the spectacle of a hare sitting on a stump. The hare
started up at a distance of over a hundred yards before me and rushed
straight away at first, then turned, and ran on my left so as to get
round to the side from which I had come. I stood still and watched him
as he moved swiftly over the ground, seeing him not as a hare but as a
dim brown object successively appearing, vanishing, and reappearing,
behind and between the brown tree-trunks, until he had traced half a
circle and was then suddenly lost to sight. Thinking that he had come to
a stand I put my binocular on the spot where he had vanished, and saw
him sitting on an old oak stump about thirty inches long. It was a round
mossy stump, about eighteen inches in diameter, standing in a bed of
brown dead leaves, with the rough brown trunks of other dwarf oak-trees
on either side of it. The animal was sitting motionless, in profile, its
ears erect, seeing me with one eye, and was like a carved figure of a
hare set on a pedestal, and had a very striking appearance.

As I had never seen such a thing before I thought it was worth
mentioning to a keeper I called to see at his lodge on my way back in
the evening. It had been a blank day, I told him--a hare sitting on a
stump being the only thing I could remember to tell him. "Well," he
said, "you've seen something I've never seen in all the years I've been
in these woods. And yet, when you come to think of it, it's just what
one might expect a hare would do. The wood is full of old stumps, and it
seems only natural a hare should jump on to one to get a better view of
a man or animal at a distance among the trees. But I never saw it."

What, then, had he seen worth remembering during his long hours in the
wood on that day, or the day before, or on any day during the last
thirty years since he had been policing that wood, I asked him. He
answered that he had seen many strange things, but he was not now able
to remember one to tell me! He said, further, that the only things he
remembered were those that related to his business of guarding and
rearing the birds; all other things he observed in animals, however
remarkable they might seem to him at the moment, were things that didn't
matter and were quickly forgotten.

On the very next day I was out on the down with a gipsy, and we got
talking about wild animals. He was a middle-aged man and a very perfect
specimen of his race--not one of the blue-eyed and red or light-haired
bastard gipsies, but dark as a Red Indian, with eyes like a hawk, and
altogether a hawk-like being, lean, wiry, alert, a perfectly wild man in
a tame, civilized land. The lean, mouse-coloured lurcher that followed
at his heels was perfect too, in his way--man and dog appeared made for
one another. When this man spoke of his life, spent in roaming about the
country, of his very perfect health, and of his hatred of houses, the
very atmosphere of any indoor place producing a suffocating and
sickening effect on him, I envied him as I envy birds their wings and as
I can never envy men who live in mansions. His was the wild, the real
life, and it seemed to me that there was no other worth living.

"You know," said he, in the course of our talk about wild animals, "we
are very fond of hedgehogs--we like them better than rabbits."

"Well, so do I," was my remark. I am not quite sure that I do, but that
is what I told him. "But now you talk of hedgehogs," I said, "it's funny
to think that, common as the animal is, it has some queer habits I can't
find anything about from gamekeepers and others I've talked to on the
subject, or from my own observation. Yet one would imagine that we know
all there is to be known about the little beast; you'll find his history
in a hundred books--perhaps in five hundred. There's one book about our
British animals so big you'd hardly be able to lift its three volumes
from the ground with all your strength, in which its author has raked
together everything known about the hedgehog, but he doesn't give me the
information I want--just what I went to the book to find. Now here's
what a friend of mine once saw. He's not a naturalist, nor a sportsman,
nor a gamekeeper, and not a gipsy; he doesn't observe animals or want to
find out their ways; he is a writer, occupied day and night with his
writing, sitting among books, yet he saw something which the naturalists
and gamekeepers haven't seen, so far as I know. He was going home one
moonlight night by a footpath through the woods when he heard a very
strange noise a little distance ahead, a low whistling sound, very
sharp, like the continuous twittering of a little bird with a voice like
a bat, or a shrew, only softer, more musical. He went on very
cautiously, until he spied two hedgehogs standing on the path facing
each other, with their noses almost or quite touching. He remained
watching and listening to them for some moments, then tried to go a
little nearer and they ran away.

"Now I've asked about a dozen gamekeepers if they ever saw such a thing,
and all said they hadn't; they never heard hedgehogs make that
twittering sound, like a bird or a singing mouse; they had only heard
them scream like a rabbit when in a trap. Now what do you say about it?"

"I've never seen anything like that," said the gipsy. "I only know the
hedgehog makes a little whistling sound when he first comes out at
night; I believe it is a sort of call they have."

"But no doubt," I said, "you've seen other queer things in hedgehogs and
in other little animals which I should like to hear."

Yes, he had, first and last, seen a good many queer things both by day
and night, in woods and other places, he replied, and then continued:
"But you see it's like this. We see something and say, 'Now that's a
very curious thing!' and then we forget all about it. You see, we don't
lay no store by such things; we ain't scholards and don't know nothing
about what's said in books. We see something and say _That's_
something we never saw before and never heard tell of, but maybe others
have seen it and you can find it in the books. So that's how 'tis, but
if I hadn't forgotten them I could have told you a lot of queer things."

That was all he could say, and few can say more. Caleb was one of the
few who could, and one wonders why it was so, seeing that he was
occupied with his own tasks in the fields and on the down where wild
life is least abundant and varied, and that his opportunities were so
few compared with those of the gamekeeper. It was, I take it, because he
had sympathy for the creatures he observed, that their actions had
stamped themselves on his memory, because he had seen them emotionally.
We have seen how well he remembered the many sheep-dogs he had owned,
how vividly their various characters are portrayed in his account of
them. I have met with shepherds who had little to tell about the dogs
they had possessed; they had regarded their dogs as useful servants and
nothing more as long as they lived, and when dead they were forgotten.
But Caleb had a feeling for his dogs which made it impossible for him to
forget them or to recall them without that tenderness which accompanies
the thought of vanished human friends. In a lesser degree he had
something of this feeling for all animals, down even to the most minute
and unconsidered. I recall here one of his anecdotes of a very small
creature--a shrew, or over-runner, as he called it.

One day when out with his flock a sudden storm of rain caused him to
seek for shelter in an old untrimmed hedge close by. He crept into the
ditch, full of old dead leaves beneath the tangle of thorns and
brambles, and setting his back against the bank he thrust his legs out,
and as he did so was startled by an outburst of shrill little screams at
his feet. Looking down he spied a shrew standing on the dead leaves
close to his boot, screaming with all its might, its long thin snout
pointed upwards and its mouth wide open; and just above it, two or three
inches perhaps, hovered a small brown butterfly. There for a few moments
it continued hovering while the shrew continued screaming; then the
butterfly flitted away and the shrew disappeared among the dead leaves.

Caleb laughed (a rare thing with him) when he narrated this little
incident, then remarked: "The over-runner was a-crying 'cause he
couldn't catch that leetel butterfly."

The shepherd's inference was wrong; he did not know--few do--that the
shrew has the singular habit, when surprised on the surface and in
danger, of remaining motionless and uttering shrill cries. His foot, set
down close to it, had set it screaming; the small butterfly, no doubt
disturbed at the same moment, was there by chance. I recall here another
little story he related of a bird--a long-eared owl.

One summer there was a great drought, and the rooks, unable to get their
usual food from the hard, sun-baked pasture-lands, attacked the roots
and would have pretty well destroyed them if the farmer had not
protected his swedes by driving in stakes and running cotton-thread and
twine from stake to stake all over the field. This kept them off, just
as thread keeps the chaffinches from the seed-beds in small gardens, and
as it keeps the sparrows from the crocuses on lawn and ornamental
grounds. One day Caleb caught sight of an odd-looking, brownish-grey
object out in the middle of the turnip-field, and as he looked it rose
up two or three feet into the air, then dropped back again, and this
curious movement was repeated at intervals of two or three minutes until
he went to see what the thing was. It turned out to be a long-eared owl,
with its foot accidentally caught by a slack thread, which allowed the
bird to rise a couple of feet into the air; but every such attempt to
escape ended in its being pulled back to the ground again. It was so
excessively lean, so weightless in his hand, when he took it up after
disengaging its foot, that he thought it must have been captive for the
space of two or three days. The wonder was that it had kept alive during
those long midsummer days of intolerable heat out there in the middle of
the burning field. Yet it was in very fine feather and beautiful to look
at with its long, black ear-tufts and round, orange-yellow eyes, which
would never lose their fiery lustre until glazed in death. Caleb's first
thought on seeing it closely was that it would have been a prize to
anyone who liked to have a handsome bird stuffed in a glass case. Then
raising it over his head he allowed it to fly, whereupon it flew off a
distance of a dozen or fifteen yards and pitched among the turnips,
after which it ran a little space and rose again with labour, but soon
recovering strength it flew away over the field and finally disappeared
in the deep shade of the copse beyond.

In relating these things the voice, the manner, the expression in his
eyes were more than the mere words, and displayed the feeling which had
caused these little incidents to endure so long in his memory.

The gamekeeper cannot have this feeling: he may come to his task with
the liveliest interest in, even with sympathy for, the wild creatures
amidst which he will spend his life, but it is all soon lost. His
business in the woods is to kill, and the reflex effect is to extinguish
all interest in the living animal--in its life and mind. It would,
indeed, be a wonderful thing if he could remember any singular action or
appearance of an animal which he had witnessed before bringing his gun
automatically to his shoulder.



CHAPTER XXII

THE MASTER OF THE VILLAGE

  Moral effect of the great man--An orphaned village--The masters of the
  village.--Elijah Raven--Strange appearance and character--Elijah's
  house--The owls--Two rooms in the house--Elijah hardens with time--The
  village club and its arbitrary secretary--Caleb dips the lambs and falls
  ill--His claim on the club rejected--Elijah in court


In my roamings about the downs it is always a relief--a positive
pleasure in fact--to find myself in a village which has no squire or
other magnificent and munificent person who dominates everybody and
everything, and, if he chooses to do so, plays providence in the
community. I may have no personal objection to him--he is sometimes
almost if not quite human; what I heartily dislike is the effect of his
position (that of a giant among pigmies) on the lowly minds about him,
and the servility, hypocrisy, and parasitism which spring up and
flourish in his wide shadow whether he likes these moral weeds or not.
As a rule he likes them, since the poor devil has this in common with
the rest of us, that he likes to stand high in the general regard. But
how is he to know it unless he witnesses its outward beautiful signs
every day and every hour on every countenance he looks upon? Better, to
my mind, the severer conditions, the poverty and unmerited sufferings
which cannot be relieved, with the greater manliness and self-dependence
when the people are left to work out their own destiny. On this account
I was pleased to make the discovery on my first visit to Caleb's native
village that there was no magnate, or other big man, and no gentleman
except the parson, who was not a rich man. It was, so to speak, one of
the orphaned villages left to fend for itself and fight its own way in a
hard world, and had nobody even to give the customary blankets and sack
of coals to its old women. Nor was there any very big farmer in the
place, certainly no gentleman farmer; they were mostly small men, some
of them hardly to be distinguished in speech and appearance from their
hired labourers.

In these small isolated communities it is common to find men who have
succeeded in rising above the others and in establishing a sort of
mastery over them. They are not as a rule much more intelligent than the
others who are never able to better themselves; the main difference is
that they are harder and more grasping and have more self-control. These
qualities tell eventually, and set a man a little apart, a little higher
than the others, and he gets the taste of power, which reacts on him
like the first taste of blood on the big cat. Henceforward he has his
ideal, his definite goal, which is to get the upper hand--to be on top.
He may be, and generally is, an exceedingly unpleasant fellow to have
for a neighbour--mean, sordid, greedy, tyrannous, even cruel, and he may
be generally hated and despised as well, but along with these feelings
there will be a kind of shamefaced respect and admiration for his
courage in following his own line in defiance of what others think and
feel. It is after all with man as with the social animals: he must have
a master--not a policeman, or magistrate, or a vague, far-away,
impersonal something called the authorities or the government; but a
head of the pack or herd, a being like himself whom he knows and sees
and hears and feels every day. A real man, dressed in old familiar
clothes, a fellow-villager, who, wolf or dog-like, has fought his way to
the mastership.

There was a person of this kind at Winterbourne Bishop who was often
mentioned in Caleb's reminiscences, for he had left a very strong
impression on the shepherd's mind--as strong, perhaps, though in a
disagreeable way, as that of Isaac his father, and of Mr. Ellerby of
Doveton. For not only was he a man of great force of character, but he
was of eccentric habits and of a somewhat grotesque appearance. The
curious name of this person was Elijah Raven. He was a native of the
village and lived till extreme old age in it, the last of his family, in
a small house inherited from his father, situated about the centre of
the village street. It was a quaint, old, timbered house, little bigger
than a cottage, with a thatched roof, and behind it some outbuildings, a
small orchard, and a field of a dozen or fifteen acres. Here he lived
with one other person, an old man who did the cooking and housework, but
after this man died he lived alone. Not only was he a bachelor, but he
would never allow any woman to come inside his house. Elijah's one idea
was to get the advantage of others--to make himself master in the
village. Beginning poor, he worked in a small, cautious, peddling way at
farming, taking a field or meadow or strip of down here and there in the
neighbourhood, keeping a few sheep, a few cows, buying and selling and
breeding horses. The men he employed were those he could get at low
wages--poor labourers who were without a place and wanted to fill up a
vacant time, or men like the Targetts described in a former chapter who
could be imposed upon; also gipsies who flitted about the country,
working in a spasmodic way when in the mood for the farmers who could
tolerate them, and who were paid about half the wages of an ordinary
labourer. If a poor man had to find money quickly, on account of illness
or some other cause, he could get it from Elijah at once--not borrowed,
since Elijah neither lent nor gave--but he could sell him anything he
possessed--a horse or cow, or sheepdog, or a piece of furniture; and if
he had nothing to sell, Elijah would give him something to do and pay
him something for it. The great thing was that Elijah had money which he
was always willing to circulate. At his unlamented death he left several
thousands of pounds, which went to a distant relation, and a name which
does not smell sweet, but is still remembered not only at Winterbourne
Bishop but at many other villages on Salisbury Plain.

Elijah was short of stature, broad-shouldered, with an abnormally big
head and large dark eyes. They say that he never cut his hair in his
life. It was abundant and curly, and grew to his shoulders, and when he
was old and his great mass of hair and beard became white it was said
that he resembled a gigantic white owl. Mothers frightened their
children into quiet by saying, "Elijah will get you if you don't behave
yourself." He knew and resented this, and though he never noticed a
child, he hated to have the little ones staring in a half-terrified way
at him. To seclude himself more from the villagers he planted holly and
yew bushes before his house, and eventually the entire building was
hidden from sight by the dense evergreen thicket. The trees were cut
down after his death: they were gone when I first visited the village
and by chance found a lodging in the house, and congratulated myself
that I had got the quaintest, old rambling rooms I had ever inhabited. I
did not know that I was in Elijah Raven's house, although his name had
long been familiar to me: it only came out one day when I asked my
landlady, who was a native, to tell me the history of the place. She
remembered how as a little girl, full of mischief and greatly daring,
she had sometimes climbed over the low front wall to hide under the
thick yew bushes and watch to catch a sight of the owlish old man at his
door or window.

For many years Elijah had two feathered tenants, a pair of white
owls--the birds he so much resembled. They occupied a small garret at
the end of his bedroom, having access to it through a hole under the
thatch. They bred there in peace, and on summer evenings one of the
common sights of the village was Elijah's owls flying from the house
behind the evergreens and returning to it with mice in their talons. At
such seasons the threat to the unruly children would be varied to "Old
Elijah's owls will get you." Naturally, the children grew up with the
idea of the birds and the owlish old man associated in their minds.

It was odd that the two very rooms which Elijah had occupied during all
those solitary years, the others being given over to spiders and dust,
should have been assigned to me when I came to lodge in the house. The
first, my sitting-room, was so low that my hair touched the ceiling when
I stood up my full height; it had a brick floor and a wide old fireplace
on one side. Though so low-ceilinged it was very large and good to be in
when I returned from a long ramble on the downs, sometimes wet and cold,
to sit by a wood fire and warm myself. At night when I climbed to my
bedroom by means of the narrow, crooked, worm-eaten staircase, with two
difficult and dangerous corners to get round, I would lie awake staring
at the small square patch of greyness in the black interior made by the
latticed window; and listening to the wind and rain outside, would
remember that the sordid, owlish old man had slept there and stared
nightly at that same grey patch in the dark for very many years. If, I
thought, that something of a man which remains here below to haunt the
scene of its past life is more likely to exist and appear to mortal eyes
in the case of a person of strong individuality, then there is a chance
that I may be visited this night by Elijah Raven his ghost. But his
owlish countenance never appeared between me and that patch of pale dim
light; nor did I ever feel a breath of cold unearthly air on me.

Elijah did not improve with time; the years that made him long-haired,
whiter, and more owl-like also made him more penurious and grasping, and
anxious to get the better of every person about him. There was scarcely
a poor person in the village--not a field labourer nor shepherd nor
farmer's boy, nor any old woman he had employed, who did not consider
that they had suffered at his hands. The very poorest could not escape;
if he got some one to work for fourpence a day he would find a reason to
keep back a portion of the small sum due to him. At the same time he
wanted to be well thought of, and at length an opportunity came to him
to figure as one who did not live wholly for himself but rather as a
person ready to go out of his way to help his neighbours.

There had long existed a small benefit society or club in the village to
which most of the farm-hands in the parish belonged, the members
numbering about sixty or seventy. Subscriptions were paid quarterly, but
the rules were not strict, and any member could take a week or a
fortnight longer to pay; when a member fell ill he received half the
amount of his wages a week from the funds in hand, and once a year they
had a dinner. The secretary was a labourer, and in time he grew old and
infirm and could not hold a pen in his rheumaticky fingers, and a
meeting was held to consider what was to be done in the matter. It was
not an easy one to settle. There were few members capable of keeping the
books who would undertake the duty, as it was unpaid, and no one among
them well known and trusted by all the members. It was then that Elijah
Raven came to the rescue. He attended the meeting, which he was allowed
to do owing to his being a person of importance--the only one of that
description in the village; and getting up on his legs he made the offer
to act as secretary himself. This came as a great surprise, and the
offer was at once and unanimously accepted, all unpleasant feelings
being forgotten, and for the first time in his life Elijah heard himself
praised as a disinterested person, one it was good to have in the
village.

Things went on very well for a time, and at the yearly dinner of the
club, a few months later, Elijah gave an account of his stewardship,
showing that the club had a surplus of two hundred pounds. Shortly after
this trouble began; Elijah, it was said, was making use of his position
as secretary for his own private interests and to pay off old scores
against those he disliked. When a man came with his quarterly
subscription Elijah would perhaps remember that this person had refused
to work for him or that he had some quarrel with him, and if the
subscription was overdue he would refuse to take it; he would tell the
man that he was no longer a member, and he also refused to give sick pay
to any applicant whose last subscription was still due, if he happened
to be in Elijah's black book. By and by he came into collision with
Caleb, one of the villagers against whom he cherished a special grudge,
and this small affair resulted in the dissolution of the club.

At this time Caleb was head-shepherd at Bartle's Cross, a large farm
above a mile and a half from the village. One excessively hot day in
August he had to dip the lambs; it was very hard work to drive them from
the farm over a high down to the stream a mile below the village, where
there was a dipping place, and he was tired and hot, and in a sweat when
he began the work. With his arms bared to the shoulders he took and
plunged his first lamb into the tank. When engaged in dipping, he said,
he always kept his mouth closed tightly for fear of getting even a drop
of the mixture in it, but on this occasion it unfortunately happened
that the man assisting him spoke to him and he was compelled to reply,
but had no sooner opened his mouth to speak than the lamb made a violent
struggle in his arms and splashed the water over his face and into his
mouth. He got rid of it as quickly as he could, but soon began to feel
bad, and before the work was over he had to sit down two or three times
to rest. However, he struggled on to the finish, then took the flock
home and went to his cottage. He could do no more. The farmer came to
see what the matter was, and found him in a fever, with face and throat
greatly swollen. "You look bad," he said; "you must be off to the
doctor." But it was five miles to the village where the doctor lived,
and Bawcombe replied that he couldn't go. "I'm too bad--I couldn't go,
master, if you offered me money for it," he said.

Then the farmer mounted his horse and went himself, and the doctor came.
"No doubt," he said, "you've got some of the poison into your system and
took a chill at the same time." The illness lasted six weeks, and then
the shepherd resumed work, although still feeling very shaky. By and by
when the opportunity came, he went to claim his sick pay--six shillings
a week for the six weeks, his wages being then twelve shillings. Elijah
flatly refused to pay him; his subscription, he said, had been due for
several weeks and he had consequently forfeited his right to anything.
In vain the shepherd explained that he could not pay when lying ill at
home with no money in the house and receiving no pay from the farmer.
The old man remained obdurate, and with a very heavy heart the shepherd
came out and found three or four of the villagers waiting in the road
outside to hear the result of the application.

They, too, were men who had been turned away from the club by the
arbitrary secretary. Caleb was telling them about his interview when
Elijah came out of the house and, leaning over the front gate, began to
listen. The shepherd then turned towards him and said in a loud voice:
"Mr. Elijah Raven, don't you think this is a tarrible hard case! I've
paid my subscription every quarter for thirty years and never had
nothing from the fund except two weeks' pay when I were bad some years
ago. Now I've been bad six weeks, and my master giv' me nothing for that
time, and I've got the doctor to pay and nothing to live on. What am I
to do?"

Elijah stared at him in silence for some time, then spoke: "I told you
in there I wouldn't pay you one penny of the money and I'll hold to what
I said--in there I said it indoors, and I say again that indoors I'll
never pay you--no, not one penny piece. But if I happen some day to meet
you out of doors then I'll pay you. Now go."

And go he did, very meekly, his wrath going down as he trudged home; for
after all he would have his money by and by, although the hard old man
would punish him for past offences by making him wait for it.

A week or so went by, and then one day while passing through the village
he saw Elijah coming towards him, and said to himself, Now I'll be paid!
When the two men drew near together he cried out cheerfully, "Good
morning, Mr. Raven." The other without a word and without a pause passed
by on his way, leaving the poor shepherd gazing crestfallen after him.

After all he would not get his money! The question was discussed in the
cottages, and by and by one of the villagers who was not so poor as most
of them, and went occasionally to Salisbury, said he would ask an
attorney's advice about the matter. He would pay for the advice out of
his own pocket; he wanted to know if Elijah could lawfully do such
things.

To the man's astonishment the attorney said that as the club was not
registered and the members had themselves made Elijah their head he
could do as he liked--no action would lie against him. But if it was
true and it could be proved that he had spoken those words about paying
the shepherd his money if he met him out of doors, then he could be made
to pay. He also said he would take the case up and bring it into court
if a sum of five pounds was guaranteed to cover expenses in case the
decision went against them.

Poor Caleb, with twelve shillings a week to pay his debts and live on,
could guarantee nothing, but by and by when the lawyer's opinion had
been discussed at great length at the inn and in all the cottages in the
village, it was found that several of Bawcombe's friends were willing to
contribute something towards a guarantee fund, and eventually the sum of
five pounds was raised and handed over to the person who had seen the
lawyer.

His first step was to send for Bawcombe, who had to get a day off and
journey in the carrier's cart one market-day to Salisbury. The result
was that action was taken, and in due time the case came on. Elijah
Raven was in court with two or three of his friends--small working
farmers who had some interested motive in desiring to appear as his
supporters. He, too, had engaged a lawyer to conduct his case. The
judge, said Bawcombe, who had never seen one before, was a tarrible
stern-looking old man in his wig. The plaintiff's lawyer he did open the
case and he did talk and talk a lot, but Elijah's counsel he did keep on
interrupting him, and they two argued and argued, but the judge he never
said no word, only he looked blacker and more tarrible stern. Then when
the talk did seem all over, Bawcombe, ignorant of the forms, got up and
said, "I beg your lordship's pardon, but may I speak?" He didn't rightly
remember afterwards what he called him, but 'twere your lordship or your
worship, he was sure. "Yes, certainly, you are here to speak," said the
judge, and Bawcombe then gave an account of his interview with Elijah
and of the conversation outside the house.

Then up rose Elijah Raven, and in a loud voice exclaimed, "Lord, Lord,
what a sad thing it is to have to sit here and listen to this man's
lies!"

"Sit down, sir," thundered the judge; "sit down and hold your tongue, or
I shall have you removed."

Then Elijah's lawyer jumped up, and the judge told him he'd better sit
down too because he knowed who the liar was in this case. "A brutal
case!" he said, and that was the end, and Bawcombe got his six weeks'
sick pay and expenses, and about three pounds besides, being his share
of the society's funds which Elijah had been advised to distribute to
the members.

And that was the end of the Winterbourne Bishop club, and from that time
it has continued without one.



CHAPTER XXIII

ISAAC'S CHILDREN

  Isaac Bawcombe's family--The youngest son--Caleb goes to seek David at
  Wilton sheep-fair--Martha, the eldest daughter--Her beauty--She marries
  Shepherd Ierat--The name of Ierat--Story of Ellen Ierat--The Ierats go
  to Somerset--Martha and the lady of the manor--Martha's travels--Her
  mistress dies--Return to Winterbourne Bishop--Shepherd Ierat's end


Caleb was one of five, the middle one, with a brother and sister older
and a brother and sister younger than himself--a symmetrical family. I
have already written incidentally of the elder brother and the youngest
sister, and in this chapter will complete the history of Isaac's
children by giving an account of the eldest sister and youngest brother.

The brother was David, the hot-tempered young shepherd who killed his
dog Monk, and who afterwards followed his brother to Warminster. In
spite of his temper and "want of sense" Caleb was deeply attached to
him, and when as an old man his shepherding days were finished he
followed his wife to their new home, he grieved at being so far removed
from his favourite brother. For some time he managed to make the journey
to visit him once a year. Not to his home near Warminster, but to
Wilton, at the time of the great annual sheep-fair held on 12th
September. From his cottage he would go by the carrier's cart to the
nearest town, and thence by rail with one or two changes by Salisbury to
Wilton.

After I became acquainted with Caleb he was ill and not likely to
recover, and for over two years could not get about. During all this
time he spoke often to me of his brother and wished he could see him. I
wondered why he did not write; but he would not, nor would the other.
These people of the older generation do not write to each other; years
are allowed to pass without tidings, and they wonder and wish and talk
of this and that absent member of the family, trusting it is well with
them, but to write a letter never enters into their minds.

At last Caleb began to mend and determined to go again to Wilton
sheep-fair to look for his beloved brother; to Warminster he could not
go; it was too far. September the 12th saw him once more at the old
meeting-place, painfully making his slow way to that part of the ground
where Shepherd David Bawcombe was accustomed to put his sheep. But he
was not there. "I be here too soon," said Caleb, and sat himself
patiently down to wait, but hours passed and David did not appear, so he
got up and made his way about the fair in search of him, but couldn't
find 'n. Returning to the old spot he got into conversation with two
young shepherds and told them he was waiting for his brother who always
put his sheep in that part. "What be his name?" they asked, and when he
gave it they looked at one another and were silent. Then one of them
said, "Be you Shepherd Caleb Bawcombe?" and when he had answered them
the other said, "You'll not see your brother at Wilton to-day. We've
come from Doveton, and knew he. You'll not see your brother no more. He
be dead these two years."

Caleb thanked them for telling him, and got up and went his way very
quietly, and got back that night to his cottage. He was very tired, said
his wife; he wouldn't eat and he wouldn't talk. Many days passed and he
still sat in his corner and brooded, until the wife was angry and said
she never knowed a man make so great a trouble over losing a brother.
'Twas not like losing a wife or a son, she said; but he answered not a
word, and it was many weeks before that dreadful sadness began to wear
off, and he could talk cheerfully once more of his old life in the
village.

Of the sister, Martha, there is much more to say; her life was an
eventful one as lives go in this quiet downland country, and she was,
moreover, distinguished above the others of the family by her beauty and
vivacity. I only knew her when her age was over eighty, in her native
village where her life ended some time ago, but even at that age there
was something of her beauty left and a good deal of her charm. She had a
good figure still and was of a good height; and had dark, fine eyes,
clear, dark, unwrinkled skin, a finely shaped face, and her grey hair,
once black, was very abundant. Her manner, too, was very engaging. At
the age of twenty-five she married a shepherd named Thomas Ierat--a
surname I had not heard before and which made me wonder where were the
Ierats in Wiltshire that in all my rambles among the downland villages I
had never come across them, not even in the churchyards. Nobody
knew--there were no Ierats except Martha Ierat, the widow, of
Winterbourne Bishop and her son--nobody had ever heard of any other
family of the name. I began to doubt that there ever had been such a
name until quite recently when, on going over an old downland village
church, the rector took me out to show me "a strange name" on a tablet
let into the wall of the building outside. The name was Ierat and the
date the seventeenth century. He had never seen the name excepting on
that tablet. Who, then, was Martha's husband? It was a queer story which
she would never have told me, but I had it from her brother and his
wife.

A generation before that of Martha, at a farm in the village of Bower
Chalk on the Ebble, there was a girl named Ellen Ierat employed as a
dairymaid. She was not a native of the village, and if her parentage and
place of birth were ever known they have long passed out of memory. She
was a good-looking, nice-tempered girl, and was much liked by her master
and mistress, so that after she had been about two years in their
service it came as a great shock to find that she was in the family way.
The shock was all the greater when the fresh discovery was made one day
that another unmarried woman in the house, who was also a valued
servant, was in the same condition. The two unhappy women had kept their
secret from every one except from each other until it could be kept no
longer, and they consulted together and determined to confess it to
their mistress and abide the consequences.

Who were the men? was the first question asked There was only
one--Robert Coombe, the shepherd, who lived at the farm-house, a slow,
silent, almost inarticulate man, with a round head and flaxen hair; a
bachelor of whom people were accustomed to say that he would never marry
because no woman would have such a stolid, dull-witted fellow for a
husband. But he was a good shepherd and had been many years on the farm,
and it was altogether a terrible business. Forthwith the farmer got out
his horse and rode to the downs to have it out with the unconscionable
wretch who had brought that shame and trouble on them. He found him
sitting on the turf eating his midday bread and bacon, with a can of
cold tea at his side, and getting off his horse he went up to him and
damned him for a scoundrel and abused him until he had no words left,
then told his shepherd that he must choose between the two women and
marry at once, so as to make an honest woman of one of the two poor
fools; either he must do that or quit the farm forthwith.

Coombe heard in silence and without a change in his countenance,
masticating his food the while and washing it down with an occasional
draught from his can, until he had finished his meal; then taking his
crook he got up, and remarking that he would "think of it" went after
his flock.

The farmer rode back cursing him for a clod; and in the evening Coombe,
after folding his flock, came in to give his decision, and said he had
thought of it and would take Jane to wife. She was a good deal older
than Ellen and not so good-looking, but she belonged to the village and
her people were there, and everybody knowed who Jane was, an' she was an
old servant an' would be wanted on the farm. Ellen was a stranger among
them, and being only a dairymaid was of less account than the other one.

So it was settled, and on the following morning Ellen, the rejected, was
told to take up her traps and walk.

What was she to do in her condition, no longer to be concealed, alone
and friendless in the world? She thought of Mrs. Poole, an elderly woman
of Winterbourne Bishop, whose children were grown up and away from home,
who when staying at Bower Chalk some months before had taken a great
liking for Ellen, and when parting with her had kissed her and said: "My
dear, I lived among strangers too when I were a girl and had no one of
my own, and know what 'tis." That was all; but there was nobody else,
and she resolved to go to Mrs. Poole, and so laden with her few
belongings she set out to walk the long miles over the downs to
Winterbourne Bishop where she had never been. It was far to walk in hot
August weather when she went that sad journey, and she rested at
intervals in the hot shade of a furze-bush, haunted all day by the
miserable fear that the woman she sought, of whom she knew so little,
would probably harden her heart and close her door against her. But the
good woman took compassion on her and gave her shelter in her poor
cottage, and kept her till her child was born, in spite of all the
women's bitter tongues. And in the village where she had found refuge
she remained to the end of her life, without a home of her own, but
always in a room or two with her boy in some poor person's cottage. Her
life was hard but not unpeaceful, and the old people, all dead and gone
now, remembered Ellen as a very quiet, staid woman who worked hard for a
living, sometimes at the wash-tub, but mostly in the fields, haymaking
and harvesting and at other times weeding, or collecting flints, or with
a spud or sickle extirpating thistles in the pasture-land. She worked
alone or with other poor women, but with the men she had no friendships;
the sharpest women's eyes in the village could see no fault in her in
this respect; if it had not been so, if she had talked pleasantly with
them and smiled when addressed by them, her life would have been made a
burden to her. She would have been often asked who her brat's father
was. The dreadful experience of that day, when she had been cast out and
was alone in the world, when, burdened with her unborn child, she had
walked over the downs in the hot August weather, in anguish of
apprehension, had sunk into her soul. Her very nature was changed, and
in a man's presence her blood seemed frozen, and if spoken to she
answered in monosyllables with her eyes on the earth. This was noted,
with the result that all the village women were her good friends; they
never reminded her of her fall, and when she died still young they
grieved for her and befriended the little orphan boy she had left on
their hands.

He was then about eleven years old, and was a stout little fellow with a
round head and flaxen hair like his father; but he was not so stolid and
not like him in character; at all events his old widow in speaking of
him to me said that never in all his life did he do one unkind or unjust
thing. He came from a long line of shepherds, and shepherding was
perhaps almost instinctive in him; from his earliest boyhood the
tremulous bleating of the sheep and half-muffled clink of the copper
bells and the sharp bark of the sheep-dog had a strange attraction for
him. He was always ready when a boy was wanted to take charge of a flock
during a temporary absence of the shepherd, and eventually, when only
about fifteen, he was engaged as under-shepherd, and for the rest of his
life shepherding was his trade.

His marriage to Martha Bawcombe came as a surprise to the village, for
though no one had any fault to find with Tommy Ierat there was a slur on
him, and Martha, who was the finest girl in the place, might, it was
thought, have looked for some one better. But Martha had always liked
Tommy; they were of the same age and had been playmates in their
childhood; growing up together their childish affection had turned to
love, and after they had waited some years and Tommy had a cottage and
seven shillings a week, Isaac and his wife gave their consent and they
were married. Still they felt hurt at being discussed in this way by the
villagers, so that when Ierat was offered a place as shepherd at a
distance from home, where his family history was not known, he was glad
to take it and his wife to go with him, about a month after her child
was born.

The new place was in Somerset, thirty-five to forty miles from their
native village, and Ierat as shepherd at the manor-house farm on a large
estate would have better wages than he had ever had before and a nice
cottage to live in. Martha was delighted with her new home--the cottage,
the entire village, the great park and mansion close by, all made it
seem like paradise to her. Better than everything was the pleasant
welcome she received from the villagers, who looked in to make her
acquaintance and seemed very much taken with her appearance and nice,
friendly manner. They were all eager to tell her about the squire and
his lady, who were young, and of how great an interest they took in
their people and how much they did for them and how they were loved by
everybody on the estate.

It happens, oddly enough, that I became acquainted with this same man,
the squire, over fifty years after the events I am relating, when he was
past eighty. This acquaintance came about by means of a letter he wrote
me in reference to the habits of a bird or some such small matter, a way
in which I have become acquainted with scores--perhaps I should say
hundreds--of persons in many parts of the country. He was a very fine
man, the head of an old and distinguished county family; an ideal
squire, and one of the few large landowners I have had the happiness to
meet who was not devoted to that utterly selfish and degraded form of
sport which consists in the annual rearing and subsequent slaughter of a
host of pheasants.

Now when Martha was entertaining half a dozen of her new neighbours who
had come in to see her, and exhibited her baby to them and then
proceeded to suckle it, they looked at one another and laughed, and one
said, "Just you wait till the lady at the mansion sees 'ee--she'll soon
want 'ee to nurse her little one."

What did they mean? They told her that the great lady was a mother too,
and had a little sickly baby and wanted a nurse for it, but couldn't
find a woman to please her.

Martha fired up at that. Did they imagine, she asked, that any great
lady in the world with all her gold could tempt her to leave her own
darling to nurse another woman's? She would not do such a thing--she
would rather leave the place than submit to it. But she didn't believe
it--they had only said that to tease and frighten her!

They laughed again, looking admiringly at her as she stood before them
with sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks, and fine full bust, and only
answered, "Just you wait, my dear, till she sees 'ee."

And very soon the lady did see her. The people at the manor were strict
in their religious observances, and it had been impressed on Martha that
she had better attend at morning service on her first Sunday, and a girl
was found by one of her neighbours to look after the baby in the
meantime. And so when Sunday came she dressed herself in her best
clothes and went to church with the others. The service over, the squire
and his wife came out first and were standing in the path exchanging
greetings with their friends; then as the others came out with Martha in
the midst of the crowd the lady turned and fixed her eyes on her, and
suddenly stepping out from the group she stopped Martha and said, "Who
are you?--I don't remember your face."

"No, ma'am," said Martha, blushing and curtsying. "I be the new
shepherd's wife at the manor-house farm--we've only been here a few
days."

The other then said she had heard of her and that she was nursing her
child, and she then told Martha to go to the mansion that afternoon as
she had something to say to her.

The poor young mother went in fear and trembling, trying to stiffen
herself against the expected blandishments.

Then followed the fateful interview. The lady was satisfied that she had
got hold of the right person at last--the one in the world who would be
able to save her precious little one "from to die," the poor pining
infant on whose frail little life so much depended! She would feed it
from her full, healthy breasts and give it something of her own
abounding, splendid life. Martha's own baby would do very well--there
was nothing the matter with it, and it would flourish on "the bottle" or
anything else, no matter what. All she had to do was to go back to her
cottage and make the necessary arrangements, then come to stay at the
mansion.

Martha refused, and the other smiled; then Martha pleaded and cried and
said she would never never leave her own child, and as all that had no
effect she was angry, and it came into her mind that if the lady would
get angry too she would be ordered out and all would be over. But the
lady wouldn't get angry, for when Martha stormed she grew more gentle
and spoke tenderly and sweetly, but would still have it her own way,
until the poor young mother could stand it no longer, and so rushed away
in a great state of agitation to tell her husband and ask him to help
her against her enemy. But Tommy took the lady's side, and his young
wife hated him for it, and was in despair and ready to snatch up her
child and run away from them all, when all at once a carriage appeared
at the cottage, and the great lady herself, followed by a nurse with the
sickly baby in her arms, came in. She had come, she said very gently,
almost pleadingly, to ask Martha to feed her child once, and Martha was
flattered and pleased at the request, and took and fondled the infant in
her arms, then gave it suck at her beautiful breast. And when she had
fed the child, acting very tenderly towards it like a mother, her
visitor suddenly burst into tears, and taking Martha in her arms she
kissed her and pleaded with her again until she could resist no more;
and it was settled that she was to live at the mansion and come once
every day to the village to feed her own child from the breast.

Martha's connexion with the people at the mansion did not end when she
had safely reared the sickly child. The lady had become attached to her
and wanted to have her always, although Martha could not act again as
wet nurse, for she had no more children herself. And by and by when her
mistress lost her health after the birth of a third child and was
ordered abroad, she took Martha with her, and she passed a whole year
with her on the Continent, residing in France and Italy. They came home
again, but as the lady continued to decline in health she travelled
again, still taking Martha with her, and they visited India and other
distant countries, including the Holy Land; but travel and wealth and
all that the greatest physicians in the world could do for her, and the
tender care of a husband who worshipped her, availed not, and she came
home in the end to die; and Martha went back to her Tommy and the boy,
to be separated no more while their lives lasted.

The great house was shut up and remained so for years. The squire was
the last man in England to shirk his duties as landlord and to his
people whom he loved, and who loved him as few great landowners are
loved in England, but his grief was too great for even his great
strength to bear up against, and it was long feared by his friends that
he would never recover from his loss. But he was healed in time, and ten
years later married again and returned to his home, to live there until
nigh upon his ninetieth year. Long before this the Ierats had returned
to their native village. When I last saw Martha, then in her
eighty-second year, she gave me the following account of her Tommy's
end.

He continued shepherding up to the age of seventy-eight. One Sunday,
early in the afternoon, when she was ill with an attack of influenza, he
came home, and putting aside his crook said, "I've done work."

"It's early," she replied, "but maybe you got the boy to mind the sheep
for you."

"I don't mean I've done work for the day," he returned. "I've done for
good--I'll not go with the flock no more."

"What be saying?" she cried in sudden alarm. "Be you feeling bad--what
be the matter?"

"No, I'm not bad," he said. "I'm perfectly well, but I've done work;"
and more than that he would not say.

She watched him anxiously but could see nothing wrong with him; his
appetite was good, he smoked his pipe, and was cheerful.

Three days later she noticed that he had some difficulty in pulling on a
stocking when dressing in the morning, and went to his assistance. He
laughed and said, "Here's a funny thing! You be ill and I be well, and
you've got to help me put on a stocking!" and he laughed again.

After dinner that day he said he wanted a drink and would have a glass
of beer. There was no beer in the house, and she asked him if he would
have a cup of tea.

"Oh, yes, that'll do very well," he said, and she made it for him.

After drinking his cup of tea he got a footstool, and placing it at her
feet sat down on it and rested his head on her knees; he remained a long
time in this position so perfectly still that she at length bent over
and felt and examined his face, only to discover that he was dead.

And that was the end of Tommy Ierat, the son of Ellen. He died, she
said, like a baby that has been fed and falls asleep on its mother's
breast.



CHAPTER XXIV

LIVING IN THE PAST

  Evening talks--On the construction of sheep-folds--Making
  hurdles--Devil's guts--Character in sheep-dogs--Sally the spiteful
  dog--Dyke the lost dog who returned--Strange recovery of a lost
  dog--Badger the playful dog--Badger shepherds the fowls--A ghost
  story--A Sunday-evening talk--Parsons and ministers--Noisy
  religion--The shepherd's love of his calling--Mark Dick and the
  giddy sheep--Conclusion


During our frequent evening talks, often continued till a late hour, it
was borne in on Caleb Bawcombe that his anecdotes of wild creatures
interested me more than anything else he had to tell; but in spite of
this, or because he could not always bear it in mind, the conversation
almost invariably drifted back to the old subject of sheep, of which he
was never tired. Even in his sleep he does not forget them; his dreams,
he says, are always about sheep; he is with the flock, shifting the
hurdles, or following it out on the down. A troubled dream when he is
ill or uneasy in his sleep is invariably about some difficulty with the
flock; it gets out of his control, and the dog cannot understand him or
refuses to obey when everything depends on his instant action. The
subject was so much to him, so important above all others, that he would
not spare the listener even the minutest details of the shepherd's life
and work. His "hints on the construction of sheep-folds" would have
filled a volume; and if any farmer had purchased the book he would not
have found the title a misleading one and that he had been defrauded of
his money. But with his singular fawn-like face and clear eyes on his
listener it was impossible to fall asleep, or even to let the attention
wander; and incidentally even in his driest discourse there were little
bright touches which one would not willingly have missed.

About hurdles he explained that it was common for the downland shepherds
to repair the broken and worn-out ones with the long woody stems of the
bithywind from the hedges; and when I asked what the plant was he
described the wild clematis or traveller's-joy; but those names he did
not know--to him the plant had always been known as _bithywind_ or
else _Devil's guts_. It struck me that bithywind might have come by
the transposition of two letters from withybind, as if one should say
flutterby for butterfly, or flagondry for dragonfly. Withybind is one of
the numerous vernacular names of the common convolvulus. Lilybind is
another. But what would old Gerarde, who invented the pretty name of
traveller's-joy for that ornament of the wayside hedges, have said to
such a name as Devil's guts?

There was, said Caleb, an old farmer in the parish of Bishop who had a
peculiar fondness for this plant, and if a shepherd pulled any of it out
of one of his hedges after leafing-time he would be very much put out;
he would shout at him, "Just you leave my Devil's guts alone or I'll not
keep you on the farm." And the shepherds in revenge gave him the
unpleasant nickname of "Old Devil's Guts," by which he was known in that
part of the country.

As a rule, talk about sheep, or any subject connected with sheep, would
suggest something about sheepdogs individual dogs he had known or
possessed, and who always had their own character and peculiarities,
like human beings. They were good and bad and indifferent; a really bad
dog was a rarity; but a fairly good dog might have some trick or vice or
weakness. There was Sally, for example, a stump-tail bitch, as good a
dog with sheep as he ever possessed, but you had to consider her
feelings. She would keenly resent any injustice from her master. If he
spoke too sharply to her, or rebuked her unnecessarily for going a
little out of her way just to smell at a rabbit burrow, she would nurse
her anger until an opportunity came of inflicting a bite on some erring
sheep. Punishing her would have made matters worse: the only way was to
treat her as a reasonable being and never to speak to her as a dog--a
mere slave.

Dyke was another dog he remembered well. He belonged to old Shepherd
Matthew Titt, who was head-shepherd at a farm near Warminster, adjacent
to the one where Caleb worked. Old Mat and his wife lived alone in their
cottage out of the village, all their children having long grown up and
gone away to a distance from home, and being so lonely "by their two
selves" they loved their dog just as others love their relations. But
Dyke deserved it, for he was a very good dog. One year Mat was sent by
his master with lambs to Weyhill, the little village near Andover, where
a great sheep-fair is held in October every year. It was distant over
thirty miles, but Mat though old was a strong man still and greatly
trusted by his master. From this journey he returned with a sad heart,
for he had lost Dyke. He had disappeared one night while they were at
Weyhill. Old Mrs. Titt cried for him as she would have cried for a lost
son, and for many a long day they went about with heavy hearts.

Just a year had gone by when one night the old woman was roused from
sleep by loud knocks on the window-pane of the living-room below. "Mat!
Mat!" she cried, shaking him vigorously, "wake up--old Dyke has come
back to us!" "What be you talking about?" growled the old shepherd. "Lie
down and go to sleep--you've been dreaming." "'Tain't no dream; 'tis
Dyke--I know his knock," she cried, and getting up she opened the window
and put her head well out, and there sure enough was Dyke, standing up
against the wall and gazing up at her, and knocking with his paw against
the window below.

Then Mat jumped up, and going together downstairs they unbarred the door
and embraced the dog with joy, and the rest of the night was spent in
feeding and caressing him, and asking him a hundred questions, which he
could only answer by licking their hands and wagging his tail.

It was supposed that he had been stolen at the fair, probably by one of
the wild, little, lawless men called "general dealers," who go flying
about the country in a trap drawn by a fast-trotting pony; that he had
been thrown, muffled up, into the cart and carried many a mile away, and
sold to some shepherd, and that he had lost his sense of direction. But
after serving a stranger a full year he had been taken with sheep to
Weyhill Fair once more, and once there he knew where he was, and had
remembered the road leading to his old home and master, and making his
escape had travelled the thirty long miles back to Warminster.

The account of Dyke's return reminded me of an equally good story of the
recovery of a lost dog which I heard from a shepherd on the Avon. He had
been lost over a year, when one day the shepherd, being out on the down
with his flock, stood watching two drovers travelling with a flock on
the turnpike road below, nearly a mile away, and by and by hearing one
of their dogs bark he knew at that distance that it was his dog. "I
haven't a doubt," he said to himself, "and if I know his bark he'll know
my whistle." With that he thrust two fingers in his mouth and blew his
shrillest and longest whistle, then waited the result. Presently he
spied a dog, still at a great distance, coming swiftly towards him; it
was his own dog, mad with joy at finding his old master.

Did ever two friends, long sundered by unhappy chance, recognize each
other's voices at such a distance and so come together once more!

Whether the drovers had seen him desert them or not, they did not follow
to recover him, nor did the shepherd go to them to find out how they had
got possession of him; it was enough that he had got his dog back.

No doubt in this case the dog had recognized his old home when taken by
it, but he was in another man's hands now, and the habits and discipline
of a life made it impossible for him to desert until that old, familiar,
and imperative call reached his ears and he could not disobey.

Then (to go on with Caleb's reminiscences) there was Badger, owned by a
farmer and worked for some years by Caleb--the very best stump-tail he
ever had to help him. This dog differed from others in his vivacious
temper and ceaseless activity. When the sheep were feeding quietly and
there was little or nothing to do for hours at a time, he would not lie
down and go to sleep like any other sheep-dog, but would spend his
vacant time "amusing of hisself" on some smooth slope where he could
roll over and over; then run back and roll over again and again, playing
by himself just like a child. Or he would chase a butterfly or scamper
about over the down hunting for large white flints, which he would bring
one by one and deposit them at his master's feet, pretending they were
something of value and greatly enjoying the game. This dog, Caleb said,
would make him laugh every day with his games and capers.

When Badger got old his sight and hearing failed; yet when he was very
nearly blind and so deaf that he could not hear a word of command, even
when it was shouted out quite close to him, he was still kept with the
flock because he was so intelligent and willing. But he was too old at
last; it was time for him to be put out of the way. The farmer, however,
who owned him, would not consent to have him shot, and so the wistful
old dog was ordered to keep at home at the farm-house. Still he refused
to be superannuated, and not allowed to go to the flock he took to
shepherding the fowls. In the morning he would drive them out to their
run and keep them there in a flock, going round and round them by the
hour, and furiously hunting back the poor hens that tried to steal off
to lay their eggs in some secret place. This could not be allowed, and
so poor old Badger, who would have been too miserable if tied up, had to
be shot after all.

These were always his best stories--his recollections of sheep-dogs, for
of all creatures, sheep alone excepted, he knew and loved them best. Yet
for one whose life had been spent in that small isolated village and on
the bare down about it, his range was pretty wide, and it even included
one memory of a visitor from the other world. Let him tell it in his own
words.

"Many say they don't believe there be such things as ghosties. They
niver see'd 'n. An' I don't say I believe or disbelieve what I hear
tell. I warn't there to see. I only know what I see'd myself: but I
don't say that it were a ghostie or that it wasn't one. I was coming
home late one night from the sheep; 'twere close on 'leven o'clock, a
very quiet night, with moonsheen that made it a'most like day. Near th'
end of the village I come to the stepping-stones, as we call 'n, where
there be a gate and the road, an' just by the road the four big white
stones for people going from the village to the copse an' the down on
t'other side to step over the water. In winter 'twas a stream there, but
the water it dried in summer, and now 'twere summer-time and there wur
no water. When I git there I see'd two women, both on 'em tall, with
black gowns on, an' big bonnets they used to wear; an' they were
standing face to face so close that the tops o' their bonnets wur a'most
touching together. Who be these women out so late? says I to myself.
Why, says I, they be Mrs. Durk from up in the village an' Mrs. Gaarge
Durk, the keeper's wife down by the copse. Then I thought I know'd how
'twas: Mrs. Gaarge, she'd a been to see Mrs. Durk in the village, and
Mrs. Durk she were coming out a leetel way with her, so far as the
stepping-stones, and they wur just having a last leetel talk before
saying Good night. But mind, I hear'd no talking when I passed 'n. An'
I'd hardly got past 'n before I says, Why, what a fool be I! Mrs. Durk
she be dead a twelvemonth, an' I were in the churchyard and see'd her
buried myself. Whatever be I thinking of? That made me stop and turn
round to look at 'n agin. An' there they was just as I see'd 'n at
first--Mrs. Durk, who was dead a twelvemonth, an' Mrs. Gaarge Durk from
the copse, standing there with their bonnets a'most touching together.
An' I couldn't hear nothing--no talking, they were so still as two
posties. Then something came over me like a tarrible coldness in the
blood and down my back, an' I were afraid, and turning I runned faster
than I ever runned in my life, an' never stopped--not till I got to the
cottage."

It was not a bad ghost story: but then such stories seldom are when
coming from those who have actually seen, or believe they have seen, an
immaterial being. Their principal charm is in their infinite variety;
you never find two real or true ghost stories quite alike, and in this
they differ from the weary inventions of the fictionist.

But invariably the principal subject was sheep.

"I did always like sheep," said Caleb. "Some did say to me that they
couldn't abide shepherding because of the Sunday work. But I always
said, Someone must do it; they must have food in winter and water in
summer, and must be looked after, and it can't be worse for me to do
it."

It was on a Sunday afternoon, and the distant sound of the church bells
had set him talking on this subject. He told me how once, after a long
interval, he went to the Sunday morning service in his native village,
and the vicar preached a sermon about true religion. Just going to
church, he said, did not make men religious. Out there on the downs
there were shepherds who seldom saw the inside of a church, who were
sober, righteous men and walked with God every day of their lives. Caleb
said that this seemed to touch his heart because he knowed it was true.

When I asked him if he would not change the church for the chapel, now
he was ill and his vicar paid him no attention, while the minister came
often to see and talk to him, as I had witnessed, he shook his head and
said that he would never change. He then added: "We always say that the
chapel ministers are good men: some say they be better than the parsons;
but all I've knowed--all them that have talked to me--have said bad
things of the Church, and that's not true religion: I say that the Bible
teaches different."

Caleb could not have had a very wide experience, and most of us know
Dissenting ministers who are wholly free from the fault he pointed out;
but in the purely rural districts, in the small villages where the small
men are found, it is certainly common to hear unpleasant things said of
the parish priest by his Nonconformist rival; and should the parson have
some well-known fault or make a slip, the other is apt to chuckle over
it with a very manifest and most unchristian delight.

The atmosphere on that Sunday afternoon was very still, and by and by
through the open window floated a strain of music; it was from the brass
band of the Salvationists who were marching through the next village,
about two miles away. We listened, then Caleb remarked: "Somehow I never
cared to go with them Army people. Many say they've done a great good,
and I don't disbelieve it, but there was too much what I call--NOISE;
if, sir, you can understand what I mean."

I once heard the great Dr. Parker speak the word imagination, or, as he
pronounced it, im-madge-i-na-shun, with a volume of sound which filled a
large building and made the quality he named seem the biggest thing in
the universe. That in my experience was his loftiest oratorical feat;
but I think the old shepherd rose to a greater height when, after a long
pause during which he filled his lungs with air, he brought forth the
tremendous word, dragging it out gratingly, so as to illustrate the
sense in the prolonged harsh sound.

To show him that I understood what he meant very well, I explained the
philosophy of the matter as follows: He was a shepherd of the downs, who
had lived always in a quiet atmosphere, a noiseless world, and from
lifelong custom had become a lover of quiet. The Salvation Army was born
in a very different world, in East London--the dusty, busy, crowded
world of streets, where men wake at dawn to sounds that are like the
opening of hell's gates, and spend their long strenuous days and their
lives in that atmosphere peopled with innumerable harsh noises, until
they, too, acquire the noisy habit, and come at last to think that if
they have anything to say to their fellows, anything to sell or advise
or recommend, from the smallest thing--from a mackerel or a cabbage or a
penn'orth of milk, to a newspaper or a book or a picture or a
religion--they must howl and yell it out at every passer-by. And the
human voice not being sufficiently powerful, they provide themselves
with bells and gongs and cymbals and trumpets and drums to help them in
attracting the attention of the public.

He listened gravely to this outburst, and said he didn't know exactly
'bout that, but agreed that it was very quiet on the downs, and that he
loved their quiet. "Fifty years," he said, "I've been on the downs and
fields, day and night, seven days a week, and I've been told that it's a
poor way to spend a life, working seven days for ten or twelve, or at
most thirteen shillings. But I never seen it like that; I liked it, and
I always did my best. You see, sir, I took a pride in it. I never left a
place but I was asked to stay. When I left it was because of something I
didn't like. I couldn't never abide cruelty to a dog or any beast. And I
couldn't abide bad language. If my master swore at the sheep or the dog
I wouldn't bide with he--no, not for a pound a week. I liked my work,
and I liked knowing things about sheep. Not things in books, for I never
had no books, but what I found out with my own sense, if you can
understand me.

"I remember, when I were young, a very old shepherd on the farm; he had
been more 'n forty years there, and he was called Mark Dick. He told me
that when he were a young man he was once putting the sheep in the fold,
and there was one that was giddy--a young ewe. She was always a-turning
round and round and round, and when she got to the gate she wouldn't go
in but kept on a-turning and turning, until at last he got angry and,
lifting his crook, gave her a crack on the head, and down she went, and
he thought he'd killed her. But in a little while up she jumps and
trotted straight into the fold, and from that time she were well. Next
day he told his master, and his master said, with a laugh, 'Well, now
you know what to do when you gits a giddy sheep.' Some time after that
Mark Dick he had another giddy one, and remembering what his master had
said, he swung his stick and gave her a big crack on the skull, and down
went the sheep, dead. He'd killed it this time, sure enough. When he
tells of this one his master said, 'You've cured one and you've killed
one; now don't you try to cure no more,' he says.

"Well, some time after that I had a giddy one in my flock. I'd been
thinking of what Mark Dick had told me, so I caught the ewe to see if I
could find out anything. I were always a tarrible one for examining
sheep when they were ill. I found this one had a swelling at the back of
her head; it were like a soft ball, bigger 'n a walnut. So I took my
knife and opened it, and out ran a lot of water, quite clear; and when I
let her go she ran quite straight, and got well. After that I did cure
other giddy sheep with my knife, but I found out there were some I
couldn't cure. They had no swelling, and was giddy because they'd got a
maggot on the brain or some other trouble I couldn't find out."

Caleb could not have finished even this quiet Sunday afternoon
conversation, in the course of which we had risen to lofty matters,
without a return to his old favourite subjects of sheep and his
shepherding life on the downs. He was long miles away from his beloved
home now, lying on his back, a disabled man who would never again follow
a flock on the hills nor listen to the sounds he loved best to hear--the
multitudinous tremulous bleatings of the sheep, the tinklings of
numerous bells, and crisp ringing bark of his dog. But his heart was
there still, and the images of past scenes were more vivid in him than
they can ever be in the minds of those who live in towns and read books.
"I can see it now," was a favourite expression of his when relating some
incident in his past life. Whenever a sudden light, a kind of smile,
came into his eyes, I knew that it was at some ancient memory, a touch
of quaintness or humour in some farmer or shepherd he had known in the
vanished time--his father, perhaps, or old John, or Mark Dick, or Liddy,
or Dan'l Burdon, the solemn seeker after buried treasure.

After our long Sunday talk we were silent for a time, and then he
uttered these impressive words: "I don't say that I want to have my life
again, because 'twould be sinful. We must take what is sent. But if
'twas offered to me and I was told to choose my work, I'd say, Give me
my Wiltsheer Downs again and let me be a shepherd there all my life long."





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