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Title: The Bird Watcher in the Shetlands - with some Notes on Seals—and Digressions
Author: Selous, Edmund
Language: English
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                                  THE
                     BIRD WATCHER IN THE SHETLANDS
               WITH SOME NOTES ON SEALS--AND DIGRESSIONS


                         _All rights reserved_

                 [Illustration: _A Seal's Dormitory._]



                                  THE
                             BIRD WATCHER
                           IN THE SHETLANDS
                     WITH SOME NOTES ON SEALS--AND
                              DIGRESSIONS

                                  BY
                             EDMUND SELOUS

                   [Illustration: Shadows we are and
                         Like shadows depart]

                         WITH 10 ILLUSTRATIONS
                                  BY
                                J. SMIT

                       LONDON: J. M. DENT & CO.
                     NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO.
                                 1905



PREFACE


In the spring of 1900 I paid my first visit to the Shetlands, and most
of what I then saw is embodied in my work _Bird Watching_. Two years
afterwards I went there again, arriving somewhat later, and it is the
notes made by me during this second stay which fill the greater number
of these pages. They are my journal, written from day to day, amidst
the birds with whom I lived without another companion, nor did I look
upon them as more than the rough material out of which I might, some
day, make a book. When it came to making one, however, it struck me more
and more forcibly that I was taking elaborate pains to stereotype and
artificialise what was, at any rate, as it stood, an unforced utterance
and natural growth. I found, in fact, that I could make it worse, but not
better, so I resolved not to make it worse. Except for a few peckings,
therefore, and minor interpolations--mostly having to do with the working
out of ideas jotted down in the rough--I send it to press with this very
negative sort of recommendation, and with only the hope added that what
interested me so much will interest others also, even through the veil
of my writing. Besides birds, I was lucky enough this time to have
seals to watch, and I watched them hour after hour and day after day. I
believe I know them better now, than I do anybody, or than anybody does
me; but that is not to say much, for, as the true Russian proverb has it,
"Another man's soul is darkness." But I have them in my heart for ever,
and I would take them out of the Zoological Society's basins, and throw
them back into the sea, if I could.

I have no doubt that these pages contain some errors of observation or
inference which I am not yet aware of--but those who only glance at
them may sometimes be inclined to correct me, where, later, I correct
myself. It is best, I think, to let one's mistakes stand recorded
against one, for mistakes have their interest, and often emphasize some
truth. Honesty, too, would suffer in their suppression--and besides,
if one has got in some idea or reflection that pleases one, or a
piece of descriptive writing that does not seem amiss, how tiresome
to have to scratch it out, merely because it is founded on a wrong
apprehension!--the spire to come tumbling just for the want of a base!
For these reasons, therefore--especially the last, when it applies--I
have not suppressed my errors, even where I happen to know them. There
they stand, if only to encourage others who may be labouring in the same
field as myself--which makes one more high-minded motive.

For my digressions, etc.--for which I have been taken to task--I hope
this fresh crop of them will make it apparent that they are a part of
my method, or, rather, a part of myself. I have still a temperament I
find--and it gives me a good deal of trouble--but as soon as I have
become a nonentity, I will follow the advice given me, and write like
one. I would say more if I could, but I must not promise what it is not
in my power to perform.

                                                          EDMUND SELOUS



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                         PAGE

       I. My Island Again!                           1
      II. Spoiler and Spoiled                        9
     III. From Darkness to Light                    15
      IV. Duckings and Bobbings                     26
       V. A Vengeful Community                      31
      VI. Metempsychosis                            37
     VII. Bird Sympathy                             39
    VIII. Enchanted Caverns                         47
      IX. Ducks and Divers                          59
       X. From the Edge of a Precipice              68
      XI. Darwinian Eider-ducks                     74
     XII. On the Great Ness-side                    81
    XIII. Mother and Child                          88
     XIV. "Dream Children"                          95
      XV. New Developments                         104
     XVI. Flight and Fancy                         110
    XVII. Mouths with Meanings                     122
   XVIII. Learning to Soar                         133
     XIX. The Dance of Death                       138
      XX. "By _Any_ Other Name"!                   150
     XXI. "Not Always to the Strong"               156
    XXII. Children of the Mists                    160
   XXIII. Love on the Ledges                       172
    XXIV. Grouse Aspirations                       190
     XXV. Unorthodox Attitudes                     203
    XXVI. Pied Pipers                              218
   XXVII. A Bitter Disappointment                  225
  XXVIII. Tammy-Norie-land                         234
    XXIX. Thoughts in a Sentry-box                 249
     XXX. Intersexual Selection                    261
    XXXI. An All-day Sitting                       284
   XXXII. Three Murderers                          297
  XXXIII. Gulls and Gibbon                         314
   XXXIV. All about Seals                          327
    XXXV. The Devil's Advocate                     342
   XXXVI. Comparing Notes                          365



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  A Seal's Dormitory                _Photogravure Frontispiece_
  Bird Sympathy                               _Facing page_  42
  From the Rocks of Raasey Isle                      "       84
  On the Edge of the Precipice                       "       92
  Aerial Piracy                                      "      133
  A Seal's Plaything                                 "      216
  A Perilous Journey                                 "      288
  "One More Unfortunate"                             "      308
  "Nature Red in Tooth and Claw"                     "      316
  Polite but Insistent                               "      346



                           THE BIRD WATCHER

                           IN THE SHETLANDS

                     WITH SOME NOTES ON SEALS--AND

                              DIGRESSIONS



CHAPTER I

MY ISLAND AGAIN!


My island again!--and all the birds still there, looking just as they did
when I left it. More, too, have come. At night, but in a sort of murky
daylight, I walk over the breeding-ground of the terns, a long flat strip
of pebbly beach--or rather the heather a little way above it, for on
the beach itself they do not appear to have laid. Rising, all at once,
as is their wont, they make a second smaller canopy, above me, floating
midway beneath the all-overshadowing one of dreary low-lying cloud. Out
of it, ever and anon, some single bird shoots down, with a cry so sharp
and shrill that it seems to pierce the ear like a pointed instrument.
Occasionally an oyster-catcher darts in amongst them all, on quickly
quivering wings, its quavering high-pitched note of "teep, teep!--teep,
teep, teep!" threading, as it were, the general clamour, whilst like
a grey, complaining shadow, the curlew circles, beyond and solitary,
shunning even the outer margin of the crowd. How lonely is this island,
and yet how populous! The terns--a "shrieking sisterhood"--make, as I
say, a canopy above me, when I pace or skirt their territories; but what
is that to the great perpetual canopy of gulls that accompanies and
shrieks down at me, almost wherever I go? Were it beneath any roof but
that of heaven, how deafening, how ear-splitting would be the noise,
how utterly unendurable! But going forth into the immensity of sky and
air it sounds almost softly, harsh as it is, and even its highest, most
distressful notes, sink peacefully at last into the universal murmur of
the sea, making the treble to the bass of its lullaby.

Most of the cries seem to resolve themselves into the one note or
syllable "ow," out of which, through varied tone and inflection, a
language has been evolved. "Ow-_ow_, ow-_ow_, ow-_ow_!" sadly prolonged
and most disconsolately upturned upon the last, saddest syllable--a
despair, a dirge in "ow." Then a series of shrieking "ows," disjoined,
but each the echo of the last, so that when the last has sounded, the
memory hears but one. Then again a wail, intoned a little differently,
but as mournful as the other. And now a laugh--discordant, mirthless,
but a laugh, and with even a chuckle in it--"ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" the
syllables huddling one another like the "_petit glou-glou_" of water out
of a bottle. All "ow" or variants of "ow," till the great black-backed
(the bulk are herring-gulls) swooping upon you, almost like the great
skua itself, breaks the spell with a "gugga, gugga, gugga!" or, right
over your head, says "er" with a stress and feeling that amounts almost
to solemnity.

How lonely and yet how populous! Does life, other than human life,
around one, in any way diminish the sense of solitude? I do not think
it does myself, except through human association, and for this, human
surroundings are more or less requisite. Thus woodland birds seem homely
and companionable in woods near which one has a home, and gulls upon the
roofs of houses take the place of pigeons or poultry in the feelings they
arouse. So, too, as long as a natural alacrity of the spirits prevails
over that dead, void feeling which prolonged solitude brings to the most
solitary, the wildest creatures in the wildest and loneliest places may
seem to cheer us with their presence. But the feeling is a false one,
dependent on that very condition, and treacherously forsaking us--even
to the extent of making what seemed a relief, an accentuation--when it
fails. How often, as I have wandered over this little, noisy, thickly
crowded retreat, has all the fellowship around me served but to remind
me of my own exclusion from it--as from that of fairies, ghosts,
elementals--but what all this life could not do, the cheerful firelight
on the bare stone walls of the solitary shepherd's hut did at once for
me, and with bacon in the frying-pan I had all the companionship I
wanted. A dog--one's own or that knew one--or even a cat, might do more
by its own personality than such inanimate objects by association merely,
to relieve the sense of solitude; but no quite indifferent creature
could do as much, I believe, or indeed anything.

But with the gulls here--and still more with the terns--there is more
than mere indifference. It is a disagreeable reflection that all these
many birds--these beings everywhere about one--resent one's presence and
wish one away, that every one of all the discordant notes uttered as one
walks about under this screaming cloud of witnesses has a distinct and
very unflattering reference to oneself, upbraids one, almost calls one
a name. To be hated by thousands--and rightly hated too! It is strange,
man's callousness in this respect--that he should see his presence affect
bird and beast as that of the most odious tyrant affects his fellow-men,
yet never sleep or eat a meal the less comfortably for it! So it is
indeed--and the principle holds good as between races and classes of
men--when one has one's fellow-tyrants to laugh and joke and chat with;
but here, with but oneself and one's own thoughts, the hostility of
all these gulls begins to trouble one. There is no one to share in the
obloquy--it falls upon you alone. You are the most unpopular person in
the island.

I get another odd sensation through being here. Gradually, as the days
go on, it seems more and more as though gulls made all the world, and
this feeling, which, for its singularity, I value, I can encourage by
seeking out some spot from which the sight of all but them and inanimate
nature is, with extra rigour, shut out. The centre of the island, which
is the gulls' especial sanctuary, presents these conditions. It forms an
extended grassy basin, ringed in with low, swelling peat-hills, above
which--for the intervening space is invisible--rise the tops of hills far
higher, belonging to islands of some size which lie spread about this
little one, hiding it from all the world. Through dips in these, and in
the rim of one's own brown basin, one gets the sea--dull, cold grey lakes
of it, engirt by dimmer islands, far away. No human sight in it all; no
sail, for hours, upon the sea--only the gulls which, in their thousands
and their all-possession, seem to have subdued the world. Men are gone,
and gulls now take their place, become ennobled for want of a superior.
Like snowy-toga'd Roman senators, they stand grouped about, or walk over
the grassy amphitheatre--their natural senate-house--and it is wonderful
with how slight an effort of the imagination--or indeed with none--the
dissonant cries and shrieks, the clang and the jangle, become as the
dignified utterance, eloquent oratory, to which one has sat and listened,
spell-bound, in the gallery of the House of Commons. "Such tricks has
strong imagination." "How easy," indeed, as Shakespeare tells us, "is a
bush supposed a bear!"

It is curious how the gulls cling to their breeding-places long after
the breeding-time is over. Summer--or say July--is now fast waning,
yet in the way they stand amidst the heather, rise as I approach, and
float, shrieking, above me, it is just as it was last time I was here,
which was in early June, when things were hardly more than beginning.
Any one not knowing the time of the year--and it is difficult to tell
in the Shetlands--might expect from the birds' actions and the general
appearance of the whole community, to find eggs and newly-hatched chicks
all about; but all are gone, and the nests now hardly to be distinguished
from the surrounding heather. A few young birds there are, but they are
of large size, though unable as yet--or scarcely able--to fly. It is
the habit of these, when approached, to crouch and lie flat along the
ground, without making any attempt to escape, even allowing themselves to
be stroked and taken up in the hand. When set down again, however, they
generally start off running, and often get to a great distance before
they stop. Young terns and young peewits do just the same thing, and it
is curious that in their manner of thus crouching, before the power of
flight has been fully gained, they exactly resemble the stone-curlew,
in which bird the habit is permanent, though not, I should say, very
frequently indulged in after maturity has been reached. As no adult gull
or peewit crouches in this way, we must suppose either that natural
selection has infixed a certain habit in the young bird, suited to its
flightless condition, or that in thus acting it reverts to a trick of its
ancestors, which were presumably, in that case, flightless, through life.
The clinging of the stone-curlew to the early habit seems to support
the latter supposition, and _primâ facie_ it is perhaps more probable
that crouching in a bird should have come before flying than after it,
or, at least, that it should have been resorted to by certain species,
on account of their flight having become weak. It is conceivable that
some birds may have alternately lost and reacquired the power of flight
many times in their genealogical history. But where have the majority
of the young gulls gone? That they have left the island seems evident,
for, were it otherwise, they would either be all about the heather, or
fill the air more numerously than do the mature birds, when they cluster
above me in my walks. In the air, however, none are to be seen, though,
as by far the greater number must now be full-fledged, it is there that
they ought to be, with the rest. On the ground there are, as I say, a few
that seem to have been later hatched, and are not yet matriculated in
flight. Their proportion, however, is not more than one to a hundred of
the grown gulls, whereas since every pair of these rears three young, it
should be as three to two. Gilbert White speaks of that general law in
accordance with which young birds are driven away by their parents, when
they are no longer dependent upon the latter's attention, but can feed
and look after themselves; but with social birds this law of expulsion
is apt to merge in a larger one, that, namely, which is expressed in the
old adage that "birds of a feather flock together." We often see this
illustrated in the case of the sexes, and after watching kittiwakes at
the close of the breeding-season, I can have no doubt that the same
principle governs the motions of young and old birds. Of hostility on
the part of the parents I have seen but little, nor is it necessary;
for the young, which are now distinguished by a different coloration,
both of plumage and bill, making them look like another and quite mature
species, delight to associate together, so that both the rocks and the
water become the scene of tolerably large gatherings of them, at which
hardly an old bird is present. As the parents of these assemblies are now
free from the cares of domesticity, it seems as though the reason for
such a segregation must be of a psychical nature, since one can hardly
suppose that the dissimilarity of plumage has anything to do with it,
seeing that young and old are as familiar with one another's appearance
as with their own. It is the same thing, no doubt, with the gulls on this
island, but as the whole interior, or rather the crown of it, is little
else than their nesting-ground, it would be difficult for the younger
generation to foregather, without the constraining presence of the elder
one. The inconveniences of this may be imagined. Not a remark but would
be overheard, not a side-glance but would be supervised and harshly
interpreted, not a giggle that would pass unreproved. In these irritating
circumstances, apparently--this, at least, is my theory of it--the young
people have migrated _en masse_, a striking proof that, with birds no
less than with ourselves,

  Crabbed age and youth cannot live together.



CHAPTER II

SPOILER AND SPOILED


To the one smooth beach that there is here come the terns, each year,
to breed, and from these, as well as from the various gulls that nest
upon the island, the lesser or Arctic skua--whom some call Richardson's,
as though it belonged to that gentleman--is accustomed to take toll.
Sweeping the sea with the glasses, one detects, here and there upon its
surface, a dusky but elegantly shaped bird, that sometimes rises from the
water and descends upon it again, slowly and gracefully, but is never
seen to poise and hawk at fish, like the terns themselves, or, more
rarely, some of the gulls. These are those skuas who elect to take their
chances at sea, and whenever a tern rises after making his plunge, with
a fish in his bill, they rise also and pursue him. Then may be witnessed
a long and interesting chase, in the course of which the two birds will
sometimes mount up to a considerable height, rising alternately, one
above the other, as though each were ascending an aerial ladder. There
are no gyrations in these ascents. They are, or at least they have the
appearance of being, almost perpendicular, so that they differ altogether
from those of the heron and hawk, once familiar in falconry, and of which
Scott has given us such a splendid description in "The Betrothed," that
delightful work which an obtuse critic and publisher (_l'un vaut bien
l'autre_ very often) almost bullied its author into discontinuing. The
victory is by no means always to the robber bird, and I believe that if
a tern only persevere long enough it has nothing to fear, for, as in the
case of the black-headed gull and the peewit, with much threatening,
there is never, or, to be on the safe side, very rarely, an actual
assault. It almost seems as if this logical sequence of what has gone
before had dropped into desuetude, and that the skua, from having long
been accustomed to succeed by the show of violence only, had become
incapable of proceeding beyond the show. Why, if this were not the case,
should he always leave a bird that holds out beyond a certain time? It
is not that he is outstripped in the chase, for the skua's activity and
powers of flight have always seemed to me to be sufficient to overtake
any bird of his own size, however swift, with whom he has piratical
relations. Of his own size, or something approaching to it, for I have
seen him altogether baffled by the smaller turns and evasions of such a
comparatively feeble flyer as the rock-pipit. But this was out of the
ordinary way of his profession. The rock-pipit carried nothing, and,
even if he had done, it would have been too insignificant for the skua's
attention. Either amusement or murder--or the amusement _of_ murder,
which is felt by birds as well as men--must have been the object here,
nor does this contravene the theory I have just laid down, since such
generalised and legitimate longings are only indirectly related to the
bird's special instinct.

I do not myself see how these curious relations of robber and robbed
could have arisen, unless there had been, from the beginning, a marked
difference in the relative powers of flight possessed by each. The skua,
originally, must have caught fish, like the birds on whose angling
it is now dependent, and only an easy mastery over the latter could
have induced it to abandon the one way of living for the other. This
superiority was probably first impressed upon the weaker species through
bodily suffering, but it would have been less trouble for the stronger
one could it have succeeded without coming to extremities, and this, and
its constantly doing so, might in time have made it forget, as it were,
the last act of the drama. But say that the skua has forgotten this,
then it is likely that a certain number of the persecuted birds have by
practice discovered that it has, and so emancipated themselves from the
tyranny. Whether this be the reason or not, I have often noticed the
persistence with which some terns refuse to yield the fish, though the
nearness of the skua, and its sweeping rushes, seem quite sufficient to
induce them to. Those, on the other hand, who drop it quickly, often do
so whilst the enemy is still at a distance, in which case the fish falls
upon the water before the skua can catch it. Upon this, the latter--if
not invariably, as the fishermen assert, yet certainly in the greater
number of instances--flies off without any further attempt to secure
it, and I have then seen the tern sweep back, and, plunging down, retake
possession of its booty. Whether, in such cases, the fish was designedly
relinquished, in order to be secured again, I cannot say, but here, at
any rate, we see another way in which the parasite might come to be
outwitted by the more intelligent of its _vaches à lait_.

These competitions between skua and tern, both of them birds of such
swift and graceful flight, are very interesting to watch. The skua,
in the midst of the chase, will frequently sweep away, as if it had
abandoned all hope, and then return in a wide circling rush, at the end
of which there may be a sudden upward shoot, for the tern generally seeks
to elude its pursuer by rising higher into the air. Often--and again this
is just as with the peewit and gull--a pair of skuas will give chase
to the same tern, and then one may see the slender, shining bird quite
overshadowed by the two evil figures, as, pressing upon either side, they
rise or sink towards it, often almost covering it up with their broad
and dusky pinions. Twin evil geniuses they look like, seeking to corrupt
a soul, or else dark shadows that this soul itself has summoned up, and
that attend it, hardly now to be shaken off:

  Da hab' ich viel blasse Leichen
  Beschworen mit Wortesmacht.
  Sie wollen, nun, nicht mehr weichen
  Zurück in die alte Nacht.

For imagination can easily multiply the two into many--cares, shadows,
sorrows, they are easily multiplied.

A tern that either eludes or is not molested by a skua at sea, flies
home with its fish, to feed its young. But here it has often to run
the gauntlet of other skuas, who wait and watch for it upon the land,
sitting amidst the short stunted heather, with the brown of which their
plumage, as a rule, harmonises. There are, therefore, land-robbers and
sea-robbers--pirates, and highwaymen--amongst these aristocratic birds,
and it would be interesting to know whether the two rôles are performed
by different individuals, or indifferently by the same one. To ascertain
this satisfactorily I have found a difficult matter, but I believe that
here as elsewhere--in everything, as soon as one begins to watch it--a
process of differentiation is going on.

Where there are terns to be robbed, the skuas--I am speaking always of
the smaller and, as I have found it, the more interesting species--seem
to prefer them to any other quarry, so that the gulls, generally, benefit
by their presence; otherwise all are victimised, except, as I think, the
great black-backed gull. The latter will, himself, attack the skua, who
flies before him, so that, taking this and his size into consideration,
it does not seem very likely that the parts should ever be reversed
between them, nor can I recall any clear instance in which they were.
Of all the birds attacked, the common gull--which, like common sense,
seems to be anything but common--makes, in my experience, the stoutest
resistance; for it will turn to bay and show fight, both in the air and
on the water, when it has been driven down upon it. Generally it is
able to hold its own, and I look upon it as a vigorous young Christian
nationality, in course of establishing its independence against the
intolerable yoke of Turkish oppression.

These skuas love brigandage so much that, amongst themselves, they
play at it; swooping, fleeing, and pursuing, each feigns, in turn, to
be spoiler or spoiled. So, at least, I understand it, for nothing ever
comes of these mock skirmishings, no real fight or flight, or anything
approaching to one. It is fun, frolic, with a sense of humour, maybe,
as though two pirates were playfully to hoist the black flag at each
other. I love the humour of it. I love the birds. Above all, I love that
wild cry of theirs that rings out so beautifully "to the wild sky," to
the mists and scudding clouds. By its general grace and beauty, by its
sportings and piracies, its speed of flight and the rushing sweeps of its
attack, this bird must ever live in the memories of those who have known
it: but, most of all, it will live there by the inspiring music of its
cry.



CHAPTER III

FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT


To all that I have said concerning the Arctic skua in my last chapter (I
do not say it is much) I will now add what the Germans call a _Beitrag_,
on the subject of the multitudinous variety of colouring and arrangement
of markings which the plumage of this species exhibits.

Hitherto, indeed, I have spoken as if it were always of a uniformly
dusky shade, but that was because I wanted that shade (and, indeed, it
happened so to be) in the two that were chasing my tern. Otherwise they
would not have suited the part I assigned them of twin evil geniuses, or
have contrasted sufficiently with the white soul that they were seeking
to corrupt. So, till that was all over, there could be no light or
half-light skuas, but now that it is, and the effect produced, I permit
things to be as they are.

The Arctic skua, then, is supposed by ornithologists--or, at any rate,
that is how they are accustomed to speak of it--to be a bird of two
different outer appearances, independent of sex, which does not add
another one: dimorphic we are told it is, which means, or should mean,
that it is two- or double-formed, taking form here to mean colour. Two!
A hundred would be nearer the mark, I think, but I have only had the
time, or the patience, to note down fifteen, which I did very carefully,
through the glasses, as the birds stood amidst the short heather on the
ness-side. Here they are; not, perhaps, very precisely or scientifically
defined, but none the less truthfully so, for all that, and as accurate,
I think, as the fact that no two people see colours quite alike will
allow. But they, at any rate, bring out four facts, which, together,
have, I think, a distinct meaning, viz. (1) the unmistakable and, for the
most part, pronounced difference in these fifteen forms of a two-formed
species; (2) the likeness of the extremely plain, permanent form to the
plain-coloured great skua; (3) the same resemblance in the first true
plumage of the young bird; and (4) the absence in the young bird of the
two lance-like feathers which, in the old ones, project beyond the rest
of the rectrices, but which are also absent in the great skua. Well, here
they are.

(1) The neck, from just below the head, with the throat, breast, and
ventral surface, as far as the legs, a beautiful creamy white; the
rest dark, as in the ordinary dark form, but I was not careful to
note the precise shade; the crown of the head--and this, it seems, is
universal--sufficiently dark to appear black. This bird represents, I
think, the extreme of the light or ornate form, in which dark and light
are almost equally divided.

(2) The light colouring extends, speaking roughly, over the same
parts, but is very much less bright and pure. It might be described
as a dun-cream or cream-dun, the two shades seeming to struggle for
supremacy. The cream prevails on the neck, the dun on the other parts;
but even the neck is of a much duller shade than in the bird just
described (No. 1). There are parts of the breast where the original
sombre hue, a little softened, encroaches, cloudily, upon the lighter
surface. These two birds cannot, certainly, be described as more or less
handsome, merely, in the same colouring. The lighter surface, at any
rate, is plainly different in shade, also its amount and distribution,
though in a less degree.

(3) Another bird is much like this last one (No. 2), but there is, here,
a distinct, broad, dunnish space, dividing the throat and breast parts,
making, of course, a very palpable difference.

(4) Another bird--one of two standing together--is the common uniformly
dark form, except that the neck and throat just below the head is, for
about an inch, very much lighter, making a considerable approach to cream
without quite attaining it. This light part is conspicuous in the one
bird--this that I have been describing (No. 4)--but not in the other (No.
5) that it is standing by.

(5) This other one might pass for the ordinary dark form, but on
examining it through the glasses a lighter, though less salient, collar
is distinctly visible.

(6) In a third bird, not far off these two (Nos. 4 and 5) the whole
colouring, from immediately below the crown of the head--which seems
always to be black or very dark--is of a uniform brown-drab or brown-dun
colour, there being not the slightest approach to a lighter collar, or
any lightness elsewhere, except, as in every bird, without exception, on
the quill feathers of the wings as seen in flight.

(7) In another bird the breast and ventral surface is of a delicate
silvery cream, or creamy silver, something like that on the same parts
of the Great Crested Grebe. On the sides of the neck, and just below the
chin it is the same, perhaps a little less silvered; but between these
two spaces, and so between the chin and breast, a zone of faint brown or
dun, somewhat broken and cloudy, pushes itself forward from the wings,
thus breaking the continuity of the light surface by the strengthening
of a tendency which is, perhaps, just traceable even in the lightest
specimens. Besides this, a similar clouded space is continued downwards
from the back of the head, first in a diminishing quantity, and then,
again, broadening out, till it joins the upper body-colour. So that here
only a little of the nape is white, hardly more than what may still
be described as the two sides of the neck. This is a very pretty and
delicate combination.

(8) Close beside this last bird (No. 7) is a uniformly dark brown one; and

(9) Not far off, on the other side of it, one which exhibits the same
sort of general effect, in a dark, smoky dun. This latter bird would
generally pass as representing the dark form, and, with fluctuations
in either direction, dark or light, it does represent the common form.
Nevertheless, it is both light and varied compared with the extreme or
uniform dark brown form beside it (No. 8), which appears to me to be the
least common one of all, less so than the extreme light one (No. 1) at
the other end. When I say uniform, however, I do not mean to include the
crown of the head or tips of the wings, which are always darker than the
rest of the plumage, nor yet that lighter shade which is on the primary
quills of every individual, but only seen in flight. These exceptions
must always be understood, and, moreover, the expression uniform is not
to be construed with mathematical accuracy, but only as conveying the
general effect upon the eye.

(10) A bird that from the dark crown of the head to the dark tips of the
wings is, above and below, a uniform dark, browny dun, yet some washes
lighter than the uniformly brown one (No. 8) that I have spoken of.

(11) A bird that, from the dark crown to the dark wing-tips, is, above
and below, a uniform light fawny dun.

(12) A bird that would be the extreme light form (No. 1) that I have
first described, were it not that, both on the throat and breast, the
cream is encroached upon by cloudy barrings of a soft greyey-brown (or
something between the two) which extend also over the under surface of
the wings. Moreover, a toning of the darker colour of the general upper
surface encroaches a little upon the cream of the nape.

(13) A bird exhibiting the uniform, dusky-dunnish colour of the common
form (a shade lighter, perhaps, on the under surface), but with a cream
patch on each side of the neck, just below the head. These patches are
not, perhaps, of the brightest cream, but they are very conspicuous,
whether the bird is seen standing or flying--in fact, the salient feature.

(14) A bird that would be the extreme light form (No. 1), but for a
distinct collar of soft brown dividing the cream of the neck and throat
from that of the breast.

(15) A bird that is yellowish dun on the neck and throat, mottled-brown
on the breast, and a fine cream on the ventral surface.

Moreover, all these birds differed to a greater or less extent in those
lighter markings of the quill feathers, both on the upper and under
surface, some being lighter and some darker; following, in this respect,
the general colouring. This feature, however, is only apparent when the
birds fly, and I found it too laborious to include.

I can say with certainty, I think--judging by the lance-like projecting
feathers of the tail, absent in the young bird, and by every other
indication--that all the individuals here described by me, were birds of
mature plumage. They were all established in one locality, and I was able
to compare most of them with each other. I think, therefore, that though
there might, perhaps, be some difference of opinion in regard to some of
my colour terms--as where would there not be?--yet that the variation
between the different forms is properly brought out. Without my seeking
it, the list includes the two extreme forms, as I believe them to be, of
dark and light; the former represented by a uniformly dark-brown bird,
the latter by one having the whole under surface of the body, as well as
the sides and nape of the neck, of a beautiful cream colour, by virtue of
which, and of the salient contrast exhibited between this and the dusky
upper surface, it is extremely handsome, not to say beautiful--one of
the handsomest of all our birds in my opinion. Both the extreme forms
are uncommon, but only, I think, as compared with all the intermediate
shades, not with any one of them. Also the extreme light, or handsome,
form seems to me to be commoner than the extreme plain one. Should not a
bird like this be described as multi-morphic rather than as dimorphic?
I believe that there exists as perfect a series between the two extreme
forms as between the least eye-like and the most perfect eye-feather in
the tail of the peacock--to take the well-known illustration given by
Darwin to enforce his arguments in favour of sexual selection. The eye,
however, insensibly masses the less saliently distinguished individuals
together, so that those in whose plumage the light colour is more _en
évidence_ than the dark, go down as the light form, and _vice versâ_.
Moreover, the more _prononcé_ a bird is, in one or another direction,
the more it is remarked; so that, perhaps, the intermediate shadings are
forgotten, on the same principle as that by which extreme characters,
in any direction, are more appreciated than less extreme ones, by the
breeders of fancy birds--pigeons, poultry, etc. The uniform brown form,
however, as being less striking (though extreme at one end) is not, I
believe, so much noticed as those various dunnish shades, which have, in
my view, been classed all together, as the dark variety.

In regard to the young birds, I only remember those nestling ones which
had feathers under the fluff, as brown, without any admixture of cream.
But I had not, at that time, these matters in my mind, and, moreover, I
did not see many. When older, however, and able to fly, all that I have
seen have had a distinct colouring of their own--for their plumage has
borne a considerable resemblance to that of the Great Skua (_Stercorarius
catarriactes_), being mottled on the back with two shades of brown, a
darker and a lighter one. I got the effect of this when I watched young
birds flying or standing, and one day I caught one whose wing had been
injured, and saw that it was so. This resemblance is increased by such
birds wanting the two lance-like feathers in the tail. As I say, this
mottled brown is the only kind of colouring which I have seen in these
immature but comparatively advanced birds, and my impression is that,
in the still younger birds, such mottling was either absent or not so
noticeable. At any rate, I have no clear recollection of it.

My own explanation of all these facts is that _Stercorarius
crepidatus_--by my faith, 'tis a pretty name, though not wholly
deserved--having been, originally, a plain homely-coloured bird, like
his relative, the great skua, is being gradually modified, under the
influence of sexual selection, into a most beautiful one, as represented
by the extreme light or half-cream form. Natural selection, in the more
general sense, seems here excluded, or, at any rate, extremely doubtful;
and if it be suggested that the lighter birds have the more vigorous
constitutions, that they are fuller of verve and energy, to which they
owe their cream colouring, I, for my part, can only say "Prodigious!" (or
think it), like Dominie Sampson. But I can assure all those who hold this
unmanageable view--for really there is no dealing with it--that the one
sort came not a whit nearer to knocking my cap off than did the other.
But, leaving shadows, the main facts here suggest choice in a certain
direction. There is a gradation of colour and pattern, connecting two
forms--one plain, the other lovely. This suggests a passage from one
to the other, and if the plain mature form--I mean the uniform brown
one--most resembles the young bird in colouring--which to me it seems to
do--whilst the young bird resembles, more than any old one, an allied
plainer species, this makes it more than likely that the passage has
been from the plain to the lovely, and not from the lovely to the plain.
Supporting and emphasising this, we have the absence, in the tail of the
young bird, of those lance-like feathers which give so marked a character
to, and add so infinitely to the grace of, the old one. Of what use can
this thin projection, an inch or so beyond the serviceable fan of the
tail, be to the bird? Seeing how well every other bird does without it,
can we suppose it to be of any service? Its beauty, however--which one
misses dreadfully in the young flying bird--is apparent to any one, and
it goes hand in hand with an ascending scale of beauty in colour. All
this seems to me to point strongly towards sexual selection as the agency
by which these changes have been, and are being, effected;[1] since I am,
personally, a believer in the reality of that power, having never heard
or read anything against it, so convincing to my mind as what Darwin said
for it, nor seen anything that has appeared to me to be inconsistent
either with his facts or his arguments.

[Footnote 1: It is a strong enforcement, I think, of this view, that in
another variable species of skua--_Stercorarius pomatorhinus_--the same
two feathers give the bird "the grotesque appearance of having a disk
attached to its tail."]

No doubt if the varied coloration of the Arctic skua is really to be
explained in this way, the lighter-coloured forms, especially the
extreme one, in which the whole under surface is cream, ought to be
on the increase, whilst the dark ones should ultimately die out or
remain, perhaps, as a separate species, the intermediate tintings having
disappeared. It is very difficult to form an idea of the relative number
of individuals constituting any one form, because one unconsciously
compares such form with a great many others instead of with each
separately; but, whereas I remember various repetitions of the extreme
light or half-cream variety, I have not the same clear recollection in
regard to birds exhibiting other shades and proportions of cream. It was
the opinion, moreover, of the man engaged to protect the sea-birds during
the breeding season on Unst, that the light birds, by which he meant
the ones more markedly so, were increasing in numbers. It would appear,
therefore, that the process one might expect, were sexual selection
the agency here at work, is in operation, and, for the rest, it is no
use being in a hurry. A little patience, the "rolling" of "a few more
years"--say a million--will settle the matter either one way or the
other.



CHAPTER IV

DUCKINGS AND BOBBINGS


The eider-duck is here, but not its beauty, for at this fag-end of the
summer and breeding season the males have all departed, and it is the
sober-coloured female, either alone or accompanied by her little brood
of ducklings, that one meets now along the shores of the island. True
there must be males in their just proportion among the latter, but at
this tender age--the age of fluff and innocence--the sex of a bird is
in abeyance--a world that is not yet begun. A pretty thing it is to
see such little family parties coasting quietly along the shore and
following all its bends and indentations. There is one such now--mother
and three--coming "slowly up this way," like the spring, though not so
slowly as the spring, or anything at all spring or summer-like, comes to
these islands. They are feeding, apparently, upon the brown seaweed that
clothes, as with a mantle, each rock and smooth stone that lies upon the
shallow bottom along a gently shelving beach--making a continuous fringe
which is but just submerged at low tide. In this the heads of the young
ones are continually buried, but the mother eats more sparingly, and
seems all-in-all happy to be thus with her family. Now as the eider-duck
is certainly very much of an animal feeder--supposed, indeed, to be
wholly so--one would naturally think that here the food sought for is not
the seaweed itself, but any live things that may be clinging to it. This,
accordingly, was my provisional hypothesis, but practical investigation
hardly supported it, for on examining some of the seaweed, first in one
spot and then another, along the track in which the birds had swum, I
could find nothing whatever upon it--noticeably bare, indeed, it was. The
eyes of an eider-duck are, no doubt, sharper than my own--or anybody's.
Still I do not believe that even the most sharp-sighted one could find
anything on this seaweed, at least without searching for it, whereas
these ducklings are constantly dipping and, apparently, as constantly
feeding all the way along. Finding always, they never have the appearance
of looking for what they find. To me they seem to be browsing in their
little ducking way, just as sheep browse in a field.

The seaweed here is not the long, brown sort, but another and almost
equally common kind, which is shorter and covered with little lobes,
shaped something like an orange-pip, but of a slightly larger size--small
grapes, perhaps, since they grow in bunches, is more what they resemble.
They are full of a clear, gelatinous substance that might well be
appreciated, and having, to the boot of all the other indications,
actually seen something that looked very like one of them in the beak of
a duckling, I imagine--and it is a pleasing imagination--that the latter,
at any rate, derive some part of their sustenance from these their
subaqueous vineries. But I have seen seaweed in the mother's bill also,
and this was not only the brown sort, but a soft green variety which
grows sparingly with it. When feeding, without any doubt, upon living
prey, eider-ducks are accustomed to dive, going right to the bottom,
and often coming up with what they find there--a crab or other kind of
shell-fish--to dispose of it on the surface at their leisure. The chick
can dive as easily as the grown bird, but one may watch these family
excursions for a long time without once seeing either of them do so.
Instead, they now merely duck to get the seaweed, which almost reaches
the surface. The chicks, however, are often raised by the swell of the
sea beyond the height at which they can nibble it comfortably, and it is
then funny to see the hinder portion of their little bodies sticking up
in the air, with their legs violently kicking, as they hold on with might
and main to prevent being floated off on the wave. Sometimes a brisk one
bids fair to tilt them right over, but they always ride it in the most
buoyant manner. The motion with which they do so--or rather with which it
is done for them--is sometimes very curious, for they look as though they
were swung out at the end of a piece of elastic, and then drawn smoothly
back again, just as they are on the point of turning a somersault; but
more often it is a plain bob-bobbing. Thus over wave and ripple they bob
lightly along, whilst their mother, floating deeper and heavier, bobs
with more equipoise--a staider bob, that has much of deportment about
it. Each kind has its charm--never was there a prettier family bobbing.
All bob to each other--that, at least, is what it looks like--and their
song, if they had one, would be certainly this:

  If it wasna weel bobbit, weel bobbit, weel bobbit,
  If it wasna weel bobbit, we'll bob it again.

But, for my part, I have never seen them bob it otherwise than well. They
all of them bob to perfection.

Scenes like this belong to the pebbled beach and gently sloping shore.
There are others in the deeply indented, rocky bays that bound the
greater part of the island. Here, in the frowning shadow of beetling,
cavern-worn precipices, one may often see the little eider-ducklings
crawl out to feed upon the steeply-sloping sides of rocks or mightier
"stacks"--as those great detached spurs of the cliff that the water
swirls round are called here--whilst their mother waits and watches on
the sea close at hand. She does not bob now. These sullen heaving waves
sway her with a larger and more rhythmic motion, calm but portentous,
like the breathings of a sleeping lion that may at any moment awake.
Or she will follow her ducklings, sliding up on the heave of the wave,
and remaining, most smoothly deposited, as though the sea, rough and
rude as it cannot help being, yet really loved her, in its way, and
were solicitous of her safety. There she will feed beside them till she
tires, and with a deep note that brings them running after her down the
smooth, wet slope of the rock, goes off on the wave that is waiting, like
a ship with so many little pinnaces following in her wake. The most she
ever sails with now is three, and very often she has only one to attend
her.



CHAPTER V

A VENGEFUL COMMUNITY


It was terns, I think, who, when some killing Scotch naturalist or
other had wounded one of their number, came down to it, pitifully, as
it lay on the sea, and bore it away upon their backs and wings. I can
better realise this incident now, after having walked about a ternery
in these northern parts, and again tried the experiment--which in the
south produced no special consequences--of interfering with their young.
Upon my taking one of them in my hand, the whole community, amounting,
perhaps, to several hundreds, gathered in one great, air-filling cloud,
a little above my head, and with violent sweeps and piercing cries,
seemed to threaten an actual attack. When I let the young thing flutter
to the ground, and it moved and struggled upon it, the excitement was
redoubled. It seemed as though they were animated with hope at seeing
it out of my grasp, and as I took it up and let it go twice again, each
time with the same result, I have little doubt that this was really
the case. It was not only the two parents--assuming them to have been
there--who attacked me. Many did so; many, too, seemed to feel, at some
time, an extra degree of fury, whilst not a bird in the whole crowd but
was violently and vengefully moved. These terns, as they clustered and
darted about, resembled, or at least made me think of an angry swarm of
wasps or hornets; but how different is the anger of insects to that of
any other sort of animal! Though so much smaller, they attack without
any hesitation or mistrust as to the result whatever. A hornet or an ant
threatening merely when its nest was attacked seems an absurdity, whilst
in a creature many times their size it is the idea of courage only that
is presented to us.

Yet it was not all threatening with these terns, for as the excitement
and hubbub increased several of them attacked me, though only with
missile weapons. To be explicit, they excreted upon me, as they swept
down, in such an irate "Take that!" sort of manner and with such
precision of aim, that the intention was quite evident. This habit I
had heard of, though not felt, before, for a south coast fisherman
told me that he once had a dog which had developed a strong liking for
tern's eggs, to gratify which he used to make egg-hunting and feasting
expeditions along a line of beach where they lived, from which he would
return in a most unseemly plight, owing to the birds having "dunged" him.
I did not doubt this account at the time, and I have now this interesting
confirmation of it, but though I myself walked amongst these southern
terns and often took the young ones up in my hand, they never vented
their displeasure on me in this particular way, nor were such swoops and
threatenings as they made of so pronounced and violent a character. They
mobbed a hare, however, in a much more determined way, and certainly
pecked at it, though, at the distance, this was all I could say with
certainty. It is interesting if a means of defence resorted to against
animals only, by some colonies of these birds, is by others employed to
repel the intrusion of man also. For the habit itself, I do not remember
reading of it, either in the case of terns or any other bird or animal,
except one with which Swift has made us familiar--Swift, that great
misanthrope, who, by the sheer force of his satire, has anticipated to
some extent the reasoned truth of Darwin. As I say, I can hardly doubt
that these terns acted as they did with malice prepense, yet, as their
conduct is, perhaps, susceptible of another interpretation, I ought to
mention that the bombardment was not continuous, but occasional only--a
dropping fire, so to speak. As far as I could observe, however, the act
was always in combination with the plunging sweep down, which makes me
certain that, if not the mere mechanical effect of intense excitement, it
was prompted by hostility--to which latter view I strongly incline.

A little way farther on I found two quite tiny terns--the other was
of a fair size--lying together in the nest. There was excitement when
I took up these also, but not nearly so great as just before, except,
perhaps, on the part of the two parents. The first young bird had assumed
almost its final appearance, though not quite able to fly. I concluded,
therefore, that this had something to do with the different degree of
excitement shown by the terns as a whole, but when, after some while,
I found and took up another baby, almost as big as the first, there was
still less demonstration than in the case of the two fluffy ones--again
excepting the parents. Perhaps the boiling point of communal fury that
had been aroused by my first unlawful act was not to be again reached;
but birds are certainly capricious in their actions, and there is no
judging from one to the next.

But, taking them at their best, why are these northern terns so much
fiercer and more vengeful than those which breed in the south? Of the
disposition of the latter I have had ample time to judge, and, though
there was always anger when I walked over the great bank crowded with
their nests, yet its manifestations were of a more ordinary kind, nor,
as I say, did I notice any very acute development of it when I lifted
a young one from the ground. Sometimes I think these Shetlanders look
slightly smaller than the English kind, and always they seem to me to be
more waspish and irritable in their disposition. Are they, therefore, of
a different species--the Arctic, instead of the common tern, or _vice
versâ_? The two, indeed, are so much alike that only an ornithologist--as
ornithologists tell us--is capable of distinguishing them whilst the
birds are alive and at liberty. However, as the sole mark of distinction
appears to consist in a hardly appreciable difference in the length
of the tarsus, it is easier to understand the difficulty than how the
ornithological eye, even, unsupported by a measuring-tape, manages to
surmount it. But when would any member of a fraternity admit himself on
a level with mankind in general, in regard to his particular cult? The
thing is always to ramp on one's pedestal, though it be no higher than
the houses over the way. Personally I doubt the validity of a specific
distinction so attenuated as this; but be that as it may, terns, in
their northern and southern homes, seem to differ somewhat in their
natures, even as do the respective beaches on which they lay, with their
surrounding scenery of sea and sky. How different are these one from
another! Here, in these desolate and wind-swept isles, I, at least,
though I have sometimes seen the sun, have never caught one glimpse of
summer--nothing at all nearer to it than a somewhat fresher and very
much rougher November. But on that other great bank, in the more genial
climate of southern England, not only is it summer, sometimes--and that
in spring--for hours together, but one may even be, for a while, in the
tropics. How else could there be the mirage? Yet there it is, or, at any
rate, something like it; for as one lies at length and gazes through the
golden haze that seems to beat in waves upon the hot, parched shingle,
lo! this is gone, and where it lay, all glaring, a blue pellucid lake,
that seems to partake equally of the nature of sea and sky, lies now,
cool and delightful. Into it terns, ever descending, seem to plunge or
softly dip, as though it were the sea itself; and as they do so they
either disappear altogether, becoming lost in azure haze, or are seen
through it, dimly and vaguely, sitting or performing such actions as are
proper to their shore life, amidst those strange new waters, from which
others as constantly ascend. Gulls, too, and sometimes cormorants, may be
there, whilst dove-cot pigeons, with familiar, yet now half phantasmal
strut and bow, mingle occasionally, like little household Pucks, with
the more poetic figures of this fairy dream. A dream, indeed, it is;
but, more and more, it passes into one of far-off, sunnier lands--seen
once, remembered now. Bluer becomes the sky--the sea; softer the air.
Palm-trees wave, the long, bright breakers are bursting on a coral shore,
the surf roars in, hissing and sparkling, the gulls are the surf-riders,
England is no more.



CHAPTER VI

METEMPSYCHOSIS


Oh, if there is really a metempsychosis, has not the soul of Bardolph
gone into an oyster-catcher, or at least has not his nose, which was his
soul--Shakespeare, at any rate, has made it the most immortal part of
him--gone into an oyster-catcher's bill? I believe it has, and it burns
there, now, just as brightly, with nothing but the salt sea to drink.
It is that bill, that wonderful bill, which makes the oyster-catcher a
handsome bird. The ruby eye, the pale pink legs, and the gaily-chequered
plumage, all help; but they are but adjuncts, and by themselves would
work but small effect. This is well seen when the bird, having before
been running actively about on the foreshore, becomes, all at once,
oppressed with somnolence, stands still, turns its head over its
shoulder, and thrusts its long, fierce, fiery tube amidst the plumage
of the back. The transition from something showy to something plain,
from brilliancy to mediocrity, is then quite remarkable; and equally so
is it the other way when, for some imperative purpose, or in a wakeful
moment, the red ray flashes out again. Every now and again come these
swift conflagrations, and, between them, the bird stands like a little
lighthouse, in the intervals between the flashes of the revolving light.

Oyster-catchers--or sea-pies, to give them their old name, which is a
very much better one--seem somewhat sleepy birds, unless it be that in
the Shetlands birds sleep more in the daytime and less at night than
farther south. Sleep, I think, it may be called, taking the attitude and
the complete quiescence into consideration. Yet the red eye is always
open, seeming--for you see but one--to wake singly, keeping guard over
the rest of the slumbering commonwealth to which it belongs. But there
is another eye, and that, no doubt, is open too. A pair of these quaint
birds will often rest thus, side by side, upon the rocks, and another,
seeing them as he comes flying along the dividing-line of shore and sea,
will wheel inwards, and, settling beside them, be a lotus-eater too.



CHAPTER VII

BIRD SYMPATHY


To-day--which is my third here upon the island--I was actually
assaulted by the terns. I saw a young one, now well advanced, that
flew for a little and then went down on the grass. Walking towards
it, a bird--presumably one of the parents--descended upon me twice in
succession, and, with that angry and piercing cry that I have spoken or
ought to have spoken of--it sounds very like a shrill "bah!"--delivered a
fierce peck at my head, so that I felt it each time, quite unpleasantly,
through the thin cloth of my cap. The difference is to be noted in
this form of attack, to that employed by gulls and skuas, the former
in battles _inter se_ only, and the latter as against man in defence
of their eggs or young. Both of them, when they thus "swoop to their
revenge," use the feet only, and the superiority of the tern's method is
so great that it makes this small bird almost as redoubtable--if this
exaggerated word may be pardoned--as even the largest of the others. The
Great Skua, especially, were it to use its powerful beak, would be really
formidable, even to a man. In fighting with its fellows, it no doubt
does so, and gulls, under these circumstances, make the greatest use of
theirs. This, however, is when they struggle together on the ground;
but when one fights on the ground and the other in the air, the latter
uses its feet only, with effects that are irritating rather than to be
feared. Now why is this, and what causes the difference in this respect
as between gull and tern? From my own observation I think I can explain
it. So long as two contending gulls fight with any equality, they do so
upon the ground, but when one of them can no longer hold his own there,
he rises into the air and, sweeping backwards and forwards over the
other, who stays where he was, annoys him in this particular way. The
bird, therefore, by whom these tactics are resorted to has already got
the worst of it, and the last thing he wishes is again to close with a
rival who has defeated him. This, however, is exactly what would happen
were he to use his hooked beak in the manner proper to it, for it is
adapted for seizing and tearing, and to these uses it has hitherto been
put. To peck or stab with it would be like making a thrust with a sickle,
and though possibly as against a weaker antagonist it might be made
effectual in some other than the normal way, yet here there is always the
fear of detention, to check any experiment of the sort. Let the hooked
tip but pierce the skin to any extent, and the swoop would be checked
sufficiently to allow of the flying bird's being seized. The feet,
therefore, though without efficient claws and quite unadapted to anything
except swimming, are employed by preference, and in the manner in which
they are used we see the same principle at work, for instead of making
any attempt at grasping or scratching, the flying gull, as it sweeps by,
just gives a flick with the back of them, which the other revenges or
parries with a blow of the wing.

The tern, however, having a straight and sharply pointed bill, adapted
for pecking, and nothing else, can use it in this manner when flying
also, though in other respects it delivers its attack in exactly the same
manner as the gull does, allowing for the difference in bulk and aerial
grace and mastery, between the two birds. Here, as it appears to me, we
see structure affecting habit. As a rule, I think, it is rather the other
way, for it is wonderful to how many uses, other than the primary one
for the performance of which it has been specially adapted, almost any
part of an animal's anatomy may be put. And indeed, if we look at it in
another way, this truth is as strikingly illustrated by what we have just
been considering as by almost anything, for the webbed foot of a gull or
any swimming bird is extremely unadapted for fighting, and yet we here
see it thus employed. But it is owing to the structure of the beak, in
my opinion, that this has come about. That is the bird's real weapon,
which I am convinced it would always use if it could or if it dared. Not
even in their rough-and-tumbles, where they close and roll over and over
together, have I seen gulls fight with their feet, upon the ground.

I had not gone far, after this episode with the terns, when I was pecked
at, twice again, by another one, under similar circumstances. Each
time, I believe, the sharp point of the beak went through the slight
stuff of my cap, or I should hardly have felt it so sharply. It is not
only the skuas, then, that attack you in defence of their young. These
terns, though so much smaller, do so too, and, as appears by the story,
they have more than one weapon in their armoury. But a more interesting
experience was in store for me, which brought still more forcibly to my
mind that incident with the wounded tern to which I have before alluded.
Walking on, I noticed a bird which, though a young one, looked almost
in its full plumage, and which kept flying for a little, and then going
down again at some distance in front of me. Every time it alighted, a
cloud of terns hovered excitedly over it, and first one, and then another
of them kept swooping down, so as just or almost to touch it, until at
last it flew up again, so that I could never approach it more nearly. It
certainly seemed to me as though the grown community were trying to get
this young one to fly, so as to be out of danger, and this they always
succeeded in doing. I do not think they really prevented me from catching
the bird, for, no doubt, it would have flown of itself before very long;
but what interest and sympathy shown! Moreover, had I been pursuing it
with a gun it might have made all the difference.

[Illustration: BIRD SYMPATHY]

So, too, it must be considered how lethargic these young terns are
before they can fly, and how easily they then let themselves be caught,
though able to run quickly. When noticed, or approached closely, they
crouch, but though this is probably due to an inherited instinct of
self-preservation, they do not appear to have much fear of one. Therefore
it seems likely that in their early flying days they might still be
inclined to act in this way, and if so, any encouragement to fly which
they received from their elders would be of assistance to them. It is
noteworthy that the younger birds which I caught were not thus encouraged
to run. The public attention, in this case, seemed concentrated on myself.

Terns vary much in the degree of resistance, or rather of evasion, which
they offer to the attacks of the skuas--always I am speaking of the
smaller of the two species. I have often seen them get off scot-free,
without losing their fish, and, as before said, this has always seemed
to me to be because of their persistency in holding out, and not at all
on account of their superior speed. I have advanced a theory as to why
the skuas should not actually attack the terns on these occasions, as
they do not seem to me to do, and if there is any truth in it, we here
see a road along which a certain number of the latter might become free
of the tyranny under which they now suffer. It is doubtful, however,
whether these more obstinate birds would gain, in this way, a sufficient
advantage over the others to allow of natural selection coming into play.
They could carry, no doubt, more fish to their young, but here, at least,
the skuas seem hardly in sufficient numbers to make the difference a
working one. With many birds, however, a similarly acquired change of
habit would mean the difference between life and death. I remember once
passing unusually close to a cock pheasant, which remained crouching
all the while, though nineteen out of twenty birds would, I feel sure,
have gone up. It struck me, then, that as all such pheasants as acted
in this way would have a greater chance of not being shot than the
others that rose more easily, whilst these latter were constantly being
killed off, therefore, in course of time, the habit of crouching close
ought to become more and more developed, and pheasants, in consequence,
more and more difficult to shoot. Some time afterwards I met with some
independent evidence that this was the case, for a gentleman who shot
much in Norfolk, remarked, without any previous conversation on the
subject, that the pheasants there had taken to refusing to rise, and
that this unsportsmanlike conduct on their part was giving great trouble
and causing general dissatisfaction. That was his statement. He spoke
of it as something that had lately become more noticeable, but only, as
far as his knowledge went, in Norfolk, which, I believe, is an extremely
murderous county.

Beyond this I have no knowledge on the subject, but I feel sure that
a gradual process of change and differentiation is every day going on
amongst numbers of our British birds. I believe that I have myself, here
and there, seen some traces of it, and my idea is that greater pains
ought to be taken to collect evidence in this and similar directions.
Along all those lines where fluctuation has been observed, or where
modification might, in course of time, be expected, the present truth
should be most carefully made out, and having been accurately recorded
and published, observation, after a certain length of time, should again
be focussed on the same points, and this being renewed every ten, twenty,
fifty, or a hundred years, the results could be compared. For instance,
our green woodpecker feeds now largely upon ants in their nests, whilst
it both fights and copulates upon the ground. How interesting would
it be if we had a continuous record of observations of this bird's
habits, dating, say, from William the Conqueror or the days of the
Saxon Heptarchy, and if we found that no mention was made of these
peculiarities, by the field naturalists of those times, but that they
first began to be doubtfully recorded in the reign of Henry the Fifth, or
Richard the Third. No doubt a connected chain of evidence of this kind
will gradually grow up, owing to the accumulation of works of natural
history, but it would, I think, be a great deal more satisfactory if the
object were kept steadily in view, and I am quite sure that observations
made in this spirit would produce much more interesting matter than that
which is to be found in the ordinary bird or beast book. For the great
idea would then be to compare the present with the past habits of any
creature, in order to see whether, or in what degree, they have changed,
and this could only be done by continual re-observation, which would
assuredly lead to novelty of some sort, instead of mere repetition,
which is what we have now; and not only so, but the thing that is so
constantly repeated seems often to be founded either on nothing, or
nothing that one can get at. Take, for instance--but no, that would lead
to twenty more pages at the least, and I want them for something better.



CHAPTER VIII

ENCHANTED CAVERNS


Along the bolder coast-line of this island, where the cliffs, without
being very high, are steep and frowning, there are some remarkable
caves, which I to-day visited with Mr. Hoseason, in his boat--he having
sailed over from Yell Island. To me, at least, they seemed remarkable,
principally by reason of the various and vivid colours which the rock
perforated by them begins to display as soon as their entrance is passed.
This rock, as elsewhere in the Shetlands, is sedimentary, but broken
here and there with veins of quartz, often of considerable thickness,
which seem to have been shot up in a molten state and to have afterwards
cooled--"seem," I say, for I have no proper knowledge as to their
geological formation. This quartz, which when exposed to the light of day
is white or whitish, is here of a deep rust-red, and this, distributed in
long zigzag lines or meanderings, is sufficiently striking, but nothing
compared to the much brighter reds, the lakes, and brilliant greens with
which the interior of the cavern is, as it were, painted; so that the
whole effect, lit up by the candles which we used as torches, resembled,
in a surprising and quite unexpected way, those highly coloured and very
artificial-looking representations of natural scenery which one sees
on the stage--in pantomimes more particularly or on some very florid
drop-scene. These colours are due to some low form of vegetation which
is spread like a wash over the face of the stratified rock, but it seems
surprising, since one is accustomed to associate colour with light,
that in the absence of all sun they should not only exist, but be so
very brilliant. I have never seen anything like such vivid hues on the
surface of rock or cliff exposed to the light of day, nor, indeed, in
any landscape, if flowers and the autumn tints of leaves are excluded.
Gaudily painted stage scenery, some enchanted or robber's cavern in a
pantomime--Ali Baba's, for instance--is really the best comparison I
can think of, nor shall I ever again think these exaggerated. Nature
is really harder to outdo or burlesque than one may fancy--even on
the stage, where the effort is so constantly, and, one would swear,
successfully made.

In shape these caverns are long and narrow--throatal, one might call
them--and the sea, with the many weird and uncouth noises that it makes
as it licks, tongue-like, in and out of them, helps to suggest this
resemblance. Though their height is really but moderate, yet, owing to
the narrowness of their walls, they have the appearance of being lofty,
especially near the entrance, or where, after descending till it nearly
reaches the water, the roof is suddenly carried up again. For the most
part, however, the height decreases gradually, with the breadth, till at
length the cave ends in a low, dark tunnel, which the sea almost fills,
and up which the boat can no longer proceed. Yet far beyond, where all is
opaque darkness, one still hears the muffled wash and sob of the waves
as they ceaselessly eat and eat into the hidden bowels of the rock. As
the whole force and vastness of the ocean lies beyond this little tip
of its tongue, to where may not such burrows extend? and might not, by
a knowledge of their position and the direction in which they run, some
inland towns be supplied with the blessing of sea-water?

The water in these caverns is delightfully clear, revealing in every
detail, through its lucid green, the smooth-rolled pebbles and great
white rounded boulders which strew, or rather make, their floor. To look
down at them is like looking up into the arched roof of some other cave.
One might think it the reflection of the one overhead, till, glancing up,
the difference is remarked--jagged, bright-hued peaks and niches instead
of smooth, even whiteness. This effect, as of a roof beneath one, is
due, I think, to the continuation downwards of the sides of the cavern,
for this gives the same vaulted appearance, but reversed, that there is
overhead, and the mind, as with the image on the retina of the eye, soon
sets it the right way up.

These caves must have been known from time immemorial to as many as were
accustomed to coast round the island, and it is interesting to think
of who, and what kind of craft may, from age to age, have visited or
sheltered in them. Recently, however, they were first explored, if not
discovered, by Mr. Hoseason (who has for years rented the island and done
his best to protect the bird life upon it) in the spring of the preceding
year, and they were at that time tenanted by numbers both of shags and
rock-pigeons, who sat incubating their eggs on any suitable ledge or
projection of the rock. Of the latter birds, to-day, there were none, but
several of the former, though so late in the season, were sitting on eggs
which, to judge by their whiteness, must have been but lately laid, and,
no doubt, represented a second brood, whilst others, whose young were
still with them on the nest, although full-fledged and almost as big as
themselves, plunged, attended by these, into the water. The hollow sounds
of splash after splash were echoed and re-echoed from sea to roof, and
the air seemed filled with sepulchral croakings. It was easy to follow
these birds as they swam midway between the surface of the water and the
white pebbled floor of the cavern, and I was thus able to confirm my
previous conviction that the feet alone are used by them in swimming,
without any help from the wings, which are kept all the while closed. I
have many times observed this before, but never so clearly or for such a
length of time.

The young birds, after diving, made for the nearest rock or ledge on
to which they could scramble, and they were so unwilling again to take
the water that some of them allowed themselves to be caught by us,
though showing every sign of fear--indeed, of extreme terror--which
one might naturally suppose them to feel. This is a puzzling thing to
understand--at least, to me it is. An aquatic bird that swims and dives
all as easily as it breathes, and which has just before plunged into
the water from a considerable height, stands now upon a rock but little
above its surface, and watches a boat, the object of its dread, coming
nearer and nearer, till at last it stops in front of it, and the hand
is stretched out to seize and take, without ever escaping, which it
might easily do in the way that it has just before done. What is the
explanation? We may suppose, perhaps, that these young birds have not yet
got to look upon the ocean as a place of long abode, that they enter it
only with the idea of getting quickly out again, and that the rock is as
yet so much more their true home that they cling to it in preference, and
may even have a feeling of safety in being there. But if this last were
the case, why should they leave it in the first instance? There would be
no difficulty in understanding the matter if they refused to take the
sea at all, but having done so once, it seems strange that they should
so fear or dislike to, again. Possibly the having soon to come out--as
being impelled to do so--and finding themselves no better off, but
menaced as before, may give a feeling of inevitability and hopelessness
of escape, sufficient to take away the power of effort. But this I do
not believe--despair hardly belongs to animals, and if it did, imminent
peril, with at least a temporary refuge at hand, ought to conquer such
a feeling. As the birds which we thus caught were only in the water for
a very little while, exhaustion could have had nothing to do with their
self-surrender. The paralysis of fear ought, one would think, to have
acted from the first, instead of supervening after a period of activity,
but perhaps mere bewilderment, by preventing sustained exertion, may
have produced a similar effect. Had it always been the parent bird
that led the way on the occasion of the first leap from the rock, this
powerlessness on the part of the young to leave it a second time might
be attributed to her absence--but as far as I can remember there was
no fixed rule in this respect. Both old and young birds generally went
off with great unwillingness, but at other times this was not nearly so
marked.

In their swimming so quickly to the shore again, after their first
plunge, and refusing thereafter to leave it, these young cormorants
brought to my mind those amphibious lizards of the Galapagos Islands
which Darwin mentions as never entering the sea to avoid danger, but, on
the contrary, always swimming to land on the slightest alarm, though it
might be there precisely that danger awaited them. This "strange anomaly"
Darwin explains in the following manner: "Perhaps this singular piece of
apparent stupidity may be accounted for by the circumstance that this
reptile has no enemy whatever on shore, whereas at sea it must often fall
a prey to the numerous sharks. Hence, probably, urged by a fixed and
hereditary instinct that the shore is its place of safety, whatever the
emergency may be, it there takes refuge." The shag, as far as I know, has
nothing particular to fear, either by sea or shore. His only enemy is
man, who is not confined to either, but is as brutal and ignorant on the
one as the other. But in avoiding danger the instinct of any animal would
probably be to leave the place to which it was less accustomed, and run
to that with which it was familiar--and this we constantly see. Thus a
land-bird that was beginning to take to the water would leave it for the
land on any alarm, whilst a water-bird under similar circumstances would
make for the water. But all water-birds were probably land-birds once, so
that we might expect sometimes to see in their young that old instinct
of taking refuge there, which had become reversed in the parents. We
might also expect to find greater dislike, on their part, to entering
the water; and certainly the young shags did enter it very unwillingly
from the first. So, indeed, for that matter did the old ones, as already
stated, but with them there was the love of being on their nests, or at
least their nesting-ledges--a late continuance of the breeding habits--to
be overcome. When once they had plunged, however, they did not, like the
young birds, swim at once to the shore again, but made for the open sea,
and it must have required a strong contrary instinct on the part of the
latter not to follow them. The lizards on the Galapagos Islands have, no
doubt, also taken to the sea gradually, so that their habit of swimming
to the shore when alarmed may, possibly, be due to a long-enduring
ancestral instinct, having nothing to do with sharks.

We passed, whilst exploring one of these caverns, just beneath a ledge
of rock, where a shag sat brooding over two tiny little things, but
just hatched, perfectly naked, and jet black all over. This poor bird
showed an anxiety which could hardly have been overpassed in the most
devoted of human mothers, and I almost believe her sufferings were as
great--for surely all extremities are equal. Her hoarse, bellowing cries
reverberated through all the place, and helped, with the gloom, the murky
light flung by our candles, the lurid colouring, and the deep, gurgling
noises of the sea, to make a weird, Tartarean picture, difficult to
excel. But it was not in sound alone that she vented her displeasure, for
she was angry as well as alarmed. As the boat passed, she rose on the
nest, and, in a frenzy of apprehension, snapped her bill, and alternately
advanced and retreated her long, snake-like and darkly iridescent green
neck. Though my head was but a foot or two away from her, she kept her
place on the nest, and becoming more and more beside herself, behaved,
at last, in such a manner as it is difficult to describe, but which upon
the human plane and amongst the lower classes, is called "taking on." Not
until I actually took up one of the young ones, to examine it--for this I
could not resist--did she fling herself into the water, and then it was
with a dramatic suddenness that looked like despair. It was as though
she had attempted suicide, but no cormorant, I suppose, would do so in
such a way.

What a strange sight this was! What a gargoyle of a creature--alive, in
these gloomy shades! It seemed not a bird, but something in _The Faerie
Queen_, one of

  The uncouth things of faerie,

--a line, by the way, which only resembles Spenser by being, probably,
unfamiliar to most people. But our knowledge makes things commonplace.
Did the fairies exist, they would be classified, and, with Latin names
and description of their habits, would be no more _really_ the fairies
than are birds or beasts. Let one but know nothing, and these caverns are
enchanted.

It is not often that one has so close a view of a shag as this. My
head was but a foot or so off, and on a level with her own; my eyes
looked into her glass-green ones. One thing about her struck me with
wonder, and that was the intense brilliancy of the whole inside of her
mouth, which, in a blaze of gamboge, seemed to imitate, in miniature,
the cavern in which she sat. Most stupidly I did not think to open the
bill of the chick whilst I had it in my hand, in order to see what its
mouth was like. As bearing on the conjecture which I have formed, this
would have interested me, and such an opportunity is not likely to come
again. I noticed, however, that the naked skin about the beak, which,
in the grown bird, is thus vividly coloured, was very much lighter,
and consequently not nearly so handsome, in the larger fledged young
ones. That here the intensity of the hue was gained gradually through
sexual selection, I--being a believer in sexual selection--can have no
doubt, and the lesser degree of it in the young bird would be due to
a well-known principle of inheritance, which has been pointed out or,
rather, discovered by Darwin. If, therefore, the inner colouring has been
acquired in the same manner, it ought also to be first light and become
brighter by degrees.[2] I must now watch for these young cormorants to
open their bills, for it is a habit which they share, more or less, with
their parents, and out of it, as I believe, the adornment has grown.

[Footnote 2: This is, in fact, the case.]

I have no doubt that numbers of shags roost in these caverns during the
night, for when I was lost on Raasey Isle in Skye, I came to a huge
vaulted chamber in the cliffs, into which scores--perhaps hundreds--both
of these birds and the common cormorant flew, after the sun had set. When
they were all settled, every ledge, crevice, and pinnacle seemed tenanted
by them, and never shall I forget the gloom, the grandeur, and the
loneliness of this scene. I admired it, though naked, except for a torn
pair of trousers which were half wet through. I should like to see them
come flying into their caves here also, where I am not so forlorn; but
the distance of my hut from this part of the shore, the lateness of the
hour up to which the light lasts, and my having to cook my supper, makes
this difficult, or, at least, inconvenient. But if I cannot see them fly
in in the evening, I may see them fly out in the morning, and that should
be "a sight for sair een."

Whilst rowing to these caves we had seen one black guillemot, or "tysty,"
flying over the sea with a fish in its bill, and another swimming with
a young one by its side. The latter was of a greyish colour, and about
a third smaller than the parent bird, which in shape and movements it
closely resembled. These birds, therefore, breed in the Shetlands--a fact
well known before, I believe; but I like to rediscover things. Another
and more interesting thing that we saw was a seal swimming very fast,
and leaping, at intervals, out of the water. I think I may use this
expression, for if he did not leap quite free of it, he very nearly did,
so as to show his whole body. He rose in a very bluff, bold way, with
great impetus, as it seemed, and went straight, or nearly straight up,
for a little, before falling forward again. Each time one seemed to hear
the splash and the blow, but this was only in imagination, the distance
being too great. When I say that this seal was swimming very fast I am
giving my impression merely. All I saw was the leaps, which were quickly
repeated, yet with a good space between each, and all in one direction.
Between them, therefore, he must have been speeding along at a great
pace, so that, each time he plunged up, it was as from a spring-board of
impetus and energy. I do not remember reading of seals leaping thus out
of the water, but Mr. Hoseason had seen them do so before, though not
often. There was a fine joyous spirit in the thing--"there is" joy, as
well as "sorrow on the sea."

It is good to see an animal like this in this United Kingdom of ours--or
at least in its seas--for, for a moment, it makes one think one is out of
it, and in some wilder, more life-teeming part of the world. It is hard
to have to live in a country, glorified as being "a network of railways,"
and to have no taste for railways. Oh, wretched modern world of ugliness,
noise, improvement and extermination, what a vile place art thou becoming
for one who loves nature, and only cares for man in books!--the best
books _bien entendu_.



CHAPTER IX

DUCKS AND DIVERS


The red-throated diver moves softly upon the gentle play of the ripples,
seeming, rather, to float with the tide than to swim, for there is
no defined swimming action. When it turns and goes the other way, it
meets the opposing motion--the little dance of the sea--as if it were a
ripple itself, assuming the shape of a bird. This shape is a graceful
one, something between that of a grebe and a guillemot. One might say
that a guillemot had been sent to a finishing-school and had very much
profited by it; but this is not to imply that the grebe--I am thinking of
_Podiceps Cristatus_--is slighted in the comparison--no bird that swims
need think itself so. Much there is grebe-like in manner and action, and
in shape, except for the crest. By the want of this, the bird, I think,
rather gains than loses to the human eye, for handsome as the grebe's
crest is, the delicate curve of head and neck is interrupted by it,
and the effect is rather bizarre than beautiful--it loses something in
purity, that beauty of the undraped statue, to which Cicero compares the
style of Cæsar. The neck of the red-throated diver offers a wonderful
example of delicate yet effective ornament. Down the back of it, and
encroaching a little upon either side, run thin longitudinal stripes of
alternate black and white, so cleanly and finely divided that they look
as though they had been traced by a paint-brush in the hand of a Japanese
artist. There is a gorget of rich ruddy chestnut on the throat, but the
rest of it, with the head and chin, is of a very delicious plum-bloomy
grey, which looks in the sunlight as though it would be purple if it
dared, but were too modest--a lovely and æsthetic combination, soft, yet
bright, and the whole with such a smoothness as no words can describe.
There is another effect wrought by the sun, if it should happen to be
shining, and if the bird should be swimming so as to give a profile view.
It then looks as though there were a broad, white stripe--white, but
having almost a prismatic brilliancy--along the contour-line of the nape.
This appearance is most deceptive, and it is only when the bird turns
its neck so as to show the several thin delicate stripings that one sees
it to be illusory. It is produced, I think, by the light being reflected
from the white stripes alone, so that the black ones between them are
overlooked. Whatever may be the cause, the effect is most striking and
lovely, and if the stripes themselves are due to sexual selection--which
I do not doubt they are--this far more beautiful appearance, being the
effect and crown of them, must assuredly also be. Here is a neck, then!
and I have seen three, and once even seven, together!

In their way of diving, again, these birds resemble the grebes. Sometimes
they go down with a very quiet little leap, but often they sink and
disappear so gently and gradually that one is hardly conscious of what
they are about till one sees them no more. As much as any creature,
I think, they "softly and silently vanish away." Another habit which
they have is shared by the cormorant and other sea-birds, and has often
puzzled me. It is that of continually dipping their bills in the water
and raising them up from it again, as though they were drinking, though
that they should drink the salt sea like this, for hours at a time,
seems a strange thing. What is the meaning of this action, which I have
just seen a shag perform forty-six times in succession, at intervals of
a few seconds, as if for a wager? And this was after having watched it
doing the same thing for some time before. After the forty-sixth sip,
as it were, this bird made a short pause, and then recommenced. Is this
drinking, and, if not, what is it? The head and part of the bill are,
each time, sunk in the water, so that, as the bird moves on, they plough
it like the ram of a war-ship. Then, in a second or two, the head is
raised, not so high indeed as in an unmistakable thirsty draught--which
I do not remember at any time to have seen shags indulge in--but with
much the action of drinking. The bill, it is true, is very little
opened, hardly sufficiently so to be noticeable, but very little would
allow of water entering it. But why should the bird drink like this? It
cannot be that the salt water makes it more and more thirsty, for this,
as with shipwrecked sailors, would produce evil consequences--probably
death--but, of course, this is out of the question.

Sometimes it has struck me that some small disseminated matter in the
water might serve as food, and in regard to this, I have seen some large
white Muscovy ducks, in the Pittville Gardens at Cheltenham, engaged for
a long time, apparently, in carefully sifting the quite clear water of
a little rill. Here, too, there was some action, as of drinking. On the
whole, however, they seemed obviously to be feeding, but whatever they
got must have been extremely minute. The waters of the sea are, no doubt,
full of tiny floating substances, which a bird might yet be able to
appreciate, and which would perceptibly add to its nourishment. If this
were so, then drinking, as a special function, might become almost merged
in the constant swallowing of water whilst taking food, and this may be
the case with various sea-birds. Guillemots and razor-bills also act in
this way, but not, I think, gulls. Gulls drink the fresh water of lochs
and streams; whether they, of set purpose, also drink the sea, I am not
quite sure. If they do, then no doubt I have seen them; but I have not
set it down, and have no clear recollection of it.

These Muscovy ducks that I spoke of have another curious habit of
drinking dew in the early morning. This, at least, is what it looks like.
They walk about for hours over the well-kept lawns, and with their heads
stretched straight out, just above the herbage, continually just open and
shut the mandibles very quickly and very slightly, nibbling the dew as
it were. They certainly do drink it--one can see it disappear in their
mouths; but whether that is all they do, or their chief object, it is
not so easy to be sure of. Why should they walk about imbibing dew for
such a length of time? and why should dew be so much preferred by them to
ordinary water, of which there is abundance? These ducks, indeed, or at
least the larger kind of them, which are of great size, are never to be
seen swimming, but they often walk about by the edge of the lake. They
have a most portentous appearance, and walk with an extraordinary swing
of the body, first to one side and then another. They are fond of bread,
but their ordinary eating and drinking is something of a mystery to me.
I have seen them apparently browsing some long, coarse grass, more like
rushes, but though occasionally they did crop a piece, the incessant
nibbling was out of all proportion to what they got, and seemed for the
most part to be simply in the air. They seem indeed to have a habit of
incessantly moving the mandibles in this way, without any particular
object, or, at any rate, without any clearly discernible result following
upon their doing so.

But as I remember these fine white Muscovy ducks with their vermilion
faces and wild, light eye, with something a look of insanity in it, I
remember, too, that they are now gone, or, at any rate, that most of them
are, and those the best--the hugest and most dragon-like. "Sometimes we
see a cloud that's dragonish" and sometimes a duck. These wonderful,
waddling, swinging red and white Muscovy ducks were, and to have them
running after one, with uncouth hissings and with their heads held down,
yet scooping up and wagged from side to side at one--and with that insane
eye--made one think all sorts of odd things. Well, they are gone, nor are
they the only ones that are. When I first, by necessity, came to live at
Cheltenham, the ducks in the Pittville Gardens were a great consolation
to me. There was quite a fleet of them, a gay little flotilla of all
kinds and colours, and at the smallest hint of bread, on one side of the
lake, they would all come flying over from the other; and then it was
the sport to feed them. How diverting that was! Being in such numbers,
one took notice of all the little differences in their dispositions, the
different degrees of boldness or retiringness, of pugnacity, greediness,
aggressiveness, pertness, impudence, swagger, imperialism, and so on,
all of which one could bring out, in some amusing way or another, by the
varied and nicely-schemed throwing of the bread. To contrive that a timid
bird should always get it, whilst a boldly greedy one pursued in vain,
that two should contend for a large piece, to the end that a third might
swim securely away with it, to tempt some to walk on thin ice till it
broke, and others to make little canals through it, each from a different
place, each struggling to be first, to have one bird feeding from the
hand, whilst a crowd stood round, looking enviously on, to see greed
just drag on fear, or fear just drive back greed, or the two so nicely
balanced that they produced a deadlock, so that the bird stood on a very
knife-edge, trembling between a forward and a backward movement; and
then, too, gradually to come to connect the look and bearing of each bird
with its disposition, to know them, both outwardly and psychologically,
to see them grow into their names that grew with them, and have the bold
orange-bill, the modest grey, the swaggering white bird, the Duchess, the
Fine Lady, the My Lord Tomnoddy, the Kaiser, the Swashbuckler, and so
on, all about one, so many characters, so many amusing little burlesques
of humanity--human nature stripped, without its guards, disguises,
softenings and hypocrisies--all this was the solace and beguilement of
many a tedious afternoon.

But there exists for some reason, in every town in England, a body of
men who can do what they like, without asking anybody, to the annoyance
of everybody, though everybody pays for them. One day, after an absence,
I came with my bag of bread as usual, but there were no ducks to be
fed; all had vanished--there was only the uninteresting pond. Alarmed,
I inquired of the man at the entrance, and found that the Cheltenham
Corporation had got rid of the whole of them on account of their being
of no particular breed or strain, just ordinary tame ducks and no more.
Their appearance, the indiscriminate diversity of their plumage, their
infinite variety of colour and pattern, had been against them. It had,
indeed, made the water gay, and gladdened the eyes of subscribers to
the gardens, but it had not been creditable to the Corporation. True
elegance, it appears, which can only come from true breeding, had
been wanting. These ducks were "a mongrel lot," and though they might
be pretty to look at and entertaining to feed, that was not what the
Corporation cared about. What the Corporation did care about, presumably,
was to read in the local papers, or be told by their friends that now,
at last, there were some ducks on the Cheltenham lakes a little better
than the "mongrel lot" one had so long been accustomed to see there,
more worthy of themselves, more worthy of the town they represented, and
so forth. So the poor "mongrel lot," the delight of all the children,
and of many a grown-up person to boot--Charles the Second was grown up,
and a clever man too--were done away with, and a few pairs of select,
blue-blooded strangers (more soothing to gentle bourgeois feelings) were
introduced in their place. The children who came to feed them said,
"Where are the others? Where are all the rest gone to? There's no fun
in feeding three or four." Nor is there, in comparison with feeding a
hundred, as one grown-up person at least can testify. As additions,
these new arrivals would have been welcome enough, and being of distinct
species they would not, probably, have entered into mésalliances with
the others, to make a correct Corporation blush. Why could they not
have stayed? But this, I suppose, was the way of it. Here were pleasure
gardens for which the public paid. This pretty little fleet of ducks,
painted all sorts of colours and not one painted quite like another,
made a very considerable part of the pleasure thus paid for. So the
Corporation, vested with mysterious and almost unlimited powers of
annoyance, decided that the proper thing to do was to do away with them,
and they did do away with them, and the gardens have been the duller for
it ever since. What they could have thought----But there! they were a
Corporation and acted like one. They had a precedent. They had previously
done away with the peacocks.



CHAPTER X

FROM THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE


I have been watching the black guillemots. Like the common ones, they
often carry a fish they have caught, for a very long time in the bill,
before swallowing it, or even before giving it to their young. They will
swim with it for half an hour or so, constantly dipping it beneath the
water, and apparently nibbling on it with the bill, whilst they hold it
thus submerged. Then finding themselves near a rock which is ascendable,
they ascend it, and lie couched there for a while, resting, always with
the fish in their bill. Anon, with refreshed energies, they re-enter the
sea with it, and, if very patient, and prepared to watch indefinitely,
one may at last see that fish swallowed; but I hardly think I should be
exaggerating were I to say that hours may pass in this way. They usually
hold the fish by the middle, or just below the head, and if they want to
shift their hold from one place to the other, they sink down their bills
into the water, as though better able to do so through its medium. To
_mandibulate_ a fish in the air, quite freely, as does the cormorant, is,
perhaps, beyond their power. Any moment, however, may show me that it is
not. So, too, when I have seen them swallow the fish, they have done so
in the same way. Instead of raising the head and gulping it down, they
gulped it up, with the water to help them; though I can hardly think that
they are compelled to act in this way.

These little birds--old ocean's pets, his darlings--seem to me to play
at fighting. Whilst swimming together in little changing troops--for the
numbers are always increasing or diminishing--they constantly approach
one another in a threatening manner, the body raised in the water, the
head held straight up, and the mandibles opening and shutting like a
slender pair of scissors--a thoroughly warlike appearance. Yet it hardly
ever ends in anything, nor does the threatened bird seem really alarmed.
Generally, the threatener, as he comes alongside, subsides into quiet
humdrum, or two birds, after circling round one another in this way, each
almost on its own pivot, like a pair of whirligig corks, both quiet down.
Each, whilst thus acting, will, at intervals, drop the head and sink the
beak a little in the water--one of their most usual actions. Sometimes,
indeed, the menacing bird may fly at the one he menaces, who ducks at
the right moment; but what makes me think it more play than wrath is
that, often, instead of flying right _at_ him, he flies to beside him
only, and both then swim together, looking the best of friends. Yet too
much stress is not to be laid on this either, and certainly it can be
"miching malicho" on occasions. Often, when one bird is attacked, all the
others will dive and scurry about under the water, in the most excited
manner, seeming to pursue one another, as though it were a game or
romp. Sometimes, indeed, there will be a little bit of a scuffle; but if
there be fighting, still more, as it appears to me, is there the play or
pretence of fighting, which is tending to pass into a social sport or
dance.

The antics of birds are often so very curious, and the whole subject of
their origin and meaning is so full of interest, that nothing which might
by any possibility throw light upon this ought to be neglected, or can be
too closely observed. I believe that the feelings of animals, still more
than is known to be the case with savages, pass easily from one channel
into another, and that, therefore, nervous excitement brought forth by
one kind of emotion is apt, in its turn, to produce another kind, so that
if any special transition of this sort were at all frequent, it might,
through memory and association of ideas, become habitual. If, however,
a _mêlée_ or scrimmage--to meet the case of these guillemots--became,
almost as soon as started, a mere hurrying and scurrying about, it would
be difficult to detect the one as the cause of the other, and this is
just the difficulty one might expect, for in such a sequence the tendency
would, no doubt, be for the first or causal part of the activity to
become more and more abbreviated (what should delay the passage?) till,
at length, a mere start on the part of any one bird might set the others
off dancing. Finally, what had become a mere pretence or starting-point
might vanish entirely, or only survive as an indistinguishable part of
the other, in which case there would be the dance or sport alone, which
would then seem a very unaccountable thing. In this way I can imagine
the evening dances or antics of the great plover, which used to impress
me so when I lived in Suffolk, to have originated. One might watch these
performances a great many times without seeing anything to suggest
that a feeling of pugnacity entered into them. Nevertheless, there is,
sometimes, a slight appearance of this, for I have several times seen a
bird pursue and wave its wings over another one. My theory is that an
initial energy or emotion sometimes flows out into subsidiary channels,
and that gradually this secondary factor may encroach upon and take the
place of the primary one.

At any rate, to come back from the general to the particular, it is
apparent to me that these little ebullitions, or whatever they may be
called, of the black guillemots are of a blended nature, and I should
think it misleading to describe them simply as fights. Whatever they
are, they are very pretty to see. The actions of all the little dumpling
birds are so pert, brisk, and vivacious--so elegant, too. Yet a bird will
go through it all, play every part in the little _affaire_, carrying,
all the while, a fish in its bill. It makes no difference to him; he
will even threaten in the way I have described, whilst thus encumbered.
Whether this makes it more likely that the whole thing is sport, I hardly
know.[3] It seems strange to seek one's enemy with one's dinner in one's
hand--the beak is used more as a hand here than a mouth--yet what is done
with entire ease is as though it were not done at all. Even so do the
guillemots--the common ones, I mean--but then, they used to fight for
their fish. Here I saw little or nothing of any real attempt on the part
of one bird, to take the fish from another.

[Footnote 3: On second thoughts it does not, since sparrows will attack
martins though holding grass, etc., for nest-building, in their beaks--as
I have seen.]

In swimming under water the black guillemot uses its wings only--the
rose-red legs trail behind it, a fading fire as it goes down. The body
becomes one great glaucous-green bubble, which has, still more, a
luminous appearance. The effect may almost be called beautiful, but it is
still more odd and bottle-imp-like. Most diving sea-birds exhibit this
appearance under water, but not all in the same degree. Whether sexual
selection has come into play here I know not.

A pair of these birds are now feeding their young. The nest is in a
hole in the earth, on a ridge of the precipitous grass-slope of the
cliff, just above where it breaks into rocks, and drops sheer to the
sea. Both parents feed the chick--for their family is no larger--but
one more often than the other. They bring, each time, a single fish--a
sand-eel, often of a fair size--and disappear with it into the hole,
reappearing shortly afterwards. Once both are in the hole together,
having entered in succession, each with a fish, but generally when the
two meet at the entrance one only brings a fish and goes in, and the
other, having nothing, stays outside. When the parent bird has fed its
young and come out again, it will often sit for a little on the steep
slope, above or below the hole, before flying away. It looks solicitously
at the hole, and from time to time utters a little thin note that just
reaches me where I am. Once both the birds sat like this, one above and
one below the hole. What I particularly noticed was that when the bird
that had taken a fish in had come out again, the other, even though it
had nothing, would always go in too, as though to pay the chick a little
visit. It stayed about the same time--less than a minute that is to say.
How interesting are these little birds to watch, and how delightful is
it to watch them from the summit of precipices that "beetle o'er their
base into the sea," where all is wild and tremendous, and in the midst of
utter solitude!



CHAPTER XI

DARWINIAN EIDER-DUCKS


I have seen a fair number of eider-ducks within the last few days. All
the grown ones are females--not a male to be seen now--and the greater
number of them are unaccompanied by ducklings. Of those that are, most
have but one, and three is the maximum number that I have seen swimming
together with their mother. Yet two years ago, in early June, the males
here were courting the females, and when I left, about the middle of the
month, but very few eggs, I believe, had been laid. This year, I learn,
the birds have been very late in breeding, there having been some very
"rough weather," as it is euphoniously called, in the spring--that is to
say, the spring has been like a bad winter, and now the summer, though
it has no very close resemblance to any of the four seasons as I have
seen them elsewhere, yet comes nearest to a phenomenally bad November. I
wonder, therefore, that so many of these mother eiders are without their
young ones, for they should all have hatched out a brood of them not so
very long ago. Why, too, should so many be swimming with one duckling
only? Were these single ones of any size, one could understand the others
of the brood having escaped from tutelage, but, like all I have seen,
they are but little fluffy things. It looks as though their fellow
nestlings had come to grief in some way, and if so it is probable that
many entire broods have also. Yet perhaps they have merely drifted away
into the wide, watery world, where they may be able enough to shift for
themselves thus early. To judge by these, however, they would not have
left the mother duck voluntarily--they are dutiful, dependent little
things.

Where the coast is iron-bound, in delightful little bays and
inlets--those sea-pools lovely to look down upon--one may watch the
eiders feeding on the rocks, and try, through the glasses, to make out
exactly what they are getting. In this way I am amusing myself this
morning, having just run round a projecting point, towards which a
family of three were advancing, and concealed myself behind a projecting
ridge. Over this I can just peep at some black rocks, up which, whilst
their mother waits, the little ducklings now begin to crawl. So steep
is the slope that sometimes they slip and roll a little way down it,
but they always recover themselves and run up it again, none the worse.
In the intervals between such little mishaps they seem to be picking
minute shell-fish off the rock; but what shell-fish are they? for the
small white ones, with which large areas of the rock are covered, are
as hard as stone, and might defy anything short of a hammer and chisel
to dislodge them. It is not on these assuredly that these soft little
things are feeding, and now I see that where they are most active the
rock is black. There are broad, black bands and streaks upon it, but
what these consist of, or whether they are anything more than seaweed
I cannot quite make out; and here, where I lie, being above the sea's
influence, there is nothing similar to instruct me. Rocks now I find--as
I have often before--are inferior to foliage for concealing oneself, that
is, if one wishes to see as well as to be unseen. One's head, projecting
over their hard, sharp, uncompromising lines, catches the eye of a wary
bird, and recesses made by their angles are not often to be found where
one wants them. Twice has the mother duck been slightly suspicious, and
now, to my chagrin--though it really should not be, for what can be more
entertaining?--she goes to the length of calling her ducklings off the
rock. This she does by uttering a deep "quorl"--a curious sound, not a
quack, but something like one--on which they come scurrying down to join
her, putting off to sea with the greatest precipitation, like two little
boats that have only just themselves to launch--no waiting for people
to get into them. I have heard this note before, and always it has been
uttered as a danger-signal to the chicks. There is another one that is
used on ordinary occasions, and this much more resembles a true "quack."

In spite of these various alarms, however, the young eiders are soon on
the rock again, and after a while the mother walks up it, too, and begins
picking and pulling with her bill over these same black surfaces. I still
cannot quite make out, though now I surmise, what it is that gives
this black, or rather indigo, tinting to the rock, and in trying to get
nearer, the mother duck is again alarmed, and with another deep "quorl"
or two, runs quickly down the slant, and slides into the water, close
followed by her two little children. This time she swims away with them
and returns no more, leaving me as disappointed as though I had thirsted
for her blood.

Going down now to the rocks, where they have just been, I find that the
black appearance of which I have spoken is caused by immense numbers
of quite small mussels which grow thickly wedged together. It is on
these that all three have been feeding, and I have no doubt that they
form one of the staples of the eider-duck's food just now. Earlier in
the year it seemed to be all diving, and when they brought anything up
it did not look like a mussel. All about the rocks there are certain
little collections of broken mussel-shells--often of a very pretty violet
tint--coagulated more or less firmly together, and these must evidently
have been ejected, as indigestible, by birds that had swallowed them; but
whether by gulls only, or by both gulls and eider-ducks, I cannot tell.
Gulls, I know, disgorge these queer kinds of pellets as well as others
still more peculiar, since they occur over the interior of the island in
numbers too great for any other bird to have produced them.

The eider-ducks, therefore, feed on the beds of mussels that the sea
exposes at low tide, but they also, to go by appearances, devour the
actual seaweed, irrespective of anything that may be growing upon
it. Having seen them do both, I see no reason why I should reject the
evidence of my eyesight in the one case more than in the other. What
interests me is that I have several times during this week seen the
same duck, with her young ones, feeding along this one flat part of the
coast-line, where it forms a beach, whereas all the others that I have
seen have kept in the neighbourhood of the rocks. Even about the shores
of this small island it seems as though a process of differentiation were
going on, and that whilst the great majority of the eider-ducks affect a
diet of shell-fish, and, therefore, haunt the broken, rocky parts where
it is to be best obtained, some few prefer the seaweed growing on the
smooth, shallow bottoms, which they therefore do not leave, or, at least,
more frequently resort to.

A difference of food like this, involving a residence in different
localities, must lead to change in other habits, to which structure
would, in time, respond, so that, at last, upon Darwinian principles,
two different birds would be produced. Thus anywhere and everywhere one
may see with one's own eyes--or think that one sees, which is just as
instructive--the early unregarded stages of some important evolutionary
process.

It is a good thing, I think, thus to exercise one's imagination, and
by observing this or that more or less slight deviation from the main
stream of an animal's habits, to try and picture its remote future
descendants. Too little, I think, has been done in this way. The
imaginative element is one without which all things starve. In natural
history it is particularly wanted, and would have particularly good
effects. Most naturalists think only of what is the rule in any animal's
habits--exceptions they do not care about--yet, looked at in a certain
way, they are still more interesting. Moreover, there is a great tendency
to see an animal do just what it is supposed to do, and this tendency
does not conduce to keen and interested observation. But the future
modification of any species must depend largely upon deviations, on the
part of individuals belonging to it, from its more ordinary line of
conduct, so that any man who should wish rationally to speculate on this
future must become, perforce, a patient noticer of such deviations, and,
therefore, a great observer of the animal in question.

To support a theory is a great motive towards the collection of facts,
yet a number of small-minded people are always deprecating what they
call "mere theory" in field natural history, and crying out for facts
only. Theory, however, is a soil in which facts grow, and there is a
greater crop from a false one than from none at all. The history of
astrology and alchemy are instances of this--if, indeed, the latter, in
its fundamental belief, does not turn out to have been true after all.
When have men been much interested in facts--apart from mere gaping
wonder or amusement--except in connection with some idea in their mind,
which, by giving, or seeming to give, them significance, as it were
irradiated them? The "matter-of-fact man," as that lowest type of one is
called, is interested in comparatively few facts even, and such fancy and
imagination as he does possess plays around those few.

To return to the eider-ducks, I cannot, of course, be quite certain that
it is always the same family party that I see along the beach by the
fringe of seaweed, but I have little doubt that it is; for, in the first
place, it always consists of the mother and three ducklings, and in the
next, there is never another bird or party of birds there at the same
time with them. The double coincidence is, I think, decisive, for most
of the eiders that have ducklings at all, have either one only or two,
whilst the greater number are without any. But then, to be sure, I have
only been here a week, nor have I given the matter any very _special_
attention. It is not quite _constaté_, only I like to think things, and
then think as though they were as I think.



CHAPTER XII

ON THE GREAT NESS-SIDE


To-day I was to see the cormorants fly out from their caves, but my hopes
were too high, and so proper for dashing. Having gone to bed at six,
I awoke at ten, dozed till eleven, read Shakespeare till near twelve,
and, soon after, got up. It was night when I first opened the door and
looked out, morning when I went away. The moon had possessed the world
in fullest sovereignty, had streamed her silver over land and sea. Now
she was deposed, dethroned, yet there had only intervened the short time
necessary to resuscitate the peat fire and make a cup of tea. Yet it
is not morning either, even yet--or only on the eastern sea and in the
eastern sky; the one a lake of lucid light, hung in an all but universal
pall of dun cloud, the other lying beneath it, bathed in it, glowing with
reflected colours, which yet seem deeper and more lurid than those from
which they have their birth. Two seas of surpassing splendour: and long
lines of heavy purple cloud hang, like ocean islands, in the one of the
sky. The other, the true sea, has a strangely opaque appearance--it does
not look like water at all. It is this that makes the morning; all else
is dark and shrouded. Standing here, upon a cornerstone of this island,
one looks from night into day. Just before the sun rises the clouds about
become rosy red, and then take fire; but from the moment he has risen
they begin to fade back into grey again. All flame himself, he puts all
other out. It is a strange effect. The sun here wants his state. He has
been up but a moment, yet, but for a very tempered glow just about him,
all light and all colour is gone. Soon it will be all gone, for into the
great grey cloudy continent that broods upon the one clear space and
spreads from it, illimitable as the sky itself, he, "the King of Glory,"
is now entering, and there, in all probability, he will be for the rest
of the sombre day. Here in the Shetlands the sky that waits for the sun
is a much more wonderful sight than the actual sunrise, whereas elsewhere
I have seen it throb to his coming and relume at his torch.

Walking to the caves, I miss my way and long overshoot the point. This
is a pity, for it has grown lighter yonder, and I do not wish to disturb
the shags, some of whom, no doubt, roost near the entrance. However, when
I get there, the island is still dark and shrouded, and sitting, as I
have to, with my face to the western sea, that, too, lies in a grey-blue
something that is neither light nor dark. Through it and over it the
Skerries Lighthouse still throws at regular intervals its revolving beam,
showing that it still counts as night. The shags do not seem to wait for
the true morning--the one over to the east. Many of them have flown out
to sea like shadows, or great, uncouth bats, yet I hardly think they can
have seen me in the greyness after I had sat down. I am not sure whether
they came from the cavern itself or only from about its frowning portals.
Wondrous noises the sea is making now, as, with the heaves of a dead
calm, even--heaves that in their very quietude suggest a terrible reserve
of power--it laps into and out of this awesome cavern--moans, rumblings,
sullen sounds that want and seem to crave a name.

It is now near three, and the first gull yet--of its own free will, and
not unsettled by me--has flown by. Just before, some very large fish--for
I think it must be a shark, and not a cetacean--has passed on its silent
way along the silent sea. It came several times to the surface, and
showed each time a very long back, with one small pointed fin, very
much out of proportion to its bulk, rising sharply and straightly from
it, just as a shark's dorsal fin does. Each time it made that same sort
of roll that a porpoise does, only more slowly and in a much greater
space. This, indeed, does not suggest a shark--indeed, it can't be
one--but one of the smaller cetaceans that is yet much larger than the
common porpoise. Every time it comes up it makes a sort of grunting
snort or blow. On account of this--for it gives itself more leisure to
do it--and that its roll describes a longer curve, I doubt if it be the
porpoise--the one we know so well. It must be a larger sort, nor should
I ever have supposed it to be a shark had I not been assured that sharks
of some size are common round the shores of these islands. This must be
true, I think, for my informants could hardly have been mistaken.

At two I could see, though dimly, to write, and now, at a quarter-past
three, I can as plainly as by full daylight, though it is not that yet.
The Skerries light is still flashing, though it must be now superfluous;
but even as I write this, it must have flashed its last, for the proper
interval has gone by. There is now a great bellowing of shags from the
cave, which may proceed either from a single pair or from several. No
words can describe the strangeness of these sounds. They are more than
guttural--stomachic rather. They harmonise finely with those of the sea,
and sometimes, indeed, bear a curious resemblance to some of its minor,
sullen gurgles, deep within the cavern. But no birds fly out.

Several times, again, now, I have seen this large small cetacean, and
once another one, larger still--in fact, an unmistakable small whale,
which came briskly up at no great distance away and blew a jet of
oily-looking vapour from its nose. It looked almost black, and had
the right whale shape, though not more, perhaps, than some dozen or
twenty feet long. These small whales are common off the Shetlands, but
suddenly to see one is very exciting. It reminds me of when, from the
rocks of Raasey Isle, I saw in the clear, pale light of the morning,
true whales--huge monsters of the deep--leaping, head first, out of the
water and falling back into it again with a roar, which, though several
miles off, I heard each time most distinctly, and attributed, at first,
to the breaking away of portions of the cliff on the opposite shores
of Skye. Nothing, it seemed to me, but a landslip was sufficient to
account for such a tremendous sound, and it was with an interest the
vividness of which I can even now feel that its true nature first dawned
upon me. These whales, as, with their huge dimensions, I could see,
though so far away, leapt almost if not entirely clear of the water,
and perpendicularly into the air. At that time I was quite unaware that
they ever did this, but since then I have both heard and read of it, and
Darwin, somewhere in his journal, speaks of the cachalot or sperm-whale
doing the same thing.

[Illustration: FROM THE ROCKS OF RAASEY ISLE]

Puffins are beginning now to fly hither and thither over the sea, and
terns are fishing about a low-lying eastern isle. They are the common
kind, but some clouds above the island are becoming flame-touched, making
them roseate terns. An Arctic skua goes by too, and a black guillemot
flies with a fish to feed its young. Still from the recesses of the
cavern come those deep, hoarse, bellowing sounds, but they must be
uttered by shags upon their nests, and that do not mean to come forth.
What there was to see I have seen--those bat-like shadows. There can be
no more to speak of--it is too late--but, were there hundreds, I can no
longer resist the impulse to walk and walk in the clear and cool-aired
morning. The shags that roost in these caverns cannot, I think, be
numerous, and they leave them, it would seem, whilst night still broods
upon the sea.

True, there was the morning, clear and lovely, in the east, but, to see
that, they would have had to peep round the point. Both in numbers,
therefore, and impressiveness the _Ausflug_ has been a failure, but the
morning, with the almost midnight sun, a splendid success.

This was my last day on the island. In the afternoon my friends sailed
over from Yell, bringing me my letters. One was from my sentry-box
man, telling me the birds were still on the ledges, but advising me
to come at once, if I wished to find them there--otherwise they might
be flown. I therefore went back the same evening, and next day, which
was Sunday, took steamer to Uyea Sound, from whence I walked through a
barren desolation to Balta Sound, getting in, about 10 p.m., to tea and
cakes at one of the most homelike, friendly-breathing hostels possible
to find either in the Shetlands or the rest of the United Kingdom--or,
indeed, the world, to judge by probabilities--to wit, Mrs. Hunter's
establishment, where many a one has had cause to say, like myself:

  "Sleep (or rather rest) after toil, port after stormie seas,
    *      *      *      *      *       does greatly please."

Next day I made what purchases I wanted, not forgetting a good
serviceable porridge-spoon--I had used a stick before--and, on Tuesday,
drove over to Burra Firth, where I was met by the watcher, and between
us we carried my belongings up the great hill--or ness, to give it its
Shetland name--to the little black sentry-box that I knew so well. The
"pockmantle" fell to my share, and was the lesser burden. It was very
heavy, however, and I had almost as lief be taken to a tea-party as have
such another trudge. But how the skuas greeted me, again, with their wild
cries, as we climbed the higher slopes where their nurseries are. Having
set everything where it would best go, in the little cabin, I walked out
and made my way to the cliffs.



CHAPTER XIII

MOTHER AND CHILD


The young fulmar petrels here are still all in a state of fluff--not
one true feather to be seen--just as I left them in the middle of July,
on my last visit, though now it is the end of it. They are larger,
however, which, with their softness, whiteness, and general appearance,
as of a great powder-puff, makes them more marvellous-looking than
ever. Their shape, as they lie on the rock, is that of a round flat
disc--a muffin somewhat inflated, or an air-ball compressed. Only when
they flutter their wings, or waggle out their legs, have they any more
intricate shape than this, except that the funny little head, with the
black eyes and black hooked beak, projects permanently out of their
roundness. The latter is frequently held open, with the mandibles widely
distended--sometimes fixed so, at others gently moving. The neck, on
these occasions, is often stretched out and swayed from side to side,
so that we have here, in embryo, those curious movements which, in the
grown birds, are nuptial ones, and accompany the note then uttered.
Although the chick, as would be naturally expected, often opens its bill
in order to persuade the parent bird to feed it, yet after some hours'
watching I came to the conclusion that the action was too frequent and
too habitual to be altogether explained in this way, and I look upon it
as an inherited tendency. But may not the habit have originated in the
hunger of the chick, and have been worked in, sexually, at a later age,
when the reproductive system had become active? Strong emotion, one may
suppose, would require an outward manifestation in the shape of movements
of some sort, and it would be such as were already known, that, by first
coming to hand, would be likely to be first employed. If we had been
accustomed to do one kind of work for which we had a suitable implement,
and it became suddenly necessary to do some other for which we had none,
it would be natural for us to catch up the one we had and make a shift
with that. If a swim-bladder can be worked in as a lung, or a pair of
legs as part of a mouth, then why not a hunger-signal as a love-signal?
Be this as it may, it is certainly strange to see little fluffy chicks
on the nest going through the same sort of pantomime as their parents do
when in love. But why do I call them little? I have never seen such big
baby things, and their size makes them look all the weirder. So great,
indeed, is the chick's fluffiness that though the wings are tiny and the
tail invisible, it looks almost, if not quite, as big as the graceful and
delicately shaped parent bird sitting beside it.

The lethargy of these young fulmars is very noticeable. They do
occasionally rise a little on their feet and shuffle about in the place
where they sit, so that in this way they may, in time, turn quite round.
But after watching them now, for some two hours, I should doubt if they
ever moved more than an inch or so beyond an imaginary line drawn close
round them, as they lie. Here natural selection seems a demonstrable
thing, for often, were the chick to move so much as six inches forward,
or a few feet in any other direction, it must fall and be dashed to
pieces. What but this force--or, rather, process--can have produced
such a want of all inclination to move? It is the same, I suppose, with
birds that nest in trees or bushes. With the nightjar, however, though
the chicks become, after a while, somewhat active, so that the nest, or
rather nursery, is shifted from day to day, yet for some time they lie
very quiet, though well able to run about. Here the above explanation
does not apply, so that one can never be sure. "Theories," says Voltaire
"are like mice. They run through nineteen holes, but are stopped by the
twentieth." Still, it would generally be an advantage for young birds to
keep still when left by themselves, even in a field or wood, and how much
more so where a step or two, or one little run, would be death. Looking
at these fat, fluffy, odd-looking creatures as they sit motionless
from hour to hour, and then at the grown bird sailing on spread wings,
all grace and beauty,--a being that seems born of the air--the change
from one to the other--from the fixed to the free phase of life--seems
hardly less or more remarkable than that by which a chrysalis becomes
a butterfly. Not the egg itself differs more from this last stage of
its inmate--this free flitting, gliding thing--than does the round,
squat, stolid chick, which in appearance is nearer to an egg than to a
full-blossomed bird.

The mother fulmar--for I suppose it is the mother--cossets the chick
as she sits beside it, leaning tenderly over it, and nibbling with
her bill amidst its long, soft, white fluff, the chick sitting still,
the while, with its beak held open, but not at all as though it were
thinking of food. Sometimes, by inadvertence, the mother pricks the chick
a little, with her bill, upon which it turns indignantly towards her,
with distended jaws. She, to cover her _maladresse_, does the same, but
in a dignified, parental manner, as though it were she who had cause
to be angry. But it is easy to see that she is really a little ashamed
of herself, and purposes to be more careful another time. Mother and
chick often sleep side by side on the rock, and then it is noticeable
that whilst the mother has her head turned and partially hidden amongst
the feathers of the back--"under her wing," as one says--the chick's is
often held straight in the usual manner. Not always, however: at other
times, it is disposed of in the same way. As far as I can see, the chick
is in the charge of one parent only. On several occasions a bird, which
I suppose to be the other one, has flown in, and settled on the rock
near, but always, on its coming nearer than some three feet or so, the
one in charge, distending its jaws, and with threatening gestures, has
uttered an angry "ak, ak, ak, ak!" and, on two occasions, has squirted
something--I presume, oil--at the intruder, causing it to go farther off.
This cry is sometimes preceded by a more curious and less articulate one
of "rherrrrrr!"--at a venture: I would not answer for the spelling being
exact.

I believe it is the mother who takes charge of the chick, and becomes so
intensely jealous of it that she will not suffer even her _cáro spóso_,
to whom she was so much attached, to come within a certain distance
of it. One cannot, indeed, say for certain that it is the husband who
thus sometimes flies up, and seems to show a wish to approach his wife
or child, but it is not likely that a strange bird would act in this
way--for all are mated--and if both parents fed the young one, why should
either repulse the other? I feel sure, therefore, that only one does, and
this one is much more likely to be the female.

The chick, in order to be fed, places its bill within that of the parent
bird, and evidently gets something which she brings up into it. This
appears to be liquid and, I suppose, is oil. Had it been solid, I must,
I think, at this close distance, have seen it--or at least have seen
that it was. Where, however, this supply of oil comes from, or how it is
procured, I have no very clear idea. Though the actions of the old bird
in thus feeding the chick are something like those of a pigeon, yet they
are much easier and, so to speak, softer. The liquid food is brought up
without difficulty or straining, as one might, indeed, expect would be
the case, seeing the ease with which the bird can at any moment squirt
it out, when angry, and the distance to which it is shot. Nor is this
the only power of the kind which these petrels possess, for they are
able to eject their excrement to a quite astonishing distance--greater
even, perhaps, than that to which the cormorant or shag attains in this
art--at least it seems so at the time. This power is fully developed in
the chick--by whom, indeed, it is the more needed--and I notice that the
rock where each one lies is clean enough, though all round about it is
whitened.

[Illustration: ON THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPICE]

When the mother petrel leaves the chick, she, for the most part,
continually circles round in the neighbourhood, and almost at every
circle looks in at it, sometimes waking it up as it lies asleep, causing
it to give an impatient little snap of the bill towards her. It is as
though she could not sufficiently love, cherish, and look at it. It is
her only child, and a spoilt one.

I must not forget to note down--now that it is full before me--that
the inside of the chick's bill, with the mouth generally, is somewhat
more lightly coloured than in the old bird; it is more pink--which may
represent the natural colour--and less mauvy. This difference, as in the
other cases, is what we might expect to see, were the colour a sexual
adornment; but why, if it is not so, should there be any difference
depending on age in such a region?

The great skua still reigns here in its accustomed territory, which,
whilst encircled on all sides by that of the lesser one, is not
intermingled with it, even on the frontiers. Many of the young birds are
still about, but being now feathered and active in proportion to their
size, they are more difficult to find than when I was here before. Though
the old birds still swoop at one, they are not so savage as they were
when the chicks were young and fluffy; they do not actually strike, but
swerve off, particularly if one glances up at them as they approach. The
Arctic skua, on the other hand, is still as bold as ever, and will strike
one as repeatedly and come as near to knocking one's hat off without
doing it (not near at all, that is to say) as ever it did before; or the
great one either, I might add, as far as my own personal experience is
concerned. I would not, however, be unduly sceptical, and this I can say,
that I could easily set my hat on my head so that either bird--or any
bird--might knock it off again.



CHAPTER XIV

"DREAM CHILDREN"


Visiting these islands in the late summer impresses me with a fact that
it is easy to forget, viz. that even the most oceanic of sea-birds--the
wandering albatross or stormy petrel, for instance--pass almost as
much of their life upon the land as the water. The breeding season is
no slight matter, lasting but a short time. It goes on for months and
months, and sometimes, from its earliest beginnings, must represent a
period not very far short of half the year. On the ----shire coast, for
instance, the terns appeared in the earlier part of April, and I was told
by the fishermen that they stayed sometimes till well into September. How
the gulls at the end of July stand congregated on their nesting-grounds,
as if the business of matrimony were rather beginning than ending, I
have already mentioned, and it is the same thing here in August with the
guillemots. Everywhere the ledges are crowded with them, as they were
when I last came in June--indeed, if there is any difference, the numbers
seem even greater. But though there is the same general appearance,
the glasses soon reveal the fact that, with very few exceptions, all
the young birds are departed. Such as remain are no larger than the
chicks I saw in the spring, and as most of the parents were then still
incubating, besides that the young guillemot is known to leave the ledge
whilst quite small, there is no room for doubt on this point.

No; the young are gone. Why, then, do the parents stay? They will rear
no second brood, so that it seems as though they love the ledges better
than the little fluffy things that they were feeding upon them, up to the
moment of their departure. Affection apparently must be bounded by the
sea, for whilst the parents, if we suppose them to have accompanied the
chicks down, and swum about with them for a little, must have soon flown
back, the chicks, owing to the undeveloped state of their wings, would
have been unable to make the return journey. It would seem, therefore,
that the first night after the down-flight must have separated mother and
child for ever; but if this is the case we may well wonder how the rising
generation of guillemots are able to support themselves. Up to now they
have been fed upon the ledges, but henceforth they must dive and catch
fish for themselves. That they should at once and of their own initiative
acquire the skill to do this, or learn the art in so very short a
time, from the parent birds, hardly seems possible. We must perforce
suppose--or at least I must--that either the mother, as is most probable,
or both the parents, remain with the chick for a little, feeding it now
on the sea as they did before on the ledge, until in time--and no doubt
very quickly--it learns to feed itself. But how strange, if this is so,
that the grown birds return to the ledges and stay there day after
day--I know not for how long--without laying a second egg. If they do not
do so, then none of these birds can have bred. But the ledges are alive
with them, and they are of both sexes. How long does the mother bird
remain with her chick upon the sea, and does she, during such period,
remain with it there at night, thus abandoning the ledges for a time
altogether, though she afterwards returns to them, or does she fly up
each night to the ledges, whilst the chick roosts upon some rock at the
cliff's base, to be rejoined by its mother next morning? I cannot answer
these questions in a satisfactory manner. It seems as though time must
be wanting for such a little family exodus as I am here suggesting, for
on the 16th of July, upon the occasion of my first visit, I left these
same ledges crowded with guillemots, all, or almost all, of whom were
still feeding their young, and now, on the last day of the same month,
I find all the old birds still upon them, but nearly all the young are
gone. This gives about a fortnight for the birds I left to have gone off
to sea with the young ones, and returned to the ledges alone, supposing
the exodus to have commenced almost on the day I went away. But did it?
As the few chicks that are still here are just about as big as the others
were at the time I left them last year, I shall be better able to judge
of this when I see how long they stay.

Meanwhile, there is something to interest me under my eyes--a curious
matter as it seems to me, which requires some sort of explanation. As I
have said, but very few of these guillemots have still a chick to look
after, but those that have not, often seem to be under the hallucination
that they are blessed in this way. But a little while ago, for instance,
a bird--one of such a childless pair--flew in with a fish, and running
with it to its partner, both of them stood together drooping their wings,
and, at the same time, projecting them forwards, so as to make that
little tent, within which the young one is so characteristically fed.
Always either one or both of them had the wings thus drooped, as though
to shield and protect something, though "nothing was but what was not."
Standing in this way, they passed the fish several times to and from
each other, and, alternately bending their heads down till its tail hung
a little above the ground, appeared to wait for an imaginary chick to
take it from them. Now had the fish, which was a sand-eel, been held by
the head in the tip of the bill, very little stooping would have been
necessary for this purpose, and therefore I might the more easily have
imagined what I here describe. But instead of this it lay longitudinally
within the beak, so that only about an inch of the tail projected beyond
it, as is very commonly the case. Therefore, when the birds bent down
as a preliminary to moving the fish forward along the bill--which,
however, they can do as well in one position as another--it was in a
quite unmistakable manner that they did so, and, looking almost directly
down upon them from the edge of the cliff, at a height of not more than
twenty feet or so, I was enabled to see the whole process. Judging by
their actions, any one would have said that these birds had a chick, and
were feeding it; and calling up the many such scenes that I was witness
of when last here, I can think of no point in which they differed from
this present one, except in the presence of the chick. This curious
make-believe, or whatever it may be called, lasted for some little time,
but at last, I think, one of the birds ate the fish. Between them, at any
rate, it swam out of the ken of my glasses.

And now, what is the meaning of all this? Many birds, of course, are in
the habit of feeding one another--conjugally or loverly--or the male is
in the habit of feeding the female, and this seems the most obvious and
natural explanation here. I do not, however, think that this is a special
trait of the guillemot, and inasmuch as there are but few young birds
now, it is quite a rare thing to see a bird flying in with a fish in its
bill. I believe, myself, that when a childless one does so, it is with
the idea of feeding the chick--the last one, the one that it remembers
and pictures as still on the ledge--in its mind; and it is the more easy
for me to think this, because I feel sure that this habit of conjugal
feeding has grown out of the feeding of the young, and I can even imagine
that, by one of those mental transitions which with animals (as with
savages) are so quick and so easy, the bird offering the food, does,
occasionally and for a moment, put its partner in place of the young one.

We must not think only of the forgetfulness of animals--of their
inability to retain past actions or events clearly in the mind, so as to
remember them, long afterwards, in the way that we do. We should bear in
mind, also, that they are influenced, like ourselves, by association of
ideas, and that savages, whose psychology should stand nearer to theirs
than our own, often confound the subjective with the objective--the idea
of a thing in their mind, that is to say, with the thing itself, outside
it. It would be quite natural, in my idea, that any of these guillemots
should, by the mere catching of a fish, be reminded of the occupation it
had for so long previously been engaged in, and the mental picture, thus
raised, of the chick on the ledge, might well be so vivid as to overcome
the mere negative general impression that it was no longer there. Under
the influence of this delusion--let us say, then--the bird flies in with
its fish, and, seeing it do so, its partner, by a similar association
of ideas, is affected in just the same way, seeing also in its mind's
eye--less blurred, perhaps, by innumerable figures than our own--a lively
image of its child. What follows we have seen--a little play or pretence,
as it looked like, on the part of the two birds, who thus, as it were,
reminded one another of what both so well remembered. Of such conscious
reminiscence, however, I do not suppose them to have been capable, but
they may both, I think, have acted in something the same way that a
bereaved mother may be supposed to, when she almost unconsciously lays
out clothes or goes through some other once habitual process, in behalf
of a dead child--forgetful, for a moment, or half-forgetful, of the
change. All would have been brought about through association of ideas,
one appropriate act suggesting and leading to others no longer so, but of
whose propriety or otherwise the bird--or any animal--has probably but
one means of judging--the presence or absence, namely, of the idea of
them in its mind.

Now when, as Miss Kingsley tells us, a negro, chatting in his hut, turns
with a smile or a remark, to his mother--deceased, but whom he supposes
to be sitting in the accustomed place there--may not this also be through
association of ideas, producing a strong visual image of what he has
so long been used to see? There is hardly anything that so readily
summons up the image, with the remembrance, of the dead, as the place
where they lived or the objects amongst which they moved. How much, for
instance, does the familiar chair suggest the presence of some one who
used habitually to sit in it. "I know," says Darwin--referring to a visit
to his old home after his father's death, which had occurred during his
absence on the famous voyage--"I know if I could have been left alone
in that greenhouse for five minutes, I should have been able to see my
father in his wheel-chair as vividly as if he had been there before
me."[4] If such an effect, so produced, may be strong--and it varies
greatly--in the civilised man, it is likely to be much stronger in the
savage, who does not distinguish so clearly between the world without him
and what is in his own mind. To him, therefore, the visual image of a
deceased person, that is summoned up by the sight of anything that more
particularly appertained to him, during life, might well seem to be that
person himself, and thus, as it appears to me, a belief might arise of
the continual presence amongst us of the departed, even without anything
else to help it. That there is much else--real, as well as seeming
evidence--I know, or at any rate I am of that opinion. I do not write
as a disbeliever in real apparitions, in clairvoyance, premonitions,
thought-transference, or a host of other things, for I am one of those
who really go by evidence in such matters--very few do--and to me no
one thing in "this great world of shows" is in itself more wonderful or
incredible than another--which is my own idea of what the scientific
attitude of mind should be. But because there may be much that goes to
prove what Myers calls the survival of human (which, to me, involves
animal) personality after physical death, it does not, therefore, follow
that the belief in man's immortality has originated through this, and
still less that it could not have arisen without it. Association of
ideas, producing a strong mental image, with the confusion between
thought and objective reality, would, I believe, have been sufficient;
for it must be remembered that man's ancestry leads up, through the
semi-human, to the primeval savage, and it is amongst the lowest tribes
of existing savages that the tendency last indicated is most noticeable.
In regard to this, one should read Tylor, as likewise Clodd, concerning
the probable effect that dreams have had in producing the idea of a
soul. From the dream figure to that of our waking mind's eye there is
but a step; and as animals dream, we may suppose that they likewise see
mentally.

[Footnote 4: _The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin_, p. 11.]

This seems clear, that wherever the visualising faculty--to give it a
name--produced the image of anything, it would be mistaken for that
thing if reason did not convince to the contrary. In animals, reason is
weaker than with us, but that the power of mental vision, within the
narrower range of their experience, is weaker also, I can see no reason
to conclude. Rather, I think, it is likely to be the other way, and this
should make it an easier matter for a guillemot than for a negro to see,
or seem to see, an absent relative. But possibly this vivid conjuring
up of the mere outward form of anything may not be required in order to
induce the belief of its being there. The negro, perhaps, rather feels
the presence of his mother than thinks that he actually sees her; and
might not this effect, also, be produced through a strong association of
ideas? If so, this is all that would have been necessary to give man that
belief in his immortal destinies which, upon the whole, we find him with.



CHAPTER XV

NEW DEVELOPMENTS


It is curious to see the guillemot-ledges so thronged now, when
everything speaks of the departure of summer, if that, indeed, can be
said to depart which has never, apparently, arrived. As I said before,
there are very few young birds to be seen, and since the sexes in the
guillemot are alike, one might think, at first, that the mothers had
all gone off with their chicks, leaving only the males on the ledges.
This, however, cannot be the case, since there is much cossetting, and
sometimes a touch of "the wren," and "small gilded fly," of King Lear--I
trust I express myself clearly.

I was beginning to think that there were no young guillemots at all here
now, but just at this moment a bird flies in with a fish in its bill,
and, running up to another one, with it, the chick immediately appears
from under a projecting cranny of the ledge, where it has been concealed,
and receives and eats the fish. It is the usual thing--the wings of the
two parents drooped, like a tent, in which the little thing stands,
and both of them equally interested. This chick seems of considerable
size--as guillemot chicks go--is properly feathered, and the plumage has
the colouring of the grown birds, except that the throat and chin are
white as well as the breast--a continuity of white, therefore, over the
whole under surface. Moreover, from each eye to the base of the bill, on
the corresponding side, there is a thick black line. The wings, which I
have seen it flap, are small, with the quills not sufficiently developed
for flight--at least, I should think not. Some time after this I saw a
smaller chick which had been hidden hitherto behind the two parents. The
non-locomotion of both was as marked a feature as ever--for this struck
me very much the last time I was here. The smaller one I could never make
out again. The other was for a long time invisible behind its slight
escarpment, and then, though it came out and was active where it stood,
it did not move more than an inch or so beyond it, or in any direction.

As this chick evidently could not fly, it, as evidently, could not have
left the ledge, and returned to it. Imagine, therefore, that the chicks
are conveyed down by the parents, in this state, as it is asserted that
they are, and the emptiness of the ledges, of young birds, is explained;
for by the time they could fly they would have forgotten all about them,
even if they were not far away, as they probably by that time would be.
But if they wait till they can fly before leaving the ledges, why do they
not fly back to them, and then backwards and forwards, like the young
kittiwakes, or the young shags? Why do they not accompany their parents
when _they_ return, since their parents _will_ not stay with them upon
the sea? All this is explained upon the supposition that the parent
guillemot flies down with the chick on its back, but it does not follow
that there is no other way of explaining it. I think there is another;
for though the chick, when it leaves the ledge, may not be able to fly in
any true sense of the word, yet it might make a shift to flutter down to
the sea, in a line sufficiently diagonal to avoid the danger of striking
upon the face of the cliff where it projected at a lower elevation, or
upon the rocks at its base. This may not be likely, but at least it is
possible, and, on the other hand, if the parent guillemots do really
carry their chicks down, why do they not do so shortly after they are
hatched, or, at least, much sooner than they do? Why should they feed
them on the ledges for a fortnight or three weeks, for I think they are
as long as that there, during all which time they are getting larger and
heavier? Though the young guillemot keeps so quiet on the ledge, yet it
has the full use of its limbs, and seems quite as forward and capable as
are young chickens and ducklings. It would, no doubt, be at home in the
water at once, if only it were put there. Does it, then, wait until it
can get there itself, or does the parent bird take it? This question I
hope to be able to answer before I leave here.

A bird that has no chick now brings in a fish to the ledge, and seems
not to know what to do with it. At last he puts it down, and another
bird--not, I think, the partner, but it may be--takes it. It seems as
though the instinct of feeding the young still continued with this bird,
though its young one is gone. We may think "out of sight, out of mind"
with animals, but what is probably wanted to make them remember is a
reminder of some sort; and when they are reminded, though their memory
may be less capacious than ours, it does not follow that it is likewise
less vivid within their own limited range. Indeed, I think there is some
reason to conclude the contrary. The imagination of a great writer is
such that he sees the scenes and persons that exist but in his own mind,
as clearly, possibly, as we do our own familiar friends and their, or
our, all as familiar surroundings. We must suppose so, at any rate, as we
read Scott or Shakespeare; and indeed their productions are such that it
cannot be far short of this. I question if any man ever saw his absent
friend more clearly than did Shakespeare his _Falstaff_, for instance,
or Scott his _Balfour of Burleigh_. But does it, therefore, follow that
either of these great writers would, when hungry, have summoned up
before him a clearer picture of his approaching dinner, than does the
equally hungry or very much hungrier boor? This I doubt; and on the same
principle I doubt if the said boor would see _his_ dinner more clearly
than a wolf, bear, or tiger would theirs when in quest of it.

The memory of an animal, as compared with that of a man, may be not so
much weaker as less multitudinous. As a rule we remember those things
best in which we take the greatest interest. This gives to man a much
wider range of memory than any animal can possess, with a proportionately
increased area for association to work over. But there are certain
primitive interests, as we may call them, connected with food, and the
family and sexual relations, which are very strong in animals, and in
regard to which the memory, when put in action, may be equally strong.
Who shall say that a man, returning to his home at the end of the day,
sees in his mind's eye a clearer picture of what awaits him there than
does the bird flying to its nest, or the bee to its hive? Now could
anything, by association, call up this picture, suddenly, in the bird's
or insect's mind, they would, no doubt, act for the moment as though
it were real--as did Darwin's dog when he called him after five years'
absence; and thus I can understand one of these guillemots flying with a
fish to its ledge, to feed its chick, although its chick were no longer
there. It might be so; I can see no reason against it. In the actions
of these two birds there may lie--for me, now, there does lie--a great
psychological interest. Suggestive they certainly are. I shall keep this
in my mind and watch the ledges more closely.

The larger of the two young guillemots is now frequently flapping its
wings, and latterly it has been jumping up, at the same time, though
always it keeps in one place by its mother, and does not run about.
Mother and chick often delectate themselves by nibbling the tip of each
other's bills. And now there comes a surprise. For the first time that I
have ever seen, the chick moves right away from where it was, leaving its
father and mother. It travels along the ledge, often uncomfortably near
to the edge of it, and at last gets round a corner, out of my sight. The
parents, as far as I can make out, have not followed it. This is quite
a new development in my experience of the chick, if not in the chick's
own experience. It is not, then, quite immovable, till it flies or is
carried down. Were it to fall now, how aptly would it illustrate that law
of natural selection which I have called in to account for its general
quiescence. I hope it won't though--which is to my credit surely.

I note one more thing before leaving. A bird picks up and, as it were,
plays with some feathers lying on the ledge, one of which it now brings
to its partner, lays it on the rock, and then both pull it about. This,
too, I noticed when I was last here. I have mentioned it in my _Bird
Watching_, and account for it by supposing that we here see a last trace
of the once active nest-building instinct. Perhaps, however, the act is
too trivial to need any special accounting for.



CHAPTER XVI

FLIGHT AND FANCY


Would God my home were here, that I might make a lifelong and continuous
study of the wild sea-bird life about me! What more should I want, then?
except, indeed, a better climate, which is not a matter of culture.
Of all that civilisation has to give I value nothing much (that I can
get) except books, and those I might have here, at least in a moderate
profusion, "the hundred (or so) best" ones--of my own choice _bien
entendu_; the devil take any other man's. "Oh, hell! to choose love by
another's eyes." But all my own writers--with never an impudent, pert
critic amongst them to _échauffer ma bile_--awaiting me at home, with
these birds--these dear birds--to look down upon outside, and I think I
might be happy, as things go. But with such a strange blending of tastes
and desires as nature has put upon me, how can I ever hope to be, to any
satisfactory extent? What I want, really, is the veldt, or Brazilian
forests, or Lapland, or the Spanish Marisma, with the British Museum
library round the corner; but, as Cleopatra says of two other things,
"they do not go together."

"Well, here's my comfort" for a time--my half-measure of content. Oh, is
there anything in life more piquant (if you care about it) than to lie on
the summit of a beetling cliff, and watch the breeding sea-fowl on the
ledges below? In the Shetlands, at least, it is possible to do this in
perfect safety, for the strata of the rock have often been tilted up to
such an extent that, whilst the precipice formed by their broken edges
is of the most fearful description, their slope, even on the landward
side, is so steep that when one has climbed it, and flung oneself full
length at the top, one's head looks down--as mine does now--as from a
slanting wall, against which one's body leans. To fall over, one would
first have to fall upwards, and the knowledge of this gives a feeling of
security, without which one could hardly observe or take notes. The one
danger lies in becoming abstracted and forgetting where one is. Those
steep, green banks--for the rock, except in smooth, unclimbable patches,
is covered with lush grass--have no appearance of an edge, and I have
often shuddered, whilst plodding mechanically upwards, to find myself but
just awakened from a reverie, within a yard or so of their soft-curled,
lap-like crests. But I think my "subliminal," in such cases, was always
pretty well on the watch, or--to adopt a more prosaic and now quite
obsolete explanation--the reverie was not a very deep one.

At any rate, here I am safe, and, looking down again from my old
"coign of vantage" of two years before, the same wonderful and never
forgotten--never-to-be-forgotten--sight presents itself. Here are the
guillemots, the same individual birds, standing--each in the old place,
perhaps, if the truth were known--in long, gleaming rows and little
salient clusters, equally conspicuous by their compact shape and vividly
contrasted colouring; whilst both above and below them, on nests which
look like some natural, tufted growth of the sheer, jagged rock, and
which touch, or almost touch, one another, sit hundreds and hundreds
of kittiwakes, the soft bluey-grey and downier white of whose plumage,
with their more yielding and accommodating outlines, make them as a
tone and tinting of the rock itself, and delight with grace, as the
others do with boldness. Seen from a distance all except the white is
lost, and then they have the effect of snow, covering large surfaces of
the hard, perpendicular rock. Nearer, they look like little nodules or
bosses of snow projecting from a flatter and less pure expanse of it.
An innumerable cry goes up, a vociferous, shrieking chorus, the sharp
and ear-piercing treble to the deep, sombrous bass of the waves. The
actual note is supposed to be imitated in the name of the bird, but to
my own ear it much more resembles--to a degree, indeed, approaching
exactitude--the words "It's getting late!" uttered with a great emphasis
on the "late," and repeated over and over again in a shrill, harsh, and
discordant shriek. The effect--though this is far from being really
the case--is as though the whole of the birds were shrieking out this
remark at the same time. There is a constant clang and scream, an eternal
harsh music--harmony in discord--through and above which, dominating
it as an organ does lesser instruments--or like "that deep and dreadful
organ-pipe, the thunder"--there rolls, at intervals, one of the most
extraordinary voices, surely, that ever issued from the throat of a
bird: a rolling, rumbling volume of sound, so rough and deep, yet so
full, grand, and sonorous, that it seems as though the very cliffs were
speaking--ending sometimes in something like a gruff laugh, or, as some
will have it, a bark.

This marvellous note is the nuptial one of the guillemot, or, rather, it
is that, swelled and multiplied by the echoes to which it gives rise, and
which roll and mutter along the face of the precipice, and mingle with
the dash of the waves. The effect is most striking when heard at a little
distance, and especially across the chasm that divides one precipice from
another. Under these circumstances it is less the actual cry itself than
what, by such help, it becomes, that impresses one. Uttered quite near,
by some bird that stands conspicuous on the ledge one looks down upon,
the sound is less impressive, though still extraordinary enough. It can
then be better understood, and resolves itself into a sort of _jodel_,
long continued and having a vibratory roll in it. It begins usually with
one or two shorter notes, which have much the syllabic value of "hărāh,
hărāh"--first ă as in "hat," with the accent on the last syllable, as in
"hurrah." Very commonly the outcry ends here, but otherwise the final
"rah" is prolonged into the sound I speak of, which continues rising and
falling--which is why I call it a _jodel_--for a longer or shorter time,
the volume of sound being increased, sometimes, to a wonderful extent.
It ends, usually, as it began, with a few short, rough notes which may
be called a bark, as the other is called a bray, though to neither is
there much resemblance if we make either a dog or a donkey the basis
of comparison. Altogether it is one of the strangest, weirdest sounds
that can be imagined, and nobody, not accustomed to such surprises,
would suppose it could issue from the lungs of so small an animal as a
guillemot.

I made a strange error in regard to the utterer of this note when I
first came to the Shetlands, and the history of it will show either what
a fool I was (and am, in that case), or else how possible it is for
such mistakes to arise, even with great care and close and continued
observation--I should prefer it to show the latter. I thought it was
impossible that I could have been mistaken, but now that I know I was
I can see how it happened perfectly. At that time I knew nothing about
the matter, for though I love natural history I hate the "British Bird"
books, nor am I often in the way of being told anything, since, to
be frank, I am as much a hermit as I am mercifully permitted to be:
therefore, when I first heard the "bray" of the guillemot, as it is
called, I was lost in wonder, and as it came but rarely, and never from
any of the birds upon the one particular ledge that I watched day after
day--often for many hours at a time--I never suspected its true origin.
These particular birds never uttered any sound more extraordinary than
a kind of "ik, ik, ik!" and this though they were constantly fighting,
whilst the performance of the nuptial rite was frequent amongst them. The
note which so astonished me never came from very near; I heard it, as I
have said before, only occasionally, and it always seemed to come from a
part of the rock where a few pairs of fulmar petrels were sitting. When
I mentioned it to the watcher, who occupied the little sentry-box on the
ness, during the daytime, when I was out, leaving it for me to sleep in
at night, he said nothing about guillemots, but expressed his opinion
that the sound was produced by these fulmar petrels. Now the fulmar
petrel, though I have never met with any reference to it, does utter,
when on the breeding-ledges--or at least, it does in the Shetlands--a
note which is sufficiently marked and striking, a sort of angry, hoarse,
gruff interjection--guttural too--several times repeated, and sounding
sometimes like a laugh. Often too, these notes are not divided, or else
are so quickly repeated that they sound like one, continuously uttered
for some little space of time. As I now think, I must sometimes have
caught this note at the beginning or end of the cry of the guillemot,
and put it down as a part of it. Then, when, with this idea in my mind,
I watched the petrels at but a few yards' distance, and heard them
uttering the note they do utter, to my heart's content--swelling out
the throat and rolling the head at one another, the while, in the way I
have described--I was so foolish as to think that this was the cry that
I thought so wonderful, but not at its best, and that the real one, when
I heard it again in the distance--for, as I say, it never sounded very
near--was the same one _at_ its best. With this false idea in my head I
went home, and when somebody, assuming the character of a "Fulmar Petrel"
himself--assured me that I had mistaken the guillemot's note for his own,
I was as convinced that he did not know what he was talking about, and
that I did, as I am now to the contrary.

On one point, however, I am clear, and cannot possibly be mistaken,
since I have verified it only in these last few days, having come, in
fact, partly to do so--at least that made another motive for my journey.
The fulmar petrel, if it does not bray like a guillemot, has at least a
nuptial note--and that a sufficiently striking one--of its own, which
is uttered by both sexes as they lie on the rock, but never, in my
experience, whilst flying. Moreover, just as the vocal powers of the
guillemot are now marvellously increased--or rather multiplied--compared
with what they were some weeks earlier in the year, on my last visit, so,
if I may trust my own memory--which, however, I never do trust--those of
the fulmar petrel have suffered a corresponding diminution. I attribute
both these facts to one and the same cause. At the earlier date the
guillemots were in the very midst of their domestic duties, so that those
feelings proper to the courting period were in abeyance. Now, however,
they are free, and, under the influence of returning emotion, have become
noisy again, as no doubt, at the very beginning, they were noisier still.
Though their physical energy may not be sufficient to enable them to rear
another brood, that, I am sure--and there is plenty of evidence of it--is
what they feel like--there is dalliance and a "smart set" morality. But
with the petrels, at the same time, things had not gone so far--some,
if I remember rightly, had not even yet laid their egg--and so their
nuptial vociferations were more energetic than they are now--or, at any
rate, I think they were. Here, then, was a mistake, and I have shown
clearly how it came about. Some perhaps--especially those who get all
their information from books, and feel as if they had found it out for
themselves--may admit no excuse for it, my explanation notwithstanding;
but, for my part, I think it is easy to make mistakes. Had but one of the
guillemots on my own ledge been so good as to bray for me, all would have
been well, but never a word did any of them say except "ik, ik, ik!"

There was another point on which "Fulmar Petrel" took exception to
what I said about him--or rather to what I seemed to say. In view of
his oil-squirting and other unangelic propensities, he thought the
descriptive phrase "half angel and half bird," which formed the title of
my article, was not quite suitable to him. Well, I may tell him now that
I never thought so either--titles, as most authors nowadays have good
cause to know, are not always one's own. I never compare birds to angels,
for fear of thinking slightingly of the latter, and though I admit that,
in the hands of a skilled artist, a pelican's wings on a pair of human
shoulders may make a pretty enough combination, and that the whole human
body need not _look_ so heavy and unmanageable as it, no doubt, would
be in reality, still, as far as flight is concerned, I confess I think
it takes a bird to beat a bird. Angels are out of it in my opinion, or,
if they are not, at least my powers of imagination in regard to them
are. I shall always think of "Fulmar Petrel" as flying much better than
the best of them, though, as his habit of squirting oil does not in the
least degree lessen his aerial grace and beauty, as far as that alone
is concerned I see no reason why he should not be half an angel, at any
rate, if not a whole one.

Yes, here are powers indeed! What buoyant ease! What marvellous,
least-action grace! Surely no bird has ever flown before. This--this
only--is flight; for a moment, at any rate, one forgets even the
nightjar. And yet all these storm-riding, blast-defying powers belong to
one of the most placid-looking, delicately dove-like beautiful beings of
all air's kingdom. How soft is its colouring! How gentle its look! Was
there ever a more "delicate Ariel" than this?

One cannot, indeed, watch for long the flight of the fulmar petrel
without becoming dissatisfied, or at least critical, in regard to that
of other sea-birds. The larger gulls grow hopelessly coarse and heavy;
the kittiwake is not what it was, something is gone from the bold
corsair-like sweeps of the Arctic skua, and even in the seeming-laboured
grace of the tern the eye begins to dwell more on the labour and less on
the grace. All these birds are bodies: the fulmar petrel more suggests
a soul. Something of this it owes to its colouring, which, though
approaching to blue above, and of the purest-looking white below, yet
has in it that exquisitely smoked or shadowed quality which allows of
no glint or gleam, avoids all saliency, and almost seems alien from
substance itself. It blends with the air, of which it seems to be a
condensation rather than something introduced into it. Yet most lies in
the flight. In this there is conveyed to one a sense, not so much of
power over as of actual partnership in the element in which the bird
floats, as though it had been born there, as though it might sleep and
awake there, as though it had never been, nor ever could be, anywhere
else. It is, I suppose, the small apparent mechanism of the flight that
gives this impression, the absence, or the ease, of effort. Sliding,
as it were, from the face of the precipice, and often from the most
towering heights of it, the thin cleaver-like wings are at once, or after
a few quick, flickering vibrations, spread to their full extent, and on
them the bird floats, sweeps, circles, now sinking towards the sea, now
cresting the summit of the cliff,[5] but keeping, for the most part,
within the middle space between the two. Ever and anon it sails smoothly
in to its own rocky ledge, pauses above it, as though to think "My home!"
then, with another quick shimmer or flicker of the thin shadow-wings,
sweeps smoothly out again, to enter once more on those wonderful
down-sliding, up-gliding circles that have more of magic in them, and are
more drawn to charm, than had ever a necromancer's.

[Footnote 5: The idea that the fulmar petrel never flies over the land
is a delusion. I have often seen it do so, though that is not its habit.
It goes but a trifling way, however, cutting off a cape or corner, and
returns almost immediately.]

This light flickering of the wings, as I have called it, for they
cannot be said to flap or beat--even quiver is too gross a term for
so delicate a motion--is a characteristic part of the fulmar petrel's
flight. They move for a moment--for a few seconds more or less--in the
way in which a shadow flickers on the wall, and then the bird glides
and circles, holding them outspread and at rest, opposing their thin,
flat surface, now to this point, now to that, by a turn of the head or
body, but giving them no independent motion. Then another flicker, and
again the gliding and circling. When spread thus, flat to the air, the
wings have a very thin, paper-knifey appearance. The simile does not
seem worthy either of them or of the bird, but as it is continually
brought to my mind, I must employ it, albeit apologetically. It is the
shape of them that suggests it. Their ends are smooth and rounded, and
they are held so straight that they seem to be in one piece, without a
joint; though, just when the wind catches them freshly, and drives the
bird swiftly along, they are turned slightly upwards toward the tips,
through the momentary yielding of the quills. Strange though it may seem,
this straightness--almost stiffness--of the wing-contour adds to--nay,
makes--the grace of the fulmar petrel's flight, and the pronounced bend
at the joint, which, in the gull and kittiwake, causes the forepart of
the wing to slope backwards in a marked degree, looks almost clumsy by
comparison. The reason, I think, is that the petrel's straight, thin,
flat-pressed wings look so splendidly set to the wind, suggesting a
graceful ship--lateen-rigged--in fullest sail, whilst the others seem
timidly furled and reefed, by the side of them. Sometimes, indeed, the
wings do bend just a little--for, after all, they have a joint--but the
straight-set attitude is more germane to them, and soon they assume it
again, shooting forward so briskly, yet softly, that one seems to hear a
soft little musical click.

And thus this dream and joy of glorious motion, this elemental spirit
of a bird, floats and flickers along, cradled in air, looking like a
shadow upon it, sweeping and gliding, rising and falling, in circles of
consummate ease. No, this is not dominion, but union and sweet accord.
There is no in-spite-of, no proud compelling, here. Lighter than the air
that it rides on, the bird seems married to it, clasps it as a bride.



CHAPTER XVII

MOUTHS WITH MEANINGS


The young kittiwake differs in appearance from the parent birds in a
quite uncommon manner, for, being prettily and saliently marked, it looks
like a mature gull of another species, whereas the young of other gulls,
being plain brown things, suggest their juvenility on the analogy of
pheasants or birds of paradise. The general colour is mauvy grey, but
black, falling here and there upon it, seems striving to blot it out.
Half of the wings are thus darkened, and a broad half-moon of sooty black
nearly encircles the neck, looking like black velvet on the back of it,
where it is by much the broadest. There is a clouded black mark, too, on
either side of the head, with some nuances of black between, black tips
the tail, and the beak is all black. The _tout ensemble_ of all this is
very pretty, and the young kittiwake is a pretty bird. Mauve and black
velvet is the dress it comes out in, and it looks like a soft little
dove. Many might admire it beyond the grown bird, but, personally, I
prefer the latter.

One of these well-grown young kittiwakes has just been fed by the mother,
or father--but call it the mother, it always sounds better. Being
importuned by sundry little peckings at her beak, she opened it, and the
young one, thrusting in its own, helped himself as though her throat
were a platter. It was much the same as with the fulmar petrels. Numbers
of the young have left their nests, and keep all together, standing on
the rocks or floating on the sea. Others remain, and I notice that these
keep flapping their wings. This must strengthen them, and have the effect
of preparing Dædalus for his first flight--for it seems probable that
these particular ones have not made it. But they have, though, and bang
goes a provisional hypothesis! Every moment, to laugh at me, one or other
of them is flying out from the ledges, whilst others are returning to
them.

When one of these young kittiwakes opens its bill, it is at once
apparent that the inside of its mouth is much less brilliantly coloured
than it is in the parent bird, being of a pale pinkish, merely, with,
perhaps, a tinge of light yellow. As for the grown bird's mouth, one can
hardly exaggerate the lurid brightness of it. The whole buccal cavity,
including, as I think is usual, the tongue, is of a fine rich red, or
orange-red colour, carrying on that of the naked skin adjoining the
mandibles outside, with which, indeed, it is continuous. It is just the
same in the case of the old and young shag. The mouth of the former
presents a uniform surface of splendid gamboge, whilst that of the latter
is almost the natural pink, only just beginning to pass into yellow. In
the young guillemot, also, the interior of the mouth is pinkish merely,
whilst in the grown bird it is of a pleasing lemon or gamboge. With the
fulmar petrel again, we have much the same thing, though here--and
this is significant--the difference, as well as the actual colour, is
less striking. These varying degrees of brilliancy of colouring in this
particular region, as between the mature and immature form, must surely
have some meaning, and as it goes hand-in-hand with a similar, if not,
as I believe, an identical difference in the hue of the naked facial
integument, as well as with the pattern and shade of the plumage, I feel
persuaded that all three are governed by the same general law.

As explained by Darwin--and nothing better, that I can see, than
opposition has ever been opposed to his views--the beauty of certain
birds has been acquired through the principle of sexual selection, and
the lesser degree of it, which we notice in the young, represents the
earlier and less-finished beauty of the adult in times gone by. Of all
the elements which go to make up the beauty thus acquired, colour, on
the whole, plays the most conspicuous part, and nothing can be more
brilliant and striking than some of the colours that I am here speaking
of. The only reason, therefore, why, in their use, and the laws that have
governed their acquirement, they should be thought to differ from the
hues and tintings of the plumage, or of the naked outer skin--the cere
or the labial region--would be their habitual, necessary concealment.
If, then, it can be shown that, far from their being always concealed,
they are prominently displayed during the breeding season by certain
birds which possess them in a marked degree, then, as far as these
birds are concerned, there ceases to be a reason for thus, in idea,
separating them. Let us see, now, how far this is the case. To begin with
these kittiwakes, in their courting, or rather connubial actions on the
ledges--as may be seen now, but much more earlier in the year--both sexes
open their bills widely, and crane about, with their heads turned toward
each other, whilst at the same time uttering their shrieking, clamorous
cry. The motion, however, is often continued after the cry has ceased,
and this we might expect if the birds took any pleasure in the brilliant
gleam of colour which each presents to, and, as it were, flashes about
in front of the other. The effect of this it is not easy to exaggerate,
and if it is extremely noticeable to an onlooker at some little distance,
what must it be to the bird itself, who looks right into the almost
scarlet cavity? We have only to think of the inside of some shells, or of
a large, highly-coloured flower-cup, to understand the kind of æsthetic
pleasure that may be derived from such a sight.

Similar, but much more striking, is the nuptial behaviour of the fulmar
petrel. A pair of these birds lying near together, on some ledge or
cranny of the rock, will, every few minutes, open their bills to the
very widest extent, at the same time blowing and swelling out the skin
of the throat, including that which lies between the two sides of the
lower mandible, until it has a very inflated appearance. In this state
they stretch their heads towards each other, and then, with languishing
gestures and expression, keep moving them about from side to side,
uttering whilst they do so, but by no means always, a hoarse, unlovely
sort of note, like a series of hoarse coughs or grunts, as though in
anger--and indeed, it is uttered in anger, too. But though these motions,
with the distension of the jaws, always, as far as I have seen, accompany
the note when it is uttered, yet they are often continued afterwards, and
sometimes commence and end in silence, so that one has to conclude that
they are themselves of importance, and may have as much, or even more, to
do with the expression of the bird's feelings as the vocal utterance has.

It is difficult to give an adequate idea of the strange, lackadaisical
appearance which these birds present while acting in the above-described
manner. With widely-gaping bills, swelled throats, necks stretched out,
and heads moving slowly all about, now up, now down, now to this side,
now to that, they look sometimes "sick of love," like Solomon, and
sometimes as though about to be sick indeed--in fact, on the point of
vomiting. All the bird's actions are peculiar, but none more so than
this wide gaping distension of the mandibles, with the full view that it
offers of the whole interior cavity of the mouth. This last is not indeed
brilliant, as is that of the kittiwake, but, for all that, it is very
pleasing, of a delicate mauvy blue, æsthetic in its appearance, and in
harmony with the soft and delicate tinting of the plumage. There is no
reason to suppose that the latter beauty is unappreciated by the bird
itself, when seen in the opposite sex. Why, then, should the pale mauve
or blue of the inside of the mouth--this purple chamber flung open for
inspection during the season of courtship or of nuptial dalliance--be not
appreciated too?

The razorbill's mouth, inside, is of a conspicuous light yellow, which,
when exposed suddenly to view, contrasts very forcibly with the black
of the beak and upper plumage. In dalliance these birds throw the
head straight up into the air, and, opening their clean-cut bills, so
that one sees the gay interior like a line of bright gamboge, utter
a deep guttural note, which is prolonged and has a vibratory roll in
it, like the cry of the gorilla when angry--_si parva licet componere
magnis_--as described by Du Chaillu. It is not loud, however, and so is
easily lost amidst elemental sounds and the cries of other birds. The
vibratory character of the note becomes more marked under the influence
of excitement, and the mandibles themselves vibrate as they are opened
at intervals, somewhat widely. In the midst of their duet the pair toss
their heads about, catch hold of each other's beaks, and give quick
little emotional nibbles at the feathers of their throats or breasts. If
we can suppose that the birds are interested in each other's appearance
whilst thus acting--that they admire or are sexually excited by one
another--then it would be strange if the bright flashing yellow so
constantly exhibited did not play its full part in producing this result.
Imagine ourselves razor-bills, and thus acting. Could we be blind to
such revelations? I think not.

The pretty little black guillemot--the dabchick of ocean--may often be
seen sitting in a niche of the cliffs, and calling to another--its mate
presumably--either above or below it. The cry is, for the most part,
a weak, twittering sound, but occasionally rises into a very feeble
little wail or scream. All the while the bird is uttering it he keeps
raising and again depressing his head and opening his beak so as to
show conspicuously the inside of his mouth, which is of a very pretty
rose or blush-red hue, almost as vivid as that of the feet. The beak is
opened more widely than would seem to be necessary for the production of
the sound, as if to show this coloration, even though, for the moment,
there may be no other bird there to see it. If, however, the rosy inward
complexion were in any way an attraction, it would be natural for a bird,
wanting its mate, to associate the wish with the action of opening the
beak, just as a lonely dove in a cage will coo and bow as to a partner.
As a matter of fact, the crying bird very soon flies to the other one
(or _vice versâ_), and, standing beside her, utters his little twitter
as a greeting. She, being couched down, responds by raising her head,
so that the tip of her beak touches, or nearly touches, his. Then he
couches also, and sitting thus, side by side--comfy on the sheer edge of
the precipice--the two turn, from time to time, their heads towards each
other, open their bills, and twitter together. Every time they open them
the pretty rose tapestry of the mouth-chamber must be plain to each or
either, and the more so that they are _vis-a-vis_.

In all these four birds, therefore, we have a nuptial habit of distending
the jaws, side by side with a brilliant or pleasing coloration of the
region which, by such action, is exhibited. Moreover, in the case of
one of them, more particularly--viz. the fulmar petrel--this distension
may be unaccompanied with any note, though it always is with the odd
gestures and lackadaisical expression which I have tried to describe.
In other words, the beak is sometimes opened as a part of the bird's
nuptial actions, and not merely with a view to the production of sound.
That originally this alone would have been the motive of its being so
can hardly, I suppose, be doubted, but may it not be possible that the
eye has gradually come to share in a pleasure which was, at first,
communicated through the ear alone, and that a process of selection,
founded, perhaps, on some initial freshness of colouring, has in time
produced a special kind of adornment? If this were so, we might expect
that some of the birds so adorned would have the habit of opening the
bill in this manner without uttering any note at all, or, at least,
that they would very frequently do so. Such an instance we have in the
shag, that smaller and more adorned variety of the cormorant, which is
much more common on our northern coasts than the so-called common one.
One of the most ordinary nuptial actions of these birds is to throw
the head into the air, and open and shut the beak several times in
succession; and sometimes they hold it wide open for several seconds
together. Each time, as the jaws gape, a splendid surface of bright
gamboge yellow is exhibited, which the human eye, at any rate, has to
admire, and which exactly matches with the naked yellow skin at the base
of the two mandibles on either side, where they become lost in what may
be called the bird's cheek. This exterior brightly-tinted surface is
continuous with the interior and much larger one, and my view is that the
colour of the latter represents an extension of that of the former, by
a similar process of sexual selection. There is no doubt whatever that
this outward adornment largely adds to the handsome appearance of the
shag, and probably those naturalists who believe in sexual selection at
all will think it as much due to that agency as the crest and the sheeny
green plumage. But if the closely similar colouring of the adjacent
interior region is to be looked on as merely fortuitous (we escape here,
thank heaven, from the all-pervading protective theory), why should the
other be thought to be anything more? If the shag had not this habit
of opening its mouth and thus displaying what is, in itself, so very
striking, it would be difficult, I think, to accept sexual selection as
an explanation even of the facial adornment, since, if the one effect
were nonsignificant, so might the other be. As it is, I can see no reason
why it should not have brought about both.

I have often watched shags thus throwing up their heads and opening and
shutting their jaws at one another, and though I have generally been
fairly close to them I have never heard them utter a note whilst so
doing. I consider these actions--together with other still more peculiar
ones, which they indulge in during the breeding season--to be of a sexual
character, and, if so, this silent and oft-repeated distension of the
jaws must have some kind of meaning. The large and brilliantly-coloured
surface which is thus displayed supplies this meaning, as I am inclined
to think.

The fact that some birds--I have not the knowledge to say how many--which
do not open the beak in this way, have yet the inside of the mouth
brightly or conspicuously coloured, may seem to throw doubt on the theory
here advanced; but of course sexual selection is not the only power which
may have produced such coloration, and the likelihood of its having done
so is decreased if there is no outer facial adornment to match that
within. The cuckoo is one such example, for--I speak on the strength of
young ones which I have seen in the nest--the whole of its inner mouth
is of a really splendid salmon colour. When approached, the nestling
cuckoo assumes a most threatening attitude, alternately dilating and
drawing itself in, now receding into the nest, now rising up in it as
though to strike, having all the while its mouth wide open and hissing
violently. Its feathers are ruffled, and altogether it has a quite
terrifying aspect, to which the triangular flaming patch that seems to
burst out of the centre of it--for the head is drawn right back upon the
body--very largely contributes. Especially is this so when, as is mostly
the case, there is considerable shadow in the recess of the nest, amidst
the surrounding foliage. If it can be supposed that the large false head
and painted eyes of the puss or elephant hawk-moth caterpillars have
been acquired as a protection against enemies--as to which see Professor
Poulton's interesting suggestion[6]--then it certainly seems to me more
than possible that the flame-like throat of the young cuckoo has been
developed in the same manner, _pari passu_ with the loud, snake-like
hiss and intimidating gestures. In conclusion, I would suggest that the
bright or pleasingly-coloured mouth-cavity which some birds possess may
have a distinct meaning, and be the product either of natural or sexual
selection.

[Footnote 6: _The Colours of Animals_ (International Scientific
Series).]

[Illustration: AERIAL PIRACY]



CHAPTER XVIII

LEARNING TO SOAR


I had not before imagined that the puffin was one of those birds that
suffered from the extortions of the Arctic or lesser skua, but I have
found it out to-day without knowing whether it is in a British Bird book
or not. Twice have the two passed me, close together, and flying with
tremendous velocity, their wings--especially, I think, those of the
skua--making a portentous sound just above my head. The puffin, though
hotly pursued, was a little in front, and such was his speed that it
seemed doubtful if the skua would overtake him. I suppose, however, that
the latter must be competent to do so, or, having learnt otherwise by
experience, he would long ago have ceased giving chase.

The puffin, like the partridge and other birds that progress by a
succession of quick strokes with the wings, flies with great rapidity.
He is so small and light that perhaps one ought not to be surprised
at this, so I reserve my wonder for the guillemot. How this solid and
weighty-looking bird can, with wings that are small out of all proportion
to its bulk, narrow to a degree, and by no means long, get through the
air at the rate it does, how it can even stay in it at all and not come
plump down like the wooden bird that it looks, is to me a mystery. The
wing, I think, is considerably smaller in proportion to the body than is
that of the wild duck. When I see these birds going along over the sea
at the rate they do, it does not seem to me impossible that a man should
fly, if only his arms were to sprout feathers and his pectoral muscles
enlarge sufficiently to enable him to move them with the same quickness.
Is there, by the by, any special adaptation to the power of flight in the
body and bones of a bat? We are generally referred to such arrangements
in reference to the flight of birds, with a view to lessening the wonder
of it, as if birds were the only things that flew. Bats, however, are
mammals like ourselves, and their aerial performances are very wonderful.
I have often watched them and the swifts together, at the close of a
summer day, and have been hardly able to decide which of the two showed
the greater mastery over the element in which both moved. The swifts
indeed alone skimmed on outspread wings, without pulsating them; but in
quick, sudden turns in every direction, in the power of instantaneously
and abruptly changing the angle of their flight, and especially in
descending, sometimes almost perpendicularly, the bats excelled them. In
regard to speed, the disparity did not appear to be so great as I suppose
it must have been. I do not know if any observations have been made to
determine the speed at which bats fly, but they often seem to go very
fast.

To return to the puffins, their powers of flight extend a little beyond
mere speed gained by constant exertion, for they do sometimes make swift
gliding circles through the air, not indeed without moving the wings
at all, yet moving them but little, and at intervals--a few pulsations
and then a sweep. Yet this is never very much. They seem to be just in
the way of getting to something more advanced in flying, without quite
knowing what they would be at. However, I think in time they will begin
to understand, get a hint of their real feelings, like the heroines in
novels, who find all at once that they have been in love for some while
without noticing it. (Shakespeare's heroines, by the by, seem to have had
a clearer insight into their state of mind--but then, there was more for
them to know about.) They--the puffins, I mean, not the heroines--will
often, when they leave their nests, mount up to a considerable height
and then descend in a long slant to the sea. In this they are peculiar,
as far as I have observed, and for some time I could not imagine why
they did it; but tearing up some letters one day as I sat on the rock's
edge and throwing them towards the sea, the pieces were carried upwards,
some of them rising almost perpendicularly, and continuing to do so
for some while before they were blown against the higher slopes of the
cliff. The puffins, I then felt sure, must mount upon this upward current
of air, either as a matter of enjoyment, or as finding it easier to
do so. Probably it is the latter consideration which influences them,
but ease is nearly allied to enjoyment, passes insensibly into it; and
thus, in time, these little puffins may learn to soar. I was wrong,
perhaps, to speak of them as light, for they are solidly made, and no
doubt heavy enough in proportion to their bulk. Still, for their type of
flight, they seem to me to fly lightly; and there is a little--just a
little--tendency, as I have noticed, towards a higher development. I may
be mistaken, but I hope that it is so; no one can become intimate with
the puffin without wishing him well. It is most interesting to see things
in their beginnings, and to speculate on what, if they continue, they are
likely, in time, to become.

The puffin has other and far more fatal enemies than the skua. His
remains, all picked and bleeding--often as though a feast had but just
been made on him--I am constantly finding about, generally on the rocks,
but sometimes--once, at least--on the heather above the cliffs. At first,
when I began to find these bloody relics, I thought of nothing but
peregrines, and the one inhabitant of this great lonely ness confirmed
me in this view. But I have never seen one of these birds (or any other
hawk) all the time I have been here, and this seems strange if it is
really their doing; for I have been out all day long whenever it has not
poured continuously--which last, indeed, in spite of the wretchedness
of the weather, has not happened often. I hardly think I should have
missed seeing one or other of these large birds beating about in wide
circles, as is their custom, did they really sojourn here; and yet what
more likely place could be found? Lately it has occurred to me the
great skua, or the herring or black-backed gull, may be the authors of
these tragic occurrences, but I have not seen any of them kill anything
yet--not even young birds. However it be, many a scene of ruthless
rapine is enacted on these black rocks, beneath these great cliffs,
by the surge of the sullen sea. None see it; most, I verily believe,
forget it. But it is there, and always there; and so, in ghastly and
horrible multiplication, through the whole wide world. How unpitying,
how _godless_ is nature, when man, with his disguising smiles and
honey-out-of-vinegar extractions, is not there to gloze and apologise, to
strew his "smooth comforts false, worse than true wrongs"!



CHAPTER XIX

THE DANCE OF DEATH


On this first day of August I was awakened early by something about
the hut which I could not understand. It kept shaking, and there was a
noise as of something in some kind of indirect contact with it. I only
thought of man; and what any one should be doing on this solitary hill
at such an hour I could not for the life of me imagine. The shaking and
straining, however, continued; so I got up, and, on opening the door,
away, with startled looks, rushed two sheep--a dam and her big lamb--who
had been rubbing themselves against the iron wires that run from each
corner of the roof of my little sentry-box to stakes set in the ground,
to which they are fastened in order to strengthen the building. How they
stared at me through the thin, damp mists of the morning, petrified at
first! and then how wildly they plunged away! I remembered then often to
have seen sheep's wool hanging to these wires; and one of them is very
much loosened. So there is a little harm done, even by these "woolly
fools"; and were they wild creatures, the Philistine mind, which is
the great controlling power in everything, would have nothing to set
against it. Only the pleasure of killing it is thought worthy to be
set in competition against the smallest degree of damage that a wild
animal, however beautiful and interesting, may do; but this is such a
great set-off that the whole country might be ruined by beasts before
any true sportsman would wish to have the evil ended together with his
daily blood-draught. The same man who would keep up foxes, to the ruin of
agriculture and the depopulation of poultry-yards, makes a shout against
the poor cormorants, because to the million enemies that prevent any
one kind of fish from crowding out every other kind, it adds its wholly
inappreciable efforts. "This also is vanity and a great evil." But what a
picturesque morning call to receive!

The three young guillemots are still where they were, but the fourth,
which was the first one I saw, and the largest, seems to be gone. I saw
this little bird pretty plainly through the glasses, and often flapping
its little wings; and it seemed to me evident that it could not yet fly.
But who shall say absolutely that it could not, seeing how soon young
pheasants do, and how strange and little fitted for it they look? Still
more, who shall say that, though it cannot fly, it may not have been
able to flutter down to the sea? Until, therefore, the young guillemot
is actually seen to leave the ledge, there can be no certainty as to the
manner in which it leaves it. Perhaps it has been seen to. _Je n'en sais
rien_, nor do I want to except through experience. What is a cake to me
if _I_ cannot eat it?

I have just seen a curious contrast. A pair of birds, for some reason,
began to fight, and fought most vigorously. Suddenly they stopped,
both of them in a funny set attitude, and each the counterpart of the
other. A moment afterwards they were cossetting with the greatest
tenderness--every mark of the strongest affection. It is to be presumed,
therefore, that they were bird and wife. Guillemots, in their marital
relations, are the most affectionate of birds; but this is compatible
with the most violent jars--just as it is amongst ourselves. "_Ce sont
petites choses qui sont de temps en temps nécessaires dans l'amitié;
et cinq ou six coups de bâton entre gens qui s'aiment, ne font que
ragaillardir l'affection._"

Now a bird flies in with a fish, and one of the two chicks left on this
part of the cliffs is fed. It was just the same as in the make-believe
yesterday--attitude, etc., and the other parent bustling up--except
that as the chick was there to take the fish, and wanted no pressing,
the ceremony was much sooner over. It is such a cold, sharp wind, now,
though the 2nd of August, that I have to tent myself in my Scotch plaid
as though I were a young guillemot, besides having a Shetland shawl round
my waist, to keep away the lumbago--which, for all that, still plays
light fantasias on this poor "machine that is to me." So "here I and
sorrow sit," on a razor-blade between two precipices, the one sheer, the
other a horrible slant, and look down at another, on the ledges of which
are my guillemots and shrieking kittiwakes. Heavens, on what slopes and
inclines some of the former sit and crawl! They can fly, it is true; but
I cannot, and cannot but remember this, though I am so altruistic that I
keep on imagining myself to be them. Now I see the chick that I thought
had gone, making the fourth again, in all. It must have moved some
distance, to get to where it is. And now comes the Shetland rain.

This was a sharp shower, and by being driven to take refuge I have
found a better place. I now look down upon the same slab of rock, not
thirty feet below me, that I watched before across a gulf. Seven grown
guillemots are full in view, and, now and then, two of the chicks. In
these I notice that the black of the upper surface is beginning to
encroach upon the white of the throat, which, a day or two back, extended
to the beak, being continuous with the breast and belly. Now a little
collar of black is pushing round from both sides under the chin, and
trying to meet, thinly and faintly, in the centre. The colouring of the
adult bird, therefore, in which the neck and throat are dark like the
body, is in process of establishing itself.

Each of these two chicks is guarded by a parent bird, who stands between
it and the sea; but one of them more relentlessly so than the other.
Another parent, who may pass for the mother, stands a little behind one
of them, and stretches out a wing. The little one, snuggling up to her,
presses its little head amongst the feathers of her side, just under
this wing. The mother immediately clasps him with it, and, with half of
him thus concealed, he squats down on the rock and evidently goes to
sleep. And so close and tight is the embracement that if the mother
moves a little, to one or the other side, the chick, moving its little
legs, goes with her, partly pulled and partly waddling, but as though
all in one with her. Thus they sit together, mother and child, for half
an hour or more at a time; and, at these intervals, the chick wakes up,
comes out of his feathery dark-closet, and, standing on the rock, preens
himself, like a spruce little gentleman. Then, in a few seconds, he goes
in again, and the mother, as ready as ever, covers him up as before. The
wing is just like an arm, tenderly pressing the child to the mother's
side. But all this while--and I think I must have watched them about two
hours--the other little chick stands free on the rock, and most busily
preens himself. He is guarded, however, as I said. Had it not been for
that other chick that I saw go for quite a little walk by itself, I
should have thought that they always were, till they left the ledge. But
probably as they get older they become just a trifle more independent,
and possibly also the size of the ledge or cranny they are born on makes
a difference.

A _more_ marked or prettier picture of maternal love than this mother
guillemot sitting thus on the bare, cold ledge above the great sea, and
closely clasping her little one to her side, I do not think all bird
life has to offer. Her feelings, too, are written in her expression;
her looks are full of love, and of peace, which is ever ready to pass
into anxious care and solicitude. It is good that sportsmen are not an
observant race of men, for sights like this might upset them--however,
to speak candidly, I don't think they would; that was only a _façon de
parler_. But are sportsmen unobservant? for I make no doubt that some
will demur to this proposition. There are, of course, exceptions to all
rules, but my own opinion is that it is the tendency of sportsmen to
overlook, or pay slight regard to, anything in an animal which does not
lie in the path of its being killed by themselves. With its habits in
relation to _this_, its ruses, wariness, and so forth, they necessarily
become acquainted to some extent, generally in a very inappreciative and
unsympathetic sort of way--a disgusting way, in fact--"very," as Jingle
says--but that, as a rule, is all, or nearly all. The actuating motive is
to kill, and the rest--this that I say--follows of necessity. It is easy
to deny this, but I appeal to sporting works generally. What a mass of
them there are, and, off these special lines, what a little do we know of
natural history from the greater number of them! We do not sufficiently
appreciate this truth, because the bulk of what we do know in this
department comes to us from men who have in some degree been sportsmen.
We cannot, of course, expect such knowledge from those whose activities
lie in quite different directions--from chemists, astronomers, lawyers,
artists, etc.--and the greater part of those who come much in contact
with animal life do so--sometimes almost necessarily--as destroyers of it.

It is, I admit, an unhappy truth that the naturalist is generally
more or less in combination with the sportsman, but it seems to me
that as either element gains ground the other weakens, so that if a
man is really and truly a naturalist the passion of killing--and also
of collecting--tends to pass into that of observing. When the latter
has become very strong in such a man, so that he is interested in the
more minute and intricate things in the lives of animals--in their
domesticities and affections, their instincts, their intelligence and
psychology generally, and with the questions and problems presented by
all of these--he is then, I believe, either no more a sportsman or very
little of one, though, perhaps, he may not care to admit this to his old
sporting friends. In a word, the two things--observation of life and
the taking of it--are opposed to each other, though they may be often
combined in one and the same man. But whilst the naturalist--by virtue
of our savage ancestry--has almost always something of the sportsman
in his composition, the sportsman has, for his part, little or nothing
of the naturalist. I should never expect the same man to be great in
both departments, and I believe that a list of names would support this
contention. By "sportsman," however, I understand a man who kills animals
primarily on account of the pleasurable sensations which he experiences
in so doing. He who really only kills or collects for the purpose of
increasing knowledge (so he calls his collection) is no sportsman, in my
opinion--though I think he does a great deal more harm than if he were
one. The collector I look upon as the most harmfully destructive animal
on this earth, and the more scientific the more destructive he is. The
other kind wearies, or may weary, but he never does. His whole life, in
thought or act, is one long ceaseless crime against every other life.
His goal is extermination, and nature, for him, a museum. He is the most
disgusting figure, in my estimation, that has ever appeared in the world,
nor is there any thought more painful to me than that of the slaughter
he is every day perpetrating, and the extermination of species resulting
from it. What deaths may he not achieve in a lifetime! Of all Thugs,
he has the biggest record. That he is often an agreeable, intelligent,
and cultivated man--a very good fellow and otherwise unoffending member
of society--is infinitely to be regretted. I would he were a street
nuisance, a swindler, tsar or grand duke, to the boot of his much greater
enormities, for then he might be put down, whereas now there is little
chance of it.

Thank heaven he is not here, to put all these pretty little families
under glass cases, and steal every egg on the ness. To get a thing dead,
that is what his love of nature amounts to, and he does it for those like
himself. I know the kind of people who enjoy those groups in the museum
at South Kensington, and I am sick at heart that they should be there for
them. Who is there, with a soul in his body, who can see a lot of young
stuffed herons, say, in a nest with their parents, without feeling more
disgust at the Philistine slaughter which procured them than pleasure
in the poor lifeless imitation for the sake of which it is perpetrated,
and will be perpetrated, over and over again, for wretched little fusty
museums in thousands of provincial towns, who must all take this as their
model. Some years ago--three or four, I think--a gentleman, commissioned
to supply one of these, visited Iceland in the breeding time. Though, by
the laws of the country, the birds and eggs, at this season, are most
strictly preserved, yet he persuaded one of the magistrates to override
these laws and give him a permit for the procuring of specimens, with
over three hundred of which--young and old, nests, eggs, and everything,
he returned to England. I commend the account of this matter to the
notice of the Society for the Protection of Birds, and earnestly hope
that, by communicating with the Icelandic--or Danish--Government they may
be able to prevent the threatened repetition--for it was threatened in
the account itself--of a thing so horrible. It does not seem altogether
impossible that the magistrate in question, by allowing himself to be
persuaded into granting such permission, committed an illegal act, for
which, had it been known, he would have incurred the just rebuke of those
in authority over him. If so, it should not be difficult to nip in its
poisonous bud an abuse which, if unchecked, will make Iceland a paradise,
not of birds for ever, but of bird shooters and stuffers for a few years
only.

I believe that these poor stuffed groupings of bird family life, for each
of which a whole live family has to be killed, and which have been so
much praised, are really nothing but an evil, or, at least, that there
is no good in them at all comparable to the evil. All naturalists "of
the right breed" who _can_ see them alive, and not dead, will. Those who
cannot will take little consolation in so poor a substitute, and will
rather spend their time in seeing what they can than in filling their
eyes with mere deadness. It is not for such that these odious slaughters,
these revolting barbarities are committed, but for sauntering mechanics,
booby children, "Oh my!"-ing servant maids, and a few panel-painting
young ladies. These are the beneficiaries; but the real moving motive of
it all--the _causa causans_--is the inextinguishable fire of slaughter
that burns for ever in the human breast. It burns for ever, but, as time
works his changes, some new imagined motive must be found for the old
passion and the old deed; so over them both science now flings her ample,
hypocritical cloak. "For the sake of science"--that is the formula of the
professor who sends out the naturalist to slay, and of the naturalist
who goes and slays. With that charm on their lips both quench the thirst
of their hearts, and feel no evil in the draught. To the strong band of
slayers they add their strength, nay, supply it, if that were needed,
with an added incentive, preaching a crusade of destruction to its very
enthusiasts who, though they love nothing better, yet may nod sometimes,
like the good Homer, and are then urged and begged to continue with
"Kill more, and fill our museums. Forget not us poor old professors
wearying amidst empty glass cases. Throw us a specimen or two to mumble,
while yet there are specimens left. For the sake of science, gentlemen,
for the sake of science!" And so, for the sake of science, they add to
the dearth of its living material, and kill, very complacently, the goose
with the golden eggs.

Science might use her influence to check the dance of death, instead
of making it caper more wildly, but there is something in a museum
which brings down the high to the level of the low, and makes the
learned biologist and the banging idiot the best of good friends and
confederates. That museum must be filled, and when it is full the next
thing to do is to fill it again; so the cry is ever for specimens, ever
"Kill!" That the creature wanted is rare makes it all the more wanted,
and a moment's pause in getting it may lead to another museum getting it
first: perhaps--coveted honour!--only just before it becomes extinct.
For extinction adds a charm to a specimen when once your own museum has
obtained it: the rarer it becomes after that, the more the curators
chuckle, and with its ceasing for ever rivals are left out in the cold.
So science leagues itself with death, and the museums roar, one against
another, "Kill!"

A young shag, now, to take these unpleasant reflections out of my mind,
is being fed by one of the parents on a great slab of rock, which has
no nest upon it that I can see. Now this young bird is nearly, if not
quite, as large as the grown one, and only to be distinguished from it
by its unadorned brown plumage and the paleness of the skin where naked.
There is no doubt at all, I think, that it must long have been swimming,
since I have seen smaller and younger-looking birds doing so. The young
shag, therefore, must be fed for some time after leaving the nest, and
taking to the sea.



CHAPTER XX

"BY _ANY_ OTHER NAME"!


At last I have been able to extract a young puffin from an all-turf hole,
which, by reason of its straightness, shortness and narrowness, seems
to have been made by the parent birds themselves, not merely found and
appropriated by them. _Comme il est drôle, ce petit!_--though not quite
so comic as he will be by and by. Here we have a very salient example of
the difference exhibited between the young and mature animal, in regard
to some specially developed part or organ, since the beak of this baby
is not only without the smallest trace of the colours which seem painted
on that of its parents, but, to the eye at least, shows hardly anything
of the mature shape, though measurement brings it out more clearly. It
is of a uniform black, and hardly looks more than an ordinary beak when
one thinks of the grown puffin, or rather when one looks at any of the
hundreds standing all about. Though of a good size--some three-quarters
grown perhaps--there are no true feathers on the body, at present--all
fluffy, black above and whitish underneath. That this black, fluffy,
colourless thing should ever become a puffin at all, seems wonderful.

This is not the only little funny thing I have seen to-day. On my way
back to the hut I saw an absurd little figure running before me, which,
at first, looked like nothing, but soon became a little great skua ("my
little good Lord Cardinal"). I pressed after, and when it found me
overtaking it, it stopped and bit at me, but not as hard as another had
done, nor was it so rude when I took it up. This little thing was still
covered with a whitey-yellowish fluff, under which the brown feathers
were well appearing. When I put it down it ran away lustily, yet in a
slow and heavy fashion, as though a great skua through all. All the
while, the two parent birds kept circling round with distressed cries
of "ak, ak!" and swooping at me often. This they continued to do till I
went right away, even whilst I lay on the ground at some distance, in
hopes to see something between them and the chick. They never touched
me, however, so that it is evident that the fierceness of these birds
very much diminishes as the chicks get older. This one must have been out
some time, I think, though still in the fluff--or partly in it--so that
I cannot say exactly when the diminution commences; but the younger the
chick, I think, the fiercer the attack. Valour, probably, has the same
ebb and flow with the smaller skua, but I cannot be sure of this, since
I did not see the chicks of the birds that attacked me lately. What I am
sure of, however, is that they attacked me with unimpaired vigour and no
loss of nerve, so that, had I set my cap for them to knock off, why, they
would have knocked it off, and some one with a camera might have made a
photograph of it.

For all his hat tricks--and I have certainly felt mine move as he flicked
it--this great skua seems to me a rather uninteresting bird, so far as
he can be studied on land. His piracies, presumably, take place far
out at sea, whilst jealousy to guard his young makes it impossible to
watch him in his care and nurture of them. For the rest, he does nothing
in particular, and he has no wild cry like that which rings out so
beautifully to "the wild sky" from his smaller relative. In beauty of
form and of colour, in grace and speed of flight, in the wild, inspiring
music of its cry, in its sportings, its piracies, its pretty sociable
ablutions, and in its attacks, too, wherein the boldness is equal and
the poised sweeps more splendid and lovely, the lesser skua, say I, the
Arctic skua--_Stercorarius crepidatus_--a bird that has only one thing
prosaic about it, its prænomen of "Richardson's" namely, which is a
thing it can't help, it having been forced upon it by prosaic people.
Oh, how all the poetry seems to go out of bird or beast when it is named
in that Philistine fashion, brought into perpetual association with some
man--some civilised man--appropriated to him, made the slave of the
"Smith," or the "Brown" or the "Robinson"! What a vulgar absurdity to
make the name of a species a mere vehicle for the sordid commemoration
of some one or other's having been the first to see and slaughter it!
What, when we think of any wild creature, do we care to know about
that? What should its name call up before us but a picture of its wild
self alone? Who wants some man's ugly phiz to be projected upon it? The
lion--the eagle--the albatross--we see them as we say their names. But
Jones's lion--Smith's eagle--Thomson's or somebody's albatross, what do
these body forth for us? Not only the animal itself, but everything it
suggests, as pertaining to it, that should make its appropriate setting
in our minds, the sea, the mountain peaks, the sand-swept, bush-strewn
desert, with the ideas belonging to each, the feelings they arouse, the
whole mental picture in fact, is blurred or cruelly blotted out by the
obtrusive image of some human face or form, which insists upon fitting
itself to the irrelevant human name, and which, as there is no knowledge
to guide it, is made up, usually, of the most commonplace elements.
Thus an indistinct prosaic figure of our own species is substituted for
that of the species itself--obsesses us, as it were, and prevents that
legitimate, placid enjoyment which a naturalist should receive through
the name alone of any animal. I hate these obtrusions. Why, at least,
cannot they be shrouded in the Latin only--since every species has its
Latin name? Thus decently buried, the Temmincks and the Richardsons, the
Schalks, Burchells, and Grevys, would not so much bother us. But for
heaven's sake let the vernacular name of any creature have to do with
itself only. It is intolerable to want to see a bird of paradise--"in my
mind's eye Horatio"--and to have to see Herr Schalk, or a zebra and have
to see Monsieur Grevy--a shadowy gentleman each time, which we know is
not the real one--instead of a beautiful bird or beast. However, it's a
prosaic age, and few feel strongly on such matters.

The other young great skua that I came across--a day or two ago--was
almost full-fledged, with only hairs of fluff here and there. But though
he looked much more emancipated he did not run away like this one, but
lay crouched where he was. On approaching my hand, however, he bit it
more fiercely than any gull yet has, and when I took him up his anger,
or fear, or both, discharged itself at either extremity, for from one he
ejected a fish, and from the other a mighty volume of white matter in a
semi-fluid state. It took effect, fortunately, on my umbrella only, which
I had to wash, and was very effective in allowing the perpetrator to
escape _à la_ cuttlefish.

The note of the puffin is very peculiar--sepulchrally deep and full of
the deepest feeling. In expression it comes from the heart, but in tone
and quality from somewhere much lower down. It varies a little, however,
or rather there are more notes than one, and some of them are combined
into a poem or symphony, which is the puffin's chief effort. This,
however, is not often heard in its entirety--from end to end, like the
whole of a fine poem. As a rule one has to be satisfied with extracts;
but when one does get it all, it sounds something like this--for I can
best express it by a diagram.

Another note is much more commonly heard, viz. a long, deep,
slowly-rising "awe!" uttered in something a tone of solemn expostulation,
as though the bird were in the pulpit. In the general quality and
character of the sound, this less-developed note resembles the more
elaborate one, or collection of ones. It is more continuous, however; the
theme is less broken. There are no separate headings; the remonstrance
is general, and includes everything worth it in one grand diapason that
never leaves off. I do not, therefore, consider it a mere part of the
other--an extract from the full poem, or sermon--but something different,
yet akin; another, though allied, treatment of a closely similar theme.



CHAPTER XXI

"NOT ALWAYS TO THE STRONG"


In the little black sentry-box where I pass the night there are two or
three books belonging to its more permanent occupant. One of them is
a British Bird book, and so last night when I got to bed I turned up
the peregrine falcon. The author finds it the most infallible of all
the hawk and eagle tribe; the one that least often misses its prey,
and never attempts more than it is capable of performing. Never in his
experience, I think he says, has he seen it strike in vain. I have not
had his experience--I wish I had--but from the little I have seen and
what I hear now from an eye-witness, I cannot help thinking that, in this
respect, the peregrine does not differ greatly from others of his kind.
It is there and thereabouts with him, I suspect, for under my very nose,
down in Suffolk, he was foiled by a partridge in the most discreditable
way, and here in the Shetlands he is quite capable of not succeeding with
ordinary dovecote pigeons, as I will show, not upon my own evidence,
unfortunately, for I wish I had seen it, but upon that of a lady, well
known here, who saw it and told me of it herself. I got to Balta Sound
last Sunday, and on the following Monday I called upon Mrs. Saxby at
her pretty little white comfy cottage, who took me to look at a dovery
which, since my last coming, she had had put up in her garden. Several
rows of boxes were arranged against one side of the house, but a less
usual and more attractive feature was a pretty little rockery on the lawn
beneath, about which the birds loved to be. They cooed and strutted, or
sat basking and sunning, on every little pinnacle and "jutty frieze" of
it, thus at the same time emphasising their descent from the rock-loving
Columbia Livia and the dullness and want of taste of the average mortal
who, when he keeps pigeons, never thinks of providing a rockery for
them, in accordance with their inherited tastes and proclivities. One
glance was sufficient. It was instantly evident that not even on the
most elegant cot do these pretty birds look nearly so pretty as amongst
rocks and stones tastefully and conveniently arranged. This rockery was
a flower-bed also, and with the flowers the pigeons did not interfere,
whilst the beauty of them was greatly set off by their own, and their own
by that of the flowers. The art of exhibiting birds and beasts to the
most picturesque advantage, in which we should be equally studying both
our and their happiness, as well as adding largely to our knowledge, is
indeed hardly understood amongst us.

Mrs. Saxby told me that her pigeons had attracted some peregrines to the
neighbourhood, and that they had several times attacked them, but, as
yet, without success. In one pursuit which she witnessed a particular
bird was singled out, separated from its companions, and struck at again
and again, but always managed to avoid the rush of the hawk, and, at
last, got back to the boxes, where it lay for some time in a seemingly
exhausted condition. Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, in his gossipy work, _The
Wonders of Bird Life_, describes how, in modern falconry, he has seen
a rook dodge, time after time, with the same success, till he at last
reached the wood for which he had been making; and here, I think, the
falcon was also a peregrine. For myself, therefore, I do not believe
that this bird is a greater adept than others of the class to which he
belongs, nor do I see why he should be. All have to live by overcoming in
speed and agility birds whose speed and agility has been gained in direct
relation to themselves, from which it should follow that the hunter and
the hunted ought to fail and succeed about as often as each other.

There is probably no bird of prey that pigeons have not a fair chance
of foiling. I have seen some wild ones that lived amongst the rocky
precipices of a hill overlooking Srinagar foil a pair of eagles many
times in succession, and I do not think one of them had been caught when
I went away. The great downward rushes of these eagles, or rather the
tremendous rushing sound that they made--for I only seem to remember
them as swift, storm-like shadows on the air--as also the marvels of
speed and quick turning exhibited by the pigeons, and their dreadful
fear--expressed sometimes vocally if I mistake not[7]--I shall never, to
the end of life, forget. In effecting their numerous escapes, the face
of the rock stood them in good stead, and they deliberately made use of
it, in my opinion, for, dashing in and out, they would cling to or double
against it in places where the eagles, as larger birds, could not follow
them so deftly, and had perforce to check their speed. The principle was
the same as that by which a hare would be enabled to run at top speed
almost right up to a wall, whereas a man, pursuing on horseback, would
be forced to pull up at a greater distance from it. The discrepancy,
however, being here not so great, and the weaker party having often, in
spite of the adage, to go from the wall, the interest and excitement--to
say nothing of its loftier character--was in proportion. All this is
vaguely, though vividly, in my recollection, but I can give no details;
it was years ago, and I carried no notebook then. The sound, I find, is
what has remained most strongly impressed on my mind; those wonderful
grand rushing sweeps of the great pinions--the spirit of all storms
seemed to live in each one of them.

[Footnote 7: That peculiar coo of terror which anyone may hear who enters
any place where dove-cot pigeons are kept, and approaches their boxes
closely.]



CHAPTER XXII

CHILDREN OF THE MISTS


It was to-day that I saw that pursuit by an Arctic skua of a rock-pipit
to which I have before alluded. It was over the heath, though near the
cliffs. As to the rock-pipit never leaving the seashore (as I find
stated), or any other bird or animal never varying its usual habits,
that is a proposition which I will never accept, it being altogether
against my experience. The skua pursued for some time, with murder, I
thought, printed upon every feather of him; but the pipit was too quick,
and by turning and doubling in a space proportionate to his own small
size, eluded every sweep of the enemy, who, at last, gave up. It would
appear, therefore, that this smaller skua preys on small things, for one
cannot suppose him sinking so low as to _rob_ a rock-pipit--who, besides,
carried nothing that I could see. Possibly, however, the chase was for
mere amusement.

These skuas bathe every day, and at all times of it, in the two
little meres, or pools rather, amidst the heather, not far from the
hut. Sometimes there are a dozen or more together, of all shades of
coloration, and generally it is a social gathering. They seem very
exclusive, for I have never seen a gull bathing in the same pool with
them. This, however, is nothing, as gulls do not breed on this part of
the ness, and but seldom fly over it, being chased by the skuas when
they do. Elsewhere I have seen them both bathing at the same time; but
always, I think, a little apart. I never remember to have seen the
great skua bathing; but then there is no special pool in his territory,
and partly for reasons given, and also because of the hilly and bumpy
character of the ground, it is difficult to watch him. I have done my
best, however, and most of what I have to say about him I have said in
_Bird Watching_; but it does not amount to very much.

These Arctic skuas bathe together very prettily. They sit high and
light on the water, duck their heads under it, and throw it over them
with their wings. Between their ablutions they often sport in the air,
swooping at and chasing one another. Their motions are such as one might
imagine those of elemental spirits to be, and their wild cry adds to this
imaginary resemblance. Oh, that cry, that wild, wild cry, that music of
the winds, the clouds, the drifting rain and mist--like them, free as
them, voicing their freedom, making their spirit articulate! Who can
describe it, or put down into poor, paltry syllables the glory that lives
in it? Let none try. Let no clumsy imitation disfigure it, but let it
live for ever in the memory of him who has sat on the great ness-side,
on the dividing-line of sea and sky, and heard it pealing so clearly, so
cheerly, so gladly wild, so wildly, madly glad. So let it come to him
again in his own soul's music, scudding with the clouds, driving with
the driving mists, ringing out like "the wild bells to the wild sky."
And never let that sky be blue that it rings to, unless in pale, moist
patches, drowning amidst watery clouds; and never let there be a sun,
to be called one, but only a glint and a gleaming, a storming of stormy
light, a wet beam flung on a rain-cloud. Child of the mists, of the
grey-eyed and desolate north-land, what hast thou to do with the robes
of the vine and the olive? To be brief, I know of no cry, of no voice so
exhilarating as that of this poetic bird.

If the guillemot is less poetic, he is still more interesting as a close
study--or at least one can study him more closely. Coming to my ledge
again this afternoon, I find both the little chicks reposing beneath
the parental wing, as described in the last chapter. It is a misty and
mist-rainy day, which may incline them all the more to take shelter, if,
indeed, they are open to such influences. But whether they are or not,
they are not afraid to come out, and in about ten minutes there is an
interesting scene. The partner of one of the two birds that have chicks
flies on to the ledge with a fish that looks like a large-sized sardine
in his bill. Instantly two or three of the birds standing about begin
to utter their curious cry--a kind of shrieking Swiss _jodel_ ending in
barks--till it swells into a full chorus. Full of importance, and with
a very paternal look, the new-comer bustles up to wife and child, and
the latter, emerging with great vivacity, receives the fish and gulps
it down whole, showing in the process such a receptive power as I have
hardly seen excelled, even in a snake. He looks like a little bag that
the fish goes comfortably into, and that with a little swelling might
hold another, but hardly more. After this there is a matrimonial greeting
scene between the two parents. They make little playful tilts at each
other with their stiletto-like bills, and both utter the curious yapping
note with which the _jodel_ commonly ends. With this the effusion is
over, and things settle down into their old course. The chick is now
ready to go to sleep again, and, with the fish inside him, toddles to
his mother, and pecks at, or, rather, rams with his bill, amongst just
those feathers that make his accustomed awning. She, however, is not
yet ready for him. She is preening herself, and for a few minutes she
keeps her wing close. After that he is admitted, and the two repose
in the accustomed way. In about a quarter of an hour the chick is out
again, and this time goes a little farther afield than usual. He is
alone comparatively--about a foot from the sheltering wing--when all at
once the other parent--the father--opening his bill, and _jodel_-ing,
comes walking up to him, bends his head over him, _jodel_-ing still,
then tenderly probes and preens him with the point of his bill. He
acknowledges this by burrowing into his new guardian's side, upon which
the paternal wing opens and closes upon him. It does not, however, seem
to go so well as it did just before with his mother, and in a little
while he comes out and goes over to her again. She meets him, _jodels_
over him a little, and soon they are lying close pressed together, as
before.

I have now to mention that the parent who, up to the present, has taken
most charge of the chick, and which I have therefore been calling the
mother, has the curious narrow white circle, or rather ellipse, round
the eye, with a straight line, also white, projecting backwards from the
backward corner of it. The other one has no such mark, or rather he has
it without the white feathers, for, as I believe is the case with all
these birds, the same thing is represented by a depression or groove in
the plumage, which is especially noticeable along the backward-running
line. If we suppose the white mark to be an adornment gained by sexual
selection, what are we to think of the depression which preceded it?
Is it sufficiently obvious to be noticed by the birds in each other,
and if so, can it be supposed to be pleasing to them? Considering how
close together guillemots stand on the ledges, I should think it must
be as plain to their observation as a parting down the hair is to ours.
Hair-partings are admired by us, and so, too, are gashes on the face,
even in intellectual Germany. But though the mark may not represent any
special sexual adornment, the white colour which so powerfully emphasises
it may, and this, perhaps, has come about owing to the nipping in of the
feathers, along the line of depression, having stopped the flow of the
colouring pigment.

The little chick, now, pushing, as it seems, against his mother,
stretches his legs straight out behind him on the rock, and lies like
this for a few seconds, as we sometimes see a cat or a dog do. Then he
comes out, preens himself, and voids his excrement, and I cannot but
record--for indeed it was very funny--that this hits exactly in the eye,
and over the face generally, another guillemot standing about two feet
from him on the edge of the ledge. The poor bird thus distinguished
stands with a comical look, and for some while shakes its head very
vigorously. Later, when it comes somewhat near to the chick, the latter's
mother utters the _jodel_ in a warning tone of voice, seeming to say,
"Thus far, but no farther." The chick, having preened itself a little,
goes again to its mother, and is received this time beneath her other
wing, which is the farther one. I look down upon them now a little more
perpendicularly, so that he seems almost to have disappeared altogether.

It is really wonderful--and the incident just given illustrates it--what
a power all these sea-birds have of ejecting their excrement to a
distance. Not only is it propelled with great force forwards, but also
upwards, so that its course is crescentic; and in this, perhaps, we may
look back to a time when the guillemot and fulmar petrel made nests,
for it is by this arrangement that the nest of the shag is kept clean
whilst the rock all about it is coated with excrement. I mention the
fulmar petrel as well as the guillemot, because, whatever may be the case
elsewhere, here these birds lay on the bare rock without a shadow of a
nest.

I remark now what in my slaughterous days I remember noticing, without
attaching any meaning to it, viz. that there is a particular line or
scroll or outswelling of feathers on each side of the guillemot's body,
all along the lower breast and ventral surface. They are longer than the
close feathers in front, and begin to be flecked with grey. It is just
into this zone of deeper plumage that the young guillemot insinuates
itself when wishing to go "sleepy-by." Also, when the old bird flaps its
wings I seem to notice a little depression or alcove just underneath
them--the chick's cradle, boudoir, or dormitory, as I am inclined to
think--like a sleeping-bunk in the wall of a Highland cottage. Similar
depressions I thought I saw once on the back of the dabchick, when I
watched her domestic arrangements; but I will not be sure in either case.

Once again the chick comes out and walks to a little way from its mother.
Having preened itself, it goes back to her, and then flaps its little
wings. The quill feathers are growing and look just about an inch long.
They are a good deal separated from one another, and have a very feeble
appearance. Still, they might serve to make a fall a long fall, which is
all that would be required of them to take their owner to the sea. The
preening over, the chick, with considerable insistence, burrows once more
under its mother's wing, and I now leave, it being all mist and raining
into mist. I had meant to see the fulmar petrels again before returning,
but by the time I get to the top of the path leading down to them it is
nearly six, the drizzle increasing, and the mist on the hills thickening.
The hut stands sufficiently high for it to be always enshrouded when a
mist comes on, and it may then be difficult to strike. However, from the
round house where the signals are shown, each morning, to the lighthouse
on the great stack opposite, by a man who walks up from the village at
the foot of the ness, there winds a foot-track with posts stuck at long
intervals beside it. When one gets near to the fifth post one should see
the hut if the mist is not very thick, and even if it is, one has then
a good chance of striking it. The signal-house, or rather shed, one may
strike by going constantly upwards till the highest point is reached;
but it is possible to miss it, and also the track between post and
post. As the gulls and the two kinds of skuas have each their separate
breeding-place upon the ness--thus, as it were, mapping it out--they,
too, are of some assistance in finding one's way. Still, the possibility
of a night out at the end of any day is not a pleasant thing to think of,
and I am always very glad when I see the hut through the mists, and still
gladder when there are no mists to see it through.

It seems wonderful that any corner of the United Kingdom can hold a
summer like this--little as I mistake the United Kingdom for paradise.
It is like a bad November in England, but with more of the spirit of
youth and freshness in it; always thought that the wind is perpetual and
multiplied by about a hundred. I am told this summer is unprecedented,
even in the Shetlands, but bad weather precedents are seldom remembered
by the seasoned inhabitants of a place. I, as a visitor, can remember the
June and July of two years ago, and "if it was not Bran, it was Bran's
brother," as the Highlanders say.

I forgot to mention that whilst watching the guillemots on the ledges,
one of them flew down into the sea, just below, which was like a great,
clear basin, and thus gave me the first opportunity I have yet had of
seeing a guillemot under water. It progressed, like the razorbill and
puffin, by repeated strokes of its wings, which were not, however,
outspread as in flight, but held as they are when closed, parallel, that
is to say, roughly speaking, with the sides, from which they were moved
outwards, and then back, with a flap-like motion, as though attached to
them all along. Thus the flight through the water is managed in a very
different way from the flight through the air.

The descent to these guillemot ledges--for they represent the first only,
and lowest, of the up-piled strata of which the entire precipice is
formed--seems to me, who am no particular cragsman, to get worse every
day. There are parts of it which I very much dislike--a green edge, and
not much of it, above a well-nigh precipitous slope of the same lush
grass, starred, here and there, with points of rock, and ending in
nothing--sheer vacuity. How one would fly down this, and then over!--but
not like a guillemot. It is horrid to think of, and the little painted
puffins seem waiting to see it take place--grouped as they are on every
rock and all over the green spongy turf, honeycombed everywhere with
their breeding-holes--a vast amphitheatre of impassive spectators. Lower
down, when it gets to the rock, it seems safer, but I doubt if it really
is. The path then leads over a great jagged spur of the precipice,
made up of its down-tumblings from the heights above, which are piled
very loose, so that the blocks are sometimes hardly held together by
the soil between them, this having been formed entirely out of their
own crumblings and disintegration. I was appalled, the other day, by
displacing a huge one just above me, which I had been going to climb up.
It looked as firm as it was massive, and I have been very careful since.
That boulder, which, had it really fallen, would have brought down an
avalanche with it, has a nasty look to me now, and I have to pass it each
time, descending and returning, the whole path being a razor's edge,
though the mere climbing is easy enough.

As I halted and looked back, this afternoon, in the midst of my ascent, I
was struck by the figure of a shag, or smaller cormorant, standing in the
exact centre of the highest ridge of one of those great isolated piles of
rock that the sea has cut off from their parent precipice, and which are
called here "stacks." It had the wings spread out, after its fashion,
and looked thus, and in its "pride of place," absurdly like the heraldic
eagle of some cock-crowing nationality or other: American, Austrian,
Russian, or any of them--for they all crow and will all, one day, "yield
the crow a pudding."

What month in the year was it that King Lear was turned out into the
storm? This is August, but what a night! I can see no farther than a few
paces outside the hut. All is mist, with spit-fire storms of rain, and a
wind that seems as though it would blow the ness into the sea. "A brave
night to cool a courtesan in," and so it was, last night; nor did it
greatly differ the night before.

The wind is not so pleasant to hear at night-time here as it is in
England. I cannot lie and listen to it with the same feelings. It has not
the same poetry, for there are no trees for it to sigh and moan through,
and therefore it cannot produce those sad, weird, mysterious sounds which
appeal so powerfully to the imagination. Instead, it strikes the hut with
sudden bangs and blows which upset one's nerves and have an irritating
effect upon one. There is noise, racket, and bluster, but no mystery, no
haunting mournfulness. It plays no "eolian harps amongst the trees." No,
the wind here is "the fierce Kabibonokka" that--

  "Shouted down into the smoke-flue,
  Shook the lodge-poles in his fury,
  Flapped the curtain of the doorway,"

but not the wind that one knows so well in England and hears for ever in
those lines of _Maud_--

  "And out he walked when the wind like a broken worldling wailed,
  And the flying gold of the ruined woodlands flew through the air."

There can never be a wind like that here, where there are no leaves when
"summer woods are leafy" and no trees "when winter storms sing i' the
tree."

Plague take the wind! It is like a bombardment.



CHAPTER XXIII

LOVE ON THE LEDGES


The ledges are thinning. There are only thirty-seven birds now where I
counted more than a hundred the other day; but some may be coming back.
My special young one is lying on the ledge with its face to the cliff,
and the white-eyed bird standing over it; but very soon it turns, and is
under the wing, as usual. The left wing seems the favoured one. Always,
except once, it has been that. The other young one is also lying under
the wing, just as it was yesterday, and here, too, as always before,
it is the left one. All these guillemots keep constantly uttering
exclamations, as they may be called--different intonations of a deep
"ur!" or "oor!" with an occasional much louder "ara!" or "hara!" of which
last I have spoken. This has been the case since I came here. There is a
great deal of expression in these sounds--quite as much so, it seems to
me, as in some of our own exclamations. Any emotion which rises above the
ordinary level of feeling, be it to do with fighting, feeding, loving,
may give rise to the prolonged, deep _jodel_. The plain parent now flies
in with a fish for the young one, and there is exactly the same scene
as the last time, all the birds near, as well as the father and mother,
_jodel_-ing excitedly. The fish is then laid on the ledge before the
chick, who, getting it head downwards, swallows it voraciously. Directly
afterwards the white-eyed bird, for the first time that I have yet seen,
flies from the ledge into the sea, but too far off for me to watch. The
other one remains, but he does not seem ready with his wing. The chick
makes several attempts to take sanctuary, but they are not responded to,
so he is reduced to standing and preening himself, the father standing
just behind him, between him and the sea. At last, however, he forces
himself under the wing, but it hangs over him awkwardly, not clasping him
at all, and very shortly--in less than a minute--he comes out again.

A well-grown young shag now, distinguishable only by its brownness, is
fed on the rocks by the old bird. The manner of it is just the same as
when on the nest. It flaps its wings the whole time it is being fed, as
young rooks do, and the parent at last shakes it off and flies down into
the sea. I cannot follow these shags for any distance under the water.
They seem to strike deep from the moment they plunge, and the way they
plunge, indeed, suggests this; but guillemots often swim for a long time,
not far below the surface. Contradicted again! to my very face, by some
shags in the pool here. They have swum quite like the guillemots in this
respect. Birds are sometimes very rude.

The eyed guillemot has now been absent for two hours, and all this time
the chick has sat or stood with the other parent by him, but not under
his wing, nor have I seen any further attempt on his part to get there.
This certainly looks like a partition of office as between the two
parents, but it is hardly worth while saying so, for everything one says
or thinks one hour or day is contradicted the next. There is little or
no uniformity in the actions of birds. That is my constant experience.
The other chick has been for long clasped under the parental (left) wing,
but whether it has always been the same parent I cannot say, for there is
nothing here to distinguish the two. Now, however, there is an interlude,
both the parent and chick standing and preening themselves. The chick
stands comparatively alone, with nothing between him and the sea. Now
he has disappeared, moving a little along the cliff's edge, but soon I
see him again, clasped tight beneath the wing of one or other parent,
who sits close brooding on the rock. I think there has been a change of
parents here, so here is the accustomed contradiction.

Looking down through the glasses at the chick, it appears to me to be
feathered, but to have, at least on the back, a close crop of down
projecting above them. The beak is nothing like so long as the parents',
either actually or in proportion to the chick's size, or the size of
its head. The feet, however, are relatively quite as large, or even
larger. The bird is getting on in size, and again I wonder why, if it is
taken down on the parent's back, this flight is so long delayed. It is
difficult, indeed, when one sees the little wings flapped, to think that
the chick can fly yet, in any proper sense of the word, but it does not
seem to me impossible that these little wings should be adequate to take
it down in a slanting line to the sea, and the longer it stays on the
ledge the less impossible does this become. This gives a reason for its
staying so long; but why should the mother not take it, if she does do
so, almost from the very first?

It seems funny to be looking over a ledge, all day long, and to eat
one's lunch whilst so doing. But I just look up to make my notes, and on
looking down again, almost right under me, I see a seal hanging lazily in
this quiet shore-pool of the sea; for to-day there is hardly a foam-line
round the stacks and rocks. When he sinks I can follow him for some
time under the water. His hind fins or feet seem to become quiescent,
as though only the front ones were used; but this last I cannot see. As
he recedes, going both downwards and outwards, he becomes greener and
greener, and the green darker and fainter, till, at last, having first
looked dimly luminous, he disappears. Some guillemots are on the water,
too--thirty-two in all, that I can see--but not one of these has a young
one swimming by it. Farther off, a kittiwake, I think, is feeding on the
floating carcase of one of its own species--a young one. Horrid sight!
The prettiness of the bird contrasts so with what it is doing. But what a
joy should this be to the optimist, who always seems to extract a comfort
from the most uncomfortable things, as though they not only justified his
position, but made it self-evident.

Another half-hour has gone, and still the eyed or white-eyed parent
has not returned, nor has the chick ever been taken properly under the
wing of the other one, or stayed there more than a few seconds, when it
has managed to squeeze itself in. For the last two hours and more, too,
it has stood and squatted on the rock, giving up all attempts, and the
parent never volunteering. Thus I leave them; but coming again the next
day, about noon, I find the chick lying in the usual way under the right
wing of the plain parent bird. It is evident, therefore, that this office
may be performed by either parent; but I still think one of them--the
mother, as I suppose--undertakes it more willingly and cheerfully.
She--the white-eyed bird--is off the ledge, this being the first time I
have not found her there on my arrival.

The other chick is gone. Yes, gone; for I go to several points from which
I can see the whole of this small ledge--on a part of which only I look
directly down--and from none of them can I see the second chick, which,
were it there, I think I must. Without any doubt, this time, I think, it
is gone, and so must have either flown or been carried down within the
last twenty-four, or rather twenty-two, hours; for it was here on the
ledge with its parent when I went away yesterday, at two or thereabouts.
There are only seven birds in all, on this ledge, now. On another one
where, when I first came, there were more than a hundred, and, two days
ago, sixty odd, there are now fifteen only. Elsewhere, counting all the
ledges I can see, there are only forty odd birds--so that soon the whole
cliff will be empty. That, however, will be nothing to me. But my little
chick! Would I had seen it go!

A guillemot now flies up to the ledge underneath this one, and which I
cannot see for this--for I have returned to my original position--and as
it disappears there, there is a great _jodel_-ing from several birds--I
cannot say how many. On going round to the point of rock which fronts
them both, I see that there is another young guillemot on this lower
ledge, squeezed into the corner angle of it, which I think I have missed
all along. It is, indeed, extremely easy to miss a chick, even when one
seems to see the whole ledge very plainly. Nevertheless, there can be no
doubt that one of the two on my ledge is gone. My own little one--still
under its mother's left wing--is the only one left there now. After a
while it comes out, and the mother, as she stands by it, from time to
time just stirs or nibbles the feathers of its face with the end of her
bill--an action which has all the spirit of wiping a child's face or
nose. The father now walks up, stops in front of the chick, bends down
its head, and _jodels_. Then it lifts it up and _jodels_ more loudly;
then, stooping again, preens the chick's head and face a little with
the point of its bill, and nibbles at it affectionately. The chick,
after this, goes off on a little excursion along the ledge, then toddles
back again, and, on getting near home, makes a little run to one of its
parents, who, again bending down its head with the neck curved over it
till the point of its bill almost touches the ledge, and with both
the wings extended so as altogether to enclose it, _jodels_ and trills
softly, and then nibbles it as before. And are not these pretty little
domestic scenes, on the cold bare rock, with the sea beneath and the
blowing wind all about? What a snug little boudoir this ledge of the
precipice--white with droppings and wet with the sea-spray--becomes as
one watches them! Such tenderness amidst such roughness seems wonderful.

And now I have to make one of those doubtful-certain entries--certain at
the time, doubtful as one thinks of it afterwards--like that about the
raven. It will be admitted that it was natural for me to suppose that
the bird which has just acted this scene with the chick was one or other
of its parents; but, to my surprise, just after it is over and the chick
has toddled away to the white-eyed bird--undoubtedly its parent, and the
only one so marked on the ledge--in flies another guillemot with a fish,
and amidst loud _jodel_-ings from the few birds on the ledge, gives it
to the chick. Afterwards this bird, who seems thus to have proved its
relationship, walks a little way along the ledge, then returns, and he
and the white-eyed one make passes at and then nibble one another with
their bills so energetically, _jodel_-ing and barking the while, that it
almost seems as though it would pass into a fight--more proof that they
are married. Then the one that has brought the fish flies off to sea
again. Now he flew in with that fish just as the chick had toddled away
from the bird that had petted it, this bird continuing to stand where it
had been, and I had been watching them up almost to that very second, my
head over the ledge all the time. Even could the bird which had petted
the chick have flown off without my noticing it--which I do not think it
could have done--it would have been impossible, surely, for it to have
caught a fish and returned in so very short a time. The chick, therefore,
appears to have been petted by a third bird, not being either of its
parents, for the white-eyed one stood apart all the time, so that even
if it had not been distinguished in this way I could not have confused
it with either of the other two. This is interesting, I think, if it is
really the case, for here, as with terns, we see the beginning of what
might in time lead to something similar, in a social community of birds,
to what we see in those of insects--the absorption, that is to say, of
the individualised parental instinct into the generalised one of the
whole community.

It is natural, at present, we will suppose, for every pair of birds in
a colony of terns or guillemots to feel affection for, and to tend,
their own young. Were this affection, and the active expression of it,
to extend to the young of other members of the community, then, as every
pair of birds would probably be able to supply the wants of more than its
own young, a lesser number than the whole community would be sufficient
for nursery work, leaving the others free for--what we cannot say, but
nature might evolve her product out of the material thus placed at her
disposal. Some new activity might well arise, which, if fostered,
would be of advantage to the general commonwealth. But let us consider
the old ones. Terns, as we have seen, are vigorous in the defence of
their eggs and young. They mob and attack any one--be it bird, beast,
or man--who trespasses upon their breeding-grounds. If, therefore, only
about half the colony were needed for the nurture of the young, and
thus gradually came to be the equivalent of the workers amongst ants
and bees, in the other half there would exist the elements of a soldier
caste. Of these it would become at first the more special, and in time
the exclusive business, to drive all enemies away from the ternery;
and since efficiency in so important an office might well outweigh the
otherwise ill effects of a loss of fertility in certain members of
the commonwealth, the soldiers, both male and female, might, in the
continuous prosecution of their task, come gradually to lose the sexual
instinct, which, again, would allow the others to lay, with advantage,
a greater number of eggs. I have mentioned the case of a dog making
regular daily expeditions to a ternery, in order to feast upon the eggs;
and if one dog could commit havoc like this, what might not some wild
egg-eating species do, if not efficiently kept away? It is obvious that
the eggs thus destroyed might amount to more in number than those by the
loss of which they would be saved to the community; and, on the other
hand, a caste whose sole task it was to guard the eggs and young might be
competent to guard a greater number than the whole community would be,
if "a divided duty" claimed their attention.

It is not at all necessary to show that the socialism of insects has
advanced along these lines--their greater fertility allowing of a
still more remarkable specialisation--in order to make out a case for
the possibility, or even likelihood, of its hereafter doing so in the
case of some birds. There are insect communities, however, composed of
males and fertile females, or of the latter only, that may be compared,
without much violence, to those of terns or weaver-birds. There are the
mason-bees, for instance--numbers of whom labour side by side, each at
making its own nest, in which, perhaps, we see an early state of our
more truly social hymenoptera. But in nature many ways constantly lead
to the same goal, and what this is, or is likely to be, must depend on
the kind of advantages which the general conditions prescribe and make
possible. It is difficult in the case of animals, no less than in that
of man, to imagine any great social advance except through, or side
by side with, subdivision of labour; and for real social labour to be
subdivided, it must first be extended, that is to say in common. The
separate attention paid by each pair of birds in a community to its own
young only is not subdivision of labour in the proper socialistic sense
of the term; for this labour is not social, but solitary. It appertains,
that is to say, to every solitary-breeding animal, or, if not to both
parents, at least to one, so that, at best, we do not get beyond the
family, which in social matters is generally taken as a unit. Numbers of
animals living and breeding together may be said to be social by virtue
of their contiguity, and, no doubt, are so, to a greater or less extent,
in their feelings. But until they help and support one another in some
way, true social labour has not begun amongst them. When it does begin it
will become distributed through the whole community, and it is only after
this early point in social advance has been reached, that the other and
greater advance, which consists in the limitation to a certain number of
the labour which was before shared by all, can take place.

To this first stage these guillemots have, perhaps, not yet attained,
but if some of them are interested in, and show kindness towards, the
young of the community generally, as distinct from their own, then, as it
appears to me, they are on the way towards it, and when they have reached
it they will probably begin to advance socially along the general lines
by which both man and social insects have advanced. This is why such a
little incident as that I have just recorded is to me a matter of so much
interest, so that I get quite excited in trying to be sure about it. It
may be little or nothing now, but what does that matter if, in no more,
perhaps, than another million of years, it has led to most important
developments, if not in guillemots, yet in some other species of bird,
possibly in a very great many?--supposing, that is, that we do not
exterminate all of them--which is likely, except perhaps sparrows--not
counting poultry of course. Already the terns have gone a good deal
further than the guillemots, for they not only show the liveliest
interest in the common progeny, and combine together for their defence,
but there is also, I believe, a good deal of communistic feeding amongst
them. Other birds, perhaps, have gone further still.

In what does the interest taken by a bird--let us say by one of these
guillemots--in a chick which is not its own originate? Does not the sight
of it arouse, by association of ideas, all those feelings which, but
shortly before, its own chick was daily arousing? And if this be so, does
it not in a manner mistake it for its own? It would be interesting, were
something to happen to the parents of this little chick, to see if it
would be fed and taken care of by any of the other birds on the ledge. If
it were to be, I should be inclined to think this the reason of it. That
one bird (or pair of birds) should foster the young of another, knowing
all the while that it was another's, and not its own, seems to me very
unlikely. There must be some confusion of thought. By association of
ideas the stranger chick would excite in the stranger bird the feelings
proper to rearing, whilst at the same time supplying in itself the proper
object for their translation into act. When once this point had been
reached, the foster-parent, if it did not look upon the chick as its own,
would have--always supposing it to be one of these guillemots here--to
retain a clear recollection of the chick that it had reared, all the
while that it was rearing the foundling, to keep the two distinct, and
remember not only that it had finished with its own chick, and seen it
leave or gone off with it from the ledge, but also that it had not had
another one since then. But though I believe that mental association may
call up a very clear image of some past event in a bird's mind, I cannot
credit it with such retentiveness and perspicuity of memory as this.
Moreover, what idea of ownership in a chick can a bird have, other than
those feelings which compel it to rear it? When once they are roused, the
chick before it is its own.

But has not this a bearing upon the nature and origin of sympathy? When
we sympathise with others we, by a quick mental process, put ourselves
in their place, and feel to a lesser degree in ourselves what we suppose
them to be feeling. In a certain degree, therefore, we are them, but our
reason assures us that this is not really the case. We can distinguish;
but can animals, or can they other than partially? Anthropologists have
much to say--sometimes, perhaps, almost too much--on the extent to which
savages mistake their subjective impressions for objective reality; but
what applies to the savage should apply with much greater force to the
animal. When a herd of fierce animals--as, say, of peccaries--are filled
with sudden rage at the sight of a companion struck down by some beast of
prey--bear, jaguar, or puma--and attack the assailant, is each member of
it distinctly conscious that he is acting in defence of another, or does
he not, rather, imagine that he is repelling an attack made upon himself?
I believe myself that this last, or something very like it, is really the
case, and that sympathy, if traced far enough back along the line of our
descent, would lead us to a time when it made no conscious distinction
between itself and its object; thus rooting our best feelings in the
purest selfishness.

There is, indeed, this to be objected against the noblest emotions by
which the highest natures are actuated--those very exalted ones about
which there has been, and still is, so much self-laudation--viz. that
they are all tainted in their origin. This is an objection--I mean as
against the optimistic standpoint--which nobody ever seems to consider;
but with me it is a very grave one. What matters it--that is to say, what
ground of jubilation is it--that some "noble numbers," as Herrick calls
them, have somehow got into a great "sculduddery book," written upon a
plan, and, as far as we can see, with an object which never contemplated
or thought of them at all, but only of the sculduddery, in relation
to which they exist as a small pool may by the side of a great muddy,
turbulent river, out of which it has leaked, and, by some accident,
become clear? If this is all, then they are mere by-products, and it
is not by a by-product that any scheme can be justified. It is to the
scheme itself we must look, judging of it by what seems its clear object
and intent, and having regard to the mass of the facts through which it
reveals itself; not to some few merely which may seem, at first sight, to
be in opposition to these, but, looked at more closely, are seen to be
sequences only, quite reconcilable with them, and not obstructing them in
any way. In a word, we must think of the stream and flow of the river,
not of some eddies in it, or a back-wash here and there. Though it does
not seem to be, yet the water that makes these is really going the way
that the stream is, and our "noblest numbers," when closely analysed, are
found to be "sculduddery" after all.

  Es tanzen zwölf Klosterjungfraun herein
  Die schielende Kupplerin führet den Reihn
  Es folgen zwölf lüsterne Pfäffelein schon
  Und pfeifen ein Schandlied im Kirchenton.

But can I be quite sure that it was a strange guillemot, and not one
of the two parents, that acted that little scene with the chick which
I have described? It is easy, certainly, as I know by experience, for
a bird to go off the ledge without one's noticing it--even under one's
very nose--if one's eye is not actually on it all the time, and that,
I suppose, mine was not. Again, the plain parent has just made a very
quick return with another fish, though not, I think, quite so quick as
the other one would have been, had it been he and not a stranger bird
that I had seen on the ledge all the while. All I can say is that it
certainly looked like what I supposed was the case, and I feel pretty
sure that it was so; but I have never seen such a thing before, and it is
more likely, perhaps, that I was mistaken. Still, one must remember the
interest taken by the other birds when a chick is fed, as shown by their
_jodel_-ing, and also that these have now no chick of their own to be
busy with.

There is something in the sight and feel of a fish, indeed, which goes
to the soul of a guillemot. Two, with one between them, have been making
a most extraordinary noise, harahing and _jodel_-ing as they bend over
it. It is laid on the ledge and taken up again several times, by one or
another of them, and finally one swallows it. This _jodel_-ing note of
the guillemot--and there is no other word, to my mind, which expresses
it nearly so well--constantly begins with another and almost louder one,
of two syllables, which is pretty exactly like the word harā ("hurrah!"
but with the first syllable as in harrow). There is a moment's pause,
and then follows a second "hara"--or "harrah" would be the better
spelling--in a higher key, and it is the last syllable of this which,
prolonged in a wonderful manner, makes what I call the _jodel_, and this
_jodel_ often ends in a kind of barking. "Hărrāh--hărrāh--hărrāh!"
from one bird or another, without its continuation and in a low,
sometimes almost a soft tone, is constantly to be heard on this ledge, and,
no doubt, on all the ledges. Though suitable to any and every occasion, it
seems mostly the vehicle of parental affection. As, for example, the
chick which has been asleep, and almost buried for some time, now rouses
himself, comes out, and begins to walk along the ledge. The mother
follows and says "harrah!" He stops and turns. She goes up to him with
"harrah!"; then, bending down her head till her beak almost touches the
rock, she _jodels_ softly, as though very pleased both with herself and
him. He moves on again. "Harrah!" ("Will he really do so?") He turns to
go back. "Harrah!" ("In that case she will follow him.") And so on and
so on, an "harrah!" for whatever he does, there being, in each one, a
certain indefinable tone of interest, mixed with a little surprise.

During this last promenade the chick flapped its wings a good deal, and,
once or twice, came a little towards the edge of the rock, nor did the
mother keep so between it and him as I should have expected. By some
instinct, however, he goes along the length of the ledge, but never for
more than a step or two forward towards the sea. One of the two chicks
is already gone, and this restlessness on the part of the other, which
has never been so marked before, may be the prelude to his going too.
I would fain see the flight, if I could, however it may be, but I have
been here all day, and mother and chick are now, again, crouched together
as usual. It is near seven, and so cold and wretched that I can stand
it no longer, but have to go. When I get up I can hardly stand steady,
and lumbago has crept upon me unawares. Understanding that he lodges
with me, the toothache, later, pays him a little visit, and the two chat
together all the evening. Bitterly cold it was during the last hour or
so, and a wretched sort of day altogether. Getting to bed at last--for
cooking takes a woful time--I turn to the British Bird-book again; and
reading there about the plaintive cry of the young guillemot for food
reminds me that I have not once heard either of my two little birds
utter a syllable--at least, not to be sure. Once I thought I caught
a very faint thin note, such as most young birds utter, but that was
the only time. When I was here before, too, at a time when there were
numbers of young birds on the ledges, I never noticed this cry, so find
it difficult to believe that it ever attracted the attention of the
French sailors sufficiently to make them name these birds "guillemots" in
imitation of it, as is here suggested. To judge by all I have seen, the
young guillemot is the most contented little thing, and generally squats
asleep under the wing of the one parent, till the other brings it a fish,
when it comes out, swallows it, swells, preens itself, and goes back to
"sleepy-by" again, like Stella.



CHAPTER XXIV

GROUSE ASPIRATIONS


The wind last night was simply awful. Why it has no effect on the sea
I cannot understand, for it is always calm now. No, there is little
beauty in the sound of the wind here--no mournful sighings, no weary
complainings, no intangible strange sounds, but a horrible howling and
blustering, the whole night through, like a mere rage, so that it has not
that soothing quality that it is wont to have in England: there is no
lullaby in it. Bed here is dreadful, partly on account of its hardness,
partly of its narrowness, partly of its coming-untuckedness, partly
because the wind comes in on both sides, through walls and clothes, and
shares it with one. With all this I lie in a continual prologue to a
play of lumbago, with wandering pains all about me. Oh for a nice little
cosy, comfy cottage here, with my good old Mrs. Brodby to cook for me!
I could be always out then. For the outdoor part of it, "this life is
most jolly," but the indoor part is a weariness, and, with all he can do,
man, in this country and climate, is a wretched indoor animal. If it were
not so, I would be beetling over the ledges, now, for though moist and
damp, and under a heavy pall of dun-grey cloud, it is yet not raining,
so may pass for a fine day here: it is not Tahiti. But to get up a fire,
to wash, and have some sort of breakfast--all in huge discomfort--takes
time. Biscuits and cheese in my pockets serve me for the day, but rain
and mist may drive me in, and something for a supper one must have. Oh
the time that goes in waste of time, when one has to cook for one's self!
And the washing first, at intervals--for I leave everything dirty as long
as I can, that is my system--is worse still, much the worst. I thought,
at first, I would only use one plate, and _never_ wash it, but I had
to give that up. How I do hate the washing! Oh, if there are meals in
heaven, and I get there, I hope Mrs. Brodby may get there too!

This morning I heard a great noise of skuas--the smaller kind--and,
coming out, saw a crowd of them chasing four ravens that were passing
over the ness. I had previously seen them thus mobbing one. The ravens
sometimes uttered an annoyed croak, and gave a twist round as though
to defend themselves, but whether they were ever seriously attacked or
pecked at I cannot say. The cries of the skuas, on this occasion, were
different from their ordinary one, though the general tone and character
was there.

On my island there were no ravens. Either the pair that bred there two
years ago had hatched out another brood, and they had then all left the
island together, or else, in spite of all Mr. Hoseason's efforts, they
have been driven away by persecution--perhaps killed. A general raven
battue is now in progress throughout the Shetlands, every landowner
being anxious to exterminate this bird, so interesting both in itself
and through the world of old legend and superstition that adheres to it,
in order that they may have grouse to bang at over their barren brown
moors. Had these men anything within them that responded to the real and
only charms that these bleak northern isles they were born in possess, or
ever can possess, except to vulgarians--their wildness, that is to say,
their wild bird-life, and their past--they would care more for one raven
than for a thousand brace of grouse. They would rejoice and congratulate
themselves whenever they saw its sable flight, and think its presence
amongst them a point of high superiority over richer and more fertile
lands. They would see, then, how the gaunt, black bird was in keeping and
harmony with their scathed hills and storm-lashed coasts, and, seeing and
knowing and feeling, they would seek to keep it amongst them, with every
other wild and waste-haunting thing. But no; instead of rejoicing they
lament. Born to such a heritage, they would exchange it for a park and
a game-preserve if they could; as they cannot--for the grouse will have
nothing to say to them, it draws the line at the Orkneys--they will do
their best to turn a living wilderness into a dead one, they will chase
away the only smile that ever sat on the hard-featured face of their
country, take away its youth--for the birds, each spring, are that--and
leave it childless and unchild-bearing, like a gaunt, hideous, barren
old hag. That is what they will do, these romantic islanders, for the
rugged old mother that bore them.[8] "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!" is
their cry. Down with the raven, the eagle, the peregrine, gull, skua,
cormorant, and let the soul of the gamekeeper live for ever in the wild
Shetland Islands!

[Footnote 8: Not all, of course. To Mr. Lawrence Edmondston, of Unst, and
to Mr. Hoseason, of Yell, all lovers of birds and wild nature are greatly
indebted.]

There is something, I verily believe, in a gun and cartridges, that dries
up all poetry in a man's heart. Of all the inventions that this world has
ever seen, I most deplore that of gunpowder--not because it kills men,
but because it kills beasts--and next to that I deplore railways, which
take away all charm from the country, and kill the ballads and songs of a
people. Would that I had lived before them, in the quiet days of Gilbert
White! It is the absence, I believe, of all reference to railways in the
writings of our grandfathers and grandmothers that makes, or helps to
make, them such pleasant reading. Who would care for Sterne's Sentimental
Journey, had he made it by rail? and is it not delightful, when reading
Miss Austen, to know that none of those dear little quiet-world circles,
into which, for years, you have had the _entrée_, and which have given
you a thousand times more pleasure, through life, than you have derived
from your real acquaintance--is it not delightful to know that they could
none of them run up to town in an hour or a few minutes, as is the case
now? How nice it is to have Highbury, through the whole of _Emma_, a
quiet, untownified little place, and to know that it was not till long
afterwards that it became absorbed into London, like the village that
you once used to live in. Considerations of this kind add a charm, I
really do believe, even to the character-drawing of Jane Austen. We are
not so lucky with the other--the gunpowder. It is always, I confess, a
little unpleasant to me to find Mr. Bennet going pheasant-shooting. I
always wish he hadn't, such an _esprit fin_ as he is. Bingley--or even
Darcie--but I can't _see_ Mr. Bennet pheasant-shooting. However, those
were not the days of battues, and he would have worn knee-breeches, not
knickerbockers.

Ravens, however, are very wary, and I hope may be able to hold their own
in this their last stronghold of the British Isles, in spite of all the
efforts of their unworthy and little-souled persecutors. Things seem
to me to go very strangely in this world, and only satisfactorily to
the optimist. In the days when Britain was full of birds and animals,
before there were railways or breechloaders, before there was a large
population, before the fens were drained or the broads crowded, in those
days there were no naturalists, and now that there are naturalists the
materials for natural history have disappeared, or are fast disappearing.
Railways, towns, factories, golf-links, breechloading guns, quietude
banished, solitude overrun--all is over, and the real naturalist is not a
man for this world. But regrets are useless, so let me on to the affairs
of state.

Along the opposite shores of the bay that skirts this hill on one side,
a raven or two are generally to be seen; and I once saw one, whilst
flying at some height, make an odd sort of manœuvre, the meaning of
which I did not quite catch. It appeared to me, however, that he brought
his foot forward towards his bill, and, at the same time, disgorged
something, which he caught hold of with it. A second or two afterwards,
as he came back into his natural pose, I thought I just saw something
fall from him, like a faint shadow on the air, and almost instantly
disappear. This raven had not been carrying anything in his bill
before--at least, I believe not, for nothing broke the clear outline of
it against the sky. What I believe he did was to bring up one of those
curious pellets of indigestible materials that birds, generally, are in
the habit of disgorging. But who would have thought that he would have
first taken it into his claws, whilst flying, before letting it drop? But
though I cannot be quite certain, yet I _feel_ certain that this is what
he did do.

Herrings are still scattered over that part of the ness where the great
skua breeds, and still they are headless, as I noticed the first time I
came here, and have recorded in my _Bird Watching_. Out of twenty-four,
for instance, that I have counted, all but three of them are in this
condition. With the exception of the head but little of them has been
eaten, and, of some, not any. Whether it is the old bird that eats the
head only, before bringing the fish to the chick, or whether the chick
helps to eat it, or whether it is eaten at all, I cannot say; but I have
noticed that the guillemot, also, sometimes brings in a sand-eel to the
ledges, that has been neatly decapitated. I can quite understand that the
head of a herring, if swallowed by a greedy young chick, might have a bad
effect on it, but that the old birds, through some process of natural
selection--for we cannot suppose that they are impelled by ordinary
foresight--should have acquired the habit of first decapitating the
herrings and thus removing the risk, seems very unlikely. On the other
hand, that they should eat one particular part, and no other, of each
fish that they bring to their young, is almost as difficult to believe.
I have elsewhere suggested another explanation,[9] but this too I find
it difficult to adopt, and the only remaining one I can think of is that
the gulls who catch these herrings, and who are robbed of them by the
skua, either bite off their heads in order to kill them, or eat the head
separately. Whatever the reason of it may be, I once more draw attention
to the fact.

[Footnote 9: _Bird Watching_, p. 117.]

At the tail, so to speak, of this track of herrings, I find another young
great skua, and sit down by him to make my entry. He is a big chick,
but the fluff still remains upon his head, neck, and under surface,
springing from the ends of the true feathers, which have thus gradually
pushed it out. On the back it is almost gone, thin patches of it only
appearing above a thick brown panoply of the mature plumage. This chick
is of milder mood than either of the other two. He lets me stroke him,
and though, when I approach my finger to his face, he opens his beak,
yet he cannot be said to show much fierceness. The father and mother
sail overhead, and once the chick reaches up with its neck stretched
straight into the air, and opening its mandibles widely and excitedly,
utters a thin little sound. This is to the parents, I feel sure--a cry of
distress--and has no reference to me, unless it be to call a rescue. It
seems like this, certainly, yet neither of them make, for some time, even
a pretence of swooping at me. Now, however, they begin, but always swerve
off when some yards away. Meanwhile the chick has run off; but when I
follow him I find him just as he was before, crouched against a little
bank of heather, with his head pressed somewhat into it. It is curious
how he now, a second time, lets me stroke him, without in the least
moving.

This instinct of crouching and lying still when young is one which both
the skuas here share with terns, gulls, peewits, etc. All of them lie
in a very marked attitude, with the head and neck stretched straight
out along the ground; yet all of them, as soon as they learn to fly,
quite give up this habit. The stone-curlew, however, which, when young,
has a precisely similar one, is supposed to keep it through life, but
though this may be the case, I am convinced, from my own observation,
that the grown bird acts in this manner far less frequently. To run
with great swiftness, and then, if they think it worth while, to fly,
is their common practice when approached--I, at least, have found it
so--whilst the young ones, according to Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, as invariably
crouch. The question is if the latter, when of a respectable size, are
not sometimes mistaken for the fully-grown birds, for certainly none
of these have ever allowed me to come close up to them as they lay
crouched, like a pheasant, revealing their presence, at last, only by
the bright golden eye, as they are said to do. It is this element of
confusion, in my opinion, together with the fact that it is "a ratite
bird," and therefore _ought_ to act like one, which has caused that
strange scientific delusion in regard to the domestic habits of the
ostrich; a delusion which, it seems, is destined to endure till some
one or other of the learned persons responsible for it happens to be
living on an ostrich-farm, instead of in a museum or a class-room,
since the statements of those who have, or have had, that advantage are
not regarded by them. No, no! the ostrich is "a ratite bird," and the
scientific exigencies of such a position require it to do what it doesn't
do. In regard to the above crouching habit, it may conceivably relate to
an antecedent period in the life of the various species which, in their
young days, practise it, during which they may have been flightless,
though perhaps at a still earlier period they flew as well as, or better
than, they do now. Doubtless, the ostrich once flew--so much of truth is
contained in the Arab fable--and were any gradual change in the character
of the countries it inhabits to render swift running less practicable
whilst, at the same time, its growth became stunted, it would be almost
certain to fly again.

Young kittiwakes--as no doubt the old ones, too, though I have not yet
noticed them doing so--bathe, or rather play about in the sea, very
prettily. They flap their wings in an excited way, or hold them spread
on the water whilst turning round, or half round in it, then, with their
wings still spread, they make a little spring upwards, and flop down on
it again, like a kite falling flat, and repeat the performance any number
of times. There are staider intervals during which they duck and sprinkle
themselves in the ordinary way, but this is not such a prominent feature
as the other. I doubt if these little round-abouts, which seem to please
the bird so much, are really in the nature of bathing, and the same doubt
has been still more strongly impressed upon me in the case of the shag,
and, to some extent, of the coot. To me it seems that the so-called
bathing of many aquatic birds much more resembles an antic than movements
made for a definite purpose--or rather I suspect that the one thing is in
process of passing into the other.

The passage, as I believe, might take place in this way. A land-bird
bathes in water with the express object of cleaning itself, and therefore
the energy which it expends in so doing is both guided and regulated.
It is confined within a certain channel, which it does not leave. But
when this same bird takes to the water--for I assume all aquatic birds
to have been land-birds once--bathing, as a special activity, is not
so necessary to it there as it was on the land. Being always in the
bath, it needs not to specially bathe, or, always bathing, it wants no
special bath. It finds itself, however, with an inherited habit which it
is impelled to continue; but as the constant sensation of being in the
water weakens the desire, as the fact of being there does the necessity,
for special ablutions, this energy becomes gradually less governed, and
its direction less fixed. The movements being no longer limited to the
purpose in which they originated, or exclusively shaped by it, grow more
violent, and corporeal activity producing mental excitement, which again
reacts upon the former, this violence tends to increase. The result is
a mad sort of romp, or play, more or less boisterous in proportion to
the greater or less vitality of the bird, or its quieter or livelier
disposition, which perhaps is the same thing; and when we have this we
have what, in bird life, is called an antic. To generalise it, this antic
will be due to the continuance of an energy once directed to a special
purpose, but which is now no longer so, or not exclusively; and this, I
believe, has been one of the principal paths along which antics have been
evolved.

I can, I think, see another reason why the bathing of aquatic birds
has passed, as I believe it has in several instances, into an antic
or something partaking of that character. They bathe in their own
element--water--in which they are thoroughly at home, whilst the wide
expanse of it around them allows of free and extended movement. But when
a land-bird washes itself it does so under very different conditions,
and a more or less lively tubbing is the utmost one would expect it to
evolve out of the situation. Anything more than this would probably go
hand-in-hand with an increased liking for the water, that is to say with
a gradual change of habitat. Some, perhaps, may think that the fact which
I am trying to account for has not yet been made out, but I beg these, if
they have not already done so, to watch shags bathing, and then I think
they will say that it has. I have already described it in the work to
which I so often have to allude,[10] but any mere description must be
weak compared with the reality.

[Footnote 10: _Bird Watching_, pp. 170-1.]

Numbers of young kittiwakes are still on the ledges; they look quite
mature, and much like some pretty species of dove. Many are on the
nests and close beside the parent birds, though sometimes, but not
often, the latter seem impatient of their presence and force them to
take flight. Anywhere else than on the ledges the young seem to keep to
themselves, swimming together in large flocks upon the sea, or standing
so on the rocks. One may sometimes see an old bird amongst them, but the
association is half-hearted, nor does it last long. Of the fulmar petrels
I have nothing more to record except that my statement in regard to the
hen bird not permitting her husband to sit with her by the chick was
incorrect, or, at least, needs qualification, as I have now seen several
such family parties. The grown birds continue, in some cases, to swell
the throat and open the beak at one another, rolling, at the same time,
the head, and uttering the hoarse, scolding note which seems reserved for
the ledges--for I have never heard it in the air.



CHAPTER XXV

UNORTHODOX ATTITUDES


When I saw eider-ducks eating seaweed off the coast of my island I was
aware that they were doing something which they had no business to be
doing; for it is stated in works of authority that they are purely
animal feeders. I have had misgivings, therefore, ever since making
the observation, but now, having seen a black guillemot also eating a
piece of this same brown seaweed, I feel more comfortable about it, for
surely this bird should be as exclusively a fish-eater as the eider-duck
is supposed to be a devourer of shell-fish, crustaceans, etc. It was
certainly, I think, a piece of this seaweed--short, brown, bunchy, and
covered with little lobes--that this particular bird had in its bill.
Through the glasses I could see it distinctly, and most distinctly it
swallowed it. I doubt myself if there is any bird that feeds exclusively
on anything, or that is absolutely confined to an animal or vegetable
diet. They seem ever ready to enlarge their experience according to
their opportunities of doing so, thus illustrating one of Darwin's most
pregnant remarks.

When this "tysty" dived it presented a beautiful appearance under the
water, owing to the snow-white patches on its wing-coverts, which flashed
out distinguishably for some time. Besides this--whether or not this
had anything to do with it--it became all at once of a lovely glaucous
green colour, luminous, and with bubbles flashing about it. Gradually
the form became lost, but the luminous green was never lost, and after
becoming dimmer and dimmer began to get brighter and brighter again, till
the bird reappeared out of it on the surface at some distance off. It
seems just possible that this effect may be due in some measure to the
white patches, since when the shag dives nothing of the sort, or, at any
rate, nothing so marked, is to be seen, nor do I remember noticing it
either in the guillemot, razorbill, or puffin, which are all dark above
and only white underneath. On second thoughts, however, the colouring can
have little or nothing to do with it, since the effect is very marked in
the eider-duck of both sexes, and the female is uniformly dark. But how
is the effect produced? by the clinging of innumerable small air-bubbles
to the bird's plumage? If so, they may not cling equally to that of all
species. The seal presented the finest appearance of all, but his size
may perhaps have had something to do with this. Whatever may be the
cause, I do not remember to have remarked the same thing in river-birds
when diving. It is more difficult, indeed, to follow them under water
when they dive, on account of the absence of cliffs to look down from.
Still, one sees them sometimes, and, as I say, I do not remember noticing
this luminous effect, so that it must be, at any rate, much less
striking. I have seen the same thing with a shark at sea.

This morning the ravens again flew over the ness, going the other way,
however, and I only saw three of them. As before, it was the skuas
who informed me of this, but, in spite of their shrieking, they did
not seem to meddle much with the grim, black birds. Though there is
an impressiveness about the raven's whole appearance which, with the
knowledge of what it is, sets the imagination working, yet there is
nothing majestic in its actual flight, and these three, with their
measured, laboured flappings, offer a clumsy contrast to the arrow-like
grace of the skuas.

The chick is still upon the ledge, so I have still a chance of seeing
him leave it; but even with two plaids, on one of which I lie and in the
other wrap myself, like an embalmed mummy, it is cold work waiting--and
still more when one has the lumbago. I was awakened early this morning by
nasty pains, more right on the hip--the very bone of it--than in the true
lumbagoey region; but it plays right lumbago music--"'tis enough, 'twill
serve." This comes of lying on the rocks for six hours at a time in a
Shetland summer. I was a fool, I think, to come here; but is there any
one who is not, either in thinking or acting at any time _ici bas_?

  When we are born we cry that we are come
  To this great stage of fools.

Now I have the lumbago, with very little for it, and had I not come here
I should be regretting the loss of ten times as much as I have found,
with no thought of the lumbago thereby avoided. Thus each way would have
had its own particular foolery; and which way has not? Does not this
apply to much greater matters, and often where there might seem to be no
doubt as to where the foolery lay? The way of sin, for instance, that
leads to remorse, has always been thought a foolish way, and that of
virtue and clear conscience a wise one. Nevertheless, he who goes the
first gains such knowledge by experience as can never be acquired in any
other way, and is therefore to this extent the superior of the other
unless _he_ has already gained it, either in a life before this or in
some other manner. If he has not, it seems probable that he will have to
do so at one time or another, by the laws of development--assuming that
personal life and personal development survive the thing called death.
Who, then, if we make these assumptions, stands the better off, he who
has learnt a great truth through his sinning, or he who, often owing to
circumstances merely, has neither the sin nor the truth? Quite possibly,
as it seems to me, the former; for what do we really know except through
our own actual experience? What a dream must this life soon become to us
if we are born, through death, into another one widely different from
it! and seeing what death does to this body of ours, how can it be other
than widely different? If, therefore, we could pass from life to life,
or rather from stage to stage of life, keeping the knowledge gained in
each to help us in the next, such knowledge, however bitterly, or, as we
call it, evilly gained, would be really all in all good. The gain would
be eternal and the pain transient as well as necessary. We may suppose,
too, that it would become an ever-lessening quantity, as "John Brown went
marching on." But somewhere and somehow all deep, essential knowledge--as
the knowledge of good and evil--must, I believe, be individually gained
if the individual is to advance. Innocence, though so highly recommended,
is really a very trumpery thing.

That the path of individual advance should be through evil to good seems,
in itself, likely, since it has been that of the race, and, moreover,
what other can be imagined? Perhaps, however, it should rather be said
to be through ignorance to knowledge. Evil is a misleading word. We
speak of it as though it were something fixed and unchangeable, whereas
there is no thing, however evil it may be in one set of circumstances,
that may not be good in another. Murder, for instance, is good amongst
bees, and sometimes also--so statesmen who make wars must think--amongst
ourselves. Knowledge of good and evil consequently is knowledge of
conditions; and how can one learn the conditions of anything better than
by acting in disaccord with them? Putting aside, therefore, the question
of inherited experience--another perplexing element in this perplexing
problem--is it not possible that sometimes, at any rate, a sinner may be
in a state of advance whilst a virtuous person is stagnating merely, or
that the former at any rate--for most virtuous persons sin pettily--may
be advancing more quickly than the latter? I feel sure of it myself.
"My dukedom," however (if I had one), "to a beggarly denier," that said
virtuous person would think very differently--which makes him, perchance,
just a little more but one of the "fools" on "this great stage," where
there are so many.

It might well be argued, I think--at any rate, I have seen many such
arguments--that Shakespeare, in the lines I have quoted, intended to
convey all this, in which case I have his great authority to shelter
under. Goethe, however--at least, I am told so--supports me, if not
more plainly, yet more categorically. He thought--or somebody, perhaps
Eckermann, thought he thought--that we became good by sinning out our
evil, and that evil still in us, in the shape of desire, was like
prurient matter which ought to be discharged, and, at some time, would
have to be, to the consequent benefit of the constitution. Given, as I
say, a continuance of life and advance--I cannot, for myself, imagine the
one without the other--there seems to me much force in this doctrine,
and I commend it--as that sort of physic which Lady Macbeth so much
needed--to the members of any cabinet that has made any war, and to
politicians and millionaires generally, and to South African millionaires
in particular.

All this must be the effect of lumbago, which is the effect of the
Shetlands; but let me shake it off. The chick has been fed once, but I
was taken by surprise, and almost missed it. Now, at only a quarter of
an hour's interval, he is fed again, and over this there is quite an
interesting little scene. The chick, when a very substantial fish is
brought in for him, is asleep under his mother's wing, and both parents
seem averse to disturbing him. The plain one with the fish seems quite
embarrassed. He approaches, stands still, looks at his partner as if
for advice, shuffles about, turns this way and that, and several times,
bending his head, gives a choked and muffled _jodel_, for his mouth is
almost too full to speak. Still the chick sleeps on and still the parents
seem to doubt the advisability of waking him. At length, however, they
admit it to be necessary. The father shuffles up into his usual position,
the mother rises by slow and reluctant stages, as though apologetically,
and finally stirs the chick several times with her bill till at last he
rouses. Then, in a moment, he brisks up, and, seizing the large fish,
swallows it in one good whole-hearted gulp. Perhaps there may have been
a second, but it was a weak one if there was, and hardly necessary. It
was more like the grace after the meal, that can very well be dispensed
with. Instantly then the father, having done his business, flies off, the
mother sinks down, and the chick, retiring with the taste of the fish
still in his mouth, there is peace on the ledge again. The eye of the
guillemot is very bright, and seems to beam with intelligence. No bird, I
believe, ever looked more intelligent, albeit embarrassed, than the one
just gone as he stood with the fish in his bill waiting for the chick to
wake up. He, it will be remembered, was the plain bird; and such are very
greatly in the majority. The white mark round the eye impairs this look
of intelligence. It is lost in strangeness, and the bird so adorned has
something the appearance of one of those queer kind of demons that one
sees in Japanese drawings. The eye itself is black.

The chick, therefore, has had two good fish--one a particularly large
one--within twenty minutes. There is now an interval of near three
hours, and then the father flies in again with yet another fish--a very
long sand-eel it looks like, even bigger than the last--and the chick
seizing it as it is let drop, before it touches the ledge, it disappears
by a process which looks like magic. They are like little bag-purses,
these guillemot chicks, and when they are full of money--_i.e._
fishes--it is difficult to think that there is room for anything more
inside them--anatomy seems out of the question. Just before this, this
particular one has lain in the queerest way under his mother's wing,
flat upon the rock, with his legs stretched straight out behind him
as one sometimes sees dogs lie. He has lain like this several times
altogether, but never for long at a time. Now, after his surfeit, he
has retired again. By the way, the inside of the little chick's mouth
is pinky-flesh-coloured merely, whereas that of the old bird is of a
fine lemon. Why should we, in so many species, find this difference in
coloration between young and old in such a region--the mature tint
being, in all of them, so vivid and so often exposed--unless sexual
selection has been the operating cause? We would not, I suppose, find a
corresponding difference in the colour of the internal organs, according
to the age of the bird.

The mother guillemot, now, for the first time whilst I have been here,
utters that guttural, yet sharp "ik, ik, ik," note, which, two years
ago, in June and early July, was the only one I ever heard on the ledge
I watched so closely. When another fish is brought in there is some more
of it, mixed with the _jodel_-ing; so that it seems now to be becoming
more frequent. But never have I been able to make out with anything like
clearness that the chick has uttered any note at all. No undoubted sound
from it has reached me. The time before last that it was fed, however,
I thought I heard a sharp little cry, but it was impossible to be sure
whether this was from the chick or some of the thronging and clamouring
kittiwakes perched and flying all about. In any case, it was nothing
particular.

On the ledge, where there were fifteen birds yesterday, there are now
only eight; on my ledge, which from here I see in its entirety, only the
mother and chick, another bird--not the father--having just flown off.
On all the others together I make out only thirty-six. I see but one
other chick, but a bird is sitting as if she might have one under her.
Nothing can be plainer than that the old birds have stayed behind on the
ledges after the young ones have left them, though whether the latter
went by themselves or were conducted by their parents, who afterwards
returned, I cannot tell. As the ledges, when I first came, were thick
with guillemots, and as both sexes were represented, there being still
a considerable amount of coquetry and dalliance, carried sometimes to
an extreme length, there is no room for the hypothesis that the great
majority had gone with their chicks, leaving only a few, who, for some
reason, had not reared one. Had I got here to-day only I might have
thought this, but, as it is, I should rather think that, full as the
ledges were on my arrival, they were fuller still a few days earlier,
and that the proportion of chicks was not much greater. The statement,
therefore, which is made in works of authority, that, at the end of the
breeding season, the young and old guillemots go off together for good,
seems not to be in accordance with the facts of the case. Certainly it
does not apply to the state of things here, in this particular year.

The chick is again stretched out quite flat on the rock with its legs
behind it, looking most funny. Well, funny as you are, I must leave you
for a little, for I've the cramp, as well as lumbago, so

  I am gone, sir, and anon, sir,
  I will be with you again.

And I am back at about seven, and find my little Sir still on the
ledge, clasped by his mother's wing. I almost expected he would be
gone, but have still a chance now to see the flight down--if it should
not take place in the night--a parlous fear. I was away for some four
hours, and during this time had a splendid sight of seals. Quite near
to where I watch the guillemots there is a little iron-bound creek or
cove, walled by the precipice, guarded by mighty "stacks," and divided
for some way into two by a long rocky peninsula running out from the
shore. On the rocks in one of these alcoves were lying eight seals,
which were afterwards joined by another, making nine, whilst in the
adjoining one were four--also, as it happened, joined by another whilst
I watched--making fourteen in all: such a sight as I had never seen
before, except something like it as the steamboat passed a small rocky
islet on my way to Gutcher. Here lay, indeed, some nine or ten seals; but
oh, the difference in the conditions! The horrid, vulgar steamboat, with
the whistle blowing to frighten them; the men, the women, the remarks--a
stick pointed gunwise--oh, dear! Oh, the difference, the difference! They
were soon all in the water and, with their little oasis, left far behind.
The sooner the better. Worse than "crabbed age and youth" "together" is
wild nature seen from amidst vulgar surroundings, in vulgar company--like
a drive through paradise with the Eltons "in the barouche-landau." But
here--ah, here it is different. Not one human being save myself (and one
excuses oneself), no tiresome prosaic figure--"god-like erect"--to break
the sky-line above the mighty towering precipice that rises just behind
this dark, still, frowning bay. I can gloat on what I see here.

I watched these seals of mine on this, my first meeting with them, for
a considerable time from the top of the cliffs--the glasses giving me a
splendid view--and soon knew more about them than I had before, and got
rid of some popular errors. For instance, I had always imagined that
seals had one set attitude for lying on the rocks--viz. flat on their
bellies--a delusion which every picture of them in this connection had
helped to foster. Imagine my surprise and delight when it burst upon
me that only some three or four were in this attitude, and that even
these did not retain it for long. No; instead of being in this state of
uninteresting orthodoxy, they lay in the most delightful free-thinking
poses, on their sides, or much more than on their sides, showing their
fine portly columnar bellies in varying degrees and proportions, whilst
one utter infidel was right and full upon his broad back--yet looked
like the carved image of some old crusader on the lid of his stone
sarcophagus. Then every now and again they would give themselves a
hitch, and bring their heads up, showing their fine round foreheads and
large mild eyes; a very human--mildly human--and extremely intelligent
appearance they had, looking down upon them from above. Again, they had
the oddest or oddest-appearing actions, especially that of pressing their
two hind feet or flippers together, with all their five webbed toes
spread out in a fan, with an energy and in a manner which suggested the
fervent clasping of hands. Then they would scratch themselves with their
fore feet lazily and sedately, raising their heads the while, looking
extremely happy, having sometimes even a beatific expression. And then
again they would curl themselves a little and roll more over, seeming
to expatiate and almost lose themselves in large luxurious ease--more
variety and expression about them lying thus dozing than one will see in
many animals awake and active.

Even in this little time I learnt that they were animals of a finely
touched spirit, extremely playful, with a grand sense of humour and--once
again--filled "from the crown to the toe, top-full" of happiness. Thus
one that came swimming up the little quiet bay, in quest of a rock to
lie upon, seemed to delight in pretending to find first one and then
another too steep and difficult to get up on to (for obviously they were
not) and would fling himself off from them in a sort of little sham
disappointment, gambolling and rolling about, twisting himself up with
seaweed, and, generally, having a most lively solitary romp. A piece of
bleached spar, some four or five feet long, happened--and I am glad that
it happened--to be floating in the water at quite the other side of the
creek, and, espying it, this delightful animal swam over to it and began
to play with it as a kitten might with a reel of cotton or a ball of
worsted. More frolicsome, kitten-hearted, and withal intelligent play I
never saw. He passed just underneath it, and, coming up on the opposite
side, rolled over upon it, cuffed it with one fore-foot, again with
the other, flipped it, then, with his footy tail as he dived away, and
returning, in a fresh burst of rompiness, waltzed round and round with
it, embracing it one might almost say. At last, going off, he swam to a
much steeper rock than any he had made believe to find so difficult, and,
scrambling up it with uncouth ease, went quietly to sleep in the best
possible humour.

What intelligence all this shows! Much more, I think, than the sporting
of two animals together. This seal was alone, saw the spar floating at a
distance, and swam to it with the evident intention of amusing himself in
this manner. That spar may be a piece of a shipwreck, may have floated
out of the crash and confusion of human agony, hands may have grasped
it, arms clung around it, to be washed off, stiffened in death. Now, in
these silent dream-pools of the sea's oblivion, it is played with by
a happy animal. And of all those influences that cling about a thing
life-touched, and tell their several tales to the clairvoyant, I would
choose to feel and breathe this last.

[Illustration: A SEAL'S PLAYTHING]

Later, another seal played with this same spar in much the same way; yet
both of them seemed to be quite full-grown animals. Then I saw something
which looked like a spirit of real humour, as well as fun. Three seals
were lying on a slab of rock together, and one of them, raising himself
half up, began to scratch the one next him with his fore-foot. The
scratched seal--a lady, I believe--took it in the most funny manner--a
sort of serio-comic remonstrance, shown in action and expression. "Now
do leave off, really. Come now, do leave me alone"--and when this had
reached a climax the funny fellow left off and lay still again; but as
soon as all was quiet, he heaved up and began to scratch her again. This
he did--and she did the other--three times, at the least, and if not to
have a little fun with her I can hardly see why.

On my last return from the guillemots, the tide was rising, and most of
the rocks where the seals had been lying were covered. I was in time,
however, to see one--an immense parti-coloured seal--gradually floated
off. He lay upon a great mass of seaweed, and as long as he could stay
there, he did; but little by little, as the waves came in, he rose
unwillingly, seeming to cling to it to the last. Whether he really did
grasp the seaweed with his hind feet, and stay, thus anchored, as long
as he possibly could, I cannot say; but certainly, for a good many
minutes, and keeping in much the same place, he stood, or rather floated,
perpendicularly in the water, even including his head, so that his nose,
which projected just a little above the surface, pointed straight up
into the air. This was, at once, seen to be the case when he brought it
down and stood with head in the usual position, as he did at intervals.
Finally, he rolled slowly over and sought the depths in a vanishing blue
streak. Another seal clung, in like manner, to the smooth rock he was on,
letting the rising waves wash him about till at last he swam off.



CHAPTER XXVI

PIED PIPERS


I have just seen a sea-pie several times pull and tweak with his bill
at the seaweed, apparently, till he secured something that had a white
appearance. Holding this between the extreme tip of his mandibles, he
each time retired up the rock with it, placed it, as it seemed to me,
amidst some seaweed, and then ate it. This was looking down upon a great
stack of rock at some distance, so that it was impossible to be certain
in regard to such minutiæ. It seemed to me, as it has seemed before,
that he had pulled, not hit, some small limpet or other shell-fish from
off the seaweed, and then wedged it amidst other seaweed higher up so
as to be able to pick out the inside more easily. Possibly, however, he
merely laid it down without wedging it, but I cannot tell, and it is
very difficult to get close enough to see just what these birds really
do when they feed. On the grass, which they probe like starlings, one
can get a pretty good sight of their actions, but not on the seashore.
One thing I cannot help noticing, that whereas limpets are all about
on the rocks and need no looking for, they walk about as if they were
looking for something, and they leave the bare rock that is all stuck
over with them for the parts that are covered with seaweed, and at this
they pull and tweak. In spite, therefore, of the peculiar wedge-like bill
with its obtuse tip that seems so well adapted for striking a limpet or
other shell-fish with a sudden blow from the rock to which it had been
clinging, I am beginning to doubt whether they often use it in this way,
and especially whether limpets are a special food of theirs. I remember,
however, once seeing a sea-pie make just the sort of blow required on the
theory, but ineffectively, and in a peculiar half-hearted way, as a man
might feebly clench his fist and strike in his sleep. It is curious that
this trivial action, which seemed to be of an involuntary nature, made
under a misapprehension discovered in time to check, but not to stop, the
blow, has remained in my memory with a strange persistence and vividness,
and on the strength of it I still think that limpets are sometimes struck
from the rock in this way. There must, I think, have been something very
specialised in the movement of the head and bill, slight as it was, to
make me retain it so long in my mind's eye.

Afterwards I watched several of these birds feeding on the rocks, and I
distinctly saw one with his beak amongst a bed of the same small blue
mussels that I have seen the eider-ducks feeding on, picking and pulling
at them in much the same way. Others, like the first one, pulled at the
brown, or black, seaweed with which the rocks are plentifully hung. They
ran down upon it when the sea receded, and back, or else jumped into the
air or flew to another rock, when it foamed in again. The sea boils in
about the rocks off these iron shores in a tremendous manner, even when,
like to-day, it is quite calm. On the stillest day, indeed, there is
often a sullen swell which makes varying patches and long chequered lines
of foam all around them. The sea never sleeps in these islands--only
slumbers uneasily like some terrific monster that anything may awake.

It is observable that some of these sea-pies are bolder than others in
outstanding the swell of the waves. Some flee it before it comes, others
fear not to have it wet their feet, whilst others, again, will almost
risk being soused in it. But are these different birds, or are they all
different at different times? On that, of course, must depend whether a
process of differentiation, on evolutionary lines, is in action amongst
them or not. For myself, I think the first, and that, from waders or
paddlers, some of these birds may in time become swimmers--which would
make them a sort of sea moorhen. The redshanks has gone farther in this
direction, for he sometimes swims, but I know of no intermediate form,
no sea and seashore bird corresponding to our moorhen or coot.--Mussels,
then, and the beak thrust in amongst seaweed; but no limpets up to the
present. Now limpets, as I said before, are all over the rocks, and so
need no searching for. Why so chary, then, if the birds really affect
them?

  What ails ye at the puddin'-broo
  That boils into the pan, O?

Under favourable circumstances--solitude and nonmolestation are, no
doubt, the most favourable--oyster-catchers leave the foreshore, and
browse, in flocks, over the grass-land beyond it. There are now, for
instance, twenty-one, at the least, browsing, and I have watched them for
some time digging their beaks well into the soil--to half their length,
perhaps, sometimes--and then tugging violently at something. What this
was, however, I could not, in any case, make out. It appeared to be taken
into the beak before the latter was withdrawn. At last, however--for I
like to see it all through the glasses, if I can--I went to the place,
and, going down on my hands and knees, commenced a minute investigation.
All about were round, straight holes going down through the grass into
the turf, like those on a lawn after starlings have searched it, but, of
course, larger. With my knife I cut down into several of these, and in
two or three I found a small worm quite near the surface of the soil. It
seemed as though the bird's bill had passed it in looking for or aiming
at another one deeper down. Be this as it may, worms, it seems likely,
form a common food of the sea-pie, for what else could these ones have
been searching for? Worms, however, must be taken to include grubs,
caterpillars, and so forth, an ordinary land diet, in fact, and did these
birds get to preferring it, their habits would rapidly change. These, I
should think, must a good deal depend upon locality, and perhaps, too,
on their numbers, for birds become bolder when they go many together.
Even here the sea-pie is wary, and in a more populous place I doubt if
anything would tempt him inland. Yet it is curious that in an island
where I have been the one inhabitant I have never seen these birds
feeding or walking anywhere except on the tidal shore, quite near the
sea, though they often flew over the island, whereas here, in Unst, I
have seen them thus searching the greensward in the neighbourhood of
Burra Firth, which is a village, though a small one. But then they are
much more numerous here, and it was always in the close neighbourhood of
the beach, even when not upon it, that I saw them. In this last instance,
too, they were no distance at all from the sea--but again, most of the
smooth, turfy stretches, where it would be easy to find worms, are so
situated. Here, then, is another path along which differentiation might
proceed, and by which, in time, an oyster-catcher might become a bird
with the habits of the great plover. It is curious that one of the cries
of the latter bird in the spring, though very much weaker, is a good deal
like the "ki-vick, ki-vick, ki-vick, ki-vick, ki-vick!" of the sea-pie,
so that the one rendering might stand for both.

It is pleasant to see a fair-sized flock of these birds gathered together
on a smooth stretch of sand just above the line of the waves. Some walk
about or stop to preen themselves, others lie all along, whilst a few
stand motionless upon one leg, fast asleep, with the head turned and
the red bill hidden amongst the pied plumage. Sometimes, when excited,
or about to fly, they will run, for a little, over the sand, holding
the wings elevated above the back, which has a quaint yet graceful
appearance. They keep together, generally, in a group or series of
groups, but at other times stand in a long row amidst or but just beyond
"the light sea-foam" beating from the waves, looking as though the sea
had cast them up, like a line of drifted seaweed. Gulls often come down
amongst them, and the two sit or stand, side by side, quite indifferent
to one another, each hardly conscious of the other's presence--so far, at
least, as one can judge. Besides the piping note I have mentioned, these
sea-pies have others--"queep, queep!" and a kind of twittering trill
leading up to it--which remind one strangely of the great plover, and
suggest a common ancestry.

I have confirmed to-day all that I said in _Bird Watching_ (pp.
90-3) about the love-piping of these sea-pies. For some reason or
other--rivalry, I think, passing into a form--two birds, that I put down
as males, seem to like to pipe together to one who, by her quiescence
and general deportment, I judge to be the female. I have seen this
twice since coming here, once yesterday, and now again within these
few hours. This last time it was almost as marked as in the instances
I have described, and towards the end one of the piping birds showed a
tendency to go down on his shanks, as though kneeling to his lady love. I
do not think he quite did this, but he bent towards it. I am convinced
myself that the dance of three peewits, as described by Mr. Hudson in
_The Naturalist in La Plata_, has had some such origin as this. What one
wants, in order to arrive at the real nature of the latter, is a number
of detailed descriptions, instead of a mere general one, never in my
opinion of much value in such matters. Pains, also, should be taken to
ascertain the sexes of each of the three birds that takes a part in the
show.

Another nuptial sport or play which these birds indulge in belongs to
air--where, indeed, they pipe as strongly and easily as upon the ground.
This that I speak of, however, appeals in an equal degree to the eye
and ear. Two birds pursue each other closely, mounting all the while
in a steep slant, till, having gained some elevation, both turn at an
acute angle, and descend in the same manner, in a reversed direction,
thus tracing the shape of a pyramid. Having completed the air-drawn
figure, they immediately reproduce it, and thus they continue on quickly
vibrating wings--now upwards, far above the cliff-line, now downwards,
almost to the sea--piping the whole time in the fullest-throated way.
Even in a small and sober-suited bird such a performance might attract
attention. How much more here where, to the boot of the large size of the
two _artistes_, and the noise they make, the boldly contrasted black and
white of their plumage, the deep rose-red of the bill, and pale rose-pink
of the legs, give it a very lovely appearance. For myself, I have seen
few things more striking.



CHAPTER XXVII

A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT


A man here--one accustomed to the sea, but not a Shetlander--had told me
that seals come up on the rocks as the tide goes out, and are floated off
them as it comes up again--and this, indeed, I have seen. He did not seem
to think that they lay on the rocks independently of the tides, so, as
the tide to-day should be out about 5.30, I resolved to go to the same
place as yesterday--the accustomed haunt of seals here--about two, so as
to be in good time. I arrive accordingly, but what is my astonishment
to see, on a vast, sloping slab of rock, ending in a miniature cliff,
far above the highest line of moist seaweed, and comfortably independent
of all tides, twelve seals, of varying figures and different degrees
of obesity, lying, roughly, in two rows, and in all sorts of attitudes
and depths of repose. What a sight! What beautiful, fat, sleepy things!
and what a lovely little secret creek of the wave-lashed, iron-ribbed
coast have they found to sleep in! How the waters sleep in it, too! How
gently they creep to shores strewn with a wild confusion of titanic black
boulders heaped about still huger fragments of the cliff's wastage, so
huge, some of them, that they are dwarfed only by the frowning precipices
that tower behind! How they lick up upon the brown hanging seaweed that
drips against the high, dark walls of this their boudoir, falling back
from it again with a deep-sucked gurgle that ravishes the ear! What a
snug sea-chamber, formed and fashioned by the waves! How the cormorants
dive and fish in it, how the gull tears at the drifted carcase of its
kind, how the puffins, in ceaseless flight between ocean and their myriad
burrows, arch and dome it in! Oh, it is a fine apartment! Its portals
on either side are columns of spouting foam, and beyond lies the wild,
houseless sea. A seal's dormitory!--how well do the wild things choose!
So here, at once, one learns something different to what one is told.
Seals care nothing about tides when they can get great slanting slabs
that lie high and dry above them. At high tide, or low tide, or middle
tide, they are equally ready to sleep.

I came down the steep descent in a way which made me and everything I
had on, or carried with me--which was everything I have here to keep
me warm and dry--both wet and dirty. At the bottom there was a mass of
nasty, brown, wet discomfort; but it had successfully stalked the seals.
They lay now right before me, so near as to make the glasses almost a
superfluity. Yet how splendidly they showed them up--every mark, turn,
and expression, their whiskers, wrinkles, and their fine eyes. And now,
still more markedly than yesterday, I note that the favourite attitude
of a seal, when lying asleep or dozing, is either on its back or half
or three-quarters rolled over towards it. Out of all these twelve, only
one lies in the way that all illustrations persist in depicting them as
lying. Three are absolutely on their backs, with their faces, or rather
chins, looking, for long periods, straight up into the sky; others are
almost as supine, but, by turning their faces sideways, seem to be less
so, whilst the rest vary between this and full on their side, in which
position they look much like a huge salmon lying on a fishmonger's
dresser. Who has ever drawn seals like this? Where is there such a
rendering? Always, as far as I can remember, they are made to lie on
their stomachs. Yet here is the living thing.

As various as their attitudes seems to be the degree of their rest.
Some raise their heads and look to this side or that, at irregular
intervals that are not very long apart. Others seem sunk in deep and
heavy slumber, their very attitudes--or rather, their attitudes more than
anything else--expressing "the rapture of repose that's there." Yet even
these, if watched for long enough, are seen occasionally to raise their
heads, or scratch themselves lazily with their front paws, or expand or
interlace their hind ones, moving them sometimes in a very curious manner
suggesting the rotating screw of a steamer. It would seem, therefore,
that, however fast asleep they may look, they are really only in a sort
of doze.

Many of these seals are scarred and marked in a very bad way; raw and
bleeding the places are sometimes, and I notice here and there what
looks like a deep and gaping bite. These wounds are mostly on the belly,
but the tail of one seal is bloody all round, as though another had
seized it in its mouth and severely bitten it. No doubt it is all due
to fighting, and the claws, I think, must have played as great a part
as the teeth. Two other seals lie on a smaller rock, raised similarly
above high-water mark, and a third on one that has only just become
uncovered. Altogether, then, there are fifteen of them, making me think
of Virgil's description of the Protean herds, written in those happy days
before the accursed gun had thinned, as it now has, almost to the verge
of extinction, the brave, honest, animal world. Surely the lower thing
rules on earth for ever. Those who love living animals, with souls inside
them, must see this world made dead and empty by those who love only
their skins, stuffed with straw. They conquer, these Philistines, and
the finer-touched spirit lies bleeding and suffering beneath them. How
grossly we deceive ourselves!... I say that the "pale Galilean" has _not_
conquered here, but that Thor has, though often in his rival's name.

The modern Christian poet speaks truth as though it were falsehood, and
falsehood as though it were truth. Hear Longfellow, for instance--

  Force rules the world still,
  Has ruled it, shall rule it,
  Meekness is weakness,
  Strength is triumphant,
  Over the whole earth
  Still is it Thor's-Day!

Now that is truth--simple, plain truth. So it is put into the mouth of
Thor--a heathen god--who, of course, is brought up only to be knocked
down, and what he says confuted. Only through some such machinery can
poets now speak the truth.

These seals differ greatly from one another, both in size, figure,
markings, and colour of the fur, and especially, as a result of all, in
beauty. Most of them look rough, swollen, dropsical creatures, but some
are very pretty and elegant, and as these are smaller I suppose them to
be the females. Often one may see a look and action in them that seems to
speak of coquetry and being wooed.

It is curious that the one seal that lies on its face is the only one out
of the twelve that is turned towards the sea. The sea, however, in this
case is only a narrow inlet between the rock on which it lies and the
shore, the great expanse of it being entirely hidden by the rock itself,
which rises perpendicularly, like a cliff, from the highest point of its
upward slope. The seal, therefore, really looks shorewards, but across a
narrow strip of sea. His eyes, I notice, seem never shut, and at frequent
intervals he turns his head to one side or another. All the rest lie
either sleeping or dozing, though, as said before, most of them from time
to time raise their heads a little and give a lazy look before sinking
back into slumber. Is the one seal a sentinel? It looks like it. But why,
if this were their custom, should seals ever sleep singly? And this they
often do.

In spite of the shortness of all their four limbs, yet seals, as they
stretch themselves, throw up the head, bend the neck and back, raise
their fore-feet into the air, or push out the hind ones to their full
length whilst at the same time stretching them apart, often have a
very startling resemblance to a man. The curves and symmetries of the
body--especially the upper portion of it--are sometimes wonderfully
suggestive of the human torso, and the resemblance is often helped by
the shape of the rock, which, by curving away from the body, allows the
lines of it to appear. Nothing, in fact, can look both more like and more
unlike a man than do these creatures. See one lying quiescent, a great,
swollen, carrot-shaped bladder, and one may scoff at the possibility
of any such resemblance; but wait and watch, and in a hundred odd ways
one will catch it. When a seal scratches one of his front flippers it
is wonderfully like a man scratching the back of one hand with the
other. The hind feet can look almost more hand-like. It is true that
when the toes are distended to their full width the whole foot is just
like a fish's tail in shape, but when they are not stretched so widely
apart, and those of the one play, as they often do, with those of the
other, then they have a wonderful resemblance to fingers--swollen, gouty
fingers, it is true; gloved, too, they look--but still fingers.

Another interesting sight now in the adjoining cove, or rather in the
adjoining half of this semi-divided one! A seal comes to its rock there
before the tide has sufficiently gone down to let it lie upon it. It
plays about the rock, fawns upon it, caresses it, woos it, one might say,
dives down and circumnavigates it, tries or pretends to try to lie upon
it, even under the water, swims away and returns, and does the same thing
several times; and as soon as the water is sufficiently shallow to allow
of it, it reclines, sea-washed and gently heaving, till the receding tide
leaves it high and dry. A pretty thing it is--very--to see a seal thus
waiting for its chosen rock to appear.

I was at the ledges about twelve, and found my particular one a
blank--not a bird there. Mother and child--father too, and every other
bird besides--was off; the cupboard was bare. A bitter disappointment
seized hold upon me, sunk into my very soul. Yet what else could I have
expected? They may have gone in the night; and, in any case, how, except
by actually bivouacking above that ledge, could I have hoped to be there
at the exact moment when the departure took place? This I might have
managed, or at least have managed better, had my little black sentry-box
been a cottage, with some one in it to cook for me. Then I could have
got to bed by eight, or at least nine, and been up by three or four; but
without this it was impossible. I can do--and I do now--with as little
as most men, but porridge here is like charity, and oh, the time that it
takes to make! They talked to me of ten minutes or a quarter of an hour
at the outside, spoke even of boiling milk flung upon the raw meal--said
it would be good like that. "Women said so, that will say anything."
Sweetly they smiled, but they understood not the conditions. Oh fire
that will not burn up! Oh kettle that will not boil! Oh egg that _will_
crack when you drop it in! Oh one spoon that goeth a-missing! This, and
much more "of this harness," as the Spaniard says, has kept me up till
ten or later--till eleven, once, when the frying bacon, "in the very
moment of projection," was breathed on by the flame of paraffin. (Nothing
but paraffin will make a fire burn up in the Shetlands, and even that
gets damp sometimes.) So that, having my notes to extend and decipher,
and with hard boards, and the wind, and a flea or so, and sometimes the
lumbago, I may say, with Comus, almost any night, "What has night to do
with sleep?" but without being able to continue, for certainly it has no
"better sweets to prove."

But perhaps I should have missed it in any case. Perhaps--nay, I will
be certain of it, to lessen heart-ache--they went off in the night. To
think of it! that young, tiny creature! And was it then, in the dark
night, when the wind was blowing so furiously, that you were carried
down--a little soft, fluffy, delicate-looking thing--to be put upon the
great tumultuous sea? through mist and driving spray, with neither moon
nor stars to light you, to toss, for the first time in life, on those
tumbling, rough-playing waves? I, a grown man, was glad of all I could
heap on my bed to keep the wind away. I lay and thought of ship-wrecks
as I listened to it roaring, but I never thought of you, flitting out to
sea through it all, cradled so delicately on your mother's back--if that,
indeed, was the way of it. How could I imagine it? Even to watch you,
as you lay warm on your cold ledge in the daytime, gave me the lumbago,
though wrapped in two good plaids. But at night, and with nothing round
you, to leave even _that_ shelter, to cast off from the sheer, horrid
edge "into the empty, vast, and wandering air," and then souse into
yeasty salt water, without cold or chill taken, without a touch of
lumbago--oh, what an iron constitution! _You_ are not the lathe painted
to look like iron; you are feathers in steelwork, rather, a powder-puff
made out of adamant. But here I register a vow that I will return here,
some day, in the height of the putting-off season, and see the little
guillemots fly from their cliff's cradle, or ride down on one cradle to
another--their mother's soft, warm back, and then

  In cradle of the rude, imperious surge.



CHAPTER XXVIII

TAMMY-NORIE-LAND


Seal-cove again to-day, and there, upon the same great slab, and at much
the same time, five great seals are lying, whilst on other rocks there
are six more. The tide is coming in, and one that is on a low rock goes
gradually off with the wash of it. The others lie on, though now, at high
noon, the tide, I think, must be in. Seals, therefore, do not go off
their rocks at high tide, as a custom, unless the water leaves them no
choice. Of course if they have a favourite rock which is covered at high
tide, they are then compelled to do so, but in that case they can seek
another one which is not so restricted, and lie there sleeping, if they
will, "the washing of ten tides." Their bed-times are not governed by the
ebb and flow of the sea.

The larger seal which I spoke of yesterday is called here, locally, a
bottle-nosed seal, or at least some so designate it. He is here again
to-day, rising at intervals and staring at the sky, in the other of these
two-in-one-contained bays, which seems to be more particularly his own.
When he rises he remains for a full minute standing upright, as it were,
in the water, with his muzzle about six inches above it and pointing
straight into the sky. Then it sinks for an instant, and the next his
whole head appears above the surface, held horizontally. Another moment,
and his back makes a bent bow in the water, as with a rolling motion,
something like that of a porpoise, he dives and vanishes. He always makes
for a great mass of brown seaweed clothing the rocks, now covered, where
I had first seen him lying, and extending down into the depths. In this I
lose him, but whether he stays there or merely coasts along it I cannot
tell; but he always rises in about the same spot, and this suggests that
he comes each time from the same place. Seals may, perhaps, lie upon the
bottom, under the overarching edges of the rocks they bask on at low
water, and wound amongst the seaweed that grows on them; but their sleep,
if they slept, would be broken.

I took out my watch and measured the time this great seal stayed under
water, finding it to be, on an average, from ten to twelve minutes, his
longest submersion being fourteen minutes and a half. I then thought
I would descend the cliffs and get along the shore to just opposite
where he usually came up, which would be very near him. This I easily
managed, concealing myself once, when I knew that he would rise, and
going on again as soon as he was down. When he next came up I had the
satisfaction of beholding him from some dozen or twenty yards. He was
considerably larger than the common seal, his skin perfectly naked
and of a bluish colour, which, with the breadth of his back, gave him
something the appearance of a hippopotamus in the water. This was when
I just got his back, without the head or other parts. Seen _in toto_--or
as much of him as could be seen--he more suggested, both by shape and
colouring combined, a gigantic mole; or again, his head, with the long
cylindrical-looking nose, had a very porcine appearance. But whilst
floating upright in the way I have described, he looked like a buoy
merely, of which the muzzle, with its round-bore nostrils--they looked
as if a ping-pong ball would just fit into each of them--was the apex.
All resemblance to a living thing was then gone; but when the great beast
brought down his head again into a natural position, and looked about
with full eyes, dark and mild, one saw that he was an intelligent and
refined animal.

Modification seems to have gone considerably farther in this species
than in the common seal. The skin, except for the long, strong whiskers,
is absolutely smooth and hairless. The nose, head, and neck are more
in a line, whilst the back rises from the latter with a still gentler
undulation. This elongation and prominence of the nose, or rather the
muzzle, which is broad, also, in proportion, take away from that full
and rounded appearance of the forehead which gives such a look of
intelligence--almost of humanity--to the common seal. But this, no doubt,
is an inferiority in appearance only, and "the eye's black intelligence"
remains. But though the jewel is there the setting of it is very poor.
There appears to be no defined eyelid, so that when the eye is shut
it looks like a mere slit in the naked skin. Eyebrows, however, are
represented by three or four strong white bristles on either side. The
nostrils open and close with strong expansive and contractive power, and
blow the water away from them almost like the spouting of a miniature
whale. When wide open they look as round as the aperture of a champagne
or beer bottle, which they somewhat suggest, and this, perhaps, has given
their bearer his title of bottle-nosed. Whether this is more than a local
name amongst the Shetlanders I do not know. It is here that I first heard
it, and that was two years ago when I was describing this very selfsame
animal, as I now believe, to a young man who suggested that "perhaps it
was a bottle-nosed seal."

Such was the peculiar creature which I now set myself to observe, and
which, except for a long interval during which it disappeared altogether,
continued to rise and sink and rise again, till after five, when I left,
having observed it thoroughly. Several times he went down with a fine
roll over, sideways, as well as forward. This I should not have seen had
I gone away in an hour or two; but why I stayed so long was that I hoped
to see this great bottle-nosed seal lie upon the seaweed-covered rocks at
low water, as I had seen him do once before. For some reason or other,
however--I doubt not there is a good one--there has been no such low tide
since that day; the seaweed has but just shown for a little, and the
great creature, who could hardly have lain there, has not lain anywhere
else--not, at least, in this cove which he affects, or for the greater
part of the time. He seems to be a much less lazy sort of seal than the
common kind. I am not quite sure why he went away, as he did for an hour,
from about three. I thought at the time I had alarmed him, for although
I lay flat upon a huge slanting rock, with my head not projecting beyond
the edge, he seemed to look full at me with a questioning countenance,
and then till four o'clock the pool that had known him knew him no more.
Whilst he was gone I, with a lot of labour, brought a number of flat
stones from the chaos of rocks and boulders which makes the beach here,
and with these I made a sort of loopholed wall, through and from behind
which I could look, as I had done before to watch the shags on my island.
That, by the way, was still standing when I got there again after two
years. I wonder how long this other may remain on this most lonely shore,
to which no one, to judge by all appearances, ever comes down, from one
year's end to another. Long may it be so!

Just before beginning my masonry I had an interesting experience. From a
crevice in the pilings of these huge black boulders that lie strewn in
wild confusion between the base of the cliffs and the sea--making the
gloomy beach--from amongst these, I say, and within about three steps of
me, forth hopped a little wren, and began immediately to procure food
in the more or less near neighbourhood of my boots. The boulders had
hitherto seemed bare enough, but wherever the wren went numbers of little
hopping things, with long bodies and many legs, began to hop and skip
about like a routed army. They seemed to know the enemy was amongst them,
and for the wren, he pursued them with the most relentless activity, and
looking very fierce about it. He came so near me that I could see him
catch them individually, see the whole chase, all his little runs, hops,
turns, flights, flutters, each with its distinct object; nor did I ever
see him chase one that he did not shortly capture. From the very first,
something in the bird's manner shot into me the idea that he had never
before seen man--never, at least, with the eye of a full recognition.
Supposing him to live and breed in this one great rocky amphitheatre,
this would be likely enough, for even at the top of it, on the ness-side,
one man only lives, and that but for three months in the year. It is true
that during those three months the ness is often visited--by thieves and
others--but none, it is safe to assume, either know of or come down to
this cove.

At any rate this wren came at last so near me that I expected every
instant he would hop on to one of my boots, and although he did not
actually do this I believe it was simply because he saw nothing there to
catch. He often ran up the steep, rough sides of these great blocks with
the greatest ease, investigating all their chinks and every little piece
of moss or lichen that adhered to them. Always he had an air of severity,
something _farouche_, about him, which was very amusing to see. It is
fascinating, I think, thus to watch little familiar woodland birds by
the wild sea shore and amidst stupendous scenery like this.

Puffins, at the right time, are, no doubt, very amorous, as even now,
when they should be a little _passé_ in such matters, I have seen them
so. In this state they will sometimes indulge in quite a little frenzy
first of kissing and then of cossetting--nibbling, that is to say, each
other's feathers about the head and face. Indeed, such pretty little
lover-like actions--mostly on the part of one bird of the two, I presume
the female--were never seen.

But they are not only loving, these little birds. They are playful too,
and, as I think, sympathetic. Thus when one, standing on the rock, gives
its wings a little fluttering shake, another by the side of it--its
mate, probably, but perhaps only its friend--will sometimes catch one
of them in its adorned beak and playfully detain it. This is done with
wonderful softness--obviously in good part, and so it is received. Is
it not fun, then, playfulness? Perhaps it is not. It may be but a part
of the passion-play, and we should not step too lightly in our judgment
from primaries to secondaries. On my last visit here, for instance,
whilst climbing painfully along this black beach--a horror of heaped
stones and fragments, making, often, unscalable, albeit only miniature,
precipices--I happened to see--looking down from a huge tilted rock
that guarded one entrance to a little dark valley of confusion--I
happened to see there a poor little puffin that had got its head caught
in some way amongst the rocks at the bottom, and was struggling and
flapping its wings to escape, as it lay flat along one of them. Another
puffin was standing beside it, and whilst I looked it took hold of the
distressed one's wing and, as it seemed to me, pulled at it as though
trying to assist, but in a feeble half-knowing sort of way, which had
its pathos. But here, too, how careful one should be in attributing
motives, either to birds or men; for this puffin may merely have taken
hold of its companion's wing, as I have seen others do whilst standing
together at their ease. If so, then the action was not prompted by any
idea of aiding, but merely by general good-will, unsharpened by a proper
realisation of what had taken place. Here, once again, was a flapping
wing, which may have suggested no more to the mind of the bird taking
hold of it than it had upon other occasions. Not that I think this
myself, but in the little I saw there was no certainty. Unfortunately,
I startled away the helper (as I like to think of him) and this to no
purpose, since after various attempts to get to the distressed puffin
I had to give it up, for though I might have reached it there seemed a
likelihood, if I did, of my having to remain there indefinitely in its
place. To slide down a steep rock is one thing, but to climb up it again
quite another--nor was there any other way that I could see of getting
back when once at the bottom. Some time afterwards, however, I could not
see the bird, so, though I purposely did not look very closely, I am glad
to think that it had got free.

This little incident gives a hint as to some of the mischances which may
befall puffins here. With such a jumble of heaped rocks and boulders
there are great facilities for slipping or getting between them in such
a way as might make it difficult to get out again, and an alarmed bird,
caught as this one was, would, of course, pull and pull, wedging itself
all the tighter. If found in this situation by a gull--or perhaps,
skua--its fate would be sealed, and its picked and disembowelled carcase
would then be left upon the rocks, as I have so often found it. Such a
misfortune, indeed, cannot be supposed to be of common occurrence; but
the hundreds of thousands of puffins must be considered.

I have said that puffins are amorous. They are bellicose also--the
two, indeed, are interwoven together--and have a tendency--but this,
perhaps, is included in the main proposition--to fight in _mêlées_.
When two are about it a third and then a fourth joins, and so on, and
several will stand menacing one another with their sharp, razor-like
mandibles held threateningly open, and often moving like scissor-blades.
Then, all at once, one springs on another, seizes him by the scruff of
the neck, and--so it has often appeared to me--endeavours to throw him
over whatever edge they both happen to be near--for they are generally
near the edge of something. It is curious--or at least it takes one by
surprise--that when the beak is thus opened it looks quite different to
what it did before. Being divided, its breadth, which is such a peculiar
feature, is much diminished, and the leaf-like shape is also lost since
the mandibles diverge more and more widely towards the tips, like a real
pair of scissors. Thus the bird itself, since the beak is so salient a
part of it, suddenly loses its characteristic appearance.

Marvellous is this beak, and indeed, as far as its appearance is
concerned, it exists now wholly and solely for courting and nuptial
purposes, being put on each spring before the breeding season commences,
like the false nose in a pantomime, which, though not so artistic and
without the same justification for its employment, seems equally a
necessity to the æsthetic susceptibilities of a British audience.[11] It
reminds one something of the bill of a toucan, much abridged--beginning,
as it were, from near the tip--and as far as it goes it is perhaps even
more wonderful, for not only is it brilliant with rose-red, lemon-yellow,
and bright bluish-grey, but the lines of colour correspond to alternate
ridges and furrows running down the length of it, which give it a
fine embossed appearance, as though both the sculptor and painter had
exercised their art upon it. The funny little orange-vermilion legs
are more brilliant even than the bill, but they are cruder. You do not
think of a real artist in their case, only of a clever artisan with a
paint-pot, who, employed by the other, has taken up each bird as its
beak was finished, and given it several good coatings. That is what it
looks like, and so close do the little toy things stand, and so little
do they seem to think or care about you that, with the proper materials,
you almost think you could do it yourself; yes, and would like to try,
too--if only there were a few with the paint off--black coats, white
waistcoats, vermilion legs and all: except the beak and face, which are
beyond you, unless, indeed, you are an artist--and a clever one--yourself.

[Footnote 11: No wonder, when such a play as _The Palace of Truth_ as
played here by refined amateurs before the cultured and cultivated, is
thought to require one--and very like a puffin's, too, it was, before it
began to melt.]

It is wonderful sitting here. To have a dozen or twenty of these little
painted puffins on a rock within three paces of you, in full view,
with nothing whatever intervening, some standing up, others couched on
their breasts, some preening, some shaking their wings, most of them
unconscious of your presence, a few just looking at you, from time to
time, with an expression of mild curiosity unmixed with fear, seeming to
say "And who may _you_ be, sir?" is almost a new sensation.

Yes, this is Tammy-Norie-land. Puffins are everywhere. They dot all
the steep, green slopes, and cluster on the flat surfaces or salient
angles of half the grey boulders that pierce the soil, or lie scattered
all about it. Great crowds of them float on the sea, and other crowds
oppress the air with constant, fast-beating pinions, passing continually
from land to sea and from sea to land again, whilst many, on the latter
journey, even though laden with fish, circle many times round, in a wide
circumference, before finally settling. The soil, too, is honeycombed
with their burrows, and in each of these, as well as in the nooks and
chambers of rocks that lie closely together, there is a young fluffy
black puffin, which increases the population by about a third, to say
nothing of those parent birds which may also be underground. A million
of puffins, I should think, must be standing, flying, or swimming in the
more or less immediate vicinity; the air, especially, if it be a sunny
day--or, rather, for a sunny minute or so--is like one great sunbeam
full of little dancing bird-motes. On the shore they stand together
in friendly groups and clusters, and leave it for those much larger
gatherings where they ride, hundreds together, ducking and bobbing on the
light waves like a fleet of little painted boats, each one with a highly
ornamental bird- or, rather, puffin-headed prow. Thus their duties are
carried on under the mantle of social pleasure; it is all a coming and
going between a land-party and a sea-party, so that the domestic life of
these birds would be a type and pattern of feminine happiness if only
they were a little--by which I mean vastly--more noisy. Puffins indeed
are somewhat silent birds--at least they have been so during the time I
have seen them--from the middle of June, that is to say, till the middle
of August--though as they can and do utter with effect, on occasions,
they are, perhaps, more vociferous at an earlier period, before domestic
matters have become so far advanced. Not that amidst such a huge number
of them, their note--which I have described--is not frequently heard;
but still, whatever I have seen them doing they have generally been
doing it dumbly. This includes the series of funny little bows or bobs,
accompanied by a shuffling from one foot to the other, which the male,
one may say with certainty, is in the habit of making to the female,
but which probably the female--as in the case of other sea-birds I have
mentioned--also sometimes makes to the male. A display of this sort is
usually followed by a little kissing or nebbing match, after which, one
of the birds, standing so as directly to face the other, will often
raise, and then again lower, the head, some eight or nine times in
succession, in a half solemn manner, at the same time opening its gaudy
beak, sometimes to a considerable extent, yet all the while without
uttering a sound. All this looks very affectionate, but I have often
remarked that after one such display and interchange of endearments,
the bird that has initiated or taken the leading part in both, turns to
another, and repeats, or offers to repeat, the performance--for on such
occasions it does not, as a rule, receive much encouragement from the
second bird.

The male puffin, therefore--for I hardly suppose it to be the female
who acts in this way--would seem to be of a large-hearted disposition.
This silent opening of the bill which I have spoken of is, therefore,
an accustomed--probably an important--part of the advances made by the
one sex towards the other; and here again I have been much struck by the
bright yellow colour of the buccal cavity which is thereby revealed,
and the display of which supplies, in my opinion--as in the other cases
I have brought forward--the true motive of the bird's conduct in this
respect. Handsome--or, at any rate, _outré_--as the puffin's beak is,
it is hardly, if at all, more striking to the eye than is this vivid
gleam of one bright colour, revealed suddenly in a flash-light by this
distension of the mandibles. It is like the sword gleaming out of the
scabbard, whose brightness comes as a surprise, whereas the latter,
however rich and ornate, is a permanent quantity, and so lacks the charm
of novelty. The fact that the puffin's beak is a superlative ornament
does not, in my opinion, render it unlikely that there should be another
one lying within it. It is absurd in such a matter to say that this or
that is enough, and in the puffin's case we are certainly debarred from
doing so, since not only has the beak been decorated, but the parts
adjacent to it, as well as the whole head, have also been, so as to join
in the general effect. The eye is almost as salient a feature as the beak
itself, and moreover, where the mandibles meet at their base, there is on
either side a little orange button or rosette, formed by foldings of the
naked skin, which must certainly rank as a sexual adornment in the eyes
of all who believe in such a thing, and with which, apparently--as in the
other cases--the inner coloration is continuous.

The puffin, therefore, makes the seventh species of sea-bird in which,
as I believe from my own observation, the buccal cavity is displayed by
the one sex as a charm or attraction before the eyes of the other, having
been specially coloured in order to render it so. A question, however,
is raised by this conclusion in regard to which I have, as yet, said
nothing, but which I will shortly discuss in a separate chapter, since I
have been unable to compress it into any of the foregoing ones. It had
occurred to me as a result of my general field observations, before these
particular ones which have only served to emphasise it.



CHAPTER XXIX

THOUGHTS IN A SENTRY-BOX


That wren was an interlude, and the puffins another. When he of the
bottle-nose returned, I at first used the shelter which I had constructed
during his absence, but soon left it for another great precipice of a
rock that also overhung the pool, and in which a huge fracture, half-way
up, made a splendid natural concealment. Afterwards, however, I came to
the conclusion that as long as one behaved with any sense of propriety,
avoiding loud or startling noises, and not putting oneself shamelessly
_en évidence_, these seals would never take alarm, for indeed they seemed
to have lived all their lives in a happy unfamiliarity with man, upon
which terms I devoutly hope they may continue.

Well, like the world, one does go forward, though slowly. Not so many
years ago the sight of these seals would have made me want to shoot
them. God alone knows why--or, rather, I know why, perfectly well:
the inherited instinct of the savage, which is not in itself, as some
humanitarians think, a bad thing, or at any rate in the savage it was
not, only it is now out of place, and reason and morality together ought
to insist upon crushing it. It is because the wish, or rather passion, to
kill wild animals is so natural, that it seems so right to those who have
it, for the strong desire to do almost anything makes almost anything
seem right, or rather the impelling force in such cases _is_ a force,
whereas that which seeks to restrain it is weak, cold, frigid, like the
voice of reason in love.

Moreover, I believe that to sin out the evil in one is nature's true way
of progress--in which I join issue with the spiritualistic doctrine of
repression--and therefore were it not for the many ill consequences, the
worst of which is specific extinction, I should not think a man did wrong
to prey upon the animal world as long as to do so _was_ his nature--that
is to say, the stronger part of his nature; nor can it be denied that he
who does so is acting in accordance with the scheme of the universe, as
far as it is possible to make it out, whereas the humanitarian seems for
ever to be flying in the very face of the deity, who, "with no uncertain
voice," has said, through all time, to all His creatures:--"Kill one
another." Whether one would be right to obey such a deity after one's
nature has begun to rebel against His methods is another question,
though, as plants must be included amongst the creatures, it would be
rather difficult not to; but that, at any rate, is what He, or nature,
or whatever we may choose to call it, has most clearly said, and I think
that humanitarians, though they may be very right, ought to consider the
difficulty here involved. My impression is that they shirk it.

But in regard to sport, I wish that every civilised representative of
the savage in this particular respect would arrive at the point where I
now stand, by the same natural process which has brought me there. One
cannot long watch any creature without insensibly beginning to sympathise
with it, to enter into its state, to imagine oneself it--which is to
be it--and then, how can one shoot oneself? Why, it would be suicide.
As for me, I watch wild animals, when I get the chance, not only with
sympathy, but with envy. I am eternally wishing myself them--strange
as it may appear to some who, I suppose, rate themselves highly. That
was Iago's case. "Ere I would," says he, etc., etc. (something very
preposterous), "I would exchange my humanity with a baboon." Well, and
why not? With a guarantee against getting into the Zoological Gardens,
most of us would be gainers by the bargain. I, at any rate--I say it
merely as an expression of my conviction; let my enemies make the worst
of it--I, at any rate, would. As to the advantages which would have
accrued from the arrangement in Iago's case--not only to himself, but to
almost all the _dramatis personæ_ of the play--they are too obvious to
need pointing out. Baboons, however, stand so high in the scale that the
change for many of us would, except in regard to surroundings, be hardly
perceptible, so that the desire to bring it about may offer too little
proof of that force of sympathy which I pretend to. But I do not stop
there, and even at this very moment I would gladly exchange myself with
this bottle-nosed seal I am watching, could I bring myself to cheat the
poor fool so. Oh that fine sensuous roll in the water! made with such
sense of enjoyment--so slow, so lazy, eking it out--the whole of the
animal seeming to smack its lips.

We "human mortals," I believe, quite underestimate the sensuous pleasures
of animals. Their mere ways of moving must often be infinite joys to
them, seeing that besides the motion itself--as with this seal, the
gnu, or the springbok, the half-flying arboreal monkey, or the soaring
bird--there is the ecstasy of perfect health and strength and the freedom
of perfect nudity--absolute disencumbrance. The first of these may be
felt almost, perhaps, in as great a degree by some savages, but if I may
judge by my own experience it never is and never can be by a civilised
man leading a civilised life. With us, speaking generally, health is
more a negative than an affirmative proposition. To be well is not to be
ill. But in the veldt, where one walks all day and eats one hearty meal
by the camp-fire at the end of it, it is like a strong wine that one
has drunk. It is a mighty, stirring, active, compelling force--ending,
however, in fever, which the animals don't get. No doubt the pleasures
of the intellect are of a higher order than those which spring from mere
corporeal ecstasy; but is the civilised man, writing a treatise, happier
than the savage in his war-dance, or the capercailzie going through
his love antics? "_That_ is the question"; or, in other words, does
civilisation make for happiness?

Who, in spite of much laboured reasoning to the contrary, can doubt
that more happiness enters into the life of most savages than into that
of most civilised men? Not I, who have seen the Kaffirs, unblessed
by our rule, and read Wallace's account of the Papuans in _The Malay
Archipelago_, which, to show that I am not talking nonsense, I will here
quote: "These forty black, naked, mop-headed savages seemed intoxicated
with joy and excitement. Not one of them could remain still for a
moment.... A few presents of tobacco made their eyes glisten; they would
express their satisfaction by grins and shouts, by rolling on deck, or by
a headlong leap overboard. Schoolboys on an unexpected holiday, Irishmen
at a fair, or midshipmen on shore, would give but faint idea of the
exuberant animal enjoyment of these people." The grown Papuan, therefore,
is happier--so it struck Wallace--than the civilised schoolboy. It is a
well-chosen point of comparison. We are not ashamed, most of us, to look
back to our boyhood as to a state of high-tide happiness that, upon the
whole, with a fluctuation or two not quite in favour of the intellect,
has been receding ever since; but we _kick_ at thinking savages happier
than ourselves. Kick as we may, the Arab on his horse or his swift
dromedary, the Lap on his snow-shoes, the Esquimaux in his canoe, the
Indian chasing the buffalo--as he used to do--or the Pacific Islander
surf-riding, carry it, I believe, as far as sheer happiness is concerned,
high over the civilised man with all his greater powers of mind and his
advanced morality.

"But witchcraft, with its terrors," says some one. True; but I have lain
in a Kaffir village on the banks of the Zambesi, within the murmur of its
Falls, and watched the young men and maidens dancing together in the full
moon--there seemed little of terror there. And I have seen my own boys
talking and smoking _dacha_ round the camp fires. Where was the brooding
terror, or the dark cloud? Savages do not anticipate, as we do. They feel
no uncertain evils, not, at least, till they are very near indeed, till
the wizard is actually "smelling" them out; they live, like the animal,
in the joy or pain of the moment, and their moments have more of joy and
less of pain in them than ours.

But if witchcraft _were_ the "dark cloud that hangs for ever over savage
life," that Lord Avebury (Sir John Lubbock) tells us it is, have _we_ no
dark clouds, and have we less or more capacity for feeling them? What
is an engagement to dine then, or an enforced call? and consider the
dark cloud of having to go every year, _en famille_, to the seaside,
that hangs over the civilised married wretch! Surely the certainty of
things like these is worse than only the risk of a witchcraft exposure,
a thing which, when it occurs amongst savages (and it was the same with
ourselves) is often, if not generally, deserved--for evidence of which I
would refer to Miss Kingsley.[12]

[Footnote 12: _West African Studies_, pp. 157-68.]

Then take travelling. It is referred to by Lord Avebury as one great
source of pleasure which civilised people enjoy, but which savages do
not. He should have restricted the proposition to civilised women. No
word more terrible in the ears of a husband than "Paris" on the lips of a
wife. What worry, what anxiety, fear of adventurers, horror of waiters,
hatred of hotels--what misery, in short, of almost every degree and kind,
do not men go through who have to travel with their families! How they
would all stay at home if they only could, and how glad they are--but
this is a set-off--when they get back! As a real fact--and every one must
really know it--a very great number of so-called civilised pleasures are
much more in the nature of pains--and acute ones--to those who are most
truly civilised. The joys of the savage, however, are real joys.

But comparisons of this sort are of little value, since they can only
be drawn by those who belong to one of the two states, and not to both
of them, and who, therefore, besides their prejudices, and that their
wish is generally father to their thought, are of necessity unable to
feel, or even to imagine, much of what is felt by members of the opposite
one. Practically, of course, it is always the civilised man who passes
judgment, and in doing so he often adds cant and insincerity to the
disabilities under which he labours. For whilst insisting to the utmost
on all the pleasures--many of them empty and artificial--which belong
to and represent the civilised state, he says little or nothing about
certain elementary, and, therefore, very real ones, which savages enjoy
much more unrestrainedly than do we. Very fair, very impartial, truly,
when the question is not which is the more advanced man, but which is
the happier man. We have much the same sort of thing in the case of
comparisons made by Christian divines and historians as between paganism
and Christianity--their relative degree of truth, merit, influence in
a right direction, etc.; judgment, of course, being always given in
favour--generally immensely in favour--of the latter. Seeing that the
pagans are all dead and cannot answer any point made against them, I
wonder these complacent bestowers of unqualified approval on themselves
are not ashamed to bluster so, where they have it all their own way.
When I read one of these prejudiced panegyrics, affecting the form and
manner of impartiality, I always seem to see a picture of some reverend
old learned priest of Jupiter or Apollo, who, in similar pompous periods,
and with the very same tones and gestures which one can imagine in the
Christian author, goes over the same ground, and, with the same show of
absolute fairness, settles everything precisely the opposite way.

As I have slidden out of a consideration of the relative happiness
enjoyed by man and the lower animals into a similar appraisement as
between the civilised man and the savage, I will just express my opinion
(at this moment) that wherever the latter has the advantage over the
former, the animal _a fortiori_ has it still more. Amongst animals,
moreover, there is not the same inequality of pleasure, as between the
sexes, that there is, or is thought to be, amongst savages. But this is
enough of _la haute philosophie_.

How snug it is, now, whilst I write this by the red fire in the little
sentry-box, on the great lonely ness that the wind howls over, whose
head-gear are the wreathing mists, and whose skirtings the sea and the
sea-birds! There is no one within near three miles, and I myself am
alone. On the "great lonely veldt," as city journalists like to call it,
you have your boys, the fires, and the oxen sitting by the waggon-chain,
and chewing the cud--a picturesque, a romantic and interesting scene, but
not a lonely one. Here it is real aloneness--yet I wish I had not to say,
with Scipio, that "I am never less alone than when alone." True solitude
should imply no fleas.

During the time that this large bottle-nosed seal was away, a small
common one--the same that lies on the rock in this sea-pool every day
from before it is uncovered to the flowing in of the tide--came and
disported himself--as usual I had said, but it was not quite the same.
He first began to dive and reappear, at regular intervals, as does the
great one, and I soon found that he was behaving like him in all things,
even to the standing on end in the water, like a peg-top, with his nose
straight up in the air. As his body, however, is not so bladdery, and
his nose not so extraordinary, he did not present so strange an aspect.
He differed, moreover, in the length of his immersions, which was not
more than five or six minutes, whilst those of the other one--the great,
portly bottle-nose--were as under, viz., from 12.6 to 12.15; from 12.16½
to 12.26; from 12.27 to 12.36½; from 12.37½ to 12.48; from 4.26 to 4.39;
from 4.40 to 4.54½; from 4.55½ to 5.7¾; from 5.9½ to 5.23; from 5.24½
to 5.37½; from 5.38½ to 5.51; from 5.52½ to 6.4¼; from 6.5½ to 6.18¾.
Thus only three out of a dozen of his subaqueous excursions was for
less than ten minutes, the shortest one being for nine minutes and the
longest for fourteen minutes and a half. His stays above water were of
even more uniform duration, varying between a minute and a minute and a
half, except in one instance where he stayed a minute and three quarters.
An animal of regular habits, by my fay! No doubt the great bottle-nose
can stay down longer on occasions if he wishes it, but as this is his
usual period, it must, I suppose, be what he finds most comfortable; and
the same should apply to every other kind of seal. The nostrils of this
larger one have the appearance of being more highly developed than in the
common species, and this may have something to do with his more prolonged
submersions, if I may take what I have seen in these two individuals as
typical of their respective communities.

Returning now to the common seal, what distinguished him this afternoon
from the bottle-nosed one was that, after he had come up and gone down
again several times, he at last remained floating for half an hour or
more in this perpendicular fashion, his head for the most part straight
up in the air, whilst at intervals he would open his mouth widely,
and keep it so for some seconds at a time, then shutting and again
opening it, as though he had some special object in so doing, though
I can form no conjecture as to what it was. The inside of his mouth
being--especially the parts farthest down--of a deep and bright red,
contrasted most vividly with the cold grey of the water and the general
colourlessness of this northern scene. The grass must be excepted from
this picture; but though bright enough if looked at by itself, it is
unable to overpower the general effect imparted by sky, by sea, by naked
rock and precipice. After a considerable time spent in this curious
performance, the seal at last desists and swims to his rock, now but
thinly covered by the waves. He circumnavigates it, hangs about it
affectionately, lies upon it in the wash of the waves, swims away again,
returns, and now, it being just possible to do so, reclines in earnest,
adjusting himself to his greater satisfaction as the tide recedes.

But it is not only on the rocks that seals lie sleeping. They do so
also--as one is doing now--in the sea itself, rising and sinking with
the heave and subsidence of the wave, advancing and retiring with its
flux and reflux without exhibiting any kind of independent motion--less,
indeed, than they indulged in, in basking on the rocks; for they do not,
whilst thus floating, seem so inclined to scratch or kick or stretch the
legs, or go through any other of their various quaint, uncouth actions.
The eyes are shut, but they open at long, lazy intervals. They float,
or rather drift, thus, mostly belly downwards, but will roll to either
side or even round on to the back, not lying horizontally, however, but
aslant, with all except their head, or rather face, sunk down in the
water, just like a sack of something, quite enough asleep to seem dead;
in fact, as much as possible they make the sea a rock. Delicious they
look, thus idly swayed about with the play of the waves--drawn this way
and that, sucked down and then back again; mixed up with a tangle of
seaweed. An amateur watcher of seals feels inclined to wonder what they
ever do except sleep, or try to sleep. Great sleepers they certainly
seem to be, and this is the daytime. Are they, then, nocturnal? The
carnivorous land animals from whom they are descended probably were so.



CHAPTER XXX

INTERSEXUAL SELECTION


In all the birds which I have enumerated as having a bright or pleasingly
coloured mouth cavity, acquired, as I believe, through the agency of
sexual selection, the sexes are alike, both in regard to this special
feature, and also in their plumage and general appearance. They are
alike also in their habit of opening and shutting the bill, as it were,
at one another, and in their other nuptial actions or antics. The first
of these two identities involves no difficulty. In many birds of bright
plumage the female is as gaudy, or almost as gaudy, as the male, and
it is then assumed (by those, at least, who follow Darwin) that each
successive variation in the hue and markings of the latter has, by the
laws of inheritance, been transmitted in an equal or only slightly less
degree to the former. As far, therefore, as the particular kind of beauty
which I am here considering is, in itself, concerned, the arguments
for or against its acquirement by the male, through the choice of the
female, are the same as in regard to that of any other kind, nor do they
extend any farther; but in the display of it by the female as well as
by the male a fresh element enters into the problem, as it does also
in the case of any other nuptial display common to the two sexes. The
brilliant mouth cavity can, of course, only be exhibited by the opening
of the bill, and in doing this--in the particular way, and with the
accompaniments described in each case--both sexes act alike. In other
words, if there is really a conscious display in the matter then each sex
displays to the other. What conclusion are we to draw from this? Either,
as it appears to me, we must assume that both the male and female equally
strive to please one another, or that, while the actions of the male mean
something, those of the female mean nothing, or nothing in particular,
having been transmitted to her, through him, by those same laws of
inheritance which have given her, in these and other cases, his own
ornamental plumage, and not in accordance with any principle by virtue of
which she has been rendered more and more attractive to him. For, except
in some special cases where the female is larger and handsomer than the
male, the Darwinian theory does not suppose that the hen bird has been
modified to please the taste of the cock, whose eagerness, it is assumed,
has made this quite unnecessary.

But any uniformly repeated action is a habit, and habits must bear a
relation to the psychology of the being practising them, from which it
would seem to follow that whatever be the mental state of the male bird
through whom any habit has been transmitted to the female, such mental
state, being the cause of such habit, must have been transmitted to her
along with it. To suppose, however, that the female acts in a certain
way in order to please the male, but that since she has not learnt to
do so under the true laws of sexual selection, but has acquired her
character incidentally, merely, by transmission from the male, and that,
therefore, her conduct has no effect upon the male, since it has not been
brought about in relation to his disposition, which is so eager as to
make it indifferent to him what hen he gets, as long as he gets one--to
suppose all this is--well, for me it is very difficult. The plain common
sense of the thing seems to be that if the female displays her charms
to the male in the same way that he displays his to her, she must do
it for the same purpose, and is no more likely to be wasting labour,
or expending it unnecessarily, than is he. If we do not give the same
value to actions identical in either sex--if we will not allow "sauce
for the _gander_" to be "sauce for the _goose_"--we become involved,
as it appears to me, in inextricable confusion; and, moreover, can it
be supposed that a habit which bore no fruit would remain fixed, or
be governed by times and seasons, even if it did not cease on account
of its inutility? Assuming, then, as I feel bound to assume, that the
languishing actions of two fulmar petrels when sitting together on a
ledge, or the throwing up of the head and opening the bill at each
other of a pair of shags, each during the breeding season, are equally
pleasing to one sex as to the other, may we not, or are we not rather
compelled to think that such special adornments as we admit in the male
to have been acquired through the agency of sexual selection (whether
we include amongst these the bright colouring of the mouth or not), have
been acquired by the female also in the same way--that there has been, in
fact, a double process of sexual selection instead of a single one only;
that the male, as well as the female, has been capable of exercising
choice?

Great stress has been laid upon the eagerness of the male, as contrasted
with the coyness of the female, in courtship, throughout nature; but were
the latter to possess some eagerness also, her share of it need not be
so great as the male's, so that we should not, by supposing her to, be
contravening this principle: she might even fly, or seem to fly, from
his pursuit. How, then, might her own ardour become valid to the extent
of influencing the choice of the cock? As it appears to me, this might
be brought about through the jealousy inspired in one hen bird by the
sight of attentions paid to another. She, the jealous one, might have
behaved coyly had the same, or another, male wooed her, but her feelings
become inflamed and her modesty is lost when she sees that which, for all
her seeming, she would have wished for herself, bestowed upon another.
She interposes, let us say, at first, by attacking the favoured female,
but if this one is as strong and as determined as herself, there will
be now a series of indecisive combats, of which the cock will be the
spectator; and why should not these combats be varied with displays, or
something of that nature, on the part of either combatant, with the view
of attracting him? If so, the cock who has previously, we will suppose,
been chosen for his good looks, becomes in his turn--for how, under such
circumstances, can he help it?--the chooser between those of others; and
thus there will be a double process of selection carried on between the
two sexes.

But may we not go a step farther in our suppositions?--for which, as
I believe, there is a considerable body of evidence, in spite of the
frequent great difficulty and consequent absence of proper observation.
The theory of sexual selection is based upon the assumption that
choice is exercised by the female, and this exercise of choice must go
hand-in-hand with a corresponding development of the critical faculty in
regard to the comparative merits of different males, which again would
involve a power of taking a liking, or a dislike, to any one of them. How
are we to reconcile all this with that quiescent, waiting-to-be-spoken-to
frame of mind which we assume to be that of the hen bird in regard to the
cock, during the season of courtship? A decided preference should show
itself in actions. Why should she never exercise her critical faculty
except as between such males as are rivals for her favour? If, for
instance, she is courted by two or more males, why should she not declare
in favour of a third or fourth that is either indifferent or courting
another hen, on the ground of his superior beauty alone?

Why, in fact, should it not be with birds as it is with men and women?
Women, to casual observation, seem at least as coy and modest as do
hen birds, in whom, however, there can be no _idea_ of modesty. They
are supposed to be wooed, and not to woo; but they both can, and, to
a considerable extent, do exercise the latter power. If they cannot
ask, they can demand to be asked; and to think that the latter is a
less powerful agency than the former is to think very naively. If women
were not often, in reality, very active wooers, such common expressions
as "setting her cap at him," "drawing him on," "throwing herself at
his head," etc., etc., could hardly have arisen, and it must not be
forgotten that the same thing can be done both coarsely and refinedly,
visibly and so as to be hardly perceptible. No doubt there is something
called modesty amongst civilised women, but there are also jealousy and
prudential considerations--very powerful solvents of anything of the
sort. Yet with all this we have the prevailing idea that (even in a
civilised state of things) it is man who woos and woman who is won; man
who advances and woman who retires; man who seeks and woman who shuns.
The reason probably is that the actions of man are of a more downright
nature, and easier to observe and follow, than those of woman--who, as
a clever writer has remarked, approaches her object obliquely--and,
secondly, that it is man mostly, and not woman, who has given his opinion
on this and other matters through the most authoritative channels--for
it is man who, by virtue of his intellect and his selfishness, holds the
chief places of authority.

May not these factors have affected in some degree, also, our
conclusions in regard to the lower animals? Here, too, the actions of the
female may be often more subtle and difficult to follow than those of the
male, though in many cases, as I believe, they are seen plainly enough,
but, for a reason shortly to be mentioned, attributed to the male. Yet
in the case of birds, at any rate, it is very noticeable in some species
that the females, after the couples have once paired off, are extremely
eager in their enticements of the males to hymeneal pleasures, and it
seems difficult to reconcile this eagerness after marriage with any very
real coldness before it--especially as the supposed coy sweetheart of
one spring has been the forward wife of the spring before. But there is
another point, in this connection, which it is of the utmost importance
for us to bear in mind. Birds in which, if in any, we might expect
to find the courting actions alike or similar in the male and female
(and this would imply an active wooing on the part of each) are of two
classes--viz. (1) those in which the sexes are alike or nearly so, and
(2) those in which, though they may differ conspicuously, the one is
as handsome, or nearly as handsome, as the other. In the first case,
the colours of the hen must either be due to the selective agency of
the cock, or they must have been transmitted to her through the latter
(as being prepotent), in which case they can have no significance as
far as the theory of sexual selection is concerned--two possibilities
which equally require proving. In the second case--but examples of
this nature are not, I believe, numerous--a double process of sexual
selection seems the only available explanation. Only when the female
is plain and unadorned, and the male gaudy, does it seem _primâ facie_
evident that the latter, alone, has been selected for his beauty. But
it is just this last class of cases that has attracted the largest
amount of notice, for, as might have been expected, it is precisely
here that we find the males--often the most ornate of birds--indulging
in the most extraordinary antics, which, of course, arrest attention.
In observing these birds, however, the sexes are at once, and without
difficulty, distinguished, and as the females do not share in such
antics, we _assume_, when we see similar ones on the part of birds, the
sexes of which are indistinguishable, that here, also, the same law
holds good, though there is by no means the same presumption that this
should be the case. Confronted with a certain effect, which implies a
corresponding causal process, in one case, we assume this same process
in another, though we cannot there see the effect. We see, for instance,
one stock-dove manifestly court another, and at once assume that the
courting bird is the male. The courtship, as is often the case, ends in
a pretty severe battle, where blows with the wing are given and received
on either side. We may be surprised to see the female so belligerent, but
we do not yet doubt the fact of her being the female. The courting bird
is, at last, repelled, and a fight of much the same description takes
place between him and another stock-dove. This one might just as well be
a female as the first, but in the midst of the strife both birds bow,
several times, according to their custom, and we then feel sure that
both are males. Meanwhile, however, our assured female, who has been
left where she was, is seen to bow to another bird who has alighted near
her, upon which we change our minds, conclude that she is a male after
all, and that what we, at first, thought to be courtship, was only a
fight between two cocks. And thus we go on, correcting and correcting
our opinion--until in a gathering of perhaps a dozen or more stock-doves
there would seem to be no female at all--because if they were pheasants
or blackcocks the hens would not behave in this way. Again, when one
first sees a shag throw itself down before another one, and go through
a variety of strange gestures to which the latter makes no response--if
not by a caress of the bill--it is impossible not to feel sure that the
bird thus acting is the male shag, and the other the female. But when
one afterwards sees two birds at the nest--male and female beyond a
doubt--mutually or alternately performing some portion of these antics,
though without the primary prostration,[13] what is one to think then? In
such cases as these, where the sexes are not to be distinguished except
by dissection, or having the bird in one's hands, we cannot be sure that
it is always the male we see displaying to the female, and never the
female to the male. I believe, however, that we have tacitly assumed this
to be the case.

[Footnote 13: I instance only what I have actually seen, and go no
farther.]

An incident which I have recorded elsewhere seems to me to bear upon the
foregoing remarks.[14] Here a stone-curlew that had been sitting quietly
for some time rose and uttered some shrill cries, in obedience to which
another came running up, and after the two, standing close together, had
each assumed a remarkable and precisely similar posture, the nuptial rite
was performed. Were it not that, even by the witnessing of this last, it
is not always possible to differentiate the sexes of birds, I could say
with certainty that it was the female stone-curlew, in this instance,
that called up the male; but the very striking attitude which the birds
assumed, and which, if it was not a sexual display, it is difficult to
know what to call it, was identical in both. Again, in the case of a pair
of crested grebes that I watched during two successive springs everything
(and there was once something very striking) in the nature of an antic or
display was indulged in equally by the male and female. Peewits, also,
behave during the nuptial season in a very marked manner, both whilst
flying and upon the ground, and as far as I can make out--though I will
not here speak with certainty--the conduct of both sexes is the same
throughout.

[Footnote 14: _Bird Watching_, pp. 18-19.]

The nuptial cries or notes of birds are a chief way in which the one sex,
on the theory of sexual selection, endeavours to render itself pleasing
to the other. When these charm our own ears to an extent which we think
deserving of the name of song, it is usually the male alone that utters
them, those uttered by the female not rising to the height of such a
definition. To how great an extent this law prevails I have not the
knowledge to say, but it is not universal. The female canary, robin,
lark, and bullfinch all sing, especially when widowed, though their
song is not equal to that of the male, whilst in the red oven-bird of
Argentina both sexes frequently join one another for the express purpose
of singing a duet. Surely in this last case, especially, if it be assumed
that the song of the male is uttered with the purpose of pleasing the
female, or has that effect, the converse ought also to be assumed: and if
so, why should not the hens, as well as the cocks, be sometimes chosen
for their song?

But all nuptial notes of birds are equally song, in the sense that they
are uttered under the impulse of sexual passion, and many of these
are the same in both the sexes. Here, again, there is a danger of
assuming, without sufficient evidence, that the characteristic courting
or love-note is uttered only by the male. A mistake of this kind has
been made in the case of the nightjar--both sexes of which I have heard
"churr" together on the nest--and no doubt in many other instances,
including, very possibly, the cuckoo. In a vast number of cases, however,
the cries of the two sexes during the love-season are known to be
the same. They may not always, when this is the case, be either very
wonderful or very beautiful, but to suppose that the nuptial actions and
notes of male birds are intended to attract and charm the female only
when they are of a very pronounced and extraordinary character, or very
musical, would not be logical. They must be always directed to this end,
if at all, and if the females indulge in the same gestures and utter the
same sounds, their motive in doing so, and the effect produced by their
doing it, should be the same, but directed towards, and acting upon, the
male.

Why, then, should the male not exercise some choice, especially should
there be, in addition, jealousy and competition amongst the females?
As to this, it is not easy to imagine a desire on the part of one sex
to please the other, unattended with jealousy, nor can jealousy exist
without competition. We are not, however, confined to likelihood, for
it is certain that the hen bird does sometimes court the cock and fight
for him with rival hens, even in those cases where the cock alone is
beautiful. In support of this I will quote some cases long ago brought
forward by Darwin, though not as pointing in the direction in which
they seem to me to point. Darwin, then, in his magnificent work, _The
Descent of Man_--now, as it appears to me, little read and much required
to be--writes as follows: "Mr. Hewitt states that a wild duck, reared
in captivity, after breeding a couple of seasons with her own mallard,
at once shook him off on my placing a male pintail on the water. It was
evidently a case of love at first sight, for she swam about the new-comer
caressingly, though he appeared evidently alarmed and averse to her
overtures of affection. From that hour she forgot her old partner.
Winter passed by, and the next spring the pintail seemed to have become a
convert to her blandishments, for they nested and produced seven or eight
young ones" (p. 415). (Here, then, we have a male as coy as a female,
who is wooed and ultimately won.) Again: "With one of the vultures
(_Cathartes aura_) of the United States, parties of eight, ten, or more
males and females assemble on fallen logs, exhibiting the strongest
desire to please mutually" (p. 418). (Audubon, I think, is here quoted.)
Again: "On the other hand, Mr. Harrison Weir has himself observed, and
has heard from several breeders, that a female pigeon will occasionally
take a strong fancy for a particular male, and will desert her own mate
for him. Some females, according to another experienced observer, Riedel,
are of a profligate disposition, and prefer almost any stranger to their
own mate" (pp. 418-419). I myself had once a pigeon of this feather, and
so marked was her personality, and really and strangely profligate her
acts, that I have never forgotten her. Again we have: "'Sir R. Heron
states that the hens have frequently great preference to a particular
peacock. They were all so fond of an old pied cock that one year, when
he was confined, though still in view, they were constantly assembled
close to the trellis-walls of his prison, and would not suffer a japaned
peacock to touch them. On his being let out in the autumn, the oldest of
the hens instantly courted him, and was successful in her courtship. The
next year he was shut up in a stable, and then the hens all courted his
rival.' Female birds not only exert a choice, but in some few cases they
court the male and even fight together for his possession. (I, however,
would demur to the word "few" and ask how much we really know about it.)
Sir R. Heron states that with pea-fowl the first advances are always
made by the female; something of the same kind takes place, according to
Audubon, with the older females of the wild turkey. With the capercailzie
the females flit round the male whilst he is parading at one of the
places of assemblage, and solicit his attention" (pp. 418-419). What is
this if not a double courtship? And the male capercailzie, if I remember
rightly, is capricious in his selection of the hens. Again: "Mr. Bartlett
believes that the _lophophorus_, like many other gallinaceous birds, is
naturally polygamous, but two females cannot be placed in the same cage
with a male, as they fight so much together" (p. 420). Finally we have
this: "The following instance of rivalry is more surprising as it relates
to bullfinches, which usually pair for life. Mr. Jenner Weir introduced
a dull-coloured and ugly female into his aviary, and she immediately
attacked another mated female so unmercifully that the latter had to
be separated. The new female did all the courtship, and was at last
successful, for she paired with the male; but after a time she met with a
just retribution, for, ceasing to be pugnacious, she was replaced by the
old female, and the male then deserted his new and returned to his old
love" (p. 420).

How ill do such facts as the above accord with the theory that the male
bird is too eager to exercise choice in regard to the female. Darwin also
(p. 420) adduces evidence to show that the domestic cock _prefers_ the
younger to the older hens; that the male pheasant, when hybridised with
the fowl, has the opposite taste, "is most capricious in his attachments,
and, from some inexplicable cause, shows the most determined aversion
to certain hens"; that some hens are quite unattractive, even to the
males of their own species; and that, with the long-tailed duck, certain
females are much more courted than the rest, of which last state of
things I have, if I mistake not, seen a hint with the eider-duck. Again,
then, what becomes of the supposed indiscriminate eagerness of the male?
Has not this theory been accepted too unreservedly, and on a too slender
foundation of evidence?

It is significant that most of the above-quoted observations were made
on birds in confinement, or under domestication, in which states, of
course, they are very much easier to watch. Of the intimate domestic
habits of birds--that is to say, of most birds--in a wild state, we know,
I believe, very little, and have assumed very much. I might give here two
cases--I have elsewhere given some instances--of what appeared to me to
be violent rivalry on the part of hen blackbirds; but I refer again to
what I have noticed in regard to the nuptial habits of those sea-birds,
the bright interior colouring of whose mouths I have drawn attention to,
and endeavoured to account for.

To recapitulate. As the theory of sexual selection supposes that the one
sex has been adorned and made beautiful in accordance with the taste
and choice of the opposite one during the love season, we might expect
that amongst those birds where the males are beautiful and the females
plain, the more active part in courtship would be taken by the former;
for this is the very road along which such beauty must have been gained.
On the other hand, if the females had been equally ardent they would have
arrived, by the same road, at the same, or a similar, goal. Therefore, in
the above cases we ought to be prepared to find what we do find. But when
the sexes, whether beautiful or not, resemble one another, there is not
the same reason for supposing that the male alone actively courts, and
since, in such cases, it is very difficult to tell by actual observation
whether this is so, or not, we really know very little about the matter.
Instead of knowing, we assume, and of two birds, either of which may be,
as far as outward appearance goes, either the male or the female, that
one which we see pursuing or paying court to the other is always the
male in our eyes. Yet even amongst those species where the male alone
is adorned, courting on the part of the female is by no means unknown,
and rival hens sometimes fight for the cock. How much more, therefore,
is this likely to be the case where the sexes are alike, and where,
consequently, as already explained, there is not the same _primâ facie_
probability of one only (the male) having been selected!

The fact that both the male and female of various birds of this class
utter the same cries, and indulge in the same antics, during the nuptial
season, is some evidence that either sex tries to please--_i.e._
courts--the other; for similar actions and utterances must be taken as
implying a similar psychology--they are not like colours or markings--and
we cannot, therefore, conceive of them as being merely transmitted, by
the laws of inheritance, through the male to the female, and having a
mental significance only in the case of the former, or conversely. A
bad constitution--the result of intemperance--might descend through the
father to the temperate daughter; but if the habit of drinking be also
inherited, so must the flaw in the character, of which it is the outcome.

If we admit that certain antics (or cries) common to both sexes of
certain birds, have had a like origin in the case of either, then, if by
such common actions some common beauty is displayed, it is unreasonable
to think that this has been acquired through the action of sexual
selection in the case of the one sex (the male) and not in the case of
the other (the female), for where the psychology and actions are the
same, the laws governing them must be the same, and their effects the
same.

The above considerations, enforced as they have been by much that I have
myself observed, make me doubt whether the view that where any species
of bird has come under the influence of sexual selection, it is the one
sex only--almost always the male--that has been modified by its action,
is a correct one. It seems to me more probable that where the sexes are
alike, or where they differ markedly, and are both handsome, each of
them has acquired such beauty as it possesses in accordance with the
taste and choice of the opposite one. Darwin, though he did not consider
this probable, yet recognised its possibility, as the following passage
will show: "It may be suggested that in some cases a double process of
selection has been carried on: that the males have selected the more
attractive females, and the latter the more attractive males. This
process, however, though it might lead to the modification of both sexes,
would not make the one sex different from the other, unless, indeed,
their tastes for the beautiful differed; but this is a supposition too
improbable to be worth considering in the case of any animal excepting
man. There are, however, many animals in which the sexes resemble each
other, both being furnished with the same ornaments, which analogy would
lead us to attribute to the agency of sexual selection. In such cases
it may be suggested with more plausibility that there has been a double
or mutual process of sexual selection, the more vigorous and precocious
females selecting the more attractive and vigorous males, the latter
rejecting all except the more attractive females. But from what we know
of the habits of animals this view is hardly probable, for the male is
generally eager to pair with any female. It is more probable that the
ornaments common to both sexes were acquired by one sex, generally the
male, and then transmitted to the offspring of both sexes."[15]

[Footnote 15: _Descent of Man_, pp. 225-226.]

I have given my reasons for doubting whether this last hypothesis
really is more probable than the other one of a double process of
sexual selection--at any rate as far as birds are concerned: and I
suggest that, in their case, the whole question of the relations of the
sexes to one another should be reconsidered after much more careful
observation, especially in regard to those species where the male and
female are alike, or where they differ markedly, and are both handsome.
As to the possibility of the taste for the beautiful differing in the
two sexes of any bird or animal, I cannot see why this should not
sometimes be the case. One sex is attracted only by the beauty of the
opposite one, so that if, owing to slight constitutional differences
between them, the variations which occurred in the one were somewhat
different to those which occurred in the other (which hardly seems very
unlikely), these might be selected and "added up"--to use Darwin's
expression--along two gradually diverging lines, and this would lead,
insensibly and necessarily, to divergence of taste as between the male
and the female. The law is for the one sex to admire what it gets in the
other. Therefore, supposing individual differences in both, and a choice
in regard to them on the opposite side, taste, in each case, must be
guided by the variations offered for it to work upon; and though the
final result of this, if such variations were affected by sex, might
appear very surprising, there would be nothing remarkable in the process
by which it had been arrived at. Must not, in fact, a difference of taste
as between the two sexes--and that often a very decided one--in any case
exist? For the male bird of paradise, let us say, is attracted by the
dull hen, whilst she, presumably, admires only the resplendent cock.
Beauty is only a relative term, and even the plainest bird possesses a
good deal of it. We may, of course, say that it is only the hen bird, in
such cases, which can be said to admire, but it would be difficult, I
think, to defend this view. Both are sexually excited, and the eye is a
channel for both.

These, then, are my arguments in favour of a process of _intersexual_
selection in nature, and I think that those men, at any rate, who grant
taste and choice to female animals, should be prepared to grant it, also,
to their own sex, though the thinking woman, perhaps, may be expected to
take another view. But, of course, I know that there are still numbers
of people who do not accept the theory--or, as I would prefer to call
it, the fact--of sexual selection at all, even in its narrower scope. I
believe, however, that the chariness and hesitation which has been shown
in adopting the latter of Darwin's two great principles, is a survival
of that attitude of mind which caused such opposition to his whole
teaching. Man's body is one thing, but his mind--especially all those
supposed high things in it which we call, together, spirituality--is
quite another. It offends our human pride to think that animals should
woo and marry very much as we--when the better part of our nature is
not in a strait-jacket--do ourselves. Therefore, there must be no
preferences, no love-matches _here_, all must be in obedience to a blind
sexual instinct--something very animal--about which we, of course, with
our rings and our ceremonies, our novels, sonnets, spiritual affinities,
and prudential considerations, know nothing. Unlike ourselves, the female
brute must be ready to mate with any male brute that chance may throw
in her way, and if it throw several, she must be absolutely impartial
between them, there being neither looks, soul, nor money for her to found
a choice on. Therefore she will go to the strongest, and ask no better,
for love she knows not, nor can parental authority and filial obedience
combine here to give the preference to riches or title, coupled with age
or disease. Only by her complete passivity could the female brute be
properly differentiated from the human female, and this she must be, or
man (the worst brute that the world has yet seen or is ever likely to
see) would lose his pre-eminence.

But do no difficulties attend this theory of entire impartiality on the
part of the hen bird (for we will keep now to birds) in respect to the
cock, during the pairing season? That she is sexually excited by him--as
a male, at least, if not as an individual male--we would surely have to
conclude, even in the absence of direct evidence, for how otherwise
could the breeding be accomplished? Then what a most extraordinary thing
it would be if she were excited in precisely the same degree--not one
jot or tittle more or less--by any one male as by any other! Whatever
the nature of that sexual appeal may be which every cock makes to every
hen, and by virtue of which she feels that he _is_ a cock, and not a
hen like herself, why should we suppose that any two individuals should
be more exactly alike in it than they are in anything else? But if
there is not this absolute unity, then there is difference, and such
difference in the degree of the sexual charm flung out by each male,
_must_ produce preference and choice in the female. The whole theory
of evolution is based upon the undisputed and indisputable fact of
individual variability; nor is there any one thing or quality, bodily
or mental--amongst the higher animals at least--that does not vary
largely in the different individuals possessing it. As it appears to
me, therefore, choice in the one sex with regard to the other is what
might have been, on _a priori_ considerations, expected; though I can
well understand that, as amongst ourselves, it would often be held in
abeyance, or nullified, by the operation of higher--that is to say, more
inexorable--laws, and also that its manifestations would often be too
subtle and hidden for us to follow them. But we first, in deference to
our human prejudices, assume something which is improbable in itself, and
then obstinately resist a mass of the most striking evidence which shows
our assumption to be wrong. In all intellectual and spiritual qualities,
man, by the laws of evolution, may have greatly outdistanced his fellow
animals; but it should never be forgotten that in judging of how far
this has been the case, we--and there is no other court--are the most
partial and prejudiced judges--dishonest, blinded, full of assumptions,
delighting to deceive ourselves, and miserably vain.

If female birds are really so apathetic and male ones so equally
satisfied with any partner they can get, it seems difficult to see on
what principle the two, when paired, remain constant to one another
during the nesting season, and still more, perhaps, why numbers of birds
pair for life. Such a state of things ought, one would think, to lead to
promiscuous intercourse. But if birds mate by preference and elective
affinity, such constancy is what one might expect. What we want, however,
to settle this and all other questions relating to the habits of animals
is long, close, hard, exhaustive observation--_real_ observation as
distinct from mere _writing_, and even from good literature. There is
wofully little of this, in my opinion, and none the less so because an
impression exists that there is a great deal.



CHAPTER XXXI

AN ALL-DAY SITTING


Another all-day sitting with the seals. From the edge of the cliffs in
the morning, and in the same pool by which I had sat all yesterday, I
saw a creature which I at first thought was a seal of the common kind,
then--for it began to look larger--that it was the bottle-nosed one, but
which soon proved to be neither the one nor the other. In size it looked
equal to Bottle-nose, if not even larger, but it had a magnificent skin,
the whole of the undersurface, as well as the sides, being blotched and
spotted black and white, like a leopard's or jaguar's, except that the
markings are larger. In heaven's name, now, what creature is this? Can it
be the sea-leopard that I have often read about, but of whose habitat,
etc., I know nothing till I can look it up again?--the state of many a
naturalist in regard to many a species, sometimes, perhaps, but shortly
before he writes a treatise upon it. Upon coming down, now, and watching
it closely, I see that in shape and general appearance--except for its
wonderful skin--it is very like the bottle-nosed seal. Its body, however,
is not so cylindrical, but bulges out into a greater roundness below the
neck and shoulders, so that its weight may be somewhat greater. Its nose
looks broader, and nearly, if not quite, as long. I think, indeed, it
is the larger animal of the two. I can make these comparisons, for both
are here together now, and they continue for hour after hour to haunt the
pool; but whilst he of the bottle-nose rises always at his long intervals
and soon goes down, the knight of the leopard comes up at as short, or
even shorter ones than the common seal does, and sometimes stays for a
longer time, as witness these twelve successive appearances, with their
corresponding disappearances, which I timed, partly to know, and partly
to feel scientific: from 11.44 to 11.48; from 11.50¼ to 11.53¾; from
11.55 to 12; from 12.1¼ to 12.5½; from 12.7¾ to 12.11; from 12.14 to
12.17¾; from 12.20 to 12.24; from 12.25¾ to 12.30¼; from 12.32 to 12.37½;
from 12.44 to 12.49; from 12.50¾ to 12.55.

Also, though he often pegtops it, he has never yet pointed his nose
straight up into the sky, which my bottle-nosed seal invariably does.
Generally he soon adopts the horizontal attitude, and continues in it
for the rest of the time he is up. When he goes down, he rolls round, as
well as over--by which I mean both like a porpoise and like a barrel--and
then his spotted, or rather blotched, belly makes a splendid mosaic
under the water, for it is not only itself, which were enough of beauty,
but the most lovely glaucous green is flung upon it, through which, all
glorified, the pattern appears. A magnificent sight! "The very phenix!"
Poor Bottle-nose is quite eclipsed.

This great beauty of the skin--which, strange to say, instead of being
invisible was most conspicuously apparent--can only, I think, have been
gained through sexual selection, and its being confined to the belly and
sides may bear some relation to the habits of the animal. Suppose that
this one is the male, then does his leopardess look up at him as he rolls
in blubberly grace and barrel-like symmetry above her, or, since he swims
with equal ease upon his back or belly, has the fair, portly expanse of
the latter made it the principal area of decoration? Does he offer it as
a carpet to her when she goes abroad, saying "Swim upon me," or display
it over her as a banner, crying "Be these thy colours!" or, in swift
circumvolution, does he enmesh and entwine her with it, playing about her
like a stout coruscation, as the two swim together through grots, and
caves, and pebbled halls, and cool groves of golden-brown seaweed? All
this is the secret of the deep; but there is the belly, and it fires the
imagination.

I am now sure that it was this great and glorious sea-leopard, and not
the other large seal, that I first saw lying on the seaweed, and I had
hoped it might have done so again as the tide went out. But I was again
disappointed. As before, little of this deep-growing seaweed was exposed
by the tide, nor did either of the two lie on the rock itself, or on any
other one. Neither did the common seal come this time, whereas, in the
adjoining cove, there was the accustomed complement. This one seems the
haunt _par excellence_ of these two superior creatures, but, very unlike
the common seal, they are always in the water.

I have now satisfied myself that the young guillemot is petted,
sometimes, by birds that are not its parents. The facts are as follows:
having watched the seals till past five, I determined to explore a
little, and walked out along the promontory which forms the opposite
side of this little Shetland fiord, and the end of which, except for the
outlying stacks, must be about the most northern point of that portion
of the British Empire which imperialists care least about--I mean the
British Isles. Here I found some more guillemot and kittiwake ledges, and
on one of these were some half a dozen of the former birds, one being a
young one. The latter was with its parents, on a place which, though it
seemed to project but a hair's breadth, was yet the safest part of the
ledge, which was very narrow and dangerous-looking. Here I left him for a
very short time, to get further down the rocks, but on my return I found
he had left this comparatively secure place and was now right away, on
what, but for a very slight slanting slope, with a giddy projection here
and there, looked like the sheer face of the precipice. No bird was with
it: the chick was evidently in distress, and now, for the first time,
I heard a little sharp note proceeding from it, which really did sound
something like the word "guill," or "guilly." Some feet above where the
chick was, but separated from it by a fearfully steep and dangerous face
of rock, another guillemot sat on a ridge, which it almost covered. The
chick made several efforts to scale this _mauvais pas_, failed as many
times, but at last, with manifest danger to its poor little life, got up
it, and stood by this bird, on the tiny ridge. The latter immediately
stood up also, and bent over it, _jodel_-ing, and cossetting it with its
beak. Here, then, it seemed evident, was one of the parents. But now
there appeared, pressing forward amongst others, on that part of the
cliff where the chick had been, an eye-marked bird who seemed to be much
excited. She made her way along to near the place from which the chick
had scrambled up, and, as one may say, called it down to her, though I
heard no cry, for it followed her back along that fearfully steep and
dangerous place, having now always to climb down instead of up, until, at
last, it was back on the ledge where it had, at first, been sitting, and
which, compared to where it had strayed to, looked almost safe.

[Illustration: A PERILOUS JOURNEY]

Could I give all the details of this fearful journey, it would make
interesting reading, but I sat in rain and wind, and my hands were so
numbed with cold that I found it difficult to use the glasses, and quite
impossible to take notes. All that I can say now--this same evening--is
that once, in getting down to its mother, who waited for it at different
stages, it did actually fall and roll head over heels down the rock.
I thought all was over, but it recovered itself on a tiny projection,
seeming none the worse, and, shortly after, arrived with its mother on
the ledge. Here there were some three or four more birds, and the chick,
as I noticed, now, and several times afterwards, seemed glad to go to any
of them. One it ran up to, and this bird behaved exactly as the first one
had done, _jodel_-ing over it, and caressing it with its bill. Now, if
this last bird was the chick's parent, the one that had a little before
done the same thing, and still sat in the same place on another part of
the rock, could not also be, for that the eyed bird who had fetched it
away must have been either its father or mother, is a thing indubitable,
not only by reason of that one act, but also on account of its general
conduct both before and afterwards. One, therefore, of the two birds
that caressed the chick must have been a stranger to it, but the fact is
that both were, for whilst the last that had done so was still on the
ledge, and but shortly afterwards, in flew a bird from the sea with a
fish in his bill, and fed the chick. Now, I cannot, as far as eyesight
goes, affirm that this bird was not the one that the chick had first
gone to, and by whom it had been kindly received; but that one of a pair
of guillemots should sit for a long time, not only by itself, but far
removed from the chick and the other one, and that afterwards, when the
chick had gone to it, this other one, its own mate, should excitedly
fetch it away, is a thing quite out of accordance with all I have yet
seen of the domestic relations of these birds. It is true that, in this
case, a motive can be imagined for the chick's excursion, but whilst
my later observations have shown me that, as the chick gets older, it
does move about, I have never known it trouble about an absent parent
whilst it had one by it. I have never, that I remember, seen the chick
seek to be fed before one or other of its dams had flown in with a fish,
and I attribute the anxiety which this one showed to reach the bird in
question, to its distress at finding itself in so precarious a situation.
In this, however, I may be wrong, but since it is beyond doubt that one
stranger bird caressed the chick, it is not very essential to prove
that another did. The likelihood is that one would be as willing to as
another, and I did, indeed, notice that all the birds on the ledge to
which the chick was brought back, seemed to take a kindly interest in it,
especially another white-eyed one, which the mother several times drove
away from it--being jealous, as I suppose. The state of affairs appeared
to me to be this, that all the birds had a tender feeling towards the
chick, that the chick, if left to itself, was inclined to go to any one
of them, and that whatever one it did go to was ready to _jodel_ over it,
and caress it. Not having been able to note down every little thing at
the time, I cannot now give the general evidence on which this impression
was founded, but I have recounted the special incidents.

An interesting question arises here--at least it seems interesting to me.
Is the conduct that we have been considering the result of mistake or
confusion on the part of either the grown birds or the chick--or of both
of them--or does it spring from an extension of sympathy in the one, and
of _Kinderliebe_, or cupboard-love, in the other? Personally, I believe
that both of these two latter brain-processes have to do in producing
the result in question, but that the first--a tenderness, namely, on the
part of the old birds--is the preponderating influence. We must remember
that all these childless birds upon the ledges--and when I first came the
ledges were crowded--must have had children with them only a short time
ago. When, therefore, a chick runs suddenly up to them, just as their
own chick used to, I can understand a train of recent memories being so
strongly revived as to cause them to act as they do. I did, in fact, to
my own senses, notice something in the manner of these non-parent birds
thus acting parentally--in a certain degree, that is to say--which was
different to that of the true parents. A certain surprise, I thought,
was exhibited at first, and then the bird seemed to fall into the old
train of things. If, indeed, as I am much inclined to believe, the mere
bringing of a fish to the ledge may raise, for a time, in the mind of the
bird that brings it, the hallucinatory image or impression of a chick
that is not there, it is not wonderful that the actual running up to it
of a chick not its own, should cause it to feel and act as though it were
the true parent.

What, then, has been the origin of sympathy? Even amongst ourselves, to
feel with a person ([Greek: syn pathos]) is to feel very much as though
one were that person, and the effort of reason which assures us to the
contrary might well be beyond the power of an animal. Indeed, when we
think of what all children can _pretend_, and what many grown-up people
believe, we should not expect too much of birds. The guillemot, we will
say, upon seeing a young bird which, by calling up memories, takes the
place of its own, becomes, in imagination, its parent--so that the
sympathy it shows for it is not wider than that between parent and child.
In other cases the feelings aroused in an animal when it sees, let us
say, one of its fellows subjected to suffering or danger which it has
been accustomed, itself, to fear and shun, may relate to itself only,
so that any apparently sympathetic actions arising out of them would be
due to that failure to distinguish between what is in the mind and what
is outside of it (subjective and objective) that has often been remarked
in savages--or, if not remarked, is at least attributed to them. Of
this hypothesis I have given one illustration, and others may be easily
imagined.

Do we become more, or less, sympathetic as we get more civilised? Two
people who think and feel alike are said to be in sympathy, and the more
primitive and uniform the conditions of life are, the more must those who
live together under them think and feel alike. The process of advance
may be a process of the more complete separation and realisation of
one's own distinctive personality, and though reason and self-interest
produce a higher power and degree of combination amongst civilised men
than the state of animals, or the savage state of man, permits of,
yet we must ask ourselves if, where it can and does exist amongst the
latter, it is not of a more spontaneous and vigorous character, and if
there is not more real sympathy attached to it. Where, for instance,
can such perfect combination be found as amongst social insects--bees,
wasps, ants, etc.--the conditions of whose existence are far simpler
and more uniform than ours? And in what deep feelings of sympathy--or,
as we may say, oneness--must blood-feuds have had their origin? If it
is true that the sympathies of some civilised men have become widened
so as to embrace humanity at large, and even the lower animals, is it
not equally true that _all_ civilised men stand more cut off from their
immediate neighbours than do savages, because, owing to an increased
diversity of individual character, consequent upon more diverse and
complex conditions, they less resemble them? If so, though in one sense
man may be said to sympathise more and more as he advances in culture,
in another sense, and perhaps the truer one, he does so less and less;
for as the river has widened it has become less deep, and the current
less strong. Heine makes this same comparison in some interesting remarks
upon the inhabitants of the Isle of Nordeney, which, as they exactly and
felicitously express my meaning, I will here quote, albeit in a clumsy
translation: "What links these men so fastly and inwardly together is not
so much a mystic bond of love, as habit, the daily necessary living in
each other's life, a common shared simplicity. The same spiritual width,
or rather narrowness, issues in the same strivings and longings, whilst
unity of ideas and experience makes mutual sympathy an easy matter. So
they sit cosily by the fire in their little cabins, drawn close together
against the cold, and, as they turn to speak, see their own thoughts
in each other's eyes, read their own words, before they speak them,
on each other's lips. Every life-memory, every life-experience, is a
common possession, and with a tone, a look, a gesture, a silent motion,
as much of joy, sorrow, or reflection is aroused in their bosoms as we
can bring about through long expositions and spluttering declamations.
For we live, in great part, mentally alone. Owing to different lines of
education, to a different choice of reading--often accidentally stumbled
on--difference, rather than sameness, of character has been developed
amongst us. Each one of us, with masked spirit, thinks, feels, and
strives in a lonely atmosphere of his own, and miscomprehensions are
so many, and at-oneness, even in one household, is so rare, and we are
everywhere cramped, everywhere repulsed, and everywhere strangers to each
other."

This is just my idea, and though I had read Heine before I watched
guillemots, I yet believe that my watching them has suggested it to me
quite independently, for the passage quoted never came into my head till
afterwards. Let us not, therefore, be too proud, for though there may,
here and there among us, be a philosopher who feels himself able to
sympathise with, say the Chinese--or a Chinese one with us--yet neither
such philosophers, nor any of us, have that pleasant feeling of almost
_being_ one another which these islanders of Nordeney, or any tribe of
simple-lived savages, or even, perhaps, some social animals, enjoy. So
far from civilisation being altruistic in its tendencies, it appears to
me (just at this moment) that by making the units more and more unlike
each other, it fosters egotism and makes real sympathy harder.

I have as yet only speculated upon the feelings of the grown guillemots
when they _fête_ a chick that is not their own. Those of the chick are, I
think, easier to understand. Its love for its parents is cupboard love;
it is equally ready to be looked after by any other bird, and, if hungry
and not fed, it will apply elsewhere. With what degree of accuracy it
distinguishes its parents from the other birds on the ledge, I have not
yet made up my mind; but I think it much depends upon the efforts of the
parents themselves.

Besides the incidents which I have related, I noticed some other
interesting points. Both the chick and the parents seemed ill at ease.
The former did not seek to go to sleep, nor did the latter offer the
wing. Often it struck me that one of the parents was on the point of
doing something in regard to the chick, and, what was more curious, it
also struck me that the other birds were restless, too, and that they,
too, had designs upon, or, at least, felt an unusual interest in, the
chick. In especial a second white-eyed bird came several times up to it
with an important air, but also with a curious, hesitating action, and
an expression as though in doubt what to do. The other white-eyed one
would then bustle up in much the same way, causing the first to retreat;
but after a little while, the two being exactly alike, I became quite
bewildered, and could not possibly say which was and which was not the
parent--a good evidence, I think, of the similarity of their behaviour.
All this, and many other little things which struck me at the time, but
which I could not then note down, and have now forgotten, convinced
me that the flight from the ledge would not be long delayed. Though
miserably uncomfortable, therefore, I waited and waited, in hopes to see
it; but it grew late, the sun had sunk, and as I had a steep ascent to
make, with some amount of climbing even before I came to it, it would
not do to stay longer. Cliffs like these are not to be ascended in the
dark--at least, not by me. To-morrow I feel quite certain that the birds
will be gone.



CHAPTER XXXII

THREE MURDERERS


Gone they are. The ledges are quite bare--not a bird to be seen
there--nothing but the spray and the wild winds to love them now. It
was what I had expected, had been sure of; but again I felt bitter
disappointment. It is more than disappointment--a sadness and emptiness
of heart at finding these accustomed tenants, that have for days
given life and beauty and domestic happiness to the desolate frowning
precipice, gone, and their known places void. How I miss them! I retract
now what I said before about wild creatures giving no relief to the sense
of solitude. These guillemots did, I believe, and I feel lonelier now
without them. And so, whilst I lay warm under the bedclothes, were you,
you little mite of a guillemot--but stay, I have apostrophised you once
already, and am not going to do it again.

There was rain, mist, and wind extraordinary to-day, but the sea dashed
finely over the rocks. The pool, though a haven, was often seething,
yet I saw Bottle-nose, and, later, a common seal, in it. The latter was
the only one I watched. He came up at intervals of a few minutes only,
and, as on former occasions, always rose perpendicularly in the water,
with his nose pointed to the sky. In this position he remained all
the while he was up--which was never more than a minute--and then sank
without altering it, differing in this last respect from the two larger
seals, which always went down with a porpoise-like roll. His eyes were
shut all the while, even when he went down, but still I supposed that,
once beneath the surface, he was accustomed to swim away and enter upon
some active employment "under the glassy, cool, translucent wave": the
line, indeed--which, by the way, with its exquisite context, is not to
be found in that overpraised pert piece of _ex cathedra_ dictation, The
Golden Treasury--for the gold _non olet_, but out on its many omissions
and at least one vile, prudish mutilation!--hardly suits such a pot-boil
as this haven now is; but it is always untroubled in the deeps. But I
was deceived in this supposition, for once he came sufficiently near
to the great bulk of rock where I was lying for me to see him for some
time before he rose; and, to my surprise, I saw that he was floating
in just the same attitude, and just as quiescently. As he came up his
eyes were fast closed, so that I think he must have been dozing, or
sleeping, like this, under the water, all the while, yet rising--perhaps
automatically--at the requisite intervals. The common seal, if it be
not as nocturnal as the cat tribe, from which it may have descended, is
certainly a very great sleeper.

The eye of the puffin is, by virtue of its setting, almost as marked a
feature as the beak itself. First it is surrounded by a ring of naked
skin, much resembling the feet in colour--of an orange-red, that is to
say--and just within this ring there is a dot at one point of the iris,
and a straight line at the other, both of which are really of a bluish
or slaty hue, but have the appearance of being black. This line and dot
form the base and apex respectively of a sort of little triangle, the
sides of which are formed by a deep depression in the skin, and within it
the eye is framed like a little miniature, and, as is sometimes the case
with pictures, partly encroached upon by the frame, so that its circular
shape is interfered with. The effect of the whole--for all these details
blend together, and can only be distinguished with the glasses--is that
the bird seems to have a triangular eye, and this bizarre appearance is
heightened by another, and much deeper, line, or fold, in the feathers,
which runs back from the base of the triangle till it meets, or tries
to meet, the black feathers of the head and neck, in a little delta
between the two. Hardly less wonderful than the eye are the cheeks--if
one may call them so--those two sharply defined oval surfaces of light,
shining grey, so smooth and polished that they do not suggest feathers at
all, but look much more like little veneered panels of fancy woodwork,
let into a framework of ebony. To all this the beak has been added, to
give full and crowning effect to the idea that governed at the puffin's
making, which was that it should be "as remarkable a figure of a bird as
any in our country," or elsewhere.

I have sometimes wondered if the fish which the puffin catches so deftly,
and then carries home, a dozen at a time, are paralysed at the sight of
it. If a shoal of sand-eels fainted, and lay strewed about the bottom
of the sea, it would then be easy for their enemy to pick them up one
after the other, pack them securely, and get a firm grip on all of them
before they began to revive and wriggle. At least, it ought to be easier;
but how the bird chases and catches each in succession, without losing
those it has already caught, and which lie in a row across its beak, it
is not so easy to see. I have sometimes, I believe, made out a dozen,
at the least--all sand-eels--closely wedged together along the cleft
of the mandibles, their heads and tails hanging down on either side of
the lower one. Perhaps, however, the difficulty is not so great as it
seems to be--of understanding it, of course, I mean; it is no doubt
easy enough for the bird to do. My theory, at any rate, of its _modus
operandi_ is this. The first sand-eel is, no doubt, passed to the base of
the mandibles, and being firmly wedged against the membrane that unites
them, I suppose that they are finally closed upon it. Were they opened
again, at all widely, to catch the next and subsequent ones, there would
be a danger of as many as were already there either escaping by their
own efforts, or being floated out owing to the pressure of the water.
But the beak of the puffin, though broad and leaf-like in its shape,
is sharply tipped, and by opening it but a little, and pressing the
fish against the bottom, the bird could no doubt pinch up the skin so
as to get a secure hold of it. The various little tactile movements of
the mandibles upon the fish, by which the latter would be first grasped
between, and then passed carefully down them, to lie against the one last
caught, can be pretty well imagined, and they could be very effectively
aided by the rubbing or pressing of it, on either side, against the sand,
rocks, stones, etc., of the bottom. It must be remembered, too, that the
mandibles open like a scissors, so as to be wider apart at the tips than
at the base, which would diminish the difficulty; and moreover, each fish
is so deeply indented by the sharp, cutting blades--which, however, do
not seem to pierce the skin--that, although alive--reflecting possibly
on the beauty of maternal affection--they would be likely to "cleave
to their mould" like putty, for a little while after the pressure were
relaxed.

I think that the broad, blade-like bill of the puffin has to do with this
power that the bird possesses of holding many fish at a time, and that
the razorbill, whose beak is of the same type, and who bites the fish
across in just the same way, is in the habit of doing so also. Be this as
it may, the guillemot, whose bill is quite differently shaped, holds the
fish, as a rule, in a different manner, longitudinally, namely, with the
head towards the throat, and the tail drooping over to one side. This is
not invariable; but I have never myself seen a bird bring in more than
one fish at a time. It is the same, I think, with the black guillemot,
at least in this latter respect, but I have seen much less of it than the
other. Unless, however, it be supposed more difficult to catch and hold
many fish than many insects, there is no reason why the puffin should be
singled out for wonder in this respect. The water wagtail, when feeding
its young, fills its bill with insects, which it catches, not only on the
ground, but flying also--a great feat, surely--and the lesser spotted
woodpecker brings a similar assortment to the nesting-tree. I believe
myself that most insect-eating birds do the same whilst feeding their
family, unless when they catch an insect sufficiently large to be a host
in itself.

What a whirr of pinions, and fine wild chase beneath the beetling
precipice, and out to sea! It was the Arctic skua, pursuing, this time,
a black guillemot, no doubt _en route_ for its young. They went so
fast--the skua with the swoop of a peregrine falcon--that I could only
just follow the smaller bird, but I caught its white wing-patches, so am
sure it was not a puffin. Half-way out of the cove the guillemot must
have dropped its fish, for its pursuer descended, and hung hovering over
the water, seemingly embarrassed, and without alighting upon it. This, at
first sight, seems evidence in favour of the theory that the skua, unless
it succeeds in catching the spoil before it touches the sea, will have
nothing to do with it; but as a herring-gull now flew up, and behaved
in the same way, the more legitimate inference is that both birds were
looking for what neither of them could see, and that the fish, being
alive, as it probably would be, had, by a remarkable conjunction of two
lucky accidents, escaped. But, on the other hand, would the herring-gull
have dared to interfere with the skua?--which it would have been doing,
were the latter in the habit of picking up the fish from the water. On
other occasions I have seen the skua fly off as soon as he had missed
his swoop, and I have once seen a herring-gull following the chase,
with a view, as seemed obvious, to such a contingency. This happened on
the island, so that I remember it quite plainly, though, what with one
thing and another, it got crowded out of my notes. I was, however, much
interested at the time, for it pointed to a possibility of a further
and more complex development of these curious parasitic relations; for
why should not gulls become, in time, the constant attendants of such
chases as these, on the off-chance merely of the skua failing to get the
fish that he had forced the bird he was chasing to drop? Here would be a
secondary act of piracy grown out of the first and more direct one.

Herring-gulls--they are much the commonest species here--seem now to feed
a good deal on the floating carcases of young kittiwakes, so I think
it likely that the bird I twice saw doing this before, and took each
time for a grown kittiwake, was really a herring-gull. It was at some
distance, and I jumped to a conclusion without taking the trouble to
verify it. But are these young kittiwakes first killed by the gulls, or
found dead by them merely? As to this I can say nothing, except that I
have not yet seen such an attack made--which is not much.

In the last two or three days I have pretty well demonstrated that
seals, when they lie on the rocks, in company, do not post sentinels.
In descending the cliffs, I have several times alarmed one or more out
of the ten or a dozen that have lain on the great, slanting slab where
they rendezvous; but their retreat, more or less precipitate, has not
induced the others to a like course. Some have looked about a little,
but remained where they were, whilst the greater number have lain in
fancied--and this time real--security. It may be said that the seals
which took to the water need not have been the sentinels, but this is
an _argumentum ad absurdum_, since a sentinel that neither saw danger
itself, nor gave the signal when it saw others in a state of alarm, would
be no good.

For me, therefore, seals do not post sentries, at least not in these
seas, but it does not necessarily follow that they may not do so
in others where they are more persecuted by man, and preyed on by
polar-bears. Whether this has been asserted, or not, I do not know, but
I dare swear it has been, for sportsmen, besides that they draw very
hasty inferences, like to get full credit for their miserable triumphs
over brute intelligence. Take this very matter of sentinel-posting. It
has been lightly made, and far too lightly credited. If you have a herd,
or flock, of animals--say some geese browsing--some _must_ stand on
the outside, which is where _we_ would post sentinels. That is enough
for the sportsman. Such individuals _are_ sentinels, and his skill,
consequently, in outwitting them, something extraordinary. But let him
bring some evidence of this--I mean of the first proposition; as for the
other--the corollary--we will take it for granted, sentinels or not.
No doubt of the man's capabilities. He can set his wit to a goose's,
and shame, or cry quits, with it--but was the goose really so extremely
clever? Was it anything more than a wary, vigilant bird, that a man of
parts might be expected, sometimes, to get the better of? I doubt it
extremely--at any rate, I doubt the sentry-go. When one comes to think
of it, the systematic tailing off of one, or some, particular members of
a band of animals, to warn the others in the event of danger, is a very
high act of collective intelligence; and nothing short of this amounts
to anything. That the first animal who takes alarm should utter a cry,
and thus warn the rest, is a very different matter. These seals did not
even do this, though the ones who saw me, and took to the water, must
have associated my presence with danger. Of this I have now had another
example, for in ascending the cliff, one out of two seals lying close
together on a small rock saw me and went off. The other had not seen me,
but evidently felt uneasy, owing to the haste and abrupt motions of his
companion. Nevertheless, he took some time to make up his mind, and was
on the rock, I should say, about two minutes after the other had left:
whereas, had this latter communicated his alarm to him by any recognised
signal, he would have been in the water almost at the same time. On the
great slab itself ten seals were lying as I began to go up, but one
went off whilst I sat quiet, without observing me. This left nine, and,
of these, two saw me as I scrambled up an exposed ridge, and went off,
whilst the other seven slumbered on.

As far as I can see, therefore, there was no communication of
intelligence between these seals. Each acted for himself, and without
thought of the others. I have noticed the same thing often with birds,
and on the whole I cannot help thinking that, in a loose sort of way,
wild animals are often credited with acting in a more highly organised
manner than they really do, and that a too intelligent interpretation is
often put upon their actions. When, for example, a bird, scenting danger,
flies off, with a cry that warns all the others (though it frequently
does so in silence), it does not follow that it was thinking of those
others, nor can the cry be shown to be a special one until it has been
heard, over and over again, in the same, or similar, circumstances, but
not upon other occasions. Even then it will often be found to be due to
excitement, merely, so that instead of expressing any definite idea, it
but reflects the emotional state of the individual uttering it--it is
the difference between thinking and feeling. The familiar alarm-note,
as it is called, of the blackbird, is an example of this, for I have
often heard the bird utter it when there has been neither fear nor
danger--only excitement. Its organism reacts in this way to a certain
state, which may be caused by a variety of incidents, so that no special,
circumstantially limited meaning can attach, in its mind, to the cry.

I do not say that there are no cries, amongst animals, which have a
certain definite meaning, and no other. Very possibly there are, and one
may, perhaps, perceive the origin of them; for if such cries--at first
general--were, in a large majority of cases, consequent upon a particular
state of things, such state of things would come to be more and more
associated with the cry, though from this to a definite and purposed
signal, given by one and received by many, is a very considerable step.
But the fact--if it really is one--ought to be better made out than
it is. A sportsman has only to talk about the leader, a signal, or
sentinels, in regard to any bird or beast, and no one pauses upon it. It
is accepted as though it had dropped from heaven instead of from the lips
of a man whose main interest lies in killing animals, who is generally
most hasty in drawing inferences about them, and whose belief in their
intelligence pays a compliment to his own.

The minds of some people must be in a strange state about animals, I
think. They will not allow that they have reasoning powers, yet find no
difficulty in crediting them with all sorts of actions, schemes, plans,
and arrangements, that seem to demand a quite human understanding.
Perhaps I, who admit the one, make too much difficulty over the other;
but I like evidence (and plenty of it), and do not take conviction as
proof. More, perhaps, than any other subject, natural history abounds
with statements, the evidence for which there is often no getting at, or,
if one does get at it, it amounts to very little.

Oh, thou villain gull! What have I not just seen thee do? But heroics
are out of place with animals, so I will just recount the incident in a
staid, sober way. As, in my ascent of the cliff, I came over the crest of
a green peak, a herring-gull flew up from the ground with something in
its bill, which, as it mounted aloft, I saw to be a young puffin. It hung
by the nape of the neck from the very tip of the gull's beak, the legs
dangling pitifully down--a pathetic spectacle--though I could not make
out any movement in it, indicating that it was alive. The gull made for
the sea, and, crossing to one of the great "stacks" that stands frowning
a little off the shore, mounted high above it, and then let the puffin
fall. Down, down, down, and down it came, a horrible descent; and I
seemed to hear the far-off thud, as it struck that cruel rock. Then, in a
second or two afterwards, the gull came circling down upon it, and began
to feed upon the body, dragging it from this place to that, and seeming
to fear a shag, which came up the stack towards it. I can hardly think it
coveted the morsel, but I am reminded that I certainly saw another one
with its beak at a dead kittiwake. No doubt, therefore, it did, and thus,
once again, the fact is driven home to me that there is no such thing as
"always" or "never" in animal life. As Darwin has most truly said, every
creature is ready to alter its habits, as the opportunity arises, and the
greater number of them are, in some way or another, always in process of
doing so.

[Illustration: "ONE MORE UNFORTUNATE"]

Was the puffin dead when the gull flew up with it? If it was, then had it
found it so, or killed it itself? Did it drop it on purpose, to kill it,
or let it fall by accident? These questions I am unable to answer; but in
regard to the two last, gulls are credited here with letting crabs fall
on the rocks, in order to break their shells. Even if the puffin were
dead before, such a fall, by bursting or bruising the body, might make it
easier to tear open--an operation which the gull, I believe, had not yet
had time to perform.

The whole ground where this gull went up with its victim--for I have
little doubt myself as to what had taken place--was honeycombed with
puffin-burrows, and troops of puffins stood everywhere about. I sat down
where I had halted, and before long two other herring-gulls came and
stood in the same locality, close to several of these poor little birds,
who, I thought, seemed embarrassed by their presence, but powerless to
resent it, and perhaps not sufficiently intelligent to divine its true
purport.

The gulls, I thought, had a sort of unpleasant, evil-boding look; a
sullen, brazen, criminal appearance, like the two murderers in that scene
with Clarence, just before the duke awakes--but this may have been partly
due to imagination, after what I had just seen, with a late reading of
_Richard III_. I love that play; almost more than ambition, perhaps, the
keynote to its hero-villain's character is to be sought in his tremendous
energy and intellectual activity. These are so great that they, to a
large extent, guard him against the intolerable anguish of remorse--that
constant attendant on the undiseased evil-doer--so that he fares better
than Macbeth, who is inferior to Richard in both these respects, and
whose more poetic and sensitive nature is much against him. Not that
Macbeth is not an energetic and able man, but he is only normally so,
while Richard's working qualities are abnormal. His energy, especially,
is more like that of a Napoleon or Julius Cæsar. It is such a mighty and
rapidly-moving stream, that, hurried along by it, he has no leisure to
repine. It floats his crimes easily, one may say, making little dancing
boats of them, whereas those of Macbeth are like huge vessels in a stream
that has hardly volume enough to bear them. Is it not, in fact, almost
impossible to feel mental depression, so long as the brain is very
actively employed? It is in the calms and lulls of this activity that
disagreeable reflections force themselves upon us, just as rain that has
been kept from falling by a violent wind, falls as soon as it subsides.
Accordingly, though Richard's robuster nature goes almost scot free by
day--at least, for a considerable time--it becomes the prey of conscience
by night, when the huge energy of his disposition is in abeyance; when,
in Tennyson's language, "to sleep he gives his powers away." This we
learn first through his wife Anne, who has been constantly "wakèd by his
timorous dreams"--how strangely sounds the word "timorous" used of such
a character!--and later--almost at the end--from himself, in that one
terrifying outburst which gives the first and only clear view into the
mental torments which this strong villain has to suffer, as soon as that
daytime energy, which is to him as an armour, is laid aside. Is it not
very striking--is it not the character-touch of this scene, how--when
Richard is once fairly awake again, when the things of waking life have
returned, with Ratcliff at the tent-door--how quickly this great load of
suffering is shifted off?

_A fortiori_ Macbeth suffers at night, too, but _his_ life is all
suffering. We never get the idea of his enjoying life, which, with
Richard, we really do; for he is humorous--jocular even--in fact, in
tiptop spirits often, but all by day, during the bustle and action of
an energetic career. Later, the wound of guilt begins to show itself,
and here, too, we may make an instructive comparison between these
two practitioners in crime, so alike in their motive and careers, so
different in their fibre and temperament, and yet yielding to the
same law. Macbeth, indeed, suffers so much that his mind becomes, at
last, almost unhinged, and, in the very end, conscience, perhaps,
ceases to afflict him. The machine, too delicate for such rough work,
has been broken by repeated blows--the nerve has throbbed itself out.
Shakespearean parallels are, I think, very interesting and instructive,
but they are seldom dwelt upon.

Thus far out of the path of what I am pledged to deal in, a fanciful
comparison has led me; but I will go no further. _Ne ultra crepidam
sutor_, etc., though, to be sure, I am no more altogether naturalist
than King Lear's fool was "altogether fool." So as, from king or emperor
downwards, I have no respect for titles, it is not much wonder if I
forget now and again to be subservient to that of my own book.[16] Yet
to do so is fiddle-de-dee, for books and people both, in this world, are
judged of as they are labelled--often getting labelled by accident--and
though, in this little excursion into other realms, I have talked no
more nonsense than any literary critic may, without at all committing
himself--except _to_ nonsense, which doesn't at all matter--yet I talk
it where it will not be thought sense. To return then--for your reviewer
bites the thumb at a digression--I noticed many other herring-gulls
hovering over these puffin-haunted slopes, and that they live largely
upon the young of these birds, as well as on young kittiwakes, I do not
now doubt. I can see no reason why they should not lie in wait, and
drag the former from their holes. I must watch for this. This reminds
me of how often I have found the newly-picked remains of puffins on the
cliffs and shore; but these were all of full-grown birds. What bird, in
especial, is responsible for this? Surely not gulls! And never having
seen a peregrine falcon here, I have got to not much believe in him.
I have seen no sign of such a thing on the part of the great skuas.
The others, I think, are only robbers, or at least could hardly kill a
puffin, whose beak should be more powerful than their own. It is somewhat
of a mystery to me.

[Footnote 16: But I needn't have forgotten my own afterthought "--_and
Digressions_." Hurrah! That frees me.]

One more word upon the puffin. He is strongly ritualistic, if not
actually a papist. I find it, as is so often the case, difficult to be
sure which. See the whole series of pretty little genuflexions that he
makes after coming down upon a rock, and then consider his vestments, his
surplice--if that is the proper thing--"his rich dalmatic and maniple
fine," his "rochet and pall," and so on--they are all there, I feel
certain, for not otherwise could he look so extraordinary. His beak,
too, if he only open it the least little bit in the world, is a bishop's
mitre, and, for the ring, he wears it round his eye. "Pope," indeed, is
one of his local names, but, on the whole, I class him as a ritualist,
for he "out-herods Herod." Whether he secedes to Rome ever, or as near
there as the mouth of the Tiber, I don't quite know; but if he does 'tis
no matter, for he is sure to come back again.



CHAPTER XXXIII

GULLS AND GIBBON


All doubt as to the real nature of these horrid feastings of the
herring-gulls on floating carcases of kittiwakes is now at an end. I had
been watching the seals in one pool, when, turning to the other, I saw,
as I thought, two gulls fighting together on one of the great rocks in
the midst of it--a smaller "stack" one might almost call it. Raising the
glasses, the truth was revealed. It was a herring-gull murdering a young
kittiwake, and very soon it would have been "got done"--as Carlyle says
with such a gusto--if I had not, in rising to follow it more closely,
alarmed the murderer, who at once flew away. The poor little kittiwake
got up--for it had been thrown on its back--and stood without moving on
the rock, presenting a sick and sorry appearance, though there was as yet
no blood about it, and it did not appear to have been seriously hurt. Its
only chance now was to have flown away, but it stayed and stayed, seeming
to doze after a while--the certain victim of the returning gull, as soon
as the latter should have watched me off.

Turning my eyes from this disquieting spectacle--one brick in God's
architecture--I looked over the water, and there, in this quiet little
bay, which seems such a haven of rest and peace--_il mio retiro_, one
would think, to every creature in it--I saw another kittiwake being
savagely murdered by another herring-gull. This was a repulsive sight,
and through the glasses I could watch it closely, not a detail escaping.
The gull, with the hook of its bill fixed in the kittiwake's throat,
pressed it down on the water, shook it with violence, paused, got a
better purchase, shook it again, then, opening and gobbling up with
the mandibles, seemed to be trying to crush the head, or compress the
throat, between them. By this the young bird's struggles, which had been
of an innocent and quite ineffectual kind, had almost ceased, but its
legs still kicked in the air as it lay on its back in the water--just
as the other had lain on the rock. The gull now, having managed the
preliminaries, ceased to be so rough and violent, but, backing a little
out from the body, so as to get the proper swing, began, in a cold,
deliberate manner, to pickaxe down into the exposed breast, each blow
ending in a bite and tear. A crimson spot, becoming gradually larger and
larger till it represented almost the whole upper surface, as the body
cavity was laid open, responded to this treatment; and now the gull,
seizing upon entrail and organ, helped each backward pull with a flap or
two of the wings, feasting redly and royally.

So it goes on, and, in time, both the part-players in this little sample
fragment of an infinitely great whole are drifted by the waves to that
same towering "stack" which has lately been the scene of the puffin
tragedy. On it the gull lands, and, having dragged the carcase some way
up, flings his head into the air, and exults with a wild, vociferous cry,
in which his mate, who has now joined him, takes part. Then there is
more feasting; but in spite of the community of feeling which this duet
implies, the second gull is not allowed to partake of the good cheer,
but must wait till the provider of it has finished. Should she approach
too near, such intrusion is vigorously repelled. Well, thank God for the
touch of poetry, whenever it appears! There is something picturesquely
wild, as well as savage, in the latter part of this sea-scene--the gull's
_te deum_, flung out to sea and sky; but anything more horrid, more
ignobly, sordidly vile than what has preceded it, it would be hard to
imagine. A kittiwake in its first full plumage, which differs much from
the parents', is a very pretty bird, dove-like and innocent-looking. To
see it savagely shaken and flung about, a huge hooked implement fastened
in its slender throat, and that soft little head towzled, bitten on,
mumbled, the wings all the while flapping in helpless and quite futile
efforts to escape, is sickening. It is not the worst scene in nature
certainly--serious deliberation amongst enlightened statesmen can produce
things a good deal more horrible--but it is bad enough, bad enough. It
looks like the negation of God, but a much better case can be made out
for its being the affirmation, so here is the consolatory reflection for
which optimists are never at a loss. "There's comfort yet," as Macbeth
says.

[Illustration: "NATURE RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW"]

I suppose it sounds like a truism to say that the actual witnessing
of nature's ruthlessness--of her "red tooth and claw"--has a very
different effect upon one than is produced by the mere reading of it,
however powerful the description may be. Judging by my own sensations,
however, the difference is not merely of degree, but of kind, for such
accounts, with the reflections made upon them, have in them a certain
tone and tinting of the mind through which they pass, so that we get,
not nature, but man softening her. "Why softening?" it may be asked. I
am here speaking only of civilised man--who alone, perhaps, reflects
about such matters--and it is my firm conviction that civilised man, in
unconscious deference to his own peace of mind, does soften everything of
a disagreeable nature, or if he cannot soften the thing itself--and it
_is_ difficult sometimes--yet, at least, his hopes and faith and longings
fling a balm upon it, which, rather than the sore, is what we receive.
So, too, in all general reference. Man, not nature, is what we get.
Thus, when Tennyson speaks of "nature red in tooth and claw," it is not
only--or so much--this stern and horrid truth, that the line calls up.
Tennyson himself, if we recognise it as his, immediately comes into our
mind, and with him the idea of one who, though he can admit so much, yet
sees comfort and hope through it all, who believes, or at least trusts--

  That somehow good
  Will be the final goal of ill.

Other nobly optimistic lines slide into the memory, sunlight passes over
the desolate landscape, and the discomforting words, almost as they are
uttered, are atoned for by the comforting personality of the poet who
penned them. Thus nature, passing through the lips of man, is tempered
and dulcified in the passage.

But supposing that such lines as the ones quoted, because their source
is unknown to the hearer, can have no such comfort annexed to them, or
supposing that the poet does not trust, but is a gloomy pessimist, or,
which is more to the point, that instead of lines, with their music
and generalisation, we have an actual horrid description, merely, of
an actual horrid thing, all in the plainest prose, from some one whose
personality we neither know, nor is worth the knowing--I have supplied
an example--what softening influence is there here? Is not this but one
degree better, in the sense I mean, than seeing the horror itself? I
believe that here, too, the difference is of kind, and that a consolation
is extracted which we cannot extract when brought face to face with
nature herself, because the truth, then, is too overwhelming. The
comfort, in such cases, comes not through the mind of the individual
who is telling us, but through the general mind of which his is but a
part, through the human ocean, rather than the human drop in it. For
their own comfort, as I believe--in self-defence, to exclude misery--the
great mass of mankind are optimistic, nor can any unit of the mass
impart, or suggest, to us, ideas which are in opposition to this view,
without suggesting, by association, the more popular and disseminated
one, which we instantly lay hold of for our relief. If A can see no
bright side to the thing he has witnessed, and can extract no comforting
reflections out of it, yet B, C, D, etc., who have not witnessed it,
can, and to the general alphabet, as against some exceptional letters
of it, we immediately turn, and, enrolling ourselves amongst "_les gros
bataillons_," feel that we are "in tune with the infinite," and of course
that the infinite is in tune. But when, alone and amidst gloomy and stern
scenery, we see a disagreeable little piece of this infinite, suggesting
the whole, in actual manufacture before us, it is wonderful how little
of music we find, either in it or ourselves. All seems "jangled, out of
tune and harsh"; but for the "sweet bells," where are they? and were they
ever there? We hear them not, even as a something behind, an undersong
of hope. No, for there are no faces about us now, no comfortable looks
and smiles, no good dinner or snug little circle round the fireside; no
volumes of the poets either, and not a line of them, not one "smooth
comfort false," comes to assist us. Man and his distortions are gone, and
we have only nature--hard, stern, cold, uncompromising, truth-telling
nature--before us. We look one way, and there are the huge cliffs and the
iron rocks: another, and there is the great, wide, desolate sea: upwards,
and there is the cold, grey sky--stern and cheerless as either. Nothing
else but the birds in their thousands; and there, on the insensate waves
or rocks, amidst spectators as indifferent as they, one of them is
slowly, methodically, almost fastidiously, hacking, hewing, and picking
another to death. You see the struggles, the flights of escape, the
horrid, remorseless re-catchings; you see it proceeding and proceeding,
see the wound growing larger and larger, the blood running redder and
redder, and reason, with an impetuous inrush, says to you, suddenly, and
as though for the first time, "This is nature--_this_ is your God of
Love--_His_ scheme, _His_ plan!"

And it _is_ for the first time if you have not seen the same thing, or
something like it, before, and even then, if there has been anything of
an interval. You have got a fact at first hand, from nature herself,
instead of through the falsifying medium of humanity--truth strained
through benevolent minds--and the difference is so great that it is,
I maintain, one of kind, and not merely of degree. You cannot, whilst
actually seeing these things, get that sort of comfort that you can and
do get when only hearing or reading about them. It is nature that is
speaking to you, not a man, whose voice, be it ever so harsh, is mild
and puny in comparison, and which, moreover, calls up, by association,
the extenuating voices of a host of other men, that sea of human comfort
on whose waves you float off and escape. No, but you are, and you feel,
alone. You forget, almost, for the time, your own personality, and
no thoughts of other personalities come to relieve you. Afterwards,
perhaps, as you walk away, they may; but for some time they have a
strangely hollow ring about them. One quotation indeed, not of comfort,
but as descriptive of the kind of impression made upon me by such sights
as these, has often since come into my mind. It is not, however, from the
poets, but out of the pages of a great historian--of Gibbon--that I get
it, and it is this: "The son of Arcadius, who was accustomed only to the
voice of flattery, heard with astonishment the severe language of truth;
he blushed and trembled." This, I think, describes more nearly the sort
of effect which getting away from man and his optimistic chirruppings,
and seeing gulls kill kittiwakes, by myself, has had upon me. I have
heard, all at once, the severe language of truth, and I have blushed
and trembled--trembled at what I saw--blushed for what I had tried to
believe. Afterwards, as I reflect upon it, there come to me with sterner
meaning, even, than they had before, those words of Shakespeare--pointed
by your friends, through life--

                        From Rumour's tongues
  They bring smooth comforts false, worse than true wrongs.

Well, there are pleasanter sights than the one that has called forth
this rigmarole, and I have just seen a seal playing with the long brown
seaweed growing at the bottom of the sea, in a very delicious manner. He
seized it in his mouth, and, rolling over and over, wrapped himself all
round with it. Having thus put himself into mock fetters, his delight
was to break out of them, which he did with consummate ease, and the
grace of a merman. He did not keep hold of the seaweed all the while, but
grasped it now and again, often opening his mouth and making pretence to
bite. He acted like a very playful dog, but had a distinct idea of thus
entangling himself with the seaweed. No one could have mistaken this. The
design was perfectly evident. Two other seals, on a rock, played together
most humorously, or rather one kept playing with the other, teasing him,
but in a kindly way, by which it differed from most teasing. He would
scratch him softly on the chest with one of his fore-flippers, and when
this was parried, with a protest in look and action, he got farther down
and scratched, or, as I think one may say, tickled him on the belly,
beyond the reach of his guard. This caused the poor animal to flounce
about in a very absurd way, and, at last, to half rise, and put on that
funny, expostulatory look, half appealing, half resenting, and wholly
humorous, which I have noted before. Most playful and humorously playful
animals these are.

Could we see something of the inner life--the domestics--of many animals,
the record of it might be very interesting. This is what is really
wanted. But who has done so? Who has cared to do so? Instead, we have
a few bald, jejune facts--habitat, diet, time of bringing forth young,
period of gestation (on which latter point a good deal of prurient
curiosity is manifested), etc. But the heart of a wild animal is seldom
explored, for it needs a heart to explore it. She bears and tigresses
have been robbed of their cubs, but who has waited by their cubs to
see them return and fondle them? To do so might be both dangerous and
difficult; but what danger is not undergone, what difficulty is not
overcome, when merely to kill is the object? The zoologist of the future
should be a different kind of man altogether: the present one is not
worthy of the name. He should go out with glasses and notebook, prepared
to see and to think. He should stalk the gorilla, follow up the track
of the elephant, steal on the bear, get to windward of the moose or
antelope, and lie in wait for the tiger returning to his _kill_; but
it should be to biographise these animals, not to shoot them. The real
naturalist should be a Boswell, and every creature should be, for him, a
Dr. Johnson. He should think of nothing but his hero's doings; he should
love a beast and hate a gun. That is the naturalist that I believe in, or
that I would believe in if ever he appeared on earth; and I would rather
found a school of such than establish a triumphant religion, or make the
bloodiest war that ever delighted a people or rolled a statesman into
Westminster Abbey. Every man has his ambition. To make a naturalist who
shall use neither a gun nor a cabinet, is mine.

  Some men have strange ambitions. I have one:
  To make a naturalist without a gun.

"Pretty, i' faith."

The great seal is again asleep upon his rock (it seems to belong to him
and the common one in turn), and looking down upon him, now, from the
tops of the cliffs, through the glasses, there does not appear to be any
admixture of brown whatever in the shade of his fur. Wherever the light
falls upon it, it is an absolute silver, and, where in shadow, tends to
shade a little into the colouring of a very light-skinned mole. But this
last is merely an effect: the real colouring is, I believe, a uniform
silver--very pretty indeed, where the light catches it. The fur seems
close and thick--very mole-like in texture--the general appearance,
indeed, is very much that of a gigantic mole, if only the head, the
character of which is different, be not well seen. In the water,
however, when more or less immersed, even the head partakes of this
resemblance, or lends itself to it, and the whole animal becomes "perfect
_mole_" ("mine eye hath well examined his parts, and finds him perfect
Richard"). In itself, however, the head is not mole-like--as may well be
believed--but, when held in some positions, looks remarkably like that of
a polar-bear--a resemblance much more _à la_ Richard. He seems extremely
fat--Falstaff's "three fingers on the ribs," I should say, at the very
least.

A common seal has now, once or twice, swum close round him, and looks a
mere pigmy by comparison. This latter may not be a large seal--I do not
think he is--still, the juxtaposition of the two gives me a better idea
of Falstaff's proportions than I had before. He must be more than twice
the weight, I think, of the very largest _phoca_--_phoca Antiquarius_, as
I would call the latter: lovers of Scott will take me. It is the great
barrel of the body that is so immense. The build and general appearance
is much more that of a walrus than of an ordinary seal. The fore-feet
seem more modified, are more fin-like in appearance, than those of the
latter, which are rounded--soft, round, fat pads--muffin-shaped, more
like little cushions than fins; but here there is an approach to the true
fin, an elongation and narrowing, and the toes all point inwards and
tailwards.

As the water steals imperceptibly upon him, Falstaff--as I shall
now always call him--stretches himself enjoyably, and makes some
leviathan-like movements of his hinder, or tail, parts, looking
somnolently up, from time to time, seeming to say, "O ocean, let me
rest." How consummately happy he looks! lazily, sleepily happy--a
god-like condition. Heroics for those who enjoy them--they are generally
all in falsetto. The "cycle of Cathay" for me, and the untroubled
sea-sleep of this grand old Proteus here! A good deal of his lower
surface, and the whole of the rock he lies on, is now quite hidden by
the sea, but still he sleeps or dozes on--immense, immovable--as though
he were life-anchored there. At length, with a mighty yawn and stretch,
he turns full upon his vasty stomach, and immediately, by virtue of the
different appearance which his fur has when wet or dry, becomes a much
smaller seal that has climbed up upon a buoy--the lower, wet part of him
looks like that; the upper, alone, is himself. Then gradually he soaks
all over, till he is, again, huge and indivisible, a great, naked, blue,
greasy, oiled bladder,--yet firm still, as though he grew to the rock.
But the end is now near. Sparkling and gleaming, the waves come tumbling
in; they dance about him like fairies, like little familiar elves; they
slap him and pat him, lap up to--then over--his back, sway him this way
and that, speak to him, call him by his familiar pet name, tell him it
is time to go, until, at last, with a great somnolent heave, he floats,
and they float him--it is done together--right off the now sunken rock:
his body sinks down, his head, with the fur yet dry, remains, for a time,
straight up in the water, then follows--his nose, to the last, still
pointing, like the "stern finger" of "his duty"--not so stern as with us,
though--"heavenwards." As he goes down, you see that his eyes are still
shut--he continues to sleep.



CHAPTER XXXIV

ALL ABOUT SEALS


On coming to the cliffs, to-day, I saw, lying on the rock in the
little pool where I have watched the sea-leopard, as I call it, and
that other which I have hitherto called the bottle-nosed seal, or
Bottle-nose--because that seems to be a local name for it, and its nose,
I thought, bore it out--a mighty creature, the same, I at once saw, as
had lain there on the seaweed, that first morning. It presented, as
before, an extraordinary appearance, seeming to be parti-coloured, light
above and dark below. The tide was coming in, and, wishing to see it go
off with the wash, I descended rapidly--indeed, a little too rapidly. My
knee, which is sometimes, in a rheumatic sort of way, painful to bend,
has lately become very much so in descending the cliffs. To ease it,
therefore, I sat, and began to slide down the steep, green incline, and,
in doing this, my foot missed, or slid over, the little depression that I
had destined for it, which produced such an acceleration of speed that,
with several great bumps and a change of position from the perpendicular
to the horizontal, I had nearly still further abridged the distance, and
eased, perhaps, more than my knee. However, I managed to stop myself some
way before a sheer edge, which, though not much in the way of height,
would, no doubt, have been as good as Mercutio's wound for me--"'tis
enough, 'twill serve." Continuing with more caution, I got down, and was
on the promontory behind the "_chevaux de frise_" I had lately erected,
before the tide was yet much over the rock. It would have floated off an
ordinary seal perhaps, but this vast creature lay there, swayed to and
fro by the waves, like a buoy, but still firmly anchored--"built," as one
might say, "upon the rock."

At once, upon getting down, I saw that this was my bottle-nosed animal,
and, also, that I had been entirely mistaken about his skin. On the lower
side, where it was wet, this looked the same that it had ever done, as
naked as that of the hippopotamus; but the other side, which was quite
dry, showed a fur which seemed to be rather thick than otherwise, and
of a brownish colour, but so light that it looked almost silvery. The
head, whenever the creature looked round--for his burly back was turned
to me--with the nose and muzzle, seemed much more elongated than in the
common seal; it much resembled, in fact, that of the polar-bear--quite
remarkably so, I thought, when turned profile. Now, however, I could see
nothing very peculiar about the nose, nothing to justify the allusion to
it contained in the local name--which, however, I have only heard once.
_The_ bottle-nosed seal--for there is such a species--of course he is
not, though, at first, in my want of all learned equipment, I thought
he might be. What seal he is, scientifically, I know not, but he is
certainly not the common one, for besides the pronounced difference in
the shape of the head and face, colour and appearance of the fur, etc.,
he is much larger, the great barrel of the body being, perhaps, twice the
size. The figure, too, though less human, is more buoy-like, increasing
more rapidly, though very smoothly, from behind the head and below the
chin, and tapering more abruptly towards the tail. The fur may have
some markings upon it, but, if so, they are so faint as to give it the
appearance of being of one uniform colour--a light, browny silver. When
wet it becomes bluish, and how smooth it then lies may be judged by my
having mistaken it, up to the present, for the naked skin. True, I know
of no seal that has a naked skin; but when in the open, with my notebook,
I like to forget what I know, and make my own discoveries.

I watched this great seal for some ten minutes or so, as he lay in
indolent repose, throwing his head, every now and again, over his great,
swelling shoulder, till at length the elevatory power of the sea became
too much, even for his proportions, and after rolling lazily about for a
little, half moved by, half helping the waves to move him, he at length
heaved himself around, and with a vasty, whale-resembling motion, plunged
and disappeared beneath the deeply submerged edge of the rock-mass on
which he had been lying.

In the adjoining little twin cove, or pool, the usual complement of seals
lay on the great slanting slab with two or three upon the rocks around.
Another was in the water, and I was much interested in watching the
persistent but ineffectual efforts which this one made to get out upon
a certain large rock, on which he had evidently set his fancy in a very
unremovable manner. To look at this rock, no one would ever have thought
of it as one on which a seal, or anything else, could lie. Its top was
a sharp ridge, whilst its sides presented, every way, so steep a slope
as to be quite unscalable. But there was a little projecting point, or
chin--as sharp as Alice's Duchesse's chin--in which the central ridge
ended, and behind which the mass was cleft, for some way, longitudinally,
making a narrow ledge just large enough for one seal to lie on. This
little spike of rock was a foot or so above the water, even when the sea
swelled up towards it--it being not yet high tide--and as it projected
out like a bowsprit, there was nothing underneath it for the seal's hind
feet to get a hold on, so that everything had to be done by a first leap
up from the sea. This leap the seal made over and over again, shooting
up sometimes almost like a salmon--his hind feet alone remaining in the
water--and grasping the hard little triangle between his fore-arms, or
flippers, so as to assist the impetus by hoisting himself upon it. But he
always had to fall back again, after clinging convulsively, and pressing
tightly with his chin against the rough surface of the rock, which, just
at this one little point only, had shell-fish upon it. He tried to time
his efforts with the swell of the wave, but in this he was not always
successful; that is to say, he did not always hit the exact moment.
Having tried and failed several times, he would fall into a sort of rage
or pet. He bit at the rock, cuffed the water, as he fell back into it,
with one of his flippers, and then, as though this were an insufficient
outlet for his irritated feelings, flung about with tremendous _brio_,
revolving, contorting, curving his body to a bent bow, and then violently
unbending it, diving and flashing up again, almost together, making a
foam of the water, lashing it in all directions. Then, for a little,
he would disappear, but always he would return and renew his efforts,
always to be again frustrated in them. This lasted for half an hour, or
longer. Once, after the first ten minutes or so, I thought he had given
it up, for he swam to the great central slab, and began to make his
way up towards the other seals. But when he had gone but a little way,
he turned, and, flapping down again, swam back to that coveted rock,
where it all commenced over again. This extremely human touch interested
me greatly--as who would it not have done? How strong the desire must
have been, and what an individual liking this seal must have taken for
that particular rock, to make him leave a comfortable place amongst his
companions, and go back to try, again, where he had so often failed
before! How strong, too, must have been his memory of what he liked so
much!--for it does not seem likely that any seal would so have tried to
achieve a special practicable spot on an otherwise impracticable rock,
unless he had lain there before. If so, I can only account for his
inability to get on to it on this occasion by supposing that it was not a
sufficiently high tide, though, at the last, the waves, when they washed
up to their highest point, were quite on a level with the point of rock.
It certainly seems curious that he could not manage it, even then; but
such great longing and striving must, I think, have been for a pleasure
known and tasted.

I have ascribed this seal's biting of the rock to irritation, as
those other actions which so well became him, and which I have very
inadequately described, certainly were due to this. But another
explanation is possible here. I have several times seen seals, when on
the rocks, take the long brown seaweed, growing upon them, into their
mouths, in such a manner as to make me think it might have been to pull
themselves along by, as one would use a rope fixed at one end. However,
I could never be sure whether it was for this or any other practical
purpose, or only sportively, that it was laid hold of. But now, if
seaweed is ever really used by seals in this way--to pull themselves
along the rocks, that is to say, or to hoist themselves up on to them,
then a strong growth of it here would have been most useful to this
much-striving one, so that it may have been with an idea of this sort,
though not amounting to more than a regret--an "Oh if there were only!"
sort of feeling--that he bit upon the rock. If so, he showed another
human touch, for the nakedness of this particular rock, and especially
of this point of it that he had been so often nearly up on, must
have been well known to him. Perhaps, however, he thought to get some
purchase on it with his teeth; and there remains my first theory of
petulance. I ought to add that in all these little outbursts of pique
and disappointment which I have recorded, something of a frolicsome
nature also entered; there was nothing morose or gloomy in them. At
the worst, the creature was a disappointed seal only, and "in the very
torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of his passion" there was
a touch of humour, a something of make-believe, a dash of most lovable
playfulness.

Lovable and delightful creatures these seals are, indeed, for which
reason the great idea is to shoot them, and they have been almost driven
from our seas. The hunting instinct is an extremely strong, and a quite
natural one, for it is lineally descended from our savage ancestors,
who hunted and were demi-devils, of necessity. Therefore, perhaps, it
may be said to be a healthy instinct, and therefore it seems right.
Nevertheless, reason and humanity alike rebel against it, and there is no
valid answer that I can see against their protest, except, indeed, that
one I have already mentioned, viz. that it is in strict accordance with
the scheme of the universe. I confess I hardly know how to get over this,
except by admitting what I call an appeal against God; but putting this
difficulty aside, then once let a man think (I mean, of course, a man who
can think), and, if he be a sportsman, "farewell the quiet mind, farewell
content." Though "Othello's occupation" be not yet "gone," yet from that
moment he can no longer "go to 't" with that entire lightheartedness,
that "in unreproved pleasures free" feeling, which hitherto he has done.
A little leaven of uneasiness will mingle with what was once an unalloyed
delight, it will grow and grow, until, at last, with some men, first the
pleasure in the thing, and then the thing itself will cease. With others
the instinct will remain too strong, but, even with them, something will
have been done, since no thought, if only we could trace it out, is ever
thought in vain. It occurred, no doubt, one day, to some Roman sitting in
the colosseum, that what he was witnessing was not quite a right state
of things. He continued all his life to witness it; but if the _whole_
progress of that age could be laid before us, that thought would have its
place.

I have said that both reason and humanity rebel at the unnecessary
killing of wild animals. For the humanity, that is self-evident--to
torture is not humane: and for the reason, when one comes to think of
it a little, how absolutely silly it is! It is destruction, the child's
pleasure, the unmaking of what one could not possibly make, smashing,
breaking up, dashing to pieces, vandalism applied to the living works
of nature, leading to their eternal perishing, with a hideous void in
their stead. Something was alive, interesting, beautiful: you make it
dead, uninteresting, ugly--at least, by comparison. And yet the hunting
instinct--the heritage from countless generations in whom it was a
virtue--is so strong that those--and there are many--in whom it is not
developed, should not judge those in whom it is, too harshly--indeed,
not at all; for how should one judge what one cannot feel? One can only
hope that that dreadful way of being interested in animals which leads to
their killing, and, ultimately, to their extinction, will one day cease
in man. Nor is the hope vain. It will cease. I know it will, and should
be happy in the knowledge did I not also know that the animals will have
ceased first. As it is, my only comfort is that I will have ceased before
either.

It is beautiful to see seals thus active under natural conditions. In
spite of what they are and what one might expect them to do, one has
to be surprised. Everything is increased beyond expectation; they make
a greater splashing, a greater noise in the water, produce more foam,
give more elastic leaps, make swifter progress, than your imagination
had supposed them capable of. They are creatures of the waves, you know,
modified, adapted, made like unto fishes, and strong, as all animals are.
Therefore, though you may have hitherto seen them only in their languid
moods--and till now, in fact, there has been nothing very violent--yet
you might have imagined, and you have tried to imagine, what they _could_
be when moved, roused, excited, "perplexed in the extreme." Yes, you
have tried--but ineffectually. Nature, you find, as ever, _emporter_'s
it _sur vous_. _Sur moi_, I should rather say, perhaps, since there
are certain lofty spirits to whom everything--the grandest sights of
nature--come as disappointments, so much superior to them have been their
own before-imaginings of what they were going to be. Well, I am not one
of these. With Miranda, I can say, "my desires are, then, most humble."
The sea, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Vale of Cashmere, the Falls of the
Zambesi, the Zambesi itself, have all been good enough for me, as now
these seals are, even. It is a humiliating reflection, but it is better
to admit inferiority than affect the other thing--so I admit it freely.

Returning, now, to these seals, I have spoken of their great activity in
the water, and yet I find myself wondering whether, on the principles
of evolution, it ought not to be greater still. This craves a short
disquisition. Give heed, then, ye puffins, ringing me round like a vast
and attentive audience. "Lend me your ears." You shall know my thoughts
on the matter; a lecture for nothing--for with you I am not shy--so
"perpend." Is it not a somewhat curious thing, mark me, that, throughout
nature, we find beings that are but partially adapted to some particular
mode of existence, excelling others in it that, both by habit and
structure, one might think would be altogether their superiors? Thus the
seal, otter, penguin, cormorant, etc., creatures which, in comparison
with fish, may be said to be but clumsily fitted for the water, are yet
able to make the latter their prey. The reason, however--at least, I
suppose so--lies in their greater size, since even the fleetest fishes
cannot be expected to go eight or nine times their own length in the
same time that seals or penguins take to double theirs, only. In the
case of the otter, however, there is often no such great discrepancy in
size, and here we must suppose the victory of the mammal to be due to
its superior intelligence, or its power--as, perhaps, a result of it--of
taking the fish by surprise.[17] But it is not only in such cases as
the above, that this curious law of the superiority of the apparently
less fit may be made out, or imagined. It obtains also amongst animals
differing but slightly from one another, and whose habits are identical,
or nearly so. Look, for instance, at the seals themselves. The common one
of our northern coasts has much more lost the typical mammalian form, and
become much more like a fish, to look at, than several species that are
moving in the same direction, amongst them the fur-bearing seal that is
skinned alive to keep ladies here warm, whilst the Japanese in Manchuria
wear sheep-skins. In these, all four limbs are still used for their
original purpose of terrestrial locomotion, so that instead of jerking
themselves painfully forward on their bellies, as the common seal and
others have to do, they go upright, and even fairly fast, though with a
peculiar swing and shuffle. Inasmuch, therefore, as they have become far
less unfitted for the land, one might imagine that they would be less
fitted for the water, and that the common seal, from having been more
modified in relation to an aquatic life, would here have considerably the
advantage of them. But the reverse is the case, at least if one can at
all judge from a comparison of the swimming powers of the two kinds as
exhibited in captivity. Never have I seen anything more wonderful than
the way in which these _otariidæ_ tore through the water, when pieces of
fish were thrown to them, in that wretched concrete basin which disgraces
both our humanity and common sense at that beast-Bastille of our Gardens.
The speed seemed really--I do not say it did--to approach to that of a
galloping horse, and, in comparison to it, that of the seal, which could
get nothing, and had to be fed afterwards, might almost be called slow.
Yet whilst the latter swam with the motions of a fish, and looked like
one, the other had more the appearance of a quadruped gone mad in the
water. The great fore-flippers were largely used--indeed, they seemed to
do the principal part of the work--whilst the much smaller ones of the
common seal were pressed, as here, against the sides, and progress was
almost wholly due to the fish-like motions of the posterior part of the
body, and the hind feet or paddles, making, together, the tail. This was
many years ago, when the common seals at the Gardens used to occupy the
larger, or, to speak more properly, the less minute of the two concrete
basins provided for oceanic animals. It was not till after the arrival of
their more showy relatives that these poor creatures--the homely dwellers
about our own coasts--were relegated to one that, though an ordinary man
might find it rather large for such a purpose, would be of a convenient
size enough for Chang, or some other giant, to wash his hands in. In
neither, naturally, could a pinnipede do himself justice, and perhaps
these ones felt it more than the other kind. Now, however, I have seen
them far more active in their native ocean, yet they fell short of those
others, in captivity, to a degree which makes me think they would never
be able to compete with them.

[Footnote 17: It is stated, however, in _The Watcher of the Trails_, that
an otter can actually outswim a large and powerful trout.]

It may be thought that the larger size of the sea-bear's, or sea-lion's
flippers, and the greater use which they make of the anterior pair,
simply and easily explains their greater speed in the water. But why,
then, should the true seals--the _phocidæ_, which must once have been in
the same sort of transition stage between ordinary walking and their own
gait, that the _otariidæ_ are now--why should they have passed forward
into their present more fish-like condition, since both the advantage
of walking has been thereby lost, and that of swift swimming seems to
have been lessened? Of two creatures, each of whom has, from once being
a land-animal, become a water-animal, why should the one whose structure
has been least modified in relation to the change, be more active in the
water than the other? The _phocidæ_ and _otariidæ_, it is true, though
belonging to the same sub-order, may be the descendants of species that
differed considerably from one another, and thus they may have undergone
a different course of modification. The fore limb of the former, we may
perhaps surmise, was of so small a size that, even after it had become
fin-like, only those variations in the direction of smallness were of
benefit to it, whereas, for a contrary reason, the reverse was the case
with the other--though I should think this far more likely if the true
seals, like the beaver and otter, had a large and well-developed tail.
As they have none, I rather suppose that their fore-feet were, for some
period, enlarged and broadened out, and only ceased to be so owing to
the gradual tail-like development of the hind feet and posterior part of
the body. This, the evolved tail, began then to play the chief part in
natation, as it does in fishes, and, for similar reasons, I believe that
the _otariidæ_ are advancing along the same lines, and that their mode of
progression in the water will, one day, be more truly seal-like--that is
to say, fish-like--than it is at present.

But let the ancestry and process of modification, as between the two
families, have been as different as we can, with any likelihood, suppose
it to have been, yet still it is not quite easy to understand why
one marine animal should, whilst retaining the power of quadrupedal
progression, possess also greater aquatic powers than another one,
which, travelling by the same evolutionary road, has gone farther on it,
has lost the terrestrial gait, become less a quadruped, and approached
considerably nearer to the true aquatic, or fish, type. Should not the
fish form excel all other forms in the water? and, if so, should not
the quadruped that is more like a fish excel the one that is less so?
But, instead of this, we see here the more generalised form excelling
the more specialised one, not only in doing two things well, or fairly
well, instead of only one, but also in the better doing of the one
thing wherein the other ought, theoretically, to surpass it, as though
it were at once more generalised and more specialised. This seems _une
étrange affaire_. No doubt it is to be explained without controverting
evolutionary doctrines. Indeed, I think I might hammer out some
explanation, if it were not my cue, just now, to be very much astonished.
The true seal, or _phoca_--_phoca vitulina_, as it is called, _phoca
Antiquarius_ as I would call it--ought, in my now mood, to be quicker and
more agile in the water than the _otaria_--the sea-bear, or lion. But it
is not; it is beaten--at least, if I may trust my memory--by its less
specialised brother. This is what--just for the present--I am determined,
oh ye puffins, not to be able to understand.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE


Once more in Eastcheap with Falstaff--and this I think will be the last
time. I thought that by getting there before the first tide was down, I
might see him come rolling up to his old haunts, to "take his ease in
his inn," nor in this, I think, shall I be disappointed. His rock will
soon be ready for him. Already he has come to it, swum about it, lain
upon it--though it is still under the waves--and then, gliding slowly
and smoothly away, has dived almost perpendicularly down, following its
seaweed-clad sides, till lost to sight. Now, this last time, he seems
come to it to stay. The way he expatiates upon it is delightful to see.
Such great yawns, such stretchings, heavings, and throwings back of the
head, with supple curvings of the neck! such luxurious anticipations of
repose to come, and oh, such sleekness, such glistening! How intensely
he enjoys this rest of his, his long intertidal sleep! He was not asleep
when he came (it would not have surprised me if he had been), but now, as
he lies at length, rolling, a little, with the waves that ripple about
him, the eyes begin to close, and even when he throws back his head and
opens his jaws, as he does often, they are shut, I think, or almost shut.
Often he scratches his chin with one of his flippers, or passes it,
indolently, all over his face.

I was right, I think, about the fore-feet. They are certainly more
elongated and fin-like than in the common seal, but, which is curious,
neither they nor his hind ones seem to me so large, in proportion to his
size, as they are in the latter species. The tail, if not lengthened,
looks broadened, and it is fringed with hair round the edges. Though
the shape is oval, it reminds me of the last joint of a lobster's tail.
Perhaps, therefore, it may be an aid to the feet in swimming. In the
fold of skin between the two hind feet, there is something which I, at
first, thought was a mussel, but am now not so sure about. In colour and
sheen it answers perfectly, but now looks more like something membranous,
hanging down on one side. There is something peculiar in two of the toes
of the left front flipper--which is the one I see. Three out of the five
claws are black, but the second and third--counting from the marginal
one which lies towards the chest, are, if it is really the claws--white
or whitish, and visible only to about half the length of the others, the
rest of them being hidden by hair or fur. These claws have a peculiar
rough, irregular appearance, different from the others, which seem smooth
and shapely. The whiskers, which are white, are both long and thick. They
are often shot out, so as to project almost straight forwards, and then
brought back to their usual position, where they droop parallel with the
line of the head and throat. The great blubbery lips from which they
spring are thick and swollen, and have a soft, cushiony appearance.
Here, no doubt, we have a very sensitive apparatus, of great use to
the animal. The eyebrows seem represented either by three, or four,
projecting hairs, like those of the whiskers, but shorter. One, however,
is greatly longer than the other two--or three.

I have now noted all I can about this creature, which, I think, must be
a female. Can it be the unmarked spouse of the great sea-leopard which
was here once, but which I have never seen again? Both were in the pool
together, and often quite near to one another, and, with the exception
of their very different skins, looked very much the same animal. Though
they did not converse, or frolic, with one another, yet I thought their
very indifference had something conjugal about it--but this may have been
imagination. But if they are really male and female of the same species,
it seems curious that there should have been so much difference in the
time that each remained under water. Of this, alone, I can be sure, that
on one occasion, only, I saw at close quarters, and for a long time, a
seal twice as large as the common one, and with a most magnificent skin,
for which, and no other, reason I have called it the sea-leopard, not at
all knowing its proper name.

The substance on the large seal's tail, which puzzled me, is, I think,
connected with the parts adjoining, and this makes me conclude it to be
a female, and that it may lately have had a young one, which, however,
I have never seen with it. I can make out no very special development
of the nose--longer and larger than that of the common seal, but I mean
_as_ a nose--so that if the name bottle-nosed is really applied to the
creature--and one Shetlander certainly used it--it must be, I think, for
the reason I have conjectured, the very round apertures of the nostrils,
which look as if they would just hold a cork. I could never have imagined
that an animal having fur--and pretty thick fur, I think--all over it,
would look so absolutely naked in the water as this seal does. I noted
down that it was, without the smallest suspicion of a doubt having
occurred to me, and I remained in entire ignorance of the real fact till
I saw it with the fur partly dry. Once, indeed, I noticed something--the
least hint of a roughness on the shoulders--as it bent its neck; but I
never really doubted, so naked did it everywhere appear. There is really
some interest in letting one's errors stand; besides that it does not
seem quite fair to suppress them.

Seals have strong preferences, not only for particular rocks, but for
particular places upon them. A large one of the common kind but just
now came out on a rock where five others were lying, and advanced
through them, in a straight line, displacing four of them. One only of
these seemed inclined to dispute his passage, and here there was some
scratching, with a good deal of hoarse snarling, almost barking--an ugly
guttural note. The large seal seemed not to wish to bring things "_à de
fâcheuses extrémités_." He would pause, with a deprecating look, but
without giving way one inch, and, very shortly, press forward again, the
other snarling and scratching as before, but gradually retiring, till at
last he gave "passage free." The fifth seal lay at right the end of the
rock, where it narrowed very much, so that there was no retreat for it,
as the large one came up--for that was just the place he wanted--except
into the sea. And there, after many snarls, and growls, and faint shows
of resistance, as, also, most melancholy looks, it had to go, the
intruder, all the while, continuing to use that deprecating, almost
apologetic, manner which he had done throughout. It was disagreeable to
him to be at feud with any of his kind, but, still more so, not to have
the place he liked; that was the idea quite transparently expressed.
There was that in his manner which seemed to say, "With the sole
exception of myself, madam, there is no one for whose rights I have a
more profound respect than for yours"; for, this ousted seal being a
small one, I put her down as a lady. Perhaps, indeed, that is why he was
so forbearing.

[Illustration: POLITE BUT INSISTENT]

Several seals are now playing a good deal in the water, flouncing and
bouncing about, making little white cauldrons, in the midst of which
their round, black heads, bobbing up and down, look like pipkins, or
crabs a-roasting. Two are sporting together in this way, which is a very
pretty sight to see. They spin and shoot about, slap each other with
their fins or tails, and, every now and again, one hears a curious burst
of sound, like subaqueous thunder; whether caused by the swirl, as they
go down, or being a growl, half-choked under the water, I do not know.
Seals seem to lead a most happy life. I have mentioned one leaping out
of the water, as it went along, in pure enjoyment--for what else could
it have been? But how different is all this to the lonely sleep of that
great thing yonder!--Falstaff--Proteus--Bottle-nose--but that last is
a calumny on a very respectable feature. There is no real contrast,
however. The common kind often sleep their leesome lane. With the play it
may be different. I have not seen the great seal sportive.

A _phoca_ has just come up with something white in its mouth, which it
is eating--a fish, no doubt. This, too, it does in a playful manner,
flinging open its jaws, and seeming to disport with it, in them. Full of
the enjoyment of life they are; and the way up, through evolution, is
to leave all this, and to acquire a multitude of cares, with gluttony,
diseases, vices, cant--with a pat on the back from a poet, or so, now and
again, making us out to be gods, and telling us to go to war. A queer
scheme, "a miserable world," as Jacques says--but not for seals. Except
through us, that is to say. We do skin them alive, which raises another
point. Not only is man--highly civilised man--the most miserable being
that exists, or has ever existed, upon this planet, but it is through
him, for the most part, that the robe of misery has been flung down upon
every other being that shares it with him. He plays, in fact, the part
of a devil in nature, but because his fellow-beings are below himself in
intelligence, he is not ashamed of this. Were he, however, to be treated
in a similar way by some species as superior, mentally, to himself, as he
is to animals, he might see the matter differently.

Does right exist at all, then, as apart from might? That which does
not rest upon some active principle in the scheme of nature, does not,
really, exist. We only fancy it, and thereby are only the more shocked
at the continual negation of what we fancy. In nature there is no law of
right, only of might, but, as man develops, he becomes, gradually, aware
that the cruel exercise of this might does not always lead to the best
results. Therefore, he exercises it more mercifully, and, in doing so,
thinks that he acts according to the law of right, as against that of
might, whereas what he really does is to carry out the law of might in a
more judicious manner. The idea that animals have rights, in regard to
us, has, for me, no meaning. How can they have what they cannot conceive
of having? If they have, so must vegetables. Whenever they enforce
something against us, it is through might that they do it, and this might
we have, in a greater degree, over them. The whole question is how, in
the highest sense, it is best to exercise it. For the idea of right,
therefore, I would substitute that of might, judiciously exercised, as
the highest ideal that is in accordance with the scheme of nature. All
improvement, I believe, in the history of mankind--with the case against
vivisection, now--can be reduced to that principle; the other is a
delusion. The only right that nature knows anything about is the right
which she has conferred on every creature, to do whatever it is strong
enough to do--and that is might. But when might is well guided, all is
well.

There is a puffin, now, within a few feet of me, with the largest fish I
have yet seen one carrying; as large as a Cornish sardine, and that is
as large as can possibly pass for one. And yet it has several smaller
ones in its bill, besides. How is this done? For, to catch the big fish,
it must have opened the beak a good deal. That one, however, is right at
the base of the bill, as though it had been caught first. This, I think,
supports my ideas as to the _modus operandi_. I do not see how so large a
fish could be caught, without letting out any little ones that had gone
before it. But if it were caught first, the beak, which can cut into the
body, to the bird's convenience, need not be opened more widely, on the
next occasion, than it would be if it held only a small fish. Did the big
fish occupy any other position in the bill than that which it does, it
would be against my theory; situated as it is, it is for it. Pray heaven,
then, I don't see another puffin with a big fish!--for it may be held
differently.

I have now seen, more _in extenso_, another young kittiwake killed by a
herring-gull. Herring-gulls are much more numerous here than even the
lesser black-backed, which is the reason, I suppose, why they seem to
stand out in this character. I do not mean to brand them specially, or,
indeed, at all. (Why cannot it be recognised that to blame any one, for
anything, is to blame the Deity?) It is gull nature, and that is not the
worst kind, after all. Though I did not see the actual commencement of
this affair, I must have all but seen it, as a party of young kittiwakes
that had been bathing near the ledges flew up all at once, and this I
have no doubt was when the attack was made. Immediately afterwards, I saw
the gull mauling and throttling one of them, in the way I have before
described. I feel sure that if it had swooped to the attack, like a hawk,
I must have seen it, and therefore I have no doubt it had been swimming
amongst the troop, at the time, for only yesterday I had noticed two
herring-gulls within a few feet of some young kittiwakes on the water,
without the latter seeming to be in the least alarmed. Probably these
gulls--whose plumage, by the way, a good deal resembles that of the
adult kittiwake--swim quietly amongst them, and, all at once, seize on
one. This poor little thing struggled, as well as it could, with its
destroyer, and, several times, got loose and began to fly away; but the
gull was after it, and caught it, again, before it had risen above a
foot from the water. As before (or nearly) it seized it by the throat,
near the head, and then kept compressing the part between its strong
mandibles. It was some minutes--perhaps five, perhaps longer--before
the kittiwake was floating, breast upwards, on the water, and being
disembowelled--a horrid sight. Yet this gull could not have been very
hungry, for he allowed another one--no doubt his partner--to approach
and eat with him. A young gull was vigorously chased away, not by him,
but by this other bird, who never let it come near. Neither was the
favoured gull really hungry, for, very soon, the body was abandoned by
both the birds, and then fell to two others, a young and an old one.
Here, too, the old bird would no doubt have driven the young one away if
its appetite had been at all keen. Probably they had all been kittiwaking
in the earlier morning, and were now fairly sated. But all animals that
live by killing--taking life in a chasing way--are sportsmen; they enjoy
the killing, that is to say, for its own sake. I can see no difference,
here, between the animal sportsman and the human one. Manifestly there
is none, for no one, I suppose, with a brain in his head, can be led
astray by all that irrelevant insistence on unessential distinctions,
with which sportsmen seek to disguise the real nature of their ignoble
pleasure--law, grace, close-time, and all the rest of it--differentiating
themselves, to their own satisfaction, not only from their fellow beasts
of prey, but from poachers, with whom they are essentially one, but for
whom a far better case can be made out than for themselves.

What makes, or helps to make, these scenes so very unpleasant, is the
prosaic and unimposing manner in which the gull goes to work. We have,
here, no swoop and rush of wings, from giddy heights, as in the falcon
tribe; there is no dilating of the plumage, no eloquent expression
of the fiercer emotions; no fine embodiment of speed, power, rage,
combined, is presented to us, nor does the victim lie, in an instant,
prostrate and bleeding beneath the claws of its destroyer. Such sights
make fine pictures. They personify, in a grand and striking way, our
ideas of the inevitable and irresistible--of fate, clothed in terror.
There is something in them of the old Greek drama, nay, of our _real_
conceptions--drawn from nature and the Old Testament--of the Deity.
But here there is nothing of all this--no impetuosity, and not enough
strength or mastery to give a sense of power, at least not of mighty
power. Structurally the gull is not specially fitted, nor, in general
appearance, does he look fitted, for the part he is acting, and this,
as is usual, gives something of a bungling appearance to his handiwork.
Above all, he lacks fire, and this makes one doubly alive to the cruelty,
which is not so disagreeably felt in witnessing the fierce thunder-bolts
of a true bird or beast of prey. There it is masked, so to speak, under
"the power and the glory," but here we see only a sordid and cold-blooded
murder, unrelieved by any feature of special interest even, much less
by any apparently ennobling element. As a spectacle, it compares very
unfavourably with that of snakes killing their prey, and equally, or
even more so, from the intellectual point of view. For with snakes we
have a special, and very marvellous, adaptation to a certain end, which
arouses admiration in a high degree in one direction, even though it
may excite disgust in another. On the whole--to me, at least, who am a
naturalist, with the curiosity proper to one strongly developed--there is
far more of wonder and instruction, than of horror, in the scene, unless,
indeed, the sufferings of the victim are prolonged, which is by no means
always the case. Some of the smaller constrictors, for instance, will
dart upon, and twist one or two of the first neck-coils round a rat, or
other small mammal, with such lightning-like speed and dexterity, and
with such tremendous strength, that death--as shown by the relaxation
of the muscles, and hanging down of the limbs--is almost instantaneous,
and the effect upon the mind comparable to that which would be produced
by the stoop of an eagle, or the spring of a tiger. We are impressed by
the speed and power, and have to admire the amazing ingenuity--one may
even say the beauty--of the structural adaptation; for, after all, one
should have an intellect, as well as a heart. This would soon pass into
more distressing sensations, were the rat long a-killing; but in the
cases to which I refer it is very soon over. The bowstring in a Turkish
harem must be a lengthy process in comparison. Thus the balance of our
emotions produces, or should produce, the exclamation, "How wonderful!"
rather than the one, "How horrible!" but with the gull and kittiwake,
only the latter is possible. Do I, then, defend the feeding of snakes
with their ordinary living prey, in captivity? Yes, I do, so long as the
conditions of nature are properly preserved. I would make that the test.
If it is not permissible to study the living habits of the living animal,
to stand as a spectator and see how nature works, then there is no such
thing as natural history, and no place for a naturalist. What naturalist
is there who would not esteem himself favoured of heaven, were he to
see an anaconda seize and strangle its prey, in the forests of South
America, or a cobra secure his, amidst the ruins of some jungle temple
in India? Now, when the same naturalist keeps either these or any other
snakes in captivity, what is the object with which he does, and which
alone can justify his doing, so? There is--there can be--but one, which
is, of course, to study its natural habits--for all others are puerile
and contemptible. Is he, then, to shrink, like one who cannot read a
tragedy, however great, from that very nature which for years, perhaps,
as a part of his daily life, he has wooed and sought after? What, then,
justifies him in doing that? Why should he look on whilst a gull, slowly
and painfully, does a poor young kittiwake to death? Yet, had I shot
that gull, to save that kittiwake, I should have done, in my opinion,
an execrable act. I should not have stopped the ways of nature, in this
respect, nor could they be stopped, except by a worse slaughter than the
one which we would prohibit. I should have officiously saved the life of
one kittiwake, and taken a gull's in exchange. But if we are justified
in watching a certain act of nature's drama, in the field or the forest,
why should we not, also, watch it under conditions which may, alone,
make it possible for us to do so? The thing is not the worse because it
is thus transported to another spot on earth; and the same snake that
in captivity eats but once in a month or so, were it at liberty, would
have a much better appetite. Therefore, when we keep snakes, and let them
eat in the way that is natural to them, and which, not to the naturalist
merely, but to every thinking man, should be full of interest, we do not
increase the sum of misery which this earth contains, but, rather, take
away from it. What we see, under these conditions, we do not create, any
more than if we came upon it by chance, during a walk. We are spectators
merely; and spectators of nature I hold that we have a right to be. If
not, the very breath of his life is stifled in the naturalist's nostrils.
He is strangled. He ceases to exist.

But there is a test and guiding path of reason and morality, here as in
other matters. Whether it is right or wrong that a snake should feed
in captivity, as it does when at large, depends, in my opinion, on the
similarity, or otherwise, of the essential conditions in each case.
In nature the victim is at some point taken unawares by the snake,
and it is only after that, if at all, that it suffers any pain of
apprehension.[18] If, therefore, we put a rat, or a guinea-pig, into a
cage so small, or so bare, that its reptile occupant is conspicuously
visible, then, if the sight is fraught with any meaning, or disagreeable
sensation, for it, we do not treat the creature fairly. We are modifying
nature, to the great increase, possibly, of its sufferings, for it may
be some time before the snake acts, and if it were not seen, or noticed,
till it did, its action might be so sudden as to leave little or no room
for previous disquietude. In some way or another, therefore, either by
the spaciousness of the cage, or the cover which it provides, or by
giving it something to eat, the prey should always be made happy and
comfortable during the interim between its being put inside, and the
attack, or first offensive movements, of the snake. It should never be
allowed to sit shivering, as it were, in the expectation of some dreadful
thing--not, that is to say, before the snake obliges it to do so. Another
most important point is this. Under nature, and in their own homes,
snakes are in possession of their full muscular and vital energies during
the time of year at which they are abroad, and take their meals. If they
are not so, also, in captivity, then we do a grave wrong to an animal in
exposing it to a death which, for this reason, is both more painful and
more protracted. As to the poisonous snakes, their poison, I suppose,
retains its strength in captivity, and if so--but not otherwise--I can
see nothing more dreadful in the death, by this means, of a rat, or
guinea-pig, in a cage, than in that of a marmot on the prairies, or of a
cavy in the swamps of a Brazilian forest. With the constrictors, however,
it is different. The smaller ones, indeed, seem to retain their full
vigour, or, if not that, something very like it, for they are capable--as
I have myself seen--of killing a rat almost instantaneously. It is
different with the huge pythons, or anacondas, which lose their force,
together with their appetite, in confinement, so that their languid and
clumsy efforts--lasting for a long period--to take the life of their
victims, may be compared to those of a drunken headsman with a blunt axe.
Manifestly, therefore, to give them such a creature as a goat to mumble,
and in such a sort of fern-case as they occupy, is a revolting thing;
but I cannot see that a flagrant abuse like this condemns the principle.
Were a combined rockery and shrubbery, as large as a good-sized garden,
accorded the python, say, and were it in some hot country, the sun of
which acted upon its system like Falstaff's "excellent sherris sack"--its
own, for instance, at the Cape, or in Durban--then I should recognise
no wrong done in introducing a goat or pig (preferably, however, a wild
animal) into its sanctum. The conditions would, in that case, be the
same, or closely similar, to those which govern under nature, nor can
I see that it matters much, in ethics, whether a snake eats its dinner
inside, or outside, a paling. If it is wrong to see it do so in the one
case, it is wrong in the other, and the contention that it is wrong in
either sanctions the principle of an officious interference in the ways
of the animal world, which, upon the whole, are better than our ways.

[Footnote 18: But this is begging the question of the so-called power of
fascination said to be possessed by some snakes, and for which, I think,
there is some evidence.]

There is a very fine line, as it seems to me, between thinking it
wrong that a snake in confinement should eat in the way that nature
has instructed it to, and wishing to exterminate snakes and various
other wild animals, because of the way they have of dining. I may well
think so, for the line, to my knowledge, has been overstepped, and
here, in these remote islands, there are alarming indications of a
campaign to be waged--with no other reason than this--against various
poor birds, who are under the same necessity as was Caliban, of eating
their dinners.[19] Some, for instance--and they advocate their views
in the local papers--wish the gulls to be shot down, on account of the
kittiwakes, whilst others would seek vengeance on the skuas for the way
in which they persecute the gulls. It seems wonderful that such grotesque
views should be held by educated people, but they seem to me to be the
same in principle with those which would deny to snakes, in captivity,
the natural use of their bodily structure. For myself, I only believe in
such a Zoological Gardens as I have tried to sketch,[20] and hope I have
foreshadowed. But if the rational study of the habits and life history of
the creatures confined there be not the _raison d'être_ of its existence,
I, at any rate, can admit no other, and I would as soon think of training
spiders not to make webs, as of habituating snakes to the eating of dead
meat. An interesting, an instructive thing, truly, to see a creature,
formed, by a long process of evolution, to kill in the most marvellous
and admirable way, tamely eat something that has already been killed!
What wretched vapidity! Like performing dogs, or monkeys, dressed in
men's clothes. Where, then, is the soul of the naturalist?

[Footnote 19: Caliban: I must eat my dinner.--_Tempest_, Act i.,
Scene 2.]

[Footnote 20: _The Old Zoo and the New._]

These views I would apply to every beast of prey in the Gardens, each
one of which, in my opinion, has a gross wrong done it in not being
allowed to do that which both its soul and body expressly commission
it to do--as though a sentient musical instrument, throbbing to play,
should never, in all its faded life, be given the opportunity of emitting
a note. The misery of such privation is far beyond that which would
attend the energy now so cruelly restrained. It is out of all proportion
to it, in my opinion. Not only snakes, then, but the lion and tiger,
too, should, by my will, kill their prey; or, if this were too costly a
proceeding--though I see not why it should be--then out with them to the
wilds they belong to! I would have those only stay, that could stay, and
be themselves. No neuters in my Gardens!

If animals have really rights--as to which, and our own, I have expressed
my views--then snakes must necessarily have their share of them. They
have a right, I maintain, upon that assumption, to eat their victuals
according to the laws of their being, and I, on my part, shall always
be pleased and interested to see them do so. I am greatly interested in
snakes, and in reptiles generally. Their structure is wonderful, their
powers are extraordinary, their ways and their habits, their whole life
history, everything about them, is fascinating. They are not stupid, as
they are erroneously supposed to be, and those who have been brought
into intimate relations with them have found them capable of great and
enduring affection.[21] For the sort of crusade, therefore, that has been
got up against these maligned creatures, I altogether repudiate it, and
I dissociate myself entirely from the many harsh, rude, unsympathetic
and unappreciative things that have been said about them. Things, of
course, are thus, or thus, according as we ourselves are, and snakes
must be uninteresting indeed to some people, since--_infandum!_--in a
place devoted, or that should be devoted, to the study of the living
habits of the living animal, it is proposed, with a shout of "Eureka!",
to substitute for the grace of motion and lithe sinuosity of the living
serpent, its motionless, stuffed, dusty, dirty, faded, black, hard,
cracky skin. A stuffed snake!--that awful production, from which all
softness and smoothness is gone, out of which every intimate character is
driven, from the very beginning, whilst the mere superficial resemblance
fades slowly, day by day, till we have, at last, something like a vast
sausage, or interminable gouty black-pudding, set hard in a bolster-like
attitude, with a crack, or repulsive sharp angle, at every one of the
stiff, graceless bendings, supposed to represent those marvellous
flexures of the real creature, which, when we see them in their living
beauty, set the mind in a glow of admiration, and are a rest, as well as
a feast, for the eye to dwell upon. This--this monstrosity--we are to
have, and to be thankful for having it, instead of the gracious glidings
and foldings, the sweet wave-like coilings and uncoilings, the subtle
entanglements, labyrinthine complexities, that, going hand in hand with
the greatest simplicity of design, and with the perfect, deft power of
unravelment, make the living body of a snake both a joy to the æsthetic,
and a wonder to the intellectual mind: instead, too, of the radiance,
lustre, sheen--the glory, both of pattern and hue--which sometimes sits
upon its glistening scales, crowning them with a beauty hardly, if at
all, inferior to that which decks the feathers of a bird, or waves on the
wings of a butterfly. All this we are to fling away for worse than "dusty
nothing," for a set of sorry deformities--worthy only of some wretched
taxidermist's shop-window--which every real naturalist ought to be
ashamed to look upon, but every one of which must cost some poor serpent
its life. The worst plaster cast, substituted for the original marble of
a Greek statue, were artistic luxury compared to this; and those, indeed,
who have no taste for art can enjoy the one, as much--or as little--as
the other. It is easy to be satisfied with stuffed snakes, when _snakes_
are of no interest to one; and that, I think, is the position here. Those
who would stand and look at the pavement, as soon as they would at a
python or rattlesnake, say to those who have the life-loving instincts
of the naturalist, "Oh, get rid of your live snakes, and have stuffed
ones instead. They're just as interesting--in fact, more so, because
you can set them up as you like." Exactly. I understand, quite, what is
meant--only to me a live snake is much more interesting than a live man
or woman, and a stuffed one almost more repugnant than a stuffed man or
woman would be. That is the little difference--the little thing that
makes all the difference. One is either a naturalist, or one is not.

[Footnote 21: See the uniquely interesting letter of Mr. Severn to
the _Times_ of July 25th, 1872, as quoted by Romanes in his _Animal
Intelligence_ (International Scientific Series), pp. 260-2.]

No, these are not my plans of reform for the Gardens, and though I
entirely condemn certain abuses in the feeding of snakes, for the
disappearance of which I am thankful, yet I cannot sympathise with
a movement which, though it has incidentally brought this about, is
founded upon a principle which I think is a false one, and calculated to
produce unhappy results in regard to the animal kingdom at large. Except
where it cannot be helped, I do not believe in altering or modifying
the laws of nature, as enforced upon animals, by one jot or one tittle.
Nature, nature, nature--that is the beginning and end of my ideas about
a collection of living wild animals. It is simpler even than Hamlet's
view--long since become obsolete--as to the office and function of the
stage--"to hold as 'twere, the mirror up to nature"--for here, instead
of the mirror, there should be nature herself. I would keep no animal
in respect to which proper and adequate arrangements could not be made
for it to live its own life, and, where practicable, to die its own
death. And in regard to suffering inflicted by one animal on another, I
would ask only this one question, and be governed by the answer: "such
suffering in accordance with the laws of nature, and the conditions of
things in the world at large, or is it not?" In proportion as the power
of exercising its natural functions and aptitudes is taken from it, I
pity an animal, and that is why I hate--with an intellectual quite as
much as with a humanitarian hatred--the miserable cellular confinement
inflicted upon wild creatures in a Gardens like ours. But I would never
curtail the activities of one animal in order to preserve the life or
diminish the sufferings of another, though I would rigidly guard against
those sufferings being unduly, _i.e._ artificially, increased. In my
snake-house, by the way, the question as to the propriety of presenting
the inmates with domestic animals, could hardly arise, since it would be
co-extensive with a rabbit-warren, and my gardens indeed, could I have my
real wish, would be quite as large as Rutlandshire (Yorkshire for choice).

In the principle of interference, as between one animal and another,
I have no belief. It does not appear to me to be sound or healthy in
itself, and its effect must be to check the growth of knowledge. Not, of
course, that I would wish to curtail the liberty of personal action in
this respect, any more than I would wish mine to be curtailed. He who,
in his private capacity, keeps a snake, and feeds it on fruit or meat,
has my hearty approval; but if a naturalist, seeking instruction, were to
keep it in this way, he would be largely wasting his time. That he should
be obliged, or considered morally bound, to do so, is intolerable. I lift
up my voice, and protest against such an idea. I go very far--very far
indeed, I think--in my humanitarian views in regard to animals, but as
a naturalist I must draw the line somewhere, and I draw it at officious
intermeddling, at any attempt to stop the course of nature in the animal
world; in which term, however, I do not include domestic animals.



CHAPTER XXXVI

COMPARING NOTES


Who would have thought that this same gull--the herring-gull--which
kills and devours the young kittiwakes and puffins, besides living,
habitually, on fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and any garbage it can find,
is also a fruit-eater? It is, though, since the black berries of the
stunted heather, here, are certainly its fruit, and these it eats, not
as an occasional variation of diet merely, but systematically and with
avidity. Indeed, these berries, now that they are ripe, seem to me to
be the bird's favourite food. I will now give the evidence on which
this statement is founded, and which I think will be admitted to be
conclusive. During the last week of my stay here, I began to notice, more
and more, as I walked over the ness, droppings of some bird, which were
of a dark blue, or purple, colour--in fact, a very rich and beautiful
dye. These droppings were full of the small seeds of some plant, and
upon comparing these with the seeds of the heather-berries, I found
them to be the same. They were too large and too numerous to be due to
any birds except either gulls or skuas, and as I constantly found them
over the domains of the Arctic skua, I thought at first, "_Ye_ are their
parents and original." One morning, however, whilst sitting on the rocks,
watching my dear seals, there was a down-dropping on my right trouser
(workman's cords at 6_s._ 6_d._), making a great splotch of as fine a
colouring, almost, as I have seen, and ineradicable, which makes me
think that a splendid dye might be produced from these berries--in fact,
it was produced. Looking up, at once, I saw a young gull just passing
over me, there being no other bird about--with the exception of puffins,
which made the atmosphere. Therefore I felt sure it was the gull, nor do
I think that Sherlock Holmes, with a similar clue and a sound knowledge
of puffins, would have concluded otherwise. Then, too, side by side
with these droppings, I had lately been finding pellets such as birds
habitually disgorge, formed generally of a mass of the skins and seeds
of these same berries, but sometimes containing a certain number of them
intact, or but slightly bruised. Some of these had seemed to me too large
for any bird smaller than a herring- or lesser blackbacked-gull, and
latterly I had found them mixed with the broken shells of mussels, and
other shell-fish such as gulls eat, but which skuas, I believe, do not,
or, at any rate, not as a rule.

Some of these pellets, by the way, made very curious objects. I have
taken a few as specimens, but I regret that others, still more curious,
formed of broken pieces of crab-shell, coagulated together into a
globular form, which two years ago were very plentiful on the island,
I have not this year been able to find. I would here suggest that a
collection of this kind would be both interesting and instructive. It
would form a key to the diet of every bird represented in it, but its
crowning merit--one quite beyond estimation--would be that it would not
increase the rarity or cause the extinction of a single species. For
these reasons--more particularly the last one--I do not at all anticipate
that such a collection will ever be made.

I had already concluded, therefore, that it was the gulls who ate the
heather-berries, before I began to see them walking in flocks over the
ness, and most assiduously doing so. First this was of an evening--always
herring-gulls--then at all times of the day; but the evening continued
to be the great time. Just as the kittiwakes, two years ago, used to
feed, ghost-like, about my shepherd's-hut, through the short, light
nights of June, so here, from my little sentry-box, I began now to watch
these larger ghosts, as I sat at the door both eating and cooking my
supper. From the door to the stove was a stretch--and there were many
stretches--and after one of them the shadows would be fallen, and the
ghosts hid, or fled. Then came other ghosts sometimes--all past scenes
are ghosts--"_Da hab'ich viel blasse Leichen_," etc. Oh, it was sweet,
then, in the little bunk, by the candle in its block of ship-wood, with a
rivet-hole for the socket, in the fading glow of the peat-fire, to read
the poets I had brought with me--Shakespeare, or Molière, or Heine--in
_those_ surroundings. That was the time to read--for it's all over
now--amongst the "thens," the shadows--a dream, and so is everything.

This was my last discovery--for it was one for me. Soon after I made
it I left this wild northern promontory, regretting, as I shall ever
regret, that there is no comfortable little cottage upon it where I might
stay, and be looked after--have my porridge made--for several months
at a time. To be able to walk out from as much of civilisation as this
would amount to into absolute wildness and solitude, returning into it
again at the end of each day--that is the life I appreciate. For society
there would be the good old body who cooked for me, and her husband--a
fisherman, doubtless, with his tales of the sea. With them I could have
a crack when I wished to, nor ever sigh for anything higher, since the
homely utterances and out-of-the-heart-comings of simple country folks,
especially of "the old folks, time's doting chroniclers," have for long
been all I care for in the way of conversation. All other irks me, and
my mind soon grows confused in it, so that I seem to have no ideas at
all, and indeed, have none for the time, except a panting to be gone.
Therefore, for the world of men and women here--those masks, those
flesh-enshrouded spirits, never to be properly dug up or pierced into,
give me but books, and for my own little circle of daily life, it lives
in Miss Austen's novels, nor do I ever want to enlarge it. How many
readers are there who can say this--that they have ever had one friend or
acquaintance with whose loss they could not better have put up than with
that of a favourite character in a favourite book? Somebody dies, and you
talk him or her over, comfortably, with somebody else; but fancy turning
to _Emma_, say, and finding there was no Mr. Woodhouse, or no Miss Bates!

Well, I was soon in a southward-going steamer, and here I read a paper
entitled "Observations on the Distinctions, History, and Hunting of
Seals in the Shetland Islands," by the late Dr. Laurence Edmondstone,
M.D., of Balta Sound, lent me by the present representative of the
family, and Laird of Unst, to whom I am indebted for all I have been
able to see, either of seals or sea-birds, whilst in that island.
Here was something to compare with my own observations, and my first
endeavour was to find out the specific identity of the two large seals
that I had watched with so much interest. To the best of my ability I
have described the exact appearance of each of them, as seen by me,
for hours at a time, at close quarters, and often examined through the
glasses, and I have speculated on the likelihood of the two representing
the male and female of one and the same species. This conjecture is
supported by what Dr. Edmondstone says, since he states that the sexes
of the great seal (_phoca barbata_) differ much from one another, nor
does he think that, besides the great seal and the common one (_phoca
vitulina_--as a Scotchman he would surely have approved my emendation
here), any other species is to be found around the Shetland coasts. Yet
his description of the skin-markings of both the male and female of
the great seal does not altogether accord with the appearance of the
two I saw. It is as follows:--"Male. The general colour of the body is
dark leaden, with irregular and largish patches of black; the belly
paler; the head and paws darkest." "Irregular and largish"--or rather
downright large--"patches" my sea-leopard, as I have loosely called
it, certainly had, but with regard to the rest, I should have said
that the colour which alternated with these patches, and, indeed, made
counter-patches itself, was a lightish yellow upon the belly, and that
the mottled appearance became fainter in ascending the sides, and ceased,
or was hardly noticeable, upon the back. There were, thus, two areas of
coloration merging into one another, the one very handsome, the other
not particularly so; and this was the most salient feature presented. As
I saw it, indeed, the belly, turned upwards every time its owner went
down, was a magnificent sight, in the effect of which the water, I think,
must have played an important part. Therefore, I cannot quite understand
any one who has seen it describing the animal other than in terms of
admiration, whereas here it is not even termed handsome.

But now, "put case" I had descended the cliff, that day, rifle in hand,
intending to get a shot. I should have got one very shortly after the
creature had first risen--for it gave ample opportunity--and then,
whatever had been the upshot, it would have sunk or gone down without
its lazy roll, and consequently without any exhibition of its chief
glory. In all probability I should not have seen it again, and I should,
therefore, have had nothing to record about its appearance in the water,
as seen under exceptionally favourable conditions--for I was looking down
upon it from a moderate height. In the same way, had my intention been
to shoot the _phocas_, what should I now know of their play, their fun,
their humour, their gambolling with spars, wrapping themselves round with
seaweed, polite insistence, petulant make-believe, and all the rest of
it? Instead, there would have been a shot, _et preterea nihil_--and this,
indeed, was just what it was, with me, years ago in the Hebrides. That is
what sport does for observation.

Continuing his description of the male of the great seal, Dr. Edmondstone
says, "The snout is very elongated; the nose aquiline, very similar in
profile to that of a ram; the muzzle very broad and fleshy, and the
upper lip and nose extending about three inches beyond the lower jaw,
so that in seizing its prey the animal seems obliged, as I have often
seen, to make a slight turn, in the manner of a shark." This last is
interesting in connection with the roll round on to the back, which my
sea-leopard--or rather, great seal--always made, when going down. It
shows that it is a familiar motion with this species, and therefore,
perhaps, that it might sometimes be indulged in whilst catching fish,
even though it were not quite necessary. The common seal also frequently
turns on its back in the water, so that I should think the one posture
was as familiar to it as the other. Probably, therefore it can catch
fish in both. In regard to the female of the great seal, Dr. Edmondstone
says, "The skin is of a paler colour, more or less patched with darkish
blue, and becomes _lighter_ with age. In two aged individuals, of
different sexes, the one appears a pale grey, and the other black." There
were no patches whatever on the skin of my bottle-nosed seal, as I first
called it, but a _uniform_ "pale grey" describes it pretty well. I have
called it a uniform silver, and so, indeed, it looked; but pale grey and
silver come pretty close to one another. At first I thought there was
a brownish hue, but the more I looked, the more silvery it appeared to
become.

According to Dr. Edmondstone, the male and female of the great seal
swim in a different way, for he says, "He swims with his nose on a
level with the water and the back of his head elevated; the female with
the whole head elevated, like the _vitulina_." This, as far as I can
remember, was not my experience. The large seal which I first saw, and
which I have now little doubt was the female of the _phoca barbata_,
sometimes raised the head out of the water, and she _may_ have swum with
it so, occasionally and for a short time; but her characteristic way of
_swimming_--as distinct from floating upright in the water--was with the
whole head and nose just on a level with the surface, and in one line as
nearly as possible. In this respect I did not remark any very particular
difference between the two. The male, however, uniformly rolled over as
he went down, which was not the case with the female,--and his periods of
immersion were, for some reason, during the time I saw him, only half, or
less than half, as long as hers, whilst he remained up, generally, for a
little longer.

In regard to the common seal, Dr. Edmondstone has, like myself, come
to the conclusion that it does not post sentinels. He remarks, "It has
been said" (I felt sure it had) "that when several seals are resting on
a rock, some one of their number acts as sentinel; but this result of
discipline or self-denial I cannot say I have seen--_sauve qui peut_
is, I think, rather the watchword." He goes on to say, however, "The
herring-gull is their most vigilant _vidette_ at all seasons, as he is of
every other kind of our game. The seal he loves especially to take under
his wing, and he is the most vexatious interruption to the sportsman."
Long may the herring-gull continue to protect the seal!--if he really
does so. For myself, I did not see any hint of it, though there was
plenty of opportunity; and as he allowed Mr. Thomas Edmondstone to shoot
fifty in one year, I fear he cannot be very efficacious. That he will,
sometimes, come flying down upon one, with a great clamour, as though
objecting to one's presence, and will continue to do this for a great
many times in succession, is certainly true. I have been treated in
this way several times, and in one instance the gull's persistency, and
apparent dislike, were quite remarkable. Now, if one were stalking an
animal at the time, it would be easy to construe such action into a wish
to protect it; but here no other creature was in question besides myself.
The gull's method was to fly to a considerable distance away, and then,
turning, to come sailing down upon me, uttering a loud clangorous cry as
he passed over my head. Had I been creeping or rowing towards a seal, it
is very probable that in the course of these numerous flights, to and
fro, he would have approached him more or less closely, and each time I
might have assumed that he had a special object--viz. solicitude for the
seal's safety--in doing so; whereas the times that he did not do so I
might have counted as nothing--forgetting them afterwards--or put down to
general excitement.

That either a gull or any other bird should take any interest in the
fate of a seal, is to me, I confess, almost incredible. I have read of a
curlew giving a sleeping one a flap with its wing, so as to wake it up.
I doubt the motive, and I doubt it in every other reported case of the
kind. I am quite open to conviction, but it is almost always in general
terms that one hears of these things, whereas what one wants is a number
of detailed descriptions recounting everything that took place. There is
nothing strange in birds becoming clamorous and excited at seeing a man.
No doubt, they are actuated by much the same feelings as make the smaller
ones mob a hawk, or an owl; but from that to the deliberate warning of
another species is a long step, and I have never yet read evidence to
convince me it has been made.

Speaking further of the habits of the common seal, Dr. Edmondstone says:
"Their time of ascending the rocks is when the tide begins to fall--the
water must be smooth and the wind off shore. The favourite seasons are
late in spring and early autumn." With so short an experience, perhaps,
I should be chary of forming an opinion at variance with that of one
who was "for more than twenty years engaged in hunting these animals."
But my affirmative evidence is good, as far as it goes, and what a few
individuals do for a few days--or even what one does once--is in all
probability done habitually by every member of the species. There were
two kinds of rocks on which my seals lay, viz. those which were exposed
only when the tide was more or less out, and those which were always
exposed. They came to the first whilst they were still under water, and
established themselves upon them as soon as it was possible to do so, and
remained there, as a rule, until they were floated off by the returning
tide. The second kind, as represented by one great slanting slab, which
was the favourite resort, they ascended and left at all times of the day,
without any regard whatever to the state of the tide, the obvious reason
being that the tide did not here affect their power of doing so. The rock
which one seal made such persistent, though unsuccessful, efforts to get
up on to, could only by possibility be scaled when the tide was at the
full, and that, and for a little before, whilst it was still coming in,
was precisely the time at which he attempted it. At any time, moreover,
and just as the spirit moved them, these seals would leave their rocks,
and, after remaining for some time in the water, return to them again.
Though I did not take any particular notice of the wind--it seemed always
to be blowing everywhere--yet I am pretty sure it was not the same each
day, and the seals' movements, even as it affected the sea, seemed to
bear no relation to it. On one particular day the sea was rough--nothing
excessive for these islands, but rough enough for it to be a fine sight
to see it dashing against the stacks and jutting cliffs. I did not stay
long on that day, and I was hardly any time by the pool to which the
greater number of seals--all of the common kind--resorted. I cannot now
recall whether there were any lying on the great slab of rock--probably
there were, or I should have been impressed by their absence--but, even
whilst I was there, one came up on to one of the smaller rocks, and
afterwards went off it again, all in the swirl and foam. In ascending,
this seal swam in against the backward flow of the wave, and I was struck
by the strength and ease with which it stemmed such a rush and turmoil
of water. No doubt there must be seas in which seals dare not approach
the rocks, but that they do not require it to be calm--I mean, moderately
calm--in order to ascend them, this one case which came under my
observation is sufficient to assure me. I imagine, however, that what is
not too rough for seals may be too rough for a boat, and that therefore
they are not often seen by sportsmen on the rocks, except during fair
weather.

Were the sea always rough seals would hardly ever be interfered with,
and so for their sakes I wish it were. They are absolutely harmless
creatures--though some, perhaps, would grudge them their dinner--most
interesting and lovable, incapable of defence or retaliation, and of
little value when slaughtered. The chase of babies, since it would
involve the excitement of breaking into houses, and stealing cautiously
upstairs, ought to be as interesting to sportsmen, and no doubt it would
be were public opinion in that respect to undergo a change. However,
though the carcase is, as I have said--for I have been told so here--of
little value, I suppose it is of some, so that a poor fisherman has, at
least, an understandable motive in putting them to death, nor can _he_
be expected to feel an interest in anything that really is of interest
concerning them. But that an educated man should ever wish to kill seals,
being not moved to it by gain, but as a pleasure merely, and from a love
of glory, seems to me now like a madness, though as it is a madness which
I have myself felt,[22] I ought to be able to understand it. Yet I doubt
if I can now--so curiously has something gone out of me and something
else come into me.

[Footnote 22: Praised be the Lord, however, I have fired but one shot,
and that missed.]

One other remark of Dr. Edmondstone in relation to the rock-seeking
habits of seals is at variance with what I observed in my two little
bays. He says, "The favourite rocks on which they rest are almost always
observed to have deep water round them, are comparatively clear from
seaweed, and under water at full tide." Now, the favourite rock on which
my seals rested rose to, perhaps, a dozen feet above high tide before
it became unscalable, and, to that height, it was regularly ascended by
some or other of its occupants. In other respects it conformed to the
requirements stated, for the water round it was fairly deep, and above
the high-water line--where alone the seals lay--it was entirely bare of
seaweed. Other rocks, however, which were habitually resorted to, were
by no means so, and many of these were right in shore, where the water
was anything but deep, though sufficiently so for the seals to swim at
once, when they cast themselves off. The rock where the great seal always
lay was a mass of seaweed, and I have mentioned having seen the common
ones both play with, and help pull themselves up by, the long brown
kind. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that seals do not exercise much
choice in any of these respects, but are governed more by circumstances,
selecting rocks which, on the whole, they find convenient, and which may
be now of one kind, and now another. As, however, rocks which are never
submerged are, when accessible at all, always so, these ought, one would
think, to possess a great advantage, supposing the seals to have no
prejudices in this respect. I do not, myself, believe that they have,
and the seal-rocks which I passed in the steamer were such as to support
this view.

Putting everything together, I believe that, both in respect to the rocks
on which they lie, and the times at which they lie on them, the one and
only law by which seals are governed is the law of practicability. It is
a very good law, and I wish I had always been governed by it too--I mean
beforehand.



INDEX


  A

  Ambition, a strange, 323
  Animals, Memory of, as compared with that of man, 107, 108
  ---- Wild, not appreciated, 138, 139
  ---- Philistine nomenclature of, 152-4
  ---- Sensuous pleasures of, underestimated, 252
  ---- Happiness of, as compared with that of savages, 256, 257
  ---- Choice of, in regard to one another a necessity, 281-3
  ---- Cries of, false value often attached to, 306, 307
  ---- Minds of some people in strange state about, 307
  ---- Wild, hearts of, seldom explored, 323
  ---- Have no rights, 348
  Appeal against God, an, 333
  Arctic Skua, Persecution of terns by, 9-13;
    not always successful in chase of, 10
  ---- Suggested origin of piracy practised by, 11, 12
  ---- Threatened attack of, rarely made, 10;
    possible reason of this, 10, 11
  ---- Does not hawk at fish, 9
  ---- Baffled by rock-pipit, 10, 160
  ---- Will leave fish that drops on the sea, 11, 12
  ---- May be pirate or highwayman, 13;
    possible process of differentiation in this respect, 13
  ---- Loves brigandage, 14; and plays at it, 14
  ---- Wild cry of, 14, 161, 162
  ---- Grace, beauty, etc., of, 14
  ---- Variety of coloration exhibited by, 15-25
  ---- Description of fifteen differently coloured forms of, 15-20
  ---- Is multi-morphic rather than dimorphic, 21
  ---- Young resembles the great skua in plumage, 22;
    and also in wanting the lance-like feathers of the tail, 22, 23;
    these facts probably due to sexual selection, 22-5
  ---- Might knock one's hat off under certain circumstances, 94, 151
  ---- Puffin robbed by, 133
  ---- Its absurd prenomen, 152
  ---- Bathing habits of, 160, 161
  ---- Chases ravens, 191;
    its different cry whilst so doing, 191
  ---- Black guillemot robbed by, 302, 303
  ---- Piracies of, may be turned to account by herring-gull, 302, 303


  B

  Bacon in frying-pan, companionship afforded by, 3
  Bathing, Possible passing of, into an antic in some aquatic birds,
      199-201
  Bats, Aerial performances of, 134;
    compared with those of swifts, 134
  Birds, Possible loss and reacquirement of the power of flight by some, 7
  ---- "Of a feather flock together," 7
  ---- Segregation of the sexes of, in, 7
  ---- British, process of change and differentiation of, in, 44;
    advantage of collecting evidence in regard to this, 44, 46
  ---- Possible origin of some antics in, 70, 71
  ---- Sometimes very rude, 173
  ---- Want of uniformity in the actions of, 174
  Black Guillemot, Breeds in the Shetlands, 57
  ---- Its habit of carrying fish for long time in bill, 68
  ---- Manner of swallowing fish of, 69
  ---- Fighting of the, 69;
    may be passing into a sport, 70, 71;
    will fight with fish in the bill, 71, 72
  ---- Wings only used by, in diving, 72
  ---- Luminous appearance of, under water, 72, 204
  ---- Manner of feeding young of, 72, 73
  ---- Cry of, 128
  ---- Coloration of buccal cavity of, 128, 129;
    suggested explanation of, 129-31
  ---- Eats seaweed, 203
  ---- Wing-patches of, conspicuous under water, 203
  ---- Carries one fish at a time, 301, 302
  ---- Robbed by arctic skua, 302
  Black-headed Gull, Relations of, with peewit, 10
  Books, The hundred best, 110
  Brodby, Mrs., Missed as a landlady, 190, 191
  ---- Pious hope in regard to, 191


  C

  Cheltenham Corporation, Ducks done away with by the, at Pittville, 65-7
  Christianity, Mock trials as between, and paganism, by prejudiced
      Christian authors, 256
  Collector, the, Does more harm than the sportsman, 144, 145
  ---- Goal of the, extermination, 145
  ---- The biggest-record Thug, 145
  ---- His love of Nature, 145
  Common Gull, is like common sense, 13
  ---- Makes best resistance to arctic skua, 13, 14
  ---- A young Christian nationality, 14
  Common Seals, seen leaping out of the water, 57, 58
  ---- Luminous appearance of, under water, 175, 204
  ---- Manner of swimming under water of, 175
  ---- A splendid sight of, 213
  ---- As seen under different circumstances, 213, 214
  ---- Unorthodox attitudes of, 214, 226, 227
  ---- Odd actions of, 214, 215, 227
  ---- Animals of a finely-touched spirit, 215
  ---- Playing with a spar, 216
  ---- Practical joking of, 217, 322
  ---- A dormitory of, 225, 226
  ---- Difference in size, etc., of, 229
  ---- Sentinels not posted by, 229, 304, 305, 306
  ---- Resemblance of, to a man, 230
  ---- At the chosen rock, 231, 259
  ---- Bed-times of, not governed by the tide, 234
  ---- Perpendicular attitude of, in water, 257, 297, 298
  ---- Length of submersions of, 257, 258
  ---- Habit of opening mouth of, 258, 259
  ---- Sleep floating in the sea, 259, 260;
    and under the water, 297, 298
  ---- Makes the sea a rock, 260
  ---- A great sleeper, 260, 298
  ---- Sporting of, with seaweed, 321, 322
  ---- Should be called _phoca Antiquarius_, 325
  ---- Liking shown for special rocks by, 330-33, 345;
    or particular places upon them, 345, 346
  ---- Use made of seaweed by, 332
  ---- Activity of, in water, 335, 336;
    but surpassed by that of the _otariidæ_, 337-41;
    difficulty of understanding this and parallel cases, 336-41
  ---- Sporting together of, in sea, 346, 347
  ---- Eat fish in a playful manner, 347
  ---- Author's observations on, collated with those of the late Dr.
      Edmondstone, 373-9
  ---- Are governed by the law of practicability, 379
  Crouching, Habit of, in birds may have preceded that of flying, 6, 7;
     or have been resorted to owing to weak flight, 7
  ---- Habit of, in young skuas, terns, gulls, peewits, etc., 197;
    and in stone-curlew through life, as supposed, 6, 197
  Cuckoo, Brilliancy of mouth-cavity in, 131, 132;
    suggested explanation of this through natural selection, 131, 132
  ---- Actions of young in nest when disturbed, 132
  Curlew, A complaining shadow, 1


  D

  Darwin, Quoted in reference to lizards on the Galapagos Islands, 52, 53;
    and in reference to sexual selection, 272-4;
    anticipated by Swift, 33
  Dean Swift, Anticipation of Darwin by, 33
  Death, The dance of, encouraged by science, 148
  Ducks at the Pittville Gardens in Cheltenham, 64, 65


  E

  Eagles, A pair of, foiled by pigeons, 158, 159
  Eider Duck, Female and young alone seen in late July, 26
  ---- Family parties of, 26
  ---- Feed sometimes on seaweed, 26-8, 77, 78
  ---- Bobbing, etc., of, 28, 29
  ---- Mother and chicks feeding on the rocks, 75-7
  ---- Feed on mussels, 77, 78
  ---- Process of differentiation in feeding habits of, 78, 80
  ---- Luminous appearance of, under water, 204
  Emotions, Our noblest tainted in their origin, 185, 186
  Evil may be the path of advance, 207, 208
  Expulsion, Law of, amongst birds, 7;
    referred to by Gilbert White, 7
  Extinction, The scientific charm of, 148
  Eye, Accuracy of the ornithological, when helped by a measuring-tape, 34,
      35


  F

  Falstaff in Eastcheap, 343
  Fulmar Petrel, Appearance, etc., of young, 88
  ---- Actions, etc., of, 88, 89
  ---- Lethargy of, 89, 90
  ---- Difference between young and old, 90, 91
  ---- Domestic habits of, 91-3
  ---- Young: how fed, 92, 93
  ---- Different coloration of buccal cavity in young and old, 93;
    suggested explanation of this, 93
  ---- Strange error made by author in regard to, 114-16
  ---- Nuptial note of, 116, 117
  ---- Unangelic propensities of, 117, 118
  ---- Marvellous powers of flight of, 118-21
  ---- A "delicate Ariel," 118
  ---- Nuptial antics of, 125, 126, 202
  ---- Æsthetic coloration of buccal cavity in, 126, 127;
    suggested explanation of, 129, 131
  ---- Power of ejecting excrement to a distance possessed by, 165, 166
  ---- Statement made by author in regard to, checked, 201
  ---- Family parties of, 201


  G

  Great Black-backed Gull, Swoop of, 2
  ---- Will attack arctic skua, 13
  ---- Probably not victimized by arctic skua, 13
  Great Seal, Perpendicular attitude in water of, 217, 234
  ---- Length of submersions of, 235, 285
  ---- Mistake of observation made by author in regard to, 235, 236, 328
  ---- Appearance of, etc., in or out of water, 236, 324, 328, 329, 343-5
  ---- More modified in relation to aquatic life than common seal, 236
  ---- Called "the bottle-nosed seal" locally, 234, 237
  ---- Sideway roll of, in going down, 238
  ---- Splendid appearance of, under water, 285, 286
  ---- Beauty of skin of, 285, 370;
    probably due to sexual selection, 286
  ---- Falstaffian proportions of, 324, 325
  ---- Consummate happiness of, 325
  ---- Different appearance of fur of, when wet or dry, 325, 326
  ---- Leaving his rock, 325, 326, 329
  ---- In Eastcheap, 342
  ---- His beloved sleep, 342
  ---- Author's observations on, collated with those of the late Dr.
      Edmondstone, 364-73
  Great Skua becomes less savage as the young grow older, 93, 94, 151, 197
  ---- Young, the, an absurd figure, 150, 151
  ---- Less interesting than the arctic skua, 152;
    and wants the wild cry of the latter, 152
  ---- Is difficult to watch, 152, 161
  ---- Escape of a young, _à la_ cuttlefish, 154
  ---- Herrings decapitated by, 195;
    if not by gulls in first instance, 196
  ---- Plumage of, in chick, 196
  ---- Cry of chick to parents, 197
  ---- Crouching habit of chick, 197
  Guillemots, Apparent habit of constantly drinking sea-water, 62
  ---- Will fight carrying fish in bill, 72
  ---- Remain on breeding-ledges after departure of chicks, 95-7, 211, 212;
    or return there after having flown down with them, 96, 97
  ---- Actions of, as of feeding young, after the young have gone, 97-9;
    possible explanation of this, 99, 103, 290, 291, 295;
    and of similar hallucinations in man, 101-3
  ---- Young, how fed, 104, 140, 162, 163, 173, 209;
    colouring, etc., of, 104, 105, 141, 174;
    how do they reach the sea?, 105, 106, 139, 166, 174, 175, 232, 233;
    not quite immovable, 108, 109, 142, 188, 287-9
  ---- Nest-building, instinct in, possible last trace of, 109
  ---- Appearance of, on the ledges, 111, 112
  ---- Nuptial note of, 113, 114;
    strange error made by author in regard to, 114, 115;
    how explained, 115-17
  ---- _Jodeling_, etc., of, 113, 114, 162-4, 172, 177, 178, 187, 211,
      288-90
  ---- "Hărrāh," note of, 187, 188
  ---- Flight of, a mystery, 133, 134
  ---- Marital relations of, 139, 140
  ---- Young, received under the parental wing, 141, 142, 162-6, 172-4,
      176, 212
  ---- Receptive power of chick, 162, 163, 210
  ---- White mark round eye of, 164;
    represented in plain birds by depression in feathers, 164;
    both may be due to sexual selection, 164
  ---- Funny attitude of young, 164, 165, 212
  ---- A distinguished bird amongst, 165
  ---- Picture of maternal love presented by, 142
  ---- Power of ejecting excrement to a distance, of, 165
  ---- Possible relation of plumage to chick, in old bird, 166
  ---- Depression under wings of, possibly in relation to chick, 166
  ---- Manner of diving of, 168
  ---- A chick gone, 176, 177
  ---- A family scene amongst, 177, 178, 209
  ---- Chicks, the, petted, etc., by birds not their parents, 179, 287,
      291, 295, 296;
    suggested explanation of this, 183, 184, 290, 291, 295
  ---- Possible process of social evolution taking place amongst, on
      analogy of insects, 179-83
  ---- Plaintive cry of young, 189, 287;
    supposed origin of the name, 189
  ---- Eye of, 209, 210
  ---- Buccal cavity of grown, lemon-coloured, 210;
    but merely flesh-coloured in chick, 210;
    suggested explanation of this, 210, 211
  ---- Strong constitution of young, 232, 233;
    reflections aroused by, 232, 233
  ---- Chick, dangerous journey of, 287, 288
  ---- Bring in one fish at a time, 301
  ---- Fish: how held by, 301
  Gulls, Perpetual canopy formed by, 2
  ---- Noise made by, 2;
    sounds softly, 2
  ---- "Ow" note of, 2;
    language evolved out of, 2
  ---- Discordant laugh of, 2
  ---- Author troubled by hostility of, 4
  ---- Odd sensation caused by, 4
  ---- Seem to make all the world, 4
  ---- Special sanctuary of, 4, 5
  ---- Take place of men, 5
  ---- House of Commons suggested by cries of, 5
  ---- Clinging to breeding-place of, 5, 6, 95
  ---- One's presence resented by, 4
  ---- Young have habit of crouching, 6;
    but adults do not crouch, 6
  ---- Young, habit of associating together of, 7;
    consequent migration of, from island, 7;
    suggested cause of above, 8
  ---- In a mirage, 36
  ---- Drink fresh water, 62;
    and may also drink salt, 62
  ---- Herrings possibly decapitated by, 196
  ---- Not interested in the fate of seals, 373, 375
  Gun, A, Dries up all poetry in a man's heart, 193
  Gunpowder, Invention of, deplored by the author, 193


  H

  Heine, His views on sympathy in relation to civilization, 293, 294
  Herring Gull may profit by piracies of the arctic skua, 302, 303
  ---- Young kittiwakes killed by, 303, 304, 314-16, 349-51;
    inferior, as a spectacle, to that of snakes killing their prey, 351-4
  ---- Young puffin dropped by, on the rocks, 308, 309
  ---- Shakespearean disquisition, a, suggested by, 308-12
  ---- A fruit-eater, 365-8
  ---- Beautiful dye, a, produced by, 365, 366
  ---- Pellets disgorged by, interesting objects, 366, 367;
    and would make an instructive collection, 366, 367
  ---- Not interested in the fate of seals, 373, 375
  Humanitarian, the, Flies in the face of the deity, 250;
    a difficulty shirked by, 250
  Hunter, Mrs., Her pleasant establishment at Balta Sound, 86
  Hunting Instinct, the, Natural but unjustifiable in civilized man, 333-5;
    will cease when the animals have, 335


  I

  Iceland, The kind of paradise it may become, 146
  Innocence, a trumpery thing, 207
  Intersexual Selection, Arguments for a process of, 261-80
  Island, the Author's, Lonely yet populous, 1, 2, 3
  ---- Remarkable caves in, 47-50


  K

  Kittiwakes, Young, assembling together of, 7, 8, 201
  ---- Appearance of, on the ledges, 112
  ---- Cry of, 112
  ---- Appearance, etc., of young, 122
  ---- Young, how fed, 122, 123
  ---- Bright colouring of mouth cavity in, 123;
    is less bright in the young, 123;
    suggested meaning of this, 124-31
  ---- Mistake made by author in regard to, 175
  ---- Bathing of, resembles an antic, 199
  ---- Dove-like appearance of young, 122, 201


  L

  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker carries many insects at a time to young, 302
  Life, Civilized, dark clouds that hang over, 254-5
  Lumbago, Disquisition provoked by, 205-8


  M

  Man, Comparative happiness of savage and civilized, 252-6;
    impartial judgment as to, not obtainable, 255, 256
  ---- Plays part of devil in nature, 347, 348
  ---- Civilized, the most miserable being that exists or has ever existed,
      and the great purveyor of misery to other beings, 347, 348
  Might judiciously exercised the highest ideal in accordance with the
      scheme of nature, 348, 349
  Muscovy Ducks, Habit of drinking dew of, 62, 63
  ---- In the Pittville Gardens, strange appearance of, 63, 64
  Museums, Competitive roar for slaughter of, 148


  N

  Natural History, Full of unverified statements, 308
  ---- Museum at Kensington, The, Its family slaughter groups, 145-7;
    the kind of people who enjoy them, 145-7
  Naturalist, The real, not a man for this world, 194
  ---- Should be a Boswell, 323
  Nature, The godlessness of, 137
  ---- Ruthlessness of, the effect of witnessing, 317-21


  O

  Optimist, the, His faculty of finding comfort in uncomfortable things,
      175
  Ostrich, A ratite bird, 198;
    the scientific exigencies of such a position, 198
  Oyster Catcher. _See_ Sea-pie


  P

  _Palace of Truth_, Mr. W. S. Gilbert's, As played and conceived of at
      Cheltenham, 243 (footnote)
  Peewits, Habit of crouching in young, 6;
    which is not shared by adult, 6
  ---- Relations of, with black-headed gull, 10
  Peregrine Falcon, An exaggerated estimate of, 156
  ---- Foiled by a partridge, 156;
    and by pigeons, 156, 157;
    and by a rook, 158
  Pheasants, Refusal of a cock to rise, 44
  ---- Unsportsmanlike conduct of, in Norfolk, 44
  Pigeons, in a mirage, 36
  ---- How seen to advantage, 157
  ---- Coo of, terror of, 158
  ---- Success of, against peregrine falcon, 157, 158;
    and eagles, 158, 159
  Poet, the modern Christian, His devices for speaking the truth, 228, 229
  Porpoise, A large kind of, 83, 84
  Professors, The blood-prayer of, 148
  Puffins, Pursued by arctic skua, 133
  ---- Rapid flight of, 133
  ---- Picked remains of, frequent, 136, 242
  ---- Enemies of, 136, 137
  ---- Great difference between young and old, 150
  ---- Note of, 154, 155
  ---- Impassive spectators, 169
  ---- Lover-like actions of, 240
  ---- Playfulness of, 240
  ---- Sympathy shown by, 240, 241
  ---- Mischances that may befall, 242
  ---- Tendency of, to fight in mêlées, 242
  ---- Marvellous beak of, 243;
    resembling a false nose used in amateur performance of _The Palace of
        Truth_ at Cheltenham, 243 (footnote)
  ---- Legs of, how coloured, 243, 244
  ---- New sensation given by, 244
  ---- Enormous numbers of, 244, 245
  ---- Are somewhat silent, 245
  ---- Nuptial display of, 246
  ---- Male, a large-hearted bird, 246
  ---- Buccal cavity of, a bright yellow, 246, 247;
    is probably a sexual adornment, 247, 248
  ---- Eye of, almost as marked a feature as the beak, 299
  ---- Young, dropped by herring-gull on to rocks, 308, 309
  ---- Many fish brought in at a time by, 300;
    theory as to how this is done, 300, 301, 349
  ---- Is strongly ritualistic, 313
  ---- A lecture delivered to, 336-41


  R

  Railways, Absence of, add a charm to Sterne and Miss Austen, 193, 194
  ---- The destroyers of man and nature, 193
  Raven, Mobbed by arctic skuas, 191, 205
  ---- None, this time, on the island, 191
  ---- Battue of, in progress throughout the Shetlands, 191
  ---- Very wary, 194
  ---- Odd action of, in air, 194
  ---- Flight of, not majestic, 205
  Razorbill, Apparent habit of constantly drinking sea-water, of, 62
  ---- Bright colouring of buccal cavity, of, 127;
    suggested explanation of, 129-31
  ---- Nuptial note and actions of, 127
  Red-throated Diver, A ripple in shape of bird, 59
  ---- Resembles both a grebe and a guillemot, 59
  ---- Neck of, very beautiful, 59, 60
  ---- Dives like a grebe, 60, 61
  ---- Apparent habit of continually drinking, of, 61
  Right does not exist apart from might, 348, 349
  Rock Pipit, Arctic skua baffled by a, 10, 160


  S

  Science, Hypocritical cloak of, 147
  ---- Continual slaughter "for the sake of," 147
  Scott, Sir Walter, Description of hawk chasing heron in _The
    Betrothed_, by, 9, 10
  Sea Birds, Their apparent habit of constantly drinking sea-water, 62;
    possible explanation of this, 62
  ---- Power of ejecting excrement to a distance, possessed by, 165, 166
  Sea-pie, Quavering note of, 1
  ---- Doctrine of metempsychosis in relation to, 37
  ---- Bill of, how explained, 37
  ---- A sleepy bird, 38
  ---- Feeding habits of, 218-22
  ---- May become a swimmer, 220
  ---- Has some notes like the stone-curlew's, 222, 223
  ---- Gatherings of, on beach, 222, 223
  ---- Love-pipings of, 223, 224
  ---- Aerial nuptial antic of, 224
  Sexual Selection, Nature and origin of prejudice in regard to, 280-3
  Shags, Use feet, alone, in diving, 50
  ---- Disturbed in caverns, 50
  ---- Unwillingness of young, to re-enter water, 50, 51;
    suggested explanation of this, 51-4;
    possible analogy in conduct of lizards of the Galapagos Islands, 52-4
  ---- Conduct of a female alarmed for her young, 54
  ---- Brilliant colouring of buccal cavity in, 55, 130, 131;
    but less brilliant in the young bird, 56;
    above facts explained by sexual selection, 55, 56, 129-31
  ---- Apparent habit of continually drinking, of, 61
  ---- Flying out of caves in the morning, 82-6
  ---- Bellowing of, 84, 85
  ---- Nuptial actions of, 129-31
  ---- Young fed by parents after leaving nest, 148, 149
  ---- Looking like heraldic eagle, 169, 170
  ---- Young, how fed, 173
  ---- Manner of diving, of, 173
  Shark, Luminous appearance of, under water, 205
  Sheep, A, and lamb, picturesque morning call from, 138
  ---- A little harm done by, 138
  Sheepskins in Manchuria _versus_ sealskins in England, 337
  Shetlands, Sunrise in the, 81, 82
  ---- Summer in the, 167, 168
  ---- Night out in the, possibility of, 167
  ---- The wind in the, less interesting than in England, 170, 171
  ---- Persecution of ravens, etc., by landowners in the, 191-3
  ---- Effect of climate in, on paraffin, 232
  ---- More lonely than "the great lonely veldt," 257
  Sin, the way of, may be better than that of virtue, 206, 207
  Snakes, Killing of prey in captivity by, defended by author, 354-64
  Solitude, Sense of not diminished by animal life, except through human
    associations, 3;
    above opinion reversed, 297
  ---- True, should imply no fleas, 257
  Sport, What it does for observation, 370, 371
  Sportsmen, An unobservant race, 142, 143
  ---- Their one channel of observation, 143;
    and way of observing in this, 143
  ---- Actuating motive of, to kill, 143
  ---- Little of the naturalist in, 144
  ---- Hasty inferences made by, 304, 305
  ---- Interested opinions of, 304, 307
  ---- Their intellectual competitions with geese, etc., 305
  ---- Compliments paid to themselves by, 307
  ---- Statements of, accepted as though from heaven, 307
  Stone Curlew, Habit of crouching of, 6
  ---- Possible origin of some antics of, 71
  Sunrise, In the Shetlands, 81, 82
  Swifts, Flight of, compared with that of bats, 134
  Sympathy, The nature and origin of, 184, 185, 291, 292
  ---- In relation to civilization, 292-5;
    Heine's views as to, 293, 294


  T

  Terns, Breeding-ground of, on the island, 1, 9
  ---- Canopy formed by, 1
  ---- Sharp cry of, 1
  ---- A "shrieking sisterhood," 2
  ---- One's presence resented by, 4
  ---- Crouching habit of young, 6
  ---- Special relations of, with arctic skua, 9-13;
    suggested origin of these, 11
  ---- Not often actually attacked by arctic skua, 11;
    some more persevering against than others, 11, 43;
    suggested explanation of this, 11, 43
  ---- Possible ruse of, against arctic skua, 11, 12
  ---- Preferred as quarry by arctic skua, 13
  ---- Excitement in colony of, on young being interfered with, 31-34
  ---- Anger of, compared with that of insects, 31, 32
  ---- Yahoo-like habit of, 32, 33
  ---- Fiercer in the Shetlands than in southern England, 34
  ---- In a mirage, 35, 36
  ---- Mobbing hares, 32, 33
  ---- Slight difference between common, and arctic, 34, 35
  ---- Assaults made on author in defence of young, 39, 41, 42;
    beak only used in such assaults, by, 39, 41, 42;
    differ, in this respect, from skuas and gulls, 39-41
  ---- Young encouraged to fly by, colony of, 42;
    and may need such encouragement, 42, 43
  ---- Lethargy of young, 42, 43
  ---- The common made roseate terns, 85
  ---- Communal interest of, in young, 179
  ---- Possible process of social evolution in, on analogy of
      insects, 179-83
  Theory, A soil in which facts grow, 79, 80
  ---- Voltaire's simile in regard to, 90

  U

  United Kingdom, the, Strange summer contained in, 167
  ---- Not mistaken by author, for paradise, 167


  W

  Water Wagtail, Carries many insects to young, at a time, 302
  Whales, Small, off the Shetlands, 84
  ---- Seen by author, leaping out of the sea, 84, 85
  Wind, the, Difference of, in England and the Shetlands, 170, 171, 190
  Wren, a, By the wild seashore, 238-40


  Z

  Zoologist of the future, the, 323


PLYMOUTH

WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD.

PRINTERS


       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber Notes


Illustrations moved so as to avoid splitting paragraphs. The missing
end of quote on page 363 was assumed to belong after the question mark.
Although the text uses Edmondston once and Edmondstone 11 times, research
shows that the last name for all should be the former. The original usage
was left unchanged.





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