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Title: Hampshire Days
Author: Hudson, W. H. (William Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hampshire Days" ***

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  HAMPSHIRE
  DAYS


  BY

  W. H. HUDSON



  1923
  J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.
  LONDON & TORONTO
  PARIS: J. M. DENT ET FILS



All rights reserved


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN



  INSCRIBED TO
  SIR EDWARD AND LADY GREY
  NORTHUMBRIANS
  WITH HAMPSHIRE WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.

Autumn in the New Forest--Red colour in mammals--November mildness--A
house by the Boldre--An ideal spot for small birds--Abundance of
nests--Small mammals and the weasel's part--Voles and mice--Hornet
and bank-vole--Young shrews--A squirrel's visit--Green woodpecker's
drumming-tree--Drumming of other species--Beauty of great spotted
woodpecker--The cuckoo controversy--A cuckoo in a robin's
nest--Behaviour of the cuckoo--Extreme irritability--Manner of
ejecting eggs and birds from the nest--Loss of
irritability--Insensibility of the parent robins--Discourse on
mistaken kindness, pain and death in nature, the annual destruction
of bird life, and the young cuckoo's instinct.


CHAPTER II.

Between the Boldre and the Exe--Abuse of the New Forest--Character of
the population--New Forest code and conscience--A radical change
foreshadowed--Tenacity of the Forest fly--Oak woods of
Beaulieu--Swallow and pike--Charm of Beaulieu--Instinctive love of
open spaces--A fragrant
heath--Nightjars--Snipe--Redshanks--Pewits--Cause of sympathy with
animals--Grasshopper and spider--A rapacious fly--Melancholy
moods--Evening on the heath--"World-strangeness"--Pixie mounds--Death
and burial--The dead in the barrows--Their fear of the living.


CHAPTER III.

A favourite New Forest haunt--Summertide--Young blackbird's
call--Abundance of blackbirds and thrushes, and destruction of
young--Starlings breeding--The good done by starlings--Perfume of the
honeysuckle--Beauty of the hedge rose--Cult of the rose--Lesser
whitethroat--His low song--Common and lesser whitethroat--In the
woods--A sheet of bracken--Effect of broken surfaces--Roman mosaics
at Silchester--Why mosaics give pleasure--Woodland birds--Sound of
insect life--Abundance of flies--Sufferings of cattle--Dark
Water--Biting and teasing flies--Feeding the fishes and fiddlers with
flies.


CHAPTER IV.

The stag-beetle--Evening flight--Appearance on the wing--Seeking a
mate--Stag and doe in a hedge--The plough-man and the beetle--A
stag-beetle's fate--Concerning tenacity of life--Life appearances
after death--A serpent's skin--A dead glow-worm's light--Little
summer tragedies--A snaky spot--An adder's basking-place--Watching
adders--The adder's senses--Adder's habits not well known--A pair of
anxious pewits--A dead young pewit--Animals without knowledge of
death--Removal of the dead by ants--Gould's observations on ants.


CHAPTER V.

Cessation of song--Oak woods less silent than others--Mixed
gatherings of birds in oak woods--Abundance of
caterpillars--Rapacious insects--Wood ants--Alarm cries of woodland
birds--Weasel and small birds--Fascination--Weasel and short-tailed
vole--Account of Egyptian cats fascinated by fire--Rabbits and
stoats--Mystery of fascination--Cases of pre-natal
suggestion--Hampshire pigs fascinated by fire--Conjectures as to the
origin of fascination--A dead squirrel--A squirrel's fatal
leap--Fleas large and small--Shrew and fleas--Fleas in woods--The
squirrel's disposition--Food-hiding habit in animals--Memory in
squirrels and dogs--The lower kind of memory.


CHAPTER VI.

Insects in Britain--Meadow ants--The indoor view of insect
life--Insects in visible nature--The humming-bird hawk-moth and the
parson lepidopterist--Rarity of death's-head moth--Hawk-moth and
meadow-pipit--Silver-washed fritillaries on bracken--Flight of the
white admiral butterfly--Dragon-flies--Want of English names--A
water-keeper on dragon-flies--Moses Harris--Why moths have English
names--Origin of the dragon-fly's bad reputation--_Cordulegaster
annulatus_--_Calopteryx virgo_--Dragon-flies
congregated--Glow-worm--Firefly and glow-worm compared--Variability
in light--The insect's attitude when shining--Supposed use of the
light--Hornets--A long-remembered sting--The hornet local in
England--A splendid insect--Insects on ivy blossoms in autumn.


CHAPTER VII.

Great and greatest among insects--Our feeling for insect
music--Crickets and grasshoppers--_Cicada anglica_--_Locusta
viridissima_--Character of its music--Colony of green
grasshoppers--Harewood Forest--Purple emperor--Grasshoppers' musical
contests--The naturalist mocked--Female
_viridissima_--Over-elaboration in the male--Habits of female--Wooing
of the male by the female.


CHAPTER VIII.

Hampshire, north and south--A spot abounding in life--Lyndhurst--A
white spider--Wooing spider's antics--A New Forest little boy--Blonde
gipsies--The boy and the spider--A distant world of spiders--Selborne
and its visitors--Selborne revisited--An owl at Alton--A wagtail at
the Wakes--The cockerel and the martin--Heat at Selborne--House
crickets--Gilbert White on crickets--A colony of field
crickets--Water plants--Musk mallow--Girl buntings at
Selborne--Evening gatherings of swifts at
Selborne--Locustidæ--_Thamnotrizon cinereus_--English names
wanted--Black grasshopper's habits and disposition--Its abundance at
Selborne.


CHAPTER IX.

The Selborne atmosphere--Unhealthy faces--Selborne Common--Character
of scenery--Wheatham Hill--Hampshire village churches--Gilbert
White's strictures--Churches big and little--The peasants' religious
feeling--Charm of old village churches--Seeking Priors Dean--Privett
church--Blackmoor church--Churchyards--Change in gravestones--Beauty
of old gravestones--Red alga on gravestones--Yew trees in
churchyards--British dragon-tree--Farringdon village and
yew--Crowhurst yew--Hurstbourne Priors yew--How yew trees are injured.


CHAPTER X.

Wolmer Forest--Charm of contrast and novelty in scenery--Aspect of
Wolmer--Heath and pine--Colour of water and soil--An old woman's
recollections--Story of the "Selborne mob"--Past and present times
compared--Hollywater Clump--Age of trees--Bird life in the
forest--Teal in their breeding haunts--Boys in the forest--Story of
the horn-blower.


CHAPTER XI.

The Hampshire people--Racial differences in neighbouring counties--A
neglected subject--Inhabitants of towns--Gentry and peasantry--Four
distinct types--The common blonde type--Lean women--Deleterious
effects of tea-drinking--A shepherd's testimony--A mixed race--The
Anglo-Saxon--Case of reversion of type--Un-Saxon character of the
British--Dark-eyed Hampshire people--Racial feeling with regard to
eye-colours--The Iberian type--Its persistence--Character of the
small dark man--Dark and blonde children--A dark village child.


CHAPTER XII.

Test and Itchen--Vegetation--Riverside villages--The cottage by the
river--Itchen valley--Blossoming limes--Bird
visitors--Goldfinch--Cirl bunting--Song--Plumage--Three common river
birds--Coots--Moor-hen and nest--Little grebes' struggles--Male
grebe's devotion--Parent coot's wisdom--A more or less happy
family--Dogged little grebes--Grebes training their young--Fishing
birds and fascination.


CHAPTER XIII.

Morning in the valley--Abundance of swifts--Unlikeness to other
birds--Mayfly and swallows--Mayfly and swift--Bad weather and
hail--Swallows in the rain--Sand martins--An orphaned
blackbird--Tamed by feeding--Survival of gregarious instinct in young
blackbirds--Blackbird's good-night--Cirl buntings--Breeding habits
and language--Habits of the young--Reed bunting--Beautiful
weather--The oak in August.


CHAPTER XIV.

Yellow flowers--Family likeness in flavours and scents--_Mimulus
luteus_--Flowers in church decoration--Effect of
association--_Mimulus luteus_ as a British plant--A rule as to
naturalised plants wanted--A visit to Swarraton--Changes since
Gilbert White's day--"Wild musk"--Bird life on the downs--Turtle-dove
nestlings--Blue skin in doves--A boy naturalist--Birds at the
cottage--The wren's sun-bath--Wild fruits ripen--An old chalk
pit--Birds and elderberries--Past and present times compared--Calm
days--Migration of swallows--Conclusion.



{1}

HAMPSHIRE DAYS


CHAPTER I

Autumn in the New Forest--Red colour in mammals--November mildness--A
house by the Boldre--An ideal spot for small birds--Abundance of
nests--Small mammals and the weasel's part--Voles and mice--Hornet
and bank-vole--Young shrews--A squirrel's visit--Green woodpecker's
drumming-tree--Drumming of other species--Beauty of great spotted
woodpecker--The cuckoo controversy--A cuckoo in a robin's
nest--Behaviour of the cuckoo--Extreme irritability--Manner of
ejecting eggs and birds from the nest--Loss of
irritability--Insensibility of the parent robins--Discourse on
mistaken kindness, pain and death in nature, the annual destruction
of bird life, and the young cuckoo's instinct.


Here, by chance, in the early days of December 1902, at the very spot
where my book begins, I am about to bring it to an end.

A few days ago, coming hither from the higher country at Silchester,
where the trees were already nearly bare, I was surprised to find the
oak woods of this lower southern part of the New Forest still in
their full autumnal foliage.  Even now, so late in the year, after
many successive days and nights of rain and wind, they are in leaf
still: everywhere the woods are yellow, here where the oak
predominates; the stronger golden-red and russet tints of the beech
are vanished.  We have rain and wind on most days, or rather mist and
rain by day and wind with storms of rain by night; days, too, or
parts of days, when it {2} is very dark and still, and when there is
a universal greyness in earth and sky.  At such times, seen against
the distant slaty darkness or in the blue-grey misty atmosphere, the
yellow woods look almost more beautiful than in fine weather.

The wet woodland roads and paths are everywhere strewn, and in places
buried deep in fallen leaves--yellow, red, and russet; and this
colour is continued under the trees all through the woods, where the
dead bracken has now taken that deep tint which it will keep so long
as there is rain or mist to wet it for the next four or five months.
Dead bracken with dead leaves on a reddish soil; and where the woods
are fir, the ground is carpeted with lately-fallen needles of a
chestnut red, which brightens almost to orange in the rain.  Now, at
this season, in this universal redness of the earth where trees and
bracken grow, we see that Nature is justified in having given that
colour--red and reddish-yellow--to all or to most of her woodland
mammals.  Fox and foumart and weasel and stoat; the hare too; the
bright squirrel; the dormouse and harvest-mouse; the bank-vole and
the wood-mouse.  Even the common shrew and lesser shrew, though they
rarely come out by day, have a reddish tinge on their fur.
Water-shrew and water-vole inhabit the banks of streams, and are
safer without such a colour; the dark grey badger is strictly a night
rover.

[Sidenote: Autumn in the New Forest]

Sometimes about noon the clouds grow thin in that part of the sky,
low down, where the sun is, and a pale gleam of sunlight filters
through; even a {3} patch of lucid blue sky sometimes becomes visible
for a while: but the light soon fades; after mid-day the dimness
increases, and before long one begins to think that evening has come.
Withal it is singularly mild.  One could almost imagine in this
season of mist and wet and soft airs in late November that this is a
land where days grew short and dark indeed, but where winter comes
not, and the sensation of cold is unknown.  It is pleasant to be out
of doors in such weather, to stand in the coloured woods listening to
that autumn sound of tits and other little birds wandering through
the high trees in straggling parties, talking and calling to one
another in their small sharp voices.  Or to walk by the Boldre, or,
as some call it, the Lymington, a slow, tame stream in summer,
invisible till you are close to it; but now, in flood, the trees that
grow on its banks and hid it in summer are seen standing deep in a
broad, rushing, noisy river.

The woodpecker's laugh has the same careless happy sound as in
summer: it is scarcely light in the morning before the small wren
pours out his sharp bright lyric outside my window; it is time, he
tells me, to light my candle and get up.  The starlings are about the
house all day long, vocal even in the rain, carrying on their
perpetual starling conversation--talk and song and recitative; a sort
of bird-Yiddish, with fluty fragments of melody stolen from the
blackbird, and whistle and click and the music of the triangle thrown
in to give variety.  So mild is it that in the blackness of night I
{4} sometimes wander into the forest paths and by furzy heaths and
hedges to listen for the delicate shrill music of our late chirper in
the thickets, our _Thamnotrizon_, about which I shall write later;
and look, too, for a late glow-worm shining in some wet green place.
Late in October I found one in daylight, creeping about in the grass
on Selborne Hill; and some few, left unmarried, may shine much later.
And as to the shade-loving grasshopper or leaf cricket, he sings, we
know, on mild evenings in November.  But I saw no green lamp in the
herbage, and I heard only that nightly music of the tawny owl,
fluting and hallooing far and near, bird answering bird in the oak
woods all along the swollen stream from Brockenhurst to Boldre.

This race of wood owls perhaps have exceptionally strong voices:
Wise, in his book on the New Forest, says that their hooting can be
heard on a still autumn evening a distance of two miles.  I have no
doubt they can be heard a good mile.

[Sidenote: A house by the Boldre]

But it is of this, to a bird lover, delectable spot in the best
bird-months of April, May, and June that I have to write.  The house,
too, that gave me shelter must be spoken of; for never have I known
any human habitation, in a land where people are discovered dwelling
in so many secret, green, out-of-the-world places, which had so much
of nature in and about it.  Grown-up and young people were in it, and
children too, but they were girls, and had always quite spontaneously
practised what I had preached--pet nothing and persecute nothing.
There {5} was no boy to disturb the wild creatures with his hunting
instincts and loud noises; no dog, no cat, nor any domestic creature
except the placid cows and fowls which supplied the household with
milk and eggs.  A small old picturesque red-brick house with
high-pitched roof and tall chimneys, a great part of it overrun with
ivy and creepers, the walls and tiled roof stained by time and
many-coloured lichen to a richly variegated greyish red.  The date of
the house, cut in a stone tablet in one of the rooms, was 1692.  In
front there was no lawn, but a walled plot of ground with old, once
ornamental trees and bushes symmetrically placed--yews, both
spreading and cypress-shaped Irish yew, and tall tapering juniper,
and arbor vitæ; it was a sort of formal garden which had long thrown
off its formality.  In a corner of the ground by the side of these
dark plants were laurel, syringa, and lilac bushes, and among these
such wildings as thorn, elder and bramble had grown up, flourishing
greatly, and making of that flowery spot a tangled thicket.  At the
side of the house there was another plot of ground, grass-grown,
which had once been the orchard, and still had a few ancient apple
and pear trees, nearly past bearing, with good nesting-holes for the
tits and starlings in their decayed mossy trunks.  There were also a
few old ivied shade-trees--chestnuts, fir, and evergreen oak.

Best of all (for the birds) were the small old half-ruined outhouses
which had remained from the distant days when the place, originally a
manor, {6} had been turned into a farm-house.  They were here and
there, scattered about, outside the enclosure, ivy-grown, each
looking as old and weather-stained and in harmony with its
surroundings as the house itself--the small tumble-down barns, the
cow-sheds, the pig-house, the granary with open door and the wooden
staircase falling to pieces.  All was surrounded by old oak woods,
and the river was close by.  It was an ideal spot for small birds.  I
have never in England seen so many breeding close together.  The
commoner species were extraordinarily abundant.  Chaffinch and
greenfinch; blackbird, throstle and missel-thrush; swallow and
martin, and common and lesser whitethroat; garden warbler and
blackcap; robin, dunnock, wren, flycatcher, pied wagtail, starling,
and sparrow;--one could go round and put one's hand into half a dozen
nests of almost any of these species.  And very many of them had
become partial to the old buildings: even in closed rooms where it
was nearly dark, not only wrens, robins, tits, and wagtails, but
blackbirds and throstles and chaffinches were breeding, building on
beams and in or on the old nests of swallows and martins.  The
hawfinch and bullfinch were also there, the last rearing its brood
within eight yards of the front door.  One of his two nearest
neighbours was a gold-crested wren.  When the minute bird was sitting
on her eggs, in her little cradle-nest suspended to a spray of the
yew, every day I would pull the branch down so that we might all
enjoy the sight of the little fairy bird in her fairy nest which she
refused to quit.  The {7} other next-door neighbour of the bullfinch
was the long-tailed tit, which built its beautiful little nest on a
terminal spray of another yew, ten or twelve yards from the door; and
this small creature would also let us pull the branch down and peep
into her well-feathered interior.

[Sidenote: Abundance of nests]

It seemed that, from long immunity from persecution, all these small
birds had quite lost their fear of human beings; but in late May and
in June, when many young birds were out of the nest, one had to walk
warily in the grass for fear of putting a foot on some little
speckled creature patiently waiting to be visited and fed by its
parents.

Nor were there birds only.  Little beasties were also quite abundant;
but they were of species that did no harm (at all events there), and
the weasel would come from time to time to thin them down.  Money is
paid to mole-catcher and rat-catcher; the weasel charges you nothing:
he takes it out in kind.  And even as the jungle tiger, burning
bright, and the roaring lion strike with panic the wild cattle and
antelopes and herds of swine, so does this miniature carnivore, this
fairy tiger of English homesteads and hedges, fill with trepidation
the small deer he hunts and slays with his needle teeth--Nature's
scourge sent out among her too prolific small rodents; her little
blood-letter who relieves her and restores the balance.  And
therefore he, too, with his flat serpent head and fiery killing soul,
is a "dear" creature, being, like the poet's web-footed beasts of an
earlier epoch, "part of a general plan."

{8}

The most abundant of the small furred creatures were the two
short-tailed voles--field-vole and bank-vole; the last, in his bright
chestnut-red, the prettiest.  Whenever I sat down for a few minutes
in the porch I would see one or more run across the stones from one
side, where masses of periwinkle grew against the house, to the other
side, where Virginia creeper, rose, and an old magnolia tree covered
the wall.  One day at the back of the house by the scullery door I
noticed a swaying movement in a tall seeded stem of dock, and looking
down spied a wee harvest-mouse running and climbing nimbly on the
slender branchlets, feeding daintily on the seed, and looking like a
miniature squirrel on a miniature bush.

Just there, close to the door, was a wood-pile, and the hornets had
made their nest in it.  The year before they had made it in a loft in
the house, and before that in the old barn.  The splendid insects
were coming and going all day, interfering with nobody and nobody
interfering with them; and when I put a plate of honey for them on
the logs close to their entrance they took no notice of it; but
by-and-by bank-voles and wood-mice came stealing out from among the
logs and fed on it until it was all gone.

I was surprised, and could only suppose that the hornets did not
notice or discover the honey, because no such good thing was looked
for so close to their door.  Away from home the hornet was quick to
discover anything sweet to the taste, and very ready to resent the
presence of any other creature at the table.

{9}

[Sidenote: Hornet and bank-vole]

At the riverside, a few hundred yards from the house, I was sitting
in the shade of a large elm tree one day when I was visited by a big
hornet, who swept noisily down and settled on the trunk, four or five
feet above the ground.  A quantity of sap had oozed out into a deep
cleft of the rough bark and had congealed there, and the hornet had
discovered it.  Before he had been long feeding on it I saw a little
bank-vole come out from the roots of the tree and run up the trunk,
looking very pretty in his bright chestnut fur as he came into the
sunlight.  Stealing up to the lower end of the cleft full of
thickened sap he too began feeding on it.  The hornet, who was at the
upper end of the cleft, quite four inches apart from the vole, at
once stopped eating and regarded the intruder for some time, then
advanced towards him in a threatening attitude.  The vole was
frightened at this, starting and erecting his hair, and once or twice
he tried to recover his courage and resume his feeding, but the
hornet still keeping up his hostile movements, he eventually slipped
quietly down and hid himself at the roots.  When the hornet departed
he came out again and went to the sap.

Wishing to see more, I spent most of that day and the day following
at the spot, and saw hornet and vole meet many times.  If the vole
was at the sap when the hornet came he was at once driven off, and
when the hornet was there first the vole was never allowed to feed,
although on every occasion he tried to do so, stealing to his lower
place in the {10} gentlest way in order not to give offence, and
after beginning to feed affecting not to see that the other had left
off eating, and with raised head was regarding him with jealous eyes.

Rarely have I looked on a prettier little comedy in wild life.

But to return to the house.  There was quite a happy family at that
spot by the back door where the hornets were.  A numerous family of
shrews were reared, and the young, when they began exploring the
world, used to creep over the white stone by the threshold.  The
girls would pick them up to feel their soft mole-like fur: the young
shrew is a gentle creature and does not attempt to bite.  Some of the
more adventurous ones were always blundering into the empty
flowerpots heaped against the wall, and there they would remain
imprisoned until some person found and took them out.

One morning, at half-past four o'clock, when I was lying awake
listening to the blackbird, a lively squirrel came dancing into the
open window of my bedroom on the first floor.  There were writing
materials, flowers in glasses, and other objects on the ledge and
dressing-table there, and he frisked about among them, chattering,
wildly excited at seeing so many curious and pretty things, but he
upset nothing; and by-and-by he danced out again into the ivy
covering the wall on that side, throwing the colony of breeding
sparrows into a great state of consternation.

[Sidenote: Drumming of woodpecker]

The river was quite near the house--not half a {11} minute from the
front door, though hidden from sight by the trees on its banks.
Here, at the nearest point, there was an old half-dead dwarf oak
growing by the water and extending one horizontal branch a distance
of twenty feet over the stream.  This was the favourite drumming-tree
of a green woodpecker, and at intervals through the day he would
visit it and drum half a dozen times or so.  This drumming sounded so
loud that, following the valley down, I measured the distance it
could be heard and found it just one-third of a mile.  At that
distance I could hear it distinctly; farther on, not at all.  It
seemed almost incredible that the sound produced by so small a stick
as a woodpecker's beak striking a tree should be audible at that
distance.

It is hardly to be doubted that the drumming is used as a love-call,
though it is often heard in late summer.  It is, however, in early
spring and in the breeding season that it is oftenest heard, and I
have found that a good imitation of it will sometimes greatly excite
the bird.  The same bird may be heard drumming here, there, and
everywhere in a wood or copse, the sound varying somewhat in
character and strength according to the wood; but each bird as a rule
has a favourite drumming-tree, and it probably angers him to hear
another bird at the spot.  On one occasion, finding that a very
large, old, and apparently dying cedar in a wood was constantly used
by the woodpecker, I went to the spot and imitated the sound.  Very
soon the bird came and begun drumming against me, close by.  {12} I
responded, and again he drummed; and becoming more and more excited
he flew close to me, and passing from tree to tree drummed at every
spot he lighted on.

The other species have the same habit of drumming on one tree.  I
have noticed it in the small spotted, or banded, woodpecker; and have
observed that invariably after he has drummed two or three times the
female has come flying to him from some other part of the wood, and
the two birds have then both together uttered their loud chirping
notes and flown away.

On revisiting the spot a year after I had heard the green woodpecker
drumming every day in the oak by the river, I found that he had
forsaken it, and that close by, on the other side of the stream, a
great spotted woodpecker had selected as his drumming-tree a very big
elm growing on the bank.  He drummed on a large dead branch about
forty feet from the ground, and the sound he made was quite as loud
as that of the green bird.  It may be that the two big woodpeckers,
who play equally well on the same instrument, are intolerant of one
another's presence, and that in this case the spotted bird had driven
the larger yaffle from his territory.

[Sidenote: Our handsomest bird]

One of the prettiest spots by the water was that very one where the
spotted bird was accustomed to come, and I often went there at noon
and sat for an hour on the grassy bank in the shade of the
drumming-tree.  The river was but thirty to forty feet wide at that
spot, with masses of water forget-me-not growing on the opposite
bank, clearly reflected {13} in the sherry-coloured sunlit current
below.  The trees were mostly oaks, in the young vivid green of early
June foliage.  And one day when the sky, seen through that fresh
foliage, was without a stain of vapour in its pure azure, when the
wood was full of clear sunlight--so clear that silken spider webs,
thirty or forty feet high in the oaks, were visible as shining red
and blue and purple lines--the bird, after drumming high above my
head, flew to an oak tree just before me, and clinging vertically to
the bark on the high part of the trunk, remained there motionless for
some time.  His statuesque attitude, as he sat with his head thrown
well back, the light glinting on his hard polished feathers, black
and white and crimson, the setting in which he appeared of greenest
translucent leaves and hoary bark and open sunlit space, all together
made him seem not only our handsomest woodpecker, but our most
beautiful bird.  I had seen him at his best, and sitting there
motionless amid the wind-fluttered leaves, he was like a bird-figure
carved from some beautiful vari-coloured stone.


The most interesting events in animal life observed at this spot
relate to the cuckoo in the spring of 1900.  Some time before this
Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace said, in the course of a talk we had, that
he very much wanted me to find out exactly what happened in a nest in
which a young cuckoo was hatched.  It was, I replied, an old, old
story--what could I see, supposing I was lucky enough to find a nest
where I {14} could observe it properly, more than Jenner, Hancock,
Mrs. Hugh Blackburn, and perhaps other writers, had told us?  Yes, it
was an old story, he said, and he wanted it told again by someone
else.  People had lately been discrediting Jenner's account, and as
to the other chief authority I had named, one writer, a Dr.
Creighton, had said, "As for artists like Mrs. Blackburn, they can
draw what they please--all out of their own brains: we can't trust
them, or such as them."  Sober-minded naturalists had come to regard
the habit and abnormal strength attributed to the newly-hatched
cuckoo as "not proven" or quite incredible; thus Seebohm had said,
"One feels inclined to class these narratives with the equally
well-authenticated stories of ghosts and other apparitions which
abound."

Since my conversation with Dr. Wallace we have had more of these
strange narratives--the fables and ghost stories which the
unbelievers are compelled in the end to accept--and all that Dr.
Jenner or his assistant saw others have seen, and some observers have
even taken snapshots of the young cuckoo in the act of ejecting his
fellow-nestling.  But it appears from all the accounts which I have
so far read, that in every case the observer was impatient and
interfered in the business by touching and irritating the young
cuckoo, by putting eggs and other objects on his back, and by making
other experiments.  In the instance I am about to give there was no
interference by me or by the others who at intervals watched with me.

{15}

[Sidenote: A cuckoo in a robin's nest]

A robin's nest with three robin's eggs and one of the cuckoo was
found in a low bank at the side of the small orchard on 19th May,
1900.  The bird was incubating, and on the afternoon of 27th May the
cuckoo hatched out.  Unfortunately I did not know how long incubation
had been going on before the 19th, but from the fact that the cuckoo
was first out, it seems probable that the parasite has this further
advantage of coming first from the shell.  Long ago I found that this
was so in the case of the parasitical troupials of the genus
_Molothrus_ in South America.

I kept a close watch on the nest for the rest of that afternoon and
the whole of the following day (the 28th), during which the young
cuckoo was lying in the bottom of the nest, helpless as a piece of
jelly with a little life in it, and with just strength enough in his
neck to lift his head and open his mouth; and then, after a second or
two, the wavering head would drop again.  At eight o'clock next
morning (29th), I found that one robin had come out of the shell, and
one egg had been ejected and was lying a few inches below the nest on
the sloping bank.  Yet the young cuckoo still appeared a weak,
helpless, jelly-like creature, as on the previous day.  But he had
increased greatly in size.  I believe that in forty-eight hours from
the time of hatching he had quite doubled his bulk, and had grown
darker, his naked skin being of a bluish-black colour.  The robin,
thirty or more hours younger, was little more than half his size, and
had a pale, pinkish-yellow {16} skin, thinly clothed with a long
black down.  The cuckoo occupied the middle of the deep, cup-shaped
nest, and his broad back, hollow in the middle, formed a sort of
false bottom; but there was a small space between the bird's sides
and the nest, and in this space or interstice the one unhatched egg
that still remained and the young robin were lying.

During this day (29th) I observed that the pressure of the egg and
young robin against his sides irritated the cuckoo: he was
continually moving, jerking and wriggling his lumpish body this way
and that, as if to get away from the contact.  At intervals this
irritation would reach its culminating point, and a series of
mechanical movements would begin, all working blindly but as surely
towards the end as if some devilish intelligence animated the
seemingly helpless infant parasite.

Of the two objects in the nest the unhatched egg irritated him the
most.  The young robin was soft, it yielded when pressed, and could
be made somehow to fit into the interstice; but the hard, round
shell, pressing against him like a pebble, was torture to him, and at
intervals became unendurable.  Then would come that magical change in
him, when he seemed all at once to become possessed of a
preternatural power and intelligence, and then the blind struggle
down in the nest would begin.  And after each struggle--each round it
might be called--the cuckoo would fall back again and lie in a state
of collapse, as if the mysterious virtue had gone out of him.  But in
a very short time the pressure on his {17} side would begin again to
annoy him, then to torment him, and at last he would be wrought up to
a fresh effort.  Thus in a space of eight minutes I saw him struggle
four separate times, with a period of collapse after each, to get rid
of the robin's egg; and each struggle involved a long series of
movements on his part.  On each of these occasions the egg was pushed
or carried up to the wrong or upper side of the nest, with the result
that when the bird jerked the egg from him it rolled back into the
bottom of the nest.  The statement is therefore erroneous that the
cuckoo knows at which side to throw the egg out.  Of course he
_knows_ nothing, and, as a fact, he tries to throw the egg up as
often as down the slope.

The process in each case was as follows: The pressure of the egg
against the cuckoo's side, as I have said, was a constant irritation;
but the irritability varied in degree in different parts of the body.
On the under parts it scarcely existed; its seat was chiefly on the
upper surface, beginning at the sides and increasing towards the
centre, and was greatest in the hollow of the back.  When, in moving,
the egg got pushed up to the upper edge of his side, he would begin
to fidget more and more, and this would cause it to move round, and
so to increase the irritation by touching and pressing against other
parts.  When all the bird's efforts to get away from the object had
only made matters worse, he would cease wriggling and squat down
lower and lower in the bottom of the nest, and the egg, forced up,
would finally roll right into the cavity in his back--the {18} most
irritable part of all.  Whenever this occurred, a sudden change that
was like a fit would seize the bird; he would stiffen, rise in the
nest, his flabby muscles made rigid, and stand erect, his back in a
horizontal position, the head hanging down, the little naked wings
held up over the back.  In that position he looked an ugly, lumpish
negro mannikin, standing on thinnest dwarf legs, his back bent, and
elbows stuck up above the hollow flat back.

Once up on his small stiffened legs he would move backwards, firmly
grasping the hairs and hair-like fibres of the nest-lining, and never
swerving, until the rim of the cup-like structure was reached; and
then standing, with feet sometimes below and in some cases on the
rim, he would jerk his body, throwing the egg off or causing it to
roll off.  After that he would fall back into the nest and lie quite
exhausted for some time, his jelly-like body rising and falling with
his breathing.

These changes in the bird strongly reminded me of a person with an
epileptic fit, as I had been accustomed to see it on the pampas,
where, among the gauchos, epilepsy is one of the commonest
maladies;--the sudden rigidity of muscle in some weak, sickly,
flabby-looking person, the powerful grip of the hand, the strength in
struggling, exceeding that of a man in perfect health, and finally,
when this state is over, the weakness of complete exhaustion.

I witnessed several struggles with the egg, but at last, in spite of
my watchfulness, I did not see it ejected.  On returning after a very
short absence, {19} I found the egg had been thrown out and had
rolled down the bank, a distance of fourteen inches from the nest.

The young cuckoo appeared to rest more quietly in the nest now, but
after a couple of hours the old fidgeting began again, and increased
until he was in the same restless state as before.  The rapid growth
of the birds made the position more and more miserable for the
cuckoo, since the robin, thrust against the side of the nest, would
throw his head and neck across the cuckoo's back, and he could not
endure being touched there.  And now a fresh succession of struggles
began, the whole process being just the same as when the egg was
struggled with.  But it was not so easy with the young bird, not
because of its greater weight, but because it did not roll like the
egg and settle in the middle of the back; it would fall partly on to
the cuckoo's back and then slip off into the nest again.  But success
came at last, after many failures.  The robin was lying partly across
the cuckoo's neck, when, in moving its head, its little curved beak
came down and rested on the very centre of that irritable hollow in
the back of its foster-brother.  Instantly the cuckoo pressed down
into the nest, shrinking away as if hot needles had pricked him, as
far as possible from the side where the robin was lying against him,
and this movement of course brought the robin more and more over him,
until he was thrown right upon the cuckoo's back.

Instantly the rigid fit came on, and up rose the cuckoo, as if the
robin weighed no more than a feather {20} on him; and away backwards
he went, right up the nest, without a pause, and standing actually on
the rim, jerked his body, causing the robin to fall off, clean away
from the nest.  It fell, in fact, on to a large dock leaf five inches
below the rim of the nest, and rested there.

After getting rid of his burden the cuckoo continued in the same
position, perfectly rigid, for a space of five or six seconds, during
which it again and again violently jerked its body, as if it had the
feeling of the burden on it still.  Then, the fit over, it fell back,
exhausted as usual.

I had been singularly fortunate in witnessing the last scene and
conclusion of this little bloodless tragedy in a bird's nest, with
callow nestlings for _dramatis personæ_, this innocent crime and
wrong, which is not a wrong since the cuckoo doesn't think it one.
It is a little curious to reflect that a similar act takes place
annually in tens of thousands of small birds' nests all over the
country, and that it is so rarely witnessed.

Marvellous as the power of the young cuckoo is when the fit is on
him, it is of course limited, and when watching his actions I
concluded that it would be impossible for him to eject eggs and
nestlings from any thrush's nest.  The blackbird's would be too deep,
and as to the throstle's, he could not move backwards up the sides of
the cup-like cavity on account of the smooth plastered surface.

After having seen the young robin cast out I still refrained from
touching the nest, as there were yet {21} other things to observe.
One was the presence, very close to the nest, of the ejected
nestling--what would the parents do in the case?  Before dealing with
that matter I shall conclude the history of the young cuckoo.

Having got the nest to himself he rested very quietly, and it was not
till the following day (1st July) that I allowed myself to touch him.
He was, I found, still irritable, and when I put back the eggs he had
thrown out he was again miserable in the nest, and the struggle with
the eggs was renewed until he got rid of them as before.  The next
day the irritability had almost gone, and in the afternoon he
suffered an egg or a pebble to remain in the nest with him without
jerking and wriggling about, and he made no further attempt to eject
it.  This observation--the loss of irritability on the fifth day
after hatching--agrees with that of Mr. Craig, whose account was
printed in the _Feathered World_, 14th July, 1899.

The young cuckoo grew rapidly and soon trod his nest into a broad
platform, on which he reposed, a conspicuous object in the scanty
herbage on the bank.  We often visited and fed him, when he would
puff up his plumage and strike savagely at our hands, but at the same
time he would always gobble down the food we offered.  In seventeen
days after being hatched he left the nest and took up his position in
an oak tree growing on the bank, and there the robins continued
feeding him for the next three days, after which we saw no more of
him.

{22}

I may add that in May 1901 a pair of robins built on the bank close
to where the nest had been made the previous year, and that in this
nest a cuckoo was also reared.  The bird, when first seen, was
apparently about four or five days old, and it had the nest to
itself.  Three ejected robin's eggs were lying on the bank a little
lower down.

It is hardly to be doubted that the robins were the same birds that
had reared the cuckoo in the previous season; and it is highly
probable that the same cuckoo had returned to place her egg in their
nest.

The end of the little history--the fate of the ejected nestling and
the attitude of the parent robins--remains to be told.  When the
young cuckoo throws out the nestlings from nests in trees, hedges,
bushes, and reeds, the victims, as a rule, fall some distance to the
ground, or in the water, and are no more seen by the old birds.  Here
the young robin, when ejected, fell a distance of but five or six
inches, and rested on a broad, bright green leaf, where it was an
exceedingly conspicuous object; and when the mother robin was on the
nest--and at this stage she was on it a greater part of the
time--warming that black-skinned, toad-like, spurious babe of hers,
her bright, intelligent eyes were looking full at the other one, just
beneath her, which she had grown in her body and had hatched with her
warmth, and was her very own.  I watched her for hours; watched her
when warming the cuckoo, when she left the nest and when she returned
with food, and warmed it again, and never {23} once did she pay the
least attention to the outcast lying there so close to her.  There,
on its green leaf, it remained, growing colder by degrees, hour by
hour, motionless, except when it lifted its head as if to receive
food, then dropped it again, and when, at intervals, it twitched its
body as if trying to move.  During the evening even these slight
motions ceased, though that feeblest flame of life was not yet
extinguished; but in the morning it was dead and cold and stiff; and
just above it, her bright eyes on it, the mother robin sat on the
nest as before, warming her cuckoo.

How amazing and almost incredible it seems that a being such as a
robin, intelligent above most birds as we are apt to think, should
prove in this instance to be a mere automaton!  The case would, I
think, have been different if the ejected one had made a sound, since
there is nothing which more excites the parent bird, or which is more
instantly responded to, than the cry of hunger or distress of the
young.  But at this early stage the nestling is voiceless--another
point in favour of the parasite.  The sight of its young, we see,
slowly and dumbly dying, touches no chord in the parent: there is, in
fact, no recognition; once out of the nest it is no more than a
coloured leaf, or a bird-shaped pebble, or fragment of clay.


It happened that my young fellow-watchers, seeing that the ejected
robin if left there would inevitably perish, proposed to take it in
to feed and rear it--to save it, as they said; but I advised them not
to {24} attempt such a thing, but rather to spare the bird.  To spare
it the misery they would inflict upon it by attempting to fill its
parents' place.  They had, so far, never kept a caged bird, nor a pet
bird, and had no desire to keep one; all they desired to do in this
case was to save the little outcast from death--to rear it till it
was able to fly away and take care of itself.  That was a difficult,
a well-nigh impossible task.  The bird, at this early stage, required
to be fed at short intervals for about sixteen hours each day on a
peculiar kind of food, suited to its delicate stomach--chiefly small
caterpillars found in the herbage; and it also needed a sufficient
amount by day and night of that animal warmth which only the parent
bird could properly supply.  They, not being robins, would give it
unsuitable food, feed it at improper times, and not keep it at the
right temperature, with the almost certain result that after
lingering a few days it would die in their hands.  But if by giving a
great deal of time and much care they should succeed in rearing it,
their foundling would start his independent life so handicapped,
weakened in constitution by an indoor artificial bringing up, without
the training which all young birds receive from their parents after
quitting the nest, that it would be impossible for him to save
himself.  If by chance he should survive until August, he would then
be set upon and killed by one of the adult robins already in
possession of the ground.  Now, when a bird at maturity perishes, it
suffers in dying--sometimes very acutely; but if left to grow {25}
cold and fade out of life at this stage it can hardly be said to
suffer.  It is no more conscious than a chick in the shell; take from
it the warmth that keeps it in being, and it drops back into
nothingness without knowing and, we may say, without feeling
anything.  There may indeed be an incipient consciousness in that
small, soft brain in its early vegetative stage, a first faint
glimmer of bright light to be, and a slight sensation of numbness may
be actually felt as the body grows cold, but that would be all.

[Sidenote: Mistaken kindness]

Pain is so common in the world; and, owing to the softness and
sensitiveness induced in us by an indoor artificial life--since that
softness of our bodies reacts on our minds--we have come to a false
or an exaggerated idea of its importance, its _painfulness_, to put
it that way; and we should therefore be but making matters worse, or
rather making ourselves more miserable, by looking for and finding it
where it does not exist.

The power to feel pain in any great degree comes into the bird's life
after this transitional period, and is greatest at maturity, when
consciousness and all the mental faculties are fully developed,
particularly the passion of fear, which plays continually on the
strings of the wild creature's heart with an ever varying touch,
producing the feeling in all degrees from the slight disquiet, which
is no sooner come than gone, to extremities of agonising terror.  It
would perhaps have a wholesome effect on their young minds, and save
them from grieving over-much at the death of a newly-hatched robin,
if they {26} would consider this fact of the pain that is and must
be.  Not the whole subject--the fact that as things are designed in
this world of sentient life there can be no good, no sweetness or
pleasure in life, nor peace and contentment and safety, nor happiness
and joy, nor any beauty or strength or lustre, nor any bright and
shining quality of body or mind, without pain, which is not an
accident nor an incident, nor something ancillary to life, but is
involved in and a part of life, of its very colour and texture.  That
would be too long to speak about; all I meant was to consider that
small part of the fact, the necessary pain to and destruction of the
bird life around them and in the country generally.

[Sidenote: Annual bird-mortality]

Here, for instance, without going farther than a hundred yards from
the house in any direction, they could put their hands in nests in
trees and bushes, and on the ground, and in the ivy, and in the old
outhouse, and handle and count about one hundred and thirty young
birds not yet able to fly.  Probably more than twice that number
would be successfully reared during the season.  How many, then,
would be reared in the whole parish!  How many in the entire New
Forest district, in the whole county of Hampshire, in the entire
kingdom!  Yet when summer came round again they would find no more
birds than they had now.  And so it would be in all places; all that
incalculable increase would have perished.  Many millions would be
devoured by rapacious birds and beasts; millions more would perish of
hunger and cold; millions of migrants would fall by the {27} way,
some in the sea and some on land; those that returned from distant
regions would be but a remnant, and the residents that survived
through the winter, these, too, would be nothing but a remnant.  It
is not only that this inconceivable amount of bird life must be
destroyed each year, but we cannot suppose that death is not a
painful process.  In a vast majority of cases, whether the bird
slowly perishes of hunger and weakness, or is pursued and captured by
birds and beasts of prey, or is driven by cold adverse winds and
storms into the waves, the pain, the agony must be great.  The least
painful death is undoubtedly that of the bird that, weakened by want
of sustenance, dies by night of cold in severe weather.  It is indeed
most like the death of the nestling, but a few hours out of the
shell, which has been thrown out of the nest, and which soon grows
cold, and dozes its feeble, unconscious life away.

We may say, then, that of all the thousand forms of death which
Nature has invented to keep her too rapidly multiplying creatures
within bounds, that which is brought about by the singular instinct
of the young cuckoo in the nest is the most merciful or the least
painful.

I am not sure that I said all this, or marshalled fact and argument
in the precise order in which they are here set down.  I fancy not,
as it seems more than could well have been spoken while we were
standing there in the late evening sunlight by that primrose bank,
looking down on the little {28} flesh-coloured mite in its scant
clothing of black down, fading out of life on its cold green leaf.
But what was said did not fail of its effect, so that my young
tender-hearted hearers, who had begun to listen with moist eyes,
secretly accusing me perhaps of want of feeling, were content in the
end to let it be--to go away and leave it to its fate in that
mysterious green world we, too, live in and do not understand, in
which life and death and pleasure and pain are interwoven light and
shade.



{29}

CHAPTER II

Between the Boldre and the Exe--Abuse of the New Forest--Character of
the population--New Forest code and conscience--A radical change
foreshadowed--Tenacity of the Forest fly--Oak woods of
Beaulieu--Swallow and pike--Charm of Beaulieu--Instinctive love of
open spaces--A fragrant
heath--Nightjars--Snipe--Redshanks--Pewits--Cause of sympathy with
animals--Grasshopper and spider--A rapacious fly--Melancholy
moods--Evening on the heath--"World-strangeness"--Pixie mounds--Death
and burial--The dead in the barrows--Their fear of the living.


Between the Boldre and the Exe, or Beaulieu river, there is a stretch
of country in most part flat and featureless.  It is one of those
parts of the Forest which have a bare and desolate aspect; here in
places you can go a mile and not find a tree or bush, where nothing
grows but a starved-looking heath, scarcely ankle-deep.  Wild life in
such places is represented by a few meadow-pipits and small lizards.
There is no doubt that this barrenness and naked appearance is the
result of the perpetual cutting of heath and gorse, and the removal
of the thin surface soil for fuel.

Those who do not know the New Forest, or know it only as a
collecting- or happy hunting-ground of eggers and "lepidopterists,"
or as artists in search of paintable woodland scenery know it, and
others who make it a summer holiday resort, may say that this abuse
is one which might and should be remedied.  {30} They would be
mistaken.  What I and a few others who use their senses see and hear
in this or that spot, is, in every case, a very small matter, a
visible but an infinitesimal part of that abuse of the New Forest
which is old and chronic, and operates always, and is common to the
whole area, and, as things are, irremediable.  To discover and
denounce certain things which ought not to be, to rail against
verderers, who are after all what they cannot help being, is about as
profitable as it would be to "damn the nature of things."

It must be borne in mind that the Forest area has a considerable
population composed of commoners, squatters, private owners, who have
inherited or purchased lands originally filched from the Forest; and
of a large number of persons who reside mostly in the villages, and
are private residents, publicans, shopkeepers, and lodging-house
keepers.  All these people have one object in common--to get as much
as they can out of the Forest.  It is true that a large proportion of
them, especially those who live in the villages, which are now
rapidly increasing their populations, are supposed not to have any
Forest rights; but they do as a fact get something out of it; and we
may say that, generally, all the people in the Forest dine at one
table, and all get a helping out of most of the dishes going, though
the first and biggest helpings are for the favoured guests.

[Sidenote: New Forest conscience]

Those who have inherited rights have indeed come to look on the
Forest as in a sense their property.  What is given or handed over to
them is not in their {31} view their proper share: they take this
openly, and get the balance the best way they can--in the dark
generally.  It is not dishonest to help yourself to what belongs to
you; and they must live--must have their whack.  They have, in fact,
their own moral code, their New Forest conscience, just as other
men--miners, labourers on the land, tradesmen, gamekeepers, members
of the Stock Exchange, for instance--have each their corporate code
and conscience.  It may not be the general or the ideal or
speculative conscience, but it is what may be called their working
conscience.  One proof that much goes on in the dark, or that much is
winked at, is the paucity of all wild life which is worth any man's
while to take in a district where pretty well everything is protected
on paper.  Game, furred and feathered, would not exist at all but for
the private estates scattered through the Forest, in which game is
preserved, and from which the depleted Forest lands are constantly
being restocked.  Again, in all this most favourable country no rare
or beautiful species may be found: it would be safer for the hobby,
the golden oriole, the hoopoe, the harrier, to nest in a metropolitan
park than in the loneliest wood between the Avon and Southampton
Water.  To introduce any new species, from the biggest--the
capercailzie and the great bustard--to the smallest quail, or any
small passerine bird with a spot of brilliant colour on its plumage,
would be impossible.

The New Forest people are, in fact, just what circumstances have made
them.  Like all organised {32} beings, they are the creatures of, and
subject to, the conditions they exist in; and they cannot be other
than they are--namely, parasites on the Forest.  And, what is more,
they cannot be educated, or preached, or worried out of their
ingrained parasitical habits and ways of thought.  They have had
centuries--long centuries--of practice to make them cunning, and the
effect of more stringent regulations than those now in use would only
be to polish and put a better edge on that weapon which Nature has
given them to fight with.

This being the conclusion, namely, that "things are what they are,
and the consequences of them will be what they will be," some of my
readers, especially those in the New Forest, may ask, Why, then, say
anything about it? why not follow the others who have written books
and books and books about the New Forest, books big and books little,
from Wise, his classic, and the Victoria History, down to the long
row of little rosy guide-books?  They saw nothing of all this; or if
they saw un-pleasant things they thought it better to hold their
tongues, or pens, than to make people uncomfortable.

I confess it would be a mistake, a mere waste of words, to bring
these hidden things to light if it could be believed that the New
Forest, in its condition and management, will continue for any length
of time to be what it is and has been--just that and nothing more.  A
district in England, it is true, but out of the way, remote, a spot
to be visited once or twice in a lifetime just to look at the
scenery, {33} like Lundy or the Scilly Isles or the Orkneys.  But it
cannot be believed.  The place itself, its curious tangle of
ownership--government by and rights of the crown, of private owners,
commoners, and the public--is what it has always been; but many
persons have now come to think and to believe that the time is
approaching when there will be a disentanglement and a change.

[Sidenote: A change foreshadowed]

The Forest has been known and loved by a limited number of persons
always; the general public have only discovered it in recent years.
For one visitor twenty years ago there are scores, probably hundreds,
to-day.  And year by year, as motoring becomes more common, and as
cycling from being general grows, as it will, to be universal, the
flow of visitors to the Forest will go on at an ever-increasing rate,
and the hundreds of to-day will be thousands in five years' time.
With these modern means of locomotion, there is no more attractive
spot than this hundred and fifty square miles of level country which
contains the most beautiful forest scenery in England.  And as it
grows in favour in all the country as a place of recreation and
refreshment, the subject of its condition and management, and the
ways of its inhabitants, will receive an increased attention.  The
desire will grow that it shall not be spoilt, either by the
authorities or the residents, that it shall not be turned into
townships and plantations, nor be starved, nor its wild life left to
be taken and destroyed by anyone and everyone.  It will be seen that
the "rights" I have spoken of, with the unwritten laws {34} and
customs which are kept more or less in the dark, are in conflict with
the better and infinitely more important rights of the people
generally--of the whole nation.  Once all this becomes common
knowledge, that which some now regard as a mere dream, a faint hope,
something too remote for us to concern ourselves about, will all at
once appear to us as a practical object--something to be won by
fighting, and certainly worth fighting for.

It may be said at once, and I fancy that anyone who knows the inner
life of the Forest people will agree with me, that so long as these
are in possession (and here all private owners are included) there
can be no great change, no permanent improvement made in the Forest.
That is the difficulty, but it is not an insuperable one.  Public
opinion, and the desire of the people for anything, is a considerable
force to-day; so that, inspired by it, the most timid and
conservative governments are apt all at once to acquire an
extraordinary courage.  Sustained by that outside force, the most
tender-hearted and sensitive Prime Minister would not in the least
mind if some persons were to dub him a second and worse William the
Bastard.

The people in this district have a curious experiment to show the
wonderful power of the Forest fly in retaining its grasp.  A man
takes the fly between his finger and thumb, and with the other hand
holds a single hair of a cow or horse for it to seize, then gently
pulls hair and fly apart.  The fly does not release his hold--he
splits the hair, or at any rate {35} shaves a piece off right down to
the fine end with his sharp, grasping claw.  Doubtless the human
parasite will, when his time comes, show an equal tenacity; he will
embrace the biggest and oldest oak he knows, and to pluck him from
his beloved soil it will be necessary to pull up the tree by its
roots.  But this is a detail, and may be left to the engineers.


[Sidenote: Overlooking Beaulieu]

Beyond that starved, melancholy wilderness, the sight of which has
led me into so long a digression, one comes to a point which
overlooks the valley of the Exe; and here one pauses long before
going down to the half-hidden village by the river.  Especially if it
is in May or June, when the oak is in its "glad light grene," for
that is the most vivid and beautiful of all vegetable greens, and the
prospect is the greenest and most soul-refreshing to be found in
England.  The valley is all wooded and the wood is all oak--a
continuous oak-wood stretching away on the right, mile on mile, to
the sea.  The sensation experienced at the sight of this prospect is
like that of the traveller in a dry desert when he comes to a clear
running stream and drinks his fill of water and is refreshed.  The
river is tidal, and at the full of the tide in its widest part beside
the village its appearance is of a small inland lake, grown round
with oaks--old trees that stretch their horizontal branches far out
and wet their lower leaves in the salt water.  The village itself
that has this setting, with its ancient watermill, its palace of the
Montagus, and the Abbey of Beaulieu, a grey ivied ruin, has a
distinction above {36} all Hampshire villages, and is unlike all
others in its austere beauty and atmosphere of old-world seclusion
and quietude.  Above all is that quality which the mind imparts--the
expression due to romantic historical associations.

[Sidenote: Swallow and pike]

One very still, warm summer afternoon I stood on the margin, looking
across the sheet of glassy water at a heron on the farther side,
standing knee-deep in the shallow water patiently watching for a
fish, his grey figure showing distinctly against a background of
bright green sedges.  Between me and the heron scores of swallows and
martins were hawking for flies, gliding hither and thither a little
above the glassy surface, and occasionally dropping down to dip and
wet their under plumage in the water.  And all at once, fifty yards
out from the margin, there was a great splash, as if a big stone had
been flung out into the lake; and then two or three moments later out
from the falling spray and rocking water rose a swallow, struggling
laboriously up, its plumage drenched, and flew slowly away.  A big
pike had dashed at and tried to seize it at the moment of dipping in
the water, and the swallow had escaped as by a miracle.  I turned
round to see if any person was near, who might by chance have
witnessed so strange a thing, in order to speak to him about it.
There was no person within sight, but if on turning round my eyes had
encountered the form of a Cistercian monk, returning from his day's
labour in the fields, in his dirty black-and-white robe, his
implements on his shoulders, his face and hands {37} begrimed with
dust and sweat, the apparition on that day, in the mood I was in,
would not have greatly surprised me.

The atmosphere, the expression of the past may so attune the mind as
almost to produce the illusion that the past is now.

But more than old memories, great as their power over the mind is at
certain impressible moments, and more than Beaulieu as a place where
men dwell, is that ineffable freshness of nature, that verdure that
like the sunlight and the warmth of the sun penetrates to the inmost
being.  Here I have remembered the old ornithologist Willughby's
suggestion, which no longer seemed fantastic, that the furred and
feathered creatures inhabiting arctic regions have grown white by
force of imagination and the constant intuition of snow.  And here
too I have recalled that modern fancy that the soul in man has its
proper shape and colour, and have thought that if I came hither with
a grey or blue or orange or brown soul, its colour had now changed to
green.  The pleasure of it has detained me long days in spring, often
straying by the river at its full, among the broadly-branching oaks,
delighting my sight with the new leaves

                  against the sun shene,
  Some very red, and some a glad light grene.


[Sidenote: Love of open spaces]

Yet these same oak woods, great as their charm is, their green
everlasting gladness, have a less enduring hold on the spirit than
the open heath, though this may look melancholy and almost desolate
on coming {38} to it from those sunlit emerald glades with a green
thought in the soul.  It seems enough that it is open, where the wind
blows free, and there is nothing between us and the sun.  It is a
passion, an old ineradicable instinct in us: the strongest impulse in
children, savage or civilised, is to go out into some open place.  If
a man be capable of an exalted mood, of a sense of absolute freedom,
so that he is no longer flesh and spirit but both in one, and one
with nature, it comes to him like some miraculous gift on a hill or
down or wide open heath.  "You never enjoy the earth aright," wrote
Thomas Traherne in his _Divine Raptures_, "until the sun itself
floweth through your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and
crowned with the stars, and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of
the whole world."

It may be observed that we must be out and well away from the woods
and have a wide horizon all around in order to feel the sun flowing
through us.  Many of us have experienced these "divine raptures,"
this sublimated state of feeling; and such moments are perhaps the
best in our earthly lives; but it is mainly the Trahernes, the
Silurist Vaughans, the Newmans, the Frederic Myers, the Coventry
Patmores, the Wordsworths, that speak of them, since such moods best
fit, or can be made to fit in with their philosophy, or mysticism,
and are, to them, its best justification.

This wide heath, east of Beaulieu, stretching miles away towards
Southampton Water, looks level to the eye.  But it is not so; it is
grooved with long {39} valley-like depressions with marshy or boggy
bottoms, all draining into small tributaries of the Dark Water, which
flows into the Solent near Lepe.  In these bottoms and in all the wet
places the heather and furze mixes with or gives place to the bog
myrtle, or golden withy; and on the spongiest spots the fragrant
yellow stars of the bog asphodel are common in June.  These spots are
exceedingly rich in colour, with greys and emerald greens and orange
yellows of moss and lichen, flecked with the snow-white of
cotton-grass.

Here, then, besides that cause of contentment which we find in
openness, there is fragrance in fuller measure than in most places.
One may wade through acres of myrtle, until that subtle delightful
odour is in one's skin and clothes, and in the air one breathes, and
seems at last to penetrate and saturate the whole being, and smell
seems to be for a time the most important of the senses.

Among the interesting birds that breed on the heath, the nightjar is
one of the commonest.  A keen naturalist, Mr. E. A. Bankes, who lived
close by, told me that he had marked the spot where he had found a
pair of young birds, and that each time he rode over the heath he had
a look at them, and as they remained there until able to fly, he
concluded that it is not true that the parent birds remove the young
when the nest has been discovered.

I was not convinced, as it did not appear that he had handled the
young birds: he had only looked at them while sitting on his horse.
The following {40} summer I found a pair of young not far from the
same spot: they were half-fledged and very active, running into the
heath and trying to hide from me, but I caught and handled them for
some minutes, the parent bird remaining near, uttering her cries.  I
marked the spot and went back next day, only to find that the birds
had vanished.

[Sidenote: Snipe: Redshank]

The snipe, too, is an annual breeder, and from what I saw of it on
the heath I think we have yet something to learn concerning the
breeding habits of that much-observed bird.  The parent bird is not
so wise as most mothers of the feathered world, since her startling
cry of alarm, sounding in a small way like the snort of a frightened
horse, will attract a person to the spot where she is sheltering her
young among the myrtle.  She will repeat the cry at intervals a dozen
times without stirring or attempting to conceal the young.  But she
does not always act in the same way.  Sometimes she has risen to a
great height and begun circling above me, the circles growing smaller
or larger as I came nearer or went farther from the spot where the
young were lurking.

It was until recently a moot question as to whether or not the female
snipe made the drumming or bleating sound; some of the authorities
say that this sound proceeds only from the male bird.  I have no
doubt that both birds make the sound.  Invariably when I disturbed a
snipe with young, and when she mounted high in the air, to wheel
round and round, uttering her anxious cries, she dashed downwards at
intervals, and produced the bleating or drumming {41} which the male
birds emit when playing about the sky.

In all cases where I have found young snipe there was but one old
bird, the female, no doubt.  In some instances I have spent an hour
with the young birds by me, or in my hands, waiting for the other
parent to appear; and I am almost convinced that the care of the
young falls wholly on the female.

The redshank, that graceful bird with a beautiful voice, breeds here
most years, and is in a perpetual state of anxiety so long as a human
figure remains in sight.  A little while ago the small vari-coloured
stonechat or fuzz-jack, with red breast, black head and white collar,
sitting upright and motionless, like a painted image of a bird, on
the topmost spray of a furze bush, then flitting to perch on another
bush, then to another, for ever emitting those two little contrasted
sounds--the guttural chat and the clear, fretful pipe--had seemed to
me the most troubled and full of care and worries of all Nature's
feathered children--so sorrowful, in spite of his pretty harlequin
dress!  Now his trouble seems a small thing, and not to be regarded
in the presence of the larger, louder redshank.  As I walk he rises a
long way ahead, and wheeling about comes towards me--he and she, and
by-and-by a second pair, and perhaps a third; they come with measured
pulsation of the long, sharp, white-banded wings; and the first comer
sweeps by and returns again to meet the others, clamouring all the
time, calling on them to join in the outcry until the whole air seems
full of their {42} trouble.  To and fro he flies, to this side and
that; and finally, as if in imitation of the small, fretful
stonechat, he sweeps down to alight on the topmost spray of some
small tree or tall bush--not a furze but a willow; and as it is an
insecure stand for a bird of his long thin wading legs, he stands
lightly, balancing himself with his wings; beautiful in his white and
pale-grey plumage, and his slender form, on that airy perch of the
willow in its grey-green leaves and snow-white catkins; and balanced
there, he still continues his sorrowful anxious cries--ever crying
for me to go--to go away and leave him in peace.  I leave him
reluctantly, and have my reward, for no sooner does he see me going
than his anxious cries change to that beautiful wild pipe, unrivalled
except by the curlew among shore birds.

[Sidenote: Pewit]

Worst of all birds that can have no peace in their lives so long as
you are in sight is the pewit.  The harsh wailing sound of his crying
voice as he wheels about overhead, the mad downward rushes, when his
wings creak as he nears you, give the idea that he is almost crazed
with anxiety; and one feels ashamed at causing so much misery.  Oh,
poor bird! is there no way to make you understand without leaving the
ground, that your black-spotted, olive-coloured eggs are perfectly
safe; that a man can walk about on the heath and be no more harmful
to you than the Forest ponies, and the ragged donkey browsing on a
furze bush, and the cow with her tinkling bell?  I stand motionless,
looking the other way; I sit down to think; I lie flat on my back
with hands {43} clasped behind my head, and gaze at the sky, and
still the trouble goes on--he will not believe in me, nor tolerate
me.  There is nothing to do but get up and go away out of sight and
sound of the pewits.

It appears to me that this sympathy for the lower animals is very
much a matter of association--an overflow of that regard for the
rights of and compassion for others of our kind which are at the
foundations of the social instinct.  The bird is a red- and a
warm-blooded being--we have seen that its blood is red, and when we
take a living bird in our hands we feel its warmth and the throbbing
of its breast: therefore birds are related to us, and with that red
human blood they have human passions.  Witness the pewit--the mother
bird, when you have discovered or have come near her downy little
one--could any human mother, torn with the fear of losing her babe,
show her unquiet and disturbed state in a plainer, more
understandable way!  But in the case of creatures of another division
in the kingdom of life--non-vertebrates, without sensible heat, and
with a thin colourless fluid instead of red blood, as if like plants
they had only a vegetative life--this sympathy is not felt as a rule.
When, in some exceptional case, the feeling is there, it is because
some human association has come into the mind in spite of the
differences between insect and man.

Walking on this heath I saw a common green grasshopper, disturbed at
my step, leap away, and by chance land in a geometric web in a small
furze {44} bush.  Caught in the web, it began kicking with its long
hind legs, and would in three seconds have made its escape.  But mark
what happened.  Directly over the web, and above the kicking
grasshopper, there was a small, web-made, thimble-shaped shelter,
mouth down, fastened to a spray, and the spider was sitting in it.
And looking down it must have seen and known that the grasshopper was
far too big and strong to be held in that frailest snare, that it
would be gone in a moment and the net torn to pieces.  It also must
have seen and known that it was no wasp nor dangerous insect of any
kind; and so, instantly, straight and swift as a leaden plummet, it
dropped out of the silvery bell it lived in on to the grasshopper and
attacked it at the head.  The falces were probably thrust into the
body between the head and pro-thorax, for almost instantly the
struggle ceased, and in less than three seconds the victim appeared
perfectly dead.

[Sidenote: Grasshopper and spider]

What interested me in this sight was the spider, an _Epeira_ of a
species I had never closely looked at before, a little less in size
than our famous _Epeira diadema_--our common garden spider, with the
pretty white diadem on its velvety, brown abdomen.  This heath spider
was creamy-white in colour, the white deepening to warm buff all
round at the sides, and to a deeper tint on the under surface.  It
was curiously and prettily coloured; and, being new to me, its image
was vividly impressed on my mind.

As to what had happened, that did not impress me at all.  I could
not, like the late noble poet who {45} cherished an extreme animosity
against the spider, and inveighed against it in brilliant, inspired
verse, remember and brood sadly on the thought of the fairy forms
that are its victims--

  The lovely births that winnow by,
  Twin-sisters of the rainbow sky:
  Elf-darlings, fluffy, bee-bright things,
  And owl-white moths with mealy wings.

Nor could I, like him, break the creature's toils, nor take the dead
from its gibbet, nor slay it on account of its desperate wickedness.
These are mere house-bred feelings and fancies, perhaps morbid; he
who walks out of doors with Nature, who sees life and death as
sunlight and shadow, on witnessing such an incident wishes the captor
a good appetite, and, passing on, thinks no more about it.  For any
day in summer, sitting by the water, or in a wood, or on the open
heath, I note little incidents of this kind; they are always going on
in thousands all about us, and one with trained eye cannot but see
them; but no feeling is excited, no sympathy, and they are no sooner
seen than forgotten.  But, as I said, there are exceptional cases,
and here is one which refers to an even more insignificant creature
than a field grasshopper--a small dipterous insect--and yet I was
strangely moved by it.

The insect was flying rather slowly by me over the heath--a thin,
yellow-bodied, long-legged creature, a _Tipula_, about half as big as
our familiar crane-fly.  Now, as it flew by me about on a level with
my thighs, up from the heath at my feet shot {46} out a second
insect, about the same size as the first, also a Dipteron, but of
another family--one of the Asilidæ, which are rapacious.  The
_Asilus_ was also very long-legged, and seizing the other with its
legs, the two fell together to the ground.  Stooping down, I
witnessed the struggle.  They were locked together, and I saw the
attacking insect raise his head and the forepart of his body so as to
strike, then plunge his rostrum like a dagger in the soft part of his
victim's body.  Again and again he raised and buried his weapon in
the other, and the other still refused to die or to cease struggling.
And this little fight and struggle of two flies curiously moved me,
and for some time I could not get over the feeling of intense
repugnance it excited.  This feeling was wholly due to association:
the dagger-like weapon and the action of the insect were curiously
human-like, and I had seen just such a combat between two men, one
fallen and the other on him, raising and striking down with his
knife.  Had I never witnessed such an incident, the two flies
struggling, one killing the other, would have produced no such
feeling, and would not have been remembered.


We live in thoughts and feelings, not in days and years--

  In feelings, not in figures on a dial,

as some poet has said, and, recalling an afternoon and an evening
spent on this heath, it does not seem to my mind like an evening
passed alone in a vacant place, in the usual way, watching and
listening and {47} thinking of nothing, but an eventful period, which
deeply moved me, and left an enduring memory.

The sun went down, and though the distressed birds had cried till
they were weary of crying, I did not go away.  Something on this
occasion kept me, in spite of the gathering gloom and a cold
wind--bitterly cold for June--which blew over the wide heath.  Here
and there the rays from the setting sun fell upon and lit up the few
mounds that rise like little islands out of the desolate brown waste.
These are the Pixie mounds, the barrows raised by probably
prehistoric men, a people inconceivably remote in time and spirit
from us, whose memory is pale in our civilised days.

[Sidenote: "World-strangeness"]

There are times and moods in which it is revealed to us, or to a few
amongst us, that we are a survival of the past, a dying remnant of a
vanished people, and are like strangers and captives among those who
do not understand us, and have no wish to do so; whose language and
customs and thoughts are not ours.  That "world-strangeness," which
William Watson and his fellow-poets prattle in rhyme about, those, at
all events, who have what they call the "note of modernity" in their
pipings, is not in me as in them.  The blue sky, the brown soil
beneath, the grass, the trees, the animals, the wind, and rain, and
sun, and stars are never strange to me; for I am in and of and am one
with them; and my flesh and the soil are one, and the heat in my
blood and in the sunshine are one, and the winds and tempests and my
passions are one.  I feel the "strangeness" {48} only with regard to
my fellow-men, especially in towns, where they exist in conditions
unnatural to me, but congenial to them; where they are seen in
numbers and in crowds, in streets and houses, and in all places where
they gather together; when I look at them, their pale civilised
faces, their clothes, and hear them eagerly talking about things that
do not concern me.  They are out of my world--the real world.  All
that they value, and seek and strain after all their lives long,
their works and sports and pleasures, are the merest baubles and
childish things; and their ideals are all false, and nothing but
by-products, or growths, of the artificial life--little funguses
cultivated in heated cellars.

[Sidenote: The barrow on the heath]

In such moments we sometimes feel a kinship with, and are strangely
drawn to, the dead, who were not as these; the long, long dead, the
men who knew not life in towns, and felt no strangeness in sun and
wind and rain.  In such a mood on that evening I went to one of those
lonely barrows; one that rises to a height of nine or ten feet above
the level heath, and is about fifty yards round.  It is a garden in
the brown desert, covered over with a dense growth of furze bushes,
still in flower, mixed with bramble and elder and thorn, and heather
in great clumps, blooming, too, a month before its time, the fiery
purple-red of its massed blossoms, and of a few tall, tapering spikes
of foxglove, shining against the vivid green of the young bracken.

All this rich wild vegetation on that lonely mound on the brown heath!

{49}

Here, sheltered by the bushes, I sat and saw the sun go down, and the
long twilight deepen till the oak woods of Beaulieu in the west
looked black on the horizon, and the stars came out: in spite of the
cold wind that made me shiver in my thin clothes, I sat there for
hours, held by the silence and solitariness of that mound of the
ancient dead.

Sitting there, profoundly sad for no apparent cause, with no
conscious thought in my mind, it suddenly occurred to me that I knew
that spot from of old, that in long-past forgotten years I had often
come there of an evening and sat through the twilight, in love with
the loneliness and peace, wishing that it might be my last
resting-place.  To sleep there for ever--the sleep that knows no
waking!  We say it, but do not mean--do not believe it.  Dreams do
come to give us pause; and we know that we have lived.  To dwell
alone, then, with this memory of life in such a spot for all time!
There are moments in which the thought of death steals upon and takes
us as it were by surprise, and it is then exceeding bitter.  It was
as if that cold wind blowing over and making strange whispers in the
heather had brought a sudden tempest of icy rain to wet and chill me.

This miserable sensation soon passed away, and, with quieted heart, I
began to grow more and more attracted by the thought of resting on so
blessed a spot.  To have always about me that wildness which I best
loved--the rude incult heath, the beautiful desolation; to have harsh
furze and ling and bramble and bracken to grow on me, and only wild
creatures {50} for visitors and company.  The little stonechat, the
tinkling meadow-pipit, the excited whitethroat to sing to me in
summer; the deep-burrowing rabbit to bring down his warmth and
familiar smell among my bones; the heat-loving adder, rich in colour,
to find when summer is gone a dry safe shelter and hibernaculum in my
empty skull.

So beautiful did the thought appear that I could have laid down my
life at that moment, in spite of death's bitterness, if by so doing I
could have had my desire.  But no such sweet and desirable a thing
could be given me by this strange people and race that possess the
earth, who are not like the people here with me in the twilight on
the heath.  For I thought, too, of those I should lie with, having
with them my after life; and thinking of them I was no longer alone.
I thought of them not as others think, those others of a strange
race.  What _do_ they think?  They think so many things!  The
materialist, the scientist, would say: They have no existence; they
ceased to be anything when their flesh was turned to dust, or burned
to ashes, and their minds, or souls, were changed to some other form
of energy, or motion, or affection of matter, or whatever they call
it.  The believer would not say of them, or of the immaterial part of
them, that they had gone into a world of light, that in a dream or
vision he had seen them walking in an air of glory; but he might hold
that they had been preached to in Hades some nineteen centuries ago,
and had perhaps repented of their barbarous deeds.  Or he might
think, since he {51} has considerable latitude allowed him on the
point, that the imperishable parts of them are here at this very
spot, tangled in dust that was once flesh and bones, sleeping like
chrysalids through a long winter, to be raised again at the sound of
a trumpet blown by an angel to a second conscious life, happy or
miserable as may be willed.

I imagine none of these things, for they were with me in the twilight
on the barrow in crowds, sitting and standing in groups, and many
lying on their sides on the turf below, their heads resting in their
hands.  They, too, all had their faces turned towards Beaulieu.
Evening by evening for many and many a century they had looked to
that point, towards the black wood on the horizon, where there were
people and sounds of human life.  Day by day for centuries they had
listened with wonder and fear to the Abbey bells, and to the distant
chanting of the monks.  And the Abbey has been in ruins for
centuries, open to the sky and overgrown with ivy; but still towards
that point they look with apprehension, since men still dwell there,
strangers to them, the little busy eager people, hateful in their
artificial indoor lives, who do not know and who care nothing for
them, who worship not and fear not the dead that are underground, but
dig up their sacred places and scatter their bones and ashes, and
despise and mock them because they are dead and powerless.

It is not strange that they fear and hate.  I look at them--their
dark, pale, furious faces--and think that if they could be visible
thus in the daylight, all {52} who came to that spot or passed near
it would turn and fly with a terrifying image in their mind which
would last to the end of life.  But they do not resent my presence,
and would not resent it were I permitted to come at last to dwell
with them for ever.  Perhaps they know me for one of their
tribe--know that what they feel I feel, would hate what they hate.

Has it not been said that love itself is an argument in favour of
immortality?  All love--the love of men and women, of a mother for
her child, of a friend for a friend--the love that will cause him to
lay down his life for another.  Is it possible to believe, they say,
that this beautiful sacred flame can be darkened for ever when soul
and body fall asunder?  But love without hate I do not know and
cannot conceive; one implies the other.  No good and no bad quality
or principle can exist (for me) without its opposite.  As old
Langland wisely says:

  For by luthere men know the good;
  And whereby wiste men which were white
  If all things black were?



{53}

CHAPTER III

A favourite New Forest haunt--Summertide--Young blackbird's
call--Abundance of blackbirds and thrushes, and destruction of
young--Starlings breeding--The good done by starlings--Perfume of the
honeysuckle--Beauty of the hedge rose--Cult of the rose--Lesser
whitethroat--His low song--Common and lesser whitethroat--In the
woods--A sheet of bracken--Effect of broken surfaces--Roman mosaics
at Silchester--Why mosaics give pleasure--Woodland birds--Sound of
insect life--Abundance of flies--Sufferings of cattle--Dark
Water--Biting and teasing flies--Feeding the fishes and fiddlers with
flies.


Looking away from Beaulieu towards Southampton Water there is seen on
the border of the wide brown heath a long line of tall firs, a vast
dark grove forming the horizon on that side.  This is the edge of an
immense wood, and beyond the pines which grow by the heath, it is
almost exclusively oak with an undergrowth of holly.  It is low-lying
ground with many streams and a good deal of bog, and owing to the
dense undergrowth and the luxuriance of vegetation generally this
part of the forest has a ruder, wilder appearance than at any other
spot.  Here, too, albeit the nobler bird and animal forms are absent,
as is indeed the case in all the New Forest district, animal life
generally is in greatest profusion and variety.  This wood with its
surrounding heaths, bogs, and farm lands, has been my favourite
summer resort and hunting-ground for {54} some years past.  With a
farm-house not many minutes' walk from the forest for a home, I have
here spent long weeks at a time, rambling in the woods every day and
all day long, for the most time out of sight of human habitations,
and always with the feeling that I was in my own territory, where
everything was as Nature made it and as I liked it to be.  Never once
in all my rambles did I encounter that hated being, the collector,
with his white, spectacled town face and green butterfly net.  In
this out-of-the-way corner of the Forest one could imagine the time
come when this one small piece of England which lies between the Avon
and Southampton Water will be a sanctuary for all rare and beautiful
wild life and a place of refreshment to body and soul for all men.

The richest, fullest time of the year is when June is wearing to an
end, when one knows without the almanac that spring is over and gone.
Nowhere in England is one more sensible of the change to fullest
summer than in this low-lying, warmest corner of Hampshire.

The cuckoo ceases to weary us with its incessant call, and the
nightingale sings less and less frequently.  The passionate season is
well-nigh over for birds; their fountain of music begins to run dry.
The cornfields and waste grounds are everywhere splashed with the
intense scarlet of poppies.  Summer has no rain in all her wide, hot
heavens to give to her thirsty fields, and has sprinkled them with
the red fiery moisture from her own veins.  And as colour {55}
changes, growing deeper and more intense, so do sounds change: for
the songs of yesterday there are shrill hunger-cries.

[Sidenote: Young blackbird's call]

One of the oftenest heard in all the open woods, in hedges, and even
out in the cornfields is the curious musical call of the young
blackbird.  It is like the chuckle of the adult, but not so loud,
full, happy, and prolonged; it is shriller, and drops at the end to a
plaintive, impatient sound, a little pathetic--a cry of the young
bird to its too long absent mother.  When very hungry he emits this
shrill musical call at intervals of ten to fifteen seconds; it may be
heard distinctly a couple of hundred yards away.

The numbers of young blackbirds and throstles apparently just out of
the nest astonish one.  They are not only in the copses and hedges,
and on almost every roadside tree, but you constantly see them on the
ground in the lanes and public roads, standing still, quite
unconscious of danger.  The poor helpless bird looks up at you in a
sort of amazement, never having seen men walking or riding on
bicycles; but he hesitates, not knowing whether to fly away or stand
still.  Thrush or blackbird, he is curiously interesting to look at.
The young thrush, with his yellowish-white spotty breast, the remains
of down on his plumage, his wide yellow mouth, and raised head with
large, fixed, toad-like eyes, has a distinctly reptilian appearance.
Not so the young blackbird, standing motionless on the road, in doubt
too as to what you are; his short tail raised, giving him {56} an
incipient air of blackbird jauntiness; his plumage not brown, indeed,
as we describe it, but rich chestnut-black, like the chestnut-black
hair of a beautiful Hampshire girl of that precious type with oval
face and pale dark skin.  A pretty creature, rich in colour, with a
musical, pathetic voice, waiting so patiently to be visited and fed,
and a weasel perhaps watching him from the roadside grass with
hungry, bright little eyes!  How they die--thrushes and
blackbirds--at this perilous period in their lives!  I sometimes see
what looks like a rudely painted figure of a bird on the hard road:
it is a young blackbird that had not the sense to get out of the way
of a passing team, and was crushed flat by a hoof or wheel.  It is
but one in a thousand that perishes in that way.  One has to remember
that these two species of thrush--throstle and blackbird--are in
extraordinary abundance, that next to starlings and chaffinches they
abound over all species; that they are exceedingly prolific,
beginning to lay in this southern country in February, and rearing at
least three broods in the season; and that when winter comes round
again the thrush and blackbird population will be just about what it
was before.

Fruit-eating birds do not much vex the farmer in this almost
fruitless country.  Thrushes and finches and sparrows are nothing to
him: the starling, if he pays any attention to the birds, he looks on
as a good friend.

[Sidenote: Starlings breeding]

At the farm there are two very old yew trees growing in the
back-yard, and one of these, in an {57} advanced state of decay, is
full of holes and cavities in its larger branches.  Here about half a
dozen pairs of starlings nest every year, and by the middle of June
there are several broods of fully-fledged young.  At this time it was
amusing to watch the parent birds at their task, coming and going all
day long, flying out and away straight as arrows to this side and
that, every bird to its own favourite hunting-ground.  Some had their
grounds in the meadow, just before the house where the cows and geese
were, and it was easy to watch their movements.  Out of the yew the
bird would shoot, and in ten or twelve seconds would be down walking
about in that busy, plodding, rook-like way the starling has when
looking for something; and presently, darting his beak into the turf,
he would drag out something large, and back he would fly to his young
with a big, conspicuous, white object in his beak.  These white
objects which he was busily gathering every day, from dawn to dark,
were full-grown grubs of the cockchafer.  When watching these birds
at their work it struck me that the enormous increase of starlings
all over the country in recent years may account for the fact that
great cockchafer years do not now occur.  In former years these
beetles were sometimes in such numbers that they swarmed in the air
in places, and stripped the oaks of their leaves in midsummer.  It is
now more than ten years since I saw cockchafers in considerable
numbers, and for a long time past I have not heard of their
appearance in swarms anywhere.

{58}

The starling is in some ways a bad bird, a cherry thief, and a robber
of other birds' nesting-places; yaffle and nuthatch must hate him,
but if his ministrations have caused an increase of even one per
cent. in the hay crop, and the milk and butter supply, he is, from
our point of view, not wholly bad.

In late June the unkept hedges are in the fullness of their midsummer
beauty.  After sunset the fragrance of the honeysuckle is almost too
much: standing near the blossom-laden hedge when there is no wind to
dissipate the odour, there is a heaviness in it which makes it like
some delicious honeyed liquor which we are drinking in.  The
honeysuckle is indeed first among the "melancholy flowers" that give
out their fragrance by night.  In the daytime, when the smell is
faint, the pale sickly blossoms are hardly noticed even where they
are seen in masses and drape the hedges.  Of all the hedge-flowers,
the rose alone is looked at, its glory being so great as to make all
other blooms seem nothing but bleached or dead discoloured leaves in
comparison.

[Sidenote: Beauty of the hedge rose]

He would indeed be a vainly ambitious person who should attempt to
describe this queen of all wild flowers, joyous or melancholy; but
substituting flower for fruit, and the delight of the eye for the
pleasure of taste, we may in speaking of it quote the words of a
famous old writer, used in praise of the strawberry.  He said that
doubtless God Almighty could have made a better berry if He had been
so minded, but doubtless God Almighty never did.

I esteem the rose not only for that beauty which {59} sets it highest
among flowers, but also because it will not suffer admiration when
removed from its natural surroundings.  In this particular it
resembles certain brilliant sentient beings that languish and lose
all their charms in captivity.  Pluck your rose and bring it indoors,
and place it side by side with other blossoms--yellow flag and blue
periwinkle, and shining yellow marsh-marigold, and poppy and
cornflower--and it has no lustre, and is no more to the soul than a
flower made out of wax or paper.  Look at it here, in the brilliant
sunlight and the hot wind, waving to the wind on its long thorny
sprays all over the vast disordered hedges; here in rosy masses,
there starring the rough green tangle with its rosy stars--a
rose-coloured cloud on the earth and Summer's bridal veil--and you
will refuse to believe (since it will be beyond your power to
imagine) that anywhere on the earth, in any hot or temperate climate,
there exists a more divinely beautiful sight.

If among the numberless cults that flourish in the earth we could
count a cult of the rose, to this spot the votaries of the flower
might well come each midsummer to hold their festival.  They would be
youthful and beautiful, their lips red, their eyes full of laughter;
and they would be arrayed in light silken garments of delicate
colour--green, rose, and white; and their arms and necks and
foreheads would shine with ornaments of gold and precious stones.  In
their hands would be musical instruments of many pretty shapes with
which they would sweetly accompany their clear voices as they sat or
stood {60} beneath the old oak trees, and danced in sun and shade,
and when they moved in bright procession along the wide grass-grown
roads, through forest and farm-land.

[Sidenote: Lesser whitethroat]

In the summer of 1900 I found the lesser whitethroat--the better
whitethroat I should prefer to call it--in extraordinary abundance in
the large unkept hedges east of the woods in the parishes of Fawley
and Exbury.  Hitherto I had always found this species everywhere
thinly distributed; here it was abundant as the reed-warblers along
the dykes in the flat grass-lands on the Somerset coast, and like the
reed-warblers in the reed- and sedge-grown ditches and streams, each
pair of whitethroats had its own part of the hedge; so that in
walking in a lane when you left one singing behind you heard his next
neighbour singing at a distance of fifteen or twenty yards farther
on, and from end to end of the great hedge you had that continuous
beautiful low warble at your side, and sometimes on both sides.  The
loud brief song of this whitethroat, which resembles the first part
of a chaffinch's song, is a pleasant sound and nothing more; the low
warbling, which runs on without a break for forty or fifty seconds,
or longer, is the beautiful song, and resembles the low continuous
warble of the blackcap, but is more varied, and has one sound which
is unique in the songs of British birds.  This is a note repeated two
or three times at intervals in the course of the song, of an
excessive sharpness, unlike any other bird sound, but comparable to
the silvery shrilling of the great {61} green
grasshopper--excessively sharp, yet musical.  The bird emits this
same silver shrill note when angry and when fighting, but it is then
louder and not so musical, and resembles the sharpest sounds made by
bats and other small mammals when excited.

One day I sat down near a hedge, where an old half-dead oak stood
among the thorns and brambles, and just by the oak a lesser
whitethroat was moving about and singing.  Out among the furze bushes
at some distance from the hedge a common whitethroat was singing,
flitting and darting from bush to bush, rising at intervals into the
air and dropping again into the furze; but by-and-by he rose to a
greater height to pour out his mad confused strain in the air, then
sloped away to the hedge and settled, still singing, on the dead
branch of the oak.  Up rose the lesser whitethroat and attacked it
with extreme fury, rising to a height of two or three feet and
dashing repeatedly at it, looking like a miniature kestrel or hobby;
and every time it descended the other ducked his head and flattened
himself on the branch, only to rise again, crest erect and throat
puffed out, still pouring forth its defiant song.  As long as this
lasted the attacking bird emitted his piercing metallic anger-note,
rapidly and continuously, like the clicking of steel machinery.

Alas!  I fear I shall not again see the lesser whitethroat as I saw
him in that favoured year: in 1901 he came not, or came in small
numbers; and it was the same in the spring of 1902.  The spring was
cold and backward in both years, and the bitter {62} continuous east
winds which prevailed in March and April probably proved fatal to
large numbers of the more delicate migrants.

In this low, level country, sheltered by woods and hedgerows, we feel
the tremendous power of the sun even before the last week in June.
It is good to feel, to bathe in the heat all day long; but at noon
one sometimes finds it too hot even on the open heath, and is forced
to take shelter in the woods.  It was always coolest on the high
ground among the pines, where the trees are very tall and there is no
underwood.  In spring it was always pleasant to walk here on the
thick carpet of fallen needles and old dead fern; now, in a very
short time, the young bracken has sprung up as if by miracle to a
nearly uniform height of about four feet.  It spreads all around me
for many acres--an unbroken sea of brilliant green, out of which rise
the tall red columns of the pines supporting the dark woodland roof.

[Sidenote: A sheet of bracken]

Why is it, when in June the luxuriant young bracken first drops its
fully developed fronds, so that frond touches frond, many
overlapping, forming a billowy expanse of vivid green, hiding, or all
but hiding, the brown or red soil beneath--why is it the eyes rest
with singular satisfaction on it?  It is not only because of the
colour, nor the beauty of contrast where the red floor of last year's
beech leaves is seen through the fresh verdure, and of dark red-boled
pines rising from the green sea of airy fronds.  Colours and
contrasts more beautiful may be seen, and the pleasure they give is
different in kind.

{63}

Here standing amid the fern, where it had at last formed that waving
surface and was a little above my knees, it seemed to me that the
particular satisfaction I experienced was due to the fine symmetrical
leafing of the surface, the minute subdivision of parts which
produced an effect similar to that of a mosaic floor.  When I
consider other surfaces, on land or water, I find the same
gratification in all cases where it is broken or marked out or
fretted in minute, more or less orderly subdivisions.  The glass-like
or oily surface of water, where there are no reflections to bring
other feelings in, does not hold or attract but rather wearies the
sight; but it is no sooner touched to a thousand minute crinkles by
the wind, than it is looked at with refreshment and pleasure.  The
bed of a clear stream, with its pavement of minute variegated pebbles
and spots of light and shade, pleases in the same way.  The sight
rests with some satisfaction even on a stagnant pond covered with
green duckweed; but the satisfaction is less in this case on account
of the extreme minuteness of the parts and the too great smoothness.
The roads and open spaces in woods in October and November are
delightful to walk in when they are like richly variegated floors
composed of small pieces, and like dark floors inlaid with red and
gold of beech and oak leaves.  Numberless instances might be given,
and we see that the effect is produced even in small objects, as, for
instance, in scaly fishes and in serpents.  It is the minutely
segmented texture of the serpent which, with the colour, gives it its
wonderful richness.  {64} For the same reason a crocodile bag is more
admired than one of cowhide, and a book in buckram looks better than
one in cloth or even vellum.

The old Romans must have felt this instinctive pleasure of the eye
very keenly when they took such great pains over their floors.  I was
strongly impressed with this fact at Silchester when looking at the
old floors of rich and poor houses alike which have been uncovered
during the last two or three years.  They seem to have sought for the
effect of mosaic even in the meaner habitations, and in passages and
walks, and when tesseræ could not be had they broke up common tiles
into small square fragments, and made their floors in that way.  Even
with so poor a material, and without any ornamentation, they did get
the effect sought, and those ancient fragments of floors made of
fragments of tiles, unburied after so many centuries, do actually
more gratify the sight than the floors of polished oak or other
expensive material which are seen in our mansions and palaces.

There is doubtless a physiological reason for this satisfaction to
the eye, as indeed there is for so many of the pleasurable sensations
we experience in seeing.  We may say that the vision flies over a
perfectly smooth plain surface, like a ball over a sheet of ice, and
rests nowhere; but that in a mosaic floor the segmentation of the
surface stays and rests the sight.  To go no farther than that, which
is but a part of the secret, the sheet of fern fronds, on account of
this staying effect on the vision, increases what we see, {65} so
that a surface of a dozen square yards of fern seems more in extent
than half an acre of smooth-shaven lawn, or the large featureless
floor of a skating-rink or ball-room.

[Sidenote: Harshening bird-voices]

On going or wading through the belt of bracken under the tall
firs--that billowy sea of fronds in the midst of which I have so long
detained my patient reader--into the great oak wood beyond and below
it, on each successive visit during the last days of June, the
harshening of the bird voices became more marked.  Only the wren and
wood-wren and willow-wren uttered an occasional song, but the bigger
birds made most of the sound.  Families of young jays were then just
out of the nest, crying with hunger, and filling the wood with their
discordant screams when the parent birds came with food.  A pair of
kestrels, too, with a nestful of young on a tall fir incessantly
uttered their shrill reiterated cries when I was near; and one pair
of green woodpeckers, with young out of the breeding-hole but not yet
able to fly, were half crazed with anxiety.  Around me and on before
me they flitted from tree to tree and clung to the bark, wings spread
out and crest raised, their loud laugh changed to a piercing cry of
anger that pained the sense.

They were now moved only by solicitude and anger: all other passion
and music had gone out of the bird and into the insect world.  The
oak woods were now full of a loud continuous hum like that of a
distant threshing-machine; an unbroken deep sound composed of ten
thousand thousand small individual sounds conjoined in one, but
diffused and flowing {66} like water over the surface, under the
trees, and the rough bushy tangle.  The incredible number and variety
of blood-sucking flies makes this same low hot part of the Forest as
nearly like a transcript of tropical nature in some damp, wooded
district as may be found in England.  But these Forest flies, even
when they came in legions about me, were not able to spoil my
pleasure.  It was delightful to see so much life--to visit and sit
down with them in their own domestic circle.

In other days, in a distant region, I have passed many a night out of
doors in the presence of a cloud of mosquitoes; and when during
restless sleep I have pulled the covering from my face, they had me
at their mercy.  For the smarts they inflicted on me then I have my
reward, since the venom they injected into my veins has proved a
lasting prophylactic.  But to the poor cattle this place must be a
very purgatory, a mazy wilderness swarming with minute hellish imps
that mock their horns and giant strength, and cannot be shaken off.
While sitting on the roots of a tree in the heart of the wood, I
heard the heavy tramping and distressed bellowings of several beasts
coming at a furious rate towards me, and presently half a dozen
heifers and young bulls burst through the bushes; and catching sight
of me at a distance of ten or twelve yards, they suddenly came to a
dead stop, glaring at me with strange, mad, tortured eyes; then
swerving aside, crashed away through the undergrowth in another
direction.

[Sidenote: Dark Water]

In this wood I sought and found the stream well {67} named the Dark
Water; here, at all events, it is grown over with old ivied oaks,
with brambles and briars that throw long branches from side to side,
making the almost hidden current in the deep shade look black; but
when the sunlight falls on it the water is the colour of old sherry
from the red soil it flows over.  No sooner had I sat down on the
bank, where I had a little space of sunlit water to look upon, than
the flies gathered thick about and on me, and I began to pay some
attention to individuals among them.  Those that came to suck blood,
and settled at once in a business-like manner on my legs, were some
hairy and some smooth, and of various colours--grey, black,
steel-blue, and barred and ringed with bright tints; and with these
distinguished guests came numberless others, small lean gnats mostly,
without colour, and of no consideration.  I did not so much mind
these as the others that simply buzzed round without an object--flies
that have no beauty, no lancet to stab you with, and no distinction
of any kind, yet will persist in forcing themselves on your
attention.  They buzz and buzz, and are loudest in your ear when you
are most anxious to listen to some distant faint sound.  If a
blood-sucker hurts you, you can slap him to death, and there's an end
of the matter; but slap at one of these idle, aimless, teasing flies
as hard as you like, and he is gone like quicksilver through your
fingers.  He is buzzing derisively in your ears: "Slap away as much
as you like--it pleases you and doesn't hurt me."  And then down
again in the same place!

{68}

When the others--the serious flies on business bent--got too
numerous, I began to slap my legs, killing one or two of the
greediest at each slap, and to throw their small corpses on the
sunlit current.  These slain flies were not wasted, for very soon I
had quite a number of little minnows close to my feet, eager to seize
them as they fell.  And, by-and-by, three fiddlers, or pond-skaters,
"sagacious of their quarry from afar," came skating into sight on the
space of bright water; and to these mysterious, uncanny-looking
creatures--insect ghosts that walk on the water, but with very
unghost-like appetites--I began tossing some of the flies; and each
time a fiddler seized a floating fly he skated away into the shade
with it to devour it in peace and quiet all alone by himself.  For a
fiddler with a fly is like a dog with a bone among other hungry dogs.
When I had finished feeding my ghosts and little fishes, I got up and
left the place, for the sun was travelling west and the greatest heat
was over.



{69}

CHAPTER IV

The stag-beetle--Evening flight--Appearance on the wing--Seeking a
mate--Stag and doe in a hedge--The ploughman and the beetle--A
stag-beetle's fate--Concerning tenacity of life--Life appearances
after death--A serpent's skin--A dead glow-worm's light--Little
summer tragedies--A snaky spot--An adder's basking-place--Watching
adders--The adder's senses--Adder's habits not well known--A pair of
anxious pewits--A dead young pewit--Animals without knowledge of
death--Removal of the dead by ants--Gould's observations on ants.


[Sidenote: The stag-beetle]

During the last week in June we can look for the appearance of our
most majestical insect; he is an evening flyer, and a little before
sunset begins to show himself abroad.  He is indeed a monarch among
hexapods, with none to equal him save, perhaps, the great goblin
moth; and in shape and size and solidity he bears about the same
relation to pretty bright flies as a horned rhinoceros does to
volatile squirrels and monkeys and small barred and spotted felines.
This is the stag-beetle--"stags and does" is the native name for the
two sexes; he is probably more abundant in this corner of Hampshire
than in any other locality in England, and among the denizens of the
Forest there are few more interesting.  About four or five o'clock in
the afternoon, the ponderous beetle wakes out of his long siesta,
down among the roots and dead vegetable matter of a thorny brake or
large hedge, and laboriously sets himself to work {70} his way out.
He is a slow, clumsy creature, a very bad climber; and small wonder,
when we consider how he is impeded by his long branched horns when
endeavouring to make his way upwards through a network of interlacing
stems.

As you walk by the hedge-side a strange noise suddenly arrests your
attention; it is the buzz of an insect, but loud enough to startle
you; it might be mistaken for the reeling of a nightjar, but is
perhaps more like the jarring hum of a fast-driven motor-car.  The
reason of the noise is that the beetle has with great pains climbed
up a certain height from the ground, and, in order to ascertain
whether he has got far enough, he erects himself on his stand, lifts
his wing-cases, shakes out his wings, and begins to agitate them
violently, turning this way and that to make sure that he has a clear
space.  If he then attempts to fly--it is one of his common
blunders--he instantly strikes against some branch or cluster of
leaves, and is thrown down.  The tumble does not hurt him in the
least, but so greatly astonishes him that he remains motionless a
good while; then recovering his senses, he begins to ascend again.
At length, after a good many accidents and adventures by the way, he
gets to a topmost twig, and, after some buzzing to get up steam,
launches himself heavily on the air and goes away in grand style.

Hugh Miller, in his autobiography, tells of the discovery he made of
a curiously striking resemblance in shape between our most elegantly
made carriages and the bodies of wasps, the resemblance being {71}
heightened by a similarity of colouring seen in the lines and bands
of vivid yellows and reds on a polished black ground.  This likeness
between insect and carriage does not appear so striking at this day
owing to a change in the fashion towards a more sombre colour in the
vehicles; their funeral blacks, dark blues, and greens being now
seldom relieved with bright yellows and reds.  The stag-beetle, too,
when he goes away with heavy flight always gives one the idea of some
kind of machine or vehicle, not like the aerial phaeton of the wasp
or hornet, with its graceful lines and strongly-contrasted colours,
but an oblong, ponderous, armour-plated car, furnished with a beak,
and painted a deep uniform brown.

Birds, especially the more aerial insectivorous kinds, have the habit
of flying at and teasing any odd or grotesque-looking creature they
may see on the wing--as a bat, for instance.  I have seen small birds
dart at a passing stag, but on coming near they turn tail and fly
from him, frightened perhaps at his formidable appearance and loud
noise.

Notwithstanding his lumbering, blundering ways, when the stag is
abroad in search of the doe, you may see that he is endowed with a
sense and faculty so exquisite as to make it appear almost miraculous
in the sureness of its action.  The void air, as he sweeps droning
through it, is peopled with subtle intelligences, which elude and
mock and fly from him, and which he pursues until he finds out their
secret.  They mock him most, or, to drop the metaphor, he is most at
fault, on a still sultry day when {72} not a breath of air is
stirring.  At times he catches what, for want of better knowledge, we
must call a scent, and in order to fix the direction it comes from he
goes through a series of curious movements.  You will see him rise
above a thorny thicket, or a point where two hedges intersect at
right angles, and remain suspended on his wings a few inches above
the hedge-top for one or two minutes, loudly humming, and turning by
a succession of jerks all round, pausing after each turn, until he
has faced all points of the compass.

This failing, he darts away and circles widely round, then returning
to the central point suspends himself as before.  After spending
several minutes in this manner, he once more resumes his wanderings.
Several males are sometimes attracted to the same spot, but they pass
and repass without noticing one another.  You will see as many as
three or four or half a dozen majestically moving up and down at a
hedge-side or in a narrow path in a hazel copse, each beetle turning
when he gets to the end and marching back again; and altogether their
measured, stately, and noisy movements are a fine spectacle.

A slight wind makes a great difference to him: even a current of air
so faint as not to be felt on the face will reveal to him the exact
distant spot in which the doe is lurking.  The following incident
will serve to show how perfect and almost infallible the sense and
its correlated instinct are, and at the same time what a clumsy,
blundering creature this beetle is.

[Sidenote: Seeking a mate]

Hearing a buzzing noise in a large unkept hedge, {73} I went to the
spot and found a stag trying to extricate himself from some soft
fern-fronds growing among the brambles in which he had got entangled.
In the end he succeeded, and, finally gaining a point where there was
nothing to obstruct his flight, he launched himself on the air and
flew straight away to a distance of fifty yards; then he turned and
commenced flying backwards and forwards, travelling forty or fifty
yards one way and as many the other, until he made a discovery; and
struck motionless in his career, he remained suspended for a moment
or two, then flew swiftly and straight as a bullet back to the hedge
from which he had so recently got away.  He struck the hedge where it
was broadest, at a distance of about twenty yards or more from the
point where I had first found him, and running to the spot, I saw
that he had actually alighted within four or five inches of a female
concealed among the clustering leaves.  On his approaching her she
coyly moved from him, climbing up and down and along the branchlets,
but for some time he continued very near her.  So far he had followed
on her track, or by the same branches and twigs over which she had
passed, but on her getting a little farther away and doubling back,
he attempted to reach her by a series of short cuts, over the little
bridges formed by innumerable slender branches, and his short cuts in
most cases brought him against some obstruction; or else there was a
sudden bend in the branch, and he was taken farther away.  When he
had a chain of bridges or turnings, he seemed fated to take the wrong
one, {74} and in spite of all his desperate striving to get nearer,
he only increased the distance between them.  The level sun shone
into the huge tangle of bramble, briar, and thorn, with its hundreds
of interlacing branches and stringy stems, so that I was able to keep
both beetles in sight; but after I had watched them for
three-quarters of an hour, the sun departed, and I too left them.
They were then nearly six feet apart; and seeing what a labyrinth
they were in, I concluded that, strive how the enamoured creature
might, they would never, from the stag-beetle point of view, be
within measurable distance of one another.

Something in the appearance of the big beetle, both flying and when
seen on the ground in his wrathful, challenging attitude, strikes the
rustics of these parts as irresistibly comic.  When its heavy flight
brings it near the labourer in the fields, he knocks it down with his
cap, then grins at the sight of the maltreated creature's amazement
and indignation.  However weary the ploughman may be when he plods
his homeward way, he will not be too tired to indulge in this ancient
practical joke.  When the beetle's flight takes him by village or
hamlet, the children, playing together in the road, occupied with
some such simple pastime as rolling in the dust or making little
miniature hills of loose sand, are suddenly thrown into a state of
wild excitement, and, starting to their feet, they run whooping after
the wanderer, throwing their caps to bring him down.

[Sidenote: A stag-beetle's fate]

One evening at sunset, on coming to a forest gate {75} through which
I had to pass, I saw a stag-beetle standing in his usual statuesque,
angry or threatening attitude in the middle of the road close to the
gate.  Doubtless some labourer who had arrived at the gate earlier in
the evening had struck it down for fun and left it there.  By-and-by,
I thought, he will recover from the shock to his dignity and make his
way to some elevated point, from which he will be able to start
afresh on his wanderings in search of a wife.  But it was not to be
as I thought, for next morning, on going by the same gate, I found
the remains of my beetle just where I had last seen him--the legs,
wing-cases, and the big, broad head with horns attached.  The poor
thing had remained motionless too long, and had been found during the
evening by a hedgehog and devoured, all but the uneatable parts.  On
looking closely, I found that the head was still alive; at a touch
the antennæ--those mysterious jointed rods, toothed like a comb at
their ends--began to wave up and down, and the horns opened wide,
like the jaws of an angry crab.  On placing a finger between them
they nipped it as sharply as if the creature had been whole and
uninjured.  Yet the body had been long devoured and digested; and
there was only this fragment left, and, torn off with it, shall we
say? a fragment of intelligent life!

We always look on this divisibility of the life-principle in some
creatures with a peculiar repugnance; and, like all phenomena that
seem to contradict the regular course of nature, it gives a {76}
shock to the mind.  We do not experience this feeling with regard to
plant life, and to the life of some of the lower animal organisms,
because we are more familiar with the sight in these cases.  The
trouble to the mind is in the case of the higher life of sentient and
intelligent beings that have passions like our own.  We see it even
in some vertebrates, especially in serpents, which are most tenacious
of life.  Thus, there is a recorded case of a pit viper, the head of
which was severed from the body by the person who found it.  When the
head was approached the jaws opened and closed with a vicious snap,
and when the headless trunk was touched it instantly recoiled and
struck at the touching object.

[Sidenote: Tenacity of life]

Such cases are apt to produce in some minds a sense as of something
unfamiliar and uncanny behind nature that mocks us.  But even those
who are entirely free from any such animistic feeling are strangely
disturbed at the spectacle, not only because it is opposed to the
order of nature (as the mind apprehends it), but also because it
contradicts the old fixed eternal idea we all have, that life is
compounded of two things--the material body and the immaterial
spirit, which leavens and, in a sense, re-creates and shines in and
through the clay it is mixed with; and that you cannot destroy the
body without also destroying or driving out that mysterious, subtle
principle.  Life was thus anciently likened to a seal, which is two
things in one--the wax and the impression on it.  You cannot break
the seal without also destroying the impression, any more than you
can {77} break a pitcher without spilling the liquor in it.  In such
cases as those of the beetle and the serpent, it would perhaps be
better to liken life to a red, glowing ember, which may be broken
into pieces, and each piece still burn and glow with its own portion
of the original heat.

The survival after death of something commonly supposed to be
dependent on vitality is another phenomenon which, like that of the
divisibility of the life-principle, affects us disagreeably.  The
continued growth of the hair of dead men is an instance in point.  It
is, we know, an error, caused by the shrinking of the flesh; and as
for the accounts of coffins being found full of hair when opened,
they are inventions, though still believed in by some persons.
Another instance, which is not a fable, is that of a serpent's skin.
When properly and quickly dried after removal, it will retain its
bright colours for an indefinite time--in some cases for many years.
But at intervals the colours appear to fade, or become covered with a
misty whiteness; and the cause, as one may see when the skin is
rubbed or shaken, is that the outer scales are being shed.  They come
off separately, and are very much thinner than when the living
serpent sheds his skin, and they grow thinner with successive
sheddings until they are scarcely visible.  But at each shedding the
skin recovers its brightness.  One in my possession continued
shedding its scale-films in this way for about ten years.  I used it
for a book-marker and often had it in my hands, but not until it
ceased shedding its {78} scale-coverings, and its original bright
green colour turned to dull blackish-green, did I get rid of the
feeling that it had some life in it.

But the most striking instance of the continuance or survival long
after death of what has seemed an attribute or manifestation of life
remains to be told.

[Sidenote: A dead glow-worm's light]

One cloudy, very dark night at Boldre, I was going home across a
heath with some girls from a farmhouse where we had been visiting,
when one of my young companions cried out that she could see a spark
of fire on the road before us.  We then all saw it--a small, steady,
green light--but on lighting a match and looking closely at the spot,
nothing could we see except the loose soil in the road.  When the
match went out the spark of green fire was there still, and we
searched again, turning the loose soil with our fingers until we
discovered the dried and shrunken remains of a glow-worm of the
previous year.  It had been trodden into the sand, and the sand
driven into it, until it was hard to make out any glow-worm shape or
appearance in it.  It was like a fragment of dry earth, and yet, so
long as it was in the dark, the small, brilliant green light
continued to shine from one end of it.  Yet this dried old case must
have been dead and blown about in the dust for at least seven or
eight months.

On going up to London I carried it with me in a small box: there in a
dark room it shone once more, but the light was now much fainter, and
on the following evening there was no light.  For some days I tried,
by moistening it, by putting it out {79} in the sun and wind, and in
other ways, to bring back the light, but did not succeed; and,
convinced at length that it would shine no more, I had the feeling
that life had at last gone out of that dry, dusty fragment.


The little summer tragedies in Nature which we see or notice are very
few--not one in a thousand of those that actually take place about us
in a spot like this, teeming with midsummer life.  A second one,
which impressed me at the time, had for its scene a spot not more
than eight minutes' walk from that forest gate where the stag-beetle,
too long in cooling his wrath, had been overtaken by so curious a
destiny.  But before I relate this other tragedy, I must describe the
place and some of the creatures I met there.  It was a point where
heath and wood meet, but do not mingle; where the marshy stream that
drains the heath flows down into the wood, and the boggy ground
sloping to the water is overgrown with a mixture of plants of
different habits--lovers of a dry soil and of a wet--heather and
furze, coarse and fine grasses, bracken and bog myrtle; and in the
wettest spots there were patches and round masses of rust-red and
orange-yellow and pale-grey lichen, and a few fragrant, shining,
yellow stars of the bog asphodel, although its flowering season was
nearly over.  It was a perfect wilderness, as wild a bit of desert as
one could wish to be in, where a man could spy all day upon its shy
inhabitants, and no one would come and spy upon him.

{80}

Here, if anywhere, was my exulting thought when I first beheld it,
there should be adders for me.  There was a snakiness in the very
look of the place, and I could almost feel by anticipation the
delightful thrill in my nerves invariably experienced at the sight of
a serpent.  And as I went very cautiously along, wishing for the eyes
of a dragon-fly so as to be able to see all round me, a coil of black
and yellow caught my sight at a distance of a few yards ahead, and
was no sooner seen than gone.  The spot from which the shy creature
had vanished was a small, circular, natural platform on the edge of
the bank, surrounded with grass and herbage, and a little dwarf,
ragged furze; the platform was composed of old, dead bracken and dry
grass, and had a smooth, flat surface, pressed down as if some
creature used it as a sleeping-place.  It was, I saw, the favourite
sleeping- or basking-place of an adder, and by-and-by, or in a few
hours' time, I should be able to get a good view of the creature.
Later in the day, on going back to the spot, I did find my adder on
its platform, and was able to get within three or four yards, and
watch it for some minutes before it slipped gently down the bank and
out of sight.

[Sidenote: Watching adders]

This adder was a very large (probably gravid) female, very bright in
the sunshine, the broad, zig-zag band an inky black on a
straw-coloured ground.  On my third successful visit to the spot I
was agreeably surprised to find that my adder had not been widowed by
some fatal accident, nor left by her wandering mate to spend the
summer alone; for {81} now there were two on the one platform,
slumbering peacefully side by side.  The new-comer, the male, was a
couple of inches shorter and a good deal slimmer than his mate, and
differed in colour; the zigzag mark was intensely black, as in the
other, but the ground colour was a beautiful copper red; he was, I
think, the handsomest red adder I have seen.

On my subsequent visits to the spot I found sometimes one and
sometimes both; and I observed them a good deal at different
distances.  One way was to look at them from a distance of fifteen to
twenty yards through a binocular magnifying nine diameters, which
produced in me the fascinating illusion of being in the presence of
venomous serpents of a nobler size than we have in this country.  The
glasses were for pleasure only.  When I watched them for profit with
my unaided eyes, I found it most convenient to stand at a distance of
three or four yards; but often I moved cautiously up to the raised
platform they reposed on, until, by bending a little forward, I could
look directly down upon them.

When we first catch sight of an adder lying at rest in the sun, it
strikes us as being fast asleep, so motionless is it; but that it
ever does really sleep with the sun shining into its round, lidless,
brilliant eyes is hardly to be believed.  The immobility which we
note at first does not continue long; watch the adder lying
peacefully in the sun, and you will see that at intervals of a very
few minutes, and sometimes as often as once a minute, he quietly
changes his position.  Now he draws his concentric coils a little
closer, {82} now spreads them more abroad; by-and-by the whole body
is extended to a sinuous band, then disposed in the form of a letter
S, or a simple horseshoe figure, and sometimes the head rests on the
body and sometimes on the ground.  The gentle, languid movements of
the creature changing his position at intervals are like those of a
person reclining in a hot bath, who occasionally moves his body and
limbs to renew and get the full benefit of the luxurious sensation.

That the two adders could see me when I stood over them, or at a
distance of three or four yards, or even more, is likely; but it is
certain that they did not regard me as a living thing, or anything to
be disturbed at, but saw me only as a perfectly motionless object
which had grown imperceptibly on their vision, and was no more than a
bush, or stump, or tree.  Nevertheless, I became convinced that
always after standing for a time near them my presence produced a
disturbing effect.  It is, perhaps, the case that we are not all
contained within our visible bodies, but have our own atmosphere
about us--something of us which is outside of us, and may affect
other creatures.  More than that, there may be a subtle current which
goes out and directly affects any creature (or person) which we
regard for any length of time with concentrated attention.  This is
one of the things about which we know nothing, or, at all events,
learn nothing from our masters, and most scientists would say that it
is a mere fancy; but in this instance it was plain to see that always
after a time something began to produce a disturbing effect {83} on
the adders.  This would first show itself in a slight restlessness, a
movement of the body as if it had been breathed upon, increasing
until they would be ill at ease all the time, and at length they
would slip quietly away to hide under the bank.

The following incident will show that they were not disturbed at
seeing me standing near, assuming that they could or did see me.  On
one of my visits I took some pieces of scarlet ribbon to find out by
an experiment if there was any truth in the old belief that the sight
of scarlet will excite this serpent to anger.  I approached them in
the usual cautious way, until I was able, bending forward, to look
down upon them reposing unalarmed on their bed of dry fern; then,
gradually putting one hand out until it was over them, I dropped from
it first one then another piece of silk so that they fell gently upon
the edge of the platform.  The adders must have seen these bright
objects so close to them, yet they did not suddenly draw back their
heads, nor exsert their tongues, nor make the least movement, but it
was as if a dry, light, dead leaf, or a ball of thistledown, had
floated down and settled near them, and they had not heeded it.

In the same way they probably saw me, and it was as if they had seen
me not, since they did not heed my motionless figure; but that they
always felt my presence after a time I felt convinced, for not only
when I stood close to and looked down upon them, but also at a
distance of four to eight yards, after gazing fixedly at them for
some minutes, {84} the change, the tremor, would appear, and in a
little while they would steal away.

Enough has been said to show how much I liked the company of these
adders, even when I knew that my presence disturbed their placid
lives in some indefinable way.  They were indeed more to me than all
the other adders, numbering about a score, which I had found at their
favourite basking-places in the neighbourhood.  For they were often
to be found in that fragrant, sequestered spot where their home was;
and they were two together, of different types, both beautiful, and
by observing them day by day I increased my knowledge of their kind.
We do not know very much about "the life and conversation" of adders,
having been too much occupied in "bruising" their shining beautiful
bodies beneath our ironshod heels, and with sticks and stones, to
attend to such matters.  So absorbed was I in contemplating or else
thinking about them at that spot that I was curiously indifferent to
the other creatures--little lizards, and butterflies, and many young
birds brought by their parents to the willows and alders that shaded
the stream.  All day the birds dozed on their gently swaying perches,
chirping at intervals to be fed; and near by a tree-pipit had his
stand, and sang and sang when most songsters were silent, but I paid
no attention even to his sweet strains.  Two or three hundred yards
away, up the stream on a boggy spot, a pair of pewits had their
breeding-place.  They were always there, and invariably on my
appearance they rose up and {85} came to me, and, winnowing the air
over my head, screamed their loudest.  But I took no notice, and was
not annoyed, knowing that their most piercing cries would have no
effect on the adders, since their deaf ears heard nothing, and their
brilliant eyes saw next to nothing, of all that was going on about
them.  After vexing their hearts in vain for a few minutes the pewits
would go back to their own ground, then peace would reign once more.

[Sidenote: A dead young pewit]

One day I was surprised and a little vexed to find that the pewits
had left their own ground to come and establish themselves on the bog
within forty yards of the spot where I was accustomed to take my
stand when observing the adders.  Their anxiety at my presence had
now become so intensified that it was painful to witness.  I
concluded that they had led their nearly grown-up young to that spot,
and sincerely hoped that they would be gone on the morrow.  But they
remained there five days; and as their solicitude and frantic efforts
to drive me away were renewed on each visit, they were a source of
considerable annoyance.  On the fourth day I accidentally discovered
their secret.  If I had not been so taken up with the adders, I might
have guessed it.  Going over the ground I came upon a dead full-grown
young pewit, raised a few inches above the earth by the heather it
rested on, its head dropped forward, its motionless wings partly open.

Usually at the moment of death a bird beats violently with its wings,
and after death the wings remain half open.  This was how the pewit
had died, {86} the wings half folded.  Picking it up, I saw that it
had been dead several days, though the carrion beetles had not
attacked it, owing to its being several inches above the ground.  It
had, in fact, no doubt been already dead when I first found the old
pewits settled at that spot; yet during those four hot, long summer
days they had been in a state of the most intense anxiety for the
safety of these dead remains!  This is to my mind not only a very
pathetic spectacle, but one of the strangest facts in animal life.
The reader may say that it is not at all strange, since it is very
common.  It is most strange to me because it is very common, since if
it were rare we could say that it was due to individual aberration,
or resulted through the bluntness of some sense or instinct.  What is
wonderful and almost incredible is that the higher vertebrates have
no instinct to guide them in such a case as I have described, and no
inherited knowledge of death.  To make of Nature a person, we may see
that in spite of her providential care for all her children, and wise
ordering of their lives down to the minutest detail, she has yet
failed in this one thing.  Her only provision is that the dead shall
be speedily devoured; but they are not thus removed in numberless
instances; a very familiar one is the sight of living and dead young
birds, the dead often in a state of decay, lying together in one
nest: and here we cannot but see that the dead become a burden and a
danger to the living.  Birds and mammals are alike in this.  They
will call, and wait for, and bring food to, and try to rouse the dead
{87} young or mate; day and night they will keep guard over it and
waste themselves in fighting to save it from their enemies.  Yet we
can readily believe that an instinct fitted to save an animal from
all this vain excitement, and labour, and danger, would be of
infinite advantage to the species that possessed it.

[Sidenote: Animals and their dead]

In some social hymenopterous insects we see that the dead are
removed; it would be impossible for ants to exist in communities
numbering many thousands and tens of thousands of members crowded in
a small space without such a provision.  The dead ant is picked up by
the first worker that happens to come that way and discovers it, and
carried out and thrown away.  Probably some chemical change which
takes place in the organism on the cessation of life and makes it
offensive to the living has given rise to this healthy instinct.  The
dead ant is not indeed seen as a dead fellow-being, but as so much
rubbish, or "matter in the wrong place," and is accordingly removed.
We can confidently say that this is not a knowledge of death, from
what has been observed of the behaviour of ants on the death of some
highly regarded individual in the nest--a queen, for instance.  On
this point I will quote a passage from the Rev. William Gould's
_Account of English Ants_, dated 1747.  His small book may be
regarded as a classic, at all events by naturalists; albeit the
editors of our _Dictionary of National Biography_ have not thought
proper to give him a place in that work, in which so many
obscurities, especially of the nineteenth century, have had their
little lives recorded.

{88}

It may be remarked in passing that the passage to be quoted is a very
good sample of the style of our oldest entomologist, the first man in
England to observe the habits of insects.  His small volume dates
many years before the _Natural History of Selborne_, and his style,
it will be seen, is very different from that of Gilbert White.  We
know from Lord Avebury's valuable book on the habits of ants that
Gould was not mistaken in these remarkable observations.


    In whatever Apartment a Queen Ant condescends to be present, she
    commands Obedience and Respect.  An universal Gladness spreads
    itself through the whole Cell, which is expressed by particular
    Acts of Joy and Exultation.  They have a peculiar Way of
    skipping, leaping, and standing upon their Hind Legs, and
    prancing with the others.  These Frolicks they make use of, both
    to congratulate each other when they meet, and to show their
    Regard for the Queen....  Howsoever romantick this Description
    may appear, it may easily be proved by an obvious Experiment.  If
    you place a Queen Ant with her Retinue under a Glass, you will in
    a few Moments be convinced of the Honour they pay, and Esteem
    they entertain for her.  There cannot be a more remarkable
    Instance than what happened to a Black Queen, the beginning of
    last Spring.  I had placed her with a large Retinue in a sliding
    Box, in the Cover of which was an Opening sufficient for the
    Workers to pass to and fro, but so narrow as to confine the
    Queen.  A Corps was constantly in waiting and surrounded her,
    whilst others went out in search of Provisions.  By some
    Misfortune she died; the Ants, as if not apprised of her Death,
    continued their Obedience.  They even removed her from one Part
    of the Box to another, and treated her with the same Court and
    Formality as if she had been alive.  This lasted two Months, at
    the End of which, the Cover being open, they forsook the Box, and
    carried her off.


Two days after I found the dead pewit the parent birds disappeared;
and a little later I paid my last visit to the adders, and left them
with the greatest reluctance, for they had not told me a hundredth
part of their unwritten history.



{89}

CHAPTER V

Cessation of song--Oak woods less silent than others--Mixed
gatherings of birds in oak woods--Abundance of
caterpillars--Rapacious insects--Wood ants--Alarm cries of woodland
birds--Weasel and small birds--Fascination--Weasel and short-tailed
vole--Account of Egyptian cats fascinated by fire--Rabbits and
stoats--Mystery of fascination--Cases of pre-natal
suggestion--Hampshire pigs fascinated by fire--Conjectures as to the
origin of fascination--A dead squirrel--A squirrel's fatal
leap--Fleas large and small--Shrew and fleas--Fleas in woods--The
squirrel's disposition--Food-hiding habit in animals--Memory in
squirrels and dogs--The lower kind of memory.


The nightingale ceases singing about 18th or 20th June.  A bird here
and there may sing later; I occasionally hear one as late as the
first days of July.  And because the nightingale is not so numerous
as the other singers, and his song attracts more attention, we get
the idea that his musical period is soonest over.  Yet several other
species come to the end of their vocal season quite as early, or but
little later.  If it be an extremely abundant species, as in the case
of the willow-wren, we will hear a score or fifty sing for every
nightingale.  Blackcap and garden warbler, whitethroat and lesser
whitethroat, are nearly silent, too, at the beginning of July; and
altogether it seems to be the rule that the species oftenest heard
after June are the most abundant.

{90}

The woodland silence increases during July and August, not only
because the singing season is ended, but also because the birds are
leaving the woods: that darkness and closeness which oppresses us
when we walk in the deep shade is not congenial to them; besides,
food is less plentiful than in the open places, where the sun shines
and the wind blows.

Woods, again, vary greatly in character and the degree of
attractiveness they have for birds: the copse and spinney keep a part
of their population through the hottest months; and coming to large
woods the oak is never oppressive like the beech and other deciduous
trees.  It spreads its branches wide, and has wide spaces which let
in the light and air; grass and undergrowth flourish beneath it, and,
better than all, it abounds in bird food on its foliage above all
trees.

My favourite woods were almost entirely of oak with a holly
undergrowth, and at some points oaks were mixed with firs.  They were
never gloomy nor so silent as most woods; but in July, as a rule, one
had to look for the birds, since they were no longer distributed
through the wood as in the spring and early summer, but were
congregated at certain points.

[Sidenote: Mixed bird-companies]

Most persons are familiar with those companies of small birds which
form in woods in winter, composed of tits of all species, with
siskins, goldcrests, and sometimes other kinds.  The July gatherings
are larger, include more species, and do not travel incessantly like
the winter companies.  They are composed of families--parent birds
and their young, {91} lately out of the nest, brought to the oaks to
be fed on caterpillars.  It may be that their food is more abundant
at certain points, but it is also probable that their social
disposition causes them to congregate.  Walking in the silent woods
you begin to hear them at a considerable distance ahead--a great
variety of sounds, mostly of that shrill, sharp, penetrative
character which is common to many young passerine birds when calling
to be fed.  The birds will sometimes be found distributed over an
acre of ground, a family or two occupying every large oak tree--tits,
finches, warblers, the tree-creeper, nuthatch, and the jay.  What,
one asks, is the jay doing in such company?  He is feeding at the
same table, and certainly not on them.  All, jays included, are
occupied with the same business, minutely examining each cluster of
leaves, picking off every green caterpillar, and extracting the
chrysalids from every rolled-up leaf.  The airy little leaf-warblers
and the tits do this very deftly; the heavier birds are obliged to
advance with caution along the twig until by stretching the neck they
can reach their prey lurking in the green cluster, and thrust their
beaks into each little green web-fastened cylinder.  But all are
doing the same thing in pretty much the same way.  While the old
birds are gathering food, the young, sitting in branches close by,
are incessantly clamouring to be fed, their various calls making a
tempest of shrill and querulous sounds in the wood.  And the
shrillest of all are the long-tailed tits; these will not sit still
and wait like the others, {92} but all, a dozen or fifteen to a
brood, hurry after their busy parents, all the time sending out those
needles of sound in showers.  Of hard-billed birds the chaffinch, as
usual, was the most numerous, but there were, to my surprise, many
yellowhammers; all these, like the rest, with their newly brought out
young.  The presence of the hawfinch was another surprise; and here I
noticed that the hunger call of the young hawfinch is the loudest of
all--a measured, powerful, metallic chirp, heard high above the
shrill hubbub.

[Sidenote: Caterpillars and ants]

Watching one of these busy companies of small birds at work, one is
amazed at the thought of the abundance of larval insect life in these
oak woods.  The caterpillars must be devoured in tens of thousands
every day for some weeks, yet when the time comes one is amazed again
at the numbers that have survived to know a winged life.  On July
evenings with the low sun shining on the green oaks at this place I
have seen the trees covered as with a pale silvery mist--a mist
composed of myriads of small white and pale-grey moths fluttering
about the oak foliage.  Yet it is probable that all the birds eat is
but a small fraction of the entire number destroyed.  The rapacious
insects are in myriads too, and are most of them at war with the
soft-bodied caterpillars.  The earth under the bed of dead leaves is
full of them, and the surface is hunted over all day by the wood or
horse ants--_Formica rufa_.  One day, standing still to watch a
number of these ants moving about in all directions over the ground,
I saw a green {93} geometer caterpillar fall from an oak leaf above
to the earth, and no sooner had it dropped than an ant saw and
attacked it, seizing it at one end of its body with his jaws.  The
caterpillar threw itself into a horseshoe form, and then, violently
jerking its body round, flung the ant away to a distance of a couple
of inches.  But the attack was renewed, and three times the ant was
thrown violently off; then another ant came, and he, too, was twice
thrown off; then a third ant joined in the fight, and when all three
had fastened their jaws on their victim the struggle ceased, and the
caterpillar was dragged away.  That is the fate of most caterpillars
that come to the ground.  But the ants ascend the trees; you see them
going up and coming down in thousands, and you find on examination
that they distribute themselves over the whole tree, even to the
highest and farthest terminal twigs.  And their numbers are
incalculable--here in the Forest, at all events.  Not only are their
communities large, numbering hundreds of thousands in a nest, but
their nests here are in hundreds, and it is not uncommon to find them
in groups, three or four up to eight or ten, all within a distance of
a few yards of one another.

I had thought to write more, a whole chapter in fact, on this
fascinating and puzzling insect--our "noble ant," as our old
ant-lover Gould called it; but I have had to throw out that and much
besides in order to keep this book within reasonable dimensions.

There is another noise of birds in all woods and copses in the silent
season which is familiar to {94} everyone--the sudden excited cries
they utter at the sight of some prowling animal--fox, cat, or stoat.
Even in the darkest, stillest woods these little tempests of noise
occasionally break out, for no sooner does one bird utter the alarm
cry than all within hearing hasten to the spot to increase the
tumult.  These tempests are of two kinds--the greater and lesser; in
the first jays, blackbirds, and missel-thrushes take part, the magpie
too, if he is in the wood, and almost invariably the outcry is caused
by the appearance of one of the animals just named.  In the smaller
outbreaks, which are far more frequent, none of these birds take any
part, not even the excitable blackbird, in spite of his readiness to
make a noise on the least provocation.  Only the smaller birds are
concerned here, from the chaffinch down; and the weasel is, I
believe, almost always the exciting cause.  If it be as I think, a
curious thing is that birds like the chaffinch and the tits, which
have their nests placed out of its reach, should be so overcome at
the sight of this minute creature which hunts on the ground, and
which blackbirds and jays refuse to notice in spite of the outrageous
din of the finches.  The chaffinch is invariably first and loudest in
these outbreaks; a dozen or twenty times a day, even in July and
August, you will hear his loud passionate _pink-pink_ calling on all
of his kind to join him, and by-and-by, if you can succeed in getting
to the spot, you will hear other species joining in--the girding of
oxeye and blue tit, the angry, percussive note of the wren, the low
wailing of the robin, and {95} the still sadder dunnock, and the
small plaintive cries of the tree-warblers.

[Sidenote: Weasel and small birds]

What an idle demonstration, what a fuss about nothing it seems!  The
minute weasel is on the track of a vole or a wood-mouse and cannot
harm the birds.  Yes, he can take the nestlings from the robin's and
willow-wren's nests, and from other nests built on the ground, but
what has the chaffinch to do with it all?  Can it be that there is
some fatal weakness in birds, in spite of their wings, in this bird
especially, such as exists in voles, and mice, and rabbits, and in
frogs and lizards, which brings them down to destruction, and of
which they are in some way conscious?  Some months ago there was a
correspondence in the _Field_ which touched upon this very subject.
One gentleman wrote that he had found three freshly-killed adult cock
chaffinches in a weasel's nest, and he asked in consequence how this
small creature that hunts on the ground could be so successful in
capturing so alert and vigorous a bird as this finch.

For a long time before this correspondence appeared I had been trying
to find out the secret of the matter, but the weasel has keen senses,
and it is hard to see and follow his movements in a copse without
alarming him.  One day, over a year ago, near Boldre, I was fortunate
enough to hear a commotion of the lesser kind at a spot where I could
steal upon without alarming the little beast.  There was an oak tree,
with some scanty thorn-bushes growing beside the trunk, and stealing
quietly to the spot I peeped {96} through the screening thorns, and
saw a weasel lying coiled round, snakewise, at the roots of the oak
in a bed of dead leaves.  He was grinning and chattering at the
birds, his whole body quivering with excitement.  Close to him on the
twigs above the birds were perched, and fluttering from twig to
twig--chaffinches, wrens, robins, dunnocks, oxeyes, and two or three
willow-wrens and chiffchaffs.  The chaffinches were the most excited,
and were nearest to him.  Suddenly, after a few moments, the weasel
began wriggling and spinning round with such velocity that his shape
became indistinguishable, and he appeared as a small round red object
violently agitated, his rapid motions stirring up the dead leaves so
that they fluttered about him.  Then he was still again, but
chattering and quivering, then again the violent motion, and each
time he made this extraordinary movement the excitement and cries of
the birds increased and they fluttered closer down on the twigs.
Unluckily, just when I was on the point of actually witnessing the
end of this strange little drama--a chaffinch, I am sure, would have
been the victim--the little flat-headed wretch became aware of my
presence, not five yards from him, and springing up he scuttled into
hiding.

[Sidenote: Fascination]

If, as I think, certain species of birds are so thrown off their
mental balance by the sight of this enemy as to come in their frenzy
down to be taken by him, it is clear that he fascinates--to use the
convenient old word--in two different ways, or that his furred and
feathered victims are differently affected.  In the {97} case of the
rabbits and of the small rodents, we see that they recognise the
dangerous character of their pursuer and try their best to escape
from him, but that they cannot attain their normal speed--they cannot
run as they do from a man, or dog, or other enemy, or as they run
ordinarily when chasing one another.  Yet it is plain to anyone who
has watched a rabbit followed by a stoat that they strain every nerve
to escape, and, conscious of their weakness, are on the brink of
despair and ready to collapse.  The rabbit's appearance when he is
being followed, even when his foe is at a distance behind, his
trembling frame, little hopping movements, and agonising cries, which
may be heard distinctly three or four hundred yards away, remind us
of our own state in a bad dream, when some terrible enemy, or some
nameless horror, is coming swiftly upon us; when we must put forth
our utmost speed to escape instant destruction, yet have a leaden
weight on our limbs that prevents us from moving.

I have often watched rabbits hunted by stoats, and recently, at
Beaulieu, I watched a vole hunted by a weasel, and it was simply the
stoat and rabbit hunt in little.

[Sidenote: Weasel and vole]

It is a typical case, and I will describe just what I saw, and saw
very well.  I was on the hard, white road between Beaulieu village
and Hilltop, when the little animal--a common field vole--came out
from the hedge and ran along the road, and knowing from his
appearance that he was being pursued, I stood still to see the
result.  He had a very odd look: {98} instead of a smooth-haired
little mouse-like creature running smoothly and swiftly over the bare
ground, he was all hunched up, his hair standing on end like
bristles, and he moved in a series of heavy painful hops.  Before he
had gone half a dozen yards, the weasel appeared at the point where
the vole had come out, following by scent, his nose close to the
ground; but on coming into the open road he lifted his head and
caught sight of the straining vole, and at once dashed at and
overtook him.  A grip, a little futile squeal, and all was over, and
the weasel disappeared into the hedge.  But his mate had crossed the
road a few moments before--I had seen her run by me--and he wanted to
follow her, and so presently he emerged again with the vole in his
mouth, and plucking up courage ran across close to me.  I stood
motionless until he was near my feet, then suddenly stamped on the
hard road, and this so startled him that he dropped his prey and
scuttled into cover.  Very soon he came out again, and, seeing me so
still, made a dash to recover his vole, when I stamped again, and he
lost it again and fled; but only to return for another try, until he
had made at least a dozen attempts.  Then he gave it up, and peering
at me in a bird-like way from the roadside grass began uttering a
series of low, sorrowful sounds, so low indeed that if I had been
more than six yards from him they would have been inaudible--low, and
soft, and musical, and very sad, until he quite melted my heart, and
I turned away, leaving him to his vole, feeling as much ashamed of
myself as if I had teased {99} a pretty bright-eyed little child by
keeping his cake or apple until I had made him cry.

With regard to these fatal weaknesses in birds, mammals and reptiles,
which we see are confined to certain species, they always strike us
as out of the order of nature, or as abnormal, if the word may be
used in such a connection.  Perhaps it can be properly used.  I
remember that Herodotus, in his _History of Egypt_, relates that when
a fire broke out in any city in that country, the people did not
concern themselves about extinguishing it; their whole anxiety was to
prevent the cats from rushing into the flames and destroying
themselves.  To this end the people would occupy all the approaches
to the burning building, forming a cordon, as it were, to keep the
cats back; but in spite of all they could do, some of them would get
through, and rush into the flames and die.  The omniscient learned
person may tell me that Herodotus is the Father of Lies, if he likes,
and is anxious to say something witty and original; but I believe
this story of the cats, since not Herodotus, nor any Egyptian who was
his informant, would or could have invented such a tale.  Believing
it, I can only explain it on the assumption that this Egyptian race
of cats had become subject to a fatal weakness, a hypnotic effect
caused by the sight of a great blaze.  In like manner, if our
chaffinch gets too much excited and finally comes down to be
destroyed by a weasel, when he catches sight of that small red
animal, or sees him going through that strange antic performance
which I witnessed, it does not follow that the {100} weakness or
abnormality is universal in the species.  It may be only in a race.

[Sidenote: Strange weaknesses]

Again, with regard to rabbits: when hunted by a stoat they endeavour
to fly, but cannot, and are destroyed owing to that strange--one
might almost say unnatural--weakness; but I can believe that if a
colony of British rabbits were to inhabit, for a good many
generations, some distant country where there are no stoats, this
weakness would be outgrown.  It is probable that, even in this
stoat-infested country, not all individuals are subject to such a
failing, and that, in those which have it, it differs in degree.  If
it is a weakness, a something inimical, then it is reasonable to
believe that nature works to eliminate it, whether by natural
selection or some other means.

The main point is the origin of this flaw in certain races, and
perhaps species.  How comes it that certain animals should, in
certain circumstances, act in a definite way, as by instinct, to the
detriment of their own and the advantage of some other species--in
this case that of a direct and well-known enemy?  It is a mystery,
one which, so far as I know, has not yet been looked into.  A small
ray of light may be thrown on the matter, if we consider the fact of
those strange weaknesses and mental abnormalities in our own species,
which are supposed to have their origin in violent emotional and
other peculiar mental states in one of our parents.  "The fathers
have eaten sour grapes, and their children's teeth are set on edge,"
is one of the old proverbs quoted by Ezekiel.  I know of one
unfortunate person who, if he but sees {101} a lemon squeezed, or a
child biting an unripe-looking fruit, has his teeth so effectually
set on edge, that he cannot put food into his mouth for some time
after.  Here is a farmer, a big, strong, healthy man, who himself
works on his farm like any labourer, who, if he but catches sight of
any ophidian--adder, or harmless grass snake, or poor, innocent
blindworm--instantly lets fall the implements from his hands, and
stands trembling, white as a ghost, for some time; then, finally, he
goes back to the house, slowly and totteringly, like some very aged,
feeble invalid, and dropping on to a bed, he lies nerveless for the
rest of that day.  Night and sleep restore him to his normal state.

I give this one of scores of similar cases which I have found.  Such
things are indeed very common.  But how does the fact of pre-natal
suggestion help us to get the true meaning of such a phenomenon as
fascination?  It does not help us if we consider it by itself.  It is
a fact that "freaks" of this kind, mental and physical, are
transmissible, but that helps us little--the abnormal individual has
the whole normal race against him.  Thus, in reference to the cat
story in Herodotus, here in a Hampshire village, a mile or two from
where I am writing this chapter, a cottage took fire one evening, and
when the villagers were gathered on the spot watching the progress of
the fire, some pigs--a sow with her young ones--appeared on the scene
and dashed into the flames.  The people rushed to the rescue, and
with some difficulty pulled the pigs out; and finally hurdles had to
be brought {102} and placed in the way of the sow to prevent her
getting back, so anxious was she to treat the villagers to roast pig.

This is a case of the hypnotic effect of fire on animals, and perhaps
many similar cases would be found if looked for.  We know that most
animals are strangely attracted by fire at night, but they fear it
too, and keep at a proper distance.  It draws and disturbs but does
not upset their mental balance.  But how it came about that a whole
race of cats in ancient Egypt were thrown off their balance and were
always ready to rush into destruction like the Hampshire pigs, is a
mystery.

To return to fascination.  Let us (to personify) remember that Nature
in her endeavours to safeguard all and every one of her creatures has
given them the passion of fear in various degrees, according to their
several needs, and in the greatest degree to her persecuted
weaklings; and this emotion, to be efficient, must be brought to the
extreme limit, beyond which it becomes debilitating and is a positive
danger, even to betraying to destruction the life it was designed to
save.  Let us consider this fact in connection with that of pre-natal
suggestion--of weak species frequently excited to an extremity of
fear at the sight, familiar to them, of some deadly enemy, and the
possible effect of that constantly recurring violent disturbance and
image of terror on the young that are to be.

The guess may go for what it is worth.  We know that the
susceptibility of certain animals--the vole {103} and the frog, let
us say--to fascination, is like nothing else in animal life, since it
is a great disadvantage to the species, a veritable weakness, which
might even be called a disease; and that it must therefore have its
cause in too great a strain on the system somewhere; and we know,
too, that it is inheritable.  But the facts are too few, since no one
has yet taken pains to collect data on the matter.  There is a good
deal of material lying about in print; and I am astonished at many
things I hear from intelligent keepers, and other persons who see a
good deal of wild life, bearing on this subject.  But I do not now
propose to follow it any further.


I went into the oak wood one morning, and, finding it unusually
still, betook myself to a spot where I had often found the birds
gathered.  It was a favourite place, where there was running water
and very large trees standing wide apart, with a lawn-like green turf
beneath them.  This green space was about half an acre in extent, and
was surrounded by a thicker wood of oak and holly, with an
undergrowth of brambles.  Here I found a dead squirrel lying on the
turf under one of the biggest oaks, looking exceedingly conspicuous
with the bright morning sun shining on him.

A poor bag! the reader may say, but it was the day of small things at
the end of July, and this dead creature gave me something to think
about.  How in the name of wonder came it to be dead at that peaceful
place, where no gun was fired!  I could not believe that he had died,
for never had I seen a finer, {104} glossier-coated,
better-nourished-looking squirrel.  "Whiter than pearls are his
teeth," were Christ's words in the legend when His followers looked
with disgust and abhorrence at a dead dog lying in the public way.
This dead animal had more than pearly teeth to admire; he was
actually beautiful to the sight, lying graceful in death on the moist
green sward in his rich chestnut reds and flower-like whiteness.  The
wild, bright-eyed, alert little creature--it seemed a strange and
unheard-of thing that he, of all the woodland people, should be lying
there, motionless, not stiffened yet and scarcely cold.

A keeper in Hampshire told me that he once saw a squirrel
accidentally kill itself in a curious way.  The keeper was walking on
a hard road, and noticed the squirrel high up in the topmost branches
of the trees overhead, bounding along from branch to branch before
him, and by-and-by, failing to grasp the branch it had aimed at, it
fell fifty or sixty feet to the earth, and was stone-dead when he
picked it up from the road.  But such accidents must be exceedingly
rare in the squirrel's life.

[Sidenote: Fleas large and small]

Looking closely at my dead squirrel to make sure that he had no
external hurt, I was surprised to find its fur peopled with lively
black fleas, running about as if very much upset at the death of
their host.  These fleas were to my eyes just like _pulex
irritans_--our own flea; but it is doubtful that it was the same, as
we know that a great many animals have their own species to tease
them.  Now, I have noticed that some very small animals have very
small fleas; and {105} that, one would imagine, is as it should be,
since fleas are small to begin with, because they cannot afford to be
large, and the flea that would be safe on a dog would be an
unsuitable parasite for so small a creature as a mouse.  The common
shrew is an example.  It has often happened that when in an early
morning walk I have found one lying dead on the path or road and have
touched it, out instantly a number of fleas have jumped.  And on
touching it again, there may be a second and a third shower.  These
fleas, parasitical on so minute a mammal, are themselves
minute--pretty sherry-coloured little creatures, not half so big as
the dog's flea.  It appears to be a habit of some wild fleas, when
the animal they live on dies and grows cold, to place themselves on
the surface of the fur and to hop well away when shaken.  But we do
not yet know very much about their lives.  Huxley once said that we
were in danger of being buried under our accumulated monographs.
There is, one is sorry to find, no monograph on the fleas; a strange
omission, when we consider that we have, as the life-work of an
industrious German, a big handsome quarto, abundantly illustrated, on
the more degraded and less interesting _Pedicularia_.

The multitude of fleas, big and black, on my dead squirrel, seemed a
ten-times bigger puzzle than the one of the squirrel's death.  For
how had they got there?  They were not hatched and brought up on the
squirrel: they passed their life as larvæ on the ground, among the
dead leaves, probably feeding on decayed organic matter.  How did so
many of them {106} succeed in getting hold of so very sprightly and
irritable a creature, who lives mostly high up in the trees, and does
not lie about on the ground?  Can it be that fleas--those proper to
the squirrel--swarm on the ground in the woods, and that without
feeding on mammalian blood they are able to propagate and keep up
their numbers?  These questions have yet to be answered.

It struck me at last that these sprightly parasites might have been
the cause of the squirrel's coming to grief; that, driven to
desperation by their persecutions, he had cast himself down from some
topmost branch, and so put an end to the worry with his life.

[Sidenote: A squirrel's disposition]

Squirrels abound in these woods, and but for parasites and their own
evil tempers they might be happy all the time.  But they are
explosive and tyrannical to an almost insane degree; and this may be
an effect of the deleterious substances they are fond of eating.
They will feast on scarlet and orange agarics--lovely things to look
at, but deadly to creatures that are not immune.  A prettier
spectacle than two squirrels fighting is not to be seen among the
oaks.  So swift are they, so amazingly quick in their doublings, in
feints, attack, flight, and chase; moving not as though running on
trees and ground, but as if flying and gliding; and so rarely do they
come within touching distance of one another, that the delighted
looker-on might easily suppose that it is all in fun.  In their most
truculent moods, in their fiercest fights, they cannot cease to be
graceful in all their motions.

{107}

A common action of squirrels, when excited, of throwing things down,
has been oddly misinterpreted by some observers who have written
about it.  Here I have often watched a squirrel, madly excited at my
presence when I have stopped to watch him, dancing about and whisking
his tail, scolding in a variety of tones, and emitting that curious
sound which reminds one of the chattering cry of fieldfares when
alarmed; and finally tearing off the loose bark with his little hands
and teeth, and biting, too, at twigs and leaves so as to cause them
to fall in showers.  The little pot boils over in that way, and
that's all there is to be said about it.

Walking among the oaks one day in early winter when the trees were
nearly leafless, I noticed a squirrel sitting very quietly on a
branch; and though he did not get excited, he began to move away
before me, stopping at intervals and sitting still to watch me for a
few moments.  He was a trifle suspicious, and nothing more.  In this
way he went on for some distance, and by-and-by came to a long
horizontal branch thickly clothed with long lichen on its upper
sides, and instantly his demeanour changed.  He was all excitement,
and bounding along the branch he eagerly began to look for something,
sniffing and scratching with his paws, and presently he pulled out a
nut which had been concealed in a crevice under the lichen, and
sitting up, he began cracking and eating it, taking no further notice
of me.  The sudden change in him, the hurried search for something,
and the result, seemed to throw some light on the question of the
animal's memory with reference {108} to his habit of hiding food.  It
is one common to a great number of rodents, and to many of the higher
mammals--Canidæ and Felidæ, and to many birds, including most, if not
all, the Corvidæ.

When the food is hidden away here, there, and everywhere, we know
from observation that in innumerable instances it is never found, and
probably never looked for again; and of the squirrel we are
accustomed to say that he no sooner hides a nut than he forgets all
about it.  Doubtless he does, and yet something may bring it back to
his mind.  In this matter I think there is a considerable difference
between the higher mammals, cats and dogs, for instance, and the
rodents; I think the dog has a better or more highly developed
memory.  Thus, I have seen a dog looking enviously at another who had
got a bone, and after gazing at him with watering mouth for some
time, suddenly turn round and go off at a great pace to a distant
part of the ground, and there begin digging, and presently pull out a
bone of his own, which he had no doubt forgotten all about until he
was feelingly reminded of it.  I doubt if a squirrel would ever rise
to this height; but on coming by chance to a spot with very marked
features, where he had once hidden a nut, then I think the sight of
the place might bring back the old impression.

I have often remarked when riding a nervous horse, that he will
invariably become alarmed, and sometimes start at nothing, on
arriving at some spot where something had once occurred to frighten
him.  The sight of the spot brings up the image of the {109} object
or sound that startled him; or, to adopt a later interpretation of
memory, the past event is reconstructed in his mind.  Again, I have
noticed with dogs, when one is brought to a spot where on a former
occasion he has battled with or captured some animal, or where he has
met with some exciting adventure, he shows by a sudden change in his
manner, in eyes and twitching nose, that it has all come back to him,
and he appears as if looking for its instant repetition.

[Sidenote: The lower kind of memory]

We see that we possess this lower kind of memory ourselves--that its
process is the same in man and dog and squirrel.  I am, for instance,
riding or walking in a part of the country which all seems
unfamiliar, and I have no recollection of ever having passed that way
before; but by-and-by I come to some spot where I have had some
little adventure, some mishap, tearing my coat or wounding my hand in
getting through a barbed-wire fence; or where I had discovered that I
had lost something, or left something behind at the inn where I last
stayed; or where I had a puncture in my tyre; or where I first saw a
rare and beautiful butterfly, or bird, or flower, if I am interested
in such things; and the whole scene--the fields and trees and hedges,
and farm-house or cottage below--is all as familiar as possible.  But
it is the scene that brings back the event.  The scene was impressed
on the mind at the emotional moment, and is instantly recognised, and
at the moment of recognition the associated event is remembered.



{110}

CHAPTER VI

Insects in Britain--Meadow ants--The indoor view of insect
life--Insects in visible nature--The humming-bird hawk-moth and the
parson lepidopterist--Rarity of death's-head moth--Hawk-moth and
meadow-pipit--Silver-washed fritillaries on bracken--Flight of the
white admiral butterfly--Dragon-flies--Want of English names--A
water-keeper on dragon-flies--Moses Harris--Why moths have English
names--Origin of the dragon-fly's bad reputation--_Cordulegaster
annulatus_--_Calopteryx virgo_--Dragon-flies
congregated--Glow-worm--Firefly and glow-worm compared--Variability
in light--The insect's attitude when shining--Supposed use of the
light--Hornets--A long-remembered sting--The hornet local in
England--A splendid insect--Insects on ivy blossoms in autumn.


The successive Junes, Julys, and Augusts spent in this low-lying,
warm forest country have served to restore in my mind the insect
world to its proper place in the scheme of things.  In recent years,
in this northern land, it had not seemed so important a place as at
an earlier period of my life in a country nearer to the sun.  Our
insects, less numerous, smaller in size, more modest in colouring,
and but rarely seen in swarms and clouds and devastating multitudes,
do not force themselves on our attention, as is the case in many
other regions of the earth.  Here, for instance, where I am writing
this chapter, there is a stretch of flat, green, common land by the
Test, and on this clouded afternoon, at the end of summer, while
sitting on one of the {111} innumerable little green hillocks
covering the common, it seemed to me that I was in a vacant place
where animal life had ceased to be.  Not an insect hummed in that
quiet, still atmosphere, not could I see one tiny form on the
close-cropped turf at my feet.  Yet I was sitting on one of their
populous habitations.  Cutting out a section of the cushion-like turf
of grass and creeping thyme that covered the hill and made it
fragrant, I found the loose, dry earth within teeming with minute
yellow ants, and many of the hillocks around were occupied by
thousands upon thousands of the same species.  Indeed, I calculated
that in a hundred square yards at that spot the ant inhabitants alone
numbered not less than about two hundred thousand.

[Sidenote: The unregarded tribes]

It is partly on account of this smallness and secretiveness of most
of our insects--of our seeing so little of insect life generally
except during the summer heats in a few favourable localities--and
partly an effect of our indoor life, that we think and care so little
about them.  The important part they play, if it is taught us, fades
out of knowledge: we grow in time to regard them as one of the
superfluities in which nature abounds despite the ancient saying to
the contrary.  Or worse, as nothing but pests.  What good are they to
us indeed!  Very little.  The silk-worm and the honey-bee have been
in a measure domesticated, and rank with, though a long way after,
our cattle, our animal pets and poultry.  But wild insects!  There is
the turnip-fly, and the Hessian-fly, and botfly, and all sorts of
worrying, and {112} blood-sucking, and disease-carrying flies, in and
out of houses; and gnats and midges, and fleas in seaside lodgings,
and wasps, and beetles, such as the cockchafer and blackbeetle--are
not all these pests?  This is the indoor mind--its view of external
nature--which makes the society of indoor people unutterably irksome
to me, unless (it will be understood) when I meet them in a house, in
a town, where they exist in some sort of harmony, however imperfect,
with their artificial environment.

[Sidenote: Insects in visible nature]

I am not concerned now with the question of the place which insects
occupy in the scale of being and their part in the natural economy,
but solely with their effect on the nature-lover with or without the
"curious mind"--in fact, with insects as part of this visible and
audible world.  Without them, this innumerable company that, each
"deep in his day's employ," are ever moving swiftly or slowly about
me, their multitudinous small voices united into one deep continuous
Æolian sound, it would indeed seem as if some mysterious malady or
sadness had come upon nature.  Rather would I feel them alive,
teasing, stinging, and biting me; rather would I walk in all green
and flowery places with a cloud of gnats and midges ever about me.
Nor do I wish to write now about insect life generally: my sole aim
in this chapter is to bring before the reader some of the most
notable species seen in this place--those which excel in size or
beauty, or which for some other reason are specially attractive.  For
not only is this corner of Hampshire most abounding in insect life,
{113} but here, with a few exceptions, the kings and nobles of the
tribe may be met with.

Merely to see these nobler insects as one may see them here, as
objects in the scene, and shining gems in nature's embroidery, is a
delight.  And here it may be remarked that the company of the
entomologist is often quite as distasteful to me out of doors as that
of the indoor-minded person who knows nothing about insects except
that they are a "nuisance."  Entomologist generally means collector,
and his--the entomologist's--admiration has suffered inevitable
decay, or rather has been starved by the growth of a more vigorous
plant--the desire to possess, and pleasure in the possession of, dead
insect cases.

[Sidenote: The parson lepidopterist]

One summer afternoon I was visiting at the parsonage in a small New
Forest village in this low district when my host introduced me to a
friend of his the vicar of a neighbouring parish, remarking when he
did so that I would be delighted to know him as he was a great
naturalist.  The gentleman smiled, and said he was not a "great
naturalist," but only a "lepidopterist."  Now it happened that just
then I had a lovely picture in my mind, the vivid image of a
humming-bird hawk-moth seen suspended on his misty wings among the
tall flowers in the brilliant August sunshine.  I had looked on it
but a little while ago, and thought it one of the most beautiful
things in nature; naturally on meeting a lepidopterist I told him
what I had seen, and something of the feeling the sight had inspired
in me.  He {114} smiled again, and remarked that the season had not
proved a very good one for the _Macroglossa stellatarum_.  He had, so
far, seen only three specimens; the first two he had easily secured,
as he fortunately had his butterfly net when he saw them.  But the
third!--he hadn't his net then; he was visiting one of his old women,
and was sitting in her garden behind the cottage talking to her when
the moth suddenly made its appearance, and began sucking at the
flowers within a yard of his chair.  He knew that in a few moments it
would be gone for ever, but fortunately from long practice, and a
natural quickness and dexterity, he could take any insect that came
within reach of his hand, however wild and swift it might be.
"So!"--the parson lepidopterist explained, suddenly dashing out his
arm, then slowly opening his closed hand to exhibit the imaginary
insect he had captured.  Well, he got the moth after all!  And thus
owing to his quickness and dexterity all three specimens had been
secured.

I, being no entomologist but only a simple person whose interest and
pleasure in insect life the entomologist would regard as quite
purposeless--I felt like a little boy who had been sharply rebuked or
boxed on the ear.  This same lepidopterist may be dead now, although
a couple of summers ago he looked remarkably well and in the prime of
life; but I see that someone else is now parson of his parish.  I
have not taken the pains to inquire; but, dead or alive, I cannot
imagine him, in that beautiful country of the Future which he perhaps
spoke about to the {115} old cottage woman--I cannot imagine him in
white raiment, with a golden harp in his hand; for if here, in this
country, he could see nothing in a hummingbird hawk-moth among the
flowers in the sunshine but an object to be collected, what in the
name of wonder will he have to harp about!

The humming-bird hawk, owing to its diurnal habits, may be seen by
anyone at its best; but as to the other species that equal and
surpass it in lustre, their beauty, so far as man is concerned, is
all wasted on the evening gloom.  They appear suddenly, are vaguely
seen for a few moments, then vanish; and instead of the clear-cut,
beautiful form, the rich and delicate colouring and airy, graceful
motions, there is only a dim image of a moving grey or brown
something which has passed before us.  And some of the very best are
not to be seen even as vague shapes and as shadows.  What an
experience it would be to look on the death's-head moth in a state of
nature, feeding among the flowers in the early evening, with some
sunlight to show the delicate grey-blue markings and mottlings of the
upper- and the indescribable yellow of the under-wings--is there in
all nature so soft and lovely a hue?  Even to see it alive in the
only way we are able to do, confined in a box in which we have
hatched it from a chrysalis dug up in the potato patch and bought for
sixpence from a workman, to look on it so and then at its
portrait--for artists and illustrators have been trying to do it
these hundred years--is almost enough to make one hate their art.

{116}

My ambition has been to find this moth free, in order to discover, if
possible, whether or no it ever makes its mysterious squeaking sound
when at liberty.  But I have not yet found it, and lepidopterists I
have talked to on this subject, some of whom have spent their lives
in districts where the insect is not uncommon, have assured me that
they have never seen, and never expect to see, a death's-head which
has not been artificially reared.  Yet moths there must be, else
there would be no caterpillars and no chrysalids.

[Sidenote: Moths and butterflies]

One evening, in a potato-patch, I witnessed a large hawk-moth meet
his end in a way that greatly surprised me.  I was watching and
listening to the shrilling of a great green grasshopper, or leaf
cricket, that delightful insect about which I shall have to write at
some length in another chapter, when the big moth suddenly appeared
at a distance of a dozen yards from where I stood.  It was about the
size of a privet-moth, and had not been many moments suspended before
a spray of flowers, when a meadow-pipit, which had come there
probably to roost, dashed at and struck it down, and then on the
ground began a curious struggle.  The great moth, looking more than
half as big as the aggressor, beat the pipit with his strong wings in
his efforts to free himself; but the other had clutched the soft,
stout body in its claws, and standing over it with wings half open
and head feathers raised, struck repeatedly at it with the greatest
fury until it was killed.  Then, in the same savage hawk-like manner,
the dead thing was torn {117} up, the pipit swallowing pieces so much
too large for it that it had the greatest trouble to get them down.
The gentle, timid, little bird had for the moment put on the "rage of
the vulture."

In the southern half of the New Forest, that part of the country
where insects of all kinds most abound, the moths and butterflies are
relatively less important as a feature of the place, and as things of
beauty, than some other kinds.  The purple emperor is very rarely
seen, but the silver-washed fritillary, a handsome, conspicuous
insect, is quite common, and when several of these butterflies are
seen at one spot playing about the bracken in some open sunlit space
in the oak woods, opening their orange-red spotty wings on the broad,
vivid green fronds, they produce a strikingly beautiful effect.  It
is like a mosaic of minute green tesseræ adorned with red and black
butterfly shapes, irregularly placed.

But here the most charming butterfly to my mind is the white admiral,
when they are seen in numbers, as in the abundant season of 1901,
when the oak woods were full of them.  Here is a species which, seen
in a collection, is of no more value æsthetically than a dead leaf or
a frayed feather dropped in the poultry-yard, or an old postage stamp
in an album, without a touch of brilliance on its dull blackish-brown
and white wings; yet which alive pleases the eye more than the
splendid and larger kinds solely because of its peculiarly graceful
flight.  It never flutters, and as it sweeps airily hither and
thither, now high as the tree-tops, now close to the earth in {118}
the sunny glades and open brambly places in the oak woods, with an
occasional stroke of the swift-gliding wings, it gives you the idea
of a smaller, swifter, more graceful swallow, and sometimes of a
curiously-marked, pretty dragon-fly.

[Sidenote: Dragon-flies]

When we think of the bright colours of insects, the dragon-flies
usually come next to butterflies in the mind, and here in the warmer,
well-watered parts of the Forest they are in great force.  The noble
_Anax imperator_ is not uncommon; but though so great, exceeding all
other species in size, and so splendid in his "clear plates of
sapphire mail," with great blue eyes, he is surpassed in beauty by a
much smaller kind, the _Libellula virgo alts erectis coloratis_ of
Linnæus, now called _Calopteryx virgo_.  And just as the great
_imperator_ is exceeded in beauty by the small _virgo_, so is he
surpassed in that other chief characteristic of all dragon-flies to
the unscientific or natural mind, their uncanniness, by another quite
common species, a very little less than the _imperator_ in size--the
_Cordulegaster annulatus_.

These names are a burden, and a few words must be said on this point
lest the reader should imagine that he has cause to be offended with
me personally.

Is it not amazing that these familiar, large, showy, and
striking-looking insects have no common specific names with us?  The
one exception known to me is the small beautiful _virgo_ just spoken
of, and this is called in books "Demoiselle" and "King George," but
whether these names are used by the people anywhere or not, I am
unable to say.  On this point {119} I consulted an old water-keeper
of my acquaintance on the Test.  He has been keeper for a period of
forty-six years, and he is supposed to be very intelligent, and to
know everything about the creatures that exist in those waters and
water-meadows.  He assured me that he never heard the names of
Demoiselle and King George.  "We calls them dragons and
horse-stingers," he said.  "And they do sting, and no mistake, both
horse and man."  He then explained that the dragon-fly dashes at its
victim, inflicts its sting, and is gone so swiftly that it is never
detected in the act; but the pain is there, and sometimes blood is
drawn.

Nor had the ancient water-keeper ever heard another vernacular name
given by Moses Harris for this same species--kingfisher, to wit.
Moses Harris, one of our earliest entomologists, wrote during the
last half of the eighteenth century, but the date of his birth and
the facts of his life are not known.  He began to publish in 1766,
his first work being on butterflies and moths.  One wonders if the
unforgotten and at-no-time-neglected Gilbert White never heard of his
contemporary Moses, and never saw his beautiful illustrations of
British insects, many of which still keep their bright colours and
delicate shadings undimmed by time in his old folios.  In one of his
later works, _An Exposition of English Insects_, dated 1782, he
describes and figures some of our dragon-flies.  It was the custom of
this author to give the vernacular as well as the scientific names to
his species, and in describing the virgo he says: "These ... on
account of the brilliancy {120} and richness of the colouring are
called kingfishers."  But he had no common name for the others, which
seemed to trouble him, and at last in desperation after describing a
certain species, he says that it is "vulgarly called the dragon-fly"!

[Sidenote: Vernacular names]

I pity old Moses and I pity myself.  Why should we have so many
suitable and often pretty names for moths and butterflies, mostly
small obscure creatures, and none for the well-marked,
singular-looking, splendid dragon-flies?  The reason is not far to
seek.  When men in search of a hobby to occupy their leisure time
look to find it in some natural history subject, as others find it in
postage stamps and a thousand other things, they are, like children,
first attracted by those brilliant hues which they see in
butterflies.  Moreover, these insects when preserved keep their
colours, unlike dragon-flies and some others, and look prettiest when
arranged with wings spread out in glass cases.  Moths being of the
same order are included, and so we get the collector of moths and
butterflies and the lepidopterist.  So exceedingly popular is this
pursuit, and the little creatures collected so much talked and
written about, that it has been found convenient to invent English
names for them, and thus we have, in moths, wood-tiger, leopard,
goat, gipsy, ermine, wood-swift, vapourer, drinker, tippet, lappet,
puss, Kentish glory, emperor, frosted green, satin carpet, coronet,
marbled beauty, rustic wing and rustic shoulder-knot, golden ear,
purple cloud, and numberless others.  In fact, one could not capture
the obscurest {121} little miller that flutters round a reading-lamp
which the lepidopterist would not be able to find a pretty name for.

The dragon-flies, being no man's hobby, are known only by the old
generic English names of dragons, horse-stingers, adder-stingers, and
devil's darning-needles.  Adder-stinger is one of the commonest names
in the New Forest, but it is often simply "adder."  One day while
walking with a friend on a common near Headley, we asked some boys if
there were any adders there.  "Oh yes," answered a little fellow,
"you will see them by the stream flying up and down over the water."
The name does not mean that dragon-flies sting adders, but that, like
adders, they are venomous creatures.  This very common and
wide-spread notion of the insect's evil disposition and injuriousness
is due to its shape and appearance--the great fixed eyes, bright and
sinister, and the long, snake-like, plated or scaly body which, when
the insect is seized, curls round in such a threatening manner.  The
colouring, too, may have contributed towards the evil reputation; at
all events, one of our largest species had a remarkably serpent-like
aspect due to its colour scheme--shining jet-black, banded and
slashed with wasp-yellow.  This is the magnificent _Cordulegaster
annulatus_, little inferior to the _Anax imperator_ in size, and a
very common species in the southern part of the New Forest in July.
But how astonishing and almost incredible that this singular-looking,
splendid, most dragon-like of the dragon-flies should have no English
name!

{122}

[Sidenote: Calopteryx virgo]

Something remains to be said of the one dragon-fly which has got a
name, or names, although these do not appear to be known to the
country people.  Mr. W. T. Lucas, in his useful monograph on the
British dragon-flies, writes enthusiastically of this species,
_Calopteryx virgo_, that it is "the most resplendent of our
dragon-flies, if not of all British insects."  It is too great
praise; nevertheless the _virgo_ is very beautiful and curious, the
entire insect, wings included, being of an intense deep metallic
blue, which glistens as if the insect had been newly dipped in its
colour-bath.  Unlike other dragon-flies, it flutters on the wing like
a butterfly with a weak, uncertain flight, and, again like a
butterfly, holds its blue wings erect when at rest.  It is one of the
commonest as well as the most conspicuous dragon-flies on the Boldre,
the Dark Water, and other slow and marshy streams in the southern
part of the Forest.

In South America I was accustomed to see dragon-flies in rushing
hordes and clouds, and in masses clinging like swarming bees to the
trees; here we see them as single insects, but I once witnessed a
beautiful effect produced by a large number of the common
turquoise-blue dragon-fly gathered at one spot, and this was in
Hampshire.  I was walking, and after passing a night at a hamlet
called Buckhorn Oak, in Alice Holt Forest, I went next morning, on a
Sunday, to the nearest church at the small village of Rutledge.  It
was a very bright windy morning in June, and the oak woods had been
stripped of their young foliage by myriads of caterpillars, so that
{123} the sunlight fell untempered through the seemingly dead trees
on the bracken that covered the ground below.  Now, at one spot over
an area of about half an acre, the bracken was covered with the
common turquoise-blue dragon-fly, clinging to the fronds, their heads
to the wind, their long bodies all pointing the same way.  They were
nowhere close together, but very evenly distributed, about three to
six inches apart, and the sight of the numberless slips of gem-like
blue sprinkled over the billowy, vivid green fern was a rare and
exceedingly lovely one.

After writing of the lovely haunters of the twilight, and that
noblest one of all--

  The great goblin moth who bears
  Between his wings the ruined eyes of death,

and the angel butterfly, and the uncanny dragon-flies--the flying
serpents in their splendour--it may seem a great descent to speak of
such a thing as a glow-worm, that poor grub-like, wingless,
dull-coloured crawler on the ground, as little attractive to the eye
as the centipede, or earwig, or the wood-louse which it resembles.
Nor is the glow-worm a southern species, since it is no more abundant
in the warmest district of Hampshire than in many other parts of the
country.  Nevertheless, when treating of the Insect Notables of these
parts, this species which we call a "worm" cannot be omitted, since
it produces a loveliness surpassing that of all other kinds.

Here it may be remarked that all the most {124} beautiful living
things, from insect to man, like all the highest productions of human
genius, produce in us a sense of the supernatural.  If any reader
should say in his heart that I am wrong, that it is not so, that he
experiences no such feeling, I can but remind him that not all men
possess all human senses and faculties.  Some of us--many of us--lack
this or that sense which others have.  I have even met a man who was
without the sense of humour.  In the case of our "worm," unbeautiful
in itself, yet the begetter of so great a beauty, the sense of
something outside of nature which shines on us through nature, even
as the sun shines in the stained glass of a church window, is more
distinctly felt than in the case of any other insect in our country,
because of the rarity of such a phenomenon.  It is, with us, unique;
but many of us know the winged luminous insects of other lands.  Both
are beautiful, both mysterious--the winged and the wingless; but one
light differs from another in glory even as the stars.  The fire-fly
is more splendid, more surprising, in its flashes.  It flashes and is
dark, and we watch, staring at the black darkness, for the succeeding
flash.  It is like watching for rockets to explode in the dark sky:
there is an element of impatience which interferes with the pleasure.
To admire and have a perfect satisfaction, the insects must be in
numbers, in multitudes, sparkling everywhere in the darkness, so that
no regard is paid to any individual light, but they are seen as we
see snowflakes.

[Sidenote: Glow-worm and firefly]

I fancy that Dante, in describing the appearance of {125} glorified
souls in heaven, unless he took it all from Ezekiel, had the fire-fly
in his mind:

                From the bosom
  Of that effulgence quivers a sharp flash,
  Sudden and frequent in the guise of lightning.


Of all who have attempted to describe and compare the two
insects--fire-fly and glow-worm--Thomas Lovell Beddoes is the best.
Beddoes himself, in those sudden brilliant letters to his friend
Kelsall, of Fareham, in this county, was a sort of human fire-fly.
In a letter to Procter, from Milan, 1824, he wrote:


    And what else have I seen?  A beautiful and far-famed insect--do
    not mistake, I mean neither the Emperor, nor the King of
    Sardinia, but a much finer specimen--the fire-fly.  Their bright
    light is evanescent, and alternates with the darkness, as if the
    swift whirling of the earth struck fire out of the black
    atmosphere; as if the winds were being set upon that planetary
    grindstone, and gave out such momentary sparks from their edges.
    Their silence is more striking than their flashes, for sudden
    phenomena are almost invariably attended with some noise, but
    these little jewels dart along the dark as softly as butterflies.
    For their light, it is not nearly so beautiful and poetical as
    our still companion of the dew, the glow-worm, with his drop of
    moonlight.


I agree with Beddoes, but his pretty description of our insect is not
quite accurate, as I saw this evening, when, after copious rain, the
sky cleared and a full moon shone on a wet, dusky-green earth.  The
light of the suspended glow-worm was of an exquisite golden green,
and, side by side with it, the moonlight on the wet surface of a
polished leaf was shining silver-white.

The light varies greatly in power, according, I suppose, to the
degree of excitement of the insect {126} and to the atmospheric
conditions.  Occasionally you will discover a light at a distance
shining with a strange glory, a light which might be mistaken for a
will-o'-the-wisp, and on a close view you will probably find that a
male is on the scene, and the female, aware of his presence though he
may be at some distance from her, invisible in the darkness, has been
wrought up to the highest state of excitement.  You will find her
clinging to a stem or leaf, her luminous part raised, and her whole
body swaying in a measured way from side to side.  If the insect
happens to be a foot or two above the ground, in a tangle of bramble
and bracken, with other plants with slender stems and deep-cut
leaves, the appearance is singularly beautiful.  The light looks as
if enclosed within an invisible globe, which may be as much as
fifteen inches in diameter, and within its circle the minutest
details of the scene are clear to the vision, even to the finest
veining of the leaves, the leaves shining a pure translucent green,
while outside the mystic globe of light all is in deep shadow and in
blackness.

[Sidenote: The glow-worm's light]

With regard to the attitude of the glow-worm when displaying its
light, we see how ignorant of the living creature the illustrators of
natural history books have been.  In scores of works on our shelves,
dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the glow-worm is
depicted giving out its light while crawling on the ground, and in
many illustrations the male is introduced, and is shown flying down
to its mate.  They drew their figures not from life, but from
specimens in a cabinet, only leaving out the {127} pins.  But the
glow-worm is not perhaps a very well-known creature.  A lady in
Hampshire recently asked me if it was a species of mole that came out
of its run to exhibit its light in the darkness.  The insect
invariably climbs up, and suspends itself by clinging to, a stem or
blade or leaf, and the hinder part of the body curls up until its
under surface, the luminous part, is uppermost, thus making the light
visible from the air above.  In thick hedges I often find the light
four or even five feet above the ground.  Occasionally a glow-worm
will shine from a flat surface, usually a big leaf on to which it has
crawled when climbing.  Resting horizontally on the leaf, it curls
its abdomen up and over its body after the manner of the earwig,
until the light is in the right position.

When we consider these facts--the way in which the body is curved and
twisted about in order (as it seems) to exhibit the light to an
insect flying through the air above, and the increase in the light
when the sexual excitement is at its greatest--the conclusion seems
unavoidable that the light has an important use, namely, to attract
the male.  Unavoidable, I say, and yet I am not wholly convinced.
The fire-flies of diurnal habits may be seen flying about, feeding
and pairing, by day; yet when evening comes they fly abroad again,
exhibiting their light.  What the function of the light is, or of
what advantage it is to the insect, we do not know.  Again, it has
seemed to me that the male of the glow-worm, even when attracted to
the female, fears the {128} light.  Thus, when the excitement of the
shining glow-worm has caused me to look for the male, I have found
him, not indeed in but outside of the circle of light, keeping close
to its borders, moving about on feet and wings in the dark herbage
and on the ground.  I know very well that not a few observations made
by one person, but many--hundreds if possible--by different
observers, are needed before we can say positively that the male
glow-worm fears or is repelled by the light.  But some of my
observations make me think that the male of the glow-worm, like the
males of many other species in different orders that fly by night, is
drawn to the female by the scent, and that the light is a hindrance
instead of a help, although in the end he is drawn into it.  We
always find it exceedingly hard to believe that anything in nature is
without a use; but we need not go very far--not farther than our own
bodies, to say nothing of our minds--before we are compelled to
believe that it is so.  We may yet find that the beautiful light of
our still companion of the dew is of no more use to it than the
precious jewel in the toad's head is to the toad.

[Sidenote: Hornets]

The hornet, one of my first favourites, has, to our minds, nothing
mysterious like our glow-worm, and nothing serpentine or supernatural
about him, but he is a nobler, more powerful and splendid creature
than any dragon-fly.  I care not to look at a vulgar wasp nor at any
diurnal insect, however fine, when he is by, or his loud, formidable
buzzing hum is heard.  As he comes out of the oak-tree shade and goes
{129} swinging by in his shining golden-red armature, he is like a
being from some other hotter, richer land, thousands of miles away
from our cold, white cliffs and grey seas.  Speaking of that, our
hornet, which is at the head of the family and genus of true wasps in
Britain and Europe, is not only large and splendid for a northern
insect, since he is not surpassed in lustre by any of his
representatives in other parts of the globe.

I admire and greatly respect him, this last feeling dating back to my
experience of wasps during my early life in South America.  When a
boy I was one summer day in the dining-room at home by myself, when
in at the open door flew a grand wasp of a kind I had never seen
before, in size and form like the hornet, but its colour was a
uniform cornelian red without any yellow.  Round the room it flew
with a great noise, then dashed against a window-pane, and I, greatly
excited and fearing it would be quickly gone if not quickly caught,
flew to the window, and dashing out my hand, like the wonderfully
clever parson-collector, I grasped it firmly by the back with finger
and thumb.  Now, I had been accustomed to seize wasps and bees of
many kinds in this way without getting stung, but this stranger was
not like other wasps, and quickly succeeded in curling his abdomen
round, and planting his long sting in the sensitive tip of my
forefinger.  Never in all my experience of stings had I suffered such
pain!  I dropped my wasp like the hottest of coals, and saw him fling
himself triumphantly out of the room, and never {130} again beheld
one of his kind.  Even now when I stand and watch English hornets at
work on their nests, coming and going, paying no attention to me, a
memory of that hornet of a distant land returns to my mind; and it is
like a twinge, and I venture on no liberties with _Vespa crabro_.

The hornet is certainly not an abundant insect, nor very generally
distributed.  One may spend years in some parts of the country and
never see it.  I was lately asked by friends in Kent, who have their
lonely house in a wooded and perhaps the wildest spot in the county,
if the hornet still existed in England, or really was an English
insect, as they had not seen one in several years.  Now in the woods
I frequent in the Forest I see them every day, and the abundance of
the hornet is indeed for me one of the attractions of the place.  His
nests are rarely found in old trees, but are common about
habitations, in wood-piles, and old, little-used outhouses.  I have
heard farmers say in this place that they would not hurt a hornet,
but regard it as a blessing.  So it is, and so is every insect that
helps to keep down the everlasting plague of cattle-worrying and
crop-destroying flies and grubs and caterpillars.

But I am speaking of the hornet merely as an Insect Notable, a spot
of brilliant colour in the scene, one of the shining beings that
inhabit these green mansions.  He is magnificent, and it is perhaps
partly due to his vivid and lustrous red and gold colour, his noisy
flight, and fierce hostile attitudes, and partly to the knowledge of
his angry spirit and venomous {131} sting, which makes him look twice
as big as he really is.

One of the most impressive sights in insect life is, strange to say,
in the autumn, when cold rains and winds and early frosts have
already brought to an end all that seemed best and brightest in that
fairy world.

[Sidenote: Insects on ivy blossoms]

This is where an ancient or large ivy grows in some well-sheltered
spot on a wall or church, or on large old trees in a wood, and
flowers profusely, and when on a warm bright day in late September or
in October all the insects which were not wholly dead revive for a
season, and are drawn by the ivy's sweetness from all around to that
one spot.  There are the late butterflies, and wasps and bees of all
kinds, and flies of all sizes and colours--green and steel-blue, and
grey and black and mottled, in thousands and tens of thousands.  They
are massed on the clustered blossoms, struggling for a place; the air
all about the ivy is swarming with them, flying hither and thither,
and the humming sound they produce may be heard fifty yards away like
a high wind.  One cannot help a feeling of melancholy at this
animated scene; but they are anything but melancholy.  Their life has
been a short and a merry one, and now that it is about to end for
ever they will end it merrily, in feasting and revelry.

And never does the hornet look greater, the king and tyrant of its
kind, than on these occasions.  It swings down among them with a
sound that may be heard loud and distinct above the universal hum,
and settles on the flowers, but capriciously, staying {132} but a
moment or two in one place, then moving to another, the meaner
insects all expeditiously making room for it.  And after tasting a
few flowers here and there it takes its departure.  These large-sized
October hornets are all females, wanderers from ruined homes, in
search of sheltered places where, foodless and companionless, and in
a semi-torpid condition, each may live through the four dreary months
to come.  In March the winter of their discontent will be over, and
they will come forth with the primrose and sweet violet to be
founders and mothers of new colonies--the brave and splendid hornets
of another year; builders, fighters, and foragers in the green
oak-woods; a strenuous, hungry and thirsty people, honey-drinkers,
and devourers of the flesh of naked white grubs, and caterpillars,
black and brown and green and gold, and barred and quaintly-coloured
swift aerial flies.



{133}

CHAPTER VII

Great and greatest among insects--Our feeling for insect
music--Crickets and grasshoppers--_Cicada anglica_--_Locusta
viridissima_--Character of its music--Colony of green
grasshoppers--Harewood Forest--Purple emperor--Grasshoppers' musical
contests--The naturalist mocked--Female
_viridissima_--Over-elaboration in the male--Habits of female--Wooing
of the male by the female.


I had thought to include all or most of the greatest of the insects
known in these parts in the last chapter, but the hornet, and the
vision it called up of that last revel in the late-blossoming ivy on
the eve of winter and cold death, seemed to bring that part of the
book to an end.  The hornet was the greatest in the sense that a
strong man and conqueror is the greatest among ourselves, as the lion
or wolf among mammals, and that feathered thunderbolt and scourge,
the peregrine falcon, among birds.  But there are great and greatest
in other senses; and just as there are singers, big and little, as
well as warriors among the "insect tribes of human kind," so there
are among these smaller men of the mandibulate division of the class
Insecta.  And their singers, when not too loud and persistent, as
they are apt to be in warmer lands than ours, are among the most
agreeable of the inhabitants of the earth.  They are less to us than
to the people of the southern {134} countries of Europe--infinitely
less than they were to some of the civilised nations of antiquity,
and than they are to the Japanese of to-day.  This is, I suppose, on
account of their rarity with us, for our best singers are certainly
somewhat rare or else exceedingly local.  The field-cricket, which
must be passed over in this chapter to be described later on, is an
instance in point.  The universal house-cricket is known to, and in
some degree loved by, all or most persons; it is the cricket on the
hearth, that warm, bright, social spot when the world outside is dark
and cheerless; the lively, companionable sound endears itself to the
child, and later in life is dear because of its associations.  The
field-grasshopper, too, is familiar to everyone in the summer
pastures; but the best of our insect musicians, the great green
grasshopper, appears to be almost unknown to the people.  Here, for
instance, where I am writing, there is one on the table which
stridulates each afternoon, and in the evening when the lamp is
lighted.  The sustained bright shrilling penetrates to all parts of
the house, and in the tap-room of the inn, two rooms away, the
villagers, coming in for their evening beer and conversation, are
startled at the unfamiliar, sharp, silvery sound, and ask if it is a
bird.

[Sidenote: Insect music]

Probably it is owing to this rarity of our best insect singers, and
partly, too, perhaps to the disagreeable effect on our ears of the
loud cicadas heard during our southern travels, that an idea is
produced in us of something exotic, or even fantastic, in a taste for
insect music.  We wonder at the ancient {135} Greeks and the modern
Japanese.  But it should be borne in mind that the sounds had and
have for them an expression they cannot have for us--the expression
which comes of association.

If the insects named as our best are rare and local, or at all events
not common, what shall we say of our cicada?  Can we call him a
singer at all? or if he be not silent, as some think, will he ever be
more to us than a figure and descriptive passage in a book--a mere
cicada of the mind?  He is the most local, or has the most limited
range, of all, being seldom found out of the New Forest district.  He
was discovered there about seventy years ago, and Curtis, who gave
him the proud name of _Cicada anglica_, expressed the opinion that he
had no song.  And many others have thought so too, because they have
been unable to hear him.  Others, from Kirby and Spence to our time,
have been of a contrary opinion.  So the matter stands.  A. H.
Swinton, in his work on _Insect Variety and Propagation_, 1885,
relates that he tried in vain to hear _Cicada anglica_ before going
to France and Italy to make a study of the cicada music; and he
writes:


    In northern England their woodland melody has not yet fallen on
    the ear of the entomologist, but it must not therefore be
    inferred that these musicians are wholly absent, for among the
    rich and bounteous southern fauna of Hampshire and Surrey we
    still retain one outlying waif of the cigales ... _Cicada
    anglica_, seemingly the _montana_ of Scopoli, if not _Hamatodes
    in proprid persona_.  The male, usually beaten in June from
    blossoming hawthorn in the New Forest, is provided with
    instruments of music, and the female, more terrestrial, is often
    observed wandering with a whit-ring sound among bracken wastes,
    where she is thought to deposit her ova.


{136}

It struck me some time ago that some of the disappointed
entomologists may have heard the sound they were listening for
without knowing it.  In seeking for an object--some rare little
flower, let us say, or a chipped flint, or a mushroom--we set out
with an image of it in the mind, and unless the object sought for
corresponds to its mental prototype, we in many cases fail to
recognise it, and pass on.  And it is the same with sounds.  The
listeners perhaps heard a sound so unlike their idea, or image, of a
cicada's song, or so like the sound of some other quite different
insect, that they paid no attention to it, and so missed what they
sought for.  At all events, I can say that unless we have some
orthopterous insect, of a species unknown to me, which sings in
trees, then our cicada does sing, and I have heard it.  The sound
which I heard, and which was new to me, came from the upper foliage
of a large thorn-tree in the New Forest, but unfortunately it ceased
on my approach, and I failed to find the singer.  The entomologist
may say that the question remains as it was, but my experience may
encourage him to try again.  Had I not been expecting to hear an
insect singing high up in the trees, I should have said at once that
this was a grasshopper's music, though unlike that of any of the
species I am accustomed to hear.  It was a sustained sound, like that
of the great green grasshopper, but not of that excessively bright,
subtle, penetrative quality: it was a lower sound, not shrill, and
distinctly slower--in other words, the beats or drops of sound which
compose {137} the grasshopper's song, and run in a stream, were more
distinct and separate, giving it a trilling rather than a reeling
character.  Had we, in England, possessed a stridulating mantis,
which is capable of a slower, softer sound than any grasshopper, I
should have concluded that I was listening to one; but there was not,
in this New Forest music, the slightest resemblance to the cicada
sounds I had heard in former years.  The cicadas may be a "merry
people," and they certainly had the prettiest things said of them by
the poets of Greece, but I do not like their brain-piercing,
everlasting whirr; this sound of the English cicada, assuming that I
heard that insect, was distinctly pleasing.

[Sidenote: Locusta viridissima]

But more than cicada, or field-cricket, or any other insect musician
in the land, is our great green grasshopper, or leaf-cricket,
_Locusta viridissima_.  I have been accustomed to hear him in July
and August, in hedges, gardens, and potato patches at different
points along the south coast and at some inland spots, always in the
evening.  It is easy, even after dark, to find him by following up
the sound, when he may be seen moving excitedly about on the topmost
sprays or leaves, pausing at intervals to stridulate, and
occasionally taking short leaps from spray to spray.  He belongs to a
family widely distributed on the earth, and in La Plata I was
familiar with two species which in form and colour--a uniform vivid
green--were just like our _viridissima_, but differed in size, one
being smaller and the other twice as large.  The smaller species sang
by day, all {138} day long, among water-plants growing in the water;
the large species stridulated only by night, chiefly in the maize
fields, and was almost as loud and harsh as the cicadas of the same
region.  I distinctly remember the sounds emitted by these two
species, and by several other grasshoppers and leaf-crickets, but
none of their sounds came very near in character to that of
_viridissima_.  This is a curious, and to my sense a very beautiful
sound; and when a writer describes it as "harsh," which we not
unfrequently find, I must conclude either that one of us hears
wrongly, or not as the world hears, or that, owing to poverty, he is
unable to give a fit expression.  It is a sustained sound, a current
of brightest, finest, bell-like strokes or beats, lasting from three
or four to ten or fifteen seconds, to be renewed again and again
after short intervals; but when the musician is greatly excited, the
pauses last only for a moment--about half a second, and the strain
may go on for ten minutes or longer before a break of any length.
But the quality is the chief thing; and here we find individual
differences, and that some have a lower, weaker note, in which may be
detected a buzz, or sibilation, as in the field-grasshopper; but, as
a rule, it is of a shrillness and musicalness which is without
parallel.  The squealings of bats, shrews, and young mice are
excessively sharp, and are aptly described as "needles of sound," but
they are not musical.  The only bird I know which has a note
comparable to the _viridissima_ is the lesser whitethroat--the
excessively sharp, bright sound emitted both as an anger-note and
{139} in that low and better song described in a former chapter.  It
is this musical sharpness which pleases in the insect, and makes it
so unlike all other sounds in a world so full of sound.  Its
incisiveness produces a curious effect: sitting still and listening
for some time at a spot where several insects are stridulating,
certain nerves throb with the sound until it seems that it is in the
brain, and is like that disagreeable condition called "ringing in the
ears" made pleasant.  Almost too fine and sharp to be described as
metallic, perhaps it comes nearer to the familiar sound described by
Henley:

  Of ice and glass the tinkle,
  Pellucid, crystal-shrill.

Crystal beads dropped in a stream down a crystal stair would produce
a sound somewhat like the insect's song, but duller.  We may, indeed,
say that this grasshopper's sounding instrument is glass; it is a
shining talc-like disc, which may be seen with the unaided sight by
raising the elytra.

Some time ago, in glancing through some copies of Newman's monthly
_Entomologist_, 1836, I came upon an account of a numerous colony of
the great green grasshopper, which the writer found by chance at a
spot on the Cornish coast.  The effect produced by the stridulating
of a large number of these insects was very curious.  I envied the
old insect-hunter his experience.  A colony of _viridissima_--what a
happiness it would be to discover such a thing!  And now, late in the
summer of 1902, I have found one, and though a very thinly populated
one compared to his, {140} it has given me a long-coveted opportunity
of watching and listening to the little green people to my heart's
content.

[Sidenote: Good-for-nothing grass]

The happy spot was in Harewood Forest, a dense oak-wood covering an
area of about two thousand acres, a few miles from Andover.  I had
haunted it for some days, finding little wild life to interest me
except the jays, which seemed to be the principal inhabitants.  In
the middle of this forest or wood, among the oak trees there stands a
tall handsome granite cross about thirty feet high, placed to mark
the exact spot, known as "Deadman's Plack," where over nine centuries
ago King Edgar, with his own hand, slew his friend and favourite,
Earl Athelwold.  The account which history gives of this pious
monarch, called the Peaceable, despite his volcanic disposition where
women were concerned, especially his affair with Elfrida, who was
also pious and volcanic as well as beautiful, reads in these dull,
proper times like a tale from another hotter, fiercer world.  It is
not strange that many persons find their way through the thick forest
by the narrow track to this place or "Plack"; and there too I went on
several days, and sat by the hour and meditated.  It had struck me as
a suitable spot to watch for the purple emperor; but I saw him not,
and once only I caught sight of his bride to be--a big black-looking
butterfly which rose from the top of an oak, took a short flight, and
returned to settle once more on the highest leaves in the same place.
This vain hunt for the purple king of the butterflies--to see him,
not to "take"--led {141} to the discovery of the green minstrels.
Near the cross, or "monument," as it is called, there is an open
place occupying a part of the top and a slope of a down, as pretty a
bit of wild heath as may be found in the county.  Stony and barren in
places, it is in other parts clothed in ling, purple with bloom at
this season, with a few pretty little birches and clumps of tangled
thorn and bramble scattered about.  But the feature which gives a
peculiar charm to the spot is the false brome grass which flourishes
on the slope, growing in large patches, and on the borders of these
mixing its vivid light-green tussocks with the purple-flowered heath.
It is the species called (in books) heath false brome grass, but as
lips of man refuse to pronounce these four ponderous monosyllables,
the invention of some dreary botanist, that follow and jolt against
each other, I will venture to rename it good-for-nothing grass.  For
it is useless to the farmer, since no domestic herbivore will touch
it; its sole justification is its exceeding beauty.  It grows as high
as a man's knees, or higher, and even in the driest, hottest season
keeps its wonderfully vivid fresh green, as near a brilliant colour
as any green leaf can be; and the stalks and graceful spikes after
the flowering time are pale yellow-brown, and have a golden lustre in
the bright August and September sunlight.  Could our poetical
_viridissima_ have a more suitable home!  And here, coming out from
the thick oaks and sauntering about the heath I caught the sound of
his delicate shrilling, and to my delight found myself in the midst
of a colony.  They {142} were not abundant, and one could not
experience the sensation produced by many stridulating at a time:
they were thinly scattered over two or three acres of ground, but at
some points I could hear several of them shrilling together at
different distances, and it was not difficult to keep two or three in
sight at one time.

Hitherto I had known this insect as an evening musician, beginning as
a rule after sunset and continuing till about eleven o'clock.  Here
he made his music only during the daylight hours, from about ten or
eleven in the morning until five or six o'clock in the afternoon,
becoming silent at noon when it was hot.  But it was late in the
season when I found him, on 26th August, and after much rain the
weather had become exceptionally cool for the time of year.

[Illustration: RIVAL GREAT GREEN GRASSHOPPERS]

When stridulating it appeared to be the ambition of every male
grasshopper to get up as high as he could climb on the stiff blades
and thin stalks of the grass; and there, very conspicuous in his
uniform green colour which in a strong sunlight looked like the green
of verdigris, his translucent overwings glistening like a
dragon-fly's wings, he would shrill and make the grass to which he
was clinging tremble to his rapidly vibrating body.  Then he would
listen to the shrill response of some other singer not far off, and
then sing and listen again, and yet again; then all at once in a
determined manner he would set out to find his rival, travelling high
up through the grass, climbing stems and blades until they bent
enough for him to grasp others and push on, {144} reminding one of a
squirrel progressing through the thin highest branches of a hazel
copse.  After covering the distance in this manner, with a few short
pauses by the way to shrill back an answering challenge, he would
find a suitable place near to the other, still in his place high up
in the grass; and then the two, a foot or so, sometimes three or four
inches, apart, would begin a regular duel in sound at short range.
Each takes his turn, and when one sings the other raises one of his
forelegs to listen; one may say that in lifting a leg he "cocks an
ear."  The attitude of the insects is admirably given in the
accompanying drawing from life.  This contest usually ends in a real
fight: one advances, and when at a distance of five or six inches
makes a leap at his adversary, and the other, prepared for what is
coming and in position, leaps too at the same time, so that they meet
midway, and strike each other with their long spiny hind legs.  It is
done so quickly that the movements cannot be followed by the eye, but
that they do hit hard is plain, as in many cases one is knocked down
or flung to some distance away.  Thus ends the round; the beaten one
rushes off as quickly as he can, as if hurt, but soon pulls up, and
lowering his head, begins defiantly stridulating as before.  The
other follows him up, shrills at and attacks him again; and you may
see a dozen or twenty such encounters between the same two in the
course of half an hour.  Occasionally when the blow is struck they
grasp each other and fall together; and it is hardly to be doubted
that they not only kick, like French wrestlers and {145} bald-headed
coots, but also make wicked use of their powerful black teeth.  Some
of the fighters I examined had lost a portion of one of the
forelegs--one had lost portions of two--and these had evidently been
bitten off.  Perhaps they inflict even worse injuries.  Hearing two
shrilling against each other at a spot where there was a large clump
of heath between them, I dropped down close by to listen and watch,
when I discovered a third grasshopper sitting mid-way between the
others in the centre of the heath-bush.  This one appeared more
excited than the others, keeping his wings violently agitated almost
without a pause, and yet not the faintest sound proceeded from him.
It proved on examination that one of his stiff overwings had been
bitten or torn off at the base, so that he had but half of his
sounding apparatus left, and no music could his most passionate
efforts ever draw from it, and, silent, he was no more in the world
of green grasshoppers than a bird with a broken wing in the world of
birds.

[Sidenote: Singing-contests]

For it cannot be doubted that his own music is the greatest, the one
all-absorbing motive and passion of his little soul.  This may seem
to be saying too much--to attribute something of human feelings to a
creature so immeasurably far removed from us.  Fantastic in shape,
even among beings invertebrate and unhuman, one that indeed sees with
opal eyes set in his green goat-like mask, but who hears with his
forelegs, breathes through spiracles set in his sides, whipping the
air for other sense-impressions and unimaginable sorts of knowledge
with his excessively {146} long limber horns, or antennæ, just as a
dry-fly fisher whips the crystal stream for speckled trout; and,
finally, who wears his musical apparatus (his vocal organs) like an
electric shield or plaster on the small of his back.  Nevertheless it
is impossible to watch their actions without regarding them as
creatures of like passions with ourselves.  The resemblance is most
striking when we think not of what we, hard Saxons, are in this cold
north, but of the more fiery, music-loving races in warmer countries.
I remember in my early years, before the advent of "Progress" in
those outlying realms, that the ancient singing contests still
flourished among the gauchos of La Plata.  They were all lovers of
their own peculiar kind of music, singing endless _decimas_ and
_coplas_ in high-pitched nasal tones to the strum-strumming of a
guitar; and when any singer of a livelier mind than his fellows had
the faculty of improvising, his fame went forth, and the others of
his quality were filled with emulation, and journeyed long distances
over the lonely plains to meet and sing against him.  How curiously
is this like our island grasshoppers, who have come to us unchanged
from the past, and are neither Saxons nor Celts, but true, original,
ancient Britons--the little grass-green people with passionate souls!
You can almost hear him say--this little green minstrel you have been
watching when his shrill note has brought back as shrill an
answer--as he resolutely sets out over the tall, bending grasses in
the direction of the sound, "I'll teach him to sing!"

{147}

[Sidenote: A human parallel]

So interested was I in watching them, so delighted to be in this
society, whose members, for all their shape, no longer moved about
in, to me, unimaginable worlds, that I went day after day and spent
long hours with them.  I could best watch their battles by getting
down on my knees in the good-for-nothing ("heath false brome") grass,
so as to bring my eyes within two or three feet of them.  My
attitude, kneeling with bowed head by the half-hour at a stretch, one
day attracted the attention of some persons who had come in a
carriage to picnic under the trees at the foot of the slope, four or
five hundred yards away.  There were from time to time little
explosions of laughter, and at last a young lady of twelve or
fourteen cried, or piped out, in a clear, far-reaching voice, "Holy
man!"  She was an impudent monkey.

So far not a word has been said of the female, simply because, as it
seemed to me, there was, so far, nothing to say.  In most insects the
odour excites and draws the males, often from long distances, as we
see in the moths; they fly to, and find, and see her, and woo, and
chase, and fight with each other for possession of her; and when
there are beautiful or fantastic movements, sometimes accompanied
with sounds, corresponding to the antics of birds--I have observed
them in species of Asilidæ and other insects--they are directly
caused by the presence of the female.  But with _viridissima_ it
appears not to be so, since they do not seek the female, nor will
they notice her when she comes in {148} their way, but they are
wholly absorbed in their own music, and in trying to outsing the
others, or, failing in this, to kick and bite them into silence.

Now, seeing this strange condition of things among these
insects--seeing it day after day for weeks--the conclusion forced
itself upon my mind that we have here one of those strange cases
among the lower creatures which are not uncommon in human life--the
case of a faculty, a means to an end, being developed and refined to
an excessive degree, and the reflex effect of this too great
refinement on the species, or race.  Comparing it then to certain
human matters--to Art, let us say--we see that that which was but a
means has become an end, and is pursued for its own sake.

Such a conclusion may seem absurd, and perhaps it is, since we cannot
know what "nimble emanations" and vibrations, which touch not our
coarser natures, there may be to link these diverse and seemingly
ill-fitting actions into one perfect chain.  It may be said, for
instance, that in this species the incessant stridulating of the male
has an action similar to that of the sun's light and heat on plant
life, causing the flower to blow and its sexual organs to ripen.  But
we see, too, that Nature does often overshoot her mark.  We have seen
it, I think, in the over-refinement of the passion and faculty of
fear in certain species, in reference to cases of fascination, and we
see it in the over-protected and the over-specialised; but we are so
imbued with the idea that the right mean has always been hit upon and
{149} adhered to, that it is only in view of the most flagrant cases
to the contrary that we are ever startled out of that delusion.  The
miserable case, for example, of the _Polyergus rufescens_, the
slave-making ant, who, from being too much waited upon, has so
entirely lost the power of waiting upon himself that he will perish
of hunger amidst plenty if his slaves be not there to pick up and put
the food into his mouth.  These extreme cases are not the only ones;
for every one of such a character there are hundreds of cases.
"Degeneration," as Ray Lankester has aptly said, "goes hand in hand
with elaboration"; and I would add that in numberless cases
over-elaboration is the cause of degeneration.

[Sidenote: The female viridissima]

The female is the grander insect, being nearly a third larger than
the male, of a fuller figure, and adorned with a long,
broadsword-shaped ovipositor, which projects beyond her wings like a
tail.  She has rather a grand air too, and is both silent and
inactive.  Hers is a life of listening and waiting; and the waiting
is long--days and weeks go by, and the males stridulate, and fight,
and pay no attention to her.  But how patient she can be may be seen
in the case of one which I took from her heath and placed on a
well-berried branch of wild guelder on my table.  There she was
contented to rest, usually on one of the topmost clusters, for many
days, almost always with the window open at the side of her branch,
so that she could easily have made her escape.  The wind blew in upon
her, and outside the world was green and lit with sunshine.  One
could {150} almost fancy that she was conscious of her fine
appearance in her pale vivid green colour, touched in certain lights
with glaucous blue, on her throne of clustered carbuncles.  At
intervals of an hour or two she would move about a little, and find
some other perch; only the waving of her long, fine antennæ appeared
to show that she was alive to much that was going on about her--in
her world.  The one thing that excited her was the stridulating of
one of the males confined in a glass vessel on the same table.  She
would then travel over her branch to get as near as possible to the
musician, and would remain motionless, even to the nervous antennæ,
and apparently absorbed in the sound for as long as it lasted.  At
first she ate a few of the crimson berries on her branch, and also
took a little parsley and shepherd's purse, but later on she declined
all green stuff, and fed on jam, honey, cooked sultanas, and
bread-and-butter pudding, which she liked best.  Water and
ginger-beer for drink.  This most placid and dignified lady--we had
got into calling her "Lady Greensleeves," and "Queen," and sometimes
"The Cow"--was restored, on 12th September, in good health, after
sixteen days, to her native heath, and disappeared from sight in the
long grass, quietly making her way to some spot where she could
settle down comfortably to listen to the music.

[Sidenote: Habits of female]

All the females I found and watched behaved as my captive had done.
They were no more active, and preferred to be at a good height above
the {151} ground--eighteen inches or two feet--when quietly
listening.  One day I watched one perched on the topmost spray of a
heath-bush in her listening attitude: clouds came over the sun, and
the wind grew colder and stronger, and the singers ceased singing.
And at last, finding that the silence continued, and doubtless
feeling uncomfortable on that spray where the wind blew on and swayed
her about, she slowly climbed down and settled herself in a
horizontal position on the sheltered side of the plant; and when the
sun broke out and shone on her she tipped over on one side, stretched
her hind legs out, and rested motionless in that position, exactly
like a fowl lying in her dusting-place luxuriating in the heat.

But at last, despite that air of repose which is her chief
characteristic, she is so wrought upon by that perpetual, shrill,
irresistible music that she can no longer endure to sit still, but is
drawn to it.  She goes to her charmers, one may say, to remind them
by her presence that the minstrelsy in which they are so absorbed is
not itself an end but a means.  Brisk or lively she cannot be, but it
is plain that when she follows up or settles herself down near her
forgetful knights, she is greatly excited, and waiting to be taken in
marriage.  That she distinguishes one singer above others, or
exercises "selection" in the Darwinian sense, seems unlikely: it
strikes one, on the contrary, that having so long suffered neglect
she is only too willing to be claimed by any one of them.  And this
is just what they decline to {152} do--for some time, at any rate.
Again and again I have observed when the female had followed and
placed herself close to a couple of these rival musicians, that they
took not the least notice of her; and that when, in the course of the
alarums and excursions, one of them found himself close to her, the
sight of her appeared to disconcert him, and he made all haste to get
away from her.  It looked to human eyes as if her large portly figure
had not corresponded to his ideal, and had even moved him to
repugnance.  But the Ann of Cleves in a green gown is an exceedingly
patient person, and very persistent, and though often denied, she
will not be denied, or take No for an answer.  But it is altogether a
curious business, for not only is the wooing process reversed, as
many think it is in the cuckoo, but it lasts an unconscionable time
in a creature whose life, in the perfect stage, is limited to a
season.  But the female _viridissima_ has not the power and swiftness
of that feathered lady who boldly pursues her singer (in love with
nothing but his own voice), and compels him to take her.



{153}

CHAPTER VIII

Hampshire, north and south--A spot abounding in life--Lyndhurst--A
white spider--Wooing spider's antics--A New Forest little boy--Blonde
gipsies--The boy and the spider--A distant world of spiders--Selborne
and its visitors--Selborne revisited--An owl at Alton--A wagtail at
the Wakes--The cockerel and the martin--Heat at Selborne--House
crickets--Gilbert White on crickets--A colony of
field-crickets--Water plants--Musk mallow--Cirl buntings at
Selborne--Evening gatherings of swifts at
Selborne--Locustidæ--_Thamnotrizon cinereus_--English names
wanted--Black grasshopper's habits and disposition--Its abundance at
Selborne.


In the last chapter I got away--succeeded in breaking away, would
perhaps be a better expression--from that favourite hunting-ground of
mine farther south; and the reader would perhaps care to know why a
book descriptive of days in Hampshire should be so much taken up with
days in one small corner of the county.  Hampshire is not a very
large county compared with some others: I have traversed it in this
and in that direction often enough to be pretty familiar with a great
deal of it, from the walled-round cornfield which was once Roman
Calleva to the Solent; and from the beautiful wild Rother on the
Sussex border to the Avon in the west.  There is much to see and know
within these limits: for all those whose proper study is man, his
history and his works; and for the archæologist and for the artist
and seekers after the picturesque, {154} there is much--nay, there is
more to attract in the northern than in the southern half of the
county.  I, not of them, go south, and by preference to one spot,
because my chief interest and delight is in life--life in all its
forms, from man who "walks erect and smiling looks on heaven" to the
minutest organic atoms--the invisible life.  It here comes into my
mind that the very smell of the earth, in which we all delight, the
smell which fills the air after rain in summer, and is strong when we
turn up a spadeful of fresh mould, which the rustic calls "good,"
believing, perhaps rightly, that we must smell it every day to be
well and live long, is after all an odour given off by a living
thing--_Cladothrix odorifera_.  Too small for human eyes, which see
only objects proportioned to their bigness, so minute, indeed, that
millions may inhabit a clod no larger than one's watch, yet they are
able to find a passage to us through the other subtler sense; and
from the beginning of our earthly journey even to its end we walk
with this odour in our nostrils, and love it, and will perhaps take
with us a sweet memory of it into the after-life.

Life being more than all else to me, I am drawn to the spot where it
exists in greatest abundance and variety.

I remember feeling this passion very strongly one day during this
summer of 1902 after looking at a spider.  It was an interesting
spider, and I found it within a couple of miles of Lyndhurst, of all
places; a spot so disagreeable to me that I avoid it, and {155} look
for nothing and wish for nothing to detain me in its vicinity.

[Sidenote: Lyndhurst]

Lyndhurst is objectionable to me not only because it is a vulgar
suburb, a transcript of Chiswick or Plumstead in the New Forest where
it is in a wrong atmosphere, but also because it is the spot on which
London vomits out its annual crowd of collectors, who fill its
numerous and ever-increasing brand-new red-brick lodging-houses, and
who swarm through all the adjacent woods and heaths, men, women, and
children (hateful little prigs!) with their vasculums, beer and
treacle pots, green and blue butterfly nets, killing bottles, and all
the detestable paraphernalia of what they would probably call "Nature
Study."

It happened that one day, a mile or two from Lyndhurst, going along
the road I caught sight of a pretty bit of heath through an opening
in the wood, and turning into it I looked out a spot to rest in, and
was just about to cast myself down when I noticed a small white
spider, disturbed by my step, drop from a cluster of bell-heath
flowers to the ground.  I stood still, and presently the spider,
recovered from its alarm, drew itself up again by an invisible thread
and settled down on the bright-coloured blossoms.  Seating myself
close by, I began to watch the strangely shaped and coloured little
creature.  It was a _Thomisus_--a genus of spiders distinguished by
the extraordinary length of the two pairs of forelegs.  The one
before me, _Thomisus citreus_, is also singular on account of its
colour--pale citron or white--and its habit of sitting on flowers.
{156} This habit and the colour, we may see, are related.  The
_citreus_ is not a weaver of snares, but hunts for its prey, or
rather lies in wait to capture any insect that comes to the flower on
which it sits.  On white, yellow, and indeed on most pale-coloured
flowers, it almost becomes invisible.  On the brilliant red
bell-heath blossom it showed plainly enough, but even here it did not
look nearly so conspicuous as when on a green leaf.

[Sidenote: Wooing spider's antics]

I had observed this white spider before, but had always seen it
sitting motionless in its flower; this one was curiously restless,
and very soon after I had settled myself down by its side it began to
throw itself into a variety of strange attitudes.  The four long
forelegs would go up all at once and stand out like rays from the
round, white body, and by-and-by they would drop and hang down like
two long strings from the flower.  Pretty soon I discovered the cause
of these actions in the presence of a second spider, less than half
the size of the first, moving about close by.  His smallness and
hideling habits had prevented me from seeing him sooner.  This small,
active, white creature was the male, and though moving constantly
about in the heath at a distance of half a foot from her, it was
plain that they could see each other and also understand each other
very well.  As he moved round her, passing by means of the threads he
kept throwing out from spray to spray, she moved round on her flower
to keep him in sight; but though fascinated and drawn to her, he
still dreaded, and was pulled by his fear and his desire in opposite
ways.  {157} The excitement of both would increase whenever he came a
little nearer, and their attitudes were then sometimes very curious,
the most singular being one of the male when he would raise his body
vertically in the air and stand on his two pairs of forelegs.  When
very near, they would extend the long forelegs and touch one another;
but always at this point when they were closest and the excitement
greatest a panic would seize him, and he would make haste to get to a
safer distance.  On two such occasions she, as if afraid to lose him
altogether, quitted her beloved flower and moved after him, and after
wandering about for some time to no purpose, found another
flower-cluster to settle on.  And so the queer wooing went on, and
seemed no nearer to a conclusion, when, to my surprise, I found that
I had been sitting and lying there, with eyes close to the female
spider, for an hour and a half.  Once only, feeling a little bored, I
gently stroked her on the back, which appeared to please her as much
as if she had been a pig and I had scratched her back with my
walking-stick.  But no sooner had the soothing effect passed off than
she began again watching the movements of that fantastic little lover
of hers, who loved her for her beautiful white body, but feared her
on account of those poison fangs which he could probably see every
time she smiled to encourage him.  At the end of my long watch the
conclusion of the whole complex business seemed farther off than
ever: fear had got the mastery, and the male had put so great a
distance between them, and moved now {158} so languidly, that it
seemed useless to remain any longer.

[Sidenote: A little forest boy]

I had not been watching alone all this time: when I had been about
half an hour on the spot I had a visitor, a small miserable-looking
New Forest boy; he came walking towards me with a little crooked
stick in his hand, and asked me in a low, husky voice if I had seen a
pony in that part of the Forest.  I told him sharply not to come too
near as his steps would disturb a spider I was watching.  It did not
seem to surprise him that I was there by myself watching a spider,
but creeping up he subsided gently on the heath by my side and began
watching with me.  At intervals when there was a lull in the
excitement of the spiders I could spare time for a glance at my poor
little companion.  He was probably eleven or twelve years old, but
his stature was that of a boy of eight--a small, stunted creature,
meanly dressed, with light-coloured lustreless hair, pale-blue eyes,
and a weary sad expression on his pale face.  Yet he called himself a
gipsy!  But the south of England gipsies are a mixed and degenerate
lot.  They are now so incessantly harried by the authorities that the
best of them settle down in the villages, while those who keep to the
old ways and vagrant open-air life are joined by tramps and wastrels
of every shade of colour.  This little fellow had little or no Romany
blood in his watery veins.

He told me that his people were camping not far off, and that the
party consisted of his parents with six (the half-dozen youngest) of
their thirteen children.  {159} They had a pony and trap; but the
pony had got away during the night, and the father and two or three
of the children were out looking for it in different directions.  We
talked a little at intervals, and I found him curiously ignorant
concerning the wild life of the Forest.  He assured me that he had
never seen the cuckoo, but he had heard of its singular habits, and
was anxious to know how big a bird it was, also its colour.  In some
trees near us a wood-wren was uttering its sorrowful little wailing
note of anxiety, and when I asked him what bird it was, he answered
"a sparrer."  Nevertheless he seemed to feel a dim sort of interest
in the spiders we were watching, and at length our intermittent
conversation ceased altogether.  When at last, after a long silence,
I spoke, he did not answer, and glancing round I found that he had
gone to sleep.  Lying there with eyes closed, his pale face on the
bright green turf, he looked almost corpse-like.  Even his lips were
colourless.  Getting up, I placed a penny piece on the turf beside
his little crooked stick, so that on awaking he should have a gleam
of happiness in his poor little soul, and went softly away.  But he
was sleeping very soundly, for when after going a couple of hundred
yards I looked back he was still lying motionless on the same spot.

But when I looked back, and when, regaining the road, I went on my
way, and indeed for long hours after, I saw the boy vaguely, almost
like a boy of mist, and was hardly able to recall his features, so
faintly had he impressed me; while the spider on {160} her flower,
and the small male that wooed and won her many times yet never
ventured to take her, were stamped so vividly on my brain, that even
if I had wished it I could not have got rid of that persistent image.
It made me miserable to think that I had left, thousands of miles
away, a world of spiders exceeding in size, variety of shape and
beauty and richness of colouring those I found here--surpassing them,
too, in the marvellousness of their habits and that ferocity of
disposition which is without a parallel in nature.  I wished I could
drop this burden of years so as to go back to them, to spend half a
lifetime in finding out some of their fascinating secrets.  Finally,
I envied those who in future years will grow up in that green
continent, with this passion in their hearts, and have the happiness
which I had missed.

I, of course, knew that it was but the too vivid and persistent image
of that particular creature on which my attention had been fixed
which made me regard spiders generally as the most interesting beings
in nature--the proper study of mankind, in fact.  But it is always
so; any new aspect, form, or manifestation of the principle of life,
at the moment it comes before the vision and the mind, is, to one who
is not a specialist, attractive beyond all others.

But, after all is said and done, I have as a fact spent many of my
Hampshire days at a distance from the spots I love best, and my
subject in this chapter will be of my sojourn in that eastern corner
of the county, in the village and parish which all {161} naturalists
love, and which many of them know so well.


[Sidenote: Visitors to Selborne]

It is told in the books that some seventy or eighty years ago an
adventurous naturalist journeyed down from London by rough ways to
the remote village of Selborne, to see it with his own eyes and
describe its condition to the world.  The way is not long nor rough
in these times, and on every summer day, almost at every hour of the
day, strangers from all parts of the country, with not a few from
foreign lands, may be seen in the old village street.  Of these
visitors that come like shadows, so depart, nine in every ten, or
possibly nineteen in every twenty, have no real interest in Gilbert
White and his work and the village he lived in, but are members of
that innumerable tribe of gadders about the land who religiously
visit every spot which they are told should be seen.

One morning, while staying at the village, in July 1901, I went at
six o'clock for a stroll on the common, and, on going up to the
Hanger, noticed a couple of bicycles lying at the foot of the hill;
then, half-way up I found the cyclists--two young ladies--resting on
the turf by the side of the Zigzag.  They were conversing together as
I went by, and one having asked some question which I did not hear,
the other replied, "Oh no! he lived a very long time ago, and wrote a
history of Selborne.  About birds and that."  To which the other
returned, "Oh!" and then they talked of something else.

{162}

These ladies had probably got up at four o'clock that morning, and
ridden several miles to visit the village and go up the Hanger before
breakfast.  Later in the day they would be at other places where
other Hampshire celebrities, big and little, had been born, or had
lived or died--Wootton St. Lawrence, Chawton, Steventon, Alresford,
Basing, Otterbourne, Buriton, Boldre, and a dozen more; and one, the
informed, would say to her uninformed companion, "Oh dear, no; he, or
she, lived a long, long time ago, somewhere about the eighteenth
century--or perhaps it was the sixteenth--and did something, or wrote
fiction, or history, or philosophy, and that."  To which the other
would intelligently answer, "Oh!" and then they would remount their
bicycles, and go on to some other place.

[Sidenote: Selborne revisited]

Although a large majority of the visitors are of this description,
there are others of a different kind--the true pilgrims; and these
are mostly naturalists who have been familiar from boyhood with the
famous Letters, who love the memory of Gilbert White, and regard the
spot where he was born, to which he was so deeply attached, where his
ashes lie, as almost a sacred place.  It is but natural that some of
these, who are the true and only Selbornians, albeit they may not
call themselves by a name which has been filched from them, should
have given an account of a first visit, their impression of a spot
familiar in description but never realised until seen, and of its
effect on the mind.  But no one, so far as I know, has told of a
second or of any subsequent {163} visit.  There is a good reason for
this, for though the place is in itself beautiful and never loses its
charm, it is impossible for anyone to recover the feeling experienced
on a first sight.  If I, unlike others, write of Selborne revisited,
it is not because there is anything fresh to say of an old, vanished
emotion, a feeling which forms a singular and delightful experience
in the life of many a naturalist, and is thereafter a pleasing memory
but nothing more.

Selborne is now to me like any other pleasant rural place: in the
village street, in the churchyard, by the Lyth and the Bourne, on the
Hanger and the Common, I feel that I am

  In a green and undiscovered ground;

the feeling that the naturalist must or should always experience in
all places where nature is, even as Coventry Patmore experienced it
in the presence of women.  He had paid more than ordinary attention
to their ways, and knew that there was yet much to learn.

[Sidenote: An owl at Alton]

How irrecoverable the first feeling is--a feeling which may be almost
like the sense of an unseen presence, as I have described it in an
account of my first visit to Selborne in the concluding chapter in a
book on _Birds and Man_--was impressed upon me on the occasion of a
second visit two or three years later.  There was then no return of
the feeling--no faintest trace of it.  The village was like any
other, only more interesting because of several amusing incidents in
bird-life which I by chance {164} witnessed when there.  Animals in a
state of nature do not often move us to mirth, but on this occasion I
was made to laugh several times.  At first it was at an owl at Alton.
I arrived there in the evening of a wet, rough day in May 1898, too
late to walk the five miles that remained to my destination.  After
securing a room at the hotel, I hurried out to look at the fine old
church, which Gilbert White admired in his day; but it was growing
dark, so that there was nothing for me but to stand in the wind and
rain in the wet churchyard, and get a general idea of the outline of
the building, with its handsome, shingled spire standing tall against
the wild, gloomy sky.  By-and-by a vague figure appeared out of the
clouds, travelling against the wind towards the spire, and looking
more like a ragged piece of newspaper whirled about the heavens than
any living thing.  It was a white owl, and after watching him for
some time I came to the conclusion that he was trying to get to the
vane on the spire.  A very idle ambition it seemed, for although he
succeeded again and again in getting to within a few yards of the
point aimed at, he was on each occasion struck by a fresh violent
gust and driven back to a great distance, often quite out of sight in
the gloom.  But presently he would reappear, still striving to reach
the vane.  A crazy bird! but I could not help admiring his pluck, and
greatly wondered what his secret motive in aiming at that windy perch
could be.  And at last, after so many defeats, he succeeded in
grasping the metal cross-bar with his {165} crooked talons.  The
wind, with all its fury, could not tear him from it, and after a
little flapping he was able to pull himself up; then, bending down,
he deliberately wiped his beak on the bar and flew away!  This, then,
had been his powerful, mysterious motive--just to wipe his beak,
which he could very well have wiped on any branch or barn-roof or
fence, and saved himself that tremendous labour!

It was an extreme instance of the tyrannous effect of habit on a wild
animal.  Doubtless this bird had been accustomed, after devouring his
first mouse, to fly to the vane, where he could rest for a few
minutes, taking a general view of the place, and wipe his beak at the
same time; and the habit had become so strong that he could not forgo
his visit even on so tempestuous an evening.  His beak, if he had
wiped it anywhere but on that lofty cross-bar, would not have seemed
quite clean.

At Selborne, in the garden at the Wakes, I noticed a pair of pied
wagtails busy nest-building in the ivy on the wall.  One of the birds
flew up to the roof of the house, where, I suppose, he caught sight
of a fly in an upper window which looked on to the roof, for all at
once he rose up and dashed against the pane with great force; and as
the glass pane hit back with equal force, he was thrown on to the
tiles under the window.  Nothing daunted, he got up and dashed
against the glass a second time, with the same result.  The action
was repeated five times, then the poor baffled bird withdrew from the
contest, and, drawing in his head, sat hunched up for two or three
minutes {166} perfectly motionless.  The volatile creature would not
have sat there so quietly if he had not hurt himself rather badly.

[Sidenote: Cockerel and martin]

One more of the amusing incidents witnessed during my visit must be
told.  Several pairs of martins were making their nests under the
eaves of a cottage opposite to the Queen's Arms, where I stayed; and
on going out about seven o'clock in the morning, I stood to watch
some of the birds getting mud at a pool which had been made by the
night's rain in the middle of the street.  It happened that some
fowls had come out of the inn yard, and were walking or standing near
the puddle picking up gravel or any small morsel they could find.
Among them was a cockerel, a big, ungainly, yellowish Cochin, in the
hobbledehoy stage of that ugliest and most ungraceful variety.  For
some time this bird stood idly by the pool, but by-and-by the
movements of the martins coming and going between the cottage and the
puddle attracted his attention, and he began to watch them with a
strange interest; and then all at once he made a vicious peck at one
occupied in deftly gathering a pellet of clay close to his great,
feathered feet.  The martin flitted lightly away, and after a turn or
two, dropped down again at almost the same spot.  The fowl had
watched it, and as soon as it came down moved a step or two nearer to
it with deliberation, then made a violent dash and peck at it, and
was no nearer to hitting it than before.  The same thing occurred
again and again, the martin growing shyer after each attack; then
other martins {167} came, and he, finding them less cautious than the
first, stalked them in turn and made futile attacks on them.
Convinced at last that it was not possible for him to injure or touch
these elusive little creatures, he determined that they should gather
no mud at that place, and with head up he watched them circling like
great flies around him, dashing savagely at them whenever they came
lower, or paused in their flight, or dropped lightly down on the
margin.  It was a curious and amusing spectacle--the big, shapeless,
lumbering bird chasing them round and round the pool in his stupid
spite; they by contrast so beautiful in their shining purple mantle,
snow-white breast, and stockinged feet, their fairy-like aerial
bodies that responded so quickly to every motion of their bright,
lively, little minds.  It was like a very heavy policeman "moving on"
a flock of fairies.

One remembers Æsop's dog in the manger, and thinks that this and many
of the apologues are really nothing but everyday incidents in animal
life, told just as they happened, with the addition of speech (in
some cases quite unnecessary) put in the mouth of the various actors.
Æsop's dog did not want to be disturbed in his bed of hay, and was
not such an unredeemed curmudgeon as the Selborne fowl; but this
unlovely temper or feeling--spite and petty tyranny and
persecution--is exceedingly common in the lower animals, from the
higher vertebrates down even to the insects.

My third visit to Selborne was in July 1901.  I {168} went there on
the 12th and stayed till the 23rd.  Now July, when the business of
breeding is over or far advanced and all the best songsters are
dropping into silence, and when the foliage is deepening to a uniform
monotonous dark green, is, next to August, the least interesting
month of the year.  But at Selborne I was singularly fortunate,
although the season was excessively dry and hot.  The heat was indeed
great all over the country, but I doubt if there exists a warmer
village than Selborne, unless it be one in some, to me unknown,
coombe in Cornwall or Devon.  Thus on 19th July, when the temperature
rose to ninety degrees in the shade in the City of London, we had it
as high as ninety-four degrees in Selborne.  The village lies in a
kind of trough at the foot of a wall-like hill.  If it were not for
the moisture and the greenery that surrounds and almost covers it,
hanging, as it were, like a cloud above it, the heat would doubtless
have been even greater.

[Sidenote: Crickets]

These conditions, in whatever way they may affect the human
inhabitants, appear to be exceedingly favourable to the
house-crickets.  It was impossible for anyone to walk in the village
of an evening without noticing the noise they made.  The cottages on
both sides of the street seemed to be alive with them, so that,
walking, one was assailed by their shrilling in both ears.  Hearing
them so much sent me in search of their wild cousin of the fields and
of the mole-cricket, but no sound of them could I hear.  It was too
late for them to sing.  No doubt--as White conjectured--the
artificial conditions which {169} civilised man has made for the
house-cricket have considerably altered its habits.  Like the canary
and other finches that thrive in captivity, a uniform indoor climate,
with food easily found, have made it a singer all the year round.  I
trust we shall never take to the Japanese custom of caging insects
for the sake of their music; but it is probable that a result of
keeping tamed or domesticated field-crickets would be to set them
singing at all seasons against the cricket on the hearth.  A listener
would then be able to judge which of the two "sweet and tiny cousins"
is the better performer.  The house-cricket has to my ears a louder,
coarser, a more creaky sound; but we hear him, as a rule, in a room,
singing, as it were, confined in a big box; and I remember the case
of the skylark, and the disagreeable effect of its shrill and harsh
spluttering song when heard from a cage hanging against a wall.  The
field-cricket, like the soaring skylark, has the wide expanse of open
air to soften and etherealise the sound.

Gilbert White lived in an age which had its own little,
firmly-established, conventional ideas about nature, which he,
open-air man though he was, did not escape, or else felt bound to
respect.  Thus, the prolonged, wild, beautiful call of the peacock,
the finest sound made by any domesticated creature, was to the
convention of the day "disgustful," and as a disgustful sound he sets
it down accordingly; and when he speaks of the keen pleasure it gave
him to listen to the field-cricket, he writes in a somewhat
apologetic strain:

{170}


    Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to their
    sweetness and melody, nor do harsh sounds always displease.  We
    are more apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations
    which they promote than with the notes themselves.  Thus the
    shrilling of the field-cricket, though sharp and stridulous, yet
    marvellously delights some hearers, filling their minds with a
    train of summer ideas of everything that is rural, verdurous, and
    joyous.


The delight I know, but I cannot wholly agree with the explanation.
A couple of months before this visit to Selborne, on 25th May, on
passing some small grass-fields, enclosed in high, untrimmed hedges,
on the border of a pine wood near Hythe, by Southampton Water, I all
at once became conscious of a sound, which indeed had been for some
considerable time in my ears, increasing in volume as I went on until
it forced my attention to it.  When I listened, I found myself in a
place where field-crickets were in extraordinary abundance; there
must have been many hundreds within hearing distance, and their
delicate shrilling came from the grass and hedges all round me.  It
was as if all the field-crickets in the county had congregated and
were holding a grand musical festival at that spot.  A dozen or
twenty house-crickets in a kitchen would have made more noise; this
was not loud, nor could it properly be described as a noise; it was
more like a subtle music without rise or fall or change; or like a
continuous, diffused, silvery-bright, musical hum, which surrounded
one like an atmosphere, and at the same time pervaded and trembled
through one like a vibration.  It was certainly very delightful, and
the feeling in this instance was not due to {171} association, but, I
think, to the intrinsic beauty of the sound itself.

[Sidenote: Wild flowers]

The Selborne stream, or Bourne, with its meadows and tangled copses
on either side, was my favourite noonday haunt.  The volume of water
does not greatly diminish during the summer months, but in many
places the bed of the stream was quite grown over with aquatic
plants, topped with figwort, huge water-agrimony, with its masses of
powdery, flesh-coloured blooms, creamy meadow-sweet, and rose-purple
loosestrife, and willow-herb with its appetising odour of codlins and
cream.  The wild musk, or monkey-flower, a Hampshire plant about
which there will be much to say in another chapter, was also common.
At one spot a mass of it grew at the foot of a high bank on the
water's edge; from the top of the bank long branches of briar-rose
trailed down, and the rich, pure yellow mimulus blossoms and
ivory-white roses of the briar were seen together.  An even lovelier
effect was produced at another spot by the mingling of the yellow
flowers with the large turquoise-blue water forget-me-nots.

The most charming of the Selborne wild plants that flower in July is
the musk mallow.  It was quite common round the village, and perhaps
the finest plant I saw was in the churchyard, growing luxuriantly by
a humble grave near the little gate that opens to the Lyth and
Bourne.  As it is known to few persons, there must almost every day
have been strangers and pilgrims in the churchyard who looked with
admiration on that conspicuous plant, {172} with its deep-cut,
scented geranium-like, beautiful leaves, tender grey-green in colour,
and its profusion of delicate, silky, rose-coloured flowers.  Many
would look on it as some rare exotic, and wonder at its being there
by that lowly green mound.  But to the residents it was a musk mallow
and nothing more--a weed in the churchyard.

When one morning I found two men mowing the grass, I called their
attention to this plant and asked them to spare it, telling them that
it was one which the daily visitors to the village would admire above
all the red geraniums and other gardeners' flowers which they would
have to leave untouched.  This simple request appeared to put them
out a good deal; they took their hats off and wiped the sweat from
their foreheads, and after gravely pondering the matter for some
time, said they would "see about it" or "bear it in mind" when they
came round to that side.  In the afternoon, when the mowing was done,
I returned and found that the musk mallow had not been spared.

During my stay I was specially interested in two of the common
Selborne birds--the cirl bunting and the swift.  At about four
o'clock each morning the lively, vigorous song of the cirl bunting
would be heard from the gardens or ground of the Wakes, at the foot
of the hill.  From four to six, at intervals, was his best
singing-time; later in the day he sang at much longer intervals.
There appeared to be three pairs of breeding birds: one at the Wakes,
another on the top of the hill to the left of the Zigzag path, {173}
and a third below the churchyard.  The cock bird of the last pair
sang at intervals every day during my visit from a tree in the
churchyard, and from a big sycamore growing at the side of it.  On
14th July I had a good opportunity of judging the penetrative power
of this bunting's voice, for by chance, just as the bells commenced
ringing for the six o'clock Sunday evening service, the bird, perched
on a small cypress in the churchyard, began to sing.  Though only
about forty yards from the tower, he was not in the least discomposed
by the clanging of the bells, but sang at proper intervals the usual
number of times--six or eight--his high, incisive voice sounding
distinct through that tempest of jangled metallic music.

[Sidenote: Cirl bunting]

I was often at Farringdon, a village close by, and there, too, the
churchyard had its cirl bunting, singing merrily at intervals from a
perch not above thirty yards from the building.  And as at Selborne
and Farringdon, so I have found it in most places in Hampshire,
especially in the southern half of the county; the cirl is the
village bunting whose favourite singing place is in the quiet
churchyard or the shade-trees at the farm: compared with other
members of the genus he might almost be called our domestic bunting.
The yellowhammer is never heard in a village: at Selborne to find him
one had to climb the hill and go out on the common, and there he
could be heard drawling out his lazy song all day long.  How curious
to think that Gilbert White never distinguished between these two
species, although it {174} is probable that he heard the cirl on
every summer day during the greater part of his life.

[Sidenote: Visiting swifts]

The swifts at Selborne interested me even more, and I spent a good
many hours observing them; but the swifts I watched were not, strange
to say, the native Selborne birds.  When I arrived I took particular
notice of the swallows and swifts--a natural thing to do in Gilbert
White's village.  The swallows, I was sorry to find, had decreased so
greatly in numbers since my former visits that there were but few
left.  The house-martins, though still not scarce, had also fallen
off a good deal.  Of swifts there were about eight or nine pairs, all
with young in their nests, in holes under the eaves of different
cottages.  The old birds appeared to be very much taken up with
feeding their young: they ranged about almost in solitude, never more
than four or five birds being seen together, and that only in the
evening, and even when in company they were silent and their flight
comparatively languid.  This continued from the 12th to the 16th, but
on that day, at a little past seven o'clock in the evening, I was
astonished to see a party of over fifty swifts rushing through the
air over the village in the usual violent way, uttering excited
screams as they streamed by.  Rising to some height in the air, they
would scatter and float above the church for a few moments, then
close and rush down and stream across the Plestor, coming as low as
the roofs of the cottages, then along the village street for a
distance of forty or fifty yards, after which they would mount up and
return to the {175} church, to repeat the same race over the same
course again and again.  They continued their pastime for an hour or
longer, after which the flock began to diminish, and in a short time
had quite melted away.

On the following evening I was absent, but some friends staying at
the village watched for me, and they reported that the birds appeared
after seven o'clock and played about the place for an hour or two,
then vanished as before.

On the afternoon of the 18th I went with my friends to the ground
behind the churchyard, from which a view of the sky all round can be
obtained.  Four or five swifts were visible quietly flying about the
sky, all wide apart.  At six o'clock a little bunch of half a dozen
swifts formed, and began to chase each other in the usual way, and
more birds, singly, and in twos and threes, began to arrive.  Some of
these were seen coming to the spot from the direction of Alton.
Gradually the bunch grew until it was a big crowd numbering seventy
to eighty birds, and as it grew the excitement of the birds
increased: until eight o'clock they kept up their aerial mad gambols,
and then, as on the previous evenings, the flock gradually dispersed.

On the evening of the 19th the performance was repeated, the birds
congregated numbering about sixty.  On the 20th the number had
diminished to about forty, and an equal number returned on the
following evening; and this was the last time.  We watched in vain
for them on the 22nd: no swifts {176} but the half-a-dozen Selborne
birds usually to be seen towards evening were visible; nor did they
return on any other day up to the 24th, when my visit came to an end.

It is possible, and even probable, that these swifts which came from
a distance to hold their evening games at Selborne were birds that
had already finished breeding, and were now free to go from home and
spend a good deal of time in purely recreative exercises.  The
curious point is that they should have made choice of this sultry
spot for such a purpose.  It was, moreover, new to me to find that
swifts do sometimes go a distance from home to indulge in such
pastimes.  I had always thought that the birds seen pursuing each
other with screams through the sky at any place were the dwellers and
breeders in the locality; and this is probably the idea that most
persons have.


I wish I could have visited Selborne again last July, in order to
find out whether or not the evening gatherings and pastimes of the
swifts occur annually.  But I was engaged elsewhere, and at the
village I failed to discover any person with interest enough in such
subjects to watch for me.  It would have been very strange if I had
found such a one.

It was not until October 1902 that I went back, two months after the
swifts had gone; but I was well occupied for two or three weeks
during this latest visit in observing the ways of a grasshopper.

There has already been much about insects in {177} this book, and it
may seem that I am giving a disproportionate amount of space to these
negligible atomies; nevertheless I should not like to conclude this
chapter without adding an account of yet another species, one indeed
worthy to rank among the Insect Notables of Southern England
described in a former chapter.  The account comes best in this place,
since the species had seemed rare, or nowhere abundant, until, in
October, I found it most common in Selborne parish; and here I came
to know it well, as I had come to know its great green relation,
_Locusta viridissima_, at Longparish.  Both are of one family, and
are night singers, but the Selborne insect belongs to a different
genus--_Thamnotrizon_--of which it is the only British
representative; and in colour and habits it differs widely from the
green grasshoppers.  The members of this charming family are found in
all warm and temperate countries throughout the world: in this island
we may say that they are at the extreme northern limit of their
range.  Of our nine British species only three are found north of the
Thames.  _Thamnotrizon cinereus_ is one of these, but is mainly a
southern species, and the latest of our grasshoppers to come to
maturity.  In September it is full grown, and may be heard until
November.  It is much smaller than _viridissima_, and is very dark in
colour, the female, which has no vestige of wings, being of a uniform
deep olive-brown, except the under surface, which is bright
buttercup-yellow.  The male, though smaller than the female, and like
her in colour, has a more {178} distinguished appearance on account
of his small aborted wings, which serve as an instrument of music,
and form a disc of ashy grey colour on his black and brown body.

[Sidenote: The black grasshopper]

Unless looked at closely this insect appears black, and might very
well be called the black grasshopper.  And here it is necessary once
more to protest against what must be regarded as a gross neglect of a
plain duty on the part of writers on our native insects who will not
give English names even to the most common and interesting species.
Unless it has a vernacular name they will go on speaking of it as
_Thamnotrizon cinereus_, _Cordulegaster annulatus_, or whatever it
may be, to the end of time.  This grasshopper has no common name that
I can discover: I have caught and shown it to the country people,
asking them to name it, and they informed me that it was a
"grasshopper," or else a "cricket."  Black, or black and yellow, or
autumn grasshopper would do very well: but any English name would be
better than the entomologist's ponderous double name compounded out
of two dead languages.

Our black grasshopper lives in grass and herbage, in the shade of
bushes and trees, and so long as the weather is hot it is hard to
find him, as he keeps in the shade.  He is furthermore the shyest and
wariest of his family, and ready to vanish on the least alarm.  He
does not leap, but slips away into hiding; and if one goes too near,
or attempts to take him, he suddenly vanishes.  He simply drops down
through the leaves to the earth, and sits close and motionless {179}
at the roots on the dark mould, and unless touched will not move.
When traced down to his hiding-place he leaps away, and again sits
motionless, where, owing to his dark colour on the dark soil, he is
invisible.  Later, when the weather grows cool, he comes out and sits
on a leaf, basking by the hour in the sun, his eyes turned from it;
and it is then easy to find him, the dark colour making him appear
very conspicuous on a green leaf.  Occasionally he sings in the
afternoon, but, as a rule, he begins at dusk, and continues for some
hours.  To sing, the males often go high up in the bushes, and when
emitting their sound are almost constantly on the move.

The sound is a cricket-like chirp; it is never sustained, but in
quality it resembles the subtle musical shrilling of the
_viridissima_, although it does not carry half so far.

In disposition the two species, the black and great green
grasshoppers, are very unlike.  The female _viridissima_, we have
seen, is the most indolent and placid creature imaginable, while the
males are perpetually challenging and fighting one another.  The
males of the black grasshopper I could never detect fighting.  It is
not easy to observe them, as they sing mostly at night; and as a rule
when singing they are well hidden by the leaves.  But I have
occasionally found two males singing together, apparently against
each other, when I would watch them, and although as they moved about
they constantly passed and repassed so close that they all but
touched, they never struck at each other, nor put themselves into
fighting {180} attitudes.  One day I found two males sitting on a
leaf together, side by side, like the best of friends, basking in the
sun.

The female, on the other hand, is a most unpleasant creature, so
restless that in confinement she spends the whole time in running
about in her cage or box, incessantly trying to get out, examining
everything, eating of everything given her, and persecuting any other
insect placed with her.  When I put males and females together the
poor males were kicked and bitten until they died.

Before visiting Selborne in October, it had seemed to me that hunting
for this grasshopper was a most fascinating pursuit.  It was very
hard to find him by day, and when by chance you caught sight of him,
sitting on a green leaf in the sun and looking like a small, very
dark-coloured frog with abnormally long hind legs, it was generally
in a bramble bush, into which he would vanish when approached too
near.

When at Selborne, one evening I heard one singing among the herbage
at the foot of the Hanger, and next morning I found one at the same
spot--a female, sitting on a gold-red fallen beech leaf, her
blackness on the brilliant leaf making her very conspicuous.  A
little later, when the wet weather improved, I found the grasshopper
all about the village, and even in it; but it was most abundant near
the Well Head and in the hedges between Selborne and Nore Hill.  Here
on a sunny morning I could find a score or more of them, and at dark
they could be heard in numbers chirping in all the hedges.



{181}

CHAPTER IX

The Selborne atmosphere--Unhealthy faces--Selborne Common--Character
of scenery--Wheatham Hill--Hampshire village churches--Gilbert
White's strictures--Churches big and little--The peasants' religious
feeling--Charm of old village churches--Seeking Priors Dean--Privett
church--Blackmoor church--Churchyards--Change in gravestones--Beauty
of old gravestones--Red alga on gravestones--Yew trees in
churchyards--British dragon-tree--Farringdon village and
yew--Crowhurst yew--Hurstbourne Priors yew--How yew trees are injured.


It is a pleasure to be at Selborne; nevertheless I find I always like
Selborne best when I am out of it, especially when I am rambling
about that bit of beautiful country on the border of which it lies.
The memory of Gilbert White; the old church with its low, square
tower and its famous yew tree; above all, the constant sight of the
Hanger clothed in its beechen woods--green, or bronze and red-gold,
or purple-brown in leafless winter--all these things do not prevent a
sense of lassitude, of ill-being, which I experience in the village
when I am too long in it, and which vanishes when I quit it, and seem
to breathe a better air.  This is no mere fancy, nor something
peculiar to myself; the natives, too, are subject to this secret
trouble, and are, some of them, conscious of it.  Round about
Selborne you will find those who were born and bred in the village,
who say they were never well until they quitted it; and some {182} of
these declare that they would not return even if some generous person
were to offer them a cottage rent free.  The appearance of the
people, too, may be considered in this connection.  Mary Russell
Mitford exclaims in one of her village sketches that there was not a
pretty face in the country-side.  The want of comeliness which is so
noticeable in the southern parts of Berkshire is not confined to that
county.  The people of Berkshire and Hampshire, of the blonde type,
are very much alike.  But there are degrees; and if you want to see,
I will not say a handsome, nor a pretty, but a passably fresh and
pleasant face among the cottagers, you must go out of Selborne to
some neighbouring village to look for it.

[Sidenote: Selborne Common]

But this question does not now concern us.  The best of Selborne is
the common on the hill--all the better for the steep hill which must
be climbed to get to it, since that difficult way prevents the people
from making too free use of it, and regarding it as a sort of
back-yard or waste place to throw their rubbish on.  It is a
perpetual joy to the children.  One morning in October I met there
some youngsters gathering kindling-wood, and feasting at the same
time on wild fruits--the sloes were just then at their best.  They
told me that they had only recently come to live in Selborne from
Farringdon, their native village.  "And which place do you like
best?" I asked.  "Selborne!" they shouted in a breath, and indeed
appeared surprised that I had asked such a question.  No wonder.
This hill-top common is the {183} most forest-like, the wildest in
England, and the most beautiful as well, both in its trees and
tangles of all kinds of wild plants that flourish in waste places,
and in the prospects which one gets of the surrounding country.
Here, seeing the happiness of the boys, I have wished to be a boy
again.  But one does not think so much of this spot when one comes to
know the country round, and finds that Selborne Hill is but one of
many hills of the same singular and beautiful type, sloping away
gently on one side, and presenting a bold, almost precipitous front
on the other, in most cases clothed on the steep side with dense
beech woods.  It is now eight years since I began to form an
acquaintance with this east corner of Hampshire, but not until last
October (1902) did I know how beautiful it was.  From Selborne Hill
one sees something of it; a better sight is obtained from Noire Hill,
where one is able to get some idea of the peculiar character of the
scenery.  It is all wildly irregular, high and low grounds thrown
together in a pretty confusion, and the soil everywhere fertile, so
that the general effect is of extreme richness.  One sees, too, that
the human population is sparse, and that it has always been as it is
now, and man's work--his old irregular fields, and the unkept hedges
which, like the thickets on the waste places, are self-planted, and
have been self-planted for centuries, and the old deep-winding lanes
and by-roads--have come at last to seem one with nature's work.  Out
of this broken, variegated, richly green surface, here and there, in
a sort of range, but {184} irregular like all else, the hills, or
hangers, lift their steep, bank-like fronts--splendid masses of red
and russet gold against the soft grey-blue autumnal sky.  It is
delightful to walk through this bit of country from Nore Hill, and
from hill to hill, across green fields, for the farms here are like
wild lands that all are free to use, to Wheatham Hill, the highest
point, which rises 800 feet above the sea-level.  From this elevation
one looks over a great part of that green variegated country of the
Hangers, and sees on one hand where it fades close by into the sand
and pine district beginning at Wolmer Forest, and on another side,
beyond the little town of Petersfield, the region of great rolling
downs stretching far away into Sussex.


[Sidenote: Village churches]

In my rambles about this corner of Hampshire, during which I visited
all the villages nearest to Selborne--Empshott, Hawkley, Greatham,
East and West Tisted, Worldham, Priors Dean, Colemore, Privett,
Froxfield, Hartley Maudit, Blackmore, Oakhanger, Kingsley, Farringdon
and Newton Valence--I could not help thinking a good deal about
Hampshire village churches generally.  It was a subject which had
often enough been in my mind before in other parts of the county, but
it now came back to me in connection with Gilbert White's strictures
on these sacred buildings.  Their "meanness" produced a feeling in
him which is the nearest approach to indignation discoverable in his
pages.  He is speaking of jackdaws breeding in rabbit holes, and
shrewdly conjectures that this habit has arisen on account of {185}
the absence of steeples and towers suitable as nesting-places.  "Many
Hampshire places of worship," he remarks, "make no better appearance
than dovecotes."  He envied Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, the
Fens of Lincolnshire, and other districts, the number of spires which
presented themselves in every point of view, and concludes: "As an
admirer of prospects I have reason to lament this want in my own
county, for such objects are very necessary ingredients in an elegant
landscape."

The honoured historian of the parish of Selborne makes me shudder in
this passage.  But I am, perhaps, giving too much importance to his
words, since one may judge, from his mention of Norfolk in this
connection as being even worse off than his own county, that he was
not well informed on the subject.  Norfolk, like Somerset, abounds in
grand old churches of the Perpendicular period.  That smallness, or
"meanness" as he expresses it, of the Hampshire churches, is, to my
mind, one of their greatest merits.  The Hampshire village would not
possess that charm which we find in it--its sweet rusticity and
homeliness, and its harmonious appearance in the midst of a nature
green and soft and beautiful--but for that essential feature and part
of it, the church which does not tower vast and conspicuous as a
gigantic asylum or manufactory from among lowly cottages dwarfed by
its proximity to the appearance of pigmy-built huts in the Aruwhimi
forest.  These immense churches which in recent years have lifted
their tall spires and towers amidst lowly surroundings in many {186}
rural places, are, as a rule, the work of some zealot who has seared
his sense of beauty with a hot iron, or else of a new over-rich lord
of the manor, who must have all things new, including a big new
church to worship a new God in--his own peculiar Stock Exchange God,
who is a respecter of wealthy persons.  Here in Hampshire we have
seen the old but well preserved village church pulled down--doubtless
with the consent of the ecclesiastical authorities--its ancient
monuments broken up and carted away, its brasses made into fire
ornaments by cottagers or sold as old metal, and the very gravestones
used in paving the scullery and offices of the grand new parsonage
built to match the grand new church.

[Sidenote: Peasants' religious feeling]

When coming upon one of these "necessary ingredients in an elegant
landscape" in some rural spot I have sometimes wondered what the
feeling of the people who have spent their lives there can be about
it.  What effect has the new vast building, with its highly decorated
yet cold and vacant interior, on their dim minds--on their religion,
let us say?  It may be a poor unspiritual sort of religion, based on
old traditions and associations, mostly local; but shall we scorn it
on that account?  If we look a little closely into the matter, we see
that all men, even the most intellectual, the most spiritual, are
subject to this feeling in some degree, that it is in all religions.
That which from use, from association, becomes symbolic of faith is
in itself sacred.  At the present time the Church is torn with
dissensions because of this very question.  Certain bodily {187}
positions and signs and gestures, and woven fabrics and garments of
many patterns and colours, and wood and stone and metal objects, and
lighted candles and perfumes--mere hay and stubble to others who have
different symbols--are things essential to worship in some.  Touch
these things and you hurt their souls; you deprive them of their
means of communication with another world.  So the poor peasant who
was born and lives in a thatched cottage, with his limited
intelligence, his animism, associates the idea of the unseen world
with the sacred objects he has seen and known and handled--the small
ancient building, the red-barked, dark-leafed yew, the green mounds
and lichened gravestones among which he played as a child, and the
dim, low-roofed interior of what was to him God's House.  Whatever
there is in his mind that is least earthly, whatever thoughts he may
have of the unseen world and a life beyond this life, were
inseparably bound up with these visible things.

We need not follow this line any farther; those who believe with me
that the sense of the beautiful is God's best gift to the human soul
will see that I have put the matter on other and higher grounds.  The
small village church with its low tower or grey-shingled spire among
the shade trees, is beautiful chiefly because man and nature with its
softening processes have combined to make it a fit part of the scene,
a building which looks as natural and harmonious as an old hedge
which man planted once and nature replanted many times, and as many
an old thatched {188} timbered cottage, and many an old grey ruin,
ivy-grown, with red valerian blooming on its walls.

To pull down one of these churches to put in its place a gigantic
Gothic structure in brick or stone, better suited in size (and
ugliness) for a London or Liverpool church than for a small rustic
village in Hampshire, is nothing less than a crime.

[Sidenote: Seeking Priors Dean]

When calling to mind the churches known to me in this part of
Hampshire, I always think with peculiar pleasure of the smaller ones,
and perhaps with the most pleasure of the smallest of all--Priors
Dean.

It happened that the maps which I use in my Hampshire rambles and
which I always considered the best--Bartholomew's two miles to the
inch--did not mark Priors Dean, so that I had to go and find it for
myself.  I went with a friend one excessively hot day in July, by
Empshott and Hawkley through deep by-roads so deep and narrow and
roofed over with branches as to seem in places like tunnels.  On that
hot day in the silent time of year it was strangely still, and gave
one the feeling of being in a country long deserted by man.  Its only
inhabitants now appeared to be the bullfinches.  In these deep shaded
lanes one constantly hears the faint plaintive little piping sound,
the almost inaudible alarm note of the concealed bird; and at
intervals, following the sound, he suddenly dashes out, showing his
sharp-winged shape and clear grey and black upper plumage marked with
white for a moment or two before vanishing once more in the
overhanging foliage.

We went a long way round, but at last coming to {189} an open spot we
saw two cottages and two women and a boy standing talking by a gate,
and of these people we asked the way to Priors Dean.  They could not
tell us.  They knew it was not far away--a mile perhaps; but they had
never been to it, nor seen it, and didn't well know the direction.
The boy when asked shook his head.  A middle-aged man was digging
about thirty yards away, and to him one of the women now called, "Can
you tell them the way to Priors Dean?"

The man left off digging, straightened himself, and gazed steadily at
us for some moments.  He was one of the usual type--nine in every ten
farm labourers in this corner of Hampshire are of it--thinnish, of
medium height, a pale, parchment face, rather large straightish nose,
pale eyes with little speculation in them, shaved mouth and chin, and
small side whiskers as our fathers wore them.  The moustache has not
yet been adopted by these conservatives.  The one change they have
made is, alas! in their dress--the rusty black coat for the smock
frock.

When he had had his long gaze, he said, "Priors Dean?"

"Yes, Priors Dean," repeated the woman, raising her voice.

He turned up two spadefuls of earth, then asked again, "Priors Dean?"

"Priors Dean!" shouted the woman.  "Can't you tell 'em how to get to
it?"  Then she laughed.  She had perhaps come from some other part of
the country where minds are not quite so slow, and where the {190}
slow-minded person is treated as being deaf and shouted at.

Then, at last, he stuck his spade into the soil, and leaving it,
slowly advanced to the gate and told us to follow a path which he
pointed out, and when we got on the hill we would see Priors Dean
before us.

[Sidenote: Churches old and new]

And that was how we found it.  There is a satirical saying in the
other villages that if you want to find the church at Priors Dean you
must first cut down the nettles.  There were no nettles nor weeds of
any kind, only the small ancient church with its little shingled
spire standing in the middle of a large green graveyard with about a
dozen or fifteen gravestones scattered about, three old tombs, and,
close to the building, an ancient yew tree.  This is a big, and has
been a bigger, tree, as a large part of the trunk has perished on one
side, but as it stands it measures nearly twenty-four feet round a
yard from the earth.  This, with a small farmhouse, in old times a
manor house, and its outbuildings and a cottage or two, make the
village.  So quiet a spot is it that to see a human form or hear a
human voice comes almost as a surprise.  The little antique church,
the few stones, the dark ancient tree--these are everything, and the
effect on the mind is strangely grateful--a sense of enduring peace,
with something of that solitariness and desolation which we find in
unspoilt wildernesses.

From these smallest churches, which appear like a natural growth
where they are seen, I turn to the large and new, and the largest of
all at this place--that of Privett.  From its gorgeous yet vacant and
{191} cold interior, and from the whole vast structure, including
that necessary ingredient in an elegant landscape, the soaring spire
visible for many miles around, I turn away as from a jarring and
discordant thing--the feeling one experiences at the sight of those
brand-new big houses built by over-rich stock-jobbers on many hills
and open heaths in Surrey and, alas! in Hampshire.

I do not, however, say that all new and large churches raised in
small rustic centres appear as discordant things.  Even in the group
of villages which I have named there is a new and comparatively large
one which moves one to admiration the church of Blackmoor.  Here the
vegetation and surroundings are unlike those which accord best with
the small typical structures, the low tower and shingled spire.  The
tall, square tower of Blackmoor, of white stone roofed with red
tiles, rises amid the pines of Wolmer Forest, simple and beautiful in
shape, and gives a touch of grace and grateful colour to that darker,
austere nature.  From every point of view it is a pleasure to the
eye, and because of its enduring beauty the memory of the man who
raised it is like a perfume in the wilderness.

It is, however, time that bestows the best grace, the indescribable
charm to the village church--long centuries of time, which gives the
feeling, the expression, of immemorial peace to the weathered and
ivied building itself and the surrounding space, the churchyard, with
its green heaps, and scattered stones, and funeral yew.

{192}

[Sidenote: Change in gravestones]

The associated feeling, the _expression_, is undoubtedly the chief
thing in the general effect, but the constituents or objects which
compose the scene are in themselves pleasing; and one scarcely less
important than the building itself, the universal grass, the dark,
red-barked tree, is the gravestone.  I mean the gravestone that is
attractive in shape, which may be seen in every old village
churchyard in Hampshire; for not all the stones are of this
character.  The stone that is beautiful dates back half a century at
least, but very few are as old as a century and a half.  When we get
that far and farther back the inscription is obliterated or
indecipherable.  Only here and there we may by chance find some
stone, half buried in the soil, of an exceptional hardness, marking
the spot where lieth one who departed this life in the seventeenth or
early in the eighteenth century.  There are many old stones, it is
true, with nothing legible on them, but one does not know how old
they are.  It is not that these gravestones are beautiful only
because they are old, and have had their hard surface softened and
embroidered with green moss and lichen of many shades from pale-grey
to orange and red and brown.  The form of the stone, the
stone-cutter's work, was beautiful before Nature began to work on it
with her sunshine, her rain, her invisible seed.  I cannot think why
this old fashion, or rather, let us say, this tender, sacred custom,
of marking the last resting-place of the dead with a memorial
satisfying to the æsthetic sense, should have gone or died out.  The
gravestones {193} used at the present time are, as a rule, twice as
big as the old ones, and are perfectly plain--immense stone slabs,
inscribed with big, fat, black letters differing in size, the whole
inscription curiously resembling the local auctioneer's bills to be
seen pasted up on barn-doors, fences, and other suitable places.  So
big and hard, and bold, and ugly--I try not to see them!

Look from these at the old stone which the earthworms have been busy
trying to bury for a century, until the lower half of the inscription
is underground; the stone which the lichen has embossed and richly
coloured; round which the grass grows so close and lovingly, and the
small creeping ivy tries to cover.  This which has been added to it
is but a part of its beauty: you see that its lines are graceful,
that they were made so; that the inscription--"Here lyeth the body,"
etc.--is not cut in letters in use in newspapers and advertising
placards, and have therefore no common nor degrading associations,
but are letters of other forms, graceful, too, in their lines; and
that above the inscription there are sculptured and symbolic figures
and lines--emblems of mortality, eternal hope, and a future
life--heads of cherubs, winged and blowing on horns, and the sun and
wings; skulls and crossbones, and hour-glass and scythe; the funeral
urn and weeping-willow; the lighted torch; the heart in flames, or
bleeding, or transfixed with arrows; the angel's trumpet, the crown
of glory, the palm and the lily, the laurel leaf, and many more.

{194}

Did we think this art, or this custom, too little a thing to cherish
any longer?  I cannot find any person with a word to say about it.  I
have tried and the result was curious.  I have invited persons of my
acquaintance into an old churchyard and begged them to look on this
stone and on this--the hard ugliness of one, an insult to the dead,
and the beauty, the pathos, of the other.  And they have immediately
fallen into a melancholy silence, or else they have suddenly become
angry, apparently for no cause.  But the reason probably was that
they had never given a thought to the subject, that when they had
buried someone dear to them--a mother or wife or daughter--they
simply went to the stonemason and ordered a gravestone, leaving him
to fashion it in his own way.  The reason of the reason--the full
explanation of the singular fact that they, in these house-beautiful
and generally art-worshipping times, had given no thought to the
matter until it was unexpectedly sprung upon them; and that if they
had lived, say, a hundred years ago, they would have given it some
thought--this the reader will easily find out for himself.


[Sidenote: Beauty of old gravestones]

It is comforting to reflect that gravestones do not last for ever,
nor for very long; and in the meantime Nature is doing what she can
with our ugly modern memorials, touching, softening, and tingeing
them with her mosses, lichens, and with algæ--her beautiful
_iolithus_.  In most churchyards in southern England we see many
stones stained a {195} peculiar colour, a bright rust-red, darkest in
dry weather, and brightest in wet summers, often varying to pink and
purple and orange; but whatever the hue or shade the effect on the
grey stone, lichened or not, is always beautiful.  It is not a
lichen; when the staining is looked closely at nothing is seen but a
roughness, a powdery appearance, on the stone's surface.  It is an
aerial alga of the genus _Croöleptus_, confined to the southern half
of England, and most common in Hampshire, where its beautifying blush
may sometimes be seen on old stone walls of churches, and old houses
and ruins; but it flourishes most on gravestones, especially in moist
situations.  The stone must not be too hard, and must, moreover, be
acted on by the weather for well-nigh half a century before the alga
begins to show on it; but you will sometimes see it on an
exceptionally soft stone dating no more than thirty or forty years
back.  On old stones it is very common, and peculiarly beautiful in
wet summers.  In June 1902, after many days of rain, I stood one
evening at the little gate at Brockenhurst churchyard, and counted
between me and the church twenty gravestones stained with the red
alga, showing a richness and variety of colouring never seen before,
the result of so much wet weather.  For this alga, which plays so
important a part in nature's softening and beautifying effect on
man's work--which is mentioned in no book unless it be some purely
technical treatise dealing with the lower vegetable forms--this alga,
despite its aerial habit, is still in essence a water-plant: the sun
and dry {196} wind burn its life out and darken it to the colour of
ironstone, so that to anyone who may notice the dark stain it seems a
colour of the stone itself; but when rain falls the colour freshens
and brightens as if the old grey stone had miraculously been made to
live.


[Sidenote: Churchyard yews]

If never a word has been written about that red colour with which
Nature touches the old stones to make them beautiful, a thousand or
ten thousand things have been said about the yew, the chief feature
and ornament of the village churchyard, and many conjectures have we
seen as to the reason of the very ancient custom of planting this
tree where the dead are laid.  The tree itself gives a better reason
than any contained in books.  It says something to the soul in man
which the talking or chattering yew omitted to tell the modern poet;
but very long ago someone said, in the _Death of Fergus_, "Patriarch
of long-lasting woods is the yew; sacred to forests as is well
known."  That ancient sacred character, which survived the
introduction of Christianity, lives still in every mind that has kept
any vestige of animism, the root and essence of all that is wonderful
and sacred in nature.  That red and purple bark is the very colour of
life, and this tree's life, compared with other things, is
everlasting.  The stones we set up as memorials grow worn and seamed
and hoary with age, even like men, and crumble to dust at last; in
time new stones are put in their place, and these, too, grow old and
perish, and {197} are succeeded by others; and through all changes,
through the ages, the tree lives on unchanged.  With its huge, tough,
red trunk; its vast, knotted arms outstretched; its rich, dark mantle
of undying foliage, it stands like a protecting god on the earth,
patriarch and monarch of woods; and indeed it seems but right and
natural that not to oak nor holly, nor any other reverenced tree, but
to the yew it was given to keep guard over the bodies and souls of
those who have been laid in the earth.

The yew is sometimes called the "Hampshire weed," on account of its
abundance in the county; if it must have a second name, I suggest
that the Hampshire or British dragon-tree would be a better and more
worthy one.  It would admirably fit some ancient churchyard yews in
the neighbourhood of Selborne, especially that of Farringdon.

In the great mass of literature concerning Gilbert White, there is
curiously little said about this village; yet it has one of the most
interesting old churches in the county--the church in which White
officiated for over a quarter of a century, during all the best years
of his life, in fact; for when he resigned the curacy at Farringdon
to take that of Selborne, for which he had waited so long, he was
within two years of bidding a formal farewell to natural history, and
within eight of his death.  The church register from 1760 to 1785 is
written in his clear, beautiful hand, and in the rectory garden there
is a large Spanish chestnut-tree planted by him.  Although not so
fortunate in its surroundings as Selborne, with {198} its Lyth and
flowery Bourne and wooded Hanger, Farringdon village, with its noble
church and fine old farm-buildings and old cottages, is the better
village of the two.  At the side of the churchyard there is an old
oast-house, now used as a barn, which for quaintness and beauty has
hardly its match in England.  The churchyard itself is a pretty,
peaceful wilderness, deep in grass, with ivy and bramble hanging to
the trees, and spreading over tombs and mounds.  Long may it be kept
sacred from the gardener, with his abhorred pruning-hook, his basket
of geranium cuttings--inharmonious flower!--and his brushwood broom
to make it all tidy.  Finally, there is the wonderful old yew.

[Sidenote: Farringdon yew]

A great deal has been written first and last about the Selborne yew,
which appears to rank as one of the half-dozen biggest yew trees in
the country.  Its age is doubtless very great, and may greatly exceed
the "thousand years" usually given to a very large churchyard yew.
The yews planted two hundred years ago by Gilbert White's grandfather
in the parsonage garden close by, are but saplings in comparison.  A
black poplar would grow a bigger trunk in less than ten years.  The
Selborne yew was indeed one of the antiquities of the village when
White described it a century and a quarter ago.  It is, moreover, the
best-grown, healthiest, and most vigorous-looking yew of its size in
Britain.  The Farringdon yew, the bigger tree, has a far more aged
aspect--the appearance of a tree which has been decaying for an
exceedingly long period.

{199}

Trees, like men, have their middle period, when their increase slowly
lessens until it ceases altogether; their long stationary period, and
their long decline: each of these periods may, in the case of the
yew, extend to centuries; and we know that behind them all there may
have been centuries of slow growth.  The Selborne yew has added
something to its girth since it was measured by White, and is now
twenty-seven feet round in its biggest part, and exceeds by at least
three feet the big yew at Priors Dean, and the biggest of the three
churchyard yews at Hawkley.  The Farringdon yew in its biggest part,
about five feet from the ground, measures thirty feet, and to judge
by its ruinous condition it must have ceased adding to its bulk more
than a century ago.  One regrets that White gave no account of its
size and appearance in his day.  It has, in the usual manner, decayed
above and below, the upper branches dying down while the trunk rots
away beneath, the tree meanwhile keeping itself alive and renewing
its youth, as it were, by means of that power which the yew possesses
of saving portions of its trunk from complete decay by covering them
inside and out with new bark.

In the churchyard yew at Crowhurst, Surrey, we see that the upper
part of the tree has decayed until nothing but the low trunk, crowned
with a poor fringe of late branches, has been left; in this case the
trunk remains outwardly almost entire--an empty shell or cylinder,
large enough to accommodate fourteen persons on the circular bench
placed within the cavity.  In other cases we see that the trunk has
{200} been eaten through and through, and split up into strips; that
the strips, covered inside with new bark, have become separate
trunks, in some instances united above, as in that of the yew in
South Hayling churchyard.  The Farringdon tree has decayed below in
this way; long strips from the top to the roots have rotted and
turned to dust; and the sound portions, covered in and out with bark,
form a group of half a dozen flattened boles, placed in a circle, all
but one, which springs from the middle, and forms a fantastically
twisted column in the centre of the edifice.  Between this central
strangely shaped bole, now dead, and the surrounding ring there is
space for a man to walk round in.

It is a wonderful tree, which White looked at every day for
five-and-twenty years, yet never mentioned, and which Loe says
nothing about in his _Yew Trees of Great Britain and Ireland_.  The
title of this work is misleading: _Famous Yew Trees_ it should have
been, since it is nothing but a collection of facts as to size,
supposed age, etc., of trees that have often been measured and
described, and are accordingly well known.  It is well, to my way of
thinking, that he attempted nothing more.  It is always a depressing
thought, when one has discovered a wonderful or a beautiful thing,
that a very full and very exact account of it is and must be
contained in some musty monograph by some industrious, dreary person.
At all events, I can say that the yew trees which have most attracted
me, which come up when I think of the yew as a wonderful and a sacred
tree, are not {201} in the book.  Of my Hampshire favourites I will,
for a special reason, speak of but one more--the yew in the
churchyard of Hurstbourne Priors, a small village on the upper Test,
near Andover.

[Sidenote: Hurstbourne Priors yew]

This tree, which is doubtless very aged, has not grown an enormous
trunk, nor is it high for an old yew, but its appearance is
nevertheless strangely impressive, owing to the length of its lower
horizontal branches, which extend to a distance of thirty to
thirty-five feet from the trunk, and would lie on the ground if not
kept up by props.  Another thing which make one wonder is the number
of graves that are crowded together beneath these vast sheltering
arms.  One may count over thirty stones, some very old; many more
have probably perished, and there are besides many green mounds.  I
have watched in a churchyard in the Midlands a grave being dug under
a yew, at about three yards' distance from the trunk: a barrowful of
roots was taken out during the process.  It seemed to me that a very
serious injury was being inflicted on the tree, and it is probable
that many of our very old churchyard yews have been dwarfed in their
growth by such cutting of the roots.  But what shall we say of the
Hurstbourne Priors yew, from which not one but thirty or forty
barrow-loads of living roots must have been taken at various times to
make room for so many coffins!  And what is the secret of the custom
in this, and probably other villages, of putting the dead so close to
or under the shelter of the tree?

Compare this Hurstbourne Priors yew, and many {202} other ancient
churchyard yews in Hampshire, with that of Selborne, which albeit
probably no older is double their size: is it not probable that the
Selborne tree is the largest, best grown, and most vigorous of the
old yews because it has not been mutilated at its roots as the others
have been?

There is but one grave beneath or near this tree; not the grave of
any important person, but a nameless green mound of some obscure
peasant.  I had often looked with a feeling almost of astonishment at
that solitary conspicuous mound in such a place, midway between the
trunk of the tree and the church door, wondering who it was whose
poor remains had been so honoured, and why it was.  Then by chance I
found out the whole story; but it came to me in scraps, at different
times and places, and that is how I will give it to the reader, in
fragments, in the course of the following chapter.



{203}

CHAPTER X

Wolmer Forest--Charm of contrast and novelty in scenery--Aspect of
Wolmer--Heath and pine--Colour of water and soil--An old woman's
recollections--Story of the "Selborne mob"--Past and present times
compared--Hollywater Clump--Age of trees--Bird life in the
forest--Teal in their breeding haunts--Boys in the forest--Story of
the horn-blower.


The first part of the story of that Selborne mound in a strange place
was heard at Wolmer Forest, over five years ago, during my first
prolonged visit to that spot.  I have often been there since, and
have stayed many days, but a first impression of a place, as of a
face, is always the best, the brightest, the truest, and I wish to
describe Wolmer as I saw it then.

It struck me on that visit that the pleasure we have in visible
nature depends in a measure on contrast and novelty.  Never is moist
verdure so refreshing and delightful to the eye as when we come to it
from brown heaths and grey barren downs and uplands.  So, too, the
greenness of the green earth sharpens our pleasure in all stony and
waste places; trim flower gardens show us the beauty of thorns and
briars, and make us in love with desolation.  As in light and shade,
wet and dry, tempest and calm, so the peculiar attractions of each
scene and aspect of nature are best "illustrated by their contraries."

I had, accordingly, the best preparation for a visit {204} to Wolmer
by a few days' ramble in Alice Holt Forest, with its endless oaks,
and in the luxuriant meadows and cool shady woods at Waverley Abbey.
It was a great change to Wolmer Forest.  Although its soil is a
"hungry, bare sand," it has long been transformed from the naked
heath of Gilbert White's time to a vast unbroken plantation.  Looked
upon from some eminence it has a rough, dark aspect.  There are no
smooth summits and open pleasant places; all is covered by the shaggy
mantle of the pines.  But it is nowhere gloomy, as pine woods are apt
to be: the trees are not big enough, on account of that hungry sand
in which they are rooted, or because they are not yet very old.  The
pines not being too high and shady to keep the sun and air out, the
old aboriginal vegetation has not been killed: in most places the
ling forms a thick undergrowth, and looks green, while outside of the
forest, in the full glare of the sun, it has a harsh, dry, dead
appearance.

On account of this abundance of ling a strange and lovely appearance
is produced in some favourable years, when the flowers are in great
profusion and all the plants blossom at one time.  That most
beautiful sight of the early spring, when the bloom of the wild
hyacinth forms a sheet of azure colour under the woodland trees, is
here repeated in July, but with a difference of hue both in the trees
above and in the bloom beneath.

[Sidenote: Wolmer Forest]

In May, Wolmer is comparatively flowerless, and there is no bright
colour, except that of the earth itself in some naked spot.  The
water of the sluggish {205} boggy streamlets in the forest,
tributaries of the well-named Dead Water, takes a deep red or orange
hue from the colour of the soil.  The sand abounds with ironstone,
which in the mass is deep rust-red- and purple-coloured.  When
crushed and pulverised by traffic and weather on the roads, it turns
to a vivid chrome yellow.  In the hot noonday sun the straight road
that runs through the forest appeared like a yellow band or ribbon.
That was a curious and novel picture, which I often had before me
during the excessively dry and windy weather in May--the vast
whity-blue, hot sky, without speck or stain of cloud above, and the
dark forest covering the earth, cut through by that yellow zone,
extending straight away until it was lost in the hazy distance.  Even
stranger was the appearance when the wind blew strongest and raised
clouds of dust from the road, which flew like fiery yellow vapours
athwart the black pines.

[Sidenote: The "Selborne mob"]

In a small house by the roadside in the middle of the forest I found
a temporary home.  My aged landlady proved a great talker, and
treated me to a good deal of Hampshire dialect.  Her mind was well
stored with ancient memories.  At first I let her ramble on without
paying too much attention; but at length, while speaking of the many
little ups and downs of her not uneventful life, she asked me if I
knew Selborne, and then informed me that she was a native of that
village, and that her family had lived there for generations.  Her
mother had reached the age of eighty-six years; she had married {206}
her third husband when over seventy.  By her first she had had two
and by her second thirteen children, and my informant, who is now
aged seventy-six, was the last born.  This wonderful mother of hers,
who had survived three husbands, and whose memory went back several
years into the eighteenth century, had remembered the Rev. Gilbert
White very well: she was aged about twelve when he died.  It was
wonderful, she said, how many interesting things she used to tell
about him; for Gilbert White, whose name was known to the great world
outside of his parish, was often in her mind when she recalled her
early years.  Unfortunately, these interesting things had now all
slipped out of my landlady's memory.  Whenever I brought her to the
point she would stand with eyes cast down, the fingers of her right
hand on her forehead, trying--trying to recall something to tell me:
a simple creature, who was without imagination, and could invent
nothing.  Then little by little she would drift off into something
else--to recollections of people and events not so remote in time,
scenes she had witnessed herself, and which had made a deeper
impression on her mind.  One was how her father, her mother's second
husband, had acted as horn-blower to the "Selborne mob," when the
poor villagers were starving; and how, blowing on his horn, he had
assembled his fellow-revolutionists, and led them to an attack on the
poorhouse, where they broke down the doors and made a bonfire of the
furniture; then on to the neighbouring village of Headley to get
recruits for their {207} little army.  Then the soldiery arrived on
the scene, and took them prisoners and sent them to Winchester, where
they were tried by some little unremembered Judge Jeffreys, who
sentenced many or most of them to transportation; but not the
horn-blower, who had escaped, and was in hiding among the beeches of
the famous Selborne Hanger.  Only at midnight he would steal down
into the village to get a bite of food and hear the news from his
vigorous and vigilant wife.  At length, during one of these midnight
descents, he was seen, and captured, and sent to Winchester.  But by
this time the authorities had grown sick--possibly ashamed--of
dealing so harshly with a few poor peasants, whose sufferings had
made them mad, and the horn-blower was pardoned, and died in bed at
home when his time came.

I did not cease questioning the poor woman, because she would not
admit that all she had heard about Gilbert White was gone past
recall.  Often and often had she thought of what her mother had told
her.  Up to within two or three years ago she remembered it all so
well.  What was it now?  Once more, standing dejected in the middle
of the room, she would cudgel her old brains.  So much had happened
since she was a girl.  She had been brought up to farm-work.  Here
would follow the names of various farms in the parishes of Selborne,
Newton Valence, and Oakhanger, where she had worked, mostly in the
fields; and of the farmers, long dead and gone most of them, who had
employed her.  All her life she had worked {208} hard, struggling to
live.  When people complained of hard times now, of the little that
was paid them for their work, she and her husband remembered what it
was thirty and forty and fifty years ago, and they wondered what
people really wanted.  Cheap food, cheap clothing, cheap education
for the children--everything was cheap now, and the pay more.  And
she had had so many children to bring up--ten; and seven of them were
married, and were now having so many children of their own that she
could hardly keep count of them.

It was idle to listen; and at last, in desperation, I would jump up
and rush out, for the wind was calling in the pines, and the birds
were calling, and what they had to tell was just then of more
interest than any human story.

Not far from my cottage there was a hill, from the summit of which
the whole area of the forest was visible, and the country all round
for many leagues beyond it.  I did not like this hill, and refused to
pay it a second visit.  The extent of country it revealed made the
forest appear too small; it spoilt the illusion of a practically
endless wilderness, where I could stroll about all day and see no
cultivated spot, and no house, and perhaps no human form.  It was,
moreover, positively disagreeable to be stared at across the ocean of
pines by a big, brand-new, red-brick mansion, standing conspicuous,
unashamed, affronting nature, on some wide heath or lonely hillside.

[Sidenote: Hollywater Clump]

A second hill, not far from the first, was preferable {209} when I
wished for a wide horizon, or to drink the wind and the music of the
wind.  Round and dome-like, it stood alone; and although not so high
as its neighbour, it was more conspicuous, and seen from a distance
appeared to be vastly higher.  The reason of this was that it was
crowned with a grove of Scotch firs with boles that rose straight and
smooth and mast-like to a height of about eighty feet; thus, seen
from afar, the hill looked about a hundred feet higher than it
actually was, the tree-tops themselves forming a thick, round dome,
conspicuous above the surrounding forest, and Wolmer's most prominent
feature.  I have often said of Hampshire--very many persons have said
the same--that it lacks one thing--sublimity, or, let us say,
grandeur.  I have been over all its high, open down country, and upon
all its highest hills, which, although rising to a thousand feet
above the sea at one point, yet do not impress one so much as the
South Downs; and I have been in all its forest lands, which have
wildness and a thousand beauties, and one asks for nothing better.
But the Hollywater Clump in Wolmer Forest as soon as I come in sight
of it wakes in me another sense and feeling; and I have found in
conversation with others on this subject that they are affected in
the same way.  I doubt if anyone can fail to experience such a
feeling when looking on that great hill-top grove, a stupendous
pillared temple, with its dome-like black roof against the sky,
standing high above and dominating the sombre pine and heath country
for miles around.

{210}

[Sidenote: Bird life in the forest]

Gilbert White described Wolmer as a naked heath with very few trees
growing on it.  The Hollywater Clump must, one cannot but think, have
been planted before or during his time.  One old native of Wolmer,
whose memory over five years ago went back about sixty years, assured
me that the trees looked just as big when he was a little boy as they
do now.  Undoubtedly they are very old, and many, we see, are
decaying, and some are dead, and for many years past they have been
dying and falling.

The green woodpecker had discovered the unsoundness of many of them;
in some of the trunks, in their higher part, the birds had made
several holes.  These were in line, one above the other, like stops
in a flute.  Most of these far-up houses or flats were tenanted by
starlings.  This was only too apparent for the starling, although
neat and glossy in his dress is an untidy tenant, and smears the
trunk beneath the entrance to his nest with numberless droppings.
You might fancy that he had set himself to whitewash his tenement,
and had carelessly capsized his little bucket of lime on the
threshold.

It was pleasant in the late afternoon to sit at the feet of these
stately red columns--this brave company of trees, that are warred
against by all the winds of heaven--and look upon the black legions
of the forest covering the earth beneath them for miles.  High up in
the swaying, singing tops a kind of musical talk was audible--the
starlings' medley of clinking, chattering, wood-sawing,
knife-grinding, whistling, and bell-like sounds.  Higher still, above
{211} the tree-tops, the jackdaws were at their aerial gambols,
calling to one another, exulting in the wind.  They were not breeding
there, but were attracted to the spot by the height of the hill, with
its crown of soaring trees.  Some strong-flying birds--buzzards,
kites, vultures, gulls, and many others--love to take their exercise
far from earth, making a playground of the vast void heaven.  The
wind-loving jackdaw, even in his freest, gladdest moments, never
wholly breaks away from the earth, and for a playground prefers some
high, steep place--a hill, cliff, spire, or tower--where he can perch
at intervals, and from which he can launch himself, as the impulse
takes him, either to soar and float above, or to cast himself down
into the airy gulf below.

Stray herons, too, come to the trees to roost.  The great bird could
be seen far off, battling with the wind, rising and falling, blown to
this side and that, now displaying his pale under-surface, and now
the slaty blue of his broad, slow-flapping wings.

As the sun sank nearer to the horizon, the tall trunks would catch
the level beams and shine like fiery pillars, and the roof thus
upheld would look darker and gloomier by contrast.  With the passing
of that red light, the lively bird-notes would cease, the trees would
give forth a more solemn, sea-like sound, and the day would end.

My days, during all the time I spent at Wolmer, when I had given up
asking questions, and my poor old woman had ceased cudgelling her
brains for lost memories, were spent with the birds.  The yaffle,
{212} nightjar, and turtle-dove were the most characteristic species.
Wolmer is indeed the metropolis of the turtle-doves, even as
Savernake is (or was) that of the jays and jackdaws.  All day long
the woods were full of the low, pleasing sound of their cooing: as
one walked among the pines they constantly rose up in small flocks
from the ground with noisy wines and as they flew out into some open
space to vanish again in the dark foliage, their wings in the strong
sunlight often looked white as silver.  But the only native species I
wish to speak of is the teal as I found it a little over five years
ago.  In Wolmer these pretty entertaining little ducks have bred
uninterruptedly for centuries, but I greatly fear that the changes
now in progress--the increase of the population, building, the large
number of troops kept close by, and perhaps, too, the slow drying up
of the marshy pools--will cause them to forsake their ancient haunts.

[Sidenote: Teal]

By chance I very soon discovered their choicest breeding-place, not
far from that dome-shaped, fir-crowned hill which was my principal
landmark.  This was a boggy place, thirty or forty acres in extent
surrounded by trees and overgrown with marsh weeds and grasses, and
in places with rushes.  Cotton grass grew in the drier parts, and the
tufts nodding in the wind looked at a distance like silvery white
flowers.  At one end of the marsh there were clumps of willow and
alder, where the reed-bunting was breeding and the grasshopper
warbler uttered his continuous whirring sound, which seemed to accord
{213} with the singing of the wind in the pines.  At the other end
there was open water with patches of rushes growing in it; and here
at the water's edge, shaded by a small fir, I composed myself on a
bed of heather to watch the birds.

The inquisitive moor-hens were the first to appear, uttering from
time to time their sharp, loud protest.  Their suspicion lessened by
degrees, but was never wholly laid aside; and one bird, slyly leaving
the water, made a wide circuit and approached me through the trees in
order to get a better view of me.  A sudden movement on my part, when
he was only three yards from me, gave him a terrible fright.
Mallards showed themselves at intervals, swimming into the open
water, or rising a few yards above the rushes, then dropping out of
sight again.  Where the rushes grew thin and scattered, ducklings
appeared, swimming one behind the other, busily engaged in snatching
insects from the surface.  By-and-by a pair of teal rose up, flew
straight towards me, and dropped into the open water within eighteen
yards of where I sat.  They were greatly excited, and no sooner
touched the water than they began calling loudly; then, from various
points, others rose and hurried to join them, and in a few moments
there were eleven, all disporting themselves on the water at that
short distance.  Teal are always tamer than ducks of other kinds, but
the tameness of these Wolmer birds was astonishing and very
delightful.  For a few moments I imagined they were excited at my
presence, but it very soon appeared that they were entirely absorbed
{214} in their own affairs and cared nothing about me.  What a
wonderfully lively, passionate, variable, and even ridiculous little
creature the teal is!  Compared with his great relations--swans,
geese, and the bigger ducks--he is like a monkey or squirrel among
stately bovine animals.  Now the teal have a world-wide range, being
found in all climates, and are of many species; they are, moreover,
variable in plumage, some species having an exceedingly rich and
beautiful colouring; but wherever found, and however different in
colour, they are much the same in disposition--they are loquacious,
excitable, violent in their affections beyond other ducks, and,
albeit highly intelligent, more fearless than other birds habitually
persecuted by man.  A sedate teal is as rare as a sober-coloured
humming-bird.  The teal is also of so social a temper that even in
the height of the breeding season he is accustomed to meet his
fellows at little gatherings.  A curious thing is that at these
meetings they do not, like most social birds, fall into one mind, and
comport themselves in an orderly, disciplined manner, all being moved
by one contagious impulse.  On the contrary, each bird appears to
have an impulse of his own, and to follow it without regard to what
his fellows may be doing.  One must have his bath, another his
frolic; one falls to courting, another to quarrelling, or even
fighting, and so on, and the result is a lively splashing, confused
performance, which is amusing to see.  It was an exhibition of this
kind which I was so fortunate as to witness at the Wolmer pond.  The
body-jerking {215} antics and rich, varied plumage of the drakes gave
them a singular as well as a beautiful appearance; and as they dashed
and splashed about, sometimes not more than fourteen yards from me,
their motions were accompanied by all the cries and calls they
have--their loud call, which is a bright and lively sound;
chatterings and little, sharp, exclamatory notes; a long trill,
somewhat metallic or bell-like; and a sharp, nasal cry, rapidly
reiterated several times, like a laugh.

After they had worked off their excitement and finished their fun
they broke up into pairs and threes, and went off in various
directions, and I saw no more of them.

It was not until the sun had set that a snipe appeared.  First one
rose from the marsh and began to play over it in the usual manner,
then another rose to keep him company, and finally a third.  Most of
the time they hovered with their breasts towards me, and seen through
my glass against the pale luminous sky, their round, stout bodies,
long bills, and short, rapidly vibrating wings, gave them the
appearance of gigantic insects rather than birds.

[Sidenote: Boys in the forest]

At length, tired of watching them, I stretched myself out in the
ling, but continued listening, and while thus occupied an amusing
incident occurred.  A flock of eighteen mallards rose up with a
startled cry from the marsh at a distance, and after flying once or
twice round, dropped down again.  Then the sound of crackling
branches and of voices talking {216} became audible advancing round
the marsh towards me.  It was the first human sound I had heard that
day at that spot.  Then the sounds ceased, and after a couple of
minutes of silence I glanced round in the direction they had
proceeded from, and beheld a curious sight.  Three boys, one about
twelve years old, the others smaller, were grouped together on the
edge of the pool, gazing fixedly across the water at me.  They had
taken me for a corpse, or an escaped criminal, or some such dreadful
object, lying there in the depth of the forest.  The biggest boy had
dropped on to one knee among the rough heather, while the others,
standing on either side, were resting their hands on his shoulders.
Seen thus, in their loose, threadbare, grey clothes and caps, struck
motionless, their white, scared faces, parted lips, and wildly
staring eyes turned to me, they were like a group cut in stone.  I
laughed and waved my hand to them, whereupon their faces relaxed, and
they immediately dropped into natural attitudes.  Very soon they
moved away among the trees, but after eight or ten minutes they
reappeared near me, and finally, from motives of curiosity, came
uninvited to my side.  They proved to be very good specimens of the
boy naturalist; thorough little outlaws, with keen senses, and the
passion for wildness strong in them.  They told me that when they
went bird-nesting they made a day of it, taking bread and cheese in
their pockets, and not returning till the evening.  For an hour we
talked in the fading light of day on the wild creatures in the
forest, until we could no {217} longer endure the cloud of gnats that
had gathered round us.


About three years after the visit to Wolmer I made the acquaintance
of a native of Selborne, whose father had taken part as a lad in the
famous "Selborne mob," and who confirmed the story I had heard about
the horn-blower, whose name was Newland.  He had been a soldier in
his early manhood before he returned to his native village and
married the widow who bore him so many children.  It was quite true
that he had died at home, in bed, and what was more, he added, he was
buried just between the church porch and the yew, where he was all by
himself.  How he came to be buried there he did not know.

Lately, in October 1902, I heard the finish of the story.  I found an
old woman, a widow named Garnett, an elder sister of the woman at
Wolmer Forest.  She is eighty years old, but was not born until a
year or two after the "Selborne mob" events, which fixes the date of
that outbreak about the year 1820.  She has a brother, now in a
workhouse, about two years older than herself, who was a babe in arms
at that time.  When Newland was at last captured and sent to
Winchester, his poor wife, with her baby in her arms, set out on foot
to visit him in gaol.  It was a long tramp for her thus burdened, and
it was also in the depth of one of the coldest winters ever known.
She started early, but did not get to her destination until the
following morning, and not {218} without suffering a fresh misfortune
by the way.  Before dawn, when the cold was most intense, while
walking over Winchester Hill, her baby's nose was frozen; and though
everything proper was done when she arrived at the houses, it never
got quite right.  His injured nose, which turns to a dark-blue colour
and causes him great suffering in cold weather, has been a trouble
and misery to him all his life long.

[Sidenote: Story of the horn-blower]

Newland, we know, was forgiven and returned to spend the rest of his
life in his village, where he died at last of sheer old age, passing
very quietly away after receiving the sacrament from the vicar, and
in the presence of his faithful old wife and his children and
grandchildren.

After he was dead, two of his children--my informant, and that
brother who as a babe had travelled to Winchester in his mother's
arms in cold weather--talked together about him and his life, and of
all he had suffered and of his goodness, and in both their minds
there was one idea, an anxious wish that his descendants should not
allow him to go out of memory.  And there was no way known to them to
keep him in mind except by burying him in some spot by himself, where
his mound would be alone and apart.  Finally, brother and sister,
plucking up courage, went to the vicar, the well-remembered Mr.
Parsons, who built the new vicarage and the church school, and begged
him to let them bury their father by the yew tree near the porch, and
he good-naturedly consented.

That was how Newland came to be buried at that {219} spot; but before
many days the vicar went to them in a great state of mind, and said
that he had made a terrible mistake, that he had done wrong in
consenting to the grave being made there, and that their father must
be taken up and placed at some other spot in the churchyard.  They
were grieved at this, but could say nothing.  But for some reason the
removal never took place, and in time the son and daughter themselves
began to regret that they had buried their father there where they
could never keep the mound green and fresh.  People going in or
coming out of church on dark evenings stumbled or kicked their boots
against it, or when they stood there talking to each other they would
rest a foot on it, and romping children sat on it, so that it always
had a ragged, unkept appearance, do what they would.

It is certainly an unsightly mound.  It would be better to do away
with it, and to substitute a small memorial stone with a suitable
inscription placed level with the turf.



{220}

CHAPTER XI

The Hampshire people--Racial differences in neighbouring counties--A
neglected subject--Inhabitants of towns--Gentry and peasantry--Four
distinct types--The common blonde type--Lean women--Deleterious
effects of tea-drinking--A shepherd's testimony--A mixed race--The
Anglo-Saxon--Case of reversion of type--Un-Saxon character of the
British--Dark-eyed Hampshire people--Racial feeling with regard to
eye-colours--The Iberian type--Its persistence--Character of the
small dark man--Dark and blonde children--A dark village child.


The history of the horn-blower and his old wife, and their still
living aged children, serves to remind me that this book, which
contains so much about all sorts of creatures and forms of life, from
spiders and flies to birds and beasts, and from red alga on
gravestones to oaks and yews, has so far had almost nothing to say
about our own species--of that variety which inhabits Hampshire.

[Sidenote: Racial differences]

If the critical reader asks what is here meant by "variety," what
should I answer him?  On going directly from any other district in
southern England to the central parts of Hampshire one is sensible of
a difference in the people.  One is still in southern England, and
the peasantry, like the atmosphere, climate, soil, the quiet but
verdurous and varied scenery, are more or less like those of other
neighbouring counties--Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Berkshire, {221} Wilts,
and Dorset.  In general appearance, at all events, the people are
much the same; and the dialect, where any survives, and even the
quality of the voices, closely resemble those in adjoining counties.
Nevertheless there is a difference; even the hasty seers who are
almost without the faculty of observation are vaguely cognisant of
it, though they would not be able to say what it consisted in.
Probably it would puzzle anyone to say wherein Hampshire differed
from all the counties named, since each has something individual;
therefore it would be better to compare Hampshire with some one
county near it, or with a group of neighbouring counties in which
some family resemblance is traceable.  Somerset, Devon, Wilts, and
Dorset--these answer the description, and I leave out Cornwall only
because its people are unknown to me.  The four named have seemed to
me the most interesting counties in southern England; but if I were
to make them five by adding Hampshire, the verdict of nine persons
out of ten, all equally well acquainted with the five, would probably
be that it was the least interesting.  They would probably say that
the people of Hampshire were less good-looking, that they had less
red colour in their skins, less pure colour in their eyes; that they
had less energy, if not less intelligence, or at all events were less
lively, and had less humour.

These differences between the inhabitants of neighbouring and of
adjoining counties are doubtless in some measure due to local
conditions, of soil, climate, {222} food, customs, and so on, acting
for long generations on a stay-at-home people: but the main
differences are undoubtedly racial; and here we are on a subject in
which we poor ordinary folk who want to know are like sheep wandering
shepherdless in some wilderness, bleating in vain for guidance in a
maze of fleece-tearing brambles.  It is true that the ethnologists
and anthropologists triumphantly point out that the Jute type of man
may be recognised in the Isle of Wight, and in a less degree even in
the Meon district; for the rest, with a wave of the hand to indicate
the northern half of the county, they say that all that is or ought
to be more or less Anglo-Saxon.  That's all; since, as they tell us,
the affinities of the South Hampshire people, of the New Forest
district especially, have not yet been worked out.  Not being an
anthropologist I can't help them; and am even inclined to think that
they have left undone some of the things which they ought to have
done.  The complaint was made in a former chapter that we had no
monograph on fleas to help us; it may be made, too, with regard to
the human race in Hampshire.  The most that one can do in such a
case, since man cannot be excluded from the subjects which concern
the naturalist, is to record one's own poor little unscientific
observations, and let them go for what they are worth.

[Sidenote: Gentry and peasantry]

There is little profit in looking at the townspeople.  The big coast
towns have a population quite as heterogeneous as that of the
metropolis; even in a comparatively small rural inland town, like
Winchester, {223} one would be puzzled to say what the chief
characteristics of the people were.  You may feel in a vague way that
they are unlike the people of, say, Guildford, or Canterbury, or
Reading, or Dorchester, but the variety in forms and faces is too
great to allow of any definite idea.  The only time when the people
even in a town can be studied to advantage in places like Winchester,
Andover, etc., is on a market day, or on a Saturday afternoon, when
the villagers come in to do their marketing.  I have said, in writing
of Somerset and its people, that the gentry, the landowners, and the
wealthy residents generally, are always in a sense foreigners.  The
man may bear a name which has been for many generations in a county,
but he is never racially one with the peasant; and, as John Bright
once said, it is the people who live in cottages that make the
nation.  His parents and his grandparents and his ancestors for
centuries have been mixing their blood with the blood of outsiders.
It is well always to bear this in mind, and in the market-place or
the High Street of the country town to see the carriage people, the
gentry, and the important ones generally as though one saw them not,
or saw them as shadows, and to fix the attention on those who in face
and carriage and dress proclaim themselves true natives and children
of the soil.

Even so there will be variety enough--a little more perhaps than is
wanted by the methodic mind anxious to classify these "insect
tribes."  But after a time--a few months or a few years, let us {224}
say--the observer will perceive that the majority of the people are
divisible into four fairly distinct types, the minority being
composed of intermediate forms and of nondescripts.  There is an
enormous disproportion in the actual numbers of the people of these
distinct types, and it varies greatly in different parts of the
county.  Of the Hampshire people it may be said generally, as we say
of the whole nation, that there are two types--the blonde and the
dark; but in this part of England there are districts where a larger
proportion of dark blood than is common in England generally has
produced a well-marked intermediate type; and this is one of my four
distinct Hampshire types.  I should place it second in importance,
although it comes a very long way after the first type, which is
distinctly blonde.

[Sidenote: Common blonde type]

This first most prevalent type, which greatly outnumbers all the
others put together, and probably includes more than half of the
entire population, is strongest in the north, and extends across the
county from Sussex to Wiltshire.  The Hampshire people in that
district are hardly to be distinguished from those of Berkshire.  One
can see this best by looking at the school-children in a number of
North Hampshire and Berkshire villages.  In sixty or seventy to a
hundred and fifty children in a village school you will seldom find
as many as a dozen with dark eyes.

As was said in a former chapter, there is very little beauty or good
looks in this people; on the other hand, there is just as little
downright ugliness; they are mostly on a rather monotonous level,
just {225} passable in form and features, but with an almost entire
absence of any brightness, physical or mental.  Take the best-looking
woman of this most common type--the description will fit a dozen in
any village.  She is of medium height, and has a slightly oval face
(which, being Anglo-Saxon, she ought not to have), with fairly good
features; a nose fairly straight, or slightly aquiline, and not
small; mouth well moulded, but the lips too thin; chin frequently
pointed.  Her hair is invariably brown, without any red or chestnut
colour in it, generally of a dull or dusty hue; and the eyes are a
pale greyish-blue, with small pupils, and in very many cases a dark
mark round the iris.  The deep blue, any pure blue, in fact, from
forget-me-not to ultramarine, is as rare in this commonest type as
warm or bright hair--chestnut, red, or gold; or as a brilliant skin.
The skin is pallid, or dusky, or dirty-looking.  Even healthy girls
in their teens seldom have any colour, and the exquisite roseate and
carmine reds of other counties are rare indeed.  The best-looking
girls at the time of life when they come nearest to being pretty,
when they are just growing into womanhood, have an unfinished look
which is almost pathetic.  One gets the fancy that Nature had meant
to make them nice-looking, and finally becoming dissatisfied with her
work, left them to grow to maturity anyhow.  It is pathetic, because
there was little more to be done--a rosier blush on the cheek, a
touch of scarlet on the lips, a little brightness and elasticity in
the hair, a pencil of sunlight to make the eyes sparkle.

{226}

In figure this woman is slim, too narrow across the hips, too flat in
the chest.  And she grows thinner with years.  The number of lean,
pale women of this type in Hampshire is very remarkable.  You see
them in every village, women that appear almost fleshless, with a
parchment-like skin drawn tight over the bones of the face,
pale-blue, washed-out eyes, and thin, dead-looking hair.  What is the
reason of this leanness?  It may be that the women of this blonde
type are more subject to poverty of blood than others; for the men,
though often thin, are not so excessively thin as the women.  Or it
may be the effect of that kind of poison which cottage women all over
the country are becoming increasingly fond of, and which is having so
deleterious an effect on the people in many counties--the tea they
drink.  Poison it certainly is: two or three cups a day of the black
juice which they obtain by boiling and brewing the coarse Indian teas
at a shilling a pound which they use, would kill me in less than a
week.

Or it may be partly the poison of tea and partly the bad conditions,
especially the want of proper food, in the villages.  One day on the
downs near Winchester I found a shepherd with his flock, a man of
about fifty, and as healthy and strong-looking a fellow as I have
seen in Hampshire.  Why was it, I asked him, that he was the only man
of his village I had seen with the colour of red blood in his face?
why did they look so unwholesome generally? why were the women so
thin, and the children so stunted {227} and colourless?  He said he
didn't know, but thought that for one thing they did not get enough
to eat.  "On the farm where I work," he said, "there are twelve of
us--nine men, all married, and three boys.  My wages are thirteen
shillings, with a cottage and garden; I have no children, and I
neither drink nor smoke, and have not done so for eighteen years.
Yet I find the money is not too much.  Of the others, the eight
married men all have children--one has got six at home: they all
smoke, and all make a practice of spending at least two evenings each
week at the public-house."  How, after paying for beer and tobacco,
they could support their families on the few shillings that remained
out of their wages was a puzzle to him.

[Sidenote: A mixed race]

But this is to digress.  The prevalent blonde type I have tried to
describe is best seen in the northern half of the county, but is not
so accentuated on the east, north, and west borders as in the
interior villages.  If, as is commonly said, this people is
Anglo-Saxon, it must at some early period have mixed its blood with
that of a distinctly different race.  This may have been the Belgic
or Brythonic, but as shape and face are neither Celtic nor Saxon, the
Brythons must have already been greatly modified by some older and
different race which they, or the Goidels before them, had conquered
and absorbed.  It will be necessary to return to this point by-and-by.

Side by side with this, in a sense, dim and doubtful people, you find
the unmistakable Saxon, the thick-set, {228} heavy-looking,
round-headed man with blue eyes and light hair, and heavy drooping
mustachios--a sort of terrestrial walrus who goes erect.  He is not
abundant as in Sussex, but is represented in almost any village, and
in these villages he is always like a bull-dog or bull-terrier among
hounds, lurchers, and many other varieties, including curs of low
degree.  Mentally, he is rather a dull dog, at all events deficient
in the finer, more attractive qualities.  Leaving aside the spiritual
part, he is a good all-round man, tough and stubborn, one that the
naturalist may have no secret qualms about in treating as an animal.
A being of strong animal nature, and too often in this brewer-ridden
county a hard drinker.  A very large proportion of the men in rural
towns and villages with blotchy skins and watery or beery eyes are of
this type.  Even more offensive than the animality, the mindlessness,
is that flicker of conscious superiority which lives in their
expression.  It is, I fancy, a survival of the old instinctive
feeling of a conquering race amid the conquered.

[Sidenote: Reversion of type]

Nature, we know, is everlastingly harking back, but here in Hampshire
I cannot but think that this type, in spite of its very marked
characters, is a very much muddied and degenerate form.  One is led
to this conclusion by occasionally meeting with an individual whose
whole appearance is a revelation, and strikes the mind with a kind of
astonishment, and one can only exclaim--there is nothing else to
say--Here Nature has at length succeeded in reproducing the pure
unadulterated form!  Such a {229} type I came upon one summer day on
the high downs east of the Itchen.

He was a shepherd, a young fellow of twenty, about five feet eight in
height, but looking short on account of his extraordinary breadth of
shoulders and depth of chest.  His arms were like a blacksmith's, and
his legs thick, and his big head was round as a Dutch cheese.  He
could, I imagined, have made a breach in the stone wall near which I
found him with his flock, if he had lowered that hard round head and
charged like a rhinoceros.  His hair was light brown, and his face a
uniform rosy brown--in all Hampshire no man nor woman had I seen so
beautiful in colour; and his round, keen, piercing eyes were of a
wonderful blue--"eyes like the sea."  If this poor fellow, washed
clean and clothed becomingly in white flannels, had shown himself in
some great gathering at the Oval or some such place on some great
day, the common people would have parted on either side to make way
for him, and would have regarded him with a kind of worship--an
impulse to kneel before him.  There, on the downs, his appearance was
almost grotesque in the dress he wore, made of some fabric intended
to last for ever, but now frayed, worn to threads in places, and
generally earth-coloured.  A small old cap, earth-coloured too,
covered a portion of his big, round head, and his ancient, lumpish,
cracked and clouted boots were like the hoofs of some extinct large
sort of horse which he had found fossilised among the chalk hills.
He had but eleven shillings {230} a week, and could not afford to
spend much on dress.  How he could get enough to eat was a puzzle; he
looked as if he could devour half of one of his muttons at a meal,
washed down with a bucket of beer, without hurt to his digestion.  In
appearance he formed a startling contrast to the people around him:
they were in comparison a worn-out, weary-looking race, dim-eyed,
pale-faced, slow in their movements, as if they had lost all joy and
interest in life.

The sight of him taught me something I could not get from the books.
The intensity of life in his eyes and whole expression; the
rough-hewn face and rude, powerful form--rude but well balanced--the
vigour in his every movement, enabled me to realise better than
anything that history tells us what those men who came as strangers
to these shores in the fifth century were really like, and how they
could do what they did.  They came, a few at a time, in open
row-boats, with nothing but their rude weapons in their hands, and by
pure muscular force, and because they were absolutely without fear
and without compassion, and were mentally but little above a herd of
buffaloes, they succeeded in conquering a great and populous country
with centuries of civilisation behind it.

Talking with him, I was not surprised to find him a discontented man.
He did not want to live in a town--he seemed not to know just what he
wanted, or having but few words he did not know how to say it; but
his mind was in a state of turmoil and revolt, and he could only
curse the head shepherd, {231} the bailiff, the farmer, and, to
finish up, the lord of the manor.  Probably he soon cast away his
crook, and went off in search of some distant place, where he would
be permitted to discharge the energy that seethed and bubbled in
him--perhaps to bite the dust on the African veldt.

This, then, is one of the main facts to be noted in the blonde
Hampshire peasant--the great contrast between the small minority of
persons of the Anglo-Saxon and of the prevalent type.  It was long
ago shown by Huxley that the English people generally are not Saxons
in the shape of the head, and in all Saxon England the divergence has
perhaps been greatest in this southern county.  The oval-faced type,
as I have said, is less pronounced as we approach the borders of
Berkshire, and although the difference is not very great, it is quite
perceptible; the Berkshire people are rather nearer to the common
modified Saxon type of Oxfordshire and the Midlands generally.

[Sidenote: Dark Hampshire people]

In the southern half of Hampshire the dark-eyed, black-haired people
are almost as common as the blonde, and in some localities they are
actually in a majority.  Visitors to the New Forest district often
express astonishment at the darkness and "foreign" appearance of the
people, and they sometimes form the mistaken idea that it is due to a
strong element of gipsy blood.  The darkest Hampshire peasant is
always in shape of head and face the farthest removed from the gipsy
type.

Among the dark people there are two distinct {232} types, as there
are two in the blonde, and it will be understood that I only mean two
that are, in a measure, fixed and easily recognised types; for it
must always be borne in mind that, outside of these distinctive
forms, there is a heterogeneous crowd of persons of all shades and
shapes of face and of great variety in features.  These two dark
types are: First, the small, narrow-headed person of brown skin,
crow-black hair, and black eyes; of this rarest and most interesting
type I shall speak last.  Second, the person of average height,
slightly oval face, and dark eyes and hair.  The accompanying
portrait of a young woman in a village on the Test is a good specimen
of this type.  Now we find that this dark-haired, dark-eyed, and
often dark-skinned people are in stature, figure, shape of head, and
features exactly like the oval-faced blonde people already {233}
described.  They are, light and dark, an intermediate type, and we
can only say that they are one and the same people, the outcome of a
long-mixed race which has crystallised in this form unlike any of its
originals; that the difference in colour is due to the fact that blue
and black in the iris and black and brown in the hair very seldom
mix, these colours being, as has been said, "mutually exclusive."
They persist when everything else, down to the bony framework, has
been modified and the original racial characters obliterated.
Nevertheless, we see that these mutually exclusive colours do mix in
some individuals both in the eyes and hair.  In the grey-blue iris it
appears as a very slight pigmentation, in most cases round the pupil,
but in the hair it is more marked.  Many, perhaps a majority, of the
dark-eyed people we are now considering have some warm brown colour
in their black hair; in members of the same family you will often
find raven-black hair and brownish-black hair; and sometimes in three
brothers or sisters you will find the two original colours, black and
brown, and the intermediate very dark or brownish-black hair.

[Illustration: A HAMPSHIRE GIRL]

The brunette of this oval-faced type is also, as we have seen,
deficient in colour, but, as a rule, she is more attractive than her
light-eyed sister.  This may be due to the appearance of a greater
intensity of life in the dark eye; but it is also probable that there
is almost always some difference in disposition, that black or dark
pigment is correlated with a warmer, quicker, more sympathetic
nature.  The anthropologists tell us that very slight differences in
intensity {234} of pigmentation may correspond to relatively very
great constitutional differences.  One fact in reference to dark- and
light-coloured people which I came upon in Hampshire, struck me as
exceedingly curious, and has suggested the question: Is there in us,
or in some of us, very deep down, and buried out of sight, but still
occasionally coming to life and to the surface, an ancient feeling of
repulsion or racial antipathy between black and blonde?  Are there
mental characteristics, too, that are "mutually exclusive"?  Dark and
light are mixed in very many of us, but, as Huxley has said, the
constituents do not always rightly mix: as a rule, one side is
strongest.  With the dark side strongest in me, I search myself, and
the only evidence I find of such a feeling is an ineradicable dislike
of the shallow frosty blue eye: it makes me shiver, and seems to
indicate a cold, petty, spiteful, and false nature.  This may be
merely a fancy or association, the colour resembling that of the
frosty sky in winter.  In many others the feeling appears to be more
definite.  I know blue-eyed persons of culture, liberal-minded,
religious, charitable, lovers of all men, who declare that they
cannot regard dark-eyed persons as being on the same level, morally,
with the blue-eyed, and that they cannot dissociate black eyes from
wickedness.  This, too, may be fancy or association.  But here in
Hampshire I have been startled at some things I have heard spoken by
dark-eyed people about blondes.  Not of the mitigated Hampshire
blonde, with that dimness in the colour of his skin, and eyes, and
hair, but of the more vivid {235} type with brighter blue eyes, and
brighter or more fiery hair, and the light skin to match.  What I
have heard was to this effect:

"Perhaps it will be all right in the end--we hope it will: he says he
will marry her and give her a home.  But you never know where you are
with a man of that colour--I'll believe it when I see it."

"Yes, he seems all right, and speaks well, and promises to pay the
money.  But look at the colour of his eyes!  No, I can't trust him."

"He's a very nice person, I have no doubt, but his eyes and hair are
enough for me," etc., etc.

Even this may be merely the effect of that enmity or suspicion with
which the stranger, or "foreigner," as he is called, is often
regarded in rural districts.  The person from another county, or from
a distance, unrelated to anyone in the community, is always a
foreigner, and the foreign taint may descend to the children: may it
not be that in Hampshire anyone with bright colour in eyes, hair, and
skin is also by association regarded as a foreigner?

It remains to speak of the last of the four distinct types, the least
common and most interesting of all--the small, narrow-headed man with
very black hair, black eyes, and brown skin.

We are deeply indebted to the anthropologists who have, so to speak,
torn up the books of history, and are re-telling the story of man on
earth: we admire them for their patient industry, and because they
have gone bravely on with their self-appointed task, one peculiarly
difficult in this land of many {236} mixed races, heedless of the
scoffs of the learned or of those who derive their learning from
books alone, and mock at men whose documents are "bones and skins."
But we sometimes see that they (the anthropologists) have not yet
wholly emancipated themselves from the old written falsehoods when
they tell us, as they frequently do, that the Iberian in this country
survives only in the west and the north.  They refer to the small,
swarthy Welshman; to the so-called "black Celt" in Ireland, west of
the Shannon; to the small black Yorkshireman of the Dales, and to the
small black Highlander; and the explanation is that in these
localities remnants of the dark men of the Iberian race who inhabited
Britain in the Neolithic period, were never absorbed by the
conquerors; that, in fact, like the small existing herds of
indigenous white cattle, they have preserved their peculiar physical
character down to the present time by remaining unmixed with the
surrounding blue-eyed people.  But this type is not confined to these
isolated spots in the west and north; it is found here, there, and
everywhere, especially in the southern counties of England: you
cannot go about among the peasants of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and
Dorset without meeting examples of it, and here at all events, it
cannot be said that the ancient British people were not absorbed.
They, the remnant that escaped extermination, were absorbed by the
blue-eyed, broad-headed, tall men, the Goidels we suppose, who
occupied the country at the beginning of the Bronze Age; and the
absorbers were in their {237} turn absorbed by another blue-eyed
race; and these by still another or by others.  The only explanation
appears to be that this type is persistent beyond all others, and
that a very little black blood, after being mixed and re-mixed with
blonde for centuries, even for hundreds of generations, may, whenever
the right conditions occur, reproduce the vanished type in its
original form.

Time brings about its revenges in many strange ways: we see that
there is a continuous and an increasing migration from Wales and the
Highlands into all the big towns in England, and this large and
growing Celtic element will undoubtedly have a great effect on the
population in time, making it less Saxon and more Celtic than it has
been these thousand years past and upwards.  But in all the people,
Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Dane, or what not, there is that older
constituent--infinitely older and perhaps infinitely more persistent;
and this too, albeit in a subtler way, may be working in us to
recover its long-lost world.  That it has gone far in this direction
in Spain, where the blue eye is threatened with extinction, and in
the greater portion, if not all, of France, there appears to be some
evidence to show.  Here, where the Neolithic people were more nearly
exterminated and the remnant more completely absorbed, the return may
be very much slower.  But when we find, as we do in Hampshire and
many other counties, that this constituent in the blood of the
people, after mixture for untold ages with so many other bloods of so
many {238} conquering races, has not only been potent to modify the
entire population, but is able to reproduce the old type in its
pristine purity; and when we almost invariably find that these
ancients born again are better men than those in whom other racial
characters predominate--more intelligent, versatile, adaptive,
temperate, and usually tougher and longer lived, it becomes possible
to believe that in the remote future--there are thousands of years
for this little black leaven to work--these islands will once more be
inhabited by a race of men of the Neolithic type.

In speaking of the character, physical and mental, of the men of
distinctly Iberian type, I must confess that I write only from my own
observation, and that I am hardly justified in founding general
statements on an acquaintance with a very limited number of persons.
My experience is that the men of this type have, generally speaking,
more character than their neighbours, and are certainly very much
more interesting.  In recalling individuals of the peasant class who
have most attracted me, with whom I have become intimate and in some
instances formed lasting friendships, I find that of twenty-five to
thirty no fewer than nine are of this type.  Of this number four are
natives of Hampshire, while the other five, oddly enough, belong to
five different counties.  But I do not judge only from these few
individuals: a rambler about the country who seldom stays many days
in one village or spot cannot become intimately acquainted with the
cottagers.  I judge partly from the few I know well, and partly from
a {239} very much larger number of individuals I have met casually or
have known slightly.  What I am certain of is that the men of this
type, as a rule, differ mentally as widely as they do physically from
persons of other commoner types.  The Iberian, as I know him in
southern and south-western England, is, as I have said, more
intelligent, or at all events, quicker; his brains are nimbler
although perhaps not so retentive or so practical as the slower
Saxon's.  Apart from that point, he has more imagination, detachment,
sympathy--the qualities which attract and make you glad to know a man
and to form a friendship with him in whatever class he may be.  Why
is it, one is sometimes asked, that one can often know and talk with
a Spaniard or Frenchman without any feeling of class distinction, any
consciousness of a barrier, although the man may be nothing but a
workman, while with English peasants this freedom and ease between
man and man is impossible?  It is possible in the case of the man we
are considering, simply because of those qualities I have named,
which he shares with those of his own race on the Continent.

I have found that when one member of a family of mixed light and dark
blood is of the distinctly Iberian type, this one will almost
invariably take a peculiar and in some ways a superior position in
the circle.  The woman especially exhibits a liveliness, humour, and
variety rare indeed among persons born in the peasant class.  She
entertains the visitor, or takes the leading part, and her
slow-witted sisters {240} regard her with a kind of puzzled
admiration.  They are sisters, yet unrelated: their very blood
differs in specific gravity, and their bodily differences correspond
to a mental and spiritual unlikeness.  In my intercourse with people
in the southern counties I have sometimes been reminded of Huxley and
his account of his parents contained in a private letter to Havelock
Ellis.  His father, he said, was a fresh-coloured, grey-eyed
Warwickshire man.  "My mother came of Wiltshire people.  Except for
being somewhat taller than the average type, she was a typical
example of the Iberian variety--dark, thin, rapid in all her ways,
and with the most piercing black eyes I have seen in anybody's head.
Mentally and physically (except in the matter of the beautiful eyes)
I am a piece of my mother, and except for my stature ... I should do
very well for a 'black Celt'--supposed to be the worst variety of
that type."

The contrast between persons of this type and Saxon or blonde has
often seemed to me greatest in childhood, since the blonde at that
period, even in Hampshire, is apt to be a delicate pink and white
whereas the individual of strongly-marked Iberian character is very
dark from birth.  I will, to conclude this perhaps imprudent chapter,
give an instance in point.

[Sidenote: A dark village child]

Walking one day through the small rustic village of Martyr Worthy,
near Winchester, I saw a little girl of nine or ten sitting on the
grass at the side of the wide green roadway in the middle of the
village engaged in binding flowers round her hat.  She was {241}
slim, and had a thin oval face, dark in colour as any dark Spanish
child, or any French child in the "black provinces"; and she had,
too, the soft melancholy black eye which is the chief beauty of the
Spanish, and her loose hair was intensely black.  Even here where
dark eyes and dark hair are so common, her darkness was wonderful by
contrast with a second little girl of round, chubby, rosy face,
pale-yellowish hair, and wide-open blue surprised eyes, who stood by
her side watching her at her task.  The flowers were lying in a heap
at her side; she had wound a long slender spray of traveller's joy
round her brown straw hat, and was now weaving in lychnis and
veronica, with other small red and blue blossoms, to improve her
garland.  I found to my surprise on questioning her that she knew the
names of the flowers she had collected.  An English village child,
but in that Spanish darkness and beauty, and in her grace and her
pretty occupation, how very un-English she seemed!



{242}

CHAPTER XII

Test and Itchen--Vegetation--Riverside villages--The cottage by the
river--Itchen valley--Blossoming limes--Bird
visitors--Goldfinch--Cirl bunting--Song--Plumage--Three common river
birds--Coots--Moor-hen and nest--Little grebes' struggles--Male
grebe's devotion--Parent coot's wisdom--A more or less happy
family--Dogged little grebes--Grebes training their young--Fishing
birds and fascination.


There are no more refreshing places in Hampshire, one might almost
say in England, than the green level valleys of the Test and Itchen
that wind, alternately widening and narrowing, through the downland
country to Southampton Water.  Twin rivers they may be called,
flowing at no great distance apart through the same kind of country,
and closely alike in their general features: land and water
intermixed--greenest water-meadows and crystal currents that divide
and subdivide and join again, and again separate, forming many a
miniature island and long slip of wet meadow with streams on either
side.  At all times refreshing to the sight and pleasant to dwell by,
they are best

  When it is summer and the green is deep.

Greens of darkest bulrushes, tipped with bright brown panicles,
growing in masses where the water is wide and shallowest; of
grey-green graceful reeds and of tallest reed-mace with dark velvety
brown {243} spikes; behind them all, bushes and trees--silvery-leafed
willow and poplar, and dark alder, and old thorns and brambles in
tangled masses; and always in the foreground lighter and brighter
sedges, glaucous green flags, mixed with great hemp agrimony, with
flesh-coloured, white-powdered flowers, and big-leafed comfrey, and
scores of other water and moisture-loving plants.

Through this vegetation, this infinite variety of refreshing greens
and graceful forms, flow the rapid rivers, crystal-clear and cold
from the white chalk, a most beautiful water, with floating
water-grass in it--the fascinating _Poa fluviatilis_ which, rooted in
the pebbly bed, looks like green loosened wind-blown hair swaying and
trembling in the ever-crinkled, swift current.

[Sidenote: Test and Itchen]

They are not long rivers--the Test and Itchen--but long enough for
men with unfevered blood in their veins to find sweet and peaceful
homes on their margins.  I think I know quite a dozen villages on the
former stream, and fifteen or sixteen on the latter, in any one of
which I could spend long years in perfect contentment.  There are
towns, too, ancient Romsey and Winchester, and modern hideous
Eastleigh; but the little centres are best to live in.  These are,
indeed, among the most characteristic Hampshire villages; mostly
small, with old thatched cottages, unlike, yet harmonising,
irregularly placed along the roadside; each with its lowly walls set
among gaily coloured flowers; the farm with its rural sounds and
smells, its big horses and {244} milch-cows led and driven along the
quiet streets; the small ancient church with its low, square tower,
or grey shingled spire; and great trees standing singly or in groups
or rows--oak and elm and ash; and often some ivy-grown relic of
antiquity--ivy, indeed, everywhere.  The charm of these villages that
look as natural and one with the scene as chalk down and trees and
green meadows, and have an air of immemorial quiet and a human life
that is part of nature's life, unstrenuous, slow and sweet, has not
yet been greatly disturbed.  It is not here as in some parts of
Hampshire, and as it is pretty well everywhere in Surrey, that most
favoured county, the Xanadu of the mighty ones of the money-market,
where they oftenest decree their lordly pleasure-domes.  Those vast
red-brick habitations of the Kubla Khans of the city which stare and
glare at you from all openings in pine woods, across wide heaths and
commons, and from hill-sides and hill-tops, produce the idea that
they were turned out complete at some stupendous manufactory of
houses at a distance, and sent out by the hundred to be set up
wherever wanted, and where they are almost always utterly out of
keeping with their surroundings, and consequently a blot on and a
disfigurement of the landscape.

[Sidenote: Itchen Valley]

Happily the downland slopes overlooking these green valleys have so
far been neglected by the class of persons who live in mansions; for
the time being they are ours, and by "ours" I mean all those who love
and reverence this earth.  But which of the two {245} is best I
cannot say.  One prefers the Test and another the Itchen, doubtless
because in a matter of this kind the earth-lover will invariably
prefer the spot he knows most intimately; and for this reason, much
as I love the Test, long as I would linger by it, I love the Itchen
more, having had a closer intimacy with it.  I dare say that some of
my friends, old Wykehamists, who as boys caught their first trout
close by the ancient sacred city and have kept up their acquaintance
with its crystal currents, will laugh at me for writing as I do.  But
there are places, as there are faces, which draw the soul, and with
which, in a little while, one becomes strangely intimate.

The first English cathedral I ever saw was that of Winchester: that
was a long time ago; it was then and on a few subsequent occasions
that I had glimpses of the river that runs by it.  They were like
momentary sights of a beautiful face, caught in passing, of some
person unknown.  Then it happened that in June 1900, cycling
Londonwards from Beaulieu and the coast by Lymington, I came to the
valley, and to a village about half-way between Winchester and
Alresford, on a visit to friends in their summer fishing retreat.

[Sidenote: A riverside cottage]

They had told me about their cottage, which serves them all the best
purposes of a lodge in the vast wilderness.  Fortunately in this case
the "boundless contiguity of shade" of the woods is some little
distance away, on the other side of the ever green Itchen valley,
which, narrowing at this spot, is not much more than a couple of
hundred yards wide.  {246} A long field's length away from the
cottage is the little ancient, rustic, tree-hidden village.  The
cottage, too, is pretty well hidden by trees, and has the reed- and
sedge- and grass-green valley and swift river before it, and behind
and on each side green fields and old untrimmed hedges with a few old
oak trees growing both in the hedgerows and the fields.  There is
also an ancient avenue of limes which leads nowhere and whose origin
is forgotten.  The ground under the trees is overgrown with long
grass and nettles and burdock; nobody comes or goes by it, it is only
used by the cattle, the white and roan and strawberry shorthorns that
graze in the fields and stand in the shade of the limes on very hot
days.  Nor is there any way or path to the cottage; but one must go
and come over the green fields, wet or dry.  The avenue ends just at
the point where the gently sloping chalk down touches the level
valley, and the half-hidden, low-roofed cottage stands just there,
with the shadow of the last two lime trees falling on it at one side.
It was an ideal spot for a nature-lover and an angler to pitch his
tent upon.  Here a small plot of ground, including the end of the
lime-tree avenue, was marked out, a hedge of sweetbriar planted round
it, the cottage erected, and a green lawn made before it on the river
side, and beds of roses planted at the back.

Nothing more--no gravel walks; no startling scarlet geraniums, no
lobelias, no cinerarias, no calceolarias, nor other gardeners'
abominations to hurt one's eyes and make one's head ache.  And no
dog, {247} nor cat, nor chick, nor child--only the wild birds to keep
one company.  They knew how to appreciate its shelter and
solitariness; they were all about it, and built their nests amid the
great green masses of ivy, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, rose, and
wild clematis which covered the trellised walls and part of the red
roof with a twelve years' luxuriant growth.  To this delectable spot
I returned on 21st July to see the changeful summer of 1900 out, my
friends having gone north and left me their cottage for a habitation.

"There is the wind on the heath, brother," and one heartily agrees
with the half-mythical Petulengro that it is a very good thing; it
had, indeed, been blowing off and on in my face for many months past;
and from shadeless heaths and windy downs, and last of all, from the
intolerable heat and dusty desolation of London in mid-July, it was a
delightful change to this valley.

During the very hot days that followed it was pleasure enough to sit
in the shade of the limes most of the day; there was coolness,
silence, melody, fragrance; and, always before me, the sight of that
moist green valley, which made one cool simply to look at it, and
never wholly lost its novelty.  The grass and herbage grow so
luxuriantly in the water-meadows that the cows grazing there were
half-hidden in their depth; and the green was tinged with the purple
of seeding grasses, and red of dock and sorrel, and was everywhere
splashed with creamy white of meadow-sweet.  The channels of the
swift {248} many-channelled river were fringed with the livelier
green of sedges and reed-mace, and darkest green of bulrushes, and
restful grey of reeds not yet in flower.

[Sidenote: Bird visitors]

The old limes were now in their fullest bloom; and the hotter the day
the greater the fragrance, the flower, unlike the woodbine and
sweetbriar, needing no dew nor rain to bring out its deliciousness.
To me, sitting there, it was at the same time a bath and atmosphere
of sweetness, but it was very much more than that to all the
honey-eating insects in the neighbourhood.  Their murmur was loud all
day till dark, and from the lower branches that touched the grass
with leaf and flower to their very tops the trees were peopled with
tens and with hundreds of thousands of bees.  Where they all came
from was a mystery; somewhere there should be a great harvest of
honey and wax as a result of all this noise and activity.  It was a
soothing noise, according with an idle man's mood in the July
weather; and it harmonised with, forming, so to speak, an appropriate
background to, the various distinct and individual sounds of bird
life.

The birds were many, and the tree under which I sat was their
favourite resting-place; for not only was it the largest of the
limes, but it was the last of the row, and overlooked the valley, so
that when they flew across from the wood on the other side they
mostly came to it.  It was a very noble tree, eighteen feet in
circumference near the ground; at about twenty feet from the root,
the trunk divided into two central boles and several of lesser size,
and {249} these all threw out long horizontal and drooping branches,
the lowest of which feathered down to the grass.  One sat as in a
vast pavilion, and looked up to a height of sixty or seventy feet
through wide spaces of shadow and green sunlight, and sunlit
golden-green foliage and honey-coloured blossom, contrasting with
brown branches and with masses of darkest mistletoe.

Among the constant succession of bird visitors to the tree above me
were the three pigeons--ring-dove, stock-dove, and turtle-dove;
finches, tree-warblers, tits of four species, and the wren,
tree-creeper, nuthatch, and many more.  The best vocalists had ceased
singing; the last nightingale I had heard utter its full song was in
the oak woods of Beaulieu on 27th June: and now all the
tree-warblers, and with them chaffinch, thrush, blackbird, and robin,
had become silent.  The wren was the leading songster, beginning his
bright music at four o'clock in the morning, and the others, still in
song, that visited me were the greenfinch, goldfinch, swallow,
dunnock, and cirl bunting.  From my seat I could also hear the songs
in the valley of the reed and sedge warblers, reed-bunting, and
grasshopper-warbler.  These, and the polyglot starling, and cooing
and crooning doves, made the last days of July at this spot seem not
the silent season we are accustomed to call it.

Of these singers the goldfinch was the most pleasing.  The bird that
sang near me had assisted in rearing a brood in a nest on a low
branch a few yards away, but {250} he still returned from the fields
at intervals to sing; and seen, as I now saw him a dozen times a day,
perched among the lime leaves and blossoms at the end of a slender
bough, in his black and gold and crimson livery, he was by far the
prettiest of my feathered visitors.

[Sidenote: Cirl bunting]

But the cirl bunting, the inferior singer, interested me most, for I
am somewhat partial to the buntings, and he is the best of them, and
the one I knew least about from personal observation.

On my way hither at the end of June, somewhere between Romsey and
Winchester, a cock cirl bunting in fine plumage flew up before me and
perched on the wire of a roadside fence.  It was a welcome encounter,
and, alighting, I stood for some time watching him.  I did not know
that I was in a district where this pretty species is more numerous
than in any other place in England--as common, in fact, as the
universal yellowhammer, and commoner than the more local
corn-bunting.  Here in July and August, in the course of an
afternoon's walk, in any place where there are trees and grass
fields, one can count on hearing half a dozen birds sing, every one
of them probably the parent of a nestful of young.  For this is the
cirl bunting's pleasant habit.  He assists in feeding and
safeguarding the young, even as other songsters do who cease singing
when this burden is laid upon them; but he is a bird of placid
disposition, and takes his task more quietly than most; and, after
returning from the fields with several grasshoppers in his throat and
{251} beak and feeding his fledglings, he takes a rest, and at
intervals in the day flies to his favourite tree, and repeats his
blithe little song half a dozen times.

The song is not quite accurately described in the standard
ornithological works as exactly like that of the yellowhammer, only
without the thin, drawn-out note at the end, and therefore
inferior--the little bit of bread, but without the cheese.  It
certainly resembles the yellowhammer's song, being a short note, a
musical chirp, rapidly repeated several times.  But the yellowhammer
varies his song as to its time, the notes being sometimes fast and
sometimes slow.  The cirl's song is always the same in this respect,
and is always a more rapid song than that of the other species.  So
rapid is it that, heard at a distance, it acquires almost the
character of a long trill.  In quality, too, it is the better
song--clearer, brighter, brisker--and it carries farther; on still
mornings I could hear one bird's song very distinctly at a distance
of two hundred and fifty yards.  The only good description of the
cirl bunting's song--as well as the best general account of the
bird's habits--which I have found, is in J. C. Bellamy's _Natural
History of South Devon_ (Plymouth and London), 1839, probably a
forgotten book.

The best singer among the British buntings, he is also to my mind the
prettiest bird.  When he is described as black and brown, and lemon
and sulphur-yellow, and olive and lavender-grey, and chestnut-red, we
are apt to think that the effect of so many colours thrown upon his
small body cannot be very {252} pleasing.  But it is not so; these
various colours are so harmoniously disposed, and have, in the
lighter and brighter hues in the living bird, such a flower-like
freshness and delicacy, that the effect is really charming.

When, in June, I first visited the cottage, my host took me into his
dressing-room, and from it we watched a pair of cirl buntings bring
food to their young in a nest in a small cypress standing just five
yards from the window.  The young birds were in the pinfeather stage,
but they were unfortunately taken a very few days later by a rat, or
stoat, or by that winged nest-robber the jackdaw, whose small cunning
grey eyes are able to see into so many hidden things.

The birds themselves did not grieve overlong at their loss: the day
after the nest was robbed the cock was heard singing--and he
continued to sing every day from his favourite tree, an old black
poplar growing outside the sweetbriar hedge in front of the cottage.

About this bird of a brave and cheerful disposition, more will have
to be said in the next chapter.  It is, or was, my desire to describe
events in the valley at this changeful period from late July to
October in the order of their occurrence, but in all the rest of the
present chapter, which will be given to the river birds exclusively,
the order must be broken.

[Sidenote: Water-birds]

Undoubtedly the three commonest water-birds inhabiting inland waters
throughout England are {253} the coot, moor-hen, and dabchick, or
little grebe; and on account of their abundance and general
distribution they are almost as familiar as our domestic birds.  Yet
one never grows tired of seeing and hearing them, as we do of noting
the actions of other species that inhabit the same places; and the
reason for this--a very odd reason it seems!--is because these three
common birds, members of two orders which the modern scientific
zoologist has set down among the lowest, and therefore, as he tells
us, most stupid, of the feathered inhabitants of the globe, do
actually exhibit a quicker intelligence and greater variety in their
actions and habits than the species which are accounted their
superiors.

The coot is not so abundant as the other two; also he is less varied
in his colour, and less lively in his motions, and consequently
attracts us less.  The moor-hen is the most engaging, as well as the
commonest--a bird concerning which more entertaining matter has been
related in our natural histories than of any other native species.
And I now saw a great deal of him, and of the other two as well.
From the cottage windows, and from the lawn outside, one looked upon
the main current of the river, and there were the birds always in
sight; and when not looking one could hear them.  Without paying
particular attention to them their presence in the river was a
constant source of interest and amusement.

At one spot, where the stream made a slight bend, the floating
water-weeds brought down by the current were always being caught by
scattered bulrushes {254} growing a few feet from the edge; the
arrested weeds formed a minute group of islets, and on these
convenient little refuges and resting-places in the waterway, a dozen
or more of the birds could be seen at most times.  The old coots
would stand on the floating weeds and preen and preen their plumage
by the hour.  They were like mermaids, for ever combing out their
locks, and had the clear stream for a mirror.  The dull-brown,
white-breasted young coots, now fully grown, would meanwhile swim
about picking up their own food.  The moor-hens were with them,
preening and feeding, and one had its nest there.  It was a very big
conspicuous nest, built up on a bunch of floating weeds, and formed,
when the bird was sitting on its eggs, a pretty and curious object;
for every day fresh bright-green sedge leaves were plucked and woven
round it, and on that high bright-green nest, as on a throne, the
bird sat, and when I went near the edge of the water, she (or he)
would flirt her tail to display the snowy-white under-feathers, and
nod her head, and stand up as if to display her pretty green legs, so
as to let me see and admire all her colours; and finally, not being
at all shy, she would settle quietly down again.

[Sidenote: Little grebes]

The little grebes, too, had chosen that spot to build on.  Poor
little grebes! how they worked and sat, and built and sat again, all
the summer long.  And all along the river it was the same thing--the
grebes industriously making their nests, and trying ever so hard to
hatch their eggs; and then at intervals of a few days the ruthless
water-keeper would come by {255} with his long fatal pole to dash
their hopes.  For whenever he saw a suspicious-looking bunch of dead
floating weeds which might be a grebe's nest, down would come the end
of the pole on it, and the eggs would be spilt out of the wet bed,
and rolled down by the swift water to the sea.  And then the birds
would cheerfully set to work again at the very same spot: but it was
never easy to tell which bunch of wet weeds their eggs were hidden
in.  Watching with a glass I could see the hen on her eggs, but if
any person approached she would hastily pull the wet weeds from the
edge over them, and slip into the water, diving and going away to
some distance.  While the female sat the male was always busy, diving
and catching little fishes; he would dive down in one spot, and
suddenly pop up a couple of yards away, right among the coots and
moor-hens.  This Jack-in-the-box action on his part never upset their
nerves.  They took not the slightest notice of him, and were
altogether a more or less, happy family, all very tolerant of each
other's little eccentricities.

The little grebe fished for himself and for his sitting mate; he
never seemed so happy and proud as when he was swimming to her,
patiently sitting on her wet nest, with a little silvery fish in his
beak.  He also fished for old decaying weeds, which he fetched up
from the bottom to add to the nest.  Whenever he popped up among or
near the other birds with an old rag of a weed in his beak, one or
two of the grown-up young coots would try to take it from him; and
seeing them gaining on him he would dive down to {256} come up in
another place, still clinging to the old rag half a yard long; and
again the chase would be renewed, and again he would dive; until at
last, after many narrow escapes and much strategy, the nest would be
gained, and the sitting bird would take the weed from him and draw it
up and tuck it round her, pleased with his devotedness, and at the
sight of his triumph over the coots.  As a rule, after giving her
something--a little fish, or a wet weed to pull up and make herself
comfortable with--they would join their voices in that long trilling
cry of theirs, like a metallic, musical-sounding policeman's rattle.

It was not in a mere frolicsome spirit that the young coots hunted
the dabchick with his weed, but rather, as I imagine, because the
white succulent stems of aquatic plants growing deep in the water are
their favourite food; they are accustomed to have it dived for by
their parents and brought up to them, and they never appear to get
enough to satisfy them; but when they are big, and their parents
refuse to slave for them, they seem to want to make the little grebes
their fishers for succulent stems.

One day in August 1899, I witnessed a pretty little bird-comedy at
the Pen Ponds, in Richmond Park, which seemed to throw a strong light
on the inner or domestic life of the coot.  For a space of twenty
minutes I watched an old coot industriously diving and bringing up
the white parts of the stems of _Polygonum persicaria_, which grows
abundantly there, together with the rarer more beautiful
_Lymnanthemum nymphoïdes_, {257} which is called Lymnanth for short.
I prefer an English name for a British plant, an exceedingly
attractive one in this case, and so beg leave to call it
Water-crocus.  The old bird was attended by a full-grown young one,
which she was feeding, and the unfailing diligence and quickness of
the parent were as wonderful to see as the gluttonous disposition of
its offspring.  The old coot dived at least three times every minute,
and each time came up with a clean white stem, the thickness of a
stout clay pipe-stem, cut the proper length--about three to four
inches.  This the young bird would take and instantly swallow; but
before it was well down his throat the old bird would be gone for
another.  I was with a friend, and we wondered when its devouring
cormorant appetite would be appeased, and how its maw could contain
so much food; we also compared it to a hungry Italian greedily
sucking down macaroni.

While this was going on a second young bird had been on the old nest
on the little island in the lake, quietly dozing; and at length this
one got off his dozing-place, and swam out to where the weed-fishing
and feeding were in progress.  As he came up, the old coot rose with
a white stem in her beak, which the new-comer pushed forward to take;
but the other thrust himself before him, and, snatching the stem from
his parent's beak, swallowed it himself.  The old coot remained
perfectly motionless for a space of about four seconds, looking
fixedly at the greedy one who had been gorging for twenty {258}
minutes yet refused to give place to the other.  Then very suddenly,
and with incredible fury, she dashed at and began hunting him over
the pond.  In vain he rose up and flew over the water, beating the
surface with his feet, uttering cries of terror; in vain he dived;
again and again she overtook and dealt him the most savage blows with
her sharp beak, until, her anger thoroughly appeased and the
punishment completed, she swam back to the second bird, waiting
quietly at the same spot for her return, and began once more diving
for white stems of the _Polygonum_.

Never again, we said, would the greedy young bird behave in the
unmannerly way which had brought so terrible a castigation upon him!
The coot is certainly a good mother who does not spoil her child by
sparing the rod.  And this is the bird which our comparative
anatomists, after pulling it to pieces, tell us is a small-brained,
unintelligent creature; and which old Michael Drayton, who, being a
poet, ought to have known better, described as "a formal brainless
ass"!

[Sidenote: Happy families]

To come back to the Itchen birds.  The little group, or happy family,
I have described was but one of the many groups of the same kind
existing all along the river; and these separate groups, though at a
distance from each other, and not exactly on visiting terms, each
being jealous of its own stretch of water, yet kept up a sort of
neighbourly intercourse in their own way.  Single cries were heard at
all times from different points; but once or two or {259} three times
in the day a cry of a coot or a moor-hen would be responded to by a
bird at a distance; then another would take it up at a more distant
point, and another still, until cries answering cries would be heard
all along the stream.  At such times the voice of the skulking
water-rail would be audible too, but whether this excessively
secretive bird had any social relations with the others beyond
joining in the general greeting and outcry I could not discover.
Thus, all these separate little groups, composed of three different
species, were like the members of one tribe or people broken up into
families; and altogether it seemed that their lines had fallen to
them in pleasant places, although it cannot be said that the placid
current of their existence was never troubled.

I know not what happened to disturb them, but sometimes all at once
cries were heard which were unmistakably emitted in anger, and sounds
of splashing and struggling among the sedges and bulrushes; and the
rushes would be swayed about this way and that, and birds would
appear in hot pursuit of one another over the water; and then, just
when one was in the midst of wondering what all this fury in their
cooty breasts could be about, lo! it would all be over, and the
little grebe would be busy catching his silvery fishes; and the
moor-hen, pleased as ever at her own prettiness, nodding and prinking
and flirting her feathers; and the coot, as usual, mermaid-like,
combing out her slate-coloured tresses.

We have seen that of these three species the little {260} grebe was
not so happy as the others, owing to his taste for little fishes
being offensive to the fish-breeder and preserver.  When I first saw
how this river was watched over by the water-keepers, I came to the
conclusion that very few or no dabchicks would succeed in hatching
any young.  And none were hatched until August, and then to my
surprise I heard at one point the small, plaintive _peep-peep_ of the
young birds crying to be fed.  One little grebe, more cunning or more
fortunate than the others, had at last succeeded in bringing off her
young; and once out of their shells they were safe.  But by-and-by
the little duckling-like sound was heard at another point, and then
at another; and this continued in September, until, by the middle of
that month, you could walk miles along the river, and before you left
the sound of one little brood hungrily crying to be fed behind you,
the little _peep-peep_ of another brood would begin to be heard in
advance of you.

Often enough it is "dogged as does it" in bird as well as in human
affairs, and never had birds more deserved to succeed than these
dogged little grebes.  I doubt if a single pair failed to bring out
at least a couple of young by the end of September.  And at that date
you could see young birds apparently just out of the shell, while
those that had been hatched in August were full grown.

[Sidenote: Fishing-lessons]

About the habits of the little grebe, as about those of the moor-hen,
many curious and entertaining things have been written; but what
amused me most in these birds, when I watched them in late September
{261} on the Itchen, was the skilful way in which the parent bird
taught her grown-up young ones to fish.  At an early period the
fishes given to the downy young are very small, and are always well
bruised in the beak before the young bird is allowed to take it,
however eager he may be to seize it.  Afterwards, when the young are
more grown, the size of the fishes is increased, and they are less
and less bruised, although always killed.  Finally, the young has to
be taught to catch for himself; and at first he does not appear to
have any aptitude for such a task, or any desire to acquire it.  He
is tormented with hunger, and all he knows is that his parent can
catch fish for him, and his only desire is that she shall go on
catching them as fast as he can swallow them.  And she catches him a
fish, and gives it to him, but, oh mockery! it was not really dead
this time, and instantly falls into the water and is lost!  Not
hopelessly lost, however, for down she goes like lightning, and comes
up in ten seconds with it again.  And he takes and drops it again,
and looks stupid, and again she recovers and gives it to him.  How
many hundreds of times, I wonder, must this lesson be repeated before
the young grebe finds out how to keep and to kill?  Yet that is after
all only the beginning of his education.  The main thing is that he
must be taught to dive after the fishes he lets fall, and he appears
to have no inclination, no intuitive impulse, to do such a thing.  A
small, quite dead fish must be given him carelessly, so that it shall
fall, and he must be taught to pick up a {262} fallen morsel from the
surface; but from that first simple act to the swift plunge and long
chase after and capture of uninjured vigorous fishes, what an immense
distance there is!  It is, however, probable that, after the first
reluctance of the young bird has been overcome, and a habit of diving
after escaped fishes acquired, he makes exceedingly rapid progress.

But, even after the completion of his education, when he is
independent of his parents, and quick and sure as they at capturing
fishes down in their own dim element, is it not still a puzzle and a
mystery that such a thing can be done?  And here I speak not only of
the little grebe, but of all birds that dive after fishes, and pursue
and capture them in fresh or salt water.  We see how a kingfisher
takes his prey, or a tern, or gannet, or osprey, by dropping upon it
when it swims near the surface; he takes his fish by surprise, as a
sparrow-hawk takes the bird he preys upon.  But no specialisation can
make an air-breathing, feathered bird an equal of the fish under
water.  One can see at a glance in any clear stream that any fish can
out-distance any bird, darting off with the least effort so swiftly
as almost to elude the sight, while the fastest bird under water
moves but little faster than a water-rat.

[Sidenote: Fascination]

The explanation, I believe, is that the paralysing effect on many
small, persecuted creatures in the presence of, or when pursued by,
their natural enemies and devourers, is as common under as above the
water.  I have distinctly seen this when watching fish-eating birds
being fed at the Zoological {263} Gardens in glass tanks.  The
appearance of the bird when he dives strikes an instant terror into
them; and it may then be seen that those which endeavour to escape
are no longer in possession of their full powers, and their efforts
to fly from the enemy are like those of the mouse and vole when a
weasel is on their track, or of a frog when pursued by a snake; while
others remain suspended in the water, quite motionless, until seized
and swallowed.



{264}

CHAPTER XIII

Morning in the valley--Abundance of swifts--Unlikeness to other
birds--Mayfly and swallows--Mayfly and swift--Bad weather and
hail--Swallows in the rain--Sand-martins--An orphaned
blackbird--Tamed by feeding--Survival of gregarious instinct in young
blackbirds--Blackbird's good-night--Cirl buntings--Breeding habits
and language--Habits of the young--Reed-bunting--Beautiful
weather--The oak in August.


[Sidenote: Swifts]

During the month of July the swift was the most abundant and most
constantly before us of all our Itchen-valley birds.  In the morning
he was not there.  We had the pigeons then, all three
species--ring-dove, stock-dove and turtle-dove--being abundant in the
woods on the opposite side of the valley, and from four o'clock to
six was the time of their morning concert, when the still air was
filled with the human-like musical sound of their multitudinous
voices mingled in one voice.  An hour or two later, as the air grew
warmer, the swifts would begin to arrive to fly up and down the
stream incessantly until dark, feasting on the gnats and ephemeræ
that swarmed over the water during those hot days of late summer.
Doubtless these birds come every day from all the towns, villages,
and farm-houses scattered over a very broad strip of country on
either side of the Itchen.  Never had I seen swifts so numerous;
looking down on the {265} valley from any point one had hundreds of
birds in sight at once, all swiftly flying up and down stream; but
when the sight was kept fixed on any one bird, it could be seen that
he went but a short distance--fifty to a hundred yards--then turned
back.  Thus each bird had a very limited range, and probably each
returned to his accustomed place or beat every day.

These swifts are very much in the angler's way.  Frequently they get
entangled in the line and are brought down, but are seldom injured.
During one day's fishing my friend here had three swifts to disengage
from his line.  On releasing one of these birds he watched its
movements, and saw it fly up stream a distance of about forty yards,
then double back, mechanically going on with its fly-hunting up and
down stream just as if nothing had happened.

It may be said of swifts, as Bates said of hummingbirds, that,
mentally, they are more like bees than birds.  The infallible,
unchangeable way in which they, machine-like, perform all their
actions, and their absolute unteachableness, are certainly
insect-like.  They are indeed so highly specialised and perfected in
their own line, and, on account of their marvellous powers of flight,
so removed from all friction in that atmosphere in which they live
and move, above the complex and wit-sharpening conditions in which
the more terrestrial creatures of their class exist, as to be
practically independent of experience.

It is known that for some time the mayfly has {266} been decreasing,
and in places disappearing altogether from these Hampshire streams,
and it is believed and said by some of those who are concerned at
these changes that the swallow is accountable for them.  I do not
know whether they have invented this brilliant idea themselves or
have taken it ready-made from the water-keeper.  Probably the last,
since he, the water-keeper, is apt to regard all creatures that come
to the waters where his sacred fishes are with a dull, hostile
suspicion, though in some cases he is not above adding to his income
by taking a few trout himself--not indeed with the dry fly, which is
useless at night, but with the shoe-net.  In any case the question of
exterminating the swallows in all the villages near the rivers has
been seriously considered.  Now, it is rather odd that this notion
about the swallow--the martin is of course included--should have got
about just when this bird has itself fallen on evil times and is
decreasing with us.  This decrease has, in all parts of the country
best known to me, become increasingly rapid during the last few
years, and is probably due to new and improved methods of taking the
birds wholesale during migration in France and Spain.  Putting that
matter aside, I should like to ask those gentlemen who have decreed,
or would like to decree, the abolition of the swallow in all the
riverside villages, what they propose to do about the swift.

[Sidenote: Mayfly and swift]

One day last June (1902) I was walking with two friends by the
Itchen, when a little below the village of Ovington we sat down to
rest and to enjoy a gleam {267} of sunshine which happened to visit
the world about noon that day.  We sat down on a little wooden bridge
over the main current and fell to watching the swifts, which were
abundant, flying up and down just over our heads and, swift-like,
paying no more heed to us than if we had been three wooden posts or
three cows.  We noticed that ephemeræ of three or four species were
rising up, and, borne by a light wind, drifting down-stream towards
us and past us; and after watching these flies for some time we found
that not one of them escaped.  Small and grey, or dun, or
water-coloured and well-nigh invisible, or large and yellow and
conspicuous as they rose and slowly fluttered over the stream, they
were seen and snapped up, every one of them, by those fateful
sooty-coloured demons of the air, ever streaming by on their swift
scythe-shaped wings.  Not a swallow nor a martin was in sight at that
spot.

It is plain, then, that if the mayfly is declining and dying out
because some too greedy bird snatches its life before it can lay its
eggs to continue the species, or drop upon the water to supply the
trout with its proper succulent food, the swift and not the swallow
is the chief culprit.

It is equally plain that these (from the angler's point of view)
injurious birds are not breeders by the waterside.  Their numbers are
too great: they come, ninety per cent. of them I should say, from
farm-houses, villages, and towns at a distance of a good many miles
from the water.

The revels of the swifts were brought prematurely {268} to an end by
a great change in the weather, which began with a thunderstorm on
27th July, and two days later a greater storm, with hail the size of
big marrowfat peas, which fell so abundantly that the little lawn was
all white as if snow had fallen.  From that time onwards storm
succeeded storm, and finally the weather became steadily bad; and we
had rough, cold, wet days right on to the 10th of August.  It was a
terrible time for the poor holiday people all over the country, and
bad too for the moulting and late-breeding birds.  As a small set-off
to all the discomfort of these dreary days, we had a green lawn once
more at the cottage.  I had made one or two attempts at watering it,
but the labour proved too great to a lazy man, and now Nature had
come with her great watering-pot and restored its spring-like verdure
and softness.

During the wettest and coldest days I spent hours watching the
swallows and swifts flying about all day long in the rain.  These
are, indeed, our only summer land-birds that never seek a shelter
from the wet, and which are not affected in their flight by a wetted
plumage.  Their upper feathers are probably harder and more closely
knit and impervious to moisture than those of other kinds.  It may be
seen that a swallow or swift, when flying about in the rain, at short
intervals gives himself a quick shake as if to throw off the
raindrops.  Then, too, the food and constant exercise probably serve
to keep them warmer than they would be sitting motionless in a dry
place.  Swifts, we sometimes see, are numbed {269} and even perish of
cold during frosty nights in spring; I doubt that the cold ever kills
them by day when they can keep perpetually moving.

[Sidenote: Sand-martins]

Day by day, during this long spell of summer wet and cold, these
birds diminished in number, until they were almost all gone--swifts,
swallows, and house-martins; but we were not to be without a swallow,
for as these went, sand-martins came in, and increased in numbers
until they were in thousands.  We had them every day and all day
before us, flying up and down the valley, in the shelter of the
woods, their pale plumage and wavering flight making them look in the
distance like great white flies against the wall of black-green trees
and gloomy sky beyond.

On days when the sun shone they came in numbers to perch on the
telegraph wires stretched across a field between the cottage and
village.  It was beautiful to see them, a double line fifty or sixty
yards long of the small, pale-coloured, graceful birdlings, sitting
so close together as to be almost touching, all with their beaks
pointing to the west, from where the wind blew.

In this same field, one day when this pleasant company were leaving
us after a week's rest, I picked up one that had killed himself by
striking against the wire.  A most delicate little dead swallow,
looking in his pale colouring and softness as moth-like in death as
he had seemed when alive and flying.  I took him home--the little
moth-bird pilgrim to Africa, who had got no farther than the Itchen
on his journey--and buried him at the roots of a {270} honeysuckle
growing by the cottage door.  It seemed fittest that he should be put
there, to become part with the plant which, in the pallid yellows and
dusky reds of its blossoms, and in the perfume it gives out so
abundantly at eventide, has an expression of melancholy, and is more
to us in some of our moods than any other flower.

[Sidenote: An orphaned blackbird]

The bad weather brought to our little plot of ground a young
blackbird, who had evidently been thrown upon the world too early in
life.  A good number of blackbird broods had been brought off in the
bushes about us, and in the rough and tumble of those tempestuous
days some of the young had no doubt got scattered and lost; this at
all events was one that had called and called to be fed and warmed
and comforted in vain--we had heard him calling for days--and who had
now grown prematurely silent, and had soberly set himself to find his
own living as best he could.  Between the lawn and the small
sweetbriar hedge there was a strip of loose mould where roses had
been planted, and here the bird had discovered that by turning over
the dead leaves and loose earth a few small morsels were to be found.
During those cold, windy, wet days we observed him there diligently
searching in his poor, slow little way.  He would strike his beak
into the loose ground, making a little hop forward at the same time
to give force to the stroke, and throw up about as much earth as
would cover a shilling-piece; then he would gaze attentively at the
spot, and after a couple of seconds hop and strike again; and {271}
finally, if he could see nothing to eat, he would move on a few
inches and begin again in another place.  That was all his art--his
one poor little way of getting a living; and it was plain to see from
his bedraggled appearance and feeble motions, that he was going the
way of most young orphaned birds.

Now, I hate playing at providence among the creatures, but we cannot
be rid of pity; and there are exceptional cases in which one feels
justified in putting out a helping hand.  Nature herself is not
always careless of the individual life: or perhaps it would be better
to say with Thoreau, "We are not wholly involved in Nature."  And
anxious to give the poor bird a chance by putting him in a sheltered
place, and feeding him up, as Ruskin once did in a like case, I set
about catching him, but could not lay hands on him, for he was still
able to fly a little, and always managed to escape pursuit among the
brambles, or else in the sedges by the waterside.  Half an hour after
being hunted, he would be back on the edge of the lawn prodding the
ground in the old feeble, futile way.  And the scraps of food I
cunningly placed for him he disregarded, not knowing in his ignorance
what was good for him.  Then I got a supply of small earthworms, and,
stalking him, tossed them so as to cause them to fall near him, and
he saw and knew what they were, and swallowed them hungrily; and he
saw, too, that they were thrown to him by a hand, and that the hand
was part of that same huge grey-clad monster that had a little while
back so furiously hunted him; {272} and at once he seemed to
understand the meaning of it all, and instead of flying from he ran
to meet us, and, recovering his voice, called to be fed.  The
experience of one day made him a tame bird; on the second day he knew
that bread and milk, stewed plums, pie-crust, and, in fact, anything
we had to give, was good for him; and in the course of the next two
or three days he acquired a useful knowledge of our habits.  Thus, at
half-past three in the morning he would begin calling to be fed at
the bedroom window.  If no notice was taken of him he would go away
to try and find something for himself, and return at five o'clock
when breakfast was in preparation, and place himself before the
kitchen door.  Usually he got a small snack then; and at the
breakfast hour (six o'clock) he would turn up at the dining-room
window and get a substantial meal.  Dinner and tea time--twelve and
half-past three o'clock--found him at the same spot; but he was often
hungry between meals, and he would then sit before one door or window
and call, then move to the next door, and so on until he had been all
round the cottage.  It was most amusing to see him when, on our
return from a long walk or a day out, he would come to meet us,
screaming excitedly, bounding over the lawn with long hops, looking
like a miniature very dark-coloured kangaroo.

One day I came back alone to the cottage, and sat down on the lawn in
a canvas chair, to wait for my companion who had the key.  The
blackbird had seen, and came flying to me, and pitching close to my
{273} feet began crying to be fed, shaking his wings, and dancing
about in a most excited state, for he had been left a good many hours
without food, and was very hungry.  As I moved not in my chair he
presently ran round and began screaming and fluttering on the other
side of it, thinking, I suppose, that he had gone to the wrong place,
and that by addressing himself to the back of my head he would
quickly get an answer.

The action of this bird in coming to be fed naturally attracted a
good deal of attention among the feathered people about us; they
would look on at a distance, evidently astonished and much puzzled at
our bird's boldness in coming to our feet.  But nothing dreadful
happened to him, and little by little they began to lose their
suspicion; and first a robin--the robin is always first--then other
blackbirds to the number of seven, then chaffinches and dunnocks, all
began to grow tame and to attend regularly at meal-time to have a
share in anything that was going.  The most lively, active, and
quarrelsome member of this company was our now glossy foundling; and
it troubled us to think that in feeding him we were but staving off
the evil day when he would once more have to fend for himself.
Certainly we were teaching him nothing.  But our fears were idle.
The seven wild blackbirds that had formed a habit of coming to share
his food were all young birds, and as time went on and the hedge
fruit began to ripen, we noticed that they kept more and more
together.  Whenever one was observed to fly straight {274} away to
some distance, in a few moments another would follow, then another;
and presently it would be seen that they were all making their way to
some spot in the valley, or to the woods on the other side.  After
several hours' absence they would all reappear on the lawn, or near
it, at the same time, showing that they had been together throughout
the day and had returned in company.  After observing them in their
comings and goings for several weeks I felt convinced that this
species has in it the remains of a gregarious instinct which affects
the young birds.  Our bird, as a member of this little company, must
have quickly picked up from the others all that it was necessary for
him to know, and at last it was plain to us from his behaviour at the
cottage that he was doing very well for himself.  He was often absent
most of the day with the others, and on his return late in the
afternoon he would pick over the good things placed for him in a
leisurely way, selecting a morsel here and there, and eating more out
of compliment to us, as it seemed, than because he was hungry.  But
up to the very last, when he had grown as hardy and strong on the
wing as any of his wild companions, he kept up his acquaintance with
and confidence in us; and even at night when I would go out to where
most of our wild birds roosted, in the trees and bushes growing in a
vast old chalk-pit close to the cottage, and called "Blackie,"
instantly there would be a response--a softly chuckled note, like a
sleepy "Good-night," thrown back to me out of the darkness.

{275}

[Sidenote: Cirl bunting]

During the spell of rough weather which brought us the blackbird, my
interest was centred in the cirl buntings.  On 4th August, I was
surprised to find that they were breeding again in the little
sweetbriar hedge, and had three fledglings about a week old in the
nest.  They had on this occasion gone from the west to the east side
of the cottage, and the new nest, two to three feet from the ground,
was placed in the centre of a small tangle of sweet-briar, bramble,
and bryony, within a few yards of the trunk of the big lime tree
under which I was accustomed to sit.  I had this nest under
observation until 9th August, which happened to be the worst day, the
coldest, wettest, and windiest of all that wintry spell; and yet in
such weather the young birds came out of their cradle.  For a couple
of days they remained near the nest concealed among some low bushes;
then the whole family moved away to a hedge at some distance on
higher ground, and there I watched the old birds for some days
feeding their young on grasshoppers.

The result of my observations on these birds and on three other pairs
which I found breeding close by--one in the village, another just
outside of it, and the third by the thorn-grown foundation of ruined
Abbotstone not far off--came as a surprise to me; for it appeared
that the cirl in its breeding habits and language was not like other
buntings, nor indeed like any other bird.  The young hatched out of
the curiously marked or "written" eggs are like those of the
yellowhammer, black as moor-hen {276} chicks in their black down,
opening wide crimson mouths to be fed.  But should the parent birds,
or one of them, be watching you at the nest, they will open not their
beaks, but hearing and obeying the warning note they lie close as if
glued to the bottom of the nest.  It is a curious sound.  Unless one
knows it, and the cause of it, one may listen a long time and not
discover the bird that utters it.  The buntings sit as usual,
motionless and unseen among the leaves of the tree, and, so long as
you are near the nest, keep up the sound, an excessively sharp
metallic chirp, uttered in turns by both birds, but always a short
note in the female, and a double note in the male, the second one
prolonged to a wail or squeal.  No other bird has an alarm or warning
note like it: it is one of those very high sounds that are easily
missed by the hearing, like the robin's fine-drawn wail when in
trouble about his young; but when you catch and listen to it the
effect on the brain is somewhat distressing.  A Hampshire friend and
naturalist told me that a pair of these birds that bred in his garden
almost drove him crazy with their incessant sharp alarm note.

The effect of this warning sound on the young is very striking:
before they can fly or are fit to leave the nest, they are ready,
when approached too closely, to leap like startled frogs out of the
nest, and scuttle away into hiding on the ground.  Once they have
flown they are extremely difficult to find, as, on hearing the
parent's warning note, they squat down on their perch and remain
motionless as a leaf among {277} the leaves.  Often I could only
succeed in making them fly by seizing and shaking the branches of a
thorn or other bush in which I knew they were hidden.  So long as the
young bird keeps still on its branch, the old bird on some tree
twenty or thirty or forty yards away remains motionless, though all
the time emitting the sharp, puzzling, warning sound; but the very
instant that the young bird quits his perch, darting suddenly away,
the parent bird is up too, shooting out so swiftly as almost to elude
the sight, and in a moment overtakes and flies with the young bird,
hugging it so closely that the two look almost like one.  Together
they dart away to a distance, usually out over a field, and drop and
vanish in the grass.  But in a few moments the parent bird is back
again, sitting still among the leaves, emitting the shrill sound,
ready to dart away with the next young bird that seeks to escape by
flight.

This method of attending and safe-guarding the young is, indeed,
common among birds, but in no species known to me is it seen in such
vigour and perfection.  What most strikes one is the change from
immobility when the bird sits invisible among the leaves, marking the
time with those excessively sharp, metallic clicks and wails like a
machine-bird, to unexpected, sudden, brilliant activity.

When not warned into silence and immobility by the parent the young
cirls are clamorous enough, crying to be fed, and these, too, have
voices of an excessive sharpness.  Of other native species the
sharpest hunger-cries that I know are those of the {278} tits,
especially the long-tailed tit, and the spotted fly-catcher; but
these sounds are not comparable in brain-piercing acuteness to those
of the young cirls.

Another thing I have wondered at in a creature of so quiet a
disposition as the cirl bunting is the extraordinary violence of the
male towards other small birds when by chance they come near his
young, in or out of the nest.  So jealous is he that he will attack a
willow-wren or a dunnock with as much fury as other birds use only
towards the most deadly enemies of their young.

Here, by the Itchen, where we have all four buntings, I find that the
reed-bunting--called black-head or black-top--is, after the cirl, the
latest singer.  He continues when, towards the end of August, the
corn-bunting and yellowhammer become silent.  He is the poorest
singer of the bunting tribe, the first part of his song being like
the chirp of an excited sparrow, somewhat shriller, and then follows
the long note, shrill too, or sibilant and tremulous.  It is more
like the distressful hunger-call of some young birds than a
song-note.  A reedy sound in a reedy place, and one likes to hear it
in the green valley among the wind-rustled, sword-shaped leaves and
waving spears of rush and aquatic grass.  So fond is he of his own
music that he will sing even when moulting.  I was amused one day
when listening to a reed-bunting sitting on a top branch of a dwarf
alder tree in the valley of Ovington, busily occupied in preening his
fluffed-out and rather ragged-looking plumage, yet pausing at short
intervals in his task {279} to emit his song.  So taken up was he
with the feather-cleaning and singing, that he took no notice of me
when I walked to within twenty-five yards of him.  By-and-by, in
passing one of his long flight-feathers through his beak it came out,
at which he appeared very much surprised.  First he raised his head,
then began turning it about this way and that, as if admiring the
feather he held, or trying to get a better sight of it.  For quite a
minute he kept it, forgetting to sing, then in turning it about he
accidentally dropped it.  Bending his head down, he watched its slow
fall to the grass below very intently, and continued gazing down even
after it was on the ground; then, pulling himself together, he
resumed the feather-preening task, with its musical interludes.

The worst day during the bad weather when the young cirl buntings
left the nest brought the wintry spell to an end.  A few days of such
perfect weather followed that one could wish for no higher good than
to be alive on that green earth, beneath that blue sky.  One could
best appreciate the crystal purity and divine blueness of the immense
space by watching the rooks revelling on high in the morning
sunshine, looking in their blackness against the crystalline blue
like bird-figures with outspread, motionless wings, carved out of
anthracite coal, and suspended by invisible wires in heaven.  You
could watch them, a numerous company, moving upward in wide circles,
the sound of their voices coming fainter and fainter back to earth,
until at that vast height they seemed no bigger than humble-bees.

{280}

[Sidenote: The oak in August]

This clarity of atmosphere had a striking effect, too, on the
appearance of the trees, and I could not help noticing the
superiority of the oak to all other forest trees in this connection.
There comes a time in late summer when at last it loses that "glad
light grene" which has distinguished it among its dark-leafed
neighbours, and made it in our eyes a type of unfading spring and of
everlastingness.  It grows dark, too, at last, and is as dark as a
cypress or a cedar of Lebanon; but observe how different this depth
of colour is from that of the elm.  The elm, too, stands alone, or in
rows, or in isolated groups in the fields, and in the clear sunshine
its foliage has a dull, summer-worn, almost rusty green.  There is no
such worn and weary look in the foliage of the oak in August and
September.  It is of a rich, healthy green, deep but undimmed by time
and weather, and the leaf has a gloss to it.  Again, on account of
its manner of growth, with widespread branches and boughs and twigs
well apart, the foliage does not come before us as a mere dense mass
of green--an intercepting cloud, as in a painted tree; but the sky is
seen through it, and against the sky are seen the thousand thousand
individual leaves, clear-cut and beautiful in shape.

It was one of my daily pleasures during this fine weather to go out
and look at one of the solitary oak trees growing in the adjoining
field when the morning sunlight was on it.  To my mind it looked best
when viewed at a distance of sixty to seventy yards across the open
grass field with nothing but {281} the sky beyond.  At that distance
not only could the leaves be distinctly seen, but the acorns as well,
abundantly and evenly distributed over the whole tree, appearing as
small globes of purest bright apple-green among the deep green
foliage.  The effect was very rich, as of tapestry with an oak-leaf
pattern and colour, sprinkled thickly over with round polished gems
of a light-green sewn into the fabric.

To an artist with a soul in him, the very sight of such a tree in
such conditions would, I imagined, make him sick of his poor little
ineffectual art.



{282}

CHAPTER XIV

Yellow flowers--Family likeness in flavours and scents--_Mimulus
luteus_--Flowers in church decoration--Effect of
association--_Mimulus luteus_ as a British plant--A rule as to
naturalised plants wanted--A visit to Swarraton--Changes since
Gilbert White's day--"Wild musk"--Bird life on the downs--Turtle-dove
nestlings--Blue skin in doves--A boy naturalist--Birds at the
cottage--The wren's sun-bath--Wild fruits ripen--An old chalk
pit--Birds and elderberries--Past and present times compared--Calm
days--Migration of swallows--Conclusion.


The oak in the field and a flowering plant by the water were the two
best things plant life contained for me during those beautiful late
summer days by the Itchen.  About the waterside flower I must write
at some length.

Of our wild flowers the yellow in colour, as a rule, attract me
least; not because the colour is not beautiful to me, but probably on
account of the numerous ungraceful, weedy-looking plants of
unpleasant scent which in late summer produce yellow flowers--tansy,
fleabane, ragwort, sow-thistle, and some of other orders, the worst
of the lot being the pepper saxifrage, an ungainly parsley in
appearance, with evil-smelling flowers.  You know them by their
odours.  If I were to smell at a number of strong-scented flowers
unknown to me in a dark room, or blindfolded, I should be able to
pick out the yellow ones.

They would have the yellow smell.  The yellow {283} smell has an
analogue in the purple taste.  It may be fancy, but it strikes me
that there is a certain family resemblance in the flavours of most
purple fruits, or their skins--the purple fruit-flavour which is so
strong in damson, sloe, black currant, blackberry, mulberry,
whortleberry, and elderberry.

All the species I have named were common in the valley, and there
were others--St. John's wort, yellow loosestrife, etc.--which,
although not ungraceful nor evil-smelling, yet failed to attract.
Nevertheless, as the days and weeks went on and brought yet another
conspicuous yellow waterside flower into bloom, which became more and
more abundant as the season advanced, while the others, one by one,
faded and failed from the earth, until, during the last half of
September, it was in its fullest splendour, I was completely won by
it, and said in my haste that it was the brightest blossom in all the
Hampshire garland, if not the loveliest wild flower in England.  Nor
was it strange, all things considered, that I was so taken with its
beauty, since, besides being beautiful, it was new to me, and
therefore had the additional charm of novelty; and, finally, it was
at its best when all the conspicuous flowers that give touches of
brilliant colour here and there to the green of this greenest valley,
including most of the yellow flowers I have mentioned, were faded and
gone.

[Sidenote: Mimulus luteus]

No description of this flower, _Mimulus luteus_, known to the country
people as "wild musk," is needed here--it is well known as a garden
plant.  The large foxglove-shaped flowers grow singly on {284} their
stems among the topmost leaves, and the form of stem, leaf, and
flower is a very perfect example of that kind of formal beauty in
plants which is called "decorative."  This character is well shown in
the accompanying figure, reduced to little more than half the natural
size, from a spray plucked at Bransbury, on the Test.  But the shape
is nothing, and is scarcely seen or noticed twenty-five to fifty
yards away, the proper distance at which to view the blossoming
plants; not indeed as a plant-student or an admirer of flowers in a
garden would view it, as the one thing to see, but merely as part of
the scene.  The colour is then everything.  There is no purer, no
more {285} beautiful yellow in any of our wild flowers, from the
primrose and the almost equally pale, exquisite blossom which we
improperly name "dark mullein" in our books on account of its lovely
purple eye, to the intensest pure yellow of the marsh marigold.

[Illustration: MIMULUS LUTEUS]

But although purity of colour is the chief thing, it would not of
itself serve to give so great a distinction to this plant; the charm
is in the colour and the way in which Nature has disposed it,
abundantly, in single, separate blossoms, among leaves of a green
that is rich and beautiful, and looks almost dark by contrast with
that shining, luminous hue it sets off so well.

On 17th September it was Harvest Festival Sunday at the little church
at Itchen Abbas, where I worshipped that day, and I noticed that the
decorators had dressed up the font with water-plants and flowers from
the river; reeds and reed-mace, or cat's-tail, and the yellow
mimulus.  It was a mistake.  Deep green, glossy foliage, and white
and brilliantly coloured flowers look well in churches; white
chrysanthemums, arums, azaleas, and other conspicuous white flowers;
and scarlet geraniums, and many other garden blooms which seen in
masses in the sunshine hurt the sense--cinerarias, calceolarias,
larkspurs, etc.  The subdued light of the interior softens the
intensity, and sometimes crudity, of the strongest colours, and makes
them suitable for decoration.  The effect is like that of
stained-glass windows, or of a bright embroidery on a sober ground.
The graceful, grey, flowery reeds, and the light-green {286}
reed-mace, with its brown velvet head, and the moist yellow of the
mimulus, which quickly loses its freshness, look not well in the dim,
religious light of the old village church.  These should be seen
where the sunlight and wind and water are, or not seen at all.

[Sidenote: Mimulus and Camaloté]

Beautiful as the mimulus is when viewed in its natural surroundings,
by running waters amidst the greys and light and dark greens of reed
and willow, and of sedge and aquatic grasses, and water-cress, and
darkest bulrush, its attractiveness was to me greatly increased by
association.  Now to say that a flower which is new to one can have
any associations may sound very strange, but it is a fact in this
case.  Viewing it at a distance of, say, forty or fifty yards, as a
flower of a certain size, which might be any shape, in colour a very
pure, luminous yellow, blooming in profusion all over the rich green,
rounded masses of the plants, as one may see it in September at
Ovington, and at many other points on the Itchen, from its source to
Southampton Water, and on the Test, I am so strongly reminded of the
yellow camaloté of the South American watercourses that the memory is
almost like an illusion.  It has the pure, beautiful yellow of the
river camaloté; in its size it is like that flower; it grows, too, in
the same way, singly, among rounded masses of leaves of the same
lovely rich green; and the camaloté, too, has for neighbours the
green blades of the sedges, and grey, graceful reeds, and
multitudinous bulrushes, their dark polished stems tufted with brown.

{287}

Looking at these masses of blossoming mimulus at Ovington, I am
instantly transported in thought to some waterside thousands of miles
away.  The dank, fresh smell is in my nostrils; I listen delightedly
to the low, silvery, water-like gurgling note of the little kinglet
in his brilliant feathers among the rushes, and to the tremulous song
of the green marsh-grasshoppers or leaf-crickets; and with a still
greater delight do I gaze at the lovely yellow flower, the
unforgotten camaloté, which is as much to me as the wee, modest,
crimson-tipped daisy was to Robert Burns or to Chaucer; and as the
primrose, the violet, the dog-rose, the shining, yellow gorse, and
the flower o' the broom, and bramble, and hawthorn, and purple
heather are to so many inhabitants of these islands who were born and
bred amid rural scenes.

On referring to the books for information as to the history of the
mimulus as a British wild flower, I found that in some it was not
mentioned, and in others mentioned only to be dismissed with the
remark that it is an "introduced plant."  But when was it introduced,
and what is its range?  And whom are we to ask?

After an infinite amount of pains, seeing and writing to all those
among my acquaintances who have any knowledge of our wild plant life,
I discovered that the mimulus grows more or less abundantly in or by
streams here and there in most English counties, but is more commonly
met with south of Derbyshire; also that it extends to Scotland, {288}
and is known even in the Orkneys.  Finally, a botanical friend
discovered for me that as long ago as 1846 there had been a great
discussion, in which a number of persons took part, on this very
subject of the date of the naturalisation in Britain of the mimulus,
in Edward Newman's botanical magazine, the _Phytologist_.  It was
shown conclusively by a correspondent that the plant had established
itself at one point as far back as the year 1815.

[Sidenote: A British species?]

There may exist more literature on the subject if one knew where to
look for it; but we are certainly justified in feeling annoyed at the
silence of the makers of books on British wild flowers, and the
compilers of local lists and floras.  And what, we should like to ask
of our masters, is a British wild flower?  Does not the same rule
apply to plants as to animals--namely, that when a species, whether
"introduced" or imported by chance or by human agency, has thoroughly
established itself on our soil, and proved itself able to maintain
its existence in a state of nature, it becomes, and is, a British
species?  If this rule had not been followed by zoologists, even our
beloved little rabbit would not be a native, to say nothing of our
familiar brown rat and our black-beetle: and the pheasant, and
red-legged partridge, and capercailzie, and the fallow-deer, and a
frog, and a snail, and goodness knows how many other British species,
introduced into this country by civilised man, some in recent times.
And, going farther back in time, it may be said that every species
has at some time been brought, or has brought itself, from {289}
otherwhere--every animal from the red deer and the white cattle, to
the smallest, most elusive microbe not yet discovered; and every
plant from the microscopical fungus to the British oak and the yew.
The main thing is to have a rule in such a matter, a simple, sensible
rule, like that of the zoologist, or some other; and what we should
like to know from the botanists is--Have they got a rule, and, if so,
what is it?  There are many who would be glad of an answer to this
question: judging from the sale of books on British wild flowers
during the last few years, there must be several millions of persons
in this country who take an interest in the subject.

[Sidenote: A visit to Swarraton]

One bright September day, when the mimulus was in its greatest
perfection, and my new pleasure in the flower at its highest, I by
chance remembered that Gilbert White, of Selborne, in the early part
of his career, had been curate for a time at Swarraton, a small
village on the Itchen, near its source, about four miles above
Alresford.  That was in 1747.  To Swarraton I accordingly went, only
to find what any guide-book or any person would have told me, that
the church no longer exists.  Only the old churchyard remained,
overgrown with nettles, the few tombstones that had not been carried
away so covered with ivy as to appear like green mounds.  A group of
a dozen yews marked the spot where the church had formerly stood; and
there were besides some very old trees, an ancient yew and a giant
beech, and others, and just outside the ground as noble an ash tree
as I have ever seen.  These three, {290} at any rate, must have been
big trees a century and a half ago, and well known to Gilbert White.
On inquiry I was told that the church had been pulled down a very
long time back--about forty years, perhaps; that it was a very old
and very pretty church, covered with ivy, and that no one knew why it
was pulled down.  The probable reason was that a vast church was
being or about to be built at the neighbouring village of
Northington, big enough to hold all the inhabitants of the two
parishes together, and about a thousand persons besides.  This
immense church would look well enough among the gigantic structures
of all shapes and materials in the architectural wonderland of South
Kensington.  But I came not to see this building: the little ancient
village church, in which the villagers had worshipped for several
centuries, where Gilbert White did duty for a year or so, was what I
wanted, and I was bitterly disappointed.  Looking away from the
weed-grown churchyard, I began to wonder what his feelings would be
could he revisit this old familiar spot.  The group of yew trees
where the church had stood, and the desolate aspect of the ground
about it would disturb and puzzle his mind; but, on looking farther,
all the scene would appear as he had known it so long ago--the round,
wooded hills, the green valley, the stream, and possibly some of the
old trees, and even the old cottages.  Then his eyes would begin to
detect things new and strange.  First, my bicycle, leaning against
the trunk of the great ash tree, would arrest his attention; but in
{291} a few moments, before he could examine it closely and consider
for what purpose it was intended, something far more interesting and
more wonderful to him would appear in sight.  Five large birds
standing quietly on the green turf beside the stream--birds never
hitherto seen.  Regarding them attentively, he would see that they
were geese, and it would appear to him that they were of two species,
one white and grey in colour, with black legs, the other a rich
maroon red, with yellow legs; also that they were both beautiful and
more graceful in their carriage than any bird of their family known
to him.  Before he would cease wondering at the presence at Swarraton
of these Magellanic geese, no longer strange to any living person's
eye in England, lo! a fresh wonder--beautiful yellow flowers by the
stream, unlike any flower that grew there in his day, or by any
stream in Hampshire.

But how long after White's time did that flower run wild in
Hampshire? I asked, and then thought that I might get the answer from
some old person who had spent a long life at that spot.

I went no farther than the nearest cottage to find the very one I
wanted, an ancient dame of seventy-four, who had never lived anywhere
but in that small thatched cottage at the side of the old churchyard.
She was an excessively thin old dame, and had the appearance of a
walking skeleton in a worn old cotton gown; and her head was like a
skull with a thin grey skin drawn tightly over the sharp bones of the
face, with pale-coloured living eyes in {292} the sockets.  Her
scanty grey hair was gathered in a net worn tightly on her head like
a skull-cap.  The old women in the villages here still keep to this
long-vanished fashion.

I asked this old woman to tell me about the yellow flowers by the
water, and she said that they had always been there.  I told her she
must be mistaken; and after considering for awhile she assured me
that they grew there in abundance when she was quite young.  She
distinctly remembered that before her marriage--and that was over
fifty years ago--she often went down to the stream to gather flowers,
and would come in with great handfuls of wild musk.

When she had told me this, even before she had finished speaking, I
seemed to see two persons before me--the lean old woman with her thin
colourless visage, and, coming in from the sunshine, a young woman
with rosy face, glossy brown hair and laughing blue eyes, her hands
full of brightest yellow wild musk from the stream.  And the
visionary woman seemed to be alive and real, and the other
unsubstantial, a delusion of the mind, a ghost of a woman.

But was the old woman right--was the beautiful yellow mimulus, the
wild musk or water-buttercup as she called it, which our botanists
refuse to admit into their works intended for our instruction, or
give it only half a dozen dry words--was it a common wild flower on
the Hampshire rivers more than half a century ago?

{293}

[Sidenote: Bird life on the downs]

From the valley and the river with its shining yellow mimulus and
floating water-grass in the crystal current--that green hair-like
grass that one is never tired of looking at--back to the ivy-green
cottage, its ancient limes and noble solitary oaks, and, above all,
its birds; then back again to the stream--that mainly was our life.
But close by on either side of the valley were the downs, and these
too drew us with that immemorial fascination which the higher ground
has for all of us, because of the sense of freedom and power which
comes with a wide horizon.  That was a fine saying of Lord Herbert of
Cherbury that a man mounted on a good horse is lifted above himself:
one experiences the feeling in a greater degree on any chalk down.
One extensive open down within easy distance was a favourite
afternoon walk.  Here on the short fragrant turf an army of pewits
were to be found every day, and usually there were a few
stone-curlews with them.  It is not here as in the country about
Salisbury, where the Hawking Club has its headquarters, and where
they have been "having fun with the thick-knees," as they express it
in their lingo, until there are no thick-knees left.  But the chief
attraction of this down was an extensive thicket of thorn and
bramble, mixed with furze and juniper and some good-sized old trees,
where birds were abundant, many of them still breeding.  Here, down
to the end of September, I found turtle-doves' nests with
newly-hatched young and incubated eggs.  I always felt more than
compensated for scratches {294} and torn clothes when I found young
turtle-doves in the down, as the little creatures are then delightful
to look at.  Sitting hunched up on its platform, the head with its
massive bulbous beak drawn against its arched back, the little thing
is less like a bird than a mammal in appearance--a singularly
coloured shrew, let us say.  The colour is indeed strange, the whole
body, the thick, fleshy, snout-like beak included, being a deep,
intense, almost indigo blue, and the loose hair-like down on the head
and upper parts a light, bright primrose yellow.

There are surprising colours in some young birds: the cirl nestling,
as we have seen, is black and crimson--clothed in black down with
gaping crimson mouth; loveliest of all is the young snipe in down of
brown-gold, frosted with silvery white; but for quaintness and
fantastic colouring the turtle-dove nestling has no equal.  In all of
our native doves, and probably in all doves everywhere, the skin is
blue and the down yellow, but the colours differ in intensity.  I
tried to find a newly-hatched stock-dove to compare it with the
turtle nestling but failed, although the species is quite common and,
like the other two, breeds till October.  Ring-dove nestlings were
easy to see, but in these the blue colour, though deep on the beak
and head, is quite pale on the body, fading almost to white on some
parts; and the down, too, is very pale, fading to whitish tow-colour
on the sides and back.

[Sidenote: A boy naturalist]

When seeking for a ring-dove in down I had an amusing adventure.  At
a distance of some miles {295} from the Itchen, near the Test, one
day in September, I was hunting for an insect I wanted in a thick
copse by Tidbury Ring, an ancient earthwork on the summit of a chalk
hill.  Hearing a boy's voice singing near, I peeped out and saw a lad
of about fifteen tending some sheep: he was walking about on his
knees, trimming the herbage with an old rusty pair of shears which he
had found!  It startled him a little when I burst out of the cover so
near him, but he was ready to enter into conversation, and we had a
long hour together, sitting on the sunny down.  I mentioned my desire
to find a newly-hatched ring-dove, and he at once offered to show me
one.  There were two nests with young close by, in one the birds were
half-fledged, the others only came out of their shells two days
before.  These we went to look for, the boy leading the way to a
point where the trees grew thickest.  He climbed a yew, and from the
yew passed to a big beech tree, in which the nest was placed, but on
getting to it he cried out that the nest was forsaken and the young
dead.  He threw them down to me, and he was grieved at their death as
he had known about the nest from the time it was made, and had seen
the young birds alive the day before.  No doubt the parents had been
shot, and the cold night had quickly killed the little ones.

This was the most intelligent boy I have met in Hampshire; he knew
every bird and almost every insect I spoke to him about.  He was,
too, a mighty hunter of little birds, and had captured stock-doves
{296} and wheatears in the rabbit burrows.  But his greatest feat was
the capture of a kingfisher.  He was down by the river with a
sparrow-net at a spot where the bushes grow thick and close to the
water, when he saw a kingfisher come and alight on a dead twig within
three yards of him.  The bird had not seen him standing behind the
bush: it sat for a few moments on the twig, its eyes fixed on the
water, then it dropped swiftly down, and he jumped out and threw the
net over it just as it rose up with a minnow in its beak.  He took it
home and put it in a cage.

I gave him a sharp lecture on the cruelty of caging kingfishers,
telling him how senseless it was to confine such a bird, and how
impossible to keep it alive in prison.  It was better to kill them at
once if he wanted to destroy them.  "Of course your kingfisher died,"
I said.

"No," he replied.  He stood the cage on a chair, and the bird was no
sooner in it than his little sister, a child of two who was fidgeting
round, pulled the door open and out flew the kingfisher!


[Sidenote: Birds at the cottage]

Returning to the cottage, whether from the high down, the green
valley, or the silent, shady wood, it always seemed a favourite
dwelling- or nesting-place of the birds, where indeed they most
abounded.  Now that bright genial weather had come after the cold and
storm to make them happy, the air was full of their chirpings and
twitterings, their various little sounds of conversation and
soliloquy, with an {297} occasional bright, loud, perfect song.  It
was generally the wren, whose lyric changes not through all the
changeful year, that uttered it.  It was this small brown bird, too,
that amused me most with the spectacle of his irrepressible delight
in the new warmth and sunlight.  There were about a dozen wrens at
the cottage, and some of them were in the habit of using their old
undamaged nests in the ivy and woodbine as snug little dormitories.
But they cared nothing for the human inhabitants of the cottage; they
were like small birds that had built their nest in the interstices of
an eagles' eyrie, who knew nothing and cared nothing about the
eagles.  Occasionally, when a wren peeped in from the clustering ivy
or hopped on to a window-sill and saw us inside, he would scold us
for being there with that sharp, angry little note of his, and then
fly away.  Nor would he take a crumb from the table spread out of
doors every day for the birds that disdained not to be fed.  The ivy
and creepers that covered the cottage abounded with small spiders,
caterpillars, earwigs, chrysalids, and what not; that was good enough
for him--Thank you for your kind intentions!

Looking from a window at a bed of roses a few feet away, I discovered
that the wren took as much pleasure in a dust bath as any bird.  He
would come to the loose soil and select a spot where the bed sloped
towards the sun, and then wriggle about in the earth with immense
enjoyment.  Dusting himself, he would look like a miniature partridge
with {298} a round body not much bigger than a walnut.  After dusting
would come the luxurious sun-bath, when, with feathers raised and
minute wings spread out and beak gaping, the little thing would lie
motionless and panting; but at intervals of three or four seconds a
joyful fit of shivering would seize him, and at last, the heat
becoming too great, he would shake himself and skip away, looking
like a brown young field-vole scuttling into cover.

This bright and beautiful period came to an end on 22nd August, and
we then had unsettled weather with many sudden changes until 3rd
September--cloudy oppressive days, violent winds, thunderstorms, and
days of rain and sunshine, and morning and evening rainbows; it was a
mixture of April, midsummer, and October.

This changeful period over, there was fine settled weather; it was
the golden time of the year, and it continued till our departure on
the last day of September.

The fruit season was late this year--nearly a fortnight later than in
most years; and when the earliest, the wild arum, began to ripen, the
birds--thrushes and chaffinches were detected--fell upon and devoured
all the berries, regardless of their poisonous character almost
before their light-green had changed to vivid scarlet.  Then came the
deep crimson fruit of the honeysuckle; it ripened plentifully on the
plants growing against the cottage, and the cole-tits came in bands
to feed on it.  It was pretty to see these airy little acrobats
clinging to the twine-like pendent sprays hanging before an open
window or door.  {299} They were like the little birds in a Japanese
picture which one has seen.  Then came the elderberries, which all
fruit-loving birds feast on together.  But the tits and finches and
warblers and thrushes were altogether out-numbered by the starlings
that came in numbers from the pasture-lands to take part in the great
fruit-feast.

[Sidenote: An old chalk pit]

The elder is a common tree here, but at the cottage we had, I think,
the biggest crop of fruit in the neighbourhood; and it now occurs to
me that the vast old chalk pit in which the trees grew has not yet
been described, and so far has only been once mentioned incidentally.
Yet it was a great place, but a few yards away at the side of the old
lime trees and the small protecting fence.  The entrance to it and
its wide floor was on a level with the green valley, while at its
upper end it formed a steep bank forty feet high.  It was doubtless a
very old pit, with sides which had the appearance of natural cliffs
and were overhung and draped with thorn-trees, masses of old ivy, and
traveller's joy.  Inside it was a pretty tangled wilderness; on the
floor many tall annuals flourished--knapweed and thistle and dark
mullein and teazel, six to eight feet high.  Then came some
good-sized trees--ash and oak--and thorn, bramble and elder in
masses.  It was a favourite breeding-place of birds of many species;
even the red-backed shrike had nested there within forty yards of a
human habitation, and the kingfisher had safely reared his young,
unsuspected by the barbarous water-keeper.  The pit, too, was a
shelter in cold {300} rough weather and a roosting-place at night.
Now the fruit was ripe, it was a banqueting-place as well, and the
native birds were joined by roving outsiders, missel-thrushes in
scores, and starlings in hundreds.  The noise they produced--a tangle
of so many various semi-musical voices--sounded all day long; and
until the abundant fruit had all been devoured the chalk pit was a
gigantic green and white bowl full to overflowing with sunshine,
purple juice, and melody.

The biggest crop of this fruit, out of the old chalk pit, was in the
garden of a cottage in the village, close to the river, occupied by
an old married couple, hard workers still with spade and hoe, and
able to make a Living by selling the produce of their garden.  It was
a curious place; fruit trees and bushes, herbs, vegetables, flowers,
all growing mixed up anyhow, without beds or walks or any line of
demarcation between cultivated plants and brambles and nettles on
either side and the flags and sedges at the lower end by the river.
In the midst of the plot, just visible among the greenery, stood the
small, old, low-roofed thatched cottage, where the hens were free to
go in and lay their eggs under the bed or in any dark corner they
preferred.  A group of seven or eight old elder-trees grew close to
the cottage, their branches bent and hanging with the weight of the
purpling clusters.

"What are you going to do with the fruit?" I asked the old woman; and
this innocent question raised a tempest in her breast, for I had
unwittingly touched on a sore subject.

{301}

[Sidenote: Past and present times]

"Do!" she exclaimed rather fiercely, "I'm going to do nothing with
it!  I've made elderberry wine years and years and years.  So did my
mother; so did my grandmother; so did everybody in my time.  And very
good it were, too, I tell 'e, in cold weather in winter, made hot.
It warmed your inside.  But nobody wants it now, and nobody'll help
me with it.  How'm I to do it--keep the birds off and all!  I've been
fighting 'em years and years, and now I can't do it no longer.  And
what's the good of doing it if the wine's not good enough for people
to drink?  Nothing's good enough now unless you buys it in a
public-house or a shop.  It wasn't so when I were a girl.  We did
everything for ourselves then, and it were better, I tell 'e.  We
kep' a pig then--so did everyone; and the pork and bacon it were
good, not like what we buy now.  We put it mostly in brine, and let
it be for months; and when we took it out and biled it, it were red
as a cherry and white as milk, and it melted just like butter in your
mouth.  That's what we ate in my time.  But you can't keep a pig
now--oh dear, no!  You don't have him more'n a day or two before the
sanitary man looks in.  He says he were passing and felt a sort of
smell about--would you mind letting him come in just to have a sniff
round?  He expects it might be a pig you've got.  In my time we
didn't think a pig's smell hurt nobody.  They've got their own smell,
pigs have, same as dogs and everything else.  But we've got very
partickler about smells now.

"And we didn't drink no tea then.  Eight shillings {302} a pound, or
maybe seven-and-six--dear, dear, how was we to buy it!  We had beer
for breakfast and it did us good.  It were better than all these
nasty cocoa stuffs we drink now.  We didn't buy it at the
public-house--we brewed it ourselves.  And we had a brick oven then,
and could put a pie in, and a loaf, and whatever we wanted, and it
were proper vittals.  We baked barley bread, and black bread, and all
sorts of bread, and it did us good and made us strong.  These iron
ranges and stoves we have now--what's the good o' they?  You can't
bake bread in 'em.  And the wheat bread you gits from the shop,
what's it good for?  'Tisn't proper vittals--it fills 'e with wind.
No, I say, I'm not going to git the fruit--let the birds have it!
Just look at the greedy things--them starlings!  I've shouted, and
thrown sticks and all sorts of things, and shaken a cloth at 'em, and
it's like calling the fowls to feed.  The more noise I make the more
they come.  What I say is, If I can't have the fruit I wish the
blackbirds 'ud git it.  People say to me, 'Oh, don't talk to me about
they blackbirds--they be the worst of all for fruit.'  But I never
minded that--because--well I'll tell 'e.  I mind when I were a little
thing at Old Alresford, where I were born, I used to be up at four in
the morning, in summer, listening to the blackbirds.  And mother she
used to say, 'Lord, how she do love to hear a blackbird!'  It's
always been the same.  I's always up at four, and in summer I goes
out to hear the blackbird when it do sing so beautiful.  But them
starlings that come messing {303} about, pulling the straws out of
the thatch, I've no patience with they.  We didn't have so many
starlings when I were young.  But things is very different now; and
what I say is, I wish they wasn't--I wish they was the same as when I
were a girl.  And I wish I was a girl again."

Listening to this tirade on the degeneracy of modern times, it amused
me to recall the very different feeling on the same subject expressed
by the old Wolmer Forest woman.  But the Itchen woman had more
vigour, more staying-power in her: one could see it in the fresh
colour in her round face, and the pure colour and brightness of her
eyes--brighter and bluer than in most blue-eyed girls.  Altogether,
she was one of the best examples of the hard-headed, indomitable
Saxon peasants I have met with in the south of England.  She was past
seventy, impeded by an old infirmity, the mother of many men and
women with big families of their own, all scattered far and wide over
the county,--all too poor themselves to help her in her old age, or
to leave their work and come such a distance to see her, excepting
when they were in difficulties, for then they would come for what she
could spare them out of her hardly-earned little hoard.

I admired her "fierce volubility"; but that sudden softening at the
end about the blackbird's beautiful voice, and that memory of her
distant childhood, and her wish, strange in these weary days, to have
her hard life to live over again, came as a surprise to me.

{304}

[Sidenote: Migration of swallows]

In days like these, so bright and peaceful, one thinks with a feeling
of wonder that many of our familiar birds are daily and nightly
slipping away, decreasing gradually in numbers, so that we scarcely
miss them.  By the middle of September the fly-catchers and several
of the warblers, all but a few laggards, have left us.  Even the
swallows begin to leave us before that date.  On the 8th many birds
were congregated at a point on the river a little above the village,
and on the 10th a considerable migration took place.  Near the end of
a fine day a big cloud came up from the north-west, and beneath it,
at a good height, the birds were seen flying down the valley in a
westerly direction.  I went out and watched them for half an hour,
standing on the little wooden bridge that spans the stream.  They
went by in flocks of about eighty to a couple of hundred birds, flock
succeeding flock at intervals of three or four minutes.  By the time
the sun set the entire sky was covered by the black cloud, and there
was a thick gloom on the earth; it was then some eight or ten minutes
after the last flock, flying high, had passed twittering on its way
that a rush of birds came by, flying low, about on a level with my
head as I stood leaning on the handrail of the bridge.  I strained my
eyes in vain to make out what they were--swallows or martins--as in
rapid succession, and in twos and threes, they came before me, seen
vaguely as dim spots, and no sooner seen than gone, shooting past my
head with amazing velocity and a rushing sound, fanning my face with
{305} the wind they created, and some of them touching me with their
wing-tips.

On the evening of 18th September a second migration was witnessed at
the same spot, flock succeeding flock until it was nearly dark.  On
the following evening, at another point on the river at Ovington, I
witnessed a third and more impressive spectacle.  The valley spreads
out there to a great width, and has extensive beds of reeds,
bulrushes, and other water plants, with clumps and rows of alders and
willows.  It was growing dark; bats were flitting round me in
numbers, and the trees along the edge of the valley looked black
against the pale amber sky in the west, when very suddenly the air
overhead became filled with a shrill confused noise, and, looking up
through my binocular, I saw at a considerable height an immense body
of swallows travelling in a south-westerly direction.  A very few
moments after catching sight of them they paused in their flight,
and, after remaining a short time at one point, looking like a great
swarm of bees, they began rushing wildly about, still keeping up
their shrill excited twittering, and coming lower and lower by
degrees; and finally, in batches of two or three hundred birds, they
rushed down like lightning into the dark reeds, shower following
shower of swallows at intervals of two or three seconds, until the
last had vanished and the night was silent again.

It was time for them to go, for though the days were warm and food
abundant, the nights were growing cold.

{306}

The early hours are silent, except for the brown owls that hoot round
the cottage from about four o'clock until dawn.  Then they grow
silent, and the morning is come, cold and misty, and all the land is
hidden by a creeping white river-mist.  The sun rises, and is not
seen for half an hour, then appears pale and dim, but grows brighter
and warmer by degrees; and in a little while, lo! the mist has
vanished, except for a white rag, clinging like torn lace here and
there to the valley reeds and rushes.  Again, the green earth, wetted
with mist and dews, and the sky of that soft pure azure of yesterday
and of many previous days.  Again the birds are vocal; the rooks rise
from the woods, an innumerable cawing multitude, their voices filling
the heavens with noise as they travel slowly away to their
feeding-grounds on the green open downs; the starlings flock to the
bushes, and the feasting and chatter and song begin that will last
until evening.  The sun sets crimson and the robins sing in the night
and silence.  But it is not silent long; before dark the brown owls
begin hooting, first in the woods, then fly across to the trees that
grow beside the cottage, so that we may the better enjoy their music.
At intervals, too we hear the windy sibilant screech of the white owl
across the valley.  Then the wild cry of the stone-curlew is heard as
the lonely bird wings his way past, and after that late voice there
is perfect silence, with starlight or moonlight.



{307}

INDEX

_Account of English Ants_, by the Rev. W. Gould, quoted, 88, 93

Adder, life remaining in severed head of, 76; its basking-place, 80;
its consciousness of human presence, 82

"Adder-stinger," New Forest name for the dragon-fly, 121

Agarics eaten by squirrels, 106

Alarm-cries of birds, 94

Alga, an aerial, 195; still essentially a water-plant, 195

America, South, dragon-flies in, 122; the camaloté in, 286; a wasp
experience in, 129

_Anax imperator_ in the New Forest, 118

Anglers, swifts occasionally caught by, 265

Anglo-Saxon settlers, a conquering race, 228, 230

Ants, removal of dead by, 87; behaviour of, towards queen, 88;
caterpillar hunting by, 92; vast populations of, 111

Arum, berries of, eaten by birds, 298

_Asilus_, a rapacious fly, 46

Associations, sympathy with lower animals due to human, 43, 46;
memories recalled by, 107-109; value of, in matters of faith, 186;
charm due to, 286

Autumn in the New Forest, 1


Bank-vole and hornet, 9

Bankes, Mr. E. A., his observation of nightjars, 39

Barrow on the heath, the, 48-52

Beaulieu, historical associations of, 36; a heath near, 38

Beddoes, Thomas Lovell, quoted as to the fire-fly, 125

Bellamy, J. C., his _Natural History of North Devon_ referred to, 251

Bird-life, annual destruction of, 26

Birds near the Boldre, 6; their silence in late summer, 89; mixed
gatherings of, 90; alarm cries of, 94; by the Itchen, 249

Blackbird, mortality among young of, 56; an orphan, by the Itchen,
270; tamed by feeding, 272; gregarious instinct in the young, 274

Blackburn, Mrs. Hugh, her account of the young cuckoo, 14

Blackmoor, church at, 191

Boldre or Lymington river, 3; a house by the, 4; between the Exe and
the, 29, 35

Bourne, the, or Selborne stream, 171

Boy, a New Forest, 158; his ignorance of the Forest wild life, 159; a
naturalist, 295

Boys, stray, in Wolmer, 216

Bracken, possible cause of pleasure in appearance of, 63

Brockenhurst, _Croöleptus iolithus_ on gravestones at, 195

Bullfinches, 188

Bunting, four kinds of, by the Itchen, 278

Butterflies of the New Forest, 117; moths and, collectors of, 120;
English names of, 120


_Calopteryx virgo_ in the Forest, 118; colouring of, 122

Camaloté, its appearance recalled by mimulus, 286

Cats, Egyptian, story of their fascination by fire, 99

Cattle tormented by forest flies, 66

Celt, the black, Iberian origin of, 236; Huxley, a specimen of the,
240

Chaffinch, its especial dread of the weasel, 94-96; arum berries
eaten by the, 298

Chalk-pit by the Itchen, fruit harvest for birds in, 299

Churches of Hampshire villages, 184; Gilbert White's strictures on,
184; their charm, 185; wanton destruction of, 186; their harmony with
their surroundings, 187, 190

_Cicada anglica_, doubt as to his song, 135, 136

Cirl-bunting, the, at Selborne, 172; quality of its voice, 173; not
distinguished by White from the yellowhammer, 173; by the Itchen,
250; his song, 251; his plumage, 251; its late breeding, 275; its
breeding habits, 275; its warning note, 276; safeguarding of young
by, 276

_Cladothrix odorifera_, scent of fresh earth due to, 154

Cockchafer grubs sought for by starlings, 57

Cockerel and martins at Selborne, 166

Cole-tit, honeysuckle berries eaten by, 298

Contrast a source of enjoyment, 203

Coot, the, on the Itchen, 253, 254; his struggles with grebe for
water-weed, 255; his parental wisdom, 256; greediness of young
corrected by, 257

_Cordulegaster annulatus_, 118; his serpent-like colouring, 121

Courtship by stag-beetle, 71; among the green grasshoppers, 151;
among the flower-spiders, 156, 159

Craig, Mr., his observations on the nestling cuckoo, 21

Creighton, Dr., on the young cuckoo question, 14

Crickets, house and field, their music compared, 169

_Croöleptus iolithus_, beautiful tints of the, 195

Crowhurst, hollow yew tree at, 199

Cuckoo, young, its behaviour, 13; in robin's nest, 15; its rapid
growth, 15; its spasmodic efforts to eject obstacles, 16-20


Dabchick, _see_ Grebe, little

Dark people in Hampshire, 231; two types of them, 231; mutual
distrust between blonde and, 234; Iberian origin of one type 236

Dark Water, the, 38; flies on the, 67; _Calopteryx virgo_ on the, 122

"Deadman's Plack," memorial cross at, 140

Death, life-appearances after, 77; unknown to lower animals, 86

_Death of Fergus_ quoted as to the yew, 196

Degeneration, Ray Lankester on, 149

Dog, his recollection of a hidden bone, 108

Domestication, change in habits caused by, 169

Dragon-flies, lack of English names for, 118; their strange
appearance, 121; a flight of blue, settled on bracken, 123

Drayton, Michael, quoted as to the coot, 258

Drumming or bleating of snipe, 40

Drumming-trees of woodpeckers, 11-13

Dust-bath, a wren's enjoyment of a, 296


Earth, odour of, 154

Edgar, King, memorial of his murder of Athelwold, 140

Eggs, ejection of, by young cuckoo, 16-19, 22

Elaboration and degeneration, 148

Elderberries by the Itchen, 298

Emblems on old gravestones, 193

_Epeira_, grasshopper killed by, 44

Ephemeræ, destruction of, by swifts, 267

Exe, valley of the, 35

Eye colours, racial feeling with regard to, 234


Family, a more or less happy, 254, 258

Farringdon, cirl bunting at, 173; Gilbert White curate at, 197; yew
tree at, 198

Fascination, question of, 95; the weasel's method of, 96; as exerted
on mammals, 97; inquiry as to interpretation of, 101; its
disadvantage to those subject to it, 102; as exerted by diving-birds
on fishes, 262

Fear, paralysing effect of, on birds and mammals, 96-100; on fishes,
262

"Fiddlers," flies eaten by, 68

Field-crickets, sound of, 169; a colony of, near Southampton, 170

Fire, fascination of, for cats, 99; for certain Hampshire pigs, 101

Fire-fly, comparison of, with glow-worm, 124; described by Beddoes,
125

Fish, capture of, by diving-birds, 262

Fishing, instruction in, given by parent grebes, 261

Flavour, purple, of certain fruits, 283

Fleas, their adaptation in size to their host, 104

Forest fly, his tenacity, 34; cattle tormented by, 66

Fox, alarm cry of birds at sight of, 94

Fritillary, silver-washed, 117


Gauchos, singing contests among the, 146

Gentry, the, a mixed race, 222

Gipsies of the South of England, 158

Glow-worm, shining of, after death, 78; impression produced by light
of, 124; comparison of, with the fire-fly, 124; quality of its light,
125; doubts as to purpose of the light, 127

Goldfinch, the, by the Itchen, 249

"Good-for-nothing grass," 141, 147

Gould, Rev. W., his _Account of English Ants_ quoted, 88, 93

Grass, false brome, great grasshoppers in the, 141; floating, in
Hampshire rivers, 243, 293

Grasshopper, spider and, 43; black, _see Thamnotrizon_; great green,
134, 137; his music, 138; rival minstrelsy of, 142; kicking and
biting, 144; the female, 147; her character and habits, 149-152

Grave, single, under the Selborne yew, 202, 218

Gravestones, old, their beauty, 192; their sculptured emblems, 193;
nature's softening touches on, 194; under the Hurstbourne Priors yew,
201

Grebe, the little, a persecuted bird, 254; attentions to his mate,
255; his breeding difficulties, 260; his dogged perseverance, 260;
fishing taught by parents to the young, 261


Habit, tyranny of, 165

Hampshire, characteristics of the people of, 220; blonde and dark
types in, 224; blonde type a mixed race, 227; Saxon race in, 227; the
dark type, 231

Harewood Forest, colony of great green grasshoppers in, 140

Harris, Moses, his _Exposition of English Insects_ quoted, 119

Harvest mouse feeding on dock seed, 8

Hawfinch, hunger cry of young, 92

Hawking Club, extermination of stone-curlews by, 293

Hawk-moth and meadow-pipit, 116

Herodotus quoted as to behaviour of cats fascinated by fire, 99

Herons at Hollywater Clump, 210

Hollywater Clump, 209

Honeysuckle, night fragrance of, 58, 270; berries of, eaten by
cole-tit, 298

Horn-blower, the Selborne, _see_ Newland

Hornet, bank-vole and, 9; fine appearance of the, 128; a South
American, 129; his rarity, 130; in late autumn, 131

Horse-ants, struggle of, with caterpillar, 92

"Horse-stingers," 121

House-crickets, their abundance at Selborne 168

House-martins, diminished number of, at Selborne, 174

Humming-bird hawk-moth, beauty of, 113, 115

Hunger cry of young birds, parental sensibility to, 23, 91; of young
blackbird, 55; of young cirl bunting, 277

Hurstbourne Priors, yew tree in churchyard at, 201

Huxley on the non-Saxon shape of English heads, 231; quoted as to his
own parentage, 240


Iberian type in Hampshire, 235; its persistence, 236; its possible
restoration, 237; its dominant qualities, 238, 239; Huxley's mother
an example of the, 240

Influences, pre-natal, possible results of, 100; over-susceptibility
possibly due to, 102

Insect life, sound of, 65

Insect notables, 113, 123, 130, 177

Insects, honey-eating, in lime trees, 248; rapacious, caterpillars
destroyed by, 92; comparative fewness of, in Britain, 110; as viewed
by the indoor mind, 111

Instinct, possible over-elaboration of, 102, 148, 262

Ironstone in Wolmer Forest, 205

Itchen, the river, compared with the Test, 245; a fishing cottage by
the, 245, 296; water-birds on the, 252 _et seqq._; an old cottage by
the, 300

Ivy blossoms, insects feasting on, 131


Jackdaw, the, a wind lover, 211

Jay, the, a caterpillar hunter, 91; in Harewood Forest, 140

Jenner, Dr., his account of the young cuckoo, 13

Jute type of man in Hampshire, 222


Kestrels with young, 65

"Kingfisher," an old name for dragon-fly, 120

Kingfisher, capture of a, 296; nesting in chalk-pit, 298


Langland, quotation from, 52

Leaves, tint of fallen, 2

Life-principle, divisibility of, 75, 76

Lime-trees by the Itchen cottage, 246, 248; bird visitors to the, 248

Ling, beauty of, in Wolmer Forest, 204

Locust family, England their northern limit, 177

_Locusta viridissima_, see Grasshopper, the great green

Loe, Mr., his _Yew Trees of Great Britain and Ireland_ referred to,
200

Lucas, Mr. W. T., his monograph on British dragon-flies quoted, 122

Lymington river, _see_ Boldre

Lyndhurst, 154


Mallards in Wolmer, 213

Mammals, woodland tint of, 2

Martyr Worthy, a little dark girl at, 240

Mayfly, the, decrease in its numbers, 266

Meadow-pipit, its struggle with hawk-moth, 116

Memory, lower kind of, 108

Migration, gradual, of swallows, 304

_Mimulus luteus_ in Hampshire, 283; purity of its colour, 284; South
American associations with, 286; as a British plant, 287; its wide
British range, 287; at Swarraton, 291; old woman's early memories of,
292

Mitford, Miss, on the lack of beauty in Berkshire faces, 182

Mob, the Selborne, 206

Monograph on fleas wanted, 105; on man in Hampshire wanted, 222

Monographs, Huxley on the peril of, 105

Moor-hen, an inquisitive, 213; the, on the Itchen, 253; nest of, on
floating water-weeds, 254

Mosaics, cause of pleasure given by sight of, 64

Moth, death's-head, its beauty, 115; and rarity, 116

Musk mallow, the, at Selborne, 171


Names, English, lack of, for dragon-flies, 118, 120; for insects, 178

Neolithic times, Iberians in Britain during, 236, 237

Nestlings, ejection of, by cuckoo, 16-23; strange coloration of, 15,
294

New Forest, abuses of the, 29; paucity of wild life in, 31; its
future management, 33; butterflies of the, 117; hornets in the, 130

Newland, the Selborne hornblower, 206, 217; his capture and pardon,
207, 218; his grave under the yew tree, 218

Newman, Edward, colony of green grasshoppers mentioned in his
_Entomologist_, 139; his _Phytologist_ referred to as to the mimulus,
288

Nightingale, date of cessation of its song, 89

Nightjar, its care of the young, 39

Nore Hill, view from, 183

Norfolk, the churches of, compared with those of Hants, 185

Northington, immense church at, 290


Oak woods, attractiveness of, 90; distinguishing beauty of, in
autumn, 280

Oast-house, old, at Farringdon, 198

Open spaces, the love of, 38

Ovington, watching swifts at, 266; reed-bunting at, 278; mimulus
blossoming at, 286; swallows congregating at, 305

Owl, tawny, voice of, 4; a white, at Alton, 164; brown, by the
Itchen, 306


Pain, undue sensibility to, 25; indispensable to life, 26

Parsons, Mr., formerly vicar of Selborne, 218

Peasantry, racial types best found among the, 223; ancient and
modern, compared, 301

Pen Ponds in Richmond Park, a coot comedy on, 256

Pewit, his wailing complaints, 42; a dead young, 85

Pigeons, three kinds of, by the Itchen, 249; blue colour of young, 294

Pigmentation, variation in intensity of, 233

Pigs, certain, insane attraction of fire for, 101

Pike, its attempt to seize a swallow, 36

Pixie mounds, 47, 48

_Polyergus rufescens_, over-specialisation of, 149

_Polygonum persicaria_, coot feeding on, 256

Pond-skaters, flies eaten by, 68

Priors Dean, small church at, 188

Privett, large new church at, 190


Queen ant, deferential treatment of, 88


Rabbit, paralysing effect of stoat's presence on, 97, 100

Races, successive absorption of, in England, 236

Rain, swifts and swallows not affected by, 268

Redshank, breeding of, 41

Reed-bunting, song of, 278

Ring-dove, young of, 294

Robin, cuckoo's egg in nest of, 15; ejection of eggs and young of, by
young cuckoo, 16-23; an ejected nestling, 22; parental insensibility,
23

Rose, cult of the, 58


Sand-martins, late migration of, 269; a dead one, 269

Saxon type, the, in Hampshire, 227, 303; occasional reversion to the,
228; comparison of, with Iberian, 239

Scent, unpleasing, of yellow flowers, 282

Seebohm on stories of the young cuckoo, 14

Selborne, idle visitors to, 161; a second visit to, 163; bird
incidents observed at, 164; a third visit, 167; temperature of, 168;
house-crickets at, 168; musk mallow in churchyard, 171; cirl bunting
at, 172; its enervating air, 181; beauty of the common, 182; yew tree
in churchyard, 198, 199; the "mob" at, 206

Shepherd near Winchester, his wages, 227; a Saxon, on the downs, 229

Shrews, young, 10; dead, abundance of fleas on, 105

Shrike, red-backed, 299

Silchester, mosaics at, 64

Snake-skin, apparent continued vitality of, 77

Snipe, breeding habits of, 40, 41; in Wolmer, 215; beauty of young,
294

Sounds, pleasure in, affected by conventions, 169

South Hayling, curious yew tree at, 200

Spider killing grasshopper, 44; a flower-haunting, 155

Squirrel, visit from a, 10; a dead, 103; fatal fall of, 104; fleas
on, 104, 105; his irritable temper, 106; his memory of hidden food,
107

Stag-beetle, "stags and does," 69; in search of a mate, 71; striking
a scent, 72; unconscious comedy of the, 74; life remaining in severed
head, 75

Starling, note of, 3; his search for cockchafer grubs, 57; his untidy
habits, 210; his varied language, 210; increase in his numbers, 303

Stoat, rabbit's helplessness when chased by, 97

Stonechat, his note of trouble, 41

Stone-curlews, extermination of, by Hawking Club, 293

Stridulation of grasshoppers, 134; of crickets, 169

Swallow and pike on the Exe, 36

Swarraton, White formerly curate of, 289; church at, pulled down,
289; changes in, since White's day, 290; old woman's recollections of
mimulus at, 292

Swifts, the, at Selborne, 172, 174; evening gatherings of, 175; on
the Itchen, 264; destruction of May flies by, 267

Swinton, A. H., quoted as to _Cicada anglica_, 135


Teal, Wolmer a breeding-place of, 212; his lively disposition, 214,
215

_Thamnotrizon cinereus_ at Selborne, 177; his habits, 178; voice and
disposition, 179

_Thomisus citreus_, its habits, 155; its wooing antics, 156

Thrush, young, 55; arum berries eaten by, 298

Tidbury Ring, 295

Tit, long-tailed, nest of, 7

Traherne, Thomas, quoted, 38

Trees, age of, 199

Turtle-doves in Wolmer, 212; appearance of young, 294


Varieties, racial, in Southern English people, 220

Vegetation by Hampshire streams, 242, 243, 247

Villages, characteristic Hampshire, along the rivers, 243

Viper, _see_ Adder

Vole hunted by weasel, 97

Voles, field and bank, 8


Wagtail, a pied, at Selborne, 165

Wallace, Dr. A. R., as to the cuckoo controversy, 13

Warning note of cirl bunting, 276, 277

Water-birds on the Itchen, 252, 258

Water-keeper on the Itchen, destruction of grebes' nests by, 254; on
the Test, his opinion as to dragon-flies, 119

Water-rail on the Itchen, 259

Watson, William, on "world-strangeness," 47

Weasel, the, his place in nature, 7; dreaded by small birds, 94; his
fascination-dance, 95; his pursuit of field-vole, 97

Wheatham Hill, wide view from, 184

White admiral, 117

White, Gilbert, his strictures on Hampshire churches, 184; his
connection with Farringdon, 197; Farringdon yew not mentioned by,
199; vain attempts after reminiscences of, 206; his description of
Wolmer Forest, 210; his curacy at Swarraton, 289

Whitethroat attacked by lesser whitethroat, 61

Whitethroat, lesser, song of, 60, 138

Wild musk at Selborne, 171

Willughby, his suggestion as to colour, 37

Wine, elderberry, a forgotten vintage, 301

Wolmer Forest, first impression of, 203; colour of streams in, 205;
Holly-water Clump in, 209; White's description of, 210; its bird
population, 211

Woman, a young, of Hampshire type, 232; an old, her recollection of
wild musk, 292; an old, a praiser of past times,300

Wood owl, carrying power of voice of, 4

Woodpeckers, green, drumming by, 9; in Hollywater Clump, 210; great
spotted, 12; small spotted, 12

Wren, its continued use of old nest, 297; its sun-bath, 297

Wren, golden-crested, nest of, 6


Yellow flowers, want of attraction in, 282; the smell of, 282

Yellowhammer not distinguished by White from the cirl bunting, 173

Yew tree, at Priors Dean, 190; its association with the dead, 196;
called the "Hampshire weed," 197; at Farringdon, 197, 199; at
Selborne, 198, 218; slow growth of, 199; growth of new bark in, 199;
at Crowhurst, 199; at Hurstbourne Priors, 201; possible injury to
roots of, from grave-digging, 201



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