Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Gamekeeper's Note-book
Author: Woodward, Marcus, Jones, Owen
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Gamekeeper's Note-book" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

NOTE-BOOK ***





Transcriber's Note

Text emphasis represented as _Italics_.




                            A GAMEKEEPER'S
                               NOTE-BOOK

[Illustration: A PIPE OF PEACE

LONDON, EDWARD ARNOLD.]




                            A GAMEKEEPER'S
                               NOTE-BOOK

                                  BY
                              OWEN JONES
                  AUTHOR OF "TEN YEARS' GAMEKEEPING"

                                  AND

                            MARCUS WOODWARD
                      JOINT AUTHOR OF "WOODCRAFT"


                   _WITH PHOTOGRAVURE ILLUSTRATIONS_

                           SECOND IMPRESSION


                                LONDON
                             EDWARD ARNOLD
                                 1910

                        [_All rights reserved_]




PREAMBLE


A gamekeeper's notes are written for the most part on the tablets of
his mind. He is a man of silence; yet he is ever ready to unlock the
casket of his memories if old friends, and sympathetic, are about him.
We have known keepers who could talk, when so minded, as well as they
could shoot, making their points as certainly as they would bowl over
any straying cat that crossed their paths. But few keepers can handle
a pen with the same confidence as a gun. Some keepers, it is true,
carry note-books, and therein make certain brief notes--simple records
and plain statements of fact, interesting enough to glance over, but
nothing to read.

The vermin bag has an honourable place in these notes--year by year the
keeper may set down precisely how many malefactors (and others) have
fallen to his gun and traps. It is a record in which he takes almost as
much pride as in his daily and yearly lists of game; the grand total
of a good season for game or vermin lingers for ever on his lips. The
date of a shoot, the beat, the number and names of the guns, and what
luck befell them, all may be noted with scrupulous care, with a word
about the weather, perhaps, and possibly also on the benefits in cash
received by the keeper at the day's end. Many carry little pocket
note-books wherein they keep an account of dates and places--the date
of all dates in the year being, of course, that on which the first wild
pheasant's egg was found among the primroses. A page of the book may be
filled with the names and nicknames of poachers caught, and a record of
their transgressions and penalties. For the rest, for all the details,
that should clothe the nakedness of these briefly written words, one
must go to the keeper's mind. And the best of all a keeper's notes are
the ones he never jots down.

In this book the notes set out are culled chiefly from a series of
genuine note-books, covering a certain keeper's ten years' experience
of gamekeeping and life-long experience in woodcraft: we have taken
the rough jottings of his pocket-books, and have done our best with
thoughts and memories to sketch in the foreground and background of
his facts. Where he has merely noted, "April --, first wild pheasant's
egg seen," we have tried to picture him as he set out hopefully
expectant, and to describe his feelings as he found that egg, to him
more precious than all others of the year. Where, again, he only says,
"Saw cubs at play," we have sympathised with him as he noted what wings
of partridges and pheasants, what legs of hares and bones of rabbits,
littered the playground.

An abundant source of incident and story we have found in our dealings
with many good gamekeeper friends, old men and young, some of them
locally renowned as "characters," and all good sportsmen. We have
elaborated many a note on gamekeepers themselves, about their wives and
children, their cottages, their dreams, their ways of speech and their
philosophic sayings, matters which no keeper would trouble to record.

Should we be pressed to name the original author of the note-books
from which our memories have been mainly refreshed, we should have to
name one of ourselves: we would be excused. Together, we share the
recollection of glad companionship through many a long day and night;
and, above all, that magic interest in the countless phases of a
gamekeeper's life and work covered by that wide word, Woodcraft.

Our notes appeared originally in the Saturday editions of the _Evening
Standard and St. James's Gazette_, in which journal they have long been
and are still a regular feature: we thank the editor for permission
to publish them in the present form. We are indebted to the editor of
_Pearson's Magazine_ for permission to reproduce the two bird-pictures
by Mr. Frank Southgate, R.B.A.

                            O. J. and M. W.

_September 1910._




LIST OF CONTENTS


SPRING

                                    PAGE

  The Keeper's Lot                     1
  Perquisites                          2
  Pets at the Cottage                  3
  Wood-Pigeons                         4
  The Keeper's Larder                  5
  Homely Medicines                     7
  The Earth-Stoppers' Feast            8
  The Keeper's Garden                  9
  Keepers' Holidays                   12
  An Advantage of Marriage            13
  The Keeper seeks a New Berth        14
  In North and South                  15
  Poachers--                          15
  And their Dogs                      16
  Perfect Obedience                   17
  The Black List                      18
  A South-Country Record              19
  Woodland Gallows                    20
  The Gallows Martyrs                 21
  Once Trapped, Twice Shy             22
  Cunning Trappers                    23
  The Time to Catch a Weasel          24
  Changes of Coats                    25
  The Vermin Bag                      26
  The Ways of Squirrels               27
  The Squirrel's Appetite             28
  The Departure of Cats               29
  Skeletons and Cobwebs               30
  The Persecuted Magpie               31
  The Merciful Trap                   32
  The Rabbit in a Snare               33
  The Sleep of Birds                  34
  Animals at Rest                     36
  Vigilant Fulfers                    37
  The Eyes of Wild Creatures          38
  The Season's End                    39
  Beaters' Sport                      41
  Tailless Cocks                      43
  Preparations                        44
  Hungry Rabbits                      44
  To Save Underwood                   45
  Studies in Fear                     46
  The Rookery                         48
  When Rooks Build                    49
  Ways of the Crows                   49
  The Crow as Terrorist               51
  Imperial Rooks                      51
  Rook-Pie                            52
  Birds for Stock                     53
  Old Hens                            55
  A Gamekeeping Problem               56
  The Hare Poacher                    57
  March Hares                         58
  The Cubs' Birthday                  59
  Courtiers in Pens                   60
  When Hawks Nest                     62
  Love-Dances                         63
  Names that Puzzle Cockneys          63
  Hares and their Young               66
  Starving Birds                      67
  The Egg of Eggs                     68
  Pheasants' Eggs                     69
  Hens in Cocks' Feathers             71
  About Nesting Pheasants             71
  The Broody Hen                      73
  The Frenchmen's Nests               76
  The Last of the Hurdlers            77
  Hurdlers' Science                   78
  The Woodman                         79
  A Dying Race                        79
  Choice Nesting-Places               80
  Hidden Nests                        81
  A Mutual Understanding              82
  Many Guardians                      82
  Mark's Day                          84
  The Old, Old Story                  85
  The Luck of Pheasant-Rearing        86
  From Egg to Larder                  88
  Fine Eggs and good Mothers          88
  The Cub-Stealing Shepherd           89
  Lures and Charms                    90
  The Law and the Peewit              92
  The Partridge and the Peewit        93
  A Friend to Agriculture             93
  The Rats in the Stacks              94
  Thoughts on Rat-hunting             95
  When Cats are Angered               96
  Hunters' Thirst                     96
  Life-in-Death                       97
  Ideal Ratters                       98
  Ratting without Ferrets            100

SUMMER

  A Keeper Chorister                 103
  Velveteens                         104
  Owls and Hawks                     105
  The Bold Sparrow-Hawk              106
  Nest and Young                     108
  The Keeper Outwitted               110
  A Jackdaw Nursery                  111
  Detective Work                     112
  Cattle in the Woods                112
  A Tragedy of the Woodlands         114
  Fox and Partridge                  114
  A Study in Perseverance            115
  The Hut in the Woods               116
  Pheasant Chicks                    117
  The Roosting Habit                 119
  The Badger's Stealth               121
  To Attract Bullfinches             123
  Bird Warnings                      123
  A Rabbit's Fates                   124
  Game-Birds and Motors              125
  Mysteries of the Nightjar          126
  The Razor-grinder                  127
  A Ventriloquist                    127
  The Cock and the Hen               129
  On Finding Feathers                130
  When the Dog's Asleep              131
  A Story of Rats                    132
  Blood and Water                    133
  The Untimely Opening               134
  'Ware Wire                         135
  Witless Pheasants                  135
  Nature's Laws                      136
  The Partridge June                 137
  Favoured Pheasants                 138
  A Covey of Ancients                140
  Keepers' Woe                       141
  Red-Legs                           141
  Water for Game-Birds               142
  Ideal Coverts                      144
  The Thrist of Rabbits              145
  Puppies at Walk                    145
  Schooling the Puppies              147
  Dogs' Noses                        148
  The Thief of the World             149
  The Cubs' Playground               151
  A Fox's Feat                       152
  Dog-Washing Days                   153
  Shame-faced Cocks                  155
  The Turtle-Dove's Summer           157
  The Lagging Landrail               157
  The Truce Ends                     159
  The Thieving Jay                   160
  The Oldest Writing                 161
  Prospects                          162
  Useful Work by Game-Birds          163
  Life of the Cornfield              164
  The Keeper's Hopes                 165
  Finding the Fox                    167
  Harvest Sport                      167
  The Luck of the Game               169
  Rabbit-Catchers' Craft             170
  Among the Corn                     172
  The Last to Leave                  172
  In the Woods                       172
  Weasel Families                    173
  Mother Stoat                       174
  Lurking-Places                     176
  Studies in Stoat Ways              177
  The First                          179
  Early Birds                        179
  Walking-up                         180
  Thoughts on Cubbing                181
  Wines of the Country               183


AUTUMN

  The Verdict of the Season          185
  Weather to pray for                187
  After the Opening                  187
  An October Day                     188
  Low Flight and High                189
  Wily Grouse Cocks                  189
  Rewards for Cubs                   190
  "Various"--the Landrail            191
  Sport amid the Shocks              192
  "Mark"                             193
  The Keeper's Dogs                  195
  Woodcock Owls                      196
  Dogs that Despise Woodcock         196
  Pets of Pigs                       198
  Some Deals in Dogs                 199
  Marked Birds                       200
  Colour-Changes in Feathers         200
  Nature's Healing                   201
  A Little Story                     202
  Accidents to Hares                 202
  Hares no longer Speedy             203
  Starling Hosts                     204
  Trials of a Copser                 205
  Wild Birds in Cages                205
  Truffles                           206
  Retriever's Usefulness             206
  Nuts and Mice                      207
  The Hand of Time                   209
  The Keeper grows Old               210
  Rabbit Ways in Autumn              211
  The Rabbits' House-cleaning        212
  The Guileless Countryman           213
  Sporting Policemen                 214
  The Woodcraft of Gipsies           215
  Gipsy Lies                         217
  Long-netters                       219
  Training Rabbits                   219
  Why Birds Flock                    221
  The Companies of Rats              222
  The Fall                           223
  Late and Early Autumns             223
  Hares in the Garden                224
  Food for Pheasants                 225
  The Lingering Leaves               226
  Planning Big Shoots                227
  Plots and Counter-Plots            228
  Indian Summer                      229
  Winter Sleep                       230
  A Dish of Hedgehog                 231


WINTER

  Rustic Wit                         233
  The Oak City                       233
  Acorns                             234
  Plump Rabbits                      236
  The Stoat's Hunting                237
  Mysteries of Scent                 238
  The Axe in the Coverts             241
  The Uses of Underwood              242
  The Tipping System                 243
  Free Suppers for the Fox           245
  Clues to the Thief                 246
  Muzzled by a Snare                 247
  Cunning Rascals                    248
  A Hunting Argument                 249
  The Clever Terrier                 251
  Born Retrieving                    252
  Some Sporting Types                252
  Victims of Wire                    253
  Stoat or Weasel?                   253
  "The Horrid Badger"                254
  Chalk-Pit Haunts                   255
  When the Fox sleeps                255
  When Ferret meets Fox              256
  February Rabbits                   257
  The Moucher's Excuse               257
  When Hounds come                   258
  When Hounds are gone               259
  Poachers' Weapons                  260
  Moles' Skins for Furs              261
  Covert-shooting Problems           262
  "Cocks only"--to compromise        262
  What a Cat may kill                263
  A Cockney Story                    264
  Hares in Small Holdings            265
  The Sins of the Father             266
  The Pheasants' Roosting-Trees      267
  The Fox in the Storm               268
  Foxes at Pheasant Shoots           268
  Pheasants that go to Ground        269
  Pheasants' Doomsday                270
  The Hungry Retriever               270
  The Old Wood                       271
  Memories of Muzzle-loaders         272
  Relics of the Great Days           273
  Cleaning a Muzzle-loader           274
  The Knowing Beater                 275
  Old Friends                        276
  What Shepherds enjoy               277
  Lives of Labour                    277
  In the Folds                       278
  Shepherds' Care                    279
  Winter Partridge-driving           279
  The Fear of Snow                   281
  Hard-Weather Prophets              282
  Weather-wise Beasts and Birds      282
  Green Winters                      284
  What Rainy Days bring              285
  Cubs at Christmas                  286
  Work for Rainy Days                287
  The Old Lumber                     288
  When Foxes mate                    289
  A Keeper's Dreams                  290
  A Death-bed Vision                 291
  Christmas Sport                    292
  Cunning Cock Pheasants             293
  A Dish of Greens                   293
  Christmas Shoots                   294
  Woodcock Talk                      295
  Spare the Hens                     296
  A Free-and-Easy                    297
  A Keeper's Ghost-Story             298
  Old Friends in Velveteen           300
  The Converted Shepherd             302
  A Final Story                      302
  Careful Wives                      303
  "What Her was Like"                304

Index 305





LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                               _To face
                                                   Page_

  A Pipe of Peace                         _Frontispiece_

  Spring's Looking-glass                             40

  Hampshire Hurdles                                  78

  The Long Day Closes                               134

  Starlings Roosting on Reeds                       204
    _From a Drawing by Frank Southgate, R.B.A._

  Peewits in Winter                                 280
    _From a Drawing by Frank Southgate, R.B.A._




SPRING


The Keepers' Lot

The position of a gamekeeper in England is a curious one. Admittedly
he is among the most skilled and highly trained workers of the
countryside. His intimate knowledge of wild life commands respect.
Often he is much more than a careful and successful preserver of
game--a thoroughly good sportsman, a fine shot. His work carries heavy
responsibility; as whether a large expenditure on a shooting property
brings good returns--and on him depends the pleasure of many a sporting
party. On large estates he is an important personage--important to
the estate owner, to the hunt, to the farm bailiff, and to a host of
satellites. His value is proved by the many important side-issues of
his work--dog-breeding and dog-breaking, or the breaking of young
gentlemen to gun work. Yet, in spite of the honourable and onerous
nature of his calling, he is paid in cash about the same wage as a
ploughman.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Perquisites

The actual wages of a first-class gamekeeper may be no more than a
pound a week. A system has sprung up by which he receives, in addition
to wages, many recompenses in kind, while his slender pay is fortified
by the tips of the sportsman to whom he ministers. This system has bred
in him a kind of obsequiousness--he is dependent to a great extent on
charity. With a liberal employer he may be well off, and all manner of
good things may come his way; but with a mean employer the perquisites
of his position may be few and far between.

At the best, he may live in a comfortable cottage, rent free. His coal
is supplied to him without cost, and wood from the estate. Milk is
drawn freely from the farm--or he may have free pasturage for a cow
of his own. A new suit of clothes is presented to him each year. He
may keep pigs for his own use, usually at his own expense, but this
is a small item, and even here he may be helped out by a surplus of
pig-food from the kitchen of the house or from the farms. He has a
fair chance to make money by dog-breeding and exhibiting. Then there
is vermin and rabbit money which he earns as extra pay, and useful
sums may flow into his pocket from the hunt funds. He may keep fowls
at his employer's expense, and if not solely for his own use, he has
the privilege of a proportion of the eggs, and a reasonable number of
the chickens may be roasted or boiled for his own table. The estate
gardeners aid him with his gardening operations, and many surplus
plants and seeds find their way into his plot. To rabbits he may help
himself freely, also to rooks and pigeons. After each shooting party
his employer--if a generous master--invites him to take home a brace of
pheasants and a hare; and there may be other ways in which game comes
to his larder. Commissions and fees of various indeterminate sorts may
swell his coffers. All kinds of supplies he secures, if not freely,
at reduced prices. And always there is the harvest of tips. Clearly
there is every chance for a gamekeeper to receive charity of some form
or another, if it is not always offered; and this must tend to weaken
that independence which is found by the man who is paid for his labour
fairly and squarely in cash.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Pets at the Cottage

One usually sees a pretty assortment of pets about the keeper's
cottage, where there are children. The keeper himself is not above a
pet animal, though he may not confess it--and, strange to say, the
keeper's favourite is often a cat. But you may be sure it is a cat
among cats, and without sin--an expert among rats, mice, and sparrows,
yet able to sit for hours on the hole of a rabbit, or alone with a
canary, and not yield to temptation. At one keeper's cottage a dormouse
is to be seen--at this season he is broader than he is long. Here
lives "Billy," a buff bantam cock, who will sit on your knee and take
a mouthful of bread from your lips; here also is "Tommy," a game-cock,
who takes lunch and tea on the inside of the kitchen window-ledge; and
here is "Sally," a goose that will lay more than threescore eggs in the
spring, lives on grass, likes to explore the cottage's interior, and
puts all the dogs to shame as a guard, loudly proclaiming the arrival
of strangers. In a coop on a lawn lives a white rabbit, whose mission
in life is to keep the grass short; this rabbit will not look at a
carrot, but rejoices in bread and milk, and above all in cold chicken.
In the yard is a retriever, who is always careful to offer you her
right paw in greeting, loves blackberries, and is the special friend
of a little terrier. Once there was a pet lamb. On many a little rough
grassy grave the keeper's child places wreaths of wild flowers.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Wood-Pigeons

The shooting of pigeons is the keeper's special feather-sport--he is
always on the spot to take advantage of favourable circumstances. It
goes on in summer as in winter, and remembering the tremendous amount
of damage done to pea-fields, corn crops and roots by pigeons, there
is a justification for this shooting which cannot be urged in favour
of pheasant-shooting. The keeper understands the sport. He knows the
pigeons' habits and feeding times, and that concealment is the secret
of success. Lying at ease on the ground, with his back to a tree-trunk,
he waits in all patience for the pigeons to come to their favourite
trees. Or, having noted the part of the feeding-field where the birds
alight, he conceals himself in a hedge, or behind bushes arranged by
himself, so that from his butt he can shoot comfortably at any bird
within range. As birds are shot he sets them up as decoys. A stick
about nine inches long is put in the ground, and one pointed end
inserted in the pigeon's throat, the bird being set up in a life-like
way. Knowing that they are thirsty birds, especially when feeding on
the ripe, hard grain, he builds a hut near the pond where the pigeons
drink, and if he cannot see them on the ground or in the trees, creeps
out to stalk them, and the shots they give as they rise, diving and
turning in all directions, are such that no one need despise.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper's Larder

Wood-pigeons are among the gamekeeper's perquisites. Apart from a very
occasional request from "the house" for the wherewithal for pigeon-pie,
the pigeons shot are for the benefit of the keeper and his family, and
when he shoots more than he requires there are always labourers and
others glad of a pigeon or two "to make a pudden." Rabbits, also, are
perquisites, but to be sold no more than pigeons. The popular idea is
that keepers may help themselves to any game they please--true, they
could if so minded. But no matter what a keeper's ethics in other
directions, as a rule he deals honourably with the game in his charge.
The keeper has no more right to take a brace of birds or a hare without
permission than has an ironmonger's assistant to take a coal-scuttle.
There is little to be said against the keeper making use of game
killed, but not eaten, by foxes or vermin, or of chance-killed game
unsuitable for his employer's table. One old keeper was so anxious to
make every available pheasant figure in the game-book that he would
never keep the brace given him at the end of a day's shooting. Instead,
he would include the birds with the bag on the following day, and this
he would do day after day.

Free though they are to kill and cook rabbits, few keepers care for
them, or eat them often. Most keepers, indeed, would be as pleased to
go to penal servitude, or to live in London, as to eat rabbits more
often than once a month. This is not because they have eaten too many,
but because the smell of rabbits has become distasteful. However,
rabbits prove a great help to the keeper with children to feed. Usually
his larder is well stocked, and his good-wife has a store of all kinds
of dainties in her cupboards--from home-made pickles to home-brewed
wine. Often your keeper is a clever gardener; he takes prizes for his
vegetables, and he will grow fine cucumbers and even melons under
fragments of glass. Something of a cook himself, well accustomed to
preparing luxurious meals for his sacred birds, he is a judge of cooks
and cooking, as many a keeper's wife has discovered. If she does not
know, he can tell her how to prepare a savoury dish which shall have
the special advantages of not spoiling through being kept warm or from
being warmed up--for the keeper's dinner is a movable feast, and must
be ready at any time between noon and night. The sheet-anchor of one
such dish is proper home-cured bacon, in winter baked in a pie-dish
with alternate layers of parboiled potatoes, for which in summer the
contents of eggs beaten just enough to blend the yolks and whites are
substituted. Served with new potatoes, it is the very dish to put heart
in a man.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Homely Medicines

The gamekeeper is among the few people left in the country who have
any knowledge of herb-lore, and faith in home-brewed herbal remedies.
His medicine-chest contains a varied assortment. From rose-pink
centaury he boils an appetising tonic for his pheasants, which he is
not above drinking himself. The roots of couch-grass provide him with
a powerful emetic for dogs in the first stages of distemper. He bakes
acorns, grinds them to powder, and with its aid quells a rebellious
stomach. His good-wife has the secret of cowslip and nettle tea. From
the pounded leaves of dock blended with lard, he prepares a salve for
cuts. Rheumatism, from which all keepers suffer in their old age, is
treated with the fat of hedgehogs, well rubbed in--not that this is a
herbal remedy. Cramp in pheasants calls for cayenne pepper boiled in
their food; chopped onions are for gape-worms; a little saffron with
drinking water--as much as will lie on a threepenny-bit in the water
for a thousand birds--assists young birds through the troubles of
feather-growing; while the first moult is aided by a few crystals of
sulphate of iron in water. But oil is the sovereign remedy: castor-oil
for dogs out of sorts, oil of almonds for the glued eyelids of blind
birds, linseed-oil and laudanum for gapes--oil of every kind for every
purpose. With corn scented with oil of rhodium-wood the keeper lays a
trail which every pheasant must follow.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Earth-Stoppers' Feast

The reward paid to keepers from the funds of fox-hunts is a sovereign
for a litter of cubs when hounds come cub-hunting. Ten shillings is
paid for each fox found by hounds. And a florin is the keeper's usual
reward for stopping earths when the meet is within a distance of four
miles. These moneys are paid in round sums on a great occasion in the
keeper's year--the earth-stoppers' dinner. In olden days keepers were
full of resources for benefiting themselves from the hunt funds, while
saving their pheasants' skins from foxes at the same time. The cunning
keeper would induce a huntsman to pay a stealthy unofficial visit to
the home of a litter, and after his departure, when a reward had been
made sure, would quietly take steps to rid himself of fox troubles.
Visiting the earth with a supply of sulphur matches and bags of grass,
he would light the matches within, block the holes with the bags, and
leave the deadly fumes to do their work. Or two keepers would combine
to defraud the hunt. One would show a litter and pocket his sovereign,
then shift the litter to the preserves of his friend, who in turn would
call in the huntsman and pocket his reward, then return the cubs whence
they came; and so the game would go on. Luck plays a great part in this
matter of fox-rewards. It often happens that foxes which have been
harboured honestly by one keeper are found in the preserves of another
who is a vulpicide, yet is not above accepting the reward which really
is the due of his scrupulous friend in the next parish. How to show
foxes to the hunt and pheasants to a shooting party is the prickliest
of all the manifold problems of the gamekeeper's life.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper's Garden

The gamekeeper, like many a countryman, would be at a loss without his
garden. His little plot of land means much to him: green food for his
table, tonic foods for his pheasants, and a place where, by digging,
he may bury some of his cares. He knows no such exercise as digging
for keeping away ill-humours. He believes that the more a man sows the
more he will reap--it is a lesson daily brought home to him. So he
puts his best work into his garden, which is often the model plot of a
rural community. In March he divides his time between spade work and
his never-ending war on vermin. If he has a pen of stock pheasants he
spends a good many minutes a day in admiration of the birds, besides
tending to their wants; and he will defy you to prove that you ever saw
a finer lot of birds. "Look at that old cock up agen yon corner--ain't
'e got some 'orns? Bless ye, them birds is worth a pound apiece."

So many a March afternoon finds the keeper hard at work at home with
spade, fork, trowel or dibbler. His great object is to finish the more
laborious work before the time of pheasants' eggs. A feature of the
garden is the neat and spacious onion-bed, smoothed with the polished
back of a favourite spade, which has dug out countless rabbits. There
must be plenty of onions for the young pheasants to come. In time of
need a keeper may sacrifice the whole of his onion-bed to his birds,
gladly buying such onions as his wife demands for the table. Then
there are two or three long rows of peas. Before sowing, the seed is
sprinkled with red lead against the ravages of long-tailed field-mice,
and after sowing strands of black thread are carried up and down the
surface against the attacks of sparrows, while above, as a terrible
warning, swings the body of a sparrow-hawk. The site of an old pheasant
pen is devoted to Brussels sprouts. A dilapidated dog-kennel will serve
to coax rhubarb to be ready for Easter Sunday's dinner.

Flower seeds are not forgotten: in shallow cartridge-boxes, protected
by a small home-made frame, seeds are sown for making the little patch
of flower-garden gay with stocks and asters, sweet peas, sun-flowers,
tobacco-plants, and zinnias. The keeper puzzles over zinnia seed, which
is like the fragment of a dead leaf, yet will come up and grow with the
speed of mustard and cress, producing a wealth of bloom.

But the planting of the potato patch is the chief work. The neat little
furrows which mark each row of potatoes, allowing the hoe to be plied
fearlessly before the potatoes show above ground, give a neatness to
the cottage garden all the time while the soil is brown and bare.

Gamekeepers, though their work for wages is never done, yet have a few
legitimate ways of adding to their incomes. Of course they have the
opportunity of making a good deal of money if they trespass on their
employers' time; but your keeper is an honest man, and his work is
the object of his life. Most keepers are skilled vegetable gardeners,
and may make a few shillings from peas and beans. Often enough they
have a cunning way with flowers, though envious amateurs are free with
their hints about the advantages to be gained from burying foxes to
enrich the soil. We know one who will put in a fair day's work with
spade and wheelbarrow before even the waggoners have stirred to give
their horses breakfast. Going his rounds, the keeper marks good briers
for budding; if he does not sell them, he will beg choice buds from
rose-growers, and a year or two later the passer-by may be tempted to
offer half-a-crown for the fine roses of his little plot. Possibly by
this time his roses mean so much to him that he will make some such
excuse as, "The missus, she thinks a mortal sight of they."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Keepers' Holidays

In February a few lucky gamekeepers may take a voluntary holiday, many
must take an involuntary one--restful, perhaps, but not beneficial to
pocket, health, and spirits. Keepers come and keepers go in these days
when so many shoots are let for short terms. Resting between berths
has one advantage--there can be no haunting worry as to the welfare of
game. It would be interesting to collect cases of keepers and other
country workers who have held the same berth for long periods, and have
never been for a holiday right away from the scenes of their labours.
Many and many old keepers would be found to have lived their whole
lives on the estates where they were born. The best holiday for keepers
would be a change to a bustling town; or they should be sent to a
country where game is different to the game at home, the partridge man
going to the home of grouse, the moorland keeper to the South.

Most keepers would be the first to say it is impossible that they
should take holiday. Their work is peculiarly personal; and even
when it is essential to arrange for somebody else to "give an eye to
things," they can never feel happy and confident that all is going on
in the accustomed way. The work, too, is cumulative--each item must
be considered in its relation to several others. Even where there are
several keepers, each on his own beat of a shoot, there is a jealous
rivalry between them; and any one who went for a holiday would suspect
advantage to be taken of his stock of breeding game in his absence. If
there is one thing a keeper can endure less than being scored off by a
poacher, it is to be scored off by a brother keeper.

                   *       *       *       *       *


An Advantage of Marriage

For the first time in many a long year a gamekeeper may find himself
taking a holiday in the early days of February--either because he
has left his place of his own free will, or has been dismissed.
"Left owing to shoot being given up"--that is the usual reason for
a keeper's enforced holiday. Married keepers seldom leave berths of
their own accord except to better themselves; but a young bachelor
keeper with a light heart may be fond of change, and scores of places
are open to him from which married men are barred. Often he can afford
to take a holiday while he looks about for a new berth; he can find
lodgings anywhere, and what with odd jobs and the money he has saved
he can exist comfortably until he finds an employer to suit him. The
married keeper is not so light-hearted, and perhaps on this account
the best permanent berths go to the married men. The chance of such a
berth gives the country maiden her best chance of bagging an elusive
bachelor. Sometimes she captures the heart of a bachelor before he has
found a berth that will support a wife; then he will advertise for a
place, making the ambiguous statement: "Married when suited." No doubt
some keepers who have issued this form of advertisement could tell
strange stories of the applications received.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper seeks a New Berth

When going out to look at a place where the chance of a berth has
offered itself, the keeper always takes good stock of the game in the
country through which he passes. You may meet him, at the end of the
season, setting out by road or by rail; he is clad in his best, you
will see; bright new gaiters encase his legs, his boots glitter with
polish. However great his hurry, as he goes along through park-lands or
woods, he is looking out for everything to be seen; not a sign of game
escapes him. And there lives a keeper who, passing through an estate
on his way to a personal interview with the owner, chanced to be led
out of the direct path by certain suspicious sounds which he heard,
and caught a poacher red-handed. It is hardly necessary to add that he
stepped forthwith into the vacant berth.

                   *       *       *       *       *


In North and South

Many long leagues separate the moor-keeper of the North from the
keeper of South-country preserves; their eyes look out upon different
worlds; the two men are as different in type, in ideas, and in
methods as the North is different to the South, the open, rolling
moor to the jungle-like covert. There are certain matters on which
they agree--as in their mutual hatred of foxes; the moor-keeper, when
the season is out, has no hesitation in killing all foxes and vermin
within his power. He has an advantage over his brother in some things;
as in nesting-sites. The heather affords an unlimited number of
well-concealed places for grouse nests, whereas in Hampshire or Sussex
a nesting hedgerow after the heart of pheasant or partridge is likely
to be overcrowded, and to attract every sort of egg-thief. Again, he
has an advantage in his natural and abundant food-supplies; though much
of his success in raising a stock of healthy birds will depend on his
judgment in burning old heather, and insuring a plentiful growth of
young shoots. When heather is late in starting to grow, and birds are
forced to feed on old, dry shoots, digestive troubles may prove fatal
to many.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Poachers--

Poachers on the moor differ in many habits and tricks from
South-country poachers. They know how to trap grouse with gins, setting
up little piles of gravel, which the birds eagerly seek for digestive
reasons, and besetting the gravel with traps. They know how to trap
grouse in winter without causing them injury; this they do by pressing
a bottle into hard snow, thus shaping a hole-trap (to be baited with
oats) from which the grouse cannot escape, having fallen into it head
first. But on the whole the sneaking type of poacher has fewer chances
on the moor than in the pheasant coverts.

                   *       *       *       *       *


And their Dogs

A poacher owns to a dog, so marvellously trained that his master can
send it for anything--but at the least sign of anybody watching its
movements, or the approach of a gamekeeper or a policeman, the dog
drops whatever it may be carrying, makes off for cover, and hides
itself. The dog has many rivals to fame of this sort. We knew a poacher
whose plan it was to dawdle along the road in his pony-cart while his
lurcher foraged in the fields. But at a certain signal the dog would
come instantly to heel; on suspecting danger, all the master did was
to lift his cap, and scratch his head in the most unconcerned manner
in the world. When once a dog grasps the meaning of a signal, he will
obey it faithfully in all circumstances if he is kept in practice. In
the olden days, in the Netherlands, dogs were trained to smuggle, and
without attendants. They were sent off on a journey at night, loaded
with goods, the keenest-nosed dog leading, and at the moment when he
sighted or scented a custom-house official, he would turn back as a
signal to the whole pack to rush off to cover, and hide until the
danger passed. This is vouched for in an old work, "Brown on Dogs."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Perfect Obedience

Probably there would be no great difficulty training a dog to drop a
hare, or anything else, at the approach of somebody other than its
master. Dogs are sometimes trained to lie down, without receiving any
signal or order, when their owners meet friends and stop to talk. One
old gamekeeper would consider his dogs to be very ill-mannered if
they did not lie down of their own accord when he stopped walking.
Another keeper has trained his dog to quite an out-of-the-way trick,
which is to the keeper's personal advantage, if highly detrimental
to his duties. The trick is for the dog, on command, to spit from
his mouth any food he may be eating. The keeper will take his dog to
a public-house, and set the example of throwing him biscuits, which
he will eat greedily. He will then make a boast about the dog's
obedience (in the shooting field, by the way, we have never known a
more disobedient animal, though he is exceedingly clever). Eventually
the keeper wagers a pint of beer to a quart that the dog not only will
cease eating biscuits on command, but will eject any crumbs from his
mouth, and not touch them again until so ordered. Many a pot of beer
has the dog won for his master by this trick. When the two go home, it
is the dog that finds the way.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Black List

In February the gamekeeper's thoughts and energies are turned mostly in
the way of vermin and trapping. And where vermin is really plentiful it
is a wonderful wild sport that he enjoys in tracking and trapping the
creatures of his black list. In the North the vermin bag is more mixed
than in the South, and in the olden days contained such a great variety
of creatures as to suggest that the keepers enjoyed better sport than
their masters. They were ruthless in their war on all that they held
to be enemies to game; how ruthless may be judged from the following
list of vermin, bagged in three years by a famous keeper on Glengarry,
Inverness-shire. It indicates the proportion of the different sorts of
animals classed as vermin found in the Highlands in the middle days of
the last century: 11 foxes, 198 wild cats, 246 martens, 106 polecats,
301 stoats and weasels, 67 badgers, 48 otters, 78 house cats going
wild, 27 white-tailed sea eagles, 15 golden eagles, 18 ospreys, 98 blue
hawks or peregrine falcons, 7 orange-legged falcons, 211 hobby hawks,
75 kites, 5 marsh harriers, 63 goshawks, 285 common buzzards, 371
rough-legged buzzards, 3 honey buzzards, 462 kestrels, 78 merlin hawks,
83 hen harriers, 6 gerfalcons, 9 ash-coloured or long blue-tailed
hawks, 1431 carrion crows, 475 ravens, 35 horned owls, 71 common fern
owls (nightjars), 3 golden owls, 8 magpies. A total of nearly 5000
head, giving an average of more than 1500 head a year, or about five
head a day. The list, strangely enough, does not contain a single jay,
rat, or hedgehog.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A South-Country Record

A Southern keeper's list of about the same period--from 1869 to
1878--shows a total of just over 8000 head. In the year that saw
the greatest destruction of hawks--nearly all sparrow-hawks and
kestrels--46 were killed. The greatest number of magpies killed in a
year was 205. Probably cats were not very carefully counted--their
numbers in different years rise from 47 to 122. Usually more than
100 squirrels were killed each year. And over 100 carrion crows were
killed yearly. But jays headed all lists in numbers sacrificed; the
largest bag of 346 was made in '78, evidently when the influence of the
breach-loader was beginning to make itself felt. Hedgehogs suffered
least persecution among the keeper's supposed enemies, only 6 going
into the bag in one year--45 was the highest hedgehog loss. Exclusive
of rats, this keeper, a Hampshire man, waged war on nine species only,
whereas the Inverness-shire keeper destroyed as vermin thirty-one
different kinds of birds and beasts. The lists make no mention of
rooks. To-day, on the Southern estate to which the list of thirty years
ago refers, not a crow or a magpie is left, and the persecution has
told heavily on the sparrow-hawks, and many another kind. The present
keeper's sport with vermin is as different to his predecessors' as
the sport of his master to his master's ancestors--to-day about 300
pheasants are bagged on this estate in the course of a big day's
shooting, instead of the 30 birds that would have been a good bag in
the olden times.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Woodland Gallows

In olden days the gamekeeper set up his vermin gallows in each of
his big woods. It was to his credit to show that he had killed a
large amount of vermin; on his gallows he wrote his own testimonial.
Nearly all the vermin he killed was duly displayed. But now the day
of the gallows is passing. Keepers have little time to give to the
display; nor do employers always encourage it. The gallows foster
a growing feeling against the destruction of wild life involved by
the preservation of game, and lead to bitter, if often misjudged
attacks. Keepers are contenting themselves with modified forms of
gallows, as the trunk of a tree, to which the heads, tails or claws of
the malefactors are nailed. These small gallows do not speak of the
keeper's successful war-waging in the bold manner of the old-fashioned,
full-measure pattern. But there is much in their favour. As one old
keeper remarked of his tree-trunk gallows, the faint odour was only
enough to set-off the scent of the flowers.

To the gallows comes a varied bag of robbers. The vermin list of a
typical North-country estate included in a recent season 133 stoats,
36 weasels, 62 cats, 98 rats, 115 hedgehogs, 10 hawks, 381 jackdaws,
82 rooks, 23 carrion crows, and 52 magpies--a total of nearly a
thousand head. The rats included would probably only be those caught
incidentally in the vermin traps, not the far greater number killed
during special campaigns by ferret, gun and dog. Hedgehogs are usually
spared the indignity of the gallows. Though a keeper cheerfully
carries a stoat in the pockets of his Sunday coat--and we have known
him in an emergency to put a fox into his pocket--he knows that
to pocket hedgehogs means the entertainment of their numerous and
active dependants. Of cats only the tails are exhibited, and they are
discreetly chosen, the keeper avoiding very striking tails that might
be recognised. It would be bad policy on his part to advertise dead
cats too freely. He has no desire to make enemies.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Gallows Martyrs

Though kestrels, unhappily, are still brought to the gallows, with the
barn-owl and other creatures innocent of injury to game, keepers grow
more discriminating in the matter of vermin. Education has had its
effect--it has taught the men to think, and to act according to reason
rather than convention. The old men remain obstinate, and we remember
how vainly we wasted an hour's good argument on one old fellow who
seemed to hold badgers chiefly responsible for his ruined game-nests.
It was at a keepers' dinner, an annual entertainment given by the Hunt.
Only one badger remained out of a colony that formerly had inhabited
our friend's preserves; and he expressed a firm intention of "fetching
her hout on it." In a rash moment he went so far as to declare that he
would prefer three litters of fox cubs to one of badgers. Overhearing
this, the Hunt secretary made a good point by saying: "Very well, my
friend; if you kill this badger, next time hounds come your way we
shall expect to find at least three litters of cubs." It was notorious
that every fox seen on this keeper's ground was, according to him, a
mangy one and therefore "best put out of the way."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Once Trapped, Twice Shy

Some creatures, after they have been trapped and have escaped, learn
the lesson of their lives, and are never trapped again, while others
find no moral at the end of their adventure, and live to adorn the
gallows. It is very seldom that a rat is trapped twice. Scores escape
from traps at the expense of a leg; this is a common matter, but a
man may trap vermin for a lifetime and yet never catch a three-legged
rat. Stoats, on the other hand, far less cunning than rats, are often
trapped again after escaping with the loss of a foot. We have known a
stoat trapped by its last remaining leg, after having been about for
a long time on one leg and three stumps. A keeper who was at special
pains to preserve the foxes on his ground was much upset by the way
in which his neighbours killed them. One year his anxiety for his
cubs was so great that he caught them all in weak gins--and released
them. He knew that after this experience the cubs would never allow
themselves to be again caught in a gin. On the same principle, keepers
sometimes net and release their own partridges, hares and rabbits, to
save them from falling into the meshes of poachers. In the ordinary
way, the fox is never caught in a trap set for other vermin--or foxes
would have been extinct years ago. If they could be trapped as easily
as the ordinary cat, twenty-four hours would be enough for catching
every fox in the country.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Cunning Trappers

The skilled trapper, setting a baited trap for vermin, places it at
such a distance from the bait that the creature he wishes to catch
cannot reach the food without treading on the pan. Just when it can
reach the prize is the moment when it is most likely to overstep the
safety-line: desire overcomes suspicion. A fox, if so minded, can reach
over the pan, and take the bait of a trap properly set for vermin,
without risking a pad. Yet he seldom takes a bait: he detects the scent
of man for a longer time than a trap is likely to remain unvisited. A
keeper with an experience of more than twelve years vouches for it that
though he used a hundred traps for vermin he never lost a bait through
a fox, nor the Hunt a fox through a bait. But one keeper surpassed the
cunning of the fox. A certain fox had troubled him greatly by too
frequent visits to his poultry-run. He decided to attempt to trap it
at the bottom of a chalk-pit near by, where the fox went to eat his
suppers. Before setting his trap he sacrificed some half-dozen chickens
on different days, with a two-fold object: in order to practise
throwing a chicken from the top of the chalk-pit so that it should fall
exactly where he desired, and in order to cause the fox to expect to
find a meal in the pit. One fine day he set his trap. Then he bided
his time until his scent should have passed away: and after four or
five days he killed another chicken. Making his way to the top of the
chalk-pit, he threw the chicken into a bush at the bottom, where the
fox could reach it only by treading on the pan of the trap, which it
did that night, at the cost of its life.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Time to Catch a Weasel

February is the month when it is fashionable for stoats and weasels to
begin courting. The keeper finds the trapping of stoats or weasels less
difficult work than usual in consequence. He maintains that all is fair
in love, war, and gamekeeping. He relies chiefly on tunnel-traps. The
old way was to fix a long, low, narrow box in a likely run--a box open
at each end, but with shutters which dropped when a pan in the middle
of the floor was touched by a weasel's feet; so the weasel would be
caught alive, without injury--only, however, to be executed. Another
old-time trap was the figure 4 trap, set with a heavy stone or slate,
which fell upon and instantly killed its victim. These cumbersome and
not always reliable traps have passed from the woodlands, and now the
keeper merely slips a gin into the entrance of a tunnel. This is made
sometimes of earth and sticks, or is a drain-pipe, or is made of three
lengths of plank, about a yard long and six inches wide. A hole in a
hedge-bank is a favourite place for the gin. These tunnel traps are
commonly set a few yards from the end of a hedge, because stoats and
weasels have a weakness for cutting corners.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Changes of Coats

We have heard the suggestion many times that there are two varieties
of the common weasel, but think this is not the case. The mistake no
doubt arises from the marked difference in size between the males and
females; the dog weasel is twice or sometimes three times the size of
its sister, and is nearly as big as a small female stoat, while the dog
weasel's sister may be hardly larger than a big mouse. Then the changes
in the weasel's coat are deceptive. In spring a rusty red fur takes
the place of the soft winter brown of the upper parts, while the white
under-parts turn to a yellow tone. The ordinary brown of rats also
changes to a striking rusty red shade in spring. This is most obvious
in the case of rats living in burrows in soil, and often going short
of food, and the rusty fur is specially marked on rats that have been
feeding on carrion sheep and lambs. Shortness of food has the effect of
prolonging the business of coat-changing, as is well seen in the case
of a ferret kept on short commons. A white ferret is deep yellow in
the spring before it has changed its coat. Stoats, too, show yellow on
parts which will be white in the new coat.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Vermin Bag

We met, by chance, an old keeper who, on first acquaintance, seemed a
remarkable specimen--for he informed us that his orders were to set
not a single trap anywhere on his ten thousand acres. Thinking that we
saw a movement of his eyelid, we put the blunt question to him: How
many traps did he usually set? And he replied unblushingly, "Forty
dozen." He kept no record of his bag of vermin; but as he trapped on
such a wholesale scale (remembering that the estate is supposed to
be trapless), no doubt his employer would be startled if he knew the
numbers of vermin killed; his vermin bag must be exceptional. The
old-fashioned keeper is stubborn; the kestrel, as we have said before,
is seen too often on his gibbet, and he has no respect for the useful
wood-owl, which he ruthlessly exterminates. A record of a year's bag of
vermin on one big estate reads thus: Jays, 350; magpies, 160; crows,
150; squirrels, 140; weasels, 80; cats, 70; stoats, 60; hedgehogs, 40;
hawks, 30; total, 1080. This record says nothing of rats, rooks or
owls, though no doubt numbers of rats and rooks were sacrificed.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Ways of Squirrels

The gamekeeper whose bag of vermin in a year included 140 squirrels is,
we may hope, exceptional. Squirrels are not always treated by keepers
as vermin. Now and again a squirrel has been proved guilty of meddling
with the eggs and young of pheasants--but so rarely that even keepers
speak of these misdeeds as "not worth mentioning." The traditional
crime of squirrels is that they damage various sorts of coniferous
trees by nipping their shoots when young. Even if they gave this work
all their time and attention, their numbers in the woods to-day are
so small that the whole damage done would not amount to a very great
injury to the country.

Squirrels are the most innocent creatures in the woods, so far as
any harm to game preserving goes. It is their misfortune that many
keepers look upon them as a convenient form of ferret-food. We have
found a freshly killed squirrel, apparently the victim of a bird of
prey, beneath a spruce fir, from which a barn owl flew as we examined
the body; no doubt owls would take a chance to attack a squirrel.
As to what squirrels kill there is little evidence. We have known a
squirrel to do away with part of a brood of tits in an apple-tree, and
one which visited a pheasant's nest, carrying away an egg, and once
we saw a young pheasant in a squirrel's mouth; but we have no doubt
that the bird was picked up dead. The squirrel's alarm-cry reminds us
of the sound produced from the hole in the body of a rubber doll; it
is amusing to see how he stamps his fore-feet while uttering this cry,
as if doing his best to frighten away his human intruder by a show of
force and fury.

Squirrels always seem to be among the happiest of wild animals. They
have few foes, and none to equal their agility and speed in the tree
branches. The stoat is a good climber, and if he were to attack the
squirrel's nest there would be small chance for the young ones; but
stoats rarely climb so high. In the bitterest weather the squirrel is
secure in his drey; he dreams away the hard days, while around him
birds and animals die of cold and hunger. His only trouble seems to be
that hazel-nuts are sometimes blighted.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Squirrel's Appetite

We know an old keeper who believes that squirrels eat everything
eatable in a wood, and that nothing does more damage to his interests.
He reviles squirrels bitterly, saying that they steal as many of his
precious eggs as rats; the eggs of small birds too, and, on occasion,
nestlings. There seems no end to his accusations. He declares squirrels
will take strawberries and apricots if they have the chance, and that
they eat mushrooms and dig up truffles. A favourite food is supplied
by the Scotch pine; though in hot weather larch, silver fir, and spruce
are added in liberal quantities to the dietary. While he rejoices in
hazel-nuts, beech-mast, acorns, and spruce-seeds, he is sometimes
tempted by berries, walnuts, and apples. He eats freely off buds and
young shoots, and peels the bark off trees--digging a spiral course
with his teeth near the top of the tree, so that the first strong gale
blows over the tree-top. It is the sweet stuff between bark and tree,
rather than the bark itself, that attracts his fancy. In the spring he
plays havoc with the tender shoots of the horse-chestnut, showering
them on the ground; while he is so fond of acorns that he is accused
even of pulling up young oak plants to devour the remains of the acorns
below. But we doubt that one squirrel in ten inflicts serious injury on
anybody.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Departure of Cats

We suppose that more cats disappear from the domestic hearth in
February than in any other month. The gamekeeper may or may not know
more about this than he will admit--it is certain that the cats go, and
it is true that many of them turn up again. Whatever the February fate
of the cat, the nearest keeper to its home bears the blame of having
spirited it away. He may deny all--that he knows anything about the cat
or its colour or its fate--but the more he denies the more strongly
will he be suspected, the more furiously accused. One old keeper
met all inquiries about the departure of cats with this sound piece
of wisdom: "If ye makes 'em bide at 'ome, there won't be no need for
wantin' 'em to come back."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Skeletons and Cobwebs

New times give the keeper new excuses. Taxed with a cat's
disappearance, he blames the motor-car; some day he will blame the
flying-ship; where a railway is at hand he always has a ready excuse.
We would be the last to suggest that when the mortal remains of a cat
are found on a road frequented by motor-cars the presumption is always
justified that the cat was slain by a keeper who endeavoured to put
the blame on an innocent driver. We are confident that many cats in
game-preserved places live to die from old age. Ten years is a ripe age
for a cat, but some die from accidents more natural than execution or
murder. Like the birds, when they know their hours to be numbered, cats
creep away to some quiet hiding-place to await death--perhaps beneath
the floor of an old barn, or among the rafters of a familiar roof,
where they hunted rats and mice in youthful days.

Now and again, in old buildings, death-chambers are discovered where
the skeletons of cats have been hidden among cobwebs and dust, perhaps
for hundreds of years.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Persecuted Magpie

Magpies will soon be exterminated in many parts of the country unless
they receive special protection. Like sparrow-hawks, the tribe suffers
collectively for the sins of the individual. The ordinary magpie is
no more harmful to the interests of game than the ordinary rook. His
beauty, certainly, is far more striking. But he has been given a bad
name; and magpies are destroyed on every possible occasion. The keeper
finds the magpie only too easy to destroy, in spite of the bird's
wonderful keenness of eye and his wary ways.

Magpies go year after year to the same huge, domed nest. The birds may
be trapped a hundred times more easily than sparrow-hawks; and they
may be shot without any difficulty, so slow, laboured and straight is
their flight. An imitation of their call lures them unsuspiciously to
their doom. Add that the plumage is showy, and it is clear that the
thoughtless keeper finds magpies easy targets.

They are in demand as cage-birds, and even if a keeper should reprieve
a few lingering pairs, he is likely to complain of "they bird
fanciers," who "won't let the birds bide."

Like all of its tribe, the magpie attacks the eye of its victims,
whether alive or dead. His taste is for carrion, and this accounts
for the ease with which he may be trapped. Here the magpies differ
from the hawks, which are seldom to be caught by a dead bait, unless
killed by themselves--as when they have been disturbed after a kill
and return to an unfinished feast. In trapping for magpies, the keeper
ties a rabbit's eye to the pan of his trap, which he covers carefully
with moss so that only the eye is visible; then the magpie swoops down;
unerringly, and with great force, he drives his bill into the eye, and
the trap holds him fast.

While usually building in high trees, some descend to thick bushes,
and from this has arisen a popular idea that there are two sorts of
magpies--bush and tree. The idea is hard to shake; and it is argued
that the bush magpie is the smaller of the two. The nest is always
fortified with strong and ugly thorns; marauding crows or rooks would
attack it at their peril. Careful as they are to protect their own
nests, magpies have small respect for the sanctity of other bird homes;
but though they are inveterate egg-stealers, a good word is sometimes
heard for their usefulness in destroying slugs, rats, and field-mice.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Merciful Trap

No solution has been found to the problem of a substitute for the
steel trap for rabbits and vermin. So the steel trap remains a painful
necessity, as those know who have tried to keep great numbers of
rabbits within bounds. But steel traps are sometimes used where more
merciful ways of catching rabbits might serve as well. Rabbit catchers
who never think for themselves, but do things only because they
have always done them, will use steel traps where they could save
themselves much labour, and the rabbits a good deal of suffering, if
they were to use snares. Several hundred snares can be set in the time
it would take to set a hundred traps, and the snares cost little, and
weigh next to nothing--a consideration when traps or snares have to be
carried a long way. A few traps make a heavy load.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Rabbit in a Snare

Snares themselves are far from ideal. If they are properly set a good
many rabbits may run into them at speed and kill themselves almost
instantly; but the majority of the rabbits caught will not be thus
neatly despatched. Half a night's catch may be found dead in the
morning, some having been hanged outright, others strangled more or
less slowly; but half will be found still living, if nearly dead. This
slow strangulation is prevented when a knot is made in the snare, or
some sort of ring or washer is attached, so that the wire cannot be
drawn tight enough to prevent the rabbit breathing; but no rabbit then
is killed swiftly and mercifully by the wire, and on other accounts the
plan could not prove a real solution to the problem. There is still
another way of setting a snare which prevents a slow death: a bender--a
springy stick of hazel or ash about four feet long--is fixed firmly in
the ground: the snare is made fast to the thin top of it, the stick is
bent down, and the top lightly inserted at the edge of the rabbit's
run. When a rabbit then rushes into the snare, the bender flies up,
swinging him off his feet, so that he is killed quickly. This is a
poacher's dodge to prevent rabbits from squealing when caught: it can
be practised only in an open place. There are many situations where the
steel trap is the only means of dealing with the rabbit pest, and must
be used perforce until a substitute is found--unless man is to give way
to rabbits. We do not think that any gamekeeper uses steel traps for
rabbits unnecessarily.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Sleep of Birds

The gamekeeper perhaps sees more of sleeping birds than most people;
and makes many interesting mental notes of the resting habits of
creatures in his woods. He observes that perch-roosting birds always
rest with their heads to the wind. If when a high wind is blowing a
rook alights on the home-tree, he swings his head into the wind before
settling. So when the wood-pigeons come home with the wind behind
them they pass over their roosting trees, then beat up into the wind.
This is done to defeat the force of the wind, which might prevent the
bird alighting where desired, or might blow him from his perch. At
rest, the bird doubles the knees, as it were, which causes the toes
to contract, the weight of the body resting chiefly on the breast and
on the outspread wings--not on the eggs, if in a nest. The birds'
legs and feet have sinews which work an automatic locking action of
the claws, so that, roosting with knees doubled up, the feet grip the
branch unfailingly. On rough nights, the pheasants take the precaution
of roosting in lower branches than usual. If a strong gale springs up
after a bird has gone to roost on an exposed tree, it may be driven to
seek a berth on the ground--and to the wind that does no good to the
pheasant the passing fox owes his supper.

Some birds seem always half-awake. Wild-fowlers will strike a match at
night to test the question of the presence or absence of wild duck in
the distant creek; if present, an instant quacking will betray them.
Pheasants seem ever vigilant, and on the darkest night it is difficult
to stalk them unawares, however quietly you move. If you come within a
hundred yards of guinea-fowl at night they will raise the alarm. They
excel at talking in their sleep. Sparrow catchers know that directly
their nets touch one part of an ivy-covered wall birds fly out from
another. But some birds, such as the wrens when cuddling in a hole
in the thatch, seem to sleep soundly. And while we have found that
on striking a match beneath a tree where wild pigeons were roosting
they have flown out at once with a clatter of wings, a pigeon-lover in
London informs us that his city birds, roosting on his window-ledge,
lose their wariness by night, and will hold their own in face of a
candle, while a hand is outstretched to touch their necks.

As the day closes in, the partridges seek some sheltered, dry-lying
hollow in the fields, and a covey of twenty birds will huddle on
a spot a yard in diameter. The colder the weather the closer they
roost. The birds on the edge of the ring have their breasts outwards.
Sometimes, by the way, it is unfortunate for partridges and pheasants
that the positions of their nests prevent them from flying to and fro.
Having to force their way through tangled undergrowth, a trail is left
for the fox to follow home. The barn-door fowl, in captivity, may
walk from her nest; but when in possession of a stolen nest abroad,
she resumes the flying habit. Fowls suffer frequently from deformed
breast-bones, perhaps from roosting when their bones are young and
soft. That they and their cocks are not heavy sleepers most people have
cause to know.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Animals at Rest

Wild animals asleep fall into graceful attitudes. The fox curls himself
up with all the luxurious air of a cat; he rests his head in the lap
of two front pads, then twines his brush neatly round over his long,
pointed nose. He is a light sleeper; but hares and rabbits are still
more easily roused. We believe hares sleep with their eyes wide open;
the uncapped lenses of the eyes remain active through sleep, so that
any vision of danger conveys an automatic alarm to the brain. People
are sometimes puzzled when, in open fields, they notice a dozen or
more hare forms or beds within a few yards of each other. They may
conclude that hares swarm in those fields. Probably the reason for the
many forms is that a hare likes to face the wind when sleeping, and so
scratches out many beds to suit the wind's changing directions. Among
animals that sleep very soundly is the hedgehog--he has little to fear
when asleep; in case of danger, he has only to erect his spines, to
discourage effectively any disturber of his dreams. While hedgehogs,
dormice, and badgers sleep deeply through the greater part of the
winter, the squirrel is the lightest of sleepers; on dry, bright winter
days he enjoys a frolic in the snow.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Vigilant Fulfers

It is commonly held that fieldfares roost on the ground; yet we never
remember to have disturbed them when roosting in that way, but have
often done so in the woods, in which they had favourite parts. They
come to the chosen haunt on the brink of darkness, after the habit of
carrion crows, and they roost in companies apparently of twenty and
thirty on the older growths of underwood. At all times the fieldfares
are wide awake, and they never fail to take wing and utter their
throaty chuckle on the slightest provocation.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Eyes of Wild Creatures

There is a theory that the eyes of wild creatures magnify things seen,
so that they appear many times larger than to human eyes. This has
been held to explain why creatures smaller and weaker than man, like
hares and rabbits, flee desperately at his approach--a reasonable habit
if all men to them are as giants. One's sympathies would go out to the
rabbit if he sees foxes as horses, and weasels as foxes. If birds' eyes
have magnifying power, many miracles of flight and of feeding would
seem natural. The swift passage of birds through obstacles that appear
to our eyes to be almost impenetrable is something of a miraculous
nature. Without a moment's survey of difficulties or direction, a bird
flashes through a jungle where there is no possible way for it to be
found by human eyes. The blackbird flies shrieking in and out of a
dense hedge of thorns; but not a feather is ruffled in the course of
his intricate flight. Or watch the jay or the sparrow-hawk passing at
speed through an almost solid network of twigs and stems. The human
eye cannot properly follow this performance by the sparrow-hawk; a
swish and a streak of bluish grey, and it is gone. Many a bold jay,
finding itself caught between beaters and guns, has saved its life by
this wonderful power of flight at speed, going away without giving the
slightest chance for a shot; it will dash out of a wall of undergrowth
on one side of a ride sheer into another wall. No doubt the jay knows
to an inch which is the shortest cut out of man's sight. Hardly less
wonderful than birds' flight through crowded obstacles is the way in
which rabbits scurry and twist through masses of fern and brambles.
But where the theory of eye magnification would seem most probably true
is where tits and goldcrests are searching for food on the underside of
fir boughs, and finding food which no man's eye could see unaided.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Season's End

While February 1 brings security to pheasants and partridges,
hares--where any survive in spite of the Ground Game Act--are now also
nearly safe from persecution, thanks, however, to the courtesy of
sportsmen, and not to the law. Like rabbits, hares may be killed all
the year round, but, unlike rabbits, they may not be sold or exposed
for sale between the first day of March and the last day of July.

The end of the season has a strong effect on the gamekeeper. February
2 marks his annual truce with his birds, save woodcock, snipe and
wild-fowl. Thereafter he loses the vindictive look of the shooting
season--he becomes a man of peace. For long months he has been scheming
death and destruction--he has devoted himself wholly to the science of
killing game. Happy, if anxious, his face has been as he has bustled
his birds to guns belching forth some three hundred pellets of lead at
each discharge. At the end of the day he has rejoiced over the long
rows of the dead, in feather and fur, while his hand jingles gold and
silver--his reward for success in the contest of wit and reason against
cunning and instinct. The second day of February comes--and his whole
nature seems to undergo a change. No longer he boasts to his rival
neighbour how a week ago come to-morrow the bag was so many hundred
pheasants, and would have been doubled if the guns had shot "anyhow at
all." But he will make a boast of the numbers of his hen pheasants. The
sight of hen pheasants is the greatest joy of his days--over his hens
he watches with maternal love. "And how many hens was there?"--this is
the answer he will return should you mention casually that you had seen
pheasants feeding in a field.

As to cock pheasants, his sensations are different. The sight of a
cock pheasant is a taunt. The veteran cocks that have passed unscathed
through the shooting season now grow proud in bearing, and the keeper
thinks they seem to eye him with scornful looks. They are approaching
the reward of their cunning, of their keen eyes, their sharp ears,
their speedy legs--the possibility of several wives is before them. No
matter where the keeper goes now, he is taunted by the sight and sound
of these victorious veterans that have eluded all his efforts to bring
them low. In summer it is the lament of the twenty thousand gamekeepers
in this country that there are "too many cocks by half."

[Illustration: SPRING'S LOOKING-GLASS

LONDON EDWARD ARNOLD.]

An idea is widespread among keepers, if not among employers, that they
are privileged, by virtue of their office, to kill off superfluous cock
pheasants for ten days after the end of the season. The mistake may
have arisen from the fact that licensed dealers in game may expose game
for sale for ten days after the end of the shooting season. We knew an
old keeper whose antipathy to superfluous cocks was deeply rooted: the
sight of too many cocks maddened him. By an ingenious argument he was
able to overcome his legal and conscientious scruples as to disposing
of the unnecessary game. The legal scruples troubled him more than
those of conscience; but this argument always prevailed: "It is not
lawful to take cocks killed out of season to my master's larder. But
if I should happen to have any dead ones to dispose of it would be a
sinful waste to throw them away. Therefore, it will be best if I eat
them myself."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Beaters' Sport

Among others whose days of sport end with the season are those little
considered sportsmen, the beaters. While making sport for others, they
find opportunities for themselves, and it would be a churlish host or
keeper who grudged the poor beaters the rabbits which occasionally
they knock over with their sticks. But their love of sport becomes too
marked when, in a gang, they creep along stealthily on the look-out
for crouching rabbits for their own bagging, instead of plying their
sticks with a will on the cover to drive forward game. They show some
skill of a rough sort, and considerable woodcraft. A man gives no sign
that he has seen a rabbit, his stride is unhalting as he comes up, and
it is without any flourish that suddenly a swift, deft blow of the
stick is delivered, aimed a little forward of the head. Too late, the
rabbit knows its fatal mistake in thinking that the slow eyes of man
had passed it over, as it crouched in its seat.

The law forbids any man to shoot either partridge or pheasant when
the last second has passed away of the last minute of the first hour
after sunset on the first day of February. No doubt the law-makers
were mindful that the light one hour after sunset at the beginning of
February would make it extremely difficult for a sportsman to hit a
flying pheasant or partridge. The law-makers wisely drew no distinction
between misses and hits--pheasant-shooting means, they held, shooting
at a pheasant with evident intent to kill. What is hard to understand
about the law is why the season does not end with the last day of
January. Remembering that February 1 is often the day when the keeper
goes from the old shoot to the new, we think it would be decidedly
better for game that the day should be put out of season. It would be
the worse for the poacher. As things are, February 1 is often a day
of anarchy. And it would be a good plan if dog licences and the game
season were made to end on the same day--the one expiration would
serve as a reminder of the other.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Tailless Cocks

If a pheasant is seen without a tail in the early part of the shooting
season the cause may be put down as fox. Probably the tail has been
lost through an ill-judged effort to capture the pheasant made by some
inexperienced cub--the old fox well knows how important it is to grip
the body of a bird, not merely feathers. But the end of the season also
is a likely time for seeing birds, especially cocks, without tails.
The cause then is not foxes' failures. Long before Christmas, even the
foxes of the year are old in cunning, while the birds whom they robbed
of tails in the days of their callow cubhood will have grown fresh
feathers long since. The cock pheasant who must face courting days
without a tail probably owes his loss of tail and dignity to a gunner
who aimed too far behind, firing at close quarters.

But if you should see several cocks without tails at the end of the
season the fewer questions you ask the keeper in public the better: the
birds are the superfluous ones of those captured for the laying pens,
and have been for a time imprisoned to provide a spirited ending to the
last days of shooting. The keeper is not proud of them, and no doubt
they are sorry for themselves.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Preparations

From the young days of the year, when his hens began to lay once more,
the keeper adds eggs to his store for the sake of the birds of May.
His cares and worries, his long hours and weary trudgings, and the
chances and changes of the weather make the keeper grumble more and
more with the years; but he is always a devoted slave to sport, and
takes pleasure in each act of preparation for a new season. Every time
he adds to the store of feeding eggs he is thinking of the prospects
of his pheasants. He sees chicks turning to awkward poults, and poults
turning to full-feathered birds, topping the lofty trees or sailing
high over the valley, while the guns are coughing below. Over his store
of eggs for feeding he gloats like a miser over gold. Stowed away in a
cool place these eggs--after each one has been dipped for about thirty
seconds in boiling water--will keep their good feeding qualities for
months.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hungry Rabbits

From the New Year until well on in March rabbits are hard pressed to
find food--not necessarily because the weather may be bad, but because
so many fields present a surface of bare earth, where hitherto rabbits
have been able to find ungrudged pickings. When barred from other food,
they will be driven to bark underwood, and so cause a price to be set
on their heads; and cause people to think and say that a couple of
rabbits are at least a score. When they are shut in a wood by wire
netting, they will be almost certain to attack the undergrowth, whereas
if free to come and go they would have done no damage to speak about,
outside or in.

                   *       *       *       *       *


To Save Underwood

The secret at once of preserving a few rabbits and saving the underwood
from their attacks is judicious feeding. Swedes or mangels, and some
tightly tied bundles of clover-hay, if thrown down in the rabbits'
resorts will prevent much damage, and prove indirectly an excellent
investment. The food will go far towards allowing foxes, shooting
tenants, farmers, landlords, and the rabbits to dwell together without
extraordinary annoyance to each other. Rabbits always have to bear
the brunt of much more blame than they deserve, and are continuously
persecuted from one year's end to another. Yet they are essential
to the well-being alike of foxes and game, and ought to be better
respected--especially when foxes and game in combination are considered
desirable. The man so anxious to preserve foxes for hounds that he
would not object if the foxes ate his last pheasants acts foolishly if
he refuses to keep a few rabbits. The foxes will turn more than their
usual attention to the pheasants, or they will shift their quarters to
where rabbits are to be found, and a living is to be made with the
least exertion.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Studies in Fear

How far animals are conscious of fear, and where the instinct of
self-preservation merges into fear, are questions not easily to be
solved. A hare appears to be among the most timid of creatures, making
off with speed at the slightest alarm--yet confidence in her own power
to escape danger may drive all real fear from her heart. Instincts of
fury, bravery and fear are nearly related.

There is a common idea that wild animals have an inborn fear of man.
But it seems probable that where fear of man is marked it has been
impressed upon the animals by example of parents, or experience. Fear,
or at least a strong suspicion of what is unknown and strange, is
evident among creatures of uninhabited places, though wild-fowl on
waters visited by man for the first time may take no notice of a boat
that sails through their flocks.

Flight is usually the first instinct of self-preservation. The zigzag
start of a flight is cultivated by many besides snipe and woodcock--by
hares, which bound from side to side of their line, and double back
with a wonderful turn, when hard pressed; by deer pursued by wolves; by
stoats when danger threatens; or by the rabbit nearly taken unawares by
the spring of a cat or dog. But often a wild animal, surprised, will
pause for a moment to snort or grunt, and strike the ground angrily
with a fore-foot before making off--a stag for example. A stamp is
a common signal or sign of annoyance, curiosity or danger. Both the
weasel and the squirrel stamp impatiently with their front feet on
occasions--as when they seem divided between curiosity and alarm at the
presence of a motionless man. The stamp suggests an attempt to discover
whether the man is friendly or hostile, alive and capable of action, or
paralysed. The alarm signal given by rabbits, by striking the ground
with their hind feet, produces a thumping noise, no doubt to be heard
for a great distance underground. So far as danger from man goes, it
is usually anticipated before it becomes pressing. Walk along a hedge
within a yard of a partridge on her nest, or a leveret in its form,
and no notice may be taken so long as you keep on walking. But stop,
or even hesitate in your stride--the partridge or the leveret goes on
the instant. Wary rooks will feed within a few yards of a man hoeing in
a field--but let him stop his work, and take a look at them, and they
wait for no stronger hint of danger.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Rookery

Rooks are the most conservative birds, and sometimes nothing will
induce them to form a colony where their presence and their cawing
would be the perfecting touches to the trees of some ancestral park.
The most hopeful plan to tempt them is to put up old empty nests or
brooms, or to put rooks' eggs into a nest that happens to be the
desired place for the colony. Their strong preference for certain
sites is curious; they will crowd nest-trees on one side of a road,
and yet pay no attention to other trees of the same sort, seemingly
more perfect for their needs, and only a few yards distant. We have
watched a case where for twenty years the rooks remained faithful to
the original nest-trees of the colony. About ten years ago half these
trees were cut down, and even then the evicted rooks would not build
in trees across the road, though their tops touched the tops of the
favoured trees, which became more crowded with nests than ever. But
two or three seasons ago their favourite nesting-tree, a beech with
far-spread top, began to show signs of disease; and then, after a deal
of wrangling, two or three pairs were permitted to nest in the trees
near by, hitherto despised. In the next season there were nineteen
nests in these trees, and in the next twenty-six. The old beech
meantime grew more and more feeble, as the rooks perhaps discovered
by some brittleness in the twigs at the top; and after one more year,
though it bore foliage, but not so luxuriantly as usual, the tree gave
shelter to only two nests. And now the long-despised trees are the home
of almost the entire colony.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Rooks Build

In February, the rooks pay visits to their home-trees, wheeling and
squawking round about, and demolishing old nests. On fine February
evenings they linger after sunset before setting off to their winter
roosting-place. A few, who have begun work on new nests, turn back to
the trees undecided, then turn again after their companions. Not until
the beginning of March do the rooks seriously set about their building,
in mid-March deserting the great roosting-places of winter and mounting
guard over their rough nests of sticks.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Ways of the Crows

Rooks would seem to believe that while there is life there is hope.
A dead rook displayed before other rooks for the first time attracts
no particular attention beyond a casual inspection. But if a rook is
wounded, and especially if it hops about with a broken wing, other
rooks will swoop about it, and hover above with wonderful perseverance,
squawking all the time excitedly, even in spite of a man with a gun. We
have seen a hundred rooks perch on a fence to take stock of a relative
caught in a trap set to pheasant eggs.

The cunning of rooks, crows, and magpies is very marked at
nesting-time; and the keeper who would shoot them by hiding and waiting
within shot of their nests may wait for hours in vain if the birds have
seen him approach--as they seldom fail to do. The birds are cunning
enough to watch from the top of a tall, distant tree, until they see
the enemy go away, when they will return at once to the nest in full
confidence. But they may be tricked quite easily. Let two men with
a gun go together to stand below a rook's nest. Away go the nesting
birds. Then let one of the men take his departure, with or without the
gun, while the other waits. The birds will return promptly, as though
they imagined both men had gone.

The keeper has small sympathy with the crow tribe, and takes every
opportunity to reduce their numbers. Sometimes he will carry a ferret
to an open spot, over which crows or others are likely to fly, peg the
ferret down, and himself lie in wait with a gun. No rook, crow, magpie
or jay can resist the temptation to mob the ferret. So the keeper takes
advantage of the widespread bird-hatred of the weasel tribe. He traces
a lost and wandering ferret by the wild clamouring of the jays that
have caught sight of the bloodthirsty creature, or by hints from other
birds, great and small.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Crow as Terrorist

Carrion crows hold mysterious sway over rooks; a single pair of crows
will drive a great crowd of rooks from a rookery. Yet a crow, when
compared to a rook, does not seem to be much more powerful or armed
with a much more formidable beak. A casual observer would find little
difference between a rook and a crow in the hand. If a pair of crows
were pitted in a duel against a pair of rooks, the balance of power
would make the odds slightly in the crows' favour no doubt. But one
imagines the rooks would still have a sporting chance. Probably crows
have a black enough reputation among other birds to inspire a general
fear. And rooks are cowards. It is a common sight to see them put to
shameful flight by peewits or missel-thrushes when they have ventured
near the others' nesting-places. Yet a rook could kill a missel-thrush
or peewit if it had the pluck to fight. The gamekeeper knows that
the hissing and spitting of a sitting partridge will cause a rook to
approach her very cautiously. A jackdaw, one would say, has ten times
the spirit of a rook.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Imperial Rooks

We have a little story of how some rooks paid a pretty compliment to
an Empress. The preceding tenant of the Empress Eugénie's place at
Farnborough is said to have spent hundreds of pounds in a vain attempt
to induce rooks to build in the trees. Old brooms were hoisted--real
rooks' nests, with and without eggs, were fixed in the most tempting
sites among the tree-tops--young rooks were procured and given every
attention--and some were even hatched and reared artificially. But the
rooks refused to colonise. Then came the Empress; and promptly the
rooks came also. Soon a flourishing rookery was established. Perhaps
the new-comers, too, were exiles.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Rook-Pie

Though May is still the month of rook-shooting, this sport has passed
out of fashion, and rook-pie is no longer an honourable dish--it has
sunk, indeed, into a place of disrepute from which no amount of steak,
seasoning, and hard-boiled eggs can rescue it. In old times a dozen
rooks would be sent and received with compliments, like a brace of
pheasants; and labourers prized a few rooks as much as the charity beef
at Christmas. But now one might search far before finding a cottager
who would deign to eat rook-pie. The rooks are shot and buried, or are
left where they fall beneath the rookery trees, for foxes to find and
carry to their cubs.

The farmer and the gamekeeper have a common cause against the rooks,
which, when they are not attacking the interests of the one are
pilfering the produce of the other. An April blizzard consoles the
keeper for the pheasants' eggs it ruins by blotting out a generation of
rooks. For when such a disaster overtakes a rookery late in April, as
young birds are nearly ready to leave the nests, the parent birds are
hardly likely to make another attempt to rear a brood. But when rooks'
eggs are frosted before or during hatching there will be late broods,
not hatched until the trees are in full leaf. Then the young rooks
might escape the watchful eye of the keeper were it not for the habit
of squawking for food, and for the garrulous chuckling of the parent
birds when feeding the hungry mouths. These late broods increase the
toll of the eggs and young game birds, parent rooks taking five times
as much food as the others.

Old rooks are very cunning in search of prey. On one excellent
partridge-shoot there is a hedge bordered by telegraph poles. It
is the only hedge on the place, and in seasons when grass and corn
are backward it is packed with partridge nests. The rooks of the
neighbourhood have learnt the trick of sitting on the telegraph wires,
the better to find the way to the nests, as revealed by the movements
of the nesting birds. Thus, waiting and watching in patience, in time
they find out every nest in the hedge.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Birds for Stock

In February the work begins of catching up pheasants for stocking
aviaries, to supply the coming season's eggs. In mild Februaries,
keeper after keeper tells the same sad story--he "can't catch no hens."
Many of those caught in food-baited traps in mild weather are weak and
unsound, and some are injured by shot, and so are not desirable for
stock. The birds most capable of producing plenty of fertile eggs and
strong chicks are those that scorn to enter a cage, except during hard
or snowy weather. Some keepers make a practice of catching up the
desired number of stock-birds before covert shooting begins. Otherwise
they are caught up early in February--so that they may settle down to
the new way of life before the laying season is upon them.

"Catching up" is, in its way, a fine art. One secret is to place the
cages, before use, in the principal feeding-places without setting
them for action, for a few weeks. Cages of wire-netting with a roomy,
horizontal opening at one end, after the style of a lobster-pot, are
most effective; a scanty trail of corn leading on to an ample supply
within. These cages are ever ready, and so catch bird after bird; they
have the drawback that if the captives become restive they are liable
to bark their heads on the wire. Less satisfactory traps are made
with lengths of wood (local underwood is used preferably, to allay
suspicion) and only so high that when the trap is thrown the birds
cannot injure themselves if frightened. These traps seldom capture
more than one bird at a time, and they may be thrown accidentally. A
small annoyance of pheasant-catching is provided by the active little
tits of the wood, who carry the corn outside the cages, and scatter it
far and wide for the pheasants to pick up without running any risk.
When pheasants come regularly to feeding-places in fair numbers, a
large and effective cage is built of hurdles, one hurdle square. The
birds are allowed to grow accustomed to feeding therein. One day the
keeper lies hidden, and makes a family catch by stealthily dropping
a shutter attached to a string. Where a wood with plenty of pheasants
joins a belt or wide hedgerow the keeper may erect guiding wings of
wire-netting, which converge on a covered-in tunnel, and then gently
beats the wood through in that direction. The pheasants are run into
captivity in a short time, and with little trouble.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Old Hens

In the gamekeeper's eyes a hen pheasant becomes an old hen when she
enters upon her second nesting season. But all cock pheasants are old
birds when they have seen their first Christmas--only seven or eight
months having passed over their glossy, green heads. With the New Year
the youngest of the cocks is old in craft, guile and cunning, and all
the keeper's skill is taxed to checkmate his endless ways of escape. A
beat of the wood has no sooner started than all the birds depart to the
point farthest from the beaters.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Gamekeeping Problem

When catching up pheasants for the laying-pens, there is always the
difficulty of preventing their escape from the wire-net enclosures, and
it is interesting to see the different devices by which this trouble is
met. The enclosure must not be covered over with wire-netting, for the
birds, whenever startled, would fly upwards and injure themselves--and
it is wonderful with what perseverance a pheasant will fly up again and
again, until its pate has no skin left, and sometimes until it can fly
up no more. So the keeper sometimes covers the enclosure with string
netting, small enough to prevent the birds escaping, and large enough
to prevent them catching their heads and hanging themselves. Others
follow the hawker's system, called brailing, attaching Y-shaped pieces
of leather to one wing so that it cannot be opened for flight--or the
wing may be tied with a piece of tape. The wings are treated in this
way in turn, lest one should grow stiff through having no work.

Pheasants bred simply for stocking purposes are pinioned when small
birds, as are wild duck; but this reduces their value when their
egg-laying days are numbered. Some keepers cut the flight feathers
of one wing, but the birds cannot then fly again until the shortened
quills have moulted and new ones have grown. But a bird whose flight
feathers have been pulled out in the spring will grow fresh ones by
June, when she is turned out of the pen. At this time the bird with cut
wings is at a heavy disadvantage, alike in escaping the dangers and in
mothering any brood she may succeed in hatching out in the woods.

How shall a pheasant gather her chicks beneath her wings if she have
only a wing and a half?

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Hare Poacher

In March many keepers are worried by hare poachers. To lose a hare by
poaching during the shooting season is bad enough, but to lose one of
those left for stock is a calamity to the keeper--though to the poacher
a hare means a meal for his family, or a week's supply of beer. The
chances are ten to one that a hare snared in March will be a doe--for
the does run pursued by a pack of bucks, and so go first into the
snare. Hare-poaching would be a matter of less concern to the keeper
if the buck hares were always taken, for he could often spare a few,
as they will race does to the point of utter exhaustion or death. At
rutting times the poacher's task is easy. He selects three or four runs
which, from their well-used appearance, are promising, then slips down
his snares of brass wire, dulled by exposure to smoke to be the less
easily seen by hare or keeper. The poacher chooses runs close together,
and should he be a man who goes to work, prefers that they shall be
near his line of march, so that he may keep an eye on the snares
without stepping out of his lawful path.

Slouching along, with a lie ever ready on his lips in case he should
meet a keeper, he can see when a hare is caught merely by moving his
eyes, and without turning his head. And if a hare is caught, he will
pass on his way unconcernedly, returning without a sign. Meantime his
mind has been scheming out the best way to take possession. Probably
he will wait for night and darkness--or, instead of going to work the
next day, he may devote a large part of it to waiting for the chance
of a clear coast, so that he may fetch the hare in broad daylight. But
give the cunning poacher the smallest hint that the keeper knows about
his snares and he will leave them alone altogether. He will only visit
his snares when he has no reason to suspect that a keeper has heard of
them--otherwise the keeper may be watching to "put a stop to these here
little games."

                   *       *       *       *       *


March Hares

The March hare is certainly mad; what but madness could cause him
to go capering round and round a field for hours at a stretch? The
battles of the hares are waged in companies; you may see a score of
militant, amorous hares together, and several couples will be engaged
in duels. The combatants rear themselves on their hind legs, and spar
furiously with their front feet, and when one of a fighting pair has
had enough of it another instantly takes his place; while the hare
that refuses to fight may be chased until forced to turn and square
himself to the battle. The whole company may set upon some poor
coward, and worry his life out of him. It would seem that when once
hares and rabbits have finished their duels, so common a sight in the
country in March, they live peaceably enough through the rest of the
breeding season. After these early days of courting, one seldom sees
more than a slight skirmish between a couple of hares or rabbits,
though the does breed again and again through the summer. Fights at
courting times among wild creatures are usually due either to a local
or temporary preponderance of males, or to some special attraction of
particular females. At this time of year, it might appear that fighting
and courtship went naturally together; but we doubt if wild creatures
who pair are given very much to fighting and quarrelling. It is when
one has many wives, as the cock pheasant or the stag, that the most
desperate fighting is done.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Cubs' Birthday

A majority of fox cubs are born about March 25, five or six to a
litter. With such crafty parents there is small chance that they will
go short of food, and fortunately they come into the world just when
baby rabbits are most plentiful. Much else than rabbit goes down their
throats, as the entrance to any fox's earth makes evident--there you
see remains of quantities of frogs, mice, rats, hares, and, of course,
of countless pheasants and partridges, and of many a fowl. The dog
fox is not one to show any great attention to his mate: he pays her
many visits, but he enjoys himself in his own way. Nor could he be
expected to take a deep interest in the welfare of his half-dozen
families, several miles apart. But some foxes make better fathers than
others; one we have known to rear a litter of cubs on the death of the
vixen. Of course a dog fox could do little if the cubs were dependent
on a milk diet. A curious case of an exemplary fox was that of the
unfortunate one which met his end while carrying a shoulder of carrion
mutton to two vixens and two litters inhabiting the same earth.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Courtiers in Pens

March brings the gallant cock pheasant to his courting days. He knows
that he is safe from men and guns, and stands recklessly within easy
gunshot, a figure of defiance. Should he step away he lifts his feet
with a pompous and disdainful air. He keeps a sharp eye on the hen
pheasants of the wood: the time is near when he will be the sultan of
half a score of hens; that is, if he remains at large in the woods.
If confined in the keeper's pens, the number of wives is sternly
regulated, and five, or at the most seven, are allowed to him. It is
curious that in captivity the number of the cock pheasant's hens must
be kept down, whereas the mallard, who pairs when wild, will cheerfully
accept a polygamous state, and will faithfully husband two or three
ducks if kept in a pen.

When partridges are penned up for a few months in the breeding season,
on the French system of rearing, they remain faithful to their rule of
pairing. Keepers have found that it is useless to try to regulate the
partridge courtships: the birds must be left to their own instincts
in choosing mates. It will not do to put any cock and hen together
and expect them to pair. The hen is quite as particular in accepting a
mate as the cock in selecting one for his attentions. Sometimes a hen
wins the hearts of several suitors, and then there will be fighting,
the strongest securing the prize, the defeated contentedly pairing off
with the less sought-for hens. When a partridge betrothal has been
ratified, the happy pair announce the fact to their friends by keeping
sedulously together, apart from the other occupants of the general pen.
The partridge is seldom quarrelsome: in a wild state a cock bird will
go far afield in search of a mate if he cannot find one peaceably in
his usual haunts--or he may make up his mind to go through the season
unwedded. Sometimes, but rarely, it will happen that trouble arises
through an amorous cock partridge losing his mate late in the nesting
season and trying to run away with another's wife. But while some
partridges show a pugnacious temperament, as they boast no spurs, like
cock pheasants, their duels mostly take the form of chasing and running.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Hawks Nest

In March the hawks pair--and the pairs visit and examine all sorts
of old nests. The nest of a kestrel is usually found in the heart
of a wood--though it may be recognised as a kestrel's only by the
sight of the birds flying off, for they rear their young in old
sparrow-hawks' nests, or in a magpie's, a crow's, or in a squirrel's
abandoned drey. The sparrow-hawk builds its own nest, as a rule, of
rough sticks, with twigs as lining, usually placed near the tree's
trunk. It will return to the same nest year after year. But at times
the nest of a wood-pigeon is adopted, or of a carrion crow. The cock
sparrow-hawk is a polite mate, perhaps of necessity, being so inferior
to the hen bird in size and strength. He is energetic in inspecting
nest-sites, in advance of his mate. This habit has proved fatal to
many, for it is a favourite plan with some keepers to place a circular
gin in likely nests--a cruel trick, and illegal, for the law which
prohibits the use of the pole-traps forbids also that traps shall be
set in nests. Faithful as are hawks and magpies to each other, it is
strange how swiftly a new mate is secured should an old one suffer
a fatal accident. In the earlier part of the breeding season, a hen
sparrow-hawk may lose her mate time after time; yet a new mate is
quickly at her side, though no other hawks are to be seen about the
country, except those in pairs.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Love-Dances

The little blue pigeons, the stock-doves, call "Coo-oop, coo-oop,
coo-oop," all day, in the old elms in the meadow, or high among the
massed twigs of the lime. Pigeons and doves are fantastical love-makers
like several other birds--the blackcock and cock grouse hold regular
love-levees, going through ridiculous antics and gestures; ducks
skim absurdly about the water, bobbing their heads up and down as if
bowing compliments to each other; and even the sober rook will perform
a kind of love-dance. At courting times, the wood-pigeons assume a
wonderful lustre of plumage, and the white of the neck-ring is very
striking, like the edging of a woodcock's tail. The cock wood-pigeon
is a laughable sight as he goes sidling down some bare branch to greet
his prospective bride; nearer and nearer he works his way, bowing
incessantly with a sideways motion of the body, until at last, with
neck bent low, bill meets bill in some kind of bird-kiss.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Names that Puzzle Cockneys

The Cockney in the country is perplexed by the countryman's names for
birds and beasts; especially by names denoting gender. The countryman
seems to the townsman to be particular in drawing his distinctions,
and his precise way of referring to an ox or a steer, a bull-calf or a
heifer, is found very puzzling, particularly to ladies--who hold all
cows to be bulls. And when the countryman speaks of a wether-sheep,
a barrow-hog, of a hummel-stag, he is speaking in mysteries. Even
the terms of the poultry-yard--cock, cockerel, pullet, fowl, hen, or
capon--are not always understood.

Custom grants some creatures only one sex. A cat is usually a she, and
a hare nearly always. To be precise, as to hares, one should refer
to the male as a jack and a female as a jill, the terms buck and doe
being more properly applied to rabbits and to fallow deer; red deer
are distinguished by the terms stag and hind. Ferrets in some parts
are known as hobbs and gills. Rats, like badgers and hedgehogs, may
be boars and sows. The males of otters, stoats, weasels and foxes are
dogs, but only the female fox is a vixen. Rams are sometimes "tups."
The terms bulls and cows are applied to many kinds of animals, such as
elands, moose, whales, elephants, and the seals; but the young seals
are pups, and gather in rookeries. The terms for birds offer some
difficulties; all common wild duck are mallards, to distinguish them
from widgeon, teal and so on; but while the male may be called either
the mallard or the drake, the female is always a duck. Grouse are cock
and hen; blackcock, blackcock and greyhen; and all woodcock are 'cock.

No less confusing to the Cockney in the country are the terms
for quantities of game. He speaks of a "brace of rabbits," and
the gamekeeper's eyebrows rise at the term. Two rabbits are a
"couple"--when they are not a pair. Two pheasants, two partridges,
or two grouse are a "brace," three forming a "brace and a half" or
a "leash"; but we speak of a "couple" of woodcock, snipe, duck, or
pigeons.

When the gamekeeper speaks of "pairs" of birds he is referring to
birds that have paired; but a cock and a hen pheasant remain a cock
and a hen. Some confusion arises from the terms applied to gatherings
of birds or beasts. Young families of birds are usually "broods," and
families of animals "litters." One speaks of a brood (or pack) of
grouse, a covey (or pack) of partridges, a bevy of quail, a nid of
pheasants (meaning a young family), a wing of plover, a wisp of snipe,
a team of duck, a company of widgeon, a flock of sparrows, rooks, or
pigeons, a skein or gaggle of geese, a herd of swans or deer, and a
sounder of wild pigs. The gamekeeper knows better than any one else
just what is meant by a litter of cubs. There is a distinction between
a big "rise" of pheasants and a good "flush." If a thousand pheasants
fly up at the same time it is a big rise, but not a good one, because
few can be shot. A good flush does not mean necessarily that there are
many birds, but that they rose, or were flushed, so that most of them
offered shots--a few at a time.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hares and their Young

A wet, cold spring means death to the majority of early leverets. They
are given a good chance of life, coming into the world as perfect
little hares, with complete fur coat and open eyes; and, like partridge
chicks, they can run on the day they are born. But they are not always
strong enough to withstand the English spring. A leveret, no larger
than a man's fist, runs with extraordinary speed, and often escapes
from a dog, while a man must be sound in wind and limb to overtake it
in the open. Rabbits, born naked, develop a very fair turn of speed so
soon as they come above ground, but they quickly give up in despair if
pursued.

There is a widespread idea that hares breed only once in a year, and
produce only one leveret. The gamekeeper knows well that puss may
produce several leverets at a birth, and will have family after family
from as early as January to the end of September. As with rabbits, the
leverets born early one year themselves may breed in the late summer
of the same year. No doubt the hare is credited with only one or two
young ones because only one or two are found together. Occasionally,
it is true, several very young leverets may be found in one place; but
they are usually cradled in separate seats, not far from each other. We
once found a family of eight little leverets crouching in a bunch under
a heap of hedge-trimmings. Evidently we discovered them within a few
moments of their entry into the world.

The mother hare is wise to separate her family. Many dangers threaten
the leveret's life; but if families were kept together the young
ones would be even more open to attack from rooks and crows, and
scent-hunting vermin in fur. The leveret with its eyes pecked out by
a rook, yet still living, is a sight which pleads for the mercy of a
swift death at the gamekeeper's hands. The mother hare is keenly alive
to the dangers besetting her family. If you find a leveret one day
nestling in a tuft of grass, or against a clod of earth, whether or not
you handle it the mother will certainly remove it before the morrow.
She will wind danger in your scent.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Starving Birds

The old name for March, "Starvation Month," is usually justified,
if winter, with snow, carries on into March. Countless birds die of
starvation. After a hard winter there is little food to be found;
but large berries remain a long time on some of the ivy bushes, and
come into favour among robins and blackbirds. There has been little
green growth since September, though the larger celandine shows bigger
leaves, coltsfoot is out, wild arum leaves are green in the hedges,
and there is green growth on elder-bushes, woodbine, privet, and brier
bushes. Insect life for food is of negligible quantity: though myriads
of gnats may be hatched by the sun, they are poor eating. Of flowers
there are hardly any, and the sparrow, pecking at the crocuses in his
need, earns the hatred of gardeners. It is a time of hunger with many
animals awakening out of sleep; with the field-voles uncurling from
their beds of grass, and with the hedgehogs shaking themselves free of
their balls of leaves. A new activity is stirring, birds are living at
pressure, many animals have young, hundreds of birds come in daily
from overseas--but supplies for all seem at the lowest ebb.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Egg of Eggs

In the keeper's year there is no moment so delightful as when he finds
his first wild pheasant's egg. The earliest egg of the season is looked
on almost like a nugget of gold. You may observe a keeper turning
out of his way to pass along the sunny side of a hedgerow favoured
by pheasants, craning his neck to look at the far side of a tuft of
withered grass, and with his stick turning over the dead leaves of a
likely hollow. Day after day, in early April, he perseveres in his
quest; and though he may find scores of depressions scooped out by the
hens--"scrapes" he calls them--it may be a long while before his search
is rewarded by the sight he yearns for. He is appeased--though he has
but found something found thousands of times before, only a pheasant's
egg. But it is the first of a new season, and precious beyond all
others. There may have been eggs already in his pens. The penned birds
are protected from wind and cold rains. They live on a well-drained
plot facing the south, and they are treated so liberally to rich foods,
spices, and tonic drinks that they can hardly help laying early. The
first egg is a satisfaction, but nothing like the first wild-laid egg.
At the earliest chance, the finder meets a brother keeper, and his
story of the finding loses nothing in the telling, while it gains a
good deal from the envy on the brother keeper's face.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Pheasants' Eggs

By the middle of April, the gamekeeper finds that a few of his
pheasants are sitting. They are the older hens. Those that begin to lay
early in April do not often lay more than ten or twelve eggs before
beginning to sit. But it is not unusual for a young hen to lay fifteen,
seventeen, or even more eggs. That the older hens should lay fewer eggs
suggests that they have no more than they can furnish with the heat
necessary for hatching. Later on, in warmer weather, a pheasant can
manage half as many eggs again as in early spring. The old hens have
eggs well on the way towards hatching before hens still in their first
year have begun to lay. Pheasants commonly lay eggs in each other's
nests. We have known a pheasant even to lay eggs in a thrush's nest,
built on the ground beneath a furze-bush. Like the nest, three of the
four thrush's eggs were destroyed by the intruder. The keeper well
knows how to take advantage of this slovenly habit of his pheasants.
About ten days before the time when he expects them to begin to lay in
earnest, he makes up a number of false nests, into which he puts either
imitation nest-eggs, or addled eggs saved from the last season. Having
some respect for the sweetness of his pocket, he takes the precaution
of boiling the addled eggs for several hours in lime-water. He makes
up the false nests in places where the eggs shall be comparatively
safe; his great object being to induce his birds to lay at home, and
not to stray away into his neighbour's coverts. The method saves much
time in searching for nests. But even when he has the best of luck, a
keeper would not be a proper keeper if he did not complain that his
hens are laying on his neighbour's ground. Not unusually, three or four
hens lay in the same nest--we have known six to lay in one nest, and
on one day. From three nests within fifty yards of each other we have
counted more than one hundred eggs--and this in a place where pheasants
were few. It is a great satisfaction to the keeper to find one of these
co-operative nests. He knows that if he leaves the hens to themselves,
their eggs will soon be piled up in the nest on top of each other, like
a heap of stones. No one pheasant could hatch out such a prodigious
clutch, even if left in undisputed possession. What usually happens is
that some hens want to lay and others to sit, so that between them the
eggs are spoiled. The keeper anticipates trouble by collecting the eggs
and distributing them elsewhere for hatching. He knows that his fowls
will not hatch out as high a proportion of pheasant eggs from large
nests as from smaller ones, since few are given the regular turning
necessary to preserve their fertility. But, in spite of this knowledge,
there is a deal of friendly rivalry among keepers as to who shall find
the nest with the most eggs.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hens in Cocks' Feathers

A mule pheasant is a sterile hen who has assumed more or less the
plumage of a cock. We cannot say we have ever heard one of these
transformed hens give vent to a crow. But once we owned a game-bantam
hen, who, without changing into cock's plumage, crowed in a way
that would have done credit to any fine rooster. The keeper does
not appreciate a barren hen pheasant, whether or not she wears
cock's feathers. She is an unproductive loafer, and is likely to be
destructive to the chicks of other hens, both to wild ones and those
reared artificially. Disappointed in motherhood herself, she is jealous
that others should be mothers.

                   *       *       *       *       *


About Nesting Pheasants

Pheasants' eggs vary strangely in shade: they show a much wider range
of shading than partridges', from almost white through the most
delicate gradations of blue-green and olive-brown to the rich, warm
hue of the nightingale's egg. The keeper prefers the eggs with the
deeper tones, persuading himself that they will produce the strongest
chicks. He has small faith in the fertility of eggs that are very light
in hue, and he holds to an idea that if a light, sky-blue egg hatches
at all it will produce a pied chick. When a hen lays in another's
nest, it is rather by some subtle distinction of shape than by colour
that the keeper discovers the trespasser's eggs: for the eggs of one
bird may vary much in shade. The nest is a simple affair, merely a
shallow hollow, scratched out, ringed by dry grass or leaves or any
dead material of the sort within easy reach; if dry grass is plentiful
a generous supply fringes the hollow, but a pheasant is not one to
trouble to fetch and carry for her nest. Cunning as she may be in the
choice of a site, no instinct or reason prompts her to go a yard away
to collect material, however plentiful at that short distance, for
comfort and warmth. Her fabric, plentiful or scanty, is arranged in
a typical fashion. Standing in the middle of her scraped-out hollow,
she throws the bits of grass or the leaves over her back, so that the
margin of the nest corresponds to the size of her body. Sometimes a
fowl is seen going through this performance; the goose also employs
this primitive instinctive manner of gauging her nest's dimensions.

All game-birds lay their eggs on the ground. Though pheasants are
peculiarly fond of perching in trees, by day as well as by night,
they rarely make a nest off the ground; though now and again one may
see a nest placed a few feet high in a tree, resting on a mattress of
ivy or on the ruins of other nests--the derelict homes of pigeons,
perhaps occupied later by squirrels. Pheasants will also sometimes make
use of those convenient hollows to be found on the top of underwood
stumps; and doubtless would do so more often if it were not for the
unyielding nature of wood, which they cannot scratch into shape as
instinct prompts. In rides where the old underwood stumps have not been
grubbed, pheasants love to nest on the stumps' tops. In spite of annual
trimming, the stumps for years continue to throw up a mass of leafy
shoots. The pheasant creeps between them, and is perfectly hidden--at
least, as to her head and body. We recall a nest in such a spot within
a foot of a path where many people passed daily. Not one discovered the
pheasant's secret, except a keeper who saw her protruding tail. The
pheasant had forgotten about her tail. Naturally the keeper was annoyed
at her stupidity in thinking that because her body was hidden her tail
could not be seen. Fearing lest others should discover the nest on this
account, he went for a pair of his wife's scissors, and made sure that
the tail would tell no more stories.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Broody Hen

The wisest poultry-farmer does not understand broody hens better than
the gamekeeper. The ways of the broody hen are at once deep, and
stupid, and annoying. No power on earth will force a broody hen to
sit when she is in a revolting spirit. To take a hen from the nest of
her choice and expect her to sit properly on a fresh nest, where even
pheasants' eggs costing a shilling apiece await her, usually means
disappointment. Yet it is as risky to put the pheasants' eggs in the
broody hen's chosen nest. Other hens will disturb her, rats are likely
to steal the eggs, dogs may worry her, and she cannot be relied upon
to return to her own nest after going off to feed. And if she may leave
the nest at her own free will she is liable to sit too long without
a break. Her eggs in that case do not have enough fresh air, and the
heat of the hen diminishes through want of food, so that weak chicks
develop, and may fail even to break their shells. So the keeper is
obliged to provide a suitable nest, and to try to induce the broody hen
to take to it kindly. He finds that an empty cheese-box with a lid will
make a capital nesting-box for occasional use. If rats are feared, he
encases the box in an armour of wire-netting. Then within he fashions
a shallow nest, using firm mould, and adding a little bruised straw;
if the hollow is too deep the eggs may be piled on each other, and the
hen cannot plant her feet comfortably or sit evenly over the eggs. The
hollow is lined with a ring or collar of twisted straw, to retain the
warmth of the hen, and prevent her eggs falling out when she moves her
feet to turn round. Then the keeper goes off for the broody hen, which
he carries in a sack of open texture. Whether or not a hen is really
broody may be determined most easily at night. A hen chosen by day,
though she imitates the broody plaint, may be intent only on laying
eggs--not on sitting. But the hens who are in earnest will be found
in the nests after dark; and they are known by their dull combs. Into
the sitting-box the keeper shuts the hen of his choice, leaving her
with a nest-egg or two by way of encouragement. He is in no hurry to
give her live eggs. He waits until she is well settled after the move,
and has had time to round up the nest to her liking. At first she may
be inclined to stand, or at least not to go down properly; but after
a little while she will be found spread out in the proper fashion of
the hen who intends to hatch eggs at all costs, and she will complain
loudly, and peck fiercely if touched. And then she is entrusted with
the precious eggs.

Once a day the keeper gently lifts each broody hen off the nest to
feed, tethering her by a string tied to her leg or shutting her into a
coop. On the first day she is taken from the eggs only for ten minutes;
but her time off is gradually increased, as the eggs require more
oxygen, to half an hour during the second week of sitting, and then to
three-quarters of an hour or longer towards the end of the third week,
if the weather proves genial. Plenty of air is good for the chicks in
the eggs, especially during the last days of the hatching. A hen was
accidentally kept from her eggs for a whole afternoon on the day before
they were due to hatch; yet all the thirteen eggs hatched out, and
stronger chicks were never seen.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Frenchmen's Nests

The red-legged partridge begins to nest quite a week earlier than
the English birds. The keeper expects to find his first partridge's
egg about April 25: and probably it will be a Frenchman's. Great
will be his satisfaction if the first egg should happen to be an
English bird's. The same friendly rivalry exists between neighbouring
keepers as to who shall find the first partridge egg as with the first
pheasant's egg. Not until May will the partridges' laying season be in
full swing. English partridges nest always on the ground, but Frenchmen
sometimes nest so far aloft as on the top of a straw-rick. So they
escape the fox, which tears the English birds off their nests on all
sides. There is an idea in the heads of country folk that the French
partridge habitually deserts her first clutch of eggs without cause.
No doubt this delusion has arisen from the forsaken appearance of the
birds' nests and eggs; when stained by soil, the eggs look decidedly
stale. While the mother bird never deserts her nest without good cause,
she is in no hurry about nesting; and there are often long intervals
between the laying of the first egg, the completion of the clutch, and
the beginning of sitting operations. We have heard of a case where this
interval was one of six weeks. Yet a full brood was hatched.

French partridges have a good deal in common with guinea-fowls. The
call which members of a covey of Frenchmen make to each other bears the
strongest resemblance to the guinea-fowl's "Go-back, go-back." They
are alike in making a deep "scrape" in the soil for their nest, which
is complete when the hollow has been scratched to their liking. Then
the dingy-white ground-colour and the rusty speckles of their eggs are
similar; and the eggs of guinea-fowl and of Frenchmen are commonly
found well plastered and stained with soil, through being turned over
in the unlined nest. The eggs have notably thick shells.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Last of the Hurdlers

The ancient art of making hurdles is fast dying out. In a small
Hampshire village, where a score of hurdlers could have been found a
quarter of a century ago, to-day but one or two old men remain who can
make a hurdle of the genuine sort. The reason is not that hurdle-making
is profitless, for there is a demand for good workers, and the rate
of pay is higher than of old--from four to five shillings for a dozen
hurdles, which represent a day's hard work. But few boys follow the old
calling of the hurdler, probably because a long apprenticeship must be
served. There is difficulty in finding a qualified man to take a boy
in charge; and for a long while the boy would be useful only to strip
the rods of knots, and would earn but a nominal wage. At other work
his earnings would be enough at least to pay his share of the family
expenses at home. So that few hurdlers see their way to teach even
their own sons this honourable trade.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hurdlers' Science

The first stage in making a hurdle is the splitting of the rods; and
this is an art calling for years of practice before such perfect
efficiency is attained that the worker can divide each rod exactly
down the centre with his eyes shut. The bill-hook is inserted at
the rod's smaller end, the other end is held between the knees, and
the straight, clean split is made by directing the pressure of the
bill-hook one way or the other--the edge of the hook being turned
towards that side of the rod which threatens to splinter. When the rods
are split, the "salins"--the upright stakes which form the framework of
the hurdle--are fixed into the "mole"--a solid piece of wood, slightly
curved, and drilled with holes. "Spurs" are the small, round, unsplit
rods woven over the top and bottom to prevent slipping. The weather has
much to do with the ease and speed of the work. Cold, sunless days with
east winds tend to make the rods brittle, and then when a binding spur
is being wound into place it will break, and part of the hurdle must be
remade. Drought hardens the wood, and the rods lose elasticity. A hard
frost may freeze the wood's moisture, and the rods may then snap. The
most favourable weather is sunny, but not scorching, with occasional
light showers. In wet weather the strongest worker is terribly
handicapped, and rheumatism, sooner or later, is almost certain to take
hold of him.

                   *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: HAMPSHIRE HURDLES

LONDON, EDWARD ARNOLD.]


The Woodman

Not all who work in the woods are entitled to the name of woodman: a
word standing for an ancient and an honourable calling. The woodman
proper is an estate official, a sort of general foreman over the
underwood and the timber. He ranks a grade below the gamekeeper. A man
of parts, he knows his woods through and through. He can tell you the
exact age of the various growths of underwood, for it is his duty to
advise what shall be cut each year, to map it out in lots for sale, to
undertake the marking and felling of timber, and to see to the upkeep
of covert fences, and the trimming of rides. He receives a retaining
weekly wage, except when he is turning underwood to account or laying
a hedge, when he is paid by the piece. In time of need, the gamekeeper
calls on the woodman's assistance, and he seldom goes long in want of a
rabbit. The keeper is always generous with his friends and allies.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Dying Race

Below the woodman in rank, and not rightly to be called a woodman, is
the copse-worker, or copser; a piece-worker, free to work for any one
who will give him a job. He is a skilled craftsman, one of a dying
race, for his boys are kept too long at school ever to take kindly to
his calling. This is his constant complaint: and he will air his views
freely on "eddication" and the making of "scholards." He himself
had only enough learning drubbed into him to allow him to make every
night an entry of his day's work--so many bavins, so many bundles of
pea-sticks, so many fencing-poles. His daily earnings fluctuate with
the quality of the wood, which he is sure to declare is nothing like
what it was in the days of his youth.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Choice Nesting-Places

It is the keeper's lot to make the best of many a bad job. If he could
have his way, all underwood would be chopped and stacked in neat
piles by the middle of April, so that his nesting birds might enjoy
undisturbed peace in his woods. In olden days, all underwood was cut,
worked up, and cleared off the ground by certain fixed dates so that
the new shoots of the shorn stumps had full measure of light and air.
But the dates are no longer remembered, and the work is carried on
into early summer. The birds benefit in some ways. Pheasants find the
long rows of felled underwood very attractive as nesting-places, and
many pairs of partridges decide to give them a trial. Pheasants and
partridges prefer to nest in dead material--it is warmer and drier than
greenstuff, does not hold dew or rain, and cannot grow, and so possibly
upset the nest. Dry leaves are driven by the wind beneath the rows of
wood, so nesting material is plentiful. And there is no dense canopy
of leaves to shut out the sun that is so loved by the sitting birds.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hidden Nests

Much underwood remains in the long drifts where it was laid after
cutting until well on in May, and even into June. The keeper may search
carefully, but unless the rows are very narrow and thin he can hope to
find only a few of the many nests they shelter. Especially difficult is
it to find the partridge nests. The finding is almost as much a matter
of luck as of skill, for the eggs are covered completely by the birds
with a drab quilt of leaves, perfectly matching the surroundings. The
eggs of pheasants, too, though the birds seldom cover them, are often
hidden through the play of the leaves in the wind. Even should a bird
be sitting on her nest, she is not easily found--unless the keeper
catches the glint of her dark eye. Her feathers are merely one shade
more in the prevailing blends of brown. The woodworker, keeping the
most careful watch for nests, often does not see the sitting bird until
he strips the underwood from her very back.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Mutual Understanding

Between the gamekeeper and copsers in his woods there is an unwritten
agreement, making for the good of all. The workers take heed and
care of the game-nests, and the keeper sees that they are rewarded
according to the care. He does not pay people to find nests, but to
protect those discovered in the course of daily work--a small sum, by
way of encouragement, usually a shilling for each nest. But the copser,
while chopping up the rows of underwood, finds a good many small nests,
with three or four eggs each, and the keeper may agree to pay him a
penny for each of these odd eggs, as he calls them, and a shilling
for each more respectable nest saved. The copser must leave cover for
a few yards around the nests, and do nothing to disturb the tenancy.
When the nest is so situated that it causes no inconvenience or delay
to the copser's work, the shilling is paid only when the eggs hatch;
in special cases the keeper takes the risk of safe hatching. It is a
proud moment for the copser when he makes a satisfactory report of
a nest. "That there old bird over agen they ash-stems," he will say
delightedly, "she be hatched and gone, master."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Many Guardians

Often a keeper must give judgment as to who is entitled to the reward
for a nest found and protected by two or three men. It would be easy
if the spirit of justice were satisfied by handing the shilling to
the man who first found the nest; or if a shilling were given to each
man; but this would make up an alarming account for nest-money. So the
keeper may give the first finder a shilling, and the others a couple
of rabbits each. It would not be policy to foster a man's interest
only in the nest which he finds himself, and is the first to find,
for a nest may need the guardianship of many workers. First it may be
found by a copser, working up underwood; he keeps an eye upon it for a
week, finishes his job, and departs. Then a hurdler comes, or perhaps
a hoop-maker, who starts work, sees the nest and guards it for awhile.
And then the nest catches the eye of a carter when he comes to fetch a
load of wood; he notes the position, lest it should come to harm under
the hoofs of his horse or the wheels of his waggon--and after his day's
work he may walk a mile or two to lay his information at the keeper's
cottage.

When three men work in the same part of a wood, one may have the luck
to find several nests, and the others may have no luck. So the men, if
good mates, arrange to pool the nest-money; but sometimes the lucky
man is avaricious. The keeper must study the vagaries of luck and
character. Some men will be spoiled by too liberal rewards; but an
extra shilling or two may be well spent if it prevents a sour man from
thinking he has been harshly treated. The keeper knows the labourer as
a man who broods much, and is slow to forgive an insult, or to forget
an injustice. And he knows it makes all the difference to his own work
if the men who labour in the woods for six months in the year are his
friends and allies. This, in turn, is no bad thing for them--many odd
jobs the keeper puts in their way when work is slack, and he puts many
rabbits into their hands to the comfort of their hearts.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Mark's Day

The twenty-fifth day of April is one of the keeper's high days. A large
number of the twenty or thirty thousand gamekeepers in this country
then commit their first batches of pheasant eggs to the care of broody
hens. Some keepers cling to this date because their fathers did so
before them, in the same way that ancestral etiquette decrees that on
a certain fair-day cabbage seed must be sown. No decided advantage is
to be gained by very early hatching; but by April 25 the keeper usually
has a goodly collection of eggs, taken from wild birds' nests, and
their quality does not improve if kept, in an artificial way, longer
than a fortnight. Eyes ignorant of woodcraft would pass a pheasant's
nest which no keeper could fail to see; and would pass unseeingly over
the brown form of the sitting bird, heedless of the bright, dark eyes
that keenly watch the intruder's movements. Pheasants like a little
light cover, but do not care to nest in thick and tangled undergrowth.
They love sunshine, and prefer a site where falls a shaft of the
morning sun; if you note the position of a sitting pheasant, you will
probably find that her face is sunwards. The mother bird is very
jealous of the sanctity of her nest; if disturbed she does not often
return. The keeper, passing by a sitting pheasant, passes by as though
he had seen nothing.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Old, Old story

The story of pheasant-rearing begins with the collection of eggs from
wild nests and from penned birds. Then comes the collection of broody
hens to play the part of foster-mother. Then the lime-washing of the
nest-boxes. Hundreds of wooden boxes, each compartment measuring
fifteen inches square, are placed in lines in a shed or an open field;
the nests are roughly fashioned in the boxes, of turf and soil, moss,
meadow-hay, and straw. And on the nests are set broody hens, beneath
which, when they have proved their worthiness, are placed from fifteen
to twenty eggs. Heaps of soaked corn and pans of water are made ready,
and once a day the hens are lifted off their nests to be fed and
watered, and to allow fresh air to play on the eggs. A rope runs on the
ground before the boxes, and to this the hens are tethered. The keeper
lifts off and tethers his hens at the rate of three or four to the
minute.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Luck of Pheasant-rearing

Seventeen is the regulation number of pheasant eggs to be put beneath
each hen, and seventeen chicks are put with each hen in the coops in
the rearing-field. The most motherly hens are selected for service on
the rearing-field. Less careful mothers are turned out when they have
hatched the eggs, or, if they are willing, are supplied with another
clutch. A hen that will hatch several clutches is too useful to be
honoured with the task of bringing up a brood, and must be content to
play the part of a living incubator. The keeper knows his hens through
and through--and he can tell when a hen has chicks without seeing them,
by the bristling of her feathers at his approach, and her instinctive
clucking.

An incubator helps the keeper to cope with the whims and frailties of
broody hens. It is always ready to receive those unexpected eggs which
may be brought to his cottage at any moment, as when sitting birds are
disturbed by sheep or cut out in the mowing grass. And it is ready
to take charge of the eggs abandoned by a fowl, or the chipped eggs
of a foster-mother which shows an inclination to crush the chicks as
hatched. Yet it will be long before it ousts the broody barn-door hen
from the rearing-field.

In the days before incubators, keepers who found themselves with more
eggs than hens were forced to strange shifts. One keeper saved the
situation with the help of ducks. Wild duck nested in numbers on an
island in a lake, and one spring day he took six hundred pheasants'
eggs to the island, exchanging them for the eggs of the sitting
ducks. The ducks proved excellent sitters, but as his hens became
available he would punt to the island to relieve the ducks of their
charge. Pheasants were more prized in those days than wild duck.
Such a sacrifice of duck for pheasants would be saved to-day by the
ever-ready incubator.

While pheasant-rearing is chiefly a matter of skill, luck plays a part
in success, and of course a light warm soil, a good situation, a good
supply of natural food, and good weather make all the difference. If
eighty eggs hatch out in a hundred this is considered good; if less
than seventy hatch, this is bad. A keeper may congratulate himself
if he turns a thousand pheasants into covert from fifteen hundred
eggs set; anything below one bird turned into covert from two eggs is
considered a poor result. Keepers believe that chicks cannot be hatched
too late in May or too early in June.

After about twenty-four days the eggs hatch, and the little chicks are
taken with the hens to coops placed in readiness in the rearing-field;
a place so jealously guarded by the keeper as to be in his eyes sacred
land. Four or five times daily the chicks must be fed--at first on
eggs, to which is added later a mixture of biscuit-meal, rice, greaves,
and small bird-seed, until boiled corn becomes the staple food. Every
night the chicks must be shut carefully into their coops--a long and
tiresome task. The danger of enteritis looms up--ten thousand chicks
may be swept off in a week. When five or six weeks old, chicks, hens,
and coops are carted away in waggons to the woods, where the chicks
must face the dangers of vermin by night as well as by day until they
learn to go to roost.

                   *       *       *       *       *


From Egg to Larder

For the keeper the days and nights spent in his rearing-fields pass
in incessant anxiety. He never counts his pheasants before they are
hatched. He may count them as morsels of fluff; when they begin to use
their babyish wings; again when they fill the broad ride with a mass of
seething brown--but not until the bracken is dead, and the trees are
naked, and the game-cart has borne away its burden, does he count them
as his own. Nor does his anxiety cease until the long tails hang safely
in his larder.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Fine Eggs and Good Mothers

"They be a good lot of eggs," the keeper will inform you as he reveals
his store, ready to be given to the quickening warmth of broody fowls.
"I don't know as ever I set eyes on better," he will add, "and I don't
expect you have neither." If you denied this he would not believe
you. His pheasants' eggs are like the apple blossoms: each year more
beautiful than ever. And the more plentiful the more beautiful.
Noting the keeper, as he goes out in search of broody hens, you might
mistake him for a dealer in rags and bones. He tramps all round the
countryside with an old sack slung over his back--one of the light,
thin kind in which dog-biscuits come; or sometimes he drives in a gig,
and poultry-farmers welcome him gladly. He pays half a crown or three
shillings for each hen in broody mood, and so helps to make poultry
pay. His difficulty is to find broody hens at the time when he most
needs them. The ideal is a healthy bird, not one with pallid comb or
inclined to mope; she must be of medium size and of light weight, with
short legs, small feet, and a wealth of downy feathers. Above all, she
must be quiet in demeanour. The fidgety, fussy hen may have excellent
intentions, but is likely to cause disaster to her eggs and chicks. A
big hen with the sprawliest feet, but of gentle disposition, and slow
to anger, will often prove a better foster-mother than one a model in
form, feather, and feet, but in temperament a spitfire.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Cub-stealing Shepherd

Illicit traffic in fox-cubs and partridge eggs is hard to stamp
out. So long as men will buy fox-cubs and eggs there will be men to
supply them. If there were no buyers there would be middlemen, and
there would be fewer cubs which bear the label, "From Germany." Cubs,
wherever they come from, fetch a good price, giving ample profit for
an hour's hard digging--say ten shillings each. Cub-snatching is less
risky than egg-stealing. So far as we know, even to kill cubs is not
an offence against the law, and so there can hardly be a penalty for
taking them alive. The worst that could happen to the culprit would
be a prosecution for simple trespass and damage. A cunning, rascally
cub-stealer of our acquaintance was employed by none other than the
local M.F.H. He was a shepherd, and nothing pleased him better than
to hear that foxes were plentiful when hounds came his way. He knew
that in the spring he would reap many pounds by cub-snatching, and
with small risk of rousing suspicion. But one spring morning he was
caught in the very act of cub-snatching, and then he ceased to be that
Master's shepherd.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Lures and Charms

The old-fashioned professional rat-catcher is seen as rarely as the
mole-catcher, with his rude traps of wood, wire and string, actuated
by a spring of green wood from the hedgerow. And with the rat-catcher
have passed the secrets of his calling--how, when and where to use oils
and essences to attract rats to their doom. He knew how to handle rats
alive with his naked hands, and the trick of squeezing the life from
their bodies. The experienced take rats by the back of the throat, but
unless the grip is made in just the right way a dangerous bite may be
received. The safest plan for the inexperienced is to take live rats
by the tip end of their tails; then they are helpless, since their
own weight keeps their heads down. Mice, treated in this way, would
curl up and nip their captor's fingers in a twinkling. He was a deep
character, the old rat-catcher. If there were many rats he would
destroy many--but if few he would take good care to leave behind him
some fine specimens for stock. No doubt the oils and preparations
invented by himself, or handed down to him by his ancestors, would not
only attract rats for his catching, but would attract others after he
had gone, so that his trade was kept alive. Thus, perhaps, arose the
old saying that if you kill one rat twelve friends will come to its
funeral. Oils are still used as lures by the fish-poacher, and also
by the gamekeeper. To draw rats into his traps the keeper sprinkles
them with the sweet-scented oil of rhodium-wood and oil of aniseed. To
attract cats he uses tincture of valerian; the essences in the root of
that plant having so great a charm for cats that it will draw them from
far and near. To attract stoats and weasels he uses oil of musk. To
entice a fox, a dead cat is one of the best lures: many a fox, to our
knowledge, has owed its death to an over-keenness in unearthing a cat
that had been shot and lightly buried. We have heard that dog-stealers
induce dogs to follow them by carrying a piece of wart from a horse's
leg--we know a simpler plan. The keeper's woodcraft teaches him many
ways to charm wild creatures to their destruction. A common trick to
bring rabbits from their holes is to imitate the squeal of a rabbit in
fear, by applying the lips to the back of the hand, and producing a
tremulous sucking sound. Possibly the rabbits think that a brother is
in distress, and come to see from curiosity.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Law and the Peewit

The eggs of plovers in some parts are now receiving protection all the
year round, the Board of Agriculture having given notice that peewits
feed wholly to the benefit of field crops and do no injury whatever to
the interests of farmers. The greedy and the thoughtless have taken
plovers' eggs in unreasonable numbers, and total protection is to be
welcomed. It may be argued that peewits' eggs are a rare delicacy, and
wholesome food; that where they may be taken a limited number of old
men may earn a few shillings; that a law superior to find-and-take
would be difficult to enforce; also that taking the eggs until about
the middle of April does not materially affect the numbers of peewits.
What with the effects of frosts and the destruction of eggs during the
tillage of fields, such as harrowing the fallows and rolling the grass
and cornfields, where peewits mostly nest, the greater portion of the
first layings cannot in any case survive. But those allowed to take
eggs for the sake of profit will not stop at early ones, and peewits
are such useful birds that thorough protection for all the eggs would
be the best policy.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Partridge and the Peewit

The partridge and the peewit seem to lead almost blameless lives.
We could claim that the productive value of land is improved by the
presence of partridges and peewits. There is no end to the good work of
partridges. Even when they devour grain, they are innocent of doing
harm, for they eat only such grain as is shed on the stubbles--waste
grain which none could grudge them. They never seek out grain newly
sown, like the rooks. When a field has been harrowed, directly the
men and horses have gone, the partridges gather in numbers to feed,
and though they may come after the field has been sown, they come as
readily before, as it is not the grain, but the slugs, grubs, worms,
and insects they are seeking; bits of weeds and their seeds, aphides,
earwigs, and ants' eggs are eagerly devoured.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Friend to Agriculture

The partridge is disheartened when a broad acreage is laid down to
grass; insect food grows scarce, and he soon takes his departure. On
arable land thrown out of cultivation the birds will thrive, because
of the hosts of weeds that spring up, and give them food and shelter;
insect food is found on the surface, and partridges multiply. But
nothing suits them better than highly cultivated arable land. The more
the soil is worked, as by harrows, the more food they are able to
find--and the more good they do by destroying insects and grubs that
injure delicate roots. Where land is needed for partridges there is
every need also of the peasant; and partridges bring the peasant many a
shilling for nests, and, when work is scarce, many a day's employment
at good wages (such as wages are), with a hearty lunch into the
bargain.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Rats in the Stacks

No doubt one reason why farmers fail to co-operate properly with
gamekeepers in keeping rats down is because they do not see the damage
which rats inflict upon them. A farmer is deeply troubled if he sees
a blade of corn or grass nibbled by a rabbit; he will make frantic
efforts to secure that rabbit--which has a market value. But a rat does
little visible damage, and when dead is worth nothing. Another cause
of apathy is that the farmer knows how useless it is to deal with the
rats on his own premises when the supply is promptly renewed from his
neighbours'. In a single corn-stack he entertains cheerfully, perhaps,
500 rats. Assuming that each rat eats three pints of corn a week,
the 500 rats in three months eat fifty pounds' worth of corn, to say
nothing of the grain and straw they damage. In a day, ten rats will
consume enough food to keep a man. If anything further were needed to
impress a rat-cherishing farmer, we might point to the statement that
a female rat may be responsible, theoretically, for between twenty and
thirty thousand descendants in the course of twelve months. But it
is left to the gamekeeper to be the rat-catcher of the countryside.
The farmer goes cheerfully to bed, unaware that rats are enjoying
themselves in his stacks to the tune of two or three pounds a day.
Many keepers destroy two or three thousand rats in a year.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Thoughts on Rat-hunting

As a hunter of rats the gamekeeper has no equal, though he could do
little without the help of his trusty ferrets and ratting terriers.
He and his assistants are on terms of thorough understanding. We know
an old keeper whose ferrets seem to have a strong affection for him;
they are quiet to handle, and are treated as pets, but they are the
best ratting ferrets in the world. The keeper does not care to use good
rabbiting ferrets for ratting: they may be lost and bitten to death--a
rat bite is always dangerous. Ratting ferrets need peculiar qualities,
and are not necessarily the most ferocious of their kind.

The keeper's ferrets seldom nip him, for he knows how to handle them. A
ferret nips, and is not to be blamed for it, when a hand suddenly makes
a grab at him without warning. The keeper's way to attract a ferret's
attention is by speaking before touching. "Come on, Betty," or "Come
on, Jack," he says in soothing tones, as he boldly puts forward his
hand. His passwords of friendship are useful for coaxing a ferret from
a hole or from impenetrable bushes. The ferrets tell him if a rat is
near by the action of their tails as they enter a burrow, working them
after the manner of a cat about to spring on a mouse.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Cats are Angered

Why should cats and ferrets at times lash their tails when approaching
prey? The tail-lashing suggests suppressed excitement, also a way of
gaining impetus or steadiness for a spring. But we think it should
be read chiefly as a sign of hostility and ferocity. A ferret enters
a burrow, discovers that there is a rat a little distance from him,
is angered, grows excited at the prospect of a fight, and lashes
his tail. But we have never observed a ferret to lash his tail when
approaching a rabbit--comparatively a harmless prey. A cat gives the
same storm-signal when annoyed, as when her fur is rubbed the wrong
way, or when she is about to spring on a mouse or a rat, each capable
of retaliation. But she seems to lash her tail chiefly when her prey
has come suddenly to her notice without warning; when she has been
lying for a long time in wait for a mouse, her tail hardly twitches,
in spite of her excitement; she is cool and collected, and her spring
brings certain death.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hunters' Thirst

When rat-hunting, and working hard, ferrets and dogs grow excessively
thirsty. One old keeper friend always takes the trouble to carry with
him a small flask of water for his ferrets, offering it to them at
intervals in the palm of his hand. For his dogs also he carries water
and a tin dish--while he seldom goes out ratting without a gallon jar
containing what he describes as "a little summat" for himself.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Life-in-Death

Now and again it happens that a ferret is killed accidentally while at
work. And sometimes dead ferrets return to life, health, and strength
in a way to put even cats to shame. We recall how a rat-hating keeper's
wife, notorious for the quality of her right arm, was one day helping
her husband to hunt rats in a wood-shed. On the ferret suddenly popping
out his head from a wood-pile, the good woman lost her wits, and aimed
a shrewd blow with her poker at the ferret's nose. In tears, she left
the poor little beast still and stark. A gardener was asked to bury
it, and plant a carnation over the grave. He found it in the dustbin,
eating the head of a duck.

In another case, a rat-hunter knocked a ferret with a hurdle-stake
from the eaves of a corn-stack far out into a field, where it was
picked up apparently dead, and put into a bag. Some hours later the
body was tipped from the bag into a little grave, when it startled
the gravedigger by gasping for breath. In a little while the corpse
celebrated its resurrection by slaughtering all the pheasants in a pen,
and just as they were beginning to lay. Once we saw a ferret struck
by a pellet from a gun, which went through its head, a hair's-breadth
below the eyes. Both eyes were blinded; yet the ferret recovered, and
lived and worked as long and well as most of its kind. Ferrets are
tougher than they look. The weak spot, no doubt, is in the lungs.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Ideal Ratters

The present type of show fox-terrier is too big and too long in the
leg for ratting in hedges. Little dogs are called for, full of sense
and pluck, with wide heads, strong jaws, bully chests and short bodies
on short legs, which carry them as quick as lightning almost anywhere
among the thorn hedges. The keeper does not care for his ratting
terriers to hunt anything but rats--and the difference in the work of a
rat specialist and a general-purpose dog must be seen to be believed.
He does not enter his puppies to old rats, for the puppies may be badly
bitten, and perhaps their ardour and dash will be ruined, and they will
never look at a rat again.

The general-purpose terrier develops grave faults. If a rabbit or a
hare is started, he prefers giving chase to going on with the rat
business: he attacks ferrets as well as rats, and he prevents rats from
bolting by jumping about over the burrows and poking his nose into them
too freely. A terrier must be taught to restrain himself until a rat
has bolted. The keeper holds him down, cuffs and rates him soundly each
time he tries to go too soon, but gives lavish praise if he waits until
the right moment. After a time, the little terriers so well understand
the necessity for allowing rats to bolt that they will crouch as
motionless as statues, with their noses almost touching the edge of the
hole. So crafty was one we have owned, that she would crouch in this
way, with her body round the corner, out of sight.

All plans for the destruction of rats are welcomed by the keeper,
because rats are the most numerous of all egg-thieves. He heartily
joins the foxes, stoats, and weasels in their war on rats, though he
is for ever at war with his co-operators. He believes that there are
now more rats than ever, and has figures at his finger-tips to prove
the growth of the rat-plague. If, he argues, there were only one rat to
every acre in England and Wales, and if each rat did damage only to the
extent of one farthing a day, the loss in a year would be £15,000,000.
And he quotes a report which says that a single poultry-fancier in
Dorsetshire lost £80 in a year through rats; that the owner of a
flour-mill lost £150 in a year, through the gnawing of sacks alone;
that men have attributed their bankruptcy chiefly to rats; and that the
damage done by rats in this country is greater than the damage done by
the cobra and tiger in India.

The gamekeeper holds that there ought to be complete, organised
co-operation against rats over wide areas, and heavily blames the
farmers for not giving proper assistance to keepers in their rat-war.
By delaying over-long the threshing of their corn-stacks farmers
certainly give rats a grand chance to increase and multiply; and when
ricks are left unthreshed until April the rats leave them without let
or hindrance, to spread over the countryside as the weather grows
warmer, and food is to be found everywhere. The keeper argues that
ricks should be threshed betimes, to allow the rats to be properly
dealt with. A day or two beforehand he would have the rats which lie in
out-lying burrows, in neighbouring hedges, driven into the rick; this
can be effected by tainting the burrows with paraffin--a simple plan
is to blow in smoke from paraffin-steeped rags with a bee-smoker. Then
the keeper would have the rick surrounded by half-inch wire-netting. At
the time of the threshing he would like to be summoned to the scene,
and he would see to it that there were six or seven smart ratting-dogs
present, and that they were constantly supplied with drinking-water.
In one case where this plan was tried, six hundred rats were accounted
for from one rick. Even after threshing and rat-killing on these
lines, rats will be found, if sought, in hidden holes where the rick
stood--packed to suffocation to the number perhaps of seventy or eighty.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Ratting without Ferrets

The keeper does not always take his ferrets with him when he goes
ratting. Usually they are too large to enter rat-holes freely, and even
the small rat-ferret has difficulty in turning round. And when a ferret
has once entered a hole a rat cannot pass him, and so may be prevented
from bolting and showing sport. The sport takes place underground,
unless the ferret retreats while there is time. The fight ends either
in severe punishment for the ferret or in the death of the rat; when
the ferret proceeds to gorge himself on his victim--and to lie up.

Again, it is more difficult to find a lingering ferret in a rat's hole
than in a rabbit's burrow; a line-ferret sent in to explore cannot move
about in the small rat passages as in the roomy tunnels of rabbits, and
so cannot locate the free ferret. To dig for a ferret in a rat's run is
always risky; the diameter is so small that the spade may cut through
without any warning, and also cut through the ferret. When the spade
breaks through the crown of a rabbit's hole, on the floor of which is
the ferret, the man with the spade naturally eases his pressure. But
the ferret fills the rat-hole to the roof.

There is still another danger in ratting with ferrets; the dogs, unless
very well trained, may bring about a tragedy. Even when a dog is
ferret-proof the ferret may plunge teeth into the dog, who naturally
retaliates. On all these accounts the keeper may prefer to go ratting
with an iron bar in place of a ferret.

By using an iron bar instead of ferrets for bolting rats, all kinds of
difficulties and delays are prevented; and the keeper is free to go
home at any time without having to wait for loitering allies. To strike
an iron bar into a rat's hole is to strike terror into the rat's heart.
One might probe a rabbit's burrow with a bar for a month, and no rabbit
would bolt--indeed, the more one probed the tighter would the rabbit
sit. In rabbiting, a bar is used only to find holes and save digging.
But thrust a bar anywhere near a rat's subterranean lair, and probably
the rat will bolt, as if possessed, at the first time of asking. Such
an effect does probing have on rats that they will fly before the
crowbar well knowing that enemies await their appearance. Even with a
dog at the hole who has grabbed at the rat more than once, the rat will
fly before a shrewd thrust. The art of thrusting is to drive the bar
into the hole behind the rat, not blocking the way by which it will
bolt.

Rats seem to have a deep-rooted terror of anything that probes and
prods. Perhaps some of them when their holes are disturbed associate
the trouble with pitchforks. For hundreds of years rats have lived in
corn-ricks, and at threshing time when the sheaves have been lifted by
pitchforks have bolted furiously. The first thrust of the pitchfork
into a protecting sheaf puts out the rats, though well aware of the
presence of men and dogs. When the iron bar comes crashing into the
burrow, perhaps the rats half expect the soil to be uplifted as if it
were a sheaf of corn.




SUMMER


A Keeper Chorister

The gamekeeper has a way of putting things to surprising and ingenious
uses. Usually he carries a dog-lead concealed somewhere about his
person--a yard or two of string attached to a simple spring clip; and
this lead serves a hundred purposes apart from restraining dogs. One
case we remember well, where a dog-lead saved a situation. The vocal
services of a keeper had been impressed for a festival of choirs; but
when he arrived, just before the procession was timed to start, it
was found that the one cassock which would encircle his figure was so
long that he could walk in it only with danger of falling. Of course
there was no string anywhere to be found, except in the shape of the
dog-lead. The dog-lead saved the day, and the robed procession started
off, lustily singing. It chanced that the keeper was one of the two
leading choirmen, and when he noticed that his companion was rather
headstrong in taking a corner, "Heel, will yer," he was heard to
mutter, absent-mindedly, as he flicked his friend with the snap of his
dog-lead from a besurpliced arm-hole; "heel, sir, heel."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Velveteens

There was something pleasing about the old familiar name for the
gamekeeper--"Velveteens": but it has been dropped almost completely,
because no longer appropriate. In the old times all gamekeepers were
clad in ample coats of velveteen. To-day, for one in velveteen you
may see a hundred in tweeds. And it is only the Cockney who calls the
keeper "Velveteens" to his face--thereby putting him on his dignity at
the least, if not insulting him. The old-time coat was pleasant to the
eye, so long as it was kept unspotted by rain. But its bloom departed
after a few minutes' exposure to a generous shower, and no amount of
drying or brushing would bring it back. Moreover, the shirt of the
man beneath the coat would probably suffer also from the wetting. The
best of velveteen was its thorn-resisting qualities. Tweeds resist
rain besides the thorns--the thick, heavy, closely-woven tweeds of the
neutral brown tint that are now the fashion for keepers' clothes. It
is a long time before they can be thoroughly wetted--and the keeper's
wife will tell you it is as long before they can be thoroughly dried.
They have two drawbacks--if made to fit closely and well they are
uncomfortable for shooting until almost worn out; and they are too hot
and heavy for summer wear. Employers would be investing profitably if
they allowed their keepers, instead of the one suit a year, a summer
and a winter suit. Comfort in dress makes a wonderful difference in
the keeper's work; hence the keeper's affection for his oldest things
and his scorn of appearances. His old breeches and gaiters become part
of himself. A keeper who always donned trousers on Sunday invariably
wore the old gaiters beneath them so that his legs might feel properly
encased.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Owls and Hawks

Small birds, like men, misunderstand the owl--and it is always a
curious sight to watch the mobbing of a night-bird by other smaller
birds. Presumably the angered birds mistake the owl for a hawk. At any
rate, they know him for a stranger, and no proven friend. When the
swallows are alarmed by the appearance of an owl in day-time, they
perform wonderful feats of flight, as they dart at the great bird from
every angle, and swerve about him in every degree of curve. We have
counted fourteen swallows' nests built in a shed against a pigeon
loft wherein a pair of barn-owls were rearing their three young ones;
we wondered how far the swallows were aware of the owls' presence,
and what they thought about it. If they mobbed a parent owl by day
there could be little real cause for their wrath--as little as when a
missel-thrush or a jay joins in the outcry raised in the wood against
the brown owl.

Enlightened keepers leave all hawks unmolested, except perhaps on
the rare occasions when they catch one in the act of gamecide.
Beyond question, hawks as a rule do far more good to game interests
than harm; and the kestrel, if he ever does any harm, pays for it a
hundred-fold by his tireless industry in keeping down mice and voles.
Once we carefully watched for several weeks the nests of three pairs of
sparrow-hawks; and among the remains of their feasts the legs of only
one young pheasant were discovered.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Bold Sparrow-Hawk

It is time, and high time, that sparrow-hawks were placed under the
protecting wing of the law. Generations of gamekeepers have persecuted
them relentlessly: it says much for their courage, strength, and
craftiness that any should remain to offer a target for the keeper's
gun. But they grow scarce; they are seen far less commonly than
kestrels, whose usefulness and innocence of gamecide is beginning to
be a little understood. If sportsmen would consider the evidence for
and against sparrow-hawks as despoilers of game--if they would rely
no longer on prejudice and crass ignorance--we feel sure they would
take steps to stay the wanton slaughter by their gamekeepers of these
handsome, useful birds. Keepers ought to be forbidden to destroy any
sparrow-hawks, except those which clearly prove themselves guilty of
killing game as a habit. How thoughtless, ruthless, and mistaken is the
keeper's zeal in killing them, we could show by a hundred instances.
To take one: It chanced that part of a patch of buckwheat had been
left unharvested, so that the pheasants might help themselves to the
grain. Thousands of small birds flocked to feed on the choice feast. A
gamekeeper noticed that sparrow-hawks found this patch of buckwheat a
fine hunting-ground, and would perch in a clump of tall trees near by.
He therefore hid himself in the trees, with a gun, and bagged four hen
sparrow-hawks, which had been well employed in thinning the ranks of
the small birds.

Countrymen will speak of the cock sparrow-hawk as the little blue
hawk, as though it were a separate variety: not knowing that the
cock bird is about half the size of his mate. Blue hawks, pigeon
hawks, and five-barred hawks are among the sparrow-hawk's local
names, arising from the blue-grey colour of the upper parts of their
plumage, from their occasional habit of attacking wood-pigeons, and
from the five striking bars of brownish black on their tails. Less
common than kestrels, sparrow-hawks are far less conspicuous: while
the kestrel hovers high in the air on the look-out for prey (whether
a mouse or a grasshopper), the sparrow-hawk's way is to glide low
over the fields and along the hedges, swooping suddenly through gaps
to pounce on unsuspecting small birds. The size and shape of the
wings, and therefore the flights of the two birds, are very different.
The sparrow-hawk's wings are inclined to be rounded and short; the
kestrel's are long and pointed. While the young of the two birds have a
great deal in common, the fledged young may be distinguished readily
by the white spot on the lower part of the back of the sparrow-hawk's
head. Each bird has a fatal way of coming to investigate the sound of a
gunshot. If a shot is fired in the direction of a hawk flying far out
of range, say a hundred yards distant, it will instantly dart down and
towards the gunner, nearly always within easy range. We have seen this
happen many times.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Nest and Young

Like the kestrel, the sparrow-hawk is content with a slovenly nest,
which it builds of dead twigs on the ruins of other nests--usually
those of magpies, crows, or pigeons. Or it uses a squirrel's drey as
a foundation, or comes year after year to its own old home. Usually
the chosen site is not very high in a tree--larches and oaks are
favourites--and the nest will be found near the trunk: in short oaks it
may be in the cup formed where several branches spread away. We have
found a nest within ten feet of the ground. The nest, when you climb to
it, is much larger than it appears from below, and only a man with long
arms could encircle it. There may be five eggs, pale white, blotched
with dark chestnut-brown, the markings of eggs in one clutch sometimes
showing a beautiful variation, while the markings of the clutches of
different birds differ considerably. The shells, like those of the
kestrel's eggs, are very thick--even the hawk's sharp claws would
hardly puncture them without intentional effort.

Should you hear a soft whistling in a wood--not unlike the whistling
of the farmer's wife when she calls her chickens to meals, but much
subdued--you may know there is a sparrow-hawk's nest not far away.
A glimpse of the whistler gives rise to a general alarm-cry among
blackbirds. If the whistling leads to the discovery of young hawks,
on your approach they will assume attitudes suggestive of disgust and
resentment. In their poses and markings there is something owl-like
about young hawks: and, as with young owls, there is a good deal of
difference in the size of the fledglings, and in the state of their
feathering. The strongest young one has the pick of the food, and
quickly outgrows his brothers and sisters. Should the mother bird
be killed, the cock will rear the family unaided on the small birds
on which they thrive. The preservation of woods has meant a steady
increase in the hosts of small birds, and hawks in consequence are
under no necessity to prey on game-birds. Some sparrow-hawks will
acquire the game-feeding habit: others will pounce by chance on a small
game-bird; but sparrow-hawks are in no way dependent on game, living
for the most part on finches and the like, thereby helping to preserve
the balance of scales of which the gamekeeper and his master take
little heed.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper Outwitted

One evening we were passing through a large, old-fashioned wood, when
we came upon a keeper feeding his pheasants--many hundreds of them:
and the talk went round to the question of sparrow-hawks and game. We
suggested that it was a wise keeper who spared the sparrow-hawk--that
this hawk did not kill game for a tithe of its food--and that the
time only came to kill it after it had been proved to attack game as
a habit. But the keeper would not hear of this; and he thanked his
stars, he said, that not a sparrow-hawk remained alive in his woods.
Just as he said these words we chanced to see before us on the ride,
in the middle of the long rank of pheasant coops, a dead blackbird.
The feathers lay scattered about the bird in a circle; there was every
sign of a sparrow-hawk's work. We called the keeper's attention to that
blackbird's body. He agreed that a hawk had killed it, and then we drew
from him the confession that he had not lost a single pheasant from a
sparrow- or any other hawk. The keeper told us a story of how a brood
of sparrow-hawks had been reared in a tree at the back of the very hut
in which the pheasants' food was mixed. Though the hut was also a sort
of watch-tower, yet the man who spent his days thereabouts had failed
to notice the hawks until the young birds left the nest. This is not to
say that the powerful old hen sparrow-hawk did not raid the pheasants;
but it is certain that she outwitted the under-keeper who worked daily
at the hut, and it proves that an under-keeper may not know all that is
to be known about sparrow-hawks and their ways.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Jackdaw Nursery

Among the birds not loved by keepers are jackdaws. One old keeper
friend of ours has brought hundreds of jackdaws to a bad end. One
evening, years ago, when walking through a park, his keen eyes noticed
a hole high up in the stem of an ash-tree; and as he looked, out flew
a jackdaw--never to return. Passing that way again, another jackdaw
flew out, and paid the penalty of living in that keeper's preserves.
He found the hole to be a favourite place for these birds, for it made
an excellent nursery for the young. Season after season, the keeper
kept his eye on the hole. As he went by, he would make a peculiar
squeaking noise, which would call out any birds that might be at home.
The stem of the tree about the hole became riddled with shot with such
curious effect that when the tree fell the keeper cut out the section
containing the hole; and it may be seen in his parlour, among other
treasures, to this day.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Detective Work

The gamekeeper is a trained detective. He is for ever setting a trap
to catch a poacher. Across a ride where poachers may come at night, he
will stretch a piece of invisible twine or wire, and he is at pains
to place it just so far from a sharp stump that any one tripping will
probably break a nose. Anxious for a good night's rest, he keeps a
light burning in one of his cottage windows, so that the poachers may
think he is out and about; or when he goes out he pulls down a blind
in his bedroom, as if he were sleeping within. Meeting workmen in
the lanes near his preserves, he sends his dog for a sniff at their
dinner-baskets--the dog soon tells him if there is game inside where
should be bread and cheese.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Cattle in the Woods

A dreadful idea to the keeper is the thought of cattle in his coverts.
The worst that a mad bull could do in a china shop would make a
faint picture of destruction beside the havoc wrought by cattle in
well-stocked preserves. Happy the keeper whose coverts are guarded
by good fences in the days when flies torture cattle, and colts are
most mischievous. If in hot weather a breach has once been made in a
fence by cattle or horses, they will persist in trying to find their
way into the woods. One can only pity the pheasant who sits on her
eggs, on some sunny bank of a covert fence, while a herd of unbroken
cart-colts go lumbering round the field, each shouldering each in an
ill-judged swerve from the fence. Even in their calm moments colts are
inquisitive, and leave nothing alone that is living and within their
reach. We remember a case where a pheasant nested on the outside bank
of a wood, and the colts in the field, pushing into the living fence,
actually nosed her from her nest, and there was good evidence that they
then chawed every one of her eggs. Most difficult of all creatures
to keep out of woods are roaming swine. The strongest of live fences
offers only a temporary check to their boring ability. And pigs have
good noses, and few rabbit-stops and nests of eggs on the ground escape
them. If a keeper's woods are infested by pigs he can scarcely be
blamed for shooting his own bacon.

The keeper has an eye for the trim and pleasing appearance of
his woods. He takes a genuine pleasure in their beauty. Jealous
of the untrodden appearance of his secret paths, his annoyance
is ill-concealed when the hunt cuts up his green rides. He would
cheerfully forego the reward for the finding of a fox if he could
preserve his rabbit-shorn sward--green and as smooth as velvet. And in
his soul is a secret hatred of the traffic of the woodmen's waggons.
Their great wheels crush and destroy the promising young underwood;
woodmen, removing tree-trunks, ruthlessly plough up lawn-like turf;
they have no care and no eye for the young growths of hazel, ash,
maple, thorn or brier, to say nothing of bramble and bracken; and their
waggons, carts and horses' hoofs spread a desolation which brings
curses to the keeper's lips.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Tragedy of the Woodlands

We know a wood near the Hampshire Highlands that was once famous
for its ash, and would be as famous now if the wood's owner had his
keeper's fine feeling. The keeper's heart was cut if frost blackened
the leaves; this was a grim tragedy. And there were larches of
gun-barrel straightness. An order was given that the wood should be
laid low. The woodmen came with saw and axe, beetle and wedges, they
cut all the trees, and sent them to the guillotine of the travelling
steam-saw, which spoiled as fair a meadow as any in Hampshire. Next the
woodland was thrown open to cattle, horses, and sheep. Then the keeper
was dismissed: and glad he was to go.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Fox and Partridge

When shooting parties begin again strange stories are repeated about
pheasants and partridges. We remember hearing a learned disquisition
on the subject of the fox and the hen partridge; the argument was that
the fox is only occasionally successful when he makes a grab at a hen
partridge sitting on her eggs, and that the hen, after fluttering from
the jaws of death, will return unconcernedly to her duties. Further,
even if the fox were so lucky as to capture the hen, the cock partridge
would most obligingly take up the sitting and hatch the eggs. But
no case was cited where a fox had been known to attempt to catch a
sitting cock partridge--from which the inference might be drawn that
the fox has a special aversion to the sitting cock.

Much nonsense of this sort is swallowed with good faith by those not
closely in touch with foxes and game. We have an old book called "The
Life of a Fox: Written by Himself." In this we read that a sitting
bird acquires a thinness and flavour which are abhorrent to the taste
of a fox; nonsense guised as sense could hardly go further. It would
be grossly disparaging to the fox's skill to say that he fails once in
a hundred times when making a grab at a sitting bird; and we are sure
that a cock partridge does not take up the duties of his wife as often
even as a fox fails to bring off a catch. We have never known a cock
partridge to take the place of his murdered mate on the nest, but every
gamekeeper knows he will rear the brood when the hen is killed after
hatching.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Study in Perseverance

We have a pretty story to tell ourselves about the perseverance of
partridges. In a district where few were found, a pair had left the
fields and nested within a stone's-throw of the keeper's cottage. It
stood in a green glade, sheltered on all sides by rambling old woods.
For four successive seasons this partridge pair nested within a few
yards of the same spot: and year after year something upset their
plans, and spoiled all prospects of their hope of a covey--a hedgehog,
rooks, inquisitive children, but, luckily, not a fox. The fifth
season found the persevering birds trying again; their nest contained
seventeen eggs. The site was an obvious one, but now the birds' luck
turned. Just when it seemed that nothing could keep the nest from the
eyes of any curious passers-by, a fine plant of hemlock sprang up to
provide a screen and shelter. Every egg was then hatched, and every
chick was reared to the flying stage. True, by September the young
birds had been reduced until only nine were left. But as the keeper
said, that was better than that a fox should have killed the old hen
on her nest; and a family of nine was very creditable to a pair of
five-year-old birds.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Hut in the Woods

Your gamekeeper is a skilled cook, and his open-air kitchen is a
place of curious interest. For the first five or six weeks of their
lives young pheasants are regaled several times daily with meals of
hard-boiled eggs, custard, biscuit-meal, oatmeal, canary-seed, greaves
and rice--seasoned with spices. Look into the keeper's hut in the
woods, and you will see quite a collection of sacks filled with choice
foods--cracked maize, dari-seed, groats, rice, preparations of dried
meat, and finely dressed meals of wheat and barley. When the birds have
learned to go to roost only one meal a day is provided. In his kitchen
the keeper prepares a thin meat soup, sometimes of sheeps' heads; this
is boiled, then cooled, chopped lettuce and onion, and barley and
other meals are added, and then the rations of the pudding-like mass
are rolled into small pellets. Over the keeper's kitchen the keeper's
wife has no jurisdiction. In some sheltered corner from which he can
keep an eye on his birds he builds himself a fireplace of two parallel
rows of bricks open at each end, so that he may burn long sticks and
save himself the labour of chopping wood if pressed for time. Sometimes
he will get the village blacksmith to fashion a sort of iron gallows
from which to hang his great cooking-pots, each containing eight or
nine gallons, and of no small weight. By November many keepers have
cooked the last meal for their pheasants--others may be preparing a
final supper, whistling till their jaws ache to call the birds to
the meal--on the morrow to do their utmost to send the long-tails to
destruction.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Pheasant Chicks

"Mothering" is the factor which makes all the difference between a
moderately good and a very good season for young pheasants. A hen
pheasant, when her chicks are quite small, can easily give warmth and
shelter to a dozen or more; after the first week or so some have to go
without, and unless the weather is fine and warm, they perish before
they are covered by body feathers. Weather conditions that have had
a bad effect on partridges may have little effect on pheasants. Many
suppose that if partridges have suffered from drought, pheasants,
especially wild ones, must have suffered also. But wild pheasants
have an advantage in several ways. The period during which they lay
and hatch their eggs and rear their young is much longer than with
partridges. If the last ten days of June be days of cold, heavy,
ceaseless rain, they may practically annihilate the partridge chicks.
But at that time a great number of young pheasants are old enough to
withstand a considerable rainfall. Nor are the pheasants of tender
age--only a section of the pheasant crop--so much at the mercy of bad
weather as are tender partridges, for their haunts are chiefly in and
about the woods and hedgerows, which afford shelter from cold and wet.
In times of drought, the pheasants have the best chance of finding,
among the shaded herbage, and beneath the masses of decaying leaves,
enough moist insect food to carry them over to better days. It is on
account of the better insect-supply in moist places that in very thin
partridge seasons, where birds have suffered heavily from drought in
open places, a few fine coveys may often be found on the fringes of
woods. And in very wet seasons, the shelter and warmth of underwood
also explain the survival of strong coveys. The end of September marks
the time of the breaking-up of the pheasant broods. The young birds
no longer remain with their mothers; the young cocks begin to feel
self-conscious and gallant in their fine feathers, growing richer
daily, and duels are fought as by way of practice for the fierce
struggles of their first spring. You may hear at the roosting-time of
the birds the crude efforts of the young cocks to say "cock-up" instead
of "peep-peep." Their utterances are an inharmonious blending of treble
and bass; indeed old pheasant cocks and the birds of the year are as
different in voice as grown men and choir-boys, old rooks and young.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Roosting Habit

If one thing annoys a keeper more than another, it is to have foxes
turned down on his beat without warning. It is bad enough that foxes
should be turned down at all--especially before the young pheasants
have learned the trick of going into the trees to roost. Most of the
pheasants living in and about the woods should go to roost by the
middle of August, and only late birds may be excused if they have not
acquired the roosting habit by the First. In the past the keeper was
relieved of a load of anxiety if all his hand-reared birds went to tree
by the First--for with the long days spent in the partridge fields he
was unable to watch over his pheasants at night. But in these days,
when there is so little partridge shooting in early September, the
keeper has more time to give to his pheasants, and his anxieties are
less, though he is always glad when his birds take to roosting out of
the reach of vermin, especially of foxes--tame or wild.

Given a fair chance young pheasants soon learn to go to a perch to
sleep. Where one sets a good example, others quickly follow. We
remember a partridge that was reared with pheasants, and learned
to go with them regularly to roost. Five-weeks-old pheasants will
flutter up to roost on the first night after removal to covert. It
is less difficult to induce them to seek a perch than to break them
of the habit of sleeping on the ground. Pheasants have an eye rather
for comfortable sleeping quarters than safe ones. Many a keeper has
suffered heavy loss from putting his birds in a covert with a thick
grassy undergrowth, or within reach of a field of rough grass, or a
young plantation with a thick growth of rank herbage and attractive
weeds. There the fox is most likely to come.

Ideal quarters for the birds, when the time comes to shift them from
the rearing-field to the coverts, is ground bare of brambles, fern,
and grass, where oak saplings throw out horizontal branches--not too
thick--a few feet from the ground. With his young birds in such a
place, the keeper may lie on his bed in peace and thankfulness--to
dream of the harvest of his toil, a harvest which needs but a fine
November day and straight powder to be garnered in abundance. Where
the ground is unfavourable the keeper will try to teach his birds the
roosting habit; one plan is to put the hen and her coop on a raised
platform. This lessens any risk the hen may have to run from vermin,
and encourages her brood to fly to the roost.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Badger's Stealth

A badger may come to a neighbourhood and stay for a long while
unnoticed. He prowls at night, unseen and unsuspected, and people may
suppose there is no badger within miles. In the same way otters are
at home in many a stream where nobody dreams there is an otter in the
neighbourhood. But let the badger's presence be discovered, and he will
be persecuted to the end. The wise badger shifts his tent at once if a
human nose is poked into it; all badgers would profit if they went to
the fox for a few wrinkles. The foxes have a maxim: Never be at home to
callers who may come again. A visiting-card, in the shape of a particle
of scent, is more than enough acquaintance for a fox with a human being.

Even the gamekeeper often harbours a badger unknowingly. What he does
not suspect he does not look for. And if he were to look for a month
for signs of a badger he might never find one. Again and again he might
pass within sight of a badger's holt, and think it to be the retreat of
a fox. But by chance he might come upon a clear imprint of a badger's
tracks, and after that it would not take him long to discover the
badger's lair. While not a friend of the badger, he has no such bitter
resentment against him as he feels for the fox. If it were not that
the badger every now and then commits an outrage that brings disgrace
on himself and all his kith and kin, the record of his life might be
written down as fairly harmless. In these days the badger can make
small claim as a provider of sport, which might mitigate the sentence
most keepers pass upon him.

We knew of a badger who lived in peace, his presence unsuspected, for
many long months. Then a series of mysterious poultry massacres began
to disturb the district, and sometimes a dozen chickens and ducklings
would be slain in one night. Some said fox, others dog; strange stories
of ghosts spread abroad; it was even hinted that a wolf had been
imported by mistake with foreign foxes. But one day tracks were seen
that were not the tracks of fox, dog, or wolf, and a trail of feathers
led to the discovery of a hidden draw-out. The badger was evicted and
summarily shot.

                   *       *       *       *       *


To Attract Bullfinches

The bullfinch is not always made welcome when he comes to gardens
at the time of fruit-buds. And there are seasons and places in
which he would be welcomed--but comes not. We know a way to attract
bullfinches, even to gardens in towns. You should take from a
hedge-side a few plants of the wild geranium, and set them in your
town garden--bullfinches are wonderfully fond of their seeds. We have
known the birds to find out the geranium plants in a town garden where
bullfinches had never been seen before. To this garden they would
come regularly, but always in the early morning. They are cheerful
feeders--they live on insects and larvæ, as well as on many kinds of
seeds and berries, in the spring feeding their young on seeds which
have been carefully softened.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Bird Warnings

Prominent among the birds that mob the barn-owl when he flies forth
by day are jays and blackbirds. They are the noisiest, and to the
gamekeeper the most useful of all the sentinels of the wood. A sudden
hubbub from blackbirds and jays always has a meaning. If the birds are
flying high it is a sign that the barn-owl is on the move--if low, the
gamekeeper's thoughts fly to a poaching cat. A cat can hardly move a
yard in a wood without a blackbird crying the alarm. His excited notes,
suggesting the sound of the words "Flint, flint," are taken up by all
the blackbirds within call, and soon the cat is besieged by a throng,
and so closely that the keeper can follow pussy's direction, though she
remains unseen. And the blackbirds give warning of the movements of
stoats and weasels. The wren, too, is a lively and vigilant sentinel,
and from its movements one may determine within a yard where the stoat
is lurking. Jays, by their screams, give prompt warning that a fox is
on the prowl, and no human trespasser, in pursuit of game or otherwise,
can hope to escape their attentions. A lively reception awaits the fox
moving in a wood by day, and his progress may be marked through the
length of a big covert by the agitated way in which the cock pheasants
mount the trees, with warning "cock-up." In the open the peewits will
gather to swoop and swerve in anger and defiance above the fox's head.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Rabbit's Fates

There was a small rabbit in our woods who might have congratulated
himself on two wonderful escapes from death. We first made his
acquaintance in a quiet by-lane, and just in time to drive away a stoat
that was loping swiftly along on his trail. A little rabbit is pathetic
in fear, and instinctively one is angered against the stoat which would
take its life--though the stoat's teeth represent the natural weapon
of rabbit destruction. The rabbit fled on his way--directly towards
a motor-car coming at speed round a corner. He darted to one side,
escaping the wheels by the fur of his tail, then foolishly turned
across the road, and again escaped the wheels by a miracle. We wondered
whether the fate thus avoided would have been easier than the one
delayed--no doubt soon after the stoat's teeth bit home in the tender
neck.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Game-Birds and Motors

We have seen a motor-car drive right over a covey of young partridges
as they dusted themselves on a road, leaving half a dozen victims
behind it. But motors are not entirely opposed to game interests. The
dust they scatter on roadside hedges greatly helps the hiding nests.
Then the frequent passing of cars along country roads is certainly a
deterrent to the poacher; the shooting man in his car takes note of
doubtful-looking tramps and gipsies, and can spread a swift warning to
keepers or police. Even the smells of the car are a disguised blessing,
overpowering the scent of the sitting bird, and so, no doubt, often
preventing a dog from finding a roadside nest. The motor has sent up
the value of many inaccessible shooting properties by eliminating
distance. It may be useful to a shooting party when cartridges have
come to an end, or at the close of a day for transporting game speedily
to the station, or at any time for bringing a doctor when the bag has
been enriched by the addition of a gamekeeper.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Mysteries of the Nightjar

On a midsummer night, in an old wood, the crooning of the nightjar,
with its whirring, vibrant, monotonous notes, now rising, now falling
in key, seems the ideal of lullaby. The beautiful night-flying swallow
suffers for an evil reputation. It is a bird of mystery.

The nightjar is the last of our summer visitors, coming about the
middle of May to stay until September. It is known almost the world
over, but few understand its ways; birds of the night suggest evil
doings and inspire superstition. The plumage has the rich, quiet
beauty of the woodcock and the hen pheasant, and the feathers have the
softness of the owl's. In build the bird comes between a large swift
and a small hawk, and is suggestive of swift or swallow when seen close
at hand, with its miniature, hawk-like bill and a mouth surprisingly
capacious when open. The eggs, like the swift's, are rounded at the
ends.

It is commonly called night-hawk, or dor-hawk, because it preys on
dor-beetles, and it is fern-owl, because it haunts the bracken fern.
It is night-crow, because when on the wing it cries a crowing note,
"crow-ic," and it is jar-owl, because of its owl-like love of night and
its jarring or churring song. Wheel-bird is a name derived from the
wheeling flight. Other names are churn-owl, eve-churr, and night-churr;
but the oldest and one of the most familiar names is goat-sucker,
derived from the legend that the bird sucks milk from goats, thereby
poisoning them and causing blindness. Probably some one saw the bird
near a goat, did not know what it was, or anything about it, and
invented the goat-sucking myth.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Razor-grinder

Another bit of folk-lore about the nightjar is that it gave calves a
disease called puckeridge; and on this account country folk still call
this innocent but unfortunate bird the puckeridge. The disease, in
fact, was caused by an insect which laid eggs on the backs of cattle,
whence emerged grubs to cause the skin to pucker. The nightjar may
often be seen wheeling about cattle, for the reason, no doubt, that
the animals attract insects and disturb moths. Possibly for the same
reason the nightjar, instead of flying away from human beings, will
flit near about, keeping just in front of a walking man. Among other
curious names is "razor-grinder." We met a countryman who only knew
the nightjar by this name, derived from the noise made by itinerant
razor-grinders at work.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Ventriloquist

Perched lengthwise on a low branch or rail, the nightjar gives to its
churring a ventriloquial effect by turning its head while it croons.
Though the crooning is monotonous, it varies in key, loudness, and
duration; while the occasional cry, "crow-ic, crow-ic," reminds one of
the cry of moorhens and tawny owls. As the bird flies, the snapping
of the beak may be heard as a sharp click, whether it is snapped
over a moth, or by way of showing resentment at one's presence--young
wood-pigeons and doves snap in the same way if disturbed in the nest.
The bird has marvellous control of its flight, and has a way of poising
itself in the air with the wings meeting above the back, like the wings
of the dove in a Scripture-book picture. The serrated claw on the
middle toe is probably used for catching prey, and for clearing away
fragments that cling round the gaping mouth; while the long bristles
that grow from the jaws entangle moths as in a net, as the bird flies
with mouth wide open. It finds good hunting among oak-trees, and is
especially fond of several of the many insects that chiefly haunt the
oaks.

The nightjar is among the nestless birds, and is content to lay its two
eggs on the ground. When hatched the young are covered with down like
young peewits, and they grow at an amazing rate. An old nightjar, when
disturbed from its young, will go through a despairing performance,
flitting to a low branch near by, and flapping or wringing its wings
in a disconsolate manner, as though to say, "Please go away--please
_do_ go away!" The old bird seems to know how helpless is the position
of the young ones if once discovered by a foe. But it is never easy to
pick out the young birds from their surroundings, while the mother bird
on her nest is as good as invisible.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Cock and the Hen

Not all familiar with partridges know how to distinguish the cocks from
the hens by the few minute differences in plumage. In flight the birds
are so alike in size that it is impossible to tell them apart--unless,
perhaps, they are in pairs, and one goes away ahead of the other on
being put up, when the cock may be the hindmost bird. The usual test
of sex is the chestnut horseshoe of the breast. The cocks display a
fine bright horseshoe badge, while the hens have a few chestnut spots
on a whitish ground. However, some insist that this test is not always
infallible. One to be trusted absolutely, so far as we know, is the
striking difference in the lesser and median wing coverts. In each case
there is a light buff stripe down the shaft; but the cock's feathers
have a chestnut stain which is lacking in the hen's feathers, while
the hen's feathers have zigzag buff cross-bars (of the same hue as the
shaft stripe), which are lacking in the cock's feathers. There are
other differences which the experienced eye sees at once; and there are
differences also in the neck feathers. In the adult cock they are grey,
with no shaft stripe; in the hen they are brown, with a light shaft
stripe. The age of birds is to be determined to a certain extent quite
simply. Those with bright yellow legs are birds of the year. Those with
their first pen-feathers rounded are more than a year old, for in the
young birds these feathers are pointed at the tip.

                   *       *       *       *       *


On Finding Feathers

To be able to name the different sorts of feathers to be picked up on
any woodland walk is an interest like that of the knowledge of flowers,
which allows one to give each wayside blossom its name. The gamekeeper
may put by the more beautiful feathers he finds for presents to his
friends. The jay is killed for an egg-thief, but his blue and black
wing is borne afterwards to church on the hat of a village maiden. The
keeper has an appreciative eye for the burnished metallic hues of the
feathers of cock pheasants of every kind. What greatly pleases him
is to point out to the ignorant the existence of those two peculiar
feathers in the wings of woodcock--the tiny, stiff, pointed feathers,
growing close against the base of the first flight feather's shaft in
each wing. These he could pick out in the dark by sense of touch. They
are to be found in snipe's wings--in which they are lighter in colour,
and even more minute--and in other birds, but it would be difficult to
say what particular purpose they serve beyond a finish or covering for
the exposed edge of the first flight feather. An unwritten law entitles
the shooter of a woodcock to these particular feathers, and formerly
the etiquette of sport allowed him to wear them in reasonable numbers
in his hat. To-day one may sometimes see them in the hard hat of the
poulterer. Painters in olden times appreciated the stiff points of the
feathers for delicate work. And there was an agent on a Scotch shoot
whereon woodcock are plentiful who maintained the national reputation
for thrift by using the feathers as nibs for writing. But we suspect he
did more woodcock shooting than quill-driving.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When the Dog's Asleep

Rats are marvellously cunning, they never fail to seize an opportunity
and make the best of it. They are as bold as cunning, and take
desperate risks; but no doubt they know their own powers. The cunning
and the boldness of rats are made evident when one is seen eating
the crumbs of a biscuit beside a sleeping dog. Rats soon find out
that where there is a dog in a kennel there will be food--not crumbs
only, but an assortment of bones, and many a tit-bit, despised by a
fastidious dog, from that comprehensive dish, household scraps. It
is strange to watch a rat stealing a feast within a few inches of a
sleeping terrier--the very rat for whose blood the terrier has wearied
himself by scratching at a hole for the greater part of the day. Should
the dog wake up and dash for his enemy, the rat coolly darts beneath
the kennel. It is a thousand to one against the dog catching the thief.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Story of Rats

Keepers as a class have no love for rats; but there is one keeper who
regards all rats with the deadliest loathing, on account of a little
experience. He had taken a new berth, and arrived at the cottage which
was to be his home some days in advance of his wife, taking bread,
a ten-pound cheese, and a cask of beer, on which to subsist until
the more luxurious days of his wife's coming. Having found that the
outgoing keeper had carried off the front-door key, he brought his most
valuable possessions into his bedroom, including the bread, cheese, and
beer. Thoroughly tired with his journey and his unpacking, he slept
so well through the first night that some mysterious sounds, as in
a dream, failed to rouse him. On awakening, he discovered that rats
had paid a call, and had eaten every particle of the bread and of the
ten-pound cheese. They had even assaulted the bung of the beer-barrel,
happily for them and for the keeper without success. During the first
three months of his residence this keeper killed no fewer than 600 rats
in and about his old-fashioned cottage.

Thinking of the rats who assaulted the beer-barrel reminds us of the
story of a clever rat that drank from a wine-bottle by first inserting,
then licking, his tail. Rats are so cunning that one can believe almost
anything told of them. They suffer, at times, terribly from thirst.
There is no doubt that a dry breeding season means a small crop of
rats, which seems to support the theory that when hard pressed by
thirst larger rats kill the little ones for the sake of their blood.
When feeding on corn, in ricks or barns, a spell of rainless weather
means much suffering, even if dews compensate in some measure for the
absence of water. If you would see rats at their merriest, watch a
corn-stack on a summer evening when a shower has come after scorching
days. In a little while a rustling will be heard, and the rats steal
out to gulp the raindrops on the thatch and the herbage near by. We
have seen a rat so thirsty that in spite of being driven back to his
hole each time he appeared, every half-minute he would again attempt to
reach a farm-yard puddle. A farmer who shot at one rat killed no fewer
than seven, which had crowded to drink from a wayside pool.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Blood and Water

We have a cat which, when thirsty, sometimes drinks from an open tub,
balancing herself on the edge. When the water is too low for lapping
she will dip a front paw and lick off the water in delicate and dainty
fashion. Bloodthirsty creatures require deep drinks: stoats and weasels
go often to water. But creatures which feed on green-stuffs seldom
drink water directly, but in the shape of dew, or the moisture of their
food. Sheep, when feeding off root-crops in autumn and winter, have
little need of water, and rabbits and hares are not great drinkers.
Partridges are among many birds that may drink only of raindrops or
dew, or quench their thirst with juicy seeds or insects. Dry summers
always mean plenty of partridges--yet one hears, each dry summer, that
partridges are dying in numbers from drought. It is rather the absence
of moisture-supplying insects that is fatal to the birds.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Untimely Opening

Midsummer Day might be marked as the partridge's birthday, since the
majority of birds are hatched about that time--a month later than
the majority of pheasants break their shells. People are sometimes
puzzled when they realise that pheasants are preserved for two months
longer than partridges. The reason, of course, is that pheasants
mature slowly, and partridges quickly. But are partridges given fair
grace? We think not--and would advocate a later opening day for
partridge-shooting. Not a partridge of the year is matured on September
1, in size, or strength of flight, or endurance. The young birds are
still in the drab-feather stage; their legs are bright yellow, an
infallible token of youthfulness; and it is rare, before October, to
find one with the horseshoe chestnut feathers on its breast, or with
rufous head--the signs of maturity. The heavy toll taken on small
shoots during the first fortnight of September is not only unfair,
but unwise, and often fatal to the good prospects of future seasons.
Another mistake commonly made is the shooting of too many hares in
September. Many of the does are still suckling leverets; and does, that
breed for the most part in the fields, form a large proportion of the
hares met with in September partridge shooting.

                   *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: THE LONG DAY CLOSES

LONDON. EDWARD ARNOLD.]


'Ware Wire

Wire netting is the cause of many a tragedy to young pheasants. One may
see it stretching for miles on the fringe of woods as a fence against
rabbits. Suppose a hen pheasant, with her brood, has been making an
excursion to the fields. She comes to the wire and finds her return
passage barred. Seeing that most of her little ones have wriggled
through the meshes, the mother flies over, and goes on. But as often
as not she leaves behind her one or two chicks, and these the flower
of her flock--for they are the ones so well grown as to be just too
large to pass through the meshes. Sooner or later, after fluttering
to find a loophole, the little necks become caught, and after a few
frantic struggles the chicks hang themselves. Or night comes on, and
some prowling vermin saves them from a slow death by exhaustion through
their vain efforts.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Witless Pheasants

Pheasants, beside partridges, are stupid mothers: nor have young
pheasants anything like the common sense of young partridges. The
mother partridge is the most careful mother, and by example soon
teaches her young ones to use their wings. One hears the old partridges
calling all through the day to their young; but the little pheasants
must fight their own battles with less encouragement, and look after
themselves. One may see a hen pheasant leading her brood towards a
dike, over which it is obvious they are not strong enough to pass.
But without a look to see if they follow her or not, she flits across;
then, finding that a few are with her, having managed the passage, she
hurries on, as if she had not a thought for those left behind. They
do their best to follow, only to fall into the water, in which they
are drowned, or, if the dike is dry, to become exhausted in their vain
efforts to scale the steep sides.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Nature's Laws

Yet it is hardly fair to compare pheasants to partridges. The
difference in their habits of life makes it necessary that partridges
should learn to use their wings more quickly than pheasants. They
will fly when no larger than starlings, but pheasants grow as big as
full-grown partridges before making much use of their wings. Partridges
mature the more quickly: hatched in mid-June they are nearly full grown
by September, while pheasants, born in May, are still in their baby
stage in October. Then the habit of the partridges to roost in coveys
on the ground fosters the instinct to spring into the air and fly on
the first sign of danger, all in a covey acting as one bird for mutual
protection. There is some little excuse for the young pheasants that
butt into wire with such foolish persistency--they are so near to the
wire that their legs have no chance to launch them fairly into the
air. While the desire of a pheasant, on meeting wire outside a wood,
is to pass through into the covert, the idea of the partridge is to
turn about, and fly back to the fields whence it came. The effect of a
line of wire-netting on wild creatures seems to be that they imagine
they are enclosed on all sides. A half-grown leveret cantered before us
for quite two miles alongside netting to the left of him; only after
covering this distance did it seem to dawn upon him that by turning to
the right he might go his way to freedom.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Partridge June

What are the ideal conditions for partridges? First, an old-fashioned
April--growing weather. Then an old-fashioned May, with blue skies
and genial sunshine, to be followed by a June without a drop of rain
that would hurt a fly by day, with occasional warm sprayings of rain
by night, to help on the insect-supply for the chicks, and to keep the
soil just as partridges like it when scratching for insects, but not
wet enough to clog their feet. The ideal June--the partridge June--has
warm nights and fine sunny days, without too much scorching sunshine.
The fine weather must go on during the first part of July in the
interests of the later-hatched chicks; and if August can behave as it
should, so much the better--but the most important thing is a partridge
June. Nothing can make amends to the partridges for a wet, cold June;
for nothing can bring their dead chicks to life.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Favoured Pheasants

We need not think of the effect of frost on partridge eggs, for
the birds cover their eggs when they leave them, until they are
well on their way to hatching, with wonderful care, regularity, and
thoroughness; and here they have the advantage of pheasants, which
rarely cover their eggs when off the nest. Another advantage of the
partridge is the hen's faithful mate--to help to shelter the brood from
the weather and keep them warm. One bird might be able to manage this
for fifteen little ones during their first week of life; but afterwards
she could not possibly give the vital warmth to more than half her
offspring. To the chicks of the pheasant hen a risky time is between
the shedding of the soft fluffy down of infancy and the growth of
feathers proof against cold and wet. Where pheasants have the advantage
is that their hatching-time is spread over many weeks; so that whereas
partridges may have their hopes ruined by a week or by a few days,
or even a few hours of bad weather, the pheasants' hopes are never
blighted while summer lasts.

It may be urged that if there are few young partridges there must
be few young pheasants, and this to some extent is true. Though the
breeding conditions of pheasant and partridge are very different, a
bad season for one can hardly be a good season for the other. With
partridges, the great trouble is that nearly all of them nest about
the same time: where one brood suffers from bad weather, thousands
must suffer. For ten days after hatching, partridges are at the mercy
of the weather. Let one of those marble-sized drops of rain strike a
newly hatched chick, and its day is done. As one sharp frost destroys
all the apple-crop of a countryside, if it comes when the trees are in
full bloom, so a deluge in mid-June is fatal to all young partridges.
Even a day's thunder-rain, between the fifteenth and thirtieth of June,
would almost excuse a partridge keeper if he committed suicide--though
we have never heard of such a thing.

Heavy warm rain is bad enough--heavy cold rain is simply disastrous
when it falls day after day, for weeks, from the time when most
partridge eggs begin to hatch, until all except the second clutches
are hatched--or flooded out. It is hardly worth considering whether
the wet or the cold claims most victims: enough that if wet fails to
bring about a tragedy, cold finishes the work. The sunless days, the
everlasting rain, the drenching herbage, and the sodden soil wipe out
most broods to a bird. It is not, as many suppose, a question of a
good hatch that controls the supply for September, but it is simply
a question of the weather for the first fortnight after hatching.
Usually, if any eggs in a nest hatch, all the eggs hatch; but we
may say that if only half the eggs in each nest hatched, and a fine
fortnight followed, more birds would be reared than if every egg in
each nest produced two chicks, and a drenching fortnight then set in.

In a wretched hatching season, the best luck is often with the
intermediate early broods. They fare least badly. As to second
nests, it never makes much difference to September's sport whether
they prosper or not. A covey of a dozen, in a September following
a wet June, is a good covey. The most general coveys are coveys of
old birds--or coveys consisting of one young bird! There is no more
reliable sign of a poor partridge crop than a good year for roots.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Covey of Ancients

We remember how an experienced keeper was quite at sea in his judgment
of a particular covey. It had been a bad season, and after the corn had
been cut he knew of only one good covey; it numbered nine birds, and
fine forward birds they were. On this covey he set great store against
the coming of September. It happened that he was bidden to shoot a
couple of brace of young birds for dinner at "the house" on the First.
With his first shot at the covey he bagged the old cock. He pursued the
rest of the covey, bagged another bird, also an old cock. Disappointed
but still hopeful, again he pursued the covey, again he bagged another
bird, and again it was an old cock that fell to his gun. He went on
until he bagged the ninth and last bird, and the ninth was no better
than all the others. It was a sad keeper who went home that day with
his nine old birds. Ever since he has been sceptical about coveys
of forward birds. But he always says now that foxes at least show
gallantry in the matter of "ladies first."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Keepers' Woe

If June proves wet, despair reigns in the partridge keeper's breast.
With hopeless eyes he looks forward to the coming season. One keeper
of our acquaintance, one wet midsummer, a time when, in a promising
season, he would have had no moment to spare from the care of his young
birds, married, and went for a honeymoon. "Lor' love ye," said another,
weary of June rain, "I might just as well 've bin in bed for a month
past." A common remark made by keepers in a rainy June is the mournful
plaint, "Ye don't see no feetmarks on the roads, but old un's."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Red-Legs

The more we see of red-legged partridges the more we appreciate their
powers of running. They are wonderful birds for eluding the tactics
of walking-up parties; even where the birds are plentiful it is rare
to walk-up one within gunshot. The red-leg also suffers by comparison
with the English birds on the table. But he is a grand bird for driving
(when he is headed and forced to fly), seldom coming in coveys--so that
a dozen red-legs may afford as many shots as a dozen unbroken English
coveys. And they come straight, more in the style of grouse than of the
brown partridges. The two types seldom intermingle, being of different
species and different genera. In some places an ill-feeling is still
harboured against the bigger and handsomer red-legs, and it is thought
that they drive away the English birds.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Water for Game-Birds

It is a lucky keeper whose shoot is watered by springs and brooks which
never fail in time of drought, for a continuous supply of water means
much to the success of game-breeding. But streams have their dangers:
birds will be attracted to the banks at nesting-time, and if heavy
rains follow, their nests may be destroyed by the floods. A greater
danger lies in the streams which are winter water-courses only and dry
up in the spring. Herbage will grow luxuriantly at the stream-side, and
birds will be enticed to nest in places where, after a heavy rainfall,
there will rush a raging torrent, to carry away birds, nests, eggs
and all. Some say that nesting birds can foretell the weather, and
choose their nesting-places accordingly--building on the banks and
higher ground if the season will be wet, but in the hollows if dry. No
doubt their choice is influenced only by prevailing weather, and the
position of suitable cover. In a cold, late spring, grass-fields offer
poor shelter, and so the birds choose the hedges and dikes, where the
wild, weedy growth finds moisture for its roots and protection for its
top-growth. When birds are sitting, the less they have to do with water
the better for their hopes.

Perhaps it is better for birds to be drowned than to suffer from
drought. A long spell of hot weather is not in itself harmful to the
broods, for sunshine is the essence of life in their early days; but
while drought does not cause suffering through lack of water, it means
lack of juicy food, and that is fatal. Succulent weed-seeds and grubs
and insects are not to be found; the milkiness is dried out of the
seeds, and grubs and worms go deeply into the soil, beyond scratching
distance. But food enough of sorts could be found during the severest
drought if a little water were also available. Ponds are useful only to
a small proportion of the broods, and become waterless when drought is
long enough to threaten serious loss. Heavy thunder-rain after drought
completes the work of destruction. If it comes within a fortnight of
Midsummer Day, it means calamity to hosts of young partridges, who may
be overwhelmed before they can reach their parents, or, gaining that
shelter, are drowned when the ground is swamped.

Many keepers never give their young pheasants water until they have
been removed from the rearing-field to covert--but their food is made
dry or moist according to the weather. This plan answers well enough
until there comes a hot, dry spell which ends suddenly in rain, and
then the chicks drink immoderately, and suffer the penalty. That chicks
take the first chance to drink the raindrops from the herbage shows
that water is good for them; and the best plan is to provide them with
a continuous supply of clean water from the beginning, so that they
never become thirsty and drink themselves to death.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Ideal Coverts

A continuous supply prevents the straying of pheasants as they grow
up, and feel inclined to see the world, especially when they have been
weaned from food more or less pappy to a diet of hard corn. Another
benefit is felt by the gamekeeper: where there is no constant supply,
he must trudge many weary miles carrying heavy buckets of water, and
he knows all the time that his labour is almost in vain--so much of
the precious water is wasted by evaporation, and fouled by the birds
washing themselves, and by the drifting of leaves. If artificial
supplies are relied upon, it is always difficult to supply enough; if
rain is relied upon, there is usually far too much. For game-birds, the
ideal covert is one with never-failing brooks, and the ideal weather
is the ideal weather of April--days of warm sunshine with occasional
light, warm showers by day to supplement the dews of night.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Thirst of Rabbits

Nothing keeps down rabbits more thoroughly than a soaking wet summer;
while heavy rains drown the partridge and pheasant broods above ground,
they also drown the little rabbits in their furry nests below. Yet in
times of drought, when herbage is parched and sapless, the keeper who
supplies water for the rabbits to drink in arid, sandy warrens does
much for the prosperity of the does and their young. Rabbits eat their
young when in want of water, and a dry summer puts a check on the
increase of rats, since the old ones kill the young for their blood.
With rabbits, a favourite place is always a dry spot by the side of
water, although the ground is likely to be favoured by stoats. Rabbits
found in such places are always extra fine and fat.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Puppies at Walk

"Please drive cautiously. Hound puppies are at walk in the village."
We came upon this notice nailed to the trunk of an ash on the road
outside a village in Hampshire. The inference suggested itself that so
long as those who might drive furiously through the village touched
no hair of a hound puppy's head nothing else mattered. Usually, it
is the old-fashioned notices that bring a smile to the passer-by's
face: "Beware of Man-traps," "Spring Guns," "Dog-spears set here."
Walking along the River Stort we have been startled by a notice beside
some of the locks, "The Punishment for Tampering with these Works
is Transportation." "Trespassers will be Punished by Transportation"
would be a suitable legend for a board in a strictly preserved wood,
hinting that if you do not go quietly on request the keeper will carry
you. Reading the new caution to drivers outside the Hampshire village,
we were tempted to simplify it thus: "Beware of hound puppies." It is
pleasant to see young hounds basking in the sun in the farm-yard; but
when they are at walk in the charge of the village butcher they may be
more than a general nuisance; they may terrorise the place. People who
walk hounds do not always undertake the honour because they like it,
but because they cannot well refuse. The hounds are turned out into
the streets to prowl at large--they slaughter poultry, spread havoc
in many a garden plot, knock down children, and roam in through open
cottage doors, to steal the labourer's dinner from off his very table.
A pack of hounds under the control of a firm huntsman and his whips is
one thing--but hounds at walk, allowed to wander at their will, are a
peril to the community. "Beware of hound puppies"--when they come up
treacherously behind you.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Schooling the Puppies

Retriever pups born about the end of January are old enough, by August
or September, to begin their careers of usefulness. If given light
work, during the second half of their first year they may be ready
to take an important part in the next shooting season, when eighteen
months old. Spring puppies are certainly easier to rear than autumn
puppies--they grow faster, and are likely to become finer specimens
than the others, which must endure long months of trying weather during
puppyhood. But there is this in favour of autumn puppies--they come to
their first shooting season at a more mature age, and intellectually
are readier to learn than the six months old puppies of spring. At the
age of twelve months a puppy begins to put away puppyish things.

It is only possible to gain perfection in the education of a puppy by
beginning so soon as it is weaned. From that time the puppy should
be taken in hand by its future master, whom alone it should know and
understand. One can hardly begin too early to teach the meaning of the
word "No," which, to the puppy, is that it must not do something that
it had thought desirable to do--whether to chase a cat or rabbit, to be
excited at the rising of a lark, or to hunt a roadside hedge. Another
important early lesson is teaching the puppy its name. For stud-book
and show purposes the name may be, if you please, "Beelzebub of
Babylon," or any other high-flown title, but for common use it should
be distinct in sound, and preferably of not more than one syllable.
Puppies may be taught their names and obedience at the same time; in
classes perhaps more quickly and more thoroughly than individually. It
is a good plan at feeding-time to have the puppies together, and put
food outside an opening in their kennel; then to call out each puppy by
name, and on no account allow any other to come than the one called.
In a surprisingly short time it will be possible to set open the door
and call out each puppy by name, without forcibly keeping back the
uninvited. In this way a good grounding might be given to the favourite
fox-terriers in obedience, of which so many have not the slightest
notion.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Dogs' Noses

The power of scent varies much with different dogs: usually a slow dog
makes better use of its scenting nerves than the fast galloper. It is
pretty to watch a good retriever following a wounded bird over ground
alive with unwounded game, yet never turning aside from the one trail.
A dog could hardly distinguish one partridge from another--probably
it is by the scent of blood that the one line can be followed so
accurately. Sportsmen do not always give the dogs fair chances; they
throw them cheese at lunch-time, or perhaps allow bagged game or
themselves to taint the wind, so foiling other trails. In one case
a sportsman blamed a new retriever for not finding a bird which was
actually lying beneath his own boots. And even a first-rate retriever
will sometimes tread on the very bird he is seeking, without finding it.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Thief of the World

Gamekeepers, we know, have little love for foxes--for the sufficient
reason that they are at one with foxes in their love of pheasants.
Keepers have also some of that craftiness and worldly wisdom so
developed in foxes; they know it is not always policy to say with
their lips what they believe in their hearts. There are good people
who tell keepers every now and again that foxes do no harm to game.
Keepers have heard stories in favour of foxes; they know the rights of
them. Dark and mysterious are the ways of the fox; but darker still
and more mysterious are the ways of the keeper with "the thief of the
world." This alone he will admit in favour of the fox: he adds to the
keeper's work an uncertainty which makes success the sweeter. The
fox is a favourite of Fortune, his needs are fulfilled exactly; all
things seem arranged in his favour to a nicety. Other creatures may
die of starvation in time of snow; but the fox then finds his prey
with greatest ease. Cubs are weaned about the middle of May, and must
be fed on flesh, when a majority of pheasants are sitting. And when a
sitting pheasant is scented or seen by a vixen in search of food for
her cubs, that pheasant, you may say, is dead. The keeper, though his
blood boils afresh at each nesting tragedy--at the sight of the strewn
feathers of the hen pheasant and at the cold touch of the lifeless
eggs--appreciates the deftness of the marauder's work. He reconstructs
each scene of the plundering--the silent passage of the prowling fox,
the pause of a moment to sniff and sniff again the scent that taints
the air, the swift thrust of long jaws between bramble, brier, and
bracken, the grab of gleaming teeth, the stifled cry of the dying bird,
the floating of brown feathers on the wind of night, and the joy of the
cubs at the sight of the dead bird and the scent of her welling blood.
And then the carnival of feasting at the mouth of the earth, by the old
tree of the cubs' playground, while the white owl screeches his protest
as he passes overhead, and the mother fox, sitting on her haunches,
licks her chops and watches. The work of a vixen among sitting birds
differs from that of the dog fox. While she always carries her booty to
her cubs, he kills in wanton waste, leaving the birds' bodies, often
headless, near their nests. Some or all of the eggs may be eaten,
or they may be left untouched, still as neatly arranged in the nest
as the mother bird left them when she stole off to feed and take a
bath in dust. The keeper may recognise the excuse of the mother fox's
necessity, but for the wanton slaughter by her idle mate he sees no
reason, and finds no forgiveness.

Only those who have seen the remains of game scattered round the earth
of a litter of cubs--the cubs of an experienced mother--can realise
what it costs in game to entertain foxes. Where rabbits are plentiful,
pheasants and partridges suffer less from foxes than where rabbits
are scarce, and the keeper may help a vixen to cater for her cubs by
shooting and snaring rabbits in her favour. He leaves their bodies,
but scattered at a fair distance from the earth, so that the vixen must
spend some time in fetching and carrying, and has the less time for
making a mixed bag of her own selection.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Cubs' Playground

Unseeing eyes pass blindly over the home of a litter of cubs; but
the keeper's never overpass the place. Long furrows through the
dog's-mercury and grasses tell their tale. Primroses are torn and
crushed, the great leaves of the burdock are bruised and broken,
the moss is rubbed from the underwood stumps and from the boles of
trees where the cubs have been gambolling and rubbing their coats,
the excavated soil near the earth is smooth from the pattering of
their feet, beaten hard and polished--and in all directions there are
scattered wings, feathers and bones. If the keeper calls, and sees
signs of recent rollicking play and fresh-killed food, and fresh-drawn
soil where the cubs amuse themselves at earth-making and enlarging the
burrows of rabbits, he knows the family to be in residence. Should the
soil near the entrance to the earth have a green look, he knows the
family has gone away.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Fox's Feat

Who would believe that a full-grown fox could pass through the mesh of
ordinary sheep-netting?--four-inch mesh, if memory serves. We know of
one case where a vixen was actually seen to accomplish this wonderful
feat. With her cubs, she had been dug out from her earth, carried to a
distant part of the country, and imprisoned. The four-inch mesh must
have been a tight fit for her body; but perhaps she had worried and
fretted at her imprisonment, until she had worn herself to a shadow.
Her cubs, which were unweaned, may have helped to weaken her strength,
and reduce her waist until it could squeeze through the netting.

The story has a sequel. A town doctor saw the vixen a few moments after
her escape; and happened to find himself sitting next to a M.F.H. at
dinner. The doctor remarked, with a well-meant attempt at affability,
"Foxes seem to be plentiful in your neighbourhood this year." "What
makes you think so?" asked the M.F.H., with encouraging eagerness.
"Why, only the other day, passing your place about noon, I saw a vixen
with cubs trotting across your lawn." The doctor swiftly perceived that
he had let the fox out of the bag, so black was the look that came over
the Master's face. But it was months before he solved the full riddle
of the black look, when he learned that the fox he had seen on the lawn
in broad daylight had only just escaped from her wire-net prison, so
saving herself from the ignominy of being turned down with her cubs.

The keeper finds his game-nests with his eyes, the fox with his nose.
The keeper who must preserve game and preserves foxes takes steps to
overcome the scent of his birds. He sprinkles the neighbourhood of all
the nests he can find with some strong-smelling fluid. But the foulest
or strongest scent will not save a bird when a fox has once seen her.
Fortunately he is not clever enough to know a new trap from an old one,
nor a sound from a broken one, and the keeper finds at nesting-time a
good use for his disused traps, placing them about birds sitting in
dangerous spots. Anything in the shape of scrap-iron the fox suspects;
anything unusual about a nest, such as a piece of newspaper on a bush
near by, will arouse his fears, and possibly save a bird's life. But as
rooks learn to treat scarecrows with contempt, so foxes learn to have
no fear for harmless terrors, and the keeper rings the changes on all
the fox-alarming devices which experience and ingenuity can suggest.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Dog-Washing Days

Two or tree times a year, the gamekeeper gives all his dogs a grand
washing; and his methods should be marked by other dog-owners, for
there are few who understand dogs better. He knows that a dog's coat,
like a woman's hair, is spoiled by too much washing, which destroys
the satiny gloss imparted by the natural oils. He knows, too, that a
dip in a pond or a splash in a stream only wets the surface of a coat,
and does not cleanse the skin. His method is thorough, and designed
not only to cleanse the hair and skin, but to rid the dogs of all the
unwelcome guests they may harbour. Choosing a warm, sunny day, the
keeper gets to work betimes, so that he may have his dogs washed and
out to dry by midday; they must be perfectly dry before nightfall. He
sets up a wooden tub on an old box, for his own convenience, and brings
forth his pails and cans of water--water of just that tepid temperature
which a dog likes. He wants his dogs to enjoy their bath, and knows
that if he scalds or otherwise frightens them they will be shy of the
wash-tub for ever afterwards. To pitch a dog unawares into a tub of
water is as foolish as to throw him into a pond. He must be coaxed to
his bath with words of encouragement, so that he will see there is
nothing to be frightened about. Properly treated, dogs soon learn to
appreciate the wash-tub, and there may be trouble in making them come
out.

Having brought the dog to the tub, the next work is to put him in and
thoroughly wet his skin--not an easy matter with a retriever, who may
lie in water for ten minutes and yet keep his skin dry. So the keeper
works in the water by hand, rubbing the hair the wrong way, and gently
persuading the dog to lie down. Once comfortably settled in the tub, a
happy look comes over the dog's face. This, by the way, may not be true
of the face of the keeper's wife, should she come to her door to watch
proceedings, and find that her good man has borrowed her new wash-tub.
To make the best of a bad business, she may decide to give her pet
goose a good tubbing; and this will be one of the grandest treats in
the goose's life.

One old keeper of our acquaintance has a curious recipe for a dog-wash,
and swears that in more than fifty years he has not found its equal.
You must uproot, he will tell you, an armful of foxglove plants, and
boil them in a copper of water. When the infusion is cool enough, rub
it well into your dog's coat, and lather him with a little soft soap.
"And I'll lay," says the old chap, "that you don't see nothing about
a dog after that, and his coat will look fit to go to a wedd'n." The
keeper's plan is to leave the lather in his dogs' coats for some little
time after they have left the tub. Every lathery dog is tied up in
turn in a sunny spot, free from draughts; then all are rinsed in the
order of washing, and are taken for a long gambol in a field of grass,
the keeper taking care not to let a dog free in a dusty place, for his
first act is to have a good roll, regardless of a clean coat.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Shame-faced Cocks

At harvest-time the old cock pheasants begin to show themselves in the
woods again. In April one grew almost weary of the insistent, boasting
crows of the vainglorious dandies. Then for months they seemed quite
to drop out of woodland society. They like to take things easily
through the summer, leaving all family cares to the members of their
harems. And no doubt they feel out of sorts, and have no desire to be
seen--for they have to pass through the strain of the moulting season.

As the last acre of the cornfield is cut, a hundred young pheasants
rise, with self-important splutterings, before the binders, each bird
clearly betraying its sex by the growing feathers of maturity. But
the cunning old cocks seldom advertise their presence. They slink
stealthily out of the field while the machines are making their first
rounds, and in a couple of yards from the corn reach the shelter of
the hedge. They steal away with lowered heads, as though to hide their
faces behind each blade of stubble. A dissipated, dishevelled old
ruffian the cock pheasant appears while moulting--with half a tail,
many flight feathers missing from the wings (corresponding feathers
drop out together from each wing, so that he is not deprived of power
of flight), and lacking all the metallic gloss of plumage, burnished
gold and bronze. To come suddenly on a moulting cock pheasant--as
when he is enjoying a quiet dust-bath--is to pity him. And the way he
blunders off suggests that he is heartily ashamed of himself.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Turtle-Dove's Summer

In May the turtle-doves were skimming low across the fields, after
their arrival in this country. During the last week of August we saw
them gathering into little parties of dozens or scores against the hour
of their departure. The doves leave before the end of harvest--the
first chillness of autumn bids them go. The pigeons remain to continue
their feasts of corn. Their cooing from the recesses of the beeches
suggests a well-fed laziness. Great feeders as they are, they stuff
their crops to bursting-point, and nothing vegetarian or fruitarian
seems to come amiss to them--whether the greens of root-crops, acorns,
beech-mast, clover, the sown peas, dandelion leaves, sainfoin, anemone
roots, charlock, beech buds, the seeds of bluebells, wild strawberries,
oak-galls, or corn in all its stages. Turtle-doves pay little attention
to corn till harvest-time; the seeds of charlock and of other noxious
plants are a greater attraction. Though they fly with wood-pigeons a
great deal, their diet is different, and they seem to come to ponds
to drink more often than the pigeons, perhaps because some of their
favourite foods, such as charlock seeds, are hot and thirst-producing.
They are among the farmer's best friends.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Lagging Landrail

Whenever we flush a landrail we wonder that so slovenly a bird should
be able to cross seas in migration. One doubts its ability to cross
a wide river. Those who for the first time see a landrail rise might
be excused for supposing it to be wounded--the long legs trail at
full length, hardly clearing the heads of the clover which forms its
favourite cover. Few birds are so slow in flight, certainly no other
game-birds--if it is entitled to be classed with them, because, as for
woodcock and snipe, a game licence is required before it may be taken.
Beaters have surprised themselves by bagging landrails with sticks and
partridge carriers, and we have known a clever retriever to catch a
landrail in the air. In spite of her wide experience, the dog mistook
the landrail for a wounded bird when it rose, in its heavy way, some
twenty yards before her, while she quested for a partridge. As if in
revenge for having been fooled, she gave furious chase, and retrieved
it. Flushed in a gale of wind, a landrail will make some progress,
though its flight at first is rather suggestive of a wind-driven leaf.
But after a time the flight grows stronger, as though the wings had
worked off some stiffness. No bird seems less willing to be seen than
the landrail. Yet it will make itself heard almost continuously from
the first streak of dawn until darkness. Its harsh-toned "Crake, crake,
crake," seems close at hand at one moment, then far away, suggesting
that the bird is swift enough on its legs, if slow in flight. It does
not travel far, having arrived from its over-sea journey, haunting, as
a rule, one chosen field, where it is seen only by the mower, who may
accidentally wound the close-crouching bird with his scythe. Landrails
seem to become more scarce every year, and this is often put down to
the mowing machine, which it is claimed is more fatal to sitting birds
than the scythe. But birds usually run from their nests before the
approach of the noisy, whirring machines, and, if they are caught,
seldom suffer more than a cut leg; whereas the scythe comes upon them
almost unawares, and strikes fatally. Probably some influences bearing
upon the migration of landrails have more to do with their scarcity
than unnatural destruction. Hiding so closely in the grass or the corn,
landrails seem to have every chance of long life in this country.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Truce Ends

The first day of August is the most important of the gamekeeper's minor
festivals, for the close time under the Wild Birds Protection Act has
come to an end; duck-shooting begins to be a legal if not a difficult
pastime, and hares, which, unfortunately, may be harassed all the year
round, can now be sold openly. The time has come for the cutting of the
first cornfields; and this is ever an important event to the keeper,
for it allows him to make a shrewd estimate of the quantity of game.

The opening of the duck-shooting season finds the early broods of wild
duck strong on the wing; happily, the old practice of shooting the
immature birds is dying out. In the barley-fields where the wild duck
resort at dusk, the cool passing of an August day makes requital for
the heat of noon. Sport, if an object, will at least be unsullied by
the modern taint of wholesale slaughtering; apart from shooting, there
is the quiet of the fields to be enjoyed, the cool breeze that sets the
barley rippling, the perfumes of corn crops, charlock, clover, turnips,
and swedes. In a duck country, barley-fields, left standing as they
are until dead ripe and after wheat and oats have been harvested, may
suffer severely from their nocturnal visitors.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Thieving Jay

At this time of year jays will make long excursions from their thickets
in the heart of the woods to sample the wheat crops. They go stealthily
to their stolen feasts in the early morning, so soon as the ears show
signs of turning, nipping off whole ears, and carrying them to some
thick hedge for leisurely consumption. If there is a case against jays,
there is much in favour of these handsome birds. They do far less harm
to game than rooks and other egg-stealers; they may be almost blameless
in the matter of game eggs, although when a pair of jays acquire the
egg-stealing habit they may clear off three or four hundred eggs in
a few days. Their most useful work is the destruction of pigeons'
eggs. Of course pigeons do no harm to game, except by clearing off
beech-masts and acorns, and the corn sprinkled in the wood; but the
damage they sometimes do in the cornfields is enormous, going far
to destroy perhaps two out of ten acres of wheat. Still, one must
remember that charlock buds, served up with pigeon's milk, form the
pigeons' favourite food for their nestlings.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Oldest Writing

Day after day the keeper, going his rounds, reads stories of life
and death. Here a bent leaf gives the clue: there a stray feather:
the snout of a rat tells of a poaching cat that killed the rat, but
left the head with its sharp front teeth and strong and long jaw-bone
untouched. A shrew's body is seen, snapped up by a cat, but left
uneaten on account of the bad taste. The remains of a feast are found,
carelessly covered by only a few leaves; another sign of cats' work.
A determined cat will kill almost anything that a fox might take; but
whereas a cat leaves all the feathers of an old bird, and the skin and
fur of old furred creatures, the fox swallows feathers, fur, skin,
bones, and all but the wings of birds, and the stomach and clawed feet
of ground game. Feathers in a circle by a field hedge tell of a hawk's
killing. Feet of little pheasants, and bits of downy skin by the coops
in the ride, speak of murdering rooks. A dead rabbit is seen, and four
tiny holes are discovered beneath the damp, mouthed fur of the pole--a
weasel has sucked the life-blood.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Prospects

All through the long, anxious months of spring and early summer the
keeper has been sifting and weighing the points of evidence upon which
he will be able to base a final judgment of the season's prospects. In
June there are many signs which go to make up a long story; thus, nest
after nest may be found to contain egg-shells, all broken in the same
way--nearer the round than the pointed end--telling of the successful
hatching of partridges. Then the keeper becomes so accustomed to
encountering parent partridges who threaten to bar his way, while their
downy chicks magically vanish, that he grows almost indifferent to
their agitation. But in July, to judge the welfare of game is extremely
difficult. Hedges and woodlands are in the prime of their growth; and
in midsummer days luxuriant vegetation hides nearly all birds on the
ground. By chance a keeper may happen on a brood; he notes that sixteen
have dwindled to ten, and wonders whether the heavy shower three weeks
ago come Sunday, or the old vixen he knows too well, or the widow's
tortoiseshell cat, must bear the responsibility. But most game-birds
seen are old ones--birds perhaps whose nests have been destroyed too
late for a second nesting, or birds whose young ones have met with an
untimely fate. Wary old birds with families are specially cautious to
keep well out of sight. Distressing, then, as it is continually to see
barren birds, there is consolation in the knowledge that naturally they
are more in evidence than parents with thriving young ones. With July
the days pass that are most risky to young game--safe days lie ahead;
and with the cutting of the first harvest fields the most valuable of
all evidence is gained as to the numbers of birds. Later on, as fields
of standing corn become fewer, birds of all sorts flock to them, and
estimates of quantity are likely to be misleading. But if it can be
proved that three different coveys have been seen during the cutting of
a piece of forward corn, it is to err on the moderate side to reckon
that there are three others, though unseen. To all interested in the
numbers of game-birds these are fateful days.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Useful Work by Game-Birds

A dry summer is bad for swedes--among other things. Many grow
disfigured by wart-like excrescences about the size of a pea. Therein
lurk grubs, as partridges and pheasants know. They chip off the warts,
and one may see the rusty-looking hole in the centre of each one
whence the grub has been taken. All round the swedes these detached
warts may be seen, lying face uppermost, and proving the usefulness of
game-birds, particularly partridges.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Life of the Cornfield

All through the year the cornfield gives food and shelter to a host
unnumbered--from seed-time to harvest, in the days of stubble and of
fallow. To all manner of creatures in fur and feather, insects as the
grain in number, grubs below ground, butterflies above, to rank weeds
and flowers, the cornfield gives more freely than it yields bread to
man. Seagulls come from the coast. Peewits make the field their home
in the spring. There are congregations of sparrows and finches. Hosts
of starlings that go to roost in the reeds. Wood-pigeons stuff their
crops to bursting; turtle-doves come and go. Yellow-hammers sing in
the hedges through the midsummer days. The corn-crake runs swiftly
through the stems where the partridge has her young brood. Rooks follow
the plough, with wagtails that run and dart over the furrows as if
gliding on ice. Overhead are larks; and the corn-bunting flies heavily
from field to field, his legs trailing as if broken. And birds of prey
take their toll of the feeding multitudes. All through the year animal
life finds sanctuary in the cornfield. Underground are the moles; the
harvest mouse weaves its nest in the corn-stems; the rabbit makes a
stop in the field near the hedge, and eats the green blades. To the
ripening corn the fox brings her cubs to play. In the ditches are
hedgehogs; everywhere are rats, mice, and shrew-mice. The hare follows
secret paths, and there are stoats and weasels seeking prey, and
finding it on every side. But nowadays there is little or no work for
our mills, as wheat-field after wheat-field is turned into grass. The
miller is only one among ten thousand sufferers.

The days spent in the cornfield must pass pleasantly for the little
foxes in a fine summer. In cornfields, unlike hayfields, there is room
between the stems for free movement, there is some chance to look
about, there is air and light, cover and shade. Corn-stems are firm
and dry, but grass-stems hold the soaking moisture of rain and dew,
which saturates the skin even through fur and feather, and quite beyond
the remedy of dog-like shakings. Wheat, as we have said, is the corn
most favoured of all creatures--where not planted too thickly, and
growing on ground not over clean, but dotted plentifully with bunches
of knapweed, thistles, and bindweed, and intersected by furrows where
the corn has grown poorly, and with open spaces bare to the wind and
sun. Winged game, in case prompt flight is necessary, find it easier to
start up into the air through the straight, stiff ears of wheat than
through the ears of oats and barley. Barley that shares the ground
with a rank plant of grass-seeds finds small favour among those many
creatures that forsake the airless woods in summer.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper's Hopes

Numbers of hares live all the summer in the cornfields. But while many
rabbits are born in the corn, when there is a wood at hand most of them
retire by day, returning to the corn to feed at night. No rabbit, in
sleekness of fur, is comparable to the rabbit that has lived for a few
fine weeks among the corn-stems, for the constant brushing of the stems
grooms his coat to a state of wonderful fineness. At any moment rabbits
in the corn may meet death from the teeth of stoats or weasels; which
in turn run a risk, if a slight one, from the fox's teeth; there are
plenty of mole-runs into which they may dive in times of danger. In
dry weather, the hedgehogs leave the ditches for the corn; and the
cornfield, in real summer weather, when there are no foxes about, is
a paradise for pheasants and partridges. The gamekeeper, whatever the
weather, clings to the faith that the corn hides most of his birds from
his sight. There is comfort in the thought that if the birds live he
will see them, but if they are killed, nothing will ever tell him the
story of his losses.

Man ploughs and sows, but for every man who eats the bread of the
fields a million other mouths have been fed. There is no such perfect
sanctuary to wild life as a field of corn. What the corn hides nobody
knows; though many would gladly know, and seek eagerly to find. The
gamekeeper guesses shrewdly what the corn may hide; later he will find
what has been hidden, and it is as well for his peace of mind that he
can only speculate, at this season, on the game in the field, for he is
powerless to interfere. The community of the cornfield is almost safe
from man, while the corn stands. If any creature moves in the corn, the
stems, bowing to the breeze, cover its progress.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Finding the Fox

Many a fox family spends the entire summer in the cornfield, and no man
is the wiser; but if any should discover the secret, it will be the
gamekeeper. Only a giant could see, from the ground, the spot where,
in a level cornfield, a family of cubs is taking shelter; the keeper's
plan is to climb into a tree, so that his eyes may sweep over acre upon
acre at a glance, and spy out the foxes. Even if the nearest tree be
a mile or more distant from the playground and refectory of the cubs,
his trusty "spy-glass" will reveal the secret--and while he keeps his
place in the look-out tree he may signal to a companion, and point the
way to the family's eviction. From the top of a tree on the edge of a
wood we have found the secret place of a vixen in a field of rank rye;
and when we came to the spot, where a large patch of the rye had been
rolled flat, we could have filled a wheelbarrow with the remains of
partridges, pheasants, rabbits, and hares.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Harvest Sport

With the harvest comes the great sporting festival of the countryman,
in whom alone survives the instinct to hunt for food--though the
days have gone when every man killed his own game. This sport of the
harvest-field is the countryman's by custom, courtesy, tolerance,
favour, and not by law. It is sport for the sake of food, and not for
the sake of sport. The quarry is rabbit. Only two people have a real
right to rabbits, and that a concurrent right--the farmer in occupation
of the land, and the holder for the time being of the sporting rights.
But during the cutting of the corn few farmers or sportsmen deny their
local workers the privilege and pleasure of catching rabbits. Where
permission is withheld it is usually by a small farmer, who looks to
the rabbits to help with the rent. The keeper is the last to make
objection to the catching of the rabbits, provided that the hares and
the winged game are not only spared, but given a chance to escape. He
even finds it a profitable policy to help catch the rabbits, and hand
over what he catches to be shared out to those who have failed in the
scurry and scramble of the sport. If there is any rule or custom about
possession of the spoil it is that he who kills a rabbit keeps it. This
may be a good rule for those who are lucky--those whose work brings
them into each field as it is cut, who excel with stick and stone, or
are better runners than their fellows. But it is a bad rule for those
who are unlucky; while a carter who sits on a binder from daylight to
dark for a month has perhaps the best chance, another who must spend
his time drilling turnips, or ploughing a distant field, will never so
much as see a rabbit.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Luck of the Game

The self-binder has favoured the chance of escape for those rabbits
that camp out in the corn. In these days of neatly tied sheaves the
rabbit that makes a dash, with a little dodging and jumping, may find
a fair course, and can see ahead; and it is almost impossible to run
down a rabbit that sets its face from the corn to some other known
shelter, unless the distance is very great. In olden days, when the
corn was not tied as it was cut, but was thrown out loosely by the
rakes of the reaper, then the chances of escape were all against the
rabbit. He could not run through the corn, or jump over it, nor could
he even see where he was going. All that the harvester had to do was to
hurl himself on the corn where he suspected the rabbit to lurk, and pin
it down. Sometimes, while he was feeling for the rabbit, it would bolt
unseen through his legs, to fall an easy prey to another harvester,
perhaps some fat old dame who had never been known to run. The sport is
full of luck. A man may run until he and the rabbit are at the point
of exhaustion; the man falls, but the rabbit struggles on for a yard
or two farther, and another catches the prize. We have known a man,
in falling exhausted, to actually fall on the rabbit he was chasing.
Once let a rabbit get clear away from the standing corn, the speediest
runner can do no more than keep an eye on its bobbing tail during
the first hundred yards of its dash for freedom. But by ruthlessly
following the tail, in a large field a man may walk it down; for a
rabbit will soon run itself to a standstill, or in despair will creep
to hide beneath the cut corn. The rabbit is faint-hearted; if he once
loses his bearings, he loses his senses also; but it is surprising
with what perseverance he will run when he can see a haven of safety
ahead.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Rabbit-Catchers' Craft

The man of experience, who knows his rabbits, does not unduly exert
himself. Taking things calmly, he may catch more rabbits than others
who are better runners but more excitable. He knows that the great
thing is to stand still, rather waiting for the rabbits to come to
him than going after them. As a binder works round a field, he moves
quietly in the opposite way; then, catching sight of a rabbit crouching
beneath a piece of knapweed, some tangled bindweed, or a thistle, his
upraised stick falls with certain aim, and instantly he puts into
force the rustic law of possession. Or, moving quietly along, he will
hold in his right hand a heavy stone, while several others are held
in the other hand behind his back; when he sees a rabbit far within
the corn, his stones fly with crushing force, and the rabbit's day is
done. Sometimes towards the finish of the cutting he will take up his
position far from the frenzied throng around the binder, at some quiet
spot at the edge of the haven wood; here, watching the rabbits that
have escaped the sticks and stones of the main body, he tries to turn
them as they run the last few yards of their course. If he succeeds,
the rabbit, already worn by a long run, makes a last desperate spurt,
but can go no more than a few score yards. Should the rabbit run past
him, its course unchecked by his frantic yells and flourishes, he
troubles himself no further, and saves his breath.

Among the Corn

It is when the binder is going on its last few rounds and only a
small patch of corn is left standing in the middle of the field that
excitement reaches its height. Hitherto no one has been allowed to
enter the standing corn; but now all sense of decency and restriction
is thrown to the winds, and the end is simply a mad scramble for the
rabbits that lurk to the last moment. Sharp eyes have followed the
movements of the rabbits by the slight swaying to and fro of the ears
of the corn; but now the corn is alive with rabbits, and among them are
hurled the frenzied bodies of men, women, and children, who hit wildly
and blindly with their sticks. Sticks and stones rain on rabbits, corn,
and men. And on the edge of the fray stands the quiet figure of the man
who will not exert himself, who watches for the few rabbits who come
alive from the corn. One other quiet and calm figure is in the heart of
the turmoil--the gamekeeper, who bestirs himself only in the interests
of game. With ever-watchful eye and warning voice he sternly represses
those who, overcome by the lust of killing, would recklessly slaughter,
besides rabbits, the young pheasants or the crouching leverets. Great
is the relief of the keeper when the last corn is cut and the harvest
festival of the countryman is over for the year.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Last to Leave

This free and easy sport which the cutting of the corn provides for
a mixed and excited crowd makes a scene very familiar in any English
countryside. The driver of the binder, as he is carried round and round
the cornfield, in ever-narrowing circles, gains a good view of the
rabbits and the game, stealing about in their fear; and now and again
he may be observed to dismount to club a rabbit with his whip-handle.
On farms where the rabbits are considered the natural rights of the
harvesters, old hands grow very cunning at making the most of their
chance when the last few yards of standing corn remain to be cut, and
the rabbits, with which the little strip of cover is seething, at last
bolt out, to be fallen upon by the men in waiting, and to be slain
as fast as sticks can rain blows. Rabbits remain in their sanctuary
of corn long after the fox has stolen away, and the pheasants, rats,
stoats, and weasels have followed after.

                   *       *       *       *       *


In the Woods

It is a matter of importance that the woodland rides shall be trimmed
before harvest-time, so that the woods may be sanctuaries to the
corn's evicted creatures. On many shoots this trimming is left to a
woodman; he may be responsible for all such work over a large estate
let to various tenants. As a consequence, the rides of some of the
woods are likely to remain untrimmed until just before the time of
covert-shooting, when the work will seriously disturb game. Keepers
prefer to trim the rides on their beats themselves, at such odd moments
as between the feeding of hand-reared pheasants, and with the help of
labourers who are glad enough to earn a few extra shillings during
the long evenings of July. The work in this way is done betimes, and
all the better for shooting purposes. The harvest migration of game
to the woods tells many a story to the keeper. Foxes who have spent a
happy summer entirely in the game-stocked cornfields do not come in
unnoticed. Fresh-made runs in the fences leading to the coverts tell
of the passage of stoats. Hedgehogs work their way in from the fields;
they are more numerous than most people imagine, and the keeper holds
them responsible for many a ruined game-nest.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Weasel Families

As the summer wanes, families of stoats and weasels break up, and
parents cease to have any dealings with their offspring. This severance
of the family ties throws a light upon wild creatures and their young.
Having given their young ones a good start in life, many seem to
dismiss them from their minds. One grove will not nurture two robins,
and the day comes when Cock Robin will drive his young hopeful into
the world, and will attack him fiercely if he dare again approach his
presence. The wild rabbit that on one day, in defence of her young
ones, faces and drives away a stoat, her deadliest foe, on the next
day leaves them to the mercy of fate--a new family having arrived. The
mother stoat stays with her young ones for a long while, sometimes
until they are much larger than herself; but sooner or later comes the
day of parting.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Mother Stoat

She is an admirable mother. Her litters are large ones--numbering as
a rule from five to eight, though occasionally as many as twelve are
found--and the feeding of these hungry mouths can only be a work of
desperate energy in the weaning days. It is a fine sight to see the
mother foraging at the head of her grown-up family. A long time passes
before the young stoats can cater for themselves. The mother does not
leave them until they are perfectly qualified to hunt on their own
accord--which their innate blood-thirstiness at last prompts them to
do in preference to eating food which their mother has captured. In
the young stoat's natural love of hunting lies the cause of the final
severance of family ties. With many animals it appears that motherly
solicitude continues relatively to the relief obtained through the
young taking their mother's milk. Yet in the stoat there appears to
be a scrap of the human mother's reasoning love for her children. We
have known a stoat whose young had been destroyed, when as large as
herself, to seek them out, and with diligent care and labour remove
their bodies to a distant resting-place, where she stayed by them for
days, though she appeared no longer to bring them their former abundant
supplies of food. When a stoat, the mother of a family, is killed,
her young do not fail to come to her--but in this case there is no
disinterested love. The apparent affection springs chiefly from desire
of food. No food forthcoming, the young stoats quickly begin to devour
their unfortunate mother. The gamekeeper knows that having once caught
a mother stoat, he will have little difficulty in catching her family
also; but having captured the family, it is by no means easy to secure
the mother.

When June comes, litters of young stoats, each one as big as the
mother, are strong enough to travel about, but for many weeks they
remain together, and depend for food on what their mother catches. Like
fox cubs, they spend their days eating, sleeping, and playing. Without
the aid of a trained dog the keeper is unlikely to discover the lodging
of a litter unless he chances to see the mother going to her young. He
may see her entering a burrow, a bavin-pile, a pile of hurdle-rods,
or of hurdles, or he may chance to see the young stoats out at play.
Should he come upon their playground his sharp eyes instantly note the
runs and the signs of rollings in the herbage--the playground is as the
playground of fox cubs in miniature. The comings and goings of a mother
stoat are cunning and silent. Once we found a place where a litter had
been lodging for weeks within a few yards of a man who had been making
hurdles day after day, and his report was that he had not seen "ne'er
a sign of a stoo-at." The family had gone when we found their lodging,
and it was evident that the old stoat had moved her young ones at night
just before they were old enough to proclaim their presence by coming
out from their wood-pile to play.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Lurking-places

The keeper's eyes are always open for stoats. They are fond of prying
about the base of a gate-post, where a trap is often set to good
purpose. Then they delight in frisking along the middle of a ride,
especially after rain. There the keeper sets a tunnel trap, covering
it with bundles of brushwood; and every stoat that comes along will
explore so likely a lurking-place for a rabbit, and each naturally
enters by the fatal passage. Those heaps of corn-rakings placed in
the woods for pheasants form a favourite stoat-haunt. Here they find
a warm, dry lair, and good hunting, for the corn attracts a crowd of
small birds. Chancing once to right an overturned sheep-trough which
had been lying inverted for some weeks, we disturbed the peace of a
couple of stoats which had made the trough their home. They were gone
like flashes of lightning, and though we overturned the trough again
for their benefit, they had the good sense not to be caught napping a
second time.

Not half the stoats that are caught are trapped by bait; for the only
bait which is a certain charm is something which the stoat has caught
itself, from the enjoyment of which it has been newly disturbed. Many
stoats are shot. They pursue young blackbirds and thrushes which
hover about the sides of country lanes; and when intent on dragging a
blackbird up a bank they give the keeper the easiest of marks. Should
his coming drive a feeding stoat to cover, he has only to wait within
range for a few minutes for a chance to pull the avenging trigger.
Stoats would soon be exterminated if they were attracted to baited
traps for the sake of food. It would seem that they come chiefly from
curiosity; for though they live on warm flesh and blood, when they fall
victims to traps it is usually in those with the bait stale and strong
in scent.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Studies in Stoat Ways

We heard a gamekeeper say that he would be better pleased to harbour
a litter of cubs on his beat than a litter of stoats. But this was
too flattering a compliment to the stealthiest of the keeper's foes:
foxes would smile at a comparison between the havoc they play with
game interests and all the robber-work of stoats and weasels combined.
No doubt the gamekeeper's idea was that while foxes may be found and
dealt with according to their deserts without difficulty, stoats may be
on the ground and do endless damage before they are detected. With a
litter of cubs on his ground the keeper, if minded, may promptly put an
end to the nuisance. But he may never congratulate himself that there
are no stoats. Where there is game, there stoats must be also. Just
where they lurk the keeper may never know; and every art may fail to
catch these sly thieves.

The keeper does not wait to see a stoat before he sets his traps;
usually when a stoat is caught he sees it for the first time. During
the mating season, in the early spring, stoats are trapped most easily.
When one has been caught it serves as a lure to attract others. The
body is suspended just out of the reach of curious relatives and
friends, and a neatly hidden trap is set beneath it. Since rabbits
supply the staple food of stoats, they serve as bait: anything that
suggests newly done rabbit work is almost sure to attract the attention
of any passing stoat. So after setting a trap just inside a hole in
the track of stoats, the keeper with his stick scratches up a little
fresh soil on each visit to the trap, to imitate what he calls the
"ferricking" of a rabbit. A hollow underwood stump is always a likely
place for a stoat. Rabbits love to sit in such stumps, and a stoat
never misses a chance to investigate them, surprising the rabbit before
he can scoot away, and then himself lodging in a recess of the stump,
on a cosy couch made from the fur of his victim.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The First

Nowadays, the First on a large shoot passes much as other days, for
October has usurped the prestige of September, and the big partridge
drives are reserved until that month. But when the keeper goes home
to his tea on the First, his wife, with ever-ready sympathy, is
likely enough to notice "summat's up." There is a scowl on the tanned
face, and a vindictive look in the keen eyes, and the way in which
the thirsty throat is flushed with a pint or so of tea suggests a
forlorn attempt to drown trouble. At last the murder is out: "They
pot-hunters," growls the keeper, "they has bin and wiped out half
my birds." Shots have been heard all day near his boundary; on the
neighbouring small shoot the First has not been allowed to go by
unhonoured.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Early Birds

With the First come poachers, anxious to win the big rewards paid for
the earliest birds to reach the market. Netting is not so prevalent as
of old, but more of it is done than most people imagine, since netting
is practised in the dark, and in fields easily entered from public
roads. The best preventive is to dress the fields in which the birds
chiefly jug--stubbles, pastures, and fallows--with small pieces of
tangled wire-netting, and small bushes, left lying on the ground, so
that they may roll with the net, and entangle it the more hopelessly.
A sneaking method of poaching is to set gins in the partridges'
dusting-places, such as ash-heaps, the remains of burnt couch--the
keeper forms a habit of probing such dust-baths with his stick. As
dawn breaks on September 1, the poacher conceals himself in a ditch
commanding a fallow where the coveys jug. Then he sends his dog or his
son to stroll casually and slowly to and fro across the field at the
far end. The birds, not hard-pressed enough to take wing, make for a
furrow, and run in a solid bunch towards the ambush, to be greeted by
a heavy charge of shot, calculated to account for several brace. One
shot--a rush for the fallen birds--and the poacher has flown.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Walking-up

One hears a great deal of praise lavished on the old-fashioned style of
walking-up partridges, to the detriment of driving. True, where birds
and cover are not abundant, a bag of fifteen brace or so made by two or
three guns will often represent much clever sportsmanship--besides a
hard day's tramping and some shots not to be despised. Yet there is a
way of walking-up birds which is nothing more nor less than butchery.
In September, the partridges are mobbed and worn out by men whose duty
it is to drive them from the barer fields into thick roots, there to be
walked up--and snuffed out like so many candles at short range. This
may be magnificent for the bag, but it is not sport. Again, partridges
on occasion may even be walked up in standing corn. That is a moral
crime, and ought to be a legal one.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Thoughts on Cubbing

With September, cubbing begins--and the young of the thief of the
world must justify their existence by making sport. Many sudden and
bewildering shocks the cubs receive. Hitherto their lives have been
peaceful enough. No wolf has found them out in the cornfields where
they have been learning to hunt their own game; no wild dog has dug a
way into the nursery earth. To be hunted is quite a new experience.
The cubs are spared at least the dread of anticipation as in the early
hours of a September morning they settle to sleep in their soft warm
kennel, canopied by bracken and brambles. Dreaming, it may be, of their
own night's sport, the cheerful voice of the huntsman, as he urges on
his newly entered puppies to draw with their elders, means no more than
a general alarm to the cubs' drowsy ears. Again and again the hunt may
come, yet a cub may have no thought of a game, with life or death as
the stake. Not until the attentions of the hounds become pressing and
particular can he awake fully to what cub-hunting means. Then perhaps
it is too late. But an old fox is quick enough to hear the first sound
of the hunt; he breaks away at an unguarded corner, and is allowed to
go.

There is little chance for the cub when, fat from long ease, he is
pushed at last from the home-wood, with the pack in cry a few short
chains behind his apology for a brush. A fox-hound, if often cowardly,
is a foe of terribly unequal size and strength, one carefully fed,
thoroughly schooled to hunting, and trained to great staying power.
But a young hound is as indifferent to the business of hunting as is
a cub when disturbed for the first time in its life. Lackadaisical is
the word for the attitude of each. It is an unfortunate cub that slinks
aside to avoid a too-inquisitive puppy and walks into the jaws of an
old hound.

A cub is to be known from an old fox by its lankiness and legginess.
Full growth is not attained until late November; from Christmas-time
is the season when the amorous barking of the foxes of the year may
be heard, as they run through the woods in the night, seeking their
mates. In early autumn the cub's brush is lacking in bushiness, and is
obviously pointed at the tip. By Christmas--if Christmas is to come
for him--the brush will be in full-blown glory. A popular superstition
among countrymen is that a white tip to a fox's brush denotes a
dog-fox, while its absence is a sure sign of vixenhood. Another old
fallacy that dies hard is that a fox will fascinate a roosting pheasant
by gazing steadfastly into its eyes--hypnotising it so completely that
the bird drops at last into the waiting jaws. But a fox's tricks need
no bush. He will hoax rabbits by rolling as if in innocent frolic,
rolling his way nearer and nearer until, with a perfectly calculated
spring, he may make sure of his supper. And he will feign death so well
as to deceive a wary old huntsman. Many a fox's body has been dug out
of a hole and thrown aside as a carcass, only to come miraculously to
life, and to fly at the first chance.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Wines of the Country

Country folk brew wine from numberless things--and the marvel is
how they survive the drinking. Yet some of the simple wines are
excellent--as parsnip wine and sloe gin. Beside all care in the making,
the secret of parsnip wine is to brew it at the right time, which
is just after fresh top growth begins in roots left in the ground,
when the spine of the parsnips themselves turns as tough as wood. A
good recipe from a keeper's note-book is this: Take three pounds of
parsnips, a quarter of an ounce of hops, three pounds of lump sugar,
and one gallon of water. Wash, clean, slice and boil the parsnips until
tender. Add the hops, boil for five minutes, strain on to the sugar,
and stir until the sugar dissolves. When the liquor is lukewarm add
yeast, and when the working is done, barrel, bung, bottle and drink in
due season.

We would give a word of warning to the inexperienced: Do not sample
home-brewed wines too freely, however freely offered. Country folk
put quantity before quality, and seldom offer their wines in anything
but tumblers--and if you manage to empty one tumbler, you will need
will-power, if not willingness, to avoid taking another glassful.
To leave a drop of home-brewed wine, when once you have tasted it,
is an insult to the maker. We remember how the wife of a keeper was
unjustly blamed for the power of her rhubarb wine, of which a caller
had partaken freely. He went his way smacking his lips; lighting his
pipe, he strolled happily along a path of rabbit-mown turf, through a
fine old park. But in a little while he felt a desire to lie down, and
soon his groans were spreading panic among the park deer. He cursed the
gamekeeper's wife and her rhubarb wine; but it turned out that he had
borrowed from the keeper a little flowers of sulphur, which, escaping
from its packet, had found a way into his pipe: hence his pain and
sickness.




AUTUMN


The Verdict of the Season

To find out how the wild birds have fared is always difficult: one
never sees them properly until the days of shooting are at hand--and
not always then, when a sight of them rather under than over forty
yards distant might be welcome. We may pass by a wood outside which
many pheasants may be feeding, as a flock of fowls, or sitting lazily
about on the fences, some perhaps indolently stretching a wing in the
pleasant wallow of a dust-bath; but this does not prove that pheasants
have done well--merely that there are so many pheasants at a certain
place; it does not even prove that they will be there the next day.
Such a spot may be a place where large numbers of pheasants are reared.
One may count a hundred birds in the corner of a field--perhaps there
should have been a hundred and fifty. Or perhaps the hundred to be seen
means better luck than usual in the breeding season in that particular
part. A man who sees pheasants where he does not know how many were
bred may think a dozen a large number, or he may view with scorn the
sight of several hundreds if he has been accustomed to see thousands.
We know places where so many pheasants may be seen at any time as to
suggest that they swarm there regardless of the season. But the birds
seen casually may have been bought from a game-farm and turned down,
to make up a supply that failed. However, it always delights the
sportsman's eye to see many pheasants about a wood--especially if he
has the shooting.

From a just standpoint, it is the comparison of what might have been
with what is that settles the verdict on the pheasant season. The
season cannot be judged by the birds of one preserve. Allowance must
be made for many points. The number of wild broods to wild hens left
to manage their own affairs, and the number of eggs set under fowls
and how they hatched must be considered. Then the quality of the
rearing-ground makes one district much better than another--whether
heavy or light, low-lying or high, and rich or poor in natural food.
The question of foxes must be weighed, and one would like to know
before judging a season from any one case how many birds were turned
into covert at five to seven weeks old, and how many fell victims to
foxes--to say nothing of gapes.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Weather to pray for

The keeper may control the supply of hand-reared birds: he may make
up for the spoiling of an egg, or the loss of a chick, which would
otherwise mean a pheasant the less; but he has no control over the
season as it affects wild birds. What he prays for is a showery April,
with a sun to shine between the storms. And he wants fair weather after
the middle of May, the longer the better. A bright warm summer is good
for all pheasants, whether it be their fate to start life beneath a
fowl in a stuffy, if cosy, coop, or to be gathered beneath the breast
and wings of their real mother in the wood, or among the corn. A fine
summer means more to birds than to man, for to them it is a matter of
life or death.

                   *       *       *       *       *


After the Opening

Walking home through the woods on the evening of an October First, we
came to a standstill before a low tree-branch on which an old cock
pheasant was going to roost. We were within a yard of him; yet he
sat stock-still, and stared at us fearlessly with unblinking eyes.
The minutes passed, and after we had stood there for some little
time, staring back at the old pheasant, it really seemed that we had
established a bond of communication. And this is what we understood the
old cock to be saying:

"Here I am, you see, and not afraid of you; and none the worse for an
opening day that has been, I must admit, a trifle lively. And I may
inform you that before I went to roost I made careful inquiries among
my very numerous progeny, and not one is a feather the worse for all
the banging that has been going on. All are in good condition, in
fine plumage, and strong on the wing as usual, and, I may add, on the
leg. By the way, I myself, in the course of the day, from a secure
retreat, watched more than one sportsman critically examining the
bodies of several unfortunate birds--needless to say, there was no son
or daughter of mine among them. _Good_ night."

                   *       *       *       *       *


An October Day

Here is the gamekeeper's idea of what constitutes a pleasantly
flavoured October 1: The day should break with a misty dawn, grey dewy
cobwebs everywhere betokening a visible if tardy sun. There should
be a brace of spaniels whose occasional lapses after fur are atoned
for by their untiring energy among the blind tangles of hedgerows and
dells. There should be three guns whose object is to enjoy sport and to
make a mixed bag, including incidentally the first pheasants--without
the formality of the so-called battue. There should be a couple of
experienced beaters, and a keeper whose soul is set on circumventing
certain wary old cocks that are known to him as leaders astray of
youthful birds. The killing of pheasants should not be the main thing;
if the charm of the First of October lay only in this it would quickly
fade. Next to the potting of young rooks with a shot-gun as they sit
stoically near their nests, few phases of shooting call for less skill
than pheasant-shooting in early October.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Low Flight and High

Grouse, partridges, and pheasants are low-flying birds, unlike
wood-pigeons and rooks; it is their habit to skim along near to earth.
And pheasants might be truly described as ground birds. Only on
occasions do they fly high, and then usually for one of three definite
causes. Flushed on high ground they may maintain a high elevation as
they cross a valley. Rising on low ground, the direction of their
flight may necessitate an upward line, as when trees or hills lie
before them. Forced to rise suddenly, having lain low while danger has
approached, on finding men in full sight between themselves and the
place they have determined to reach they then rocket instinctively.
Rooks and wood-pigeons naturally fly at a height well out of gunshot;
and the cynical critic of British shooting methods might observe with
truth that the bagging of a dozen ordinary wood-pigeons involves a
higher order of sportsmanship than the bagging of fifty ordinary
pheasants.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Wily Grouse Cocks

As with partridges, a great benefit has followed the fashion of driving
grouse, instead of walking them up, with setters and pointers: for the
familiar reason that the old birds come first to the guns and are the
first to be shot. If not shot, these old birds would not allow the
young ones to nest near them, and would drive them far afield: and
another advantage is that the young birds which are spared are the most
productive. Moorland keepers at the end of the season are at pains to
kill off old cocks, which are such enemies to the peaceful nesting of
the young birds; and many are their devices for stalking and calling
them to their doom. Except when feeding, the wary old birds like to be
able to look all about them, and perch on walls and hillocks, whence,
holding their heads high, their eyes may sweep afar for foes. Unlike
partridges, they are not content with the grain in the stubble, but
will perch on the stooks at harvest-time, to attack the sheaves.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Rewards for Cubs

Until the last field of corn is cut, cubs are spared their introduction
to the joys and sorrows of hunting; but at the end of harvest their
time is at hand. Few keepers look forward to the coming of hounds for
cubbing. When hounds do come there is nothing more disappointing to the
keeper than that they should not find the cubs, of whose dark deeds he
has been complaining all the summer. Not only does he lose the prospect
of a sovereign reward, but the cubs are still at large to carry on
their havoc, while he may appear to have been crying wolf where there
were no wolves; the loss of the sovereign is much less to him than the
loss of his credit and the prospective loss of his birds. Different
hunts have different methods of rewarding keepers whose cubs are found
by hounds. One hunt works on the irrational plan of giving a keeper
a sovereign for each litter found, and ten shillings extra if a cub
is killed. This is almost as much as to ask the keeper to take steps
towards handicapping the cubs when the pack presses. The keeper knows
how important it is that the young entry shall taste blood at this
time, and he knows that if scent fails, the best way to ensure a kill
is to allow the cub to run to ground. Instead of completely stopping an
earth, he arranges a slight barricade of twigs; and then he may know,
by whether the cub has broken the barricade or not, if it has run to
ground. He takes care to have a spade and a pick-axe close at hand. The
well-intentioned reward really ends in spoiling sport.

                   *       *       *       *       *


"Various"--the Landrail

In the bag of September partridge-shooting, the landrail is often the
only bird booked under the heading "Various," save for an occasional
wood-pigeon; at any rate, many look to the landrail to fill the
"Various" column, if they often look in vain. On a calm day, the
landrail is a weird mark, with its heavy, laboured flight, and its
dangling legs; the bird hardly suggests a sporting shot. But few who
have shot landrails have not also missed them. Landrails will even put
to shame the sportsman who has been bagging his brace of partridges
with wearisome monotony. So slow, as a rule, is the landrail in
heading away, after its silent rising from sainfoin or clover, that
we have seen one bagged by a thrown stick, another knocked down by a
keeper's partridge-carrier, as he held it in his hand, and another
caught on the wing by a dog; of course this is nothing uncommon. We
have even seen a terrier point and pounce on a landrail that was
crouching beneath its nose. But when a fair wind is blowing, the slow
landrail becomes as difficult a mark to hit as a snipe or a woodcock.
And a landrail has a disappointing habit of dropping when it comes to a
hedge, for all the world like a dead bird, though very much alive.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Sport amid the Shocks

Sportsmen may find partridge-shooting among shocks of uncarried corn
more interesting than shooting over a bare expanse of barren stubble.
The shocks or stooks help to mark the birds, alive or dead; and they
cause them to rise to a convenient height, so that they show sharp
and clear against the sky, instead of skimming away low against the
baffling tints of the autumn fields. And birds seem to lie better
among stooks than on bare stubble. They cannot see well or far among
the stooks, and they like to linger in the dusting-places that they
make in sheltered, sunny spots. Another point worth mentioning is less
obvious but none the less true--the stooks help the eye in aiming. It
always seems easier to hit a pheasant flying high between the tops of
trees, as down an avenue open to the sky, than in the open. So in the
cornfields before the harvest is garnered. And there is still another
point which adds to the charm found in shooting among the corn-sheaves:
when a covey bustles up, the birds spread out and scatter, for they
cannot see all the party at the same time; and so they may give each
gunner a mild taste of what the days of driving will bring.

                   *       *       *       *       *


"Mark"

Some men have a special gift for marking a bird that is down, while
others never know where the bird fell within half an acre. But marking
is only a matter of training the eyes, and anybody may learn the trick:
in time the eyes accurately note what they see almost unconsciously.
The sportsman cannot be too accurate in marking the fall of a bird. The
great thing is to take a good line--an imaginary line drawn from the
eye to the place where the bird fell: if at a far distance, the actual
spot will be nearer in reality than it seems. The accustomed eye finds
points which mark the line, if not the very spot, where the bird has
fallen--a spray of charlock flower, a thistle-stem, or a tinted leaf.
When a bird falls at a distance it is helpful to take some prominent
object in front and behind to mark the line--such as a gap and a
sapling in opposite hedges.

A sportsman who is a master of the art of marking knows where to come
upon each bird he shoots singly; and when he scores a brace he knows
all about the second bird. Often he knows much more about the first
bird than those who have nothing else to do but to mark. The usual
rule is for the attendant to mark the first bird that falls and the
shooter the second. With two men to mark one bird it should be quite
easy to find the place. The bird will be within a yard of where the
two imaginary lines intersect. A common mistake made by sportsmen is
to suppose that because they have fired at a bird coming towards them
it must have fallen in front of them: more probably it has fallen
several yards behind, especially if it be a bird brought down by the
second barrel. It is not easy to mark the place where a covey pitches.
On seeing the birds suddenly lower their line of flight, a sportsman
may suppose they have alighted, unless he still keeps a watchful eye
on them, for birds often lower their flight when they have crossed a
hollow or a valley, and then skim on low over the crest of the hill.
However, when birds lower their line of flight, after flying some
distance, it is a sign that they contemplate settling.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper's Dogs

Among the many clever things that a gamekeeper's retriever learns is
how to mark a partridge which flies a long way and then towers. When
once he has grasped what is meant by the rising of a covey, the firing
of a shot, and the sight of a bird soaring away from the rest and
falling like a stone, he soon begins to watch for the bird that towers,
even without the exhortation, "Mark that bird!" A clever retriever
will mark the distant fall of a bird seen by no one but himself, and
either will dash off for the spot or show strong symptoms of wanting
to go. The well-trained dog finds the bird that he has not seen fall.
On being ordered to "go on" he gallops in the direction indicated by a
wave of his master's hand, and when he hears the word "Halt," or sees
a hand-signal, then he begins to cast, and seldom in vain. A retriever
will retrace his steps for a couple of miles or more to bring home a
dead rabbit or bird which his master has left behind in mistake. One
fine retriever had been trained never to give up game except to her
master; and it happened that as she was picking up a dead hare another
was wounded and ran away before her. She set off in pursuit, carrying
the dead hare, and though every man in a long line of beaters, keepers,
and guns attempted to relieve her of her burden, she refused to give
it up. On catching the wounded hare, she calmly held it down with one
paw and waited until her master came to her assistance. Keepers, of all
men, have least doubt about the reasoning powers of their dogs.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Woodcock Owls

Autumn brings with woodcock the woodcock owls--as the short-eared owls
are called, because their flight is like a woodcock's, or because
they come at the same time. We would make the strongest plea for the
preservation of these most useful owls. When an unusual number appeared
in parts of the South of England, they made themselves very busy among
the rats that had taken lodgings in the root-fields. Yet a party of
town shooters, out after partridges, gloated more over the bagging of
one of these owls than over all the rest of their spoil. The owl was
wounded only enough to be caught--and his wound had cost the party
eleven cartridges. Perhaps if the short-eared owl bred here he might
be tempted to prey on young game; but very few remain to breed in the
north, and the young game is grown when the autumn migration begins.
Rats and mice with occasional small birds and some beetles form the
staple diet.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Dogs that Despise Woodcock

The difference in the tastes of dogs is curious, and often strongly
marked. Two terriers, boon companions at home, were taken to
the Hebrides; in their home haunts they hunted the same game
together--rats, rabbits, hares, partridges, and pheasants--but in
the north the chief sport was among woodcock, though there were
thousands of rabbits. Yet neither dog flushed a single woodcock, save
by accident, nor would take the slightest interest in any but rabbit
sport. They showed that marked aversion to woodcock common to many
dogs not used to them. Sometimes dogs will acquire a taste for hunting
and retrieving woodcock, and then make this a speciality. A curious
point in the case of the two terriers was that one suddenly became
very fond of the remains of cooked woodcock, whether hungry or not,
while the other refused ever to look at them, even when purposely kept
on short commons by way of experiment. It was a strange sight to see
the appreciative dog crunch up the frame of a woodcock, winding up the
performance by stowing away the head, bill and all.

The best retrievers usually refuse to pick up and carry a woodcock,
unless specially schooled to carry anything from puppyhood. To train
puppies to fetch and carry things objectionable alike to their sense
of smell and touch, perhaps the best plan is to teach them to retrieve
well-filled tobacco-pouches. They may be thrown long distances, and a
dog will never bite them--at least, twice--and so acquires a perfect
mouth. A retriever not trained in this way will probably refuse to
touch a woodcock, in spite of every coaxing--one, induced at last to
pick up a woodcock, has been known to spit it out, turning up his lip
in contempt, and otherwise showing his intense scorn. Now and again
a young and obedient retriever may bring in woodcock at the first
trial--but with a look of anything but relish.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Pets of Pigs

One hardly thinks of pigs as possible pets; yet those who have brought
them up and acted the part of foster-mother, agree that they make
charming pets, energetic and entertaining. They soon know the step
of their master, and rush furiously to greet him with every sign of
delight. If properly kept no pet could be more cleanly in habit.

We know a village pig-butcher who, by the irony of fate, made a pet
of two little pigs, and was very proud of his black and white twins,
as he called them. He reared them by hand, and nothing could be more
entertaining than their way of taking their meals of milk and water;
they had been trained to rest their front trotters on a box, with
the idea of saving their foster-parent's garments, and would greet
the sight of their bottle with joyous grunts. These piglets, at
weaning-time, had cost their master in food the sum of 7_s._ 9_d._ Had
he cared to sell them they would have brought him in about £4 each; or
supposing he were to kill them himself and convert them into bacon,
his bacon would cost him about 3-1/2_d._ a pound. That this was his
intention we gathered from his remark: "I'll see as I don't pay no more
'levenpences a pound for bacon." The pigs in the first place had cost
him nothing; they were the "darls" or last-born pigs of their litters,
which are generally inferior to their numerous brothers and sisters,
and are often given away. Clearly a darl may make a profitable pet.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Some Deals in Dogs

The gamekeeper, as a rule, is an old hand at dog-dealing. All keepers
have an eye for a dog, and are tempted to buy for a song any sort of
sporting dog, in the hope of making a few shillings or pounds by a
quick sale. We knew a keeper who would buy almost anything that could
be described as a dog, but his stock price was "A bob and a pot"--a
shilling, that is to say, with a quart of beer. When a shoot is let,
and the keeper's services go with it, he often has a good chance to
make money over dog-deals. Outgoing tenants commonly make him a present
of a useful, general-purpose retriever, or spaniel--a dog that has done
a good deal of all-round work on the shoot. A dog may be a good dog
only on one shoot, or he may obey only one keeper; so when the tenant
goes away he leaves his dog where it can do the most good in the world,
kennel, chain, collar and all. Then a new tenant comes in, to whom the
keeper offers the dog with its outfit--the whole being, as he declares,
"honestly worth five pounds to the shoot." But he will take three
pounds, and it is clear profit. And the new tenant makes a good bargain.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Marked Birds

A white or a pied bird, whether rook, blackbird, starling, finch, or
sparrow, never fails to hold the eye, and may become a character of
public interest in a neighbourhood. Its usual fate is to be shot--the
fate of any rare wild creature. The sportsman sees no special reason
for sparing a pied pheasant that has come to his coverts--he shoots it
at the first chance for the sake of the few seconds' pleasure given by
the curious plumage before it is tossed with the rest on the game-cart.
But the keeper silently mourns for the death of the pied bird. If he
voices his lament, he receives a stock answer: "Well, it is too late
now." Happy the keeper who succeeds in catching up a bird that he
treasures, so that he may give it safe shelter until the rattle of guns
is silenced.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Colour-Changes in Feathers

"Once a pied bird always a pied bird" is the expression of a common
fallacy. A pheasant may be almost white for months, then change
colour, and become hardly different from other birds. A pied bird
tends to become more pied as the time of moulting approaches. A homely
illustration of this increasing lightness of colour is seen when a
black cat is about to change its coat; then the fur turns a rusty
brown. When this is shed the new growth seems blacker than ever. A
black cat or dog with white marks nearly always has young with similar
markings. And if you have a white or pied hen pheasant, in spite of the
fact that after a moult her new feathers may come of the ordinary brown
shade, you may expect, perhaps, half the chicks from her eggs to wear
their mother's pretty white or pied dress. Birds that have been pied
in their youth, then have put on sober apparel, again put on the showy
shade of feathers in their old age, though it is a lucky pheasant that
reaches anything like old age, whether pied or not.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Nature's Healing

Nature is a kindly doctor--and though any accident to the flying or
running powers of a wild creature probably means death, miraculous
recoveries are to noted. Rabbits commonly suffer from broken legs,
whether from gunshot, trap, or other cause; but limbs often heal and
become serviceable members again. Nor is a broken wing always enough
to cause the death of a game-bird. Should the bird escape its foes
while the broken bone is setting, it may live to fly, if not quite as
well as ever. We noticed once that one bird in a covey of partridges
flew more slowly than the others; it was shot, and when picked up we
found that there had been an old wing fracture, and that the broken
ends had crossed and overlapped in setting. A curious case was that
of a partridge which was shot in the wing, and ran when followed
through the turnips by a retriever. Several times the bird sprang
above the turnips, attempting, but in vain, to fly; then, when the dog
seemed about to catch it, the bird gave a final spring, and this time
flew straight away. But after fifty yards or so it dropped to earth,
falling almost perpendicularly. The explanation seemed to be that the
fractured bone-ends had joined, and kept their place accidentally, for
the few moments of the flight.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Little Story

A sporting old gentleman, who was very deaf, always took a small boy
with him shooting, whose duty seemed to be to stand behind his master
and do nothing. He never carried cartridges, and looked incapable of
loading a gun. One day we asked the boy to explain his mission in life.
"'Tis this way," said he. "In each hand I holds a pin, and I gives the
master a prick behind to let him know when game be a-coming--if on this
side or on t'other."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Accidents to Hares

More than once, descending the steep face of the Downs, we have set
foot upon hares in their forms--crouching so closely as to be unseen
until felt; and once we have witnessed a curious fatal accident
which befell a half-grown hare through the habit of lying low.
Partridge-shooting was going on in a field of sainfoin, and as the guns
lined out from the fence we saw this hare dancing, as it were, on her
head. It was a dance of death, and before we could reach her puss was
lying still. One of the guns had actually trodden on her head, and had
passed on unknowingly. Half-grown and undersized hares seen in autumn
have small chance of enduring through the winter; with the setting in
of cold weather their fate is sealed; they are unable to thrive on the
rough frosted food, and are claimed by a lingering death. In the wet
days of autumn, when showers of leaves and rain are falling, hares
change their quarters in the woods for the open fields, preferring of
all places a stubble-field free of grasses that hold the moisture.
The fall of rain and moist leaves has an opposite effect upon the
rabbits--driving them to the shelter of their newly renovated burrows,
where they lie all day, snug, warm, and dry.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hares no longer Speedy

We have heard of terriers who have chased hares and caught them after a
burst of less than a field's-breadth; but we have never seen a terrier
catch a sound hare in a fair run, though we have known a clever little
dog to flash up a ditch and seize a loitering hare, and we have often
known a hare to be caught napping in her seat. The hares that terriers
catch after short runs have been in some trap or snare, or have been
shot, or otherwise wounded, or probably they are diseased. The wonder
is that hares can run so fast and long as they do in a state of
advanced disease. Hares suffer each year in some places from a disease
of a typhous nature, aggravated by feeding on frosted clover. Parting
the white fur on the underside of such a hare the skin is found to be
green. There is good cause to be suspicious of disease whenever a thin
hare is seen in autumn or winter.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Starling Hosts

Too many starlings in a given place are likely to be a serious
trouble--in fact they make a place almost impossible for other
inhabitants. Starlings haunt many kinds of roosting-places--the high
reeds, the woods, and the shrubs about a house. The keeper finds small
pleasure in the thunderous noise of their wings in his coverts. Towards
the end of October the sales of underwood take place; thereafter
the underwood is cut, and this often drives the starlings from an
old roosting-haunt to fresh woods, where their presence is far from
desirable, in view of the approaching covert-shooting. Naturally,
people hesitate to take preventive measures, such as shooting or
lighting fires of green wood, for the shots or the smoke would drive
away pheasants as well as starlings. Yet it is wiser thus to drive away
one season's pheasants than to have the wood made impossible for many
years--to all save starlings.

                   *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: STARLINGS ROOSTING ON REEDS.

LONDON, EDWARD ARNOLD.]


Trials of a Copser

While we have never met any one who actually hated honeysuckle, if
there is a man who curses it occasionally it is the copse-worker
chopping underwood. A honeysuckle trail will turn a well-aimed blow
from its true direction, and so may cause the copser to cut himself
very badly--even a slight blow from his sharp bill-hook is a serious
matter. The copser's hand and arm have received the order to swing
outwards to gather force for a quick stroke--honeysuckle arrests the
bill-hook and turns its direction, while the hand and arm disastrously
go on with the reflex part of the order. And though we do not suppose
there is a copse-worker in the whole world who does not appreciate
rabbits to eat, probably most of them speak at times as harshly of
rabbits as of honeysuckle. For rabbits gnaw the underwood, and when
the butt of a stem has been gnawed by rabbits' teeth, part of the wood
dies, and is far harder to cut than a clean stem.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Wild Birds in Cages

We have heard from several people that owls are among the birds that
cannot be tamed and kept as pets; but this idea is a fallacy. Barn-owls
taken from the nest, and properly handled, grow into attractive pets,
and we know a pair of them, about four months old, who sit on their
master's shoulders, and seem to return his affection. We dislike the
idea of rearing wild birds in captivity--especially such useful birds
as barn-owls, who are better employed in catching mice than in doing
tricks. But nearly all birds are susceptible to a taming treatment,
even such shy creatures as the redshanks of the marshes, the wariest
of birds in their wild state. There are people who seem to possess a
natural instinct for understanding birds, as others for handling dogs,
horses, or snakes.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Truffles

The truffle-hunter, roaming with his little dogs over park lands and
other pleasant places, seems to lead a fine, independent life. And he
confesses to making money on no mean scale. His professional fee is a
pound a day, with all expenses to be paid. The truffles are sold at
3_s_. the pound; but each truffle may cost the consumer fully half a
guinea, stewed, as it should be, in rich wine. The truffle-hunter may
tell you that his dogs are of the original truffle-hunting breed. Yet
we have no doubt that any dog with a good nose could be trained to find
truffles as easily as a retriever can be broken to hedgehogs.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Retriever's Usefulness

The gamekeeper's retriever will learn to discover the whereabouts of
every hedgehog in a ditch. A clever dog will find in a few hours as
many hedgehogs as a week of trapping will secure--miles of hedges may
be cleared in a day in the summer. The dog must be kept under absolute
control, lest he disturb sitting birds, thereby, perhaps, doing as
much damage as might the hedgehogs. Almost any dog may be trained to a
particular work, such as playing the bloodhound's part, and following
the trail of men, whether friends or strangers--even terriers may
become useful trackers. The night-dogs used by gamekeepers--crosses
between mastiffs and bulldogs--will follow poachers through the woods
during the blackest hours of night.

A retriever is wonderfully useful for many purposes besides recovering
game. A dog, which had never seen a cricket ball, was with us when we
chanced to be crossing a field, at dusk, where a ball had been lost in
thick cow-parsley in the shade of trees. The cricketers appealed for
our help; we cleared the course, and set on the dog. She took the wind,
trotted along, turned suddenly, ran straight for a score of yards, and
came back, the lost ball in her mouth. Perhaps she worked it out in her
own mind that as no shot had been fired there was no game to follow,
and the ball-scent must therefore be the one she was required to track.
No doubt she would have left the line of the ball if the scent of
anything in the shape of dead game had reached her sensitive nose.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Nuts and Mice

The gamekeeper classes the nutters among "the reg'lar plagues" of
his life. Not that he begrudges them their nuts, but that they stand
for an old, old story of innocent pleasures and game disturbance. As
primrose-pickers are to the nesting pheasants of April, so are nutters
to the young birds of October, and the final result is always an
angry keeper. His young birds at this season are ever ready to avail
themselves of an excuse to stray to fresh woods. The nutter who would
avoid the keeper should avoid paths, and lie very low and still when
the keeper comes his way. This lesson in woodcraft had been mastered so
thoroughly by one young nutter of our acquaintance that when a keeper
chanced to pass along the ride near which he was picking, he still
lay low when the keeper's words were almost in his ear: "Where be ye?
Ah, I sees ye. Come out on it, then!" And he was duly rewarded by the
knowledge that these remarks were merely an exhortation to pheasants to
feed.

Dormice are the chief of all lovers of hazel-nuts. They are found very
often at work by human nutters; and their nest is seen sheltered by
hazel leaves--a neat round structure, built of dry grass, beautifully
woven. One autumn we came upon a nest containing six young dormice,
about half-grown and ready to run, and three of them, wonderful to
relate, were wholly white. Autumnal litters are common, and, as though
by a beautiful piece of foresight on the part of Nature, the favourite
nut food is most abundant just when the little mice are ready to give
up a milk diet. Though called "the mouse of the hazel," he seems as
partial to acorns as to hazel-nuts, and he is insectivorous, and feeds
heartily on nut-weevil grubs. With November he will be as fat as nuts
can make him, and before the month is out he will have fallen into his
long winter trance. The little reddish brown harvest-mouse seems to
have almost disappeared in the north of Hampshire and other parts,
and for years we have not seen a single specimen. The nest of the
harvest-mouse--cunningly woven amid the corn-stalks--used to be one
of the prettiest of things seen in the cornfields, especially when
the mouse was seen also, nibbling in his dainty way at the grain. To
go round an oat-stack and poke it with a stick was to disturb these
gregarious little creatures by the score. The common mouse remains as
plentiful as ever, and thousands are seen during the threshing of a
single stack; but the harvest-mouse has gone. So much the better, no
doubt, for the stacks. Their population of furred foes is always too
large--as some idea may be gained from the fact that in one season,
and from a group of three ricks, no fewer than 1300 rats were taken.
It is a proof of the barn-owls' value to farmers that they are often
caught in rat-traps set by holes at the base of stacks. The stack is a
favourite if sometimes a fatal hunting-place.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Hand of Time

The keeper looks his best in autumn. To many the sight of him then is
most welcome, especially if the prospect of sport be fair, and the day
of fine promise. People who go to shoot season after season on one
estate are greeted year by year by the same friendly faces, nearly
all of them a little the worse for time's passage. The host is seen
to have aged between this October and last, with his butlers and his
beaters and bailiffs. The foreheads of the familiar old horses seem to
have sunk a little above the eyes. The dogs are remembered as playful
puppies; the headstrong creatures now grow grey about the muzzles. Boys
employed of old as "stops," when their height was less than the length
of the hares they dangled proudly over their backs, have now qualified
for the army of beaters; they have long since learnt the wisdom of not
leaving their "stopping" places to forage for hazel-nuts. All these
have grown older, and perhaps the visitor himself heaves a sigh as he
looks down on his own once trim and slender figure.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Keeper grows Old

To the keeper alone of the time-honoured gathering seen on the lawn
before the house on an early October morning have the years been kind.
Over his face the winds have swept lightly; hardly an impression has
been made on his complexion by the sun, moon, and stars, and the hail,
snow, frosts, and mists of the year. On his forehead half a century of
life has ploughed no furrows. His cheeks are free of wrinkles; there
are no crow's-feet about the outside corners of his eyes. He holds the
secret of youth. His cheeks might be a girl's; there is a smoothness
and suppleness about the skin of his face. Still the muscles of his
arms stand out with proud fulness. And his eyes remain the keenest
spy-glasses of the party. His limbs are supple and free; a gamekeeper
hardly knows the meaning of stiffness. But you may notice now that he
straddles mightily over the gate which of old he vaulted with the glide
of the fallow bucks in the park. And if you were with him when, at the
end of a long day, he goes home to his tea, by chance you might hear
the remark made to his good-wife, "Well, mother, I bain't sorry to sit
down."

He looks his best in autumn; and he feels his best. He is ready for the
test of his labours. He has had worries enough; the rearing season has
been a "shocking bad one," and he has had many late nights, watching
his birds. Perhaps he has had toothache; that is not unknown to
keepers. Often he has been soaked by rain, and more often by the dews
of night and morning. But he has lived all the year in the open and in
the country, and there is the secret of his youth.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Rabbit Ways in Autumn

In the cool autumn days rabbits grow in attraction to the poacher.
They now have a habit of lying within their burrows by day, after the
worryings, buffetings, and evictions of harvest-time, waiting for
things to quieten down--until the sounds of binder and harvester are
no more heard across the stubbles. Two people know this--the keeper
and the poacher. Often it is a race as to who shall be first to take
tribute from out-lying dells, with ferret and nets.

The ferreting season proper now sets in in earnest, and at first the
rabbits bolt freely, rumbling and rushing along their subterranean
passages, and with blind force launching themselves into the nets. A
single ferret put into a burrow may send out a dozen rabbits in quick
succession; or nothing may happen when the ferrets disappear, hours
of digging follow, and then a bunch of ferrets and rabbits crowded
together are at last revealed. In autumn days there is exciting sport
with the gun at the expense of rabbits if open burrows can be found, or
burrows in dells where the bare-stemmed elder is the only undergrowth.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Rabbits' House-cleaning

In late autumn rabbits are very busy about their burrows, making them
fit for winter habitation. Through the summer, while many of the
rabbits have been lying out, the burrows have looked deserted and
untidy. Warned by the chilly nights that a subterranean refuge will
soon be useful, the rabbits do up their premises, enlarging them,
clearing away the remains of old nests, and of relatives that have died
underground, and making fresh chambers where they may lie snug and warm
in place of those dug out during last season's ferreting operations.
Judging by the amount of soil excavated in a single night, rabbits at
this season seem to rival ants in energy--one might think there had
been a wholesale invasion of new-comers. At work, they kick the soil
sideways, forming a furrow perhaps six or ten feet in length. Few
have watched them while engaged in this toil, usually undertaken at
night-time; but we have seen them at work once or twice by day, and
once caught a rabbit by the leg--so intent was he on his digging--while
he was in the act of kicking the soil aside.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Guileless Countryman

The countryman is not always the guileless simpleton that he sometimes
looks; nor, as we can show, is the Cockney sportsman. A holiday-making
Londoner was shooting one day in a field beyond the cottage of a
labourer, who came out to watch the sport. Suddenly a cry broke from
him: he leaped into the air; then bellowed to the sportsman, waving a
red handkerchief in signal. Up to the cottage rushed the sportsman,
thinking that at the least the countryman had been stung by a hornet
or bitten by a mad dog. "Look what ye've bin an' done," said the
countryman, advancing. "'Tis a wonder I be alive; look what ye've bin
an' done; look at my door, and look at these here shots." Saying which,
he pointed to his newly painted door (the sportsman saw it was pitted
with such holes as a rusty nail might make). He held out his hand and
showed a good two ounces of shot (the sportsman saw they had never
been fired from a gun). "These here shots," said the countryman, "they
buzzed about me like a swarm of bees: 'tis a wonder I be alive." The
sportsman agreed in the marvel of the escape, adding to its wonder by
pointing out that his shot had been fired at a distance of five hundred
yards from the cottage--and in the opposite direction. "Allow me," he
said, "to buy back these wonderful pellets at a fair market price"--and
he handed the countryman twopence.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Sporting Policemen

In rural villages, keen sportsmen are often found beneath the uniforms
of the policeman and the postman. No one knows better than the keeper
how useful it is to be on friendly terms with the policeman--and no one
knows better how to manage it. Often policeman and postman may be found
doing duty as beaters, especially during September partridge shooting,
when the harvest is late and out-of-work labourers are few. If you
see through his disguise of plain clothes, the policeman will remark
how he just thought he would have a walk for an hour or two, just to
oblige Mr. Keeper. Upholding the law and delivering the post mean much
walking: and country policemen and postmen, when passing along the
roads early and late, find the haunt of many a fine covey. Being good
sportsmen, they take note of the customary line of flight; and if you
own some of the land of the covey's haunting they can tell you almost
to a minute when the birds leave the turnips beyond the boundary for
your stubble.

If a policeman is on duty during the early days of partridge shooting,
he will manage to fall in with shooting parties; then he makes it
known that he heard shots, and was impelled to take a look round, "to
see that there weren't nothing wrong." The policeman's favourite time
for making known his presence is soon after the bagging of a good,
broad-backed hare. Even policemen become spoiled with favours. On a
sportsman telling his keeper to give a hare to a polite and zealous
officer of the law, "Excuse me, sir," said he, "but the party over the
hedge have just given me a hare, so might I have a brace of birds?
Thank ye kindly, I'm sure; a hare will do nicely next time, sir." The
sporting policeman can do much to help the luckless sportsman.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Woodcraft of Gipsies

Gipsies and gamekeepers have enough in common to make them deadly foes.
They share an intimate knowledge of the ways of wild creatures. They
are skilled trackers and crafty trappers. They are hedgerow men; born
to the hedgerow, trained to know the meaning of every hole, and hollow,
and run. Their eyes read the story of the hedge as the scholar's the
printed page; hedge-lore is their second nature, and it is as though an
instinct tells them where the partridge has built, where the hedgehog
has buried himself, or where the rabbits are crouching. In their
knowledge of the ways of rabbits and hares keepers and gipsies stand
alone; and it often happens that all the knowledge and craft of the one
class is pitted against the cunning and knowledge of the other. Between
keepers and gipsies it is always war.

The keeper detests nothing more than a gipsies' camp. His eyes take no
more pleasure in their red rags spread on the bushes than might the
eyes of a bull. A gipsy camp means to the keeper so much dirt, so much
thieving, so many lies, so much the more trouble, and so many the fewer
rabbits in his preserves. The gipsies' cauldron, steaming at dusk over
a fragrant fire of wood, brings only the bitter knowledge that some
of the birds or beasts he is paid to preserve are stewing in the pot.
Speak to him of gipsies, and scorn flashes in his eyes, anger flushes
on his face. "They be always a-shirking about wi' a dog or two, perkin'
into everything," an old keeper once said to us. "They can't let
nothing bide."

A gipsy brought to trial for larceny made oath that his law allowed
him to take as much from others every day as sufficed for his
maintenance. That was more than three hundred years ago; and gipsies
still faithfully believe in and take advantage of that law. In our
experience, we have known one gipsy who was honest; he was famous for
his honesty. His blameless character was so much appreciated that he
was allowed to pitch his tent in an old ox-drove, where it ran past
a sheltering wood. Within the wood the keeper had buried four-dozen
traps; and it chanced that the leaves drifted over his traps, so that
when he came to find them he hunted the ground in vain. One day the
gipsy's boy came to the keeper's cottage. He said that while picking
wood for his father's fire he had trodden on something hard, which
turned out to be a heap of traps, and that his father, thinking they
must belong to the keeper, had sent him to tell the story. Where is
another gipsy in England who would throw away such a chance?

                   *       *       *       *       *


Gipsy Lies

Gipsies are certainly good sportsmen, after their own fashion. But one
seldom hears of a gipsy shooting with a gun; the gun speaks too loudly.
The gipsy makes sport with dogs, ferrets, and nets. He takes no open
risks; he holds it to be a disgraceful thing to be caught red-handed.
And if caught he never makes confession. No matter how red his hands,
there is always an excuse. His horse is found feeding, perhaps, on the
farmer's crops. Then the horse must have broken loose unbeknown. Or his
dog crosses the road, leveret in mouth. Then, "He picked un up dead,
killed by a stoat what I seed a-sniffin' about." His dog has snapped
up a sitting partridge. "It must be one as they beggarin' foxes 'ave
killed." Or the gipsy himself, hunting a rabbit in a hedge, is taken
in the act of knocking over the rabbit with his stick. All was done in
mistake for a rat. The keeper remarks that he has lost a fine clutch
of eggs--olive-brown eggs: he hints that the gipsy knows something
about it. Innocently comes the question: "They sart o' eggs be pison,
bain't they?" If caught with nets and ferrets on a rabbit burrow, a
fine tale he has to tell of poachers who ran away at his approach,
leaving all their tackle.

A keeper, who had strict orders to allow no gipsies to stop on his
ground, one day came across a strong swarm, and saw clearly that they
intended to stay the night. But in reply to his marching orders, they
pleaded that they wished to stay only long enough to make some tea;
they promised they would be gone by the time the keeper returned, in a
couple of hours. So he went away, but went no farther than behind the
nearest hedge: whence he heard himself described in a picturesque and
blood-curdling fashion, and heard the declaration also that the gipsies
had no intention of budging an inch for such a blue-livered, red-nosed
piece of pulp as he. Thereupon the keeper took a run and a jump, and
landed his eighteen stone self and his leaded stick in the gipsies'
midst, sending their pots and pans far-flying. The gipsies snatched
burning sticks from the fire, and a desperate fight began, but they
soon had enough of that eighteen stone of angry keeper.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Long-netters

In autumn, rabbits receive special attention from the long-net
poachers. On a night not too dark or windy, yet windy and dark enough,
the long-netters find all omens propitious. To begin with, the rabbits
are now in prime condition. Then there is no fear of a hard frost to
make the fixing of net-pegs a difficulty, or to allow the sound of
footfalls to be carried far through the silence of night. And rabbits
are plentiful; as yet their ranks have been thinned by no serious
covert shooting. To crown all, the market is ready and expectant,
for the chance of a sale of stolen rabbits has not been spoilt by
the large surplus bags of genuine sportsmen. A warm night best suits
the poachers' object, with the wind blowing towards the side of the
selected wood--enough wind to prevent a panic among the rabbits through
sound or scent of danger while the gear is fixed, yet not enough to
deter them from turning out in goodly numbers, and journeying some
distance from the wood to feed. The nets are set up all along the side
of the wood, then poachers with dogs or drag-lines make a circuit and
drive the feeding rabbits home, and to their doom.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Training Rabbits

Keepers have found it more or less possible to train rabbits to a
mode of life which shall baffle the long-net poachers. By giving them
regular courses of driving-in at night they will take to feeding
chiefly by day, and will grow very suspicious of the sound of a
footfall after dark. Where there are not enough rabbits to justify
special precautions and continual watching, long-netting may be made
difficult by turning cattle at night into the grass fields bordering
the woods. Not only will the cattle be sure to take an inquisitive
interest in the long-netting, but they will have something to say to
the dogs used for driving in, and will quite upset their work. In one
place some poachers were baffled after a curious fashion. A local gang
had set up some seven hundred yards of new netting, worth about ten
guineas, and had gone off to round up the rabbits, when another gang
from a distant part of the county arrived on the scene. The curses they
heaped on their luck soon gave way to blessings--at any rate, they
were quick to see the chance of poaching something more valuable than
rabbits. They rolled up the new nets and fled. Then the men of the
first gang returned in the wake of the rabbits, which had found nothing
to impede their rush to cover. Curses were deeper and stronger than
those breathed before. The men decided in the end to put their case and
themselves unreservedly into the hands of the police, who telephoned
to the nearest railway station, and captured the poachers with their
poaching brethren's gear and their own rolled up in blankets.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Why Birds Flock

Why birds and beasts flock, no doubt, is for mutual protection from
natural foes. One has heard of swallows nesting on a cliff beneath an
eagle's eyrie, yet having nothing to fear from the eagle's attack
because of their combination; and every one knows how a party of small
birds will defy a hawk, or will mob and rout a cuckoo or a day-flying
owl. Possibly the reason for the great congregation of sparrows in
one chosen tree in a London square is mutual protection from cats.
Food is a most important factor in flocking; the keeper knows that the
scarcer the food of partridges the greater is their tendency to pack.
Birds may pack at night for mutual warmth--as when titmice snuggle on
branches, and wrens, to the number of ten or twenty, crowd a hole in
the thatch. Partridges gain something in warmth in snowy weather by
their habit of jugging at night--a good covey on a yard of ground.
But examination of the spot where they have passed the night shows
that the main pack has been divided into comparatively small parties,
in the same way as there were small parties among the great herds of
buffalo that travelled as one column across the plains of America.
Sheltered hollows are naturally chosen for jugging, where the keen edge
of the wind passes over the birds' heads. There is not always safety
or benefit in numbers; a flock may attract foes where individuals
would pass unnoticed, or may make short work of food which would keep
an individual for many days. With insects, great congregations may be
harmful, if an advantage to their bird enemies. Presumably, flocking is
a matter of general convenience.

During the first fortnight of October little parties of fieldfares
from Scandinavia drift over the fields, chuckling in their throaty
way, redwings are seen, our wood-pigeons are reinforced by countless
thousands from overseas, snipe come in, woodcock will soon be
here, parties of goldcrests, newly arrived, cry their sharp notes
among the larches, and the winter flocks of tits, with goldcrests,
tree-creepers, and nuthatches busily move in the woods. Everywhere
birds are in flocks. Chaffinches, greenfinches, and sparrows move in
vast congregations, plovers circle in clouds above the fallows, flocks
of rooks unite in the evening and thousands upon thousands of starlings
rise, fall, and circle in perfect unison, filling the air with the
rushing noise of wings.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Companies of Rats

Many animals snuggle together for warmth in bitter weather--as the
squirrels and the rats. Those who go ratting in hedges and dells in the
winter know they may try a dozen freshly used burrows without finding
a rat--when suddenly from a single hole the rats will come pouring out
in a stream of fur. Twenty or more rats will lie together in one hole.
They are clever enough to block up a hole on the windward side to keep
out the draught--so that a rat-hole newly stopped with soil, turnip
leaves, or grass, is almost certain indication that rats are within.
They store food for winter, and the keeper may find it more difficult
to secure his potatoes from frost than from the attack of the most
numerous of his furred foes.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Fall

With the fall of the leaf we find the things we sought diligently in
the summer in vain. Within a foot of the path we trod almost daily, we
see, for the first time, where a pheasant brought off her brood; in
the fork of a slender birch-pole is that jay's nest for which we long
hunted--appearing now as a thick, deep wood-pigeon's nest; and where
the bracken has died down are the whitening bones of a rabbit which,
though his death-place was marked by the keeper's eyes, was not to be
found. A single leaf of June may hide a bird's secret from prying eyes.
By noting the things seen in the fall of the leaf we learn best how to
find summer's treasuries.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Late and Early Autumns

A man of grumbles, equal to the farmers, yet the gamekeeper is
prepared to admit that a late autumn brings him one blessing. The
leaves so screen his roosting pheasants that there is little fear
of night-shooting in his coverts. Accordingly, he sleeps peacefully
during many hours which he would have to devote to watching in a wet
early season. Deep in his heart, all the same, he has a certain liking
for the hours passed in watching over his birds at night. They bring
him rheumatism; but also an excitement that adds much to the savour
of existence. Not to know from moment to moment when his head may be
smashed in is a stimulating change from dealing with small game whose
worst powers of resistance are limited to a dig from the spurs of a
winged cock, or a scratch from the claws of a netted rabbit.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hares in the Garden

As winter sets in, hares and rabbits are tempted to pay casual
nocturnal visits to the garden. To fence the garden securely may be
inconvenient--and unless the work is done thoroughly, not forgetting
the bottoms of gates, it is almost useless. And possibly only a few
plants are in danger, such as carnations or parsley, the special garden
favourites of hares and rabbits. So the simplest plan may be to wire in
the few plants or flower-beds that are threatened. Or a string may be
fixed at about eight inches off the ground, after being saturated with
one of the fluids used for tainting rabbits from their burrows. This is
useful when isolated carnations are dotted about in herbaceous borders,
or when there are several rows of Brussels sprouts in different parts
of the garden; hares are very fond of Brussels sprouts.

A mysterious affair occurred in a garden, which a gamekeeper was called
in to investigate. It appeared that the inhabitants of the house had
been awakened in the night by a din as if the roof of a tin church had
fallen off, a din proved to be associated with a piece of corrugated
iron in the garden, used as a stand for pots and pans. The mystery to
be explained was what had upset the stand and the pots. A tuft of the
fur of a hare on the tin gave the clue, with a nibbled patch of parsley
a few yards away. It was determined that a cat had come suddenly round
a corner on a hare enjoying an unlawful feast, and that the hare in
her fear had dashed headlong into the corrugated iron, thus raising
pandemonium; one effect was the hare came no more to that garden.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Food for Pheasants

The cost of feeding pheasants is a question of some interest at this
season--to those who must foot the bill. The keeper is commonly blamed
for running up too big a bill; a happy medium between his maximum
and his employer's minimum is probably the correct amount of money
required for food. The object of supplying corn to pheasants is not
always understood. It is less to feed the pheasants--for they can
usually exist on natural food, if not very thick on the ground--than
to keep them from straying, by giving them a pleasing and profitable
employment. That keeper makes a mistake and is extravagant who strews
maize on a clean-swept ride. His pheasants in a few minutes will
swallow a cropful and will be free during the rest of the day to seek
and find mischief. They explore foreign woods, and if they like them,
stay away from home. But they may be kept where they should be if
pleasantly engaged in feeding. Straw-corn--such as rough rakings and
damaged sheaves from the tops of ricks which are being threshed--not
only serves to feed pheasants, but forces them to spend the greater
part of their time, which otherwise would be spare time, in searching
for each mouthful. One plan is to tie bundles of straw-corn round the
trunks of trees so that the pheasants must jump to peck the ears. The
empty straw is piled up again and again for the birds to scratch down;
it is only necessary to throw in a little loose grain. Such a miniature
stack will amuse the birds for hours at a time, and helps to keep them
at home.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Lingering Leaves

Leaves may still cling to the newest growths of underwood long after
the older underwood is gaunt and bare. The sap, perhaps, is fresher
and more vigorous in the younger wood--prolonging the period of
ripening--and the new buds have not pushed out far enough to dislodge
the leaves. In coppices that have been thinned one sees how unusually
big, and how strong and enduring, are the leaves on the shoots of
tree-stumps--as though the whole energy of what was once a tree is
concentrated in the few shoots and leaves. Where hedges are clipped,
dead leaves remain in place far into the winter, possibly because,
owing to injury, the growth is retarded of those layers of cork which
form to assist the buds in dislodging the worn-out leaves. On the
sides of rides trimmed annually the leaves form quite a screen in late
autumn--to which one sportsman put down his many misses at rabbits,
and ordered his keepers to walk along every ride and pick off all the
leaves that remained. The shoots of underwood that has been cut always
grow more luxuriantly in a hot, dry summer than in a rainy one; every
copse-worker will tell you this is the case, though we have not come
across one who could solve the riddle.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Planning Big Shoots

In early November many keepers are putting the perfecting-touches to
plans that have been maturing all through the year. From the second
day of February the keeper whose work is not merely work, but the
most absorbing interest the world has to offer, has been weighing
continuously a thousand details--studying each in its relation to
others--scheming to arrange all so that in combination they shall bring
the best possible results when the big days of the shooting season come
to pass. Few shooting men realise the immense importance of apparently
trivial details. Let a single one--such as the exact placing of a
"stop"--be forgotten or disregarded, and the whole of a day's sport by
modern methods may be ruined. Many good beats, many good days, have
been brought to naught by a sportsman coolly and without permission
despatching an important "stop" on an errand. And afterwards he will
protest in all good faith that he commandeered the "stop" only because
he seemed to be standing idly at a corner, as if waiting for something
to do.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Plots and Counter-Plots

On the shoulders of the head keeper falls the responsibility of all
the mistakes that mar a day's sport. His position is unfortunate, for
though he may perfect every arrangement, the success of the day must
depend on good shooting and the perfect carrying out of orders. His
plans must be set in motion amid every kind of distraction--a general
in command on a battlefield is not more harassed by questions, plots,
and counter-plots than the commander of a shoot. Guns are no sooner
told where to go than they inquire the way--one is asking querulously
where he will find his cartridges, another is sure his position is
hopeless, while the beaters require constant attention, for if they
are left alone to move on to the next beat they will lose themselves
as a matter of course. In partridge-driving the keeper's nerves are
stretched to breaking-point. Half a drive is finished, and not a bird
has shown itself; the suspense grows almost unendurable before the
swirling clouds of birds at last suddenly rise, and go on beautifully
in twos and tens and twenties--in a stream that no man can count.
The great art is to give even shooting through the day, and to
distribute sport evenly among the guns, without favouritism--unless,
indeed, orders are that the cream of the sport must pass the way of
an important personage. If a keeper, for reasons of his own, should
wish the bulk of the game to go to one quarter, he can manage this
by retarding one end of the line of beaters, or by ordering certain
beaters to tap with their staves more vigorously than the others--and
by this stratagem his partiality is hidden completely from the
sportsmen.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Indian Summer

A late spell of midsummer heat makes it seem as though summer indeed
has lingered in the woods. With the oak-trees still heavily canopied
with green leaves, the season of pheasant-shooting seems an anomaly.
A varied bunch of wild flowers may be picked, many belonging to June
rather than to the months of nuts and berries. Primroses bloom freely.
Flowers are to be found everywhere, and cottage gardens are ablaze
with Michaelmas and tall yellow daisies and dahlias; the coming of
the first keen frost will mean a floral massacre. On hedges laden
with blackberries and the red bryony berries there are sprays of
honeysuckle, and there are many bright blooms of scabious, knapweed,
corn-poppy, daisy, harebell, violet, and scarlet pimpernel. Even some
of the old cock pheasants seem to imagine that April has come, judging
by their spring-like crowing, and some of the hens nest who should
have done with nests by the end of July. One very late nest we saw with
eleven eggs, on which the hen was only beginning to sit, as shown by a
broken egg. She had been cut out by the mowing of seed-clover heads,
but returned to her mistaken duties, and was sitting on the evening of
September 30.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Winter Sleep

On a perfect summer-like day of autumn, it is strange to think that
hedgehogs are going to their winter quarters, and that sleep is
overtaking so many creatures--bats that hang amid the dark rafters of
the barn roofs; toads in the mud of the ponds; field-mice, water-voles,
lizards, badgers, squirrels, hedgehogs curled in the ditches, snugly
rolled up in a great ball of dry grass and leaves; and the dormouse,
"seven sleeper," as it is called locally, or "dorymouse," "sleeper," or
"sleeping-mouse." Much country weather-lore, in all parts of the world,
is based on the storing of nuts by squirrels, the building of winter
houses by musk-rats, the early or late cutting of winter supplies of
wood by beavers, the working of moles, who are supposed before winter
comes to prepare basins for the storage of worms, and the laying up
of food on the part of bears. "The hedgehog," said the writer of
"Husbandman's Practice," "commonly hath two holes or vents in his den
or cave, the one toward the south and the other toward the north, and
look which of them he stops; thence will come great storms and winds
follow." The badger in his winter retreat certainly will block up holes
from which draughts blow.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Dish of Hedgehog

Though hibernating hedgehogs will remain above ground all the winter,
in the hollows where leaves to cover them have accumulated, most retire
to the rabbit-burrows. They are seldom found when ferreting operations
are going forward, because the ferrets do not care to have dealings
with them--though when hedgehogs are skinned or opened, ferrets
relish their flesh as food. Keepers do not care to carry hedgehogs
home, on account of the many unpleasant things that they distribute
between himself and his ferrets. It is true that gipsies and others
eat hedgehogs, and this is the time when they are in season for those
who appreciate them, being at their fattest, as are all creatures
about to retire for the winter. Gipsies caught trespassing at this
time of year are always ready with the excuse that they are searching
merely for hedgehogs--even if dogs and nets and ferrets happen to be
in their possession. That they prefer hedgehog to rabbit is a tale
for a grandmother. Yet they know well how to make a tasty dish of
hedgehog. They burn off the bristles, split the prickly beast down
his back, and broil him on a forked stick over a fire of wood. That
is the quickest and cleanest way of cooking out of doors; and, for
those who appreciate things grilled, the best. But for those whose
taste is toward cooking with all the natural juices conserved, the
elephant's-foot process is recommended. Take not merely your hedgehog's
feet, but his whole body, "prickliwigs" and all, and encase in a jacket
of clay, and bury in hot ashes. Before serving, peel off the clay and
the prickles at the same time. Of hedgehog also may be made a stew of
savoury brown. So that the stew's beginning may be in keeping with the
traditions of the immortal cooks, take an onion stuck with cloves,
then, having browned your neatly jointed hedgehog in a frying-pan,
by means of a few ounces of butter (together with the clove-stuck
onion), immerse it in good stock, to which add a few chopped truffles,
and any other such appetising things you can lay hands on--a glass
or so of champagne or other good white wine will not be amiss, while
a squeeze of lemon-juice is held to effect a decided improvement. By
simmering, reduce the liquid contents of the cooking-pan by one-half:
and serve hot, garnished with little sippets of toast. Should you tire
of hedgehog cooked in these ways, any of the numerous rabbit recipes
may be applied. It is to be presumed that most people would soon have
enough of the hedgehog dishes.




WINTER


Rustic Wit

Countrymen often display a dry humour all their own. At a shooting
party we fell in with a beater, into whose charge one of the guns had
given a well-filled cartridge-bag. Every now and again we noticed that
the beater thrust his hand into the bag, and regarded the cartridges
which he pulled out with a puzzled look. We inquired the reason, and it
transpired that some of the cartridges were loaded with No. 5 shot, and
some with No. 5-1/2, and that the beater had been asked to sort them by
their owner, a gun of indifferent merits. He said, in continuation of
his story: "He did tell I he can't get on nohow wi' sich mixed tackle.
_I_ reckon if there weren't no shots in 'em at all 'twouldn't make
ne'er a marsel o' difference."

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Oak City

Every oak-tree teems with life. Of insects alone five hundred species
look mainly to the oak for support. When the tree grows to the age
of fruitfulness--when sixty or seventy years have passed over its
head--then its population is increased tenfold. Here is a reason for
the incredible supplies of fruit--the great majority of the acorns
go to support the pensioners, and thousands must be sown if one is to
have a chance to develop into a seedling. Squirrels come to feast and
hide the acorns as they hide nuts; the dormice come; human children
come with sacks for the sake of the pigs at home; pheasants feast on
the ground; rooks, more wary, amid the branches; hungry jays warn
hungry wood-pigeons when the keeper approaches. To the animals, birds,
and insects are added the parasite plants, fungi flourishing where a
broken branch rots, lichens covering the bark, on the topmost bough the
mistletoe.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Acorns

Were it not for the oaks there would be scanty winter faring and
feasting for many wild creatures. When acorns and hazel-nuts are
scarce, and full beech-masts are not plentiful, birds and beasts have
an unusually hard struggle to tide over the winter, even should it be
mild, as a paucity of nuts is supposed to foretell. Different creatures
like their nut food in different conditions and at different times. The
rooks in their greed pull the acorns from their cups where they grow,
others do not relish them in their fresh green state, and wait until
they are ripe and mellow. Pheasants, who are very partial to acorns in
autumn and winter, when more delicate faring is not available, prefer
to eat them just as they begin to sprout. Like corn and other seeds,
acorns when sprouting possess a peculiarly attractive sweetness. Some
of the trees seem to produce fruit of extra sweetness or extra fine
flavour--at least, the gamekeeper finds that his pheasants seem to
prefer to feed beneath certain trees. Perhaps it is that those trees
which are most sun-drenched produce the sweetest acorns, just as the
most exposed hazel-nuts on the topmost twigs are so much better than
the pale ones of the lowest branches.

The keeper welcomes a generous supply of acorns--provided that the
trees which yield them grow in his woods, and not exclusively near
the boundary of his beat. Wood-pigeons, as soon as they have cleared
the beech-mast, their specially favoured food, will stuff their crops
with acorns to the bursting-point--and so grow fat. Acorns also form
an important item in the winter fare of rabbits and deer. It is true
that they draw rats to the coverts, and even when the last acorn has
gone it is not easy to clear the rats away completely. Whether or not
there are plentiful acorns, the keeper is much indebted to the oak for
food for pheasants, because they are so fond of the spangle-galls, to
be found in plenty on the backs of the leaves, that they prefer them
even to the maize which is freely scattered. All the galls of the oak,
whether oak-apples, or bullet, artichoke, spangle, or root galls, are
the outcome of eggs laid by the various gall-wasps, and the pheasants
know that within the spangle-galls are the grubs, feeding on the
galls' flesh. Left to themselves, the grubs will in due time reach the
chrysalis stage of existence, to be hatched in June as winged insects,
and to lay in turn the eggs which cause the pretty vermilion-spotted
galls. So the wheel of life turns again and would turn for ever if
unspoked by the pheasant's beak.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Plump Rabbits

In mid-November rabbits are at their fattest. Grass has been green,
sweet, lush, and growing; under the autumn sun, winter oats and wheat
have sprung inches high, and rabbits have been enjoying rare feasts.
The stoats, in turn, have found benefit in the autumn. It is on
full-grown rabbits that they now depend chiefly for food. No longer
can they feed on young birds; nor are small rabbits often to be met.
Rats show fight when attacked, and stoats prefer to tackle game without
power of resistance. Full-grown hares have too much staying power to
be hunted down, and they are too fond of making for the open fields to
be worth hunting. There are mice and field-voles, but the fat rabbits
of the woods are the most obvious of possible meals. No hunt is more
determined, ferocious, or relentless than when a stoat hounds a big
rabbit to its death.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Stoat's Hunting

By scent alone the stoat runs down the rabbit chosen for its dinner.
No matter how devious the rabbit's course, or how many other rabbits
cross the trail, the one line of scent is followed to the end, and
sooner or later the death-scream of the rabbit is inevitable. We have
often seen the last act of the tragedy. One hunted rabbit made for the
shelter of young underwood, cleverly twisting amid the jungle of fern,
grass, and bramble, so that the leaping stoat could have been guided
only by scent; the rabbit seemed to understand that the hollowness of
the bottom of old wood offered few chances of dodging. At last the
rabbit grew exhausted; and, at a loss to know where to run to shake
off its pursuer, but a few yards behind, took to turning and twisting
with redoubled energy, now rounding a leafy stump, then dashing into a
clump of brambles, doubling, again rounding the stump, again flashing
through the brambles--then sitting up for a second, listening to hear
if the stoat were still following. The stoat, thus baulked again and
again, grew ever more furious. Coming up on the hot scent to the leafy
stump, round which the rabbit had slipped in the nick of time, it
would dash in so furiously as to make the brown leaves rattle off,
as a terrier leaps at a rabbit's seat from which the owner has just
fled. The burning scent throws the pursuer into a frenzy. But the
stoat, with a chatter of rage, lost little time in following on into
the bramble clump; and the sight of man near by was not enough to turn
it from its object. At last, in the brambles, it came upon the rabbit
dead-beat--charged in a blind fury, sank its teeth into the head,
worrying home the grip. Then, having disabled the rabbit, it retired
a yard or two and charged again, retiring and charging at intervals,
as if to gain fresh power for driving in the needle-sharp teeth.... At
such a moment the keeper feels more than ever justified in shooting a
stoat.

Waiting for the end of such a rabbit hunt, for a moment we lost sight
of the chase; then felt certain we could hear the hoarse breathing
of the captured rabbit in a thick spot, on the opposite side of the
20-foot ride near where we were standing. Yet we felt certain that
neither stoat nor rabbit had crossed from our side. We waited, and sure
enough the stoat caught the rabbit almost at our feet, where we had
thought them to be. The mystery of the heavy breathing remained--the
sound was exactly that of a rabbit being mauled by a ferret within
a burrow. We crossed the ride, made search, and discovered a large
hedgehog curled up in its nest. While the bloodthirsty business had
been going forward six or seven yards away, the hedgehog had lain
snugly wrapped in winter sleep--actually snoring!

                   *       *       *       *       *


Mysteries of Scent

A stoat, if accidentally deprived of its power of scent, would soon
come to starvation. All animals depend on scent not only for their food
but for their protection, their power of recognition, and for nearly
all the interests of their lives. The scent given off varies with
occasion. In a state of rest it is modified. Thus a game-bird who has
been on its nest for some time is in less danger of discovery than one
that has just come to the nest, leaving a fresh trail. So the scent
given off by foxes varies with their own condition--as, of course, with
the weather. The greatest scent is left behind by the fox when he is
warm with running; the least is given off at the beginning of a run, or
at the end, when he is exhausted. The hunted fox well knows that his
life may depend on the strength or weakness of his scent--this is made
clear when he runs purposely through a herd of cattle or a flock of
sheep.

Deluges of rain, burning sun, or extreme cold obliterate fox-scent,
but slight heat combined with moisture, as when the sun shines after a
warm shower, is in favour of a strong and enduring trail. But there is
little certainty in the matter; as Mr. Jorrocks truly said, "Nothing
so queer as scent 'cept a woman." On a promising day hounds may be at
fault when within a score of yards of a fox; but on a day so apparently
hopeless that few sportsmen trouble to attend a meet, as when a thin
crust of hard-frozen snow covers the ground, the scent may be red-hot.
One day may yield a perfect scent; on the next, apparently with the
same weather conditions, the scent is elusive, and the hounds no sooner
give tongue than they fall silent. Much depends on the nature of the
country, or of the substance on which the volatile scent particles
fall. Crossing the meadows, the hounds speak the line with certain
voice; but when they come to dry, crumbling fallow-fields, the chorus
dies away into a few doubtful whimpers. The time of the day has
its effect on scent; in midsummer the woods may have no perfume in
particular at midday, but are filled with sweet smells in the evening.
Every one knows how a warm autumnal shower brings out the savour of
dead leaves and the smell of earth.

To the fox, as to the stoat, the sense of smelling is the most
important of all. With his nose the fox discovers nearly all his food.
If the sitting game-bird has flown to her nest, and herself gives off
the least perceptible scent, the fox easily finds her by that strong
scent given off by chipping eggs. By scent he picks up the young
leverets, after quartering the ground to gather the greatest advantage
of the wind. He scents young rabbits in the stop when a foot beneath
the surface of the earth, and when he starts digging them out he goes
directly to their nest. So a good ratting terrier will point through a
couple of feet of soil to the exact spot where a rat is lying. We have
sometimes thought that an invention to magnify scents would prove of
great benefit to the gamekeeper. But there might be fatal effects if a
keeper, scent-improver on nose, came suddenly on that mushroom of the
fetid odour commonly known as the Stinkhorn.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Axe in the Coverts

One of the many thorns that pierce the keeper's side is driven home
at the time of the cutting of the underwood. Once in every span of
ten or twelve years this time must come. Now and again the felling of
part of a covert before shooting improves matters from a sportsman's
view--the beats are simplified, or are more easily commanded with the
regulation number of from five to nine guns. But the keeper knows to
his cost that more often than not cutting the underwood is ruination
to sport. Birds and rabbits are alarmed by the sound of the woodman's
chopping, and half the hares fly before the smoke of the greenwood
fires. Many complications arise through wood-cutting, as when the
shooting is in other than the landlord's hands. When he wishes to cut
certain portions of his woods, and the cutting may interfere seriously
with sport or the showing of game, unpleasantness must arise among all
parties--landlord, gamekeepers, shooting men, and copse-workers. Those
responsible for the shooting should find out as early as possible which
parts are to be cut, and arrange in good time with the landlord to make
it a condition of sale that no cutting takes place before a convenient
date. When several acres of underwood are felled, and the wood is left
lying in long rows called drifts, a good deal of inconvenience may
arise, unless the underwood is worked up as cut down. On shooting days
half the pheasants in the place may skulk in the drifts, whence it will
be impossible to dislodge them by ordinary beating methods of the most
energetic type. Besides, drifts provide a safe refuge for rabbits. They
increase incredibly, and in the following year they will be by far too
plentiful for the welfare of the young shoots that spring from the
shorn stumps.


The Uses of Underwood

Thirty years ago the price of underwood as it stood growing, at twelve
years old, was about twenty pounds an acre; but to-day five pounds an
acre is considered a good price for first-class underwood, so hard has
the industry been hit by substitutes for ash and hazel. Though we have
known underwood to fetch only half a crown an acre, we have seldom seen
it described by auctioneers as other than "prime and ripe." The most
useful kind is hazel. All sorts of sticks and stakes for the garden
are cut of hazel. Wattle-fences are made of it, neatly woven, and the
"hethers" which bind the tops of live fences. Closely woven hazel
hurdles form a splendid protection for sheep from wind and rain; they
cost, to buy, about eight shillings a dozen, and the hurdler is paid
about half that sum. Hazel is now largely used in making the crates in
which the product of the Potteries is packed. The cleanest growths were
formerly made into the hoops of barrels, and one might see thousands
of bundles stacked in a clearing. But iron is killing the hoop-makers'
industry. One use of hazel has been unaffected by time--the use to
which the country blacksmith puts it, when he winds handles of the
shoots for his chisels and wedges--being pliant, they allow his tools
to adjust themselves to the blow of the hammer. And the hazel-wand
remains the favourite divining-rod of the water-finders.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Tipping System

Gamekeepers are much associated with tipping. If tips are to be
reckoned as part wages, the element of chance is great and unfair.
There are cases when tipping amounts to bribery, as when a rich man
buys the best place in a shoot. For the system, it may be said that a
tip is the most convenient token of appreciation of skill in producing
good sport. And we agree that if any servant of pleasure deserves a
tip it is the gamekeeper. But among the fallacies of the system is
the fact that the scale of tips is seldom in proportion to skill and
energy. Thus, a tip of a certain amount is given for a day's covert
shooting of, say, under a hundred head, half pheasants, calling for
a certain amount of energy and skill on the keeper's part. But a
tip of only half the amount will be given after a thirty-brace day
at driven partridges, which has afforded five times the amount of
shooting, and called for ten times more skill and energy from the
keeper. There is a saying among keepers that tips may be looked upon
to provide three useful things--beer, 'baccy, and boots. In old times
a five-pound note was the order of the day--this is represented now
by half a sovereign or five shillings. A few keepers are lucky enough
to serve where wealthy sportsmen shoot regularly, who willingly give
the keeper a ten-pound note. But most keepers praise heaven for £10
received in tips in a season. Where the scale of tips most fails
is when a tip covers compensation for injuries. But the beater who
received a note on account of a stray pellet in his person was more
than satisfied. "Bless you, sir," he said, "you may give me the other
barrel for another of 'em." But beaters always find contentment in a
tip, whatever its size. We recall how three beaters were more or less
bagged successively during a three days' covert shoot. One, at the
time, appeared to have had his right eye destroyed, but saw his way
to accept twenty-five shillings. Another buried a shot in his little
finger, and on receiving seven shillings was eager to undergo the same
treatment for six days a week. A third was peppered behind, and awarded
eighteen-pence, which satisfied him, being, as he lamented, "only a
boy, like." By the way, there seems no place in the sportsman's scale
of tips for awards for narrow escapes. We have known a keeper mention
the fact quite unavailingly that his cap had been shot from his head
by a careless gunner, who had brought down an easy bird with his first
barrel, then, swinging round, had blazed at a second bird just as it
topped the keeper's head. "Aw," he drawled, by way of answer, when the
keeper respectfully intimated that he had escaped death by a miracle,
"I certainly ought to have killed both of those birds."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Free Suppers for the Fox

How many foxes have owed their deaths indirectly to covert shooting?
It is a nice question for hunting men. The fox is one of the craftiest
creatures in the world. A very short experience is enough to make him
associate the particular squeal of a rabbit when caught in a snare with
a cheap supper. And he discovers quickly that luxurious banquets await
him after a day's covert shooting. The discovery has a certain result;
after covert shooting foxes gorge themselves, and become totally unfit
to stand before hounds. To keepers this is well known, of course;
and there are those who are not slow to take advantage of the fox's
gluttony. Suppose a keeper thinks that a fox or two the less would not
be amiss, and knows that on the morrow hounds are to be expected. There
is, suppose also, no covert shooting at the moment in his immediate
vicinity. Though unwilling to take more direct steps, he is fully
prepared to handicap foxes before hounds so far as he may, and in the
night before hounds come he provides free suppers for his foes. He is
hardly to be blamed, and if blamed by the hunt one keeper at least has
a ready answer. In view of a visit from so fine a pack, he says, he
wished to show that he had forgiven the doomed foxes their sins, by
spreading a final feast.

There are keepers who, not making the best of necessity, harbour in
their breasts an undying grievance against foxes and take every chance
to malign the foe. After a beat, during which the guns had stood in
a hollow where pheasants had come at a good height, a sportsman was
collecting birds that had fallen behind him, and to his surprise found
a pheasant with its head apparently torn off. He suggested to the
keeper that there must be foxes in the wood--foxes near at hand, and
very bold. The keeper had reason to know better--but on picking up
another headless pheasant, remarked sadly, "If they treats 'em like
this 'ere when they be dead, it be cruel to think how they'd serve
'em when they ketched 'em alive." The sportsman was impressed by the
keeper's melancholy tone, and began to share his fox-enmity. But
the keeper's sharp eyes had seen what fate really had befallen the
pheasants' heads--a fate strange enough, for as the birds fell their
heads were torn off by the forks of ash-stems, in which they caught.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Clues to the Thief

By many signs keepers read the story of the presence and work of foxes.
A fox makes a half-hearted attempt to bury game that he has partly
eaten, and wishes otherwise to dispose of--and the buried game is so
impregnated with his scent that no other creature will touch it. He
barks at night in mid-winter days--and spreads uneasiness among sheep,
as betrayed by the bleating of ewes. He digs in a way all his own,
throwing out the soil behind him in a slovenly heap; he noses about
mole-heaps and ant-hills, and his visit is easily detected. On soft
spots he leaves his footmarks--and he always leaves his scent behind
him. Pheasants without tails tell a story of a young fox's spring that
failed to bring him a supper. Heads of rabbits, and nothing else,
in snares, rejected maws lying near by--the disinterment of poaching
cats which the keeper has buried--these show where hungry foxes have
passed. By day their presence is revealed if a cock pheasant cries a
sudden, uneasy, short alarm-note, by the screaming of jays, and by a
particular blackbird note, which, if it does not mean stoat or cat,
certainly bespeaks a fox. A crow may be seen suddenly swooping angrily
as he passes over a field--a fox lurks there. The hidden cause for the
continuous uneasy springing of partridges is often a fox, or at least a
cub amusing himself by partridge hunting.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Muzzled by a Snare

A fox does not grow very old without learning how to take advantage of
a snarer's catch. He learns to follow up runs and visit places where
the snarer has set his snares. And he often pays the penalty, his
feet falling foul of the noose. Hunting people commonly suppose that
traps--steel gins--are the chief cause of fox-maiming, yet not once in
a blue moon is a fox trapped. But if too clever to be caught in a trap,
he is not clever enough to keep his feet out of the brass wire of the
simple snare. We came across a curious instance showing how a fox may
suffer from a snare. Hounds found a fox which ran to ground almost at
once. Men were set to work to dig him out, and they found he was merely
skin and bone, and round his muzzle they found part of a brass snare.
The wire had fixed itself in such a way that he could scarcely open his
mouth, so that he was handicapped both in catching food and eating it.
From his appearance it was thought that he had been in this miserable
plight for a month. It had been better for the fox if hounds had found
him a month earlier.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Cunning Rascals

A fox, in emergency, will sham death to perfection. A Master of Hounds
once noosed a fox in a whip as he bolted before a terrier from an
earth. The fox appeared to have been strangled--when held up by the
scruff of the neck his eyes were seen to be closed, his jaws gaped, and
the body hung limply down from the hand. He was placed tenderly on the
ground--only to dash off into covert. To be over-cunning is a common
fault. One fox entered a fowl-house, and amused himself by killing
every bird. In departing through the hole by which he had entered, he
stuck fast, and was found hanging dead the next morning. Another sought
refuge from hounds by jumping on to the low roof of a thatched cottage,
and crawling beneath the rafters until he could crawl no farther. It
was years before his skeleton was discovered. Some of the foxes found
dead on railway lines, by the way, have been put there after death by
vulpicides. In olden days the punishment for the crime of fox-killing
was a spell in the stocks. Vulpicides remain, but the stocks--some
would say alas!--have gone from use for ever.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Hunting Argument

The hunting man has a hundred reasons why hunting is a blessing to the
community. He argues that hunting circulates gold every year to the
tune of seven and a half million pounds--and that this is good for the
horse trade, the forage trade, for the blacksmith, the harness-maker,
and for an army of grooms. Then hunting tends to keep at their homes
in the country wealthy people, who might winter abroad if there were
no foxes to follow. This means that many large establishments are kept
open, servants are kept in food and wages, local tradesmen stand to
benefit. Further, it is claimed that there is little to be said against
hunting--we often hear how riders, horses, hounds, and foxes all enjoy
the sport; on this point, however, we have no direct evidence from
foxes. And it is claimed that the amount of damage done to agriculture
is infinitesimal--though farmers who have had hounds over young corn,
or seeds, or fine fields of turnips, might bring conflicting evidence
to bear on the point. Perhaps the favourite argument in favour of
hunting is that the sport is good for horse-breeding, and that the
hunting-field is the finest training school for cavalry. Gamekeepers
would be among the first to lament the abolition of fox-hunting, for
if it were not for the existence of foxes and their preservation for
the hounds, few keepers would be required to protect game. Nor would
there be those useful little sums to the keeper's credit on account of
litters, finds, and stopping.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Clever Terrier

Nobody can persuade a gamekeeper that dogs lack reasoning powers. We
were watching a terrier at work, and she gave us a pretty example of
something very like intelligence. A pheasant was winged, fell on a bare
field, and ran for a thick dell--the terrier in pursuit. She made one
or two ineffectual attempts to gather the bird, until within a score
of yards of the dell--then she raced ahead. She seemed to realise
that there was so much cover in the dell that direct attempts to take
the bird were risky--and she proceeded to work the pheasant to a safe
distance from the cover before tackling it again, this time effectively.

When this little terrier has marked a rabbit or a rat in a patch of
grass or brambles, her common sense tells her that if she dives in
after her quarry it may dash out unseen by her, by reason of the grass
or brambles. So she stands by, and stamps, and otherwise tries to make
her game bolt, in a way which will allow her to see the direction; and
she is seldom baffled. It is difficult to decide whether this terrier
is more or less reasonable than her kennel companion, a retriever, when
feeding-time comes. If at feeding-time the retriever has a biscuit
left over from the last meal, which she has lightly buried, on her
master's approach she will promptly disinter the treasure, holding it
out as much as to say: "Thank you, I need no biscuit." But experiments
with the terrier show that she will ever refuse to give the slightest
indication of a buried hoard. Whether she needs a biscuit or not, she
always takes one when offered, as though she desired nothing better in
the world.

A good story in proof of a retriever's reasoning powers is told by an
old-time sportsman. He was shooting beside a frozen stream, and winged
a mallard, which fell in mid-stream. His dog crashed on to the ice,
broke through it, and fought her way to the middle, where the ice only
skimmed the water. She swam round for a moment, then broke her way to
the opposite bank, paused to give a knowing look at the thin ice, and
went down stream at full speed for about eighty yards. Running down the
bank, she broke a hole in the ice with her fore-paws, then crouched
back, watching the hole. In a few moments she made a spring and plunged
in, reappearing in mid-stream with the mallard in her mouth. There was
no doubt, at least in her master's mind, that she had broken the hole
for the purpose of catching the bird when he came up to breathe.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Born Retrieving

A keeper owned two retriever puppies who were given a curious start in
life. Their mother was shut up at home, while her master went to shoot
some rooks. She was the proud mother of five new-born puppies, but her
litter was not complete. A few rooks had been shot, and the keeper was
waiting for others to appear, when up ran the retriever carrying a rook
in her mouth; somehow she had managed to get out, and had followed
to see the sport. She was sent back to her puppies, and directly she
reached home two new puppies were born. They were born, as one might
say, retrieving.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Some Sporting Types

The most common type of gunner is the man who kills frequently, but
is not a good shot because he does not know how to take his birds.
He would double his bag if he would put every shot a foot farther
forward--that golden foot forward--if he would not fire when in the
act of turning (which must depress the gun's muzzle), and if he would
remember that driven birds on seeing a man rise immediately and
instinctively, even at right angles to their line of flight. The keeper
detests the man who continually sends him to pick up game which has
never fallen. For these knowing gentlemen, he is a wise keeper who
carries a special bird or two in his pocket, against the time when they
say, in their haughty way, "Aw, my man, kindly pick up my bird that
fell tha-ar!"

The luckiest shot we ever met was a colonel who, one windy day,
happened to be stationed by himself on a road lined by telegraph-wires.
All the birds came his way, and with ten shots he killed one.
Startled by his volleys, a bunch of passing birds blundered into the
telegraph-wires which, more deadly than the gun, claimed nine victims.
The colonel was a study in modesty when he remarked a little later that
in ten shots he had been lucky enough to bag five brace.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Victims of Wire

Unfortunately the best stands for partridge-driving are often behind
hedges flanked by telegraph-wires. This is specially unfortunate when
the birds see the guns just before they pass beneath the wires. Up
they go, and a whole covey may be cut to pieces at the moment when
fingers were pulling triggers. Though a brace of birds fall dead at the
sportman's feet, evidently neatly taken in front, to the sportsman this
is not the same as a brace to his gun: he would prefer, indeed, a good
old-fashioned miss.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Stoat or Weasel?

Many country people who ought to know better are hazy on the
distinction between stoats and weasels. We can forgive the Cockney
uncertainty of this sort, as we forgive him for calling rooks, and even
starlings, crows. The countryman may well confuse crows and rooks; his
safest plan when in doubt about a big black bird is to name him rook,
for in most parts crows are now scarce to the point of extermination.
But those who live in the country have as little excuse for speaking of
stoats, when they should speak of weasels, as for mixing rabbits with
hares. It is easier to tell a weasel from a stoat than a rabbit from a
hare, if one is fairly close and has a clear view. A weasel is quite
a third of the size of a stoat and a third of the weight: the males
of both weasels and stoats are about twice the size of the females.
But the outstanding distinction between stoat and weasel is the long,
black-tufted tail of the stoat, and the short, unassuming tail of the
weasel--no more conspicuous than a mole's tail.

                   *       *       *       *       *


"The Horrid Badger"

We have come across many curious cases of ignorance on these points.
A countryman who had dwelt with stoats and weasels all his life, and
had killed hundreds by trap and gun, yet had no idea of the true
difference. Whichever he saw, or killed and hung up by a twisted twig,
he determined to be stoat or weasel according to its size. Then we
remember a lady who kept chickens, and suffered the loss of half a
brood. She called in a passing keeper to settle the question of the
thief. After waiting a while the keeper shot a weasel in the act of
returning for another chicken. The lady of the chickens was overjoyed
at this retribution, and presented the keeper with half a crown. Her
words in making the presentation have been treasured by the keeper:
"This," said she, "is for shooting the horrid badger."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Chalk-Pit Haunts

To the old chalk-pit, where the sun is trapped and the winds are
kept at bay, come all kinds of creatures for warmth and sanctuary.
However deserted the fields of winter seem to be--however silent and
sullen--signs of life are never wanting in the chalk-pits; they are
as inns to wayfarers who search the country for a living and lodging.
Creep silently, against the wind, to the chalk-pit's edge, and in
summer or winter, sunshine or shower, on a still day or a windy, you
will catch a glimpse of some wild creature, a visitor, or one of those
who have made their home in the pit for the sake of sustenance or
shelter.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When the Fox sleeps

The sparrow-hawk may be caught napping on some favourite perch, as on
a stunted tree, in a sheltered nook. The partridge covey may be seen
for a moment, as the birds revel in the powdery soil, roofed by an
overhanging ledge--seeing you, they go whizzing off amid a little cloud
of dust. In the dead herbage a wily old cock pheasant crouches, who
long since denied himself the luxuries and the dangers of social life
in the big woodlands: he crouches as he sees you, but not so quickly
that you may not note the sinking of his glossy neck. Two or three
rabbits scuttle off to the doors of their burrows. Through the bushes
a hare steals away. No chalk-pit is complete without a rabbit-burrow,
a blackbird, and a robin. If hounds came more often to the chalk-pits
they would save themselves many a blank hour. There is no peace for the
fox in the coverts, but the old chalk-pit is as quiet as a church.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Ferret meets Fox

An exciting moment for rabbiters comes if a fox bolts from a burrow
when only a rabbit is expected--so exciting a moment that if there is
a man with a gun the fox is lucky to escape a shot--especially should
he have in his mouth the quivering body of a favourite ferret. And the
ferret is lucky to come alive from a hole if he meets the fox in the
only passage by which he can leave the burrow. But ferrets often escape
if the burrow is not a proper fox-earth, but has been used only as a
temporary shelter. Even if caught in the fox's jaws there may be hope
for the ferret; we heard of one who was none the worse for a long ride
between a fox's teeth. Like dogs and cats, foxes can be soft-mouthed
if they will. We have known a fox to deal so tenderly with a captured
rabbit that it ran about after the long jaws had released their hold;
and for some time it amused its captor as a mouse amuses a cat. A fox,
when he wishes, can carry an egg without breaking the shell.

                   *       *       *       *       *


February Rabbits

Towards the end of January rabbits begin to fall off in condition. As
food becomes less nourishing their reserve supplies of fat gradually
dwindle. But with the end of the game season the price on their heads
begins to rise: and the keeper who has hard work to meet the expenses
of a shoot looks to the rabbit-catch of February to swell the credit
side of his accounts. Most people know that a hen pheasant is more
tender and delicate to eat than a cock, though cock and hen may be of
the same age. So with rabbits--those who sell rabbits might well charge
a penny or two more for the does than for bucks. The countryman knows
that the tenderest rabbits are those that he may skin with the least
difficulty.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Moucher's Excuse

While the gamekeeper is seldom at fault in the matter of a ready
excuse, he meets many people who are his superior in carrying
ever-ready lies on their lips. From poachers and mouchers, as the
haunters of hedge-sides are called, he might learn the lesson that
no excuse is better than a fine excuse that is shallow. One Sunday
morning a keeper, dressed in his go-to-meeting clothes--a useful
disguise--came sauntering silently down a road bounded by unkempt
hawthorn hedges. His trained ear caught the sound of a dog careering
past him on the field-side of the road: then he saw the dog's master,
who, on seeing him, set up a sudden and energetic whistling. Of this
the dog took no notice; with his nose well down, he rushed on to a
rabbit-burrow and began digging furiously. "These hedges are full of
rats," remarked the dog's master. "My dog killed five just now." Asked
what had happened to their bodies, Mr. Moucher replied calmly, "He
swallowed 'em whole." On the keeper suggesting that there was not much
chance of finding a rat in the rabbit's burrow, the moucher agreed,
called off his dog, and went his way. In the hedges there was no sign
of a rat, but a few rabbits managed to eke out an existence, though
heavily persecuted by gentlemen of the road.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Hounds come

The opening of the hunting season proper brings a new anxiety to the
keeper. While it opens in early November, no date is recognised. The
keeper would like to see one fixed, and he would make it after his
coverts had been shot at least once. Many shooting men would also like
to see the idea established that hounds should not come to their woods
until after the first shoots, especially where there are many hares.
Often a landowner will refuse a master's request for permission to
come his way until he has done with his coverts. The keeper does not
so much object to the hounds merely passing through when in full cry,
for then the hounds run in a compact body, and pay no attention to
game. They only disturb a line about ten yards wide right through the
woods. What disturbs every game-bird and hare in the place is drawing
a covert, particularly when scent is bad and foxes are in evidence,
but not to be forced away. Unhappy the keeper who must throw open his
coverts at all seasons while other neighbouring coverts are closed.
The prohibition of one wood often leads to the closing of many more;
and hunt officials are well advised to break down, by every power
of persuasion, all restrictions which favour one or two keepers at
the expense of brother keepers. At any rate, we think it would be an
excellent idea that the keeper whose coverts are always open to hounds
should have double the reward paid for a find to the keeper whose
coverts are open only after Christmas.

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Hounds are gone

Those who shoot in the wake of hounds are no sportsmen. To state a
case in illustration of this: A sportsman has the shooting of a wood
bounded on one side by another's fields. In days gone by he was glad
to keep a fox for hounds, and gladly he would throw open his wood to
the hunt, in a reasonable way. In the cause of sport, he was content
that his pheasants and hares should be driven out of his wood into his
neighbour's fields and hedgerows. But when he found that his neighbour
was the sort of man to shoot in the wake of hounds, so that the evicted
creatures were given no fair chance to return to their home-wood,
but instead were shot in the afternoon following a morning visit of
hounds--he felt compelled to close his wood to the hunt, with the
natural sequence that he was soon compelled to bar the covert to foxes
also. No shooting days in the wake of hounds should be a golden rule
for all neighbourly neighbours.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Poachers' Weapons

Of poachers there are many types; and the worst are the organised bands
that hail chiefly from colliery and manufacturing districts. These
men are murderous ruffians, and the keeper who interferes with them
carries his life in his hand. Wives look anxiously indeed for their
husbands' return when such a band is about. The gangs chiefly practise
night shooting, and pheasants are their object. But they are as ready
to fire at a keeper as at pheasants. We were shown a single-barrelled
muzzle-loading gun which a keeper had taken from such a poacher, who
had shot a roosting pheasant under his very eyes. After the shot, the
keeper went up to the man, who pointed the gun straight at his head,
threatening to fire if he advanced another yard. But the keeper knew
his man--and his gun. He knew there had been no time for the ruffian
to reload. He knocked up the barrel, and caught his man, who in due
time was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment. Had his gun been
double-barrelled, it would have been another story, and a tragic one.
A favourite weapon, and a deadly, in these poachers' hands is a heavy
stone slung in a stocking.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Moles' Skins for Furs

For moles' skins the keeper has no sentiment. He will not part with his
skins of rare birds--but will willingly barter the prospect of wearing
a moles' skin waistcoat for the price of an ounce of shag a skin. By
catching moles he pleases the farmers, who know no more than he himself
about any good work that moles do: he frees his rides from unsightly
heaps and raised tunnellings; and now and then his mole-traps catch
a weasel. Many keepers make a fair sum of money each year by selling
moles' skins; furriers will as readily give twopence for a skin as
others threepence or sixpence. The skins, cut close round the head,
are drawn from the moles' bodies as a man draws stockings from his
legs; they are pegged out, fur downwards, on a board, to be dried and
powdered with alum, then are stuffed with meadow hay, and packed by
scores or hundreds. Perhaps no fur is quite so soft and beautiful as
the mole's; and the keeper is always well pleased to note how well the
pelts of his enemies become women-folk's faces.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Covert-shooting Problems

To shoot while there are still many leaves on the underwood and trees,
and while there is a full muster of pheasants, or to wait until there
are fewer leaves and fewer pheasants--that often is the question. For
there are many coverts in which pheasants will not stay after the fall
of the leaf. Then the shooting man who does not own the coverts to
which his birds will betake themselves must make the best of things,
and be content to bring down more leaves than pheasants, and often
nothing but leaves. What with the showering of leaves and the crashing
of shot-pruned boughs and dead wood, he may imagine that a pheasant
must be an extra heavy bird--only to find that not a feather has been
touched. To shoot pheasants among a crowd of leafy oaks is no simple
matter--it is more difficult than to shoot a rocketer in the open
valley. One thing may be said for this aggravating pastime; it teaches
the slow shooter to be quick.

                   *       *       *       *       *


"Cocks only"--to compromise

There are good reasons for shooting coverts for the first time before
the end of November, apart from the fear of a leakage of pheasants.
A sack of corn a day will quickly swell a bill to uncomfortable
proportions. Unshot coverts also mean that the whole time of keepers
and watchers is taken up, with a string of awkward consequences. Thus,
little can be done to thin the rabbits, for fear of disturbing the
other game in the coverts. Each night some of the hares go out, never
to return. Hunting must be curtailed in self-defence. Then again,
neighbours may be shooting, and it is very certain that what goes
into your neighbour's bag cannot go into yours. The best compromise
between shooting in woods still leafy and waiting for the sporting
Christmas pheasant to soar far above the tops of the bare trees,
is to shoot "cocks only" at the first covert shoots. This may be a
perplexing plan to those not accustomed to it--either they include a
good many hens, or they let off a good many cocks which they mistake
for hens. It is a plan to make the nervous man shoot his worst. And the
keeper, as a rule, will not be found to favour it, unless the guns are
discriminating and good, and appreciate sport more than bag. But sooner
or later the day of "cocks only" must come--why should it not come at
the beginning and be done with?

                   *       *       *       *       *


What a Cat may kill

A strange confession was made by a cat-lover concerning the cat of her
fireside. The confession was made publicly; in fact, in the columns
of an obscure local paper. It was to the effect that the cat had
brought in to her kittens, in one week, twenty-six field-mice, nineteen
rabbits, ten moles, seven young birds, and two squirrels--all of which
passed through her mistress's hands; there may have been others not
taken account of. It never seemed to enter the head of the cat's
mistress that any hurt was being done to other people's interests by
this poaching of rabbits, nor that any neighbouring gamekeeper might
read her words. It would be unfair to argue that all cats, with or
without kittens, are as bad as this one; we have heard of cats a great
deal worse. Naturally a mother cat forages far and wide for food; but
she hunts chiefly for small things, and knows that mice and birds
are more suitable for her weaning kittens than sitting partridges
and pheasants. It is that arch old villain, Sir Thomas, who commits
the crimes for which mother cats are blamed. But the keeper has no
hesitation in bringing home to all cats a reparation, sudden and
effective, for Sir Thomas's sins.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Cockney Story

A gamekeeper friend told us, with infinite delight, this quaint little
story. If we are to believe him, he was sitting one fine September day
behind the hedge of a cornfield, thinking about the coveys hidden in
the corn, when he became aware that a lover and his lass were sitting
on the road side of the hedge, directly behind him. They were Cockneys,
and this was the first of their days of country holiday-making.
Presently the lover speaks. "Emma," says he, "just look at this pretty
fly wot's settled on me 'and." "Lor'!" says Emma, "ain't he a daisy?"
A pause follows; the lovers are silently contemplating the beauties
of the fly. Emma suggests he is out for an airing in his racing
colours--yellow and black. Then the lover calls out in a voice of
mingled amusement and pain. "Crikey!" he cries, "ain't 'is feet 'ot?"

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hares in Small Holdings

The hare that haunts a small holding has a slender chance of dying a
natural death in ripe old age. But we have a little story of how a
small-holder was converted from hare-shooting. He was a man who rented
a meadow on the outskirts of a large village; and it chanced that
hares were much attracted to this pleasant spot. The gamekeeper of
the shooting tenant was deeply troubled by the drain on his stock of
hares caused by the small-holder; but there was little he could do to
stop the slaughter that went on at all times and seasons, and by all
manner of means. He had the good sense to keep on friendly terms with
the troublesome sportsman, and at last he thought that some improvement
might be brought about by arranging a laugh at his expense. He stuffed
a hare, and one night set up the skin in the meadow, at a fair range
from a gap in the hedge. Early next morning the news reached the
small-holder that there was a hare in his field. Off he started with
gun and dog; saw from the gap that the hare was sitting up, "jest about
a pretty little shot," took steady aim, and fired both barrels to make
sure of a kill. How his dog retrieved a hare-skin stuffed with hay
was a story that soon became public property in the village and the
neighbourhood, and from that day forward there has been no safer place
for a hare than this man's meadow.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Sins of the Father

The gamekeeper often picks up hints about poachers in unexpected ways.
His wife, as a rule, takes no great interest in the affairs of game;
yet every now and again she is able to tell her husband some news that
may be at once bad and good. It happened that the wife of a highly
respected gardener fell ill, and one afternoon the keeper's wife kindly
offered to take charge of her children. The eldest child, a boy of
about six, seemed to have little to say for himself; but, as the party
was walking silently along a lane, he suddenly said in a voice that
promised well to be a bass some day: "Our muver, she do make we some
good dinners." "Indeed," said the keeper's wife, "and what does she
give you for dinner?" The boy answered eagerly and proudly: "Bunny
rabbits, m'm." "Indeed," said the keeper's wife again, "and where does
mother get the bunny rabbits?" "Please, m'm, faither buys 'em off a man
as brings 'em." "Oh! in-_deed_!" said the keeper's wife, and it was not
long before one more receiver of stolen rabbits was brought to justice.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Pheasants' Roosting-Trees

When the oaks shed their leaves night has a new danger for the roosting
pheasants. They become easy targets for the gun of the night shooter.
While the leaves remain the pheasants are well screened--and they
often owe their lives to their habit of roosting in oaks, where the
leaves give shelter long after beeches are bare. On a night of bright
moonshine beeches scarcely provide any cover for the bulky form of
a roosting pheasant. No doubt it is rather for comfort than through
cunning that pheasants choose a roosting-place in oaks. They show no
cunning in choosing their oak-tree, for they will roost night after
night on some low branch overhanging a road. They seem naturally to
prefer oaks to beeches for a lodging. Unlike most trees, oaks throw
out their branches horizontally, but beeches' branches tend to rise
vertically. Their bark is smooth and cold, but oak bark is rough,
easily gripped, and warm.

When oaks have lost all their leaves the beeches provide the better
cover; for their vertical lines form some sort of screen. Even with
a full moon it is not always easy to see sleeping pheasants which go
to roost in the lower branches. It may be more difficult to see a
roosting pheasant than to shoot it--though the hardest shot a pheasant
can give is when it flies by night. Fir-trees in a pheasant covert
have a special value to the roosting birds. While unsuitable as
sleeping-places, for the birds cannot fly up through the thick twiggy
branches, nor can they see where they are going, the firs make the
more suitable roosting-trees warm and cosy, and against their dark
background it is difficult to see the pheasants, and to shoot them. The
poacher has no liking for sporting shots.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Fox in the Storm

Wet weather is often a benefit to the fox. Like all accomplished night
thieves he is more venturesome in attacking hand-reared birds when the
wind howls and rain beats heavily down. The storm drowns what little
noise there may be from his stealthy feet; and the scent of the birds
is stronger by reason of their steaming bodies. In wet autumns foxes
take their heaviest toll of the young birds that have grown to a fair
size--the dripping trees incline the birds to sleep on the ground long
after they are able to fly, and should be flying nightly to roost.
Grave risks are run by birds that sit on their nests through wet June
nights.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Foxes at Pheasant Shoots

Foxes are sometimes found among pheasants where wire, or string
netting, has been set up at the flushing-places, to prevent the birds
running instead of flying, and to cause them to rise and fly at a
sporting height and pace. When it is too late, and the beaters have
come to the flushing-place, the indignant "cock-ups" of the pheasants
are heard, and then they rise in a great rush, too thick and fast for
the convenience of sport. We remember one case where a stampede of
pheasants so enraged a sportsman that he ordered his loader to bowl
over the old sinner of a fox. Should a fox show himself during the
beating of a wood, it would be wise to give him every chance to escape.
What usually happens is that the beaters force him forward with sticks
and curses, and the guns drive him back with cries of "Tally-ho!"

But the fox's appearance is disconcerting; and there is a touch of
irony in the thought that a crafty old fox, who in his time has slain
more than his share of pheasants, should yet be in at the death of
those that escaped him.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Pheasants that go to Ground

The careful gamekeeper will stop all the rabbit-holes round about the
place where he hopes that many pheasants will fall--perhaps for fifty
yards before and behind the stands of the sportsmen. Many a pheasant is
lost through going to ground in a rabbit-burrow, and there is seldom a
spade and a grub-axe at hand. The pheasant may be winged or otherwise
wounded, and if it cannot be dug out may die a lingering death. But
many a crafty old cock has revealed his hiding-place because, while
he has taken the precaution of drawing his body into a burrow, he has
forgotten his tail. Only one partridge, in our experience, has run to
ground after being winged.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Pheasants' Doomsday

A wise pheasant would go abroad before the middle of November. He would
leave the fallen beech-mast for the pigeons, and turn a deaf ear to
the persuasive whistling of the maize-laden keeper. Since the issue of
his death-warrant on October 1, the pheasant has fared well--he has
never known the want of a hearty breakfast. But sooner or later comes a
morning when he must breakfast on the remnants of a last good supper.
If he wonders why, he never thinks he has been denied his food because
a big breakfast is not good to fly on, because a full crop will lessen
his value in the eyes of the game-dealer, and because it is intended
that he shall fly high, and give a sporting shot. So he is kept short,
like a pig whose time has come to be made into pork. But no doubt even
his short life has been worth the living.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Hungry Retriever

We have a story of a retriever who was forced to forego breakfast
on the morning of a shoot. Retrievers, as they grow old, often grow
cunning, and we saw this one getting the better of his master in
a novel and drastic way. The old dog had grown fat, and somebody
complained that he was inclined to be lazy in his work. It was decided
that he had too much to eat, and it was to improve his activity during
a day's partridge driving that his master kept him without breakfast,
usually a heavy meal. There was a cold partridge that came within
range of the dog's nose--but his longings were not gratified. Out
in the fields the dog was sent for the first bird his master shot,
a runner. Away went the dog with unusual speed; he picked up the
bird, and then quietly sat down and made a meal of it. Having had his
breakfast, he did his work handsomely for the rest of the day.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Old Wood

The first covert shoot has a peculiar charm for the
sportsman--especially when the shoot is in familiar woods. There has
grown a feeling of friendship for the old rides and trees, and they
seem to offer a warmer welcome every year. He comes to the historic
corner where he failed miserably to do justice to a rush of pheasants.
Here is the opening through which his first woodcock tried to glide--in
vain. He remembers, perhaps, that even now he has that woodcock's two
pen-feathers in the depths of some ancient purse. Here was where he
scored a double at partridges hurtling through the tree-tops--only
to be beaten a moment later by a hare, slowly cantering. Nothing has
changed in the woods. They wear the same old look of nakedness; save
for a hurrying pigeon, there is the same desolate lifelessness. Nothing
stirs, but the leaf fluttering to earth; all is dead quiet. Then in
the distance is heard the prelude of the beaters' sticks--tap, tap,
tapping. The sportsman dreams, musing of past days and their great
deeds. Then a lithe moving form catches his eye--a hare has slipped
out of sight. A shot rings out, echoes and re-echoes; another, and
doubles, and clusters of shots. The old wood is the old wood still.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Memories of Muzzle-loaders

Perhaps not many shooting men remember much about the old days of the
muzzle-loader, or could recall all the items of the paraphernalia
necessary for a fair day's sport. In spite of their drawbacks,
wonderful feats were performed by the old guns; and certainly there was
a truer ring about the word sport in the good old times. A fancy-dress
shooting party, with the sportsmen in the old-time shooting-suits,
armed with muzzle-loaders, would be entertaining--if dangerous. How
many members of the party would arrive on the scene of action with all
the appliances necessary for the firing of a fowling-piece--powder,
shot, wads, and caps? And who would know how to load his weapon, even
with powder, shot, wads, and caps at hand? The man who did not know
how to load would be in a bad way, for, of course, no valets could be
allowed on the scene, even supposing they might know more than their
masters. Short-tempered men would be exploding perpetually in wrath at
the delays caused by the process of loading, while birds were rising
and going away--we have heard powerful language addressed even to the
modern weapon when it has been responsible for a hitch in shooting.
It is shocking even to think of what a short-tempered man might say if
he flung away an open box full of copper caps in mistake for an empty
case, or if he applied his powder-flask to his lips and swallowed a
few drachms of treble strong black powder instead of a few drops of
sloe-gin. No doubt some of the party would suffer the misfortune of
upsetting their whole supply of shot for the day's sport. Then the
short-tempered man sooner or later would break his ramrod--others would
shoot ramrods, like arrows, into the air. At the end of the day there
would be headaches and black-and-blue shoulders. And what would be the
bag?

                   *       *       *       *       *


Relics of the Great Days

The old-time gunner went out in the morning with all manner of
contrivances and implements stowed about his person. He wore a
shot-belt for distributing the weight of his lead, he carried neat
little magazines, so that he might the more easily handle his copper
percussion-caps, and he wore a wallet of leather containing such tools
as a nipple-wrench and spare parts--the nipples in the gun might break
or blow out. The careful man carried a wad-punch, and in emergency
would punch wads for his muzzle-loader out of his felt hat or his
neighbour's--what could be a more neighbourly act than to sacrifice a
pair of leather gaiters in the cause of wads? A keeper friend treasures
many relics of the great days of the old squire--among them a curious
little mirror, the glass about the size of your little-finger nail, set
at the top of a tiny brass box, small enough to slip into the barrel of
a twenty-bore. The old squire would draw this mirror from his waistcoat
pocket before the first charge was poured into the muzzle of his gun,
dropping it glass upwards down each barrel in turn, so that he could
see by the reflected light if they were well cleaned and polished.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Cleaning a Muzzle-loader

The cleaning of a muzzle-loader was an immense undertaking. First, the
barrels were removed from the stocks, then bucketfuls of hot water were
forced through them; out would pour a stream of black, liquid filth,
having no respect for clothes or person, and smelling abominably.
Heated water was used because it cleaned away all the foulness of the
black powder, and quickly dried off. After washing, the barrels were
fixed in vices carefully padded to prevent injury, and then they were
given a hearty polishing inside with a tow-topped rod. Great attention
was paid to the locks, which were not so well protected from water
as they are to-day--they were removed every now and then, and taken
apart by means of a neat little clamp for holding the mainspring. In
those days people spoke of how many pounds of shot they had fired--not
of how many cartridges. The old-time bags were not to be despised.
One keeper, who has been in his present place for forty odd years,
told us that he can always remember his last day's shooting with
muzzle-loaders, because they bagged the same number of hares as
pheasants--218--to say nothing of 324 rabbits. They must have performed
some wonderful feats of loading as well as shooting.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Knowing Beater

At covert shoots beaters often behave in unaccountable ways; but it
is not every day a beater is seen crawling about on hands and knees.
A guest at a covert shoot, surprised at such a sight, inquired about
the beater's object. "Beg pardon, sir; I thought as 'ow you was the
guv'ner," said the beater, rising. A further question as to why the
guv'ner should be met on all fours brought this answer: "Well, you see,
sir, 'tis this way like--the guv'ner, 'e don't allow no game to git up
'igh, not if 'e can anyways 'elp it. Not 'e, for 'e wops it into any
birds as rises 'ardly afore they be got on their wings like. So you
see, sir, soon as I thinks I be gittin' dangerous near 'im, I allus
reckons to be a bit careful."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Old Friends

The shepherd and the gamekeeper are men in sympathy, for one is
dependent to some extent on the other. In the eyes of the keeper, the
shepherd is one of the most important persons on a farm. And where
there is not a good understanding between the two men the keeper
will suffer loss in game, and the shepherd not only in sheep, but in
rabbits. With rabbits to spare, the keeper's first thought is of his
friend the shepherd. The shepherd is vigilant by night as well as by
day, and may watch the interests of game without detriment to his own
charge. And it is a pleasure to the keeper to run his eye over the fold
when he passes that way to see if all is well. He comes to the rescue
of many a sheep on its back that would have remained on its back until
dead without his timely aid; and he saves the shepherd many possible
disasters through the flock breaking from the fold, when the sheep
might come to destruction by over-feeding on green-stuffs. Through
the long nights of the lambing-time the keeper may give the shepherd
his company over pipes of fragrant shag, and pots of heart-cheering
ale--hands, hearts, and ale alike made warm by the little stove in the
shepherd's movable house on wheels. Look well at a shepherd's back, and
you are likely to see a keeper's old coat.

                   *       *       *       *       *


What Shepherds enjoy

Shepherds like their pot of beer--and some of them are wondrously fond
of a fight, and so may become useful allies to the keeper when poachers
are to be dealt with. We knew a shepherd who would always be especially
retained to help the keepers of an estate at times when pheasants were
liable to be shot at night. His appointment came about in this way:
the head keeper, during the absence of an assistant, had employed the
shepherd to watch, and had dosed him with half a gallon of beer to
keep the cold out before sending him off on duty. The beer and the
night air were not without effect; and when presently a human form came
stealthily along in the shadow of a moon-lit ride, the shepherd was in
grand fighting trim and spirit. He waited his chance, then sprang like
a lion on the intruder, gripped his throat, bore him to the earth, and
belaboured him in hearty fashion. He was about to tie him hand and foot
when he saw that he was tackling his own master from the mansion, who,
having been dining with a neighbour, had chosen to walk home by way of
his woods. So impressed was the master with the shepherd's valour on
behalf of his pheasants that he gave him a sovereign, and retained him
on the night staff at five shillings a night--_and_ half a gallon of
beer.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Lives of Labour

Like most country workers, shepherds and gamekeepers may go through a
long life of labour without ever taking a holiday, possibly without
thinking of one. We hear of eight-hour days for factory workers and
discussions of an ideal work-day of six or even of four hours; but
seldom a word is spoken for those country labourers, the length of
whose toil is limited only by daylight--when it is not carried on
as a matter of course into the night. Farm hands may work through
all the days of the year; for where there is stock to be fed work is
never-ceasing. Yet it is reasonable to suppose that holidays are as
needful to the countryman as to the townsman, and that if the farm
labourer or the shepherd were sent away to the sea every year for a
fortnight's rest and change, he would work with a new energy that would
more than compensate for the work lost. It would be something at least
to break the deadly monotony of the daily round, even if the labourer
had no ideas for profitably spending a holiday.

                   *       *       *       *       *


In the Folds

For the shepherd the days and nights of January are heavy with
responsibility--he counts himself lucky if he can find time for an
hour's sleep. It is wonderful how the shepherd of a large flock knows
all the ewes and the lambs over which he now watches. In his lambs
he has a personal interest, for there may be a sixpence in his purse
for each lamb that lives to be deprived of its tail. The shepherd's
knowledge of the lambs surpasses that of the ewes, whom sometimes
he deceives; for it is by scent rather than sight that the mother
recognises her offspring, while the shepherd believes only what he
sees. By fastening the skin of a dead lamb on to an orphan he will
induce a bereaved ewe to adopt the orphan, and she will accept, guard,
and love it as if it were her own.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Shepherds' Care

January is to the shepherd what June is to the gamekeeper. There is
more than common meaning to the shepherd in the greeting, "A happy and
a prosperous New Year." Be luck good or bad, the bleat of the lamb
is the sweetest sound of the year to shepherd ears: it means as much
as the pee-peep of the pheasant chick to the gamekeeper. Keepers and
shepherds are deeply attached to their respective "coops"--a word used
by the shepherd for the enclosures, one hurdle square, made for the
lambs. The experience of coop life is briefer for the lamb than for the
young pheasant. After enjoying a few hours of privacy, the ewe and her
lambs are turned into the large general nursery, to fend for themselves
among the baa-ing crowd.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Winter Partridge-driving

Weather makes more difference to partridge-driving than to most forms
of shooting. The ideal day comes when the weather is mild, and the air
still. Then only can the movements of partridges be controlled with
some certainty--not that partridges ever can be driven against their
will. In high wind their speed is tremendous, and a hundred birds
do not give the chances of ten too tired to swerve. In hard, frosty
weather, when the fields are like rough paving-stones, though the day
is still, the birds are up and off before the advancing driving-line
can shape itself to influence their flight. But in mild, still
weather, the soft soil clogs the birds' feet, they are slow to rise,
and packs and coveys become split up and their ranks disorganised--to
the advantage of the sportsmen.

A mild day may open hopefully enough, but if driving rain comes with
blustering wind the sport is spoiled.

On a frosty day, when things have been going badly, the guns may be
congratulating themselves as they reach some big turnip-fields for
which the birds have been making. A turnip-field may be expected to
steady and control the departure and the direction of birds; but in
the grip of frost turnips are only a little better than the bare,
frozen field. For the leaves, that yesterday made luxuriant cover,
to-day are flattened to the ground by the frost. Even the charlock,
which may have done so much to make up for the thinness of the turnips,
has been shrivelled to a few brown stems. Why the farmer leaves the
late-grown charlock untouched is because he knows that before it
reaches seed-time the frost will have killed every plant. On a small
shoot, frost-flattened turnips may ruin the hope of a full day's
partridge-driving. On big shoots frost counts for less, for long drives
can be taken. Short drives in winter partridge-driving are seldom
profitable--whether a shoot be small or big.

                   *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: PEEWITS IN WINTER.

LONDON, EDWARD ARNOLD.]


The Fear of Snow

By the very poor snow is regarded as among the most terrible calamities
of life. Many types of countrymen, rural publicans, postmen, outdoor
labourers, and small traders, speak of snow as the worst of all
possible weather, leaving the most serious after-effects. And snow
means calamity to many wild things. Lucky are the robins of a garden
who have a friend to stir the old hot-bed, and turn up the worms from
beneath the frozen top-soil; happy the grain-feeding birds who find
a rick that has been threshed. Thousands flock to the corn-ricks,
and there is food for all--pheasants, partridges, rooks, jackdaws,
starlings, sparrows, greenfinches, chaffinches, yellow-hammers, and
the bramble-finches, orange, white, and black in plumage. To the
holly-trees come the starving thrushes, and in hard weather even the
fieldfares will lose their extreme shyness to besiege a holly-tree
beside a door. The more delicate redwings die in thousands, though the
dying and dead are seldom seen.

To a few the snow means profit--for the hawks there is a carnival of
feasting, and the fox finds weak and hungry hares and rabbits an easy
prey, if ill-nourished on a diet of tree-bark and withered herbage. As
to the pheasants, they are well cared for--and the keeper, in snowy
weather, scatters his maize with a liberal hand.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Hard-Weather Prophets

By many signs wild creatures inform the gamekeeper of the approach
of hard weather. The wood-pigeons give him useful warning. In most
parts of the country flocks of pigeons take toll of the greens and
root-crops--a thousand pigeons may be seen rising from a single field
of roots. In mild weather they may return once or twice during a day.
When they are seen constantly streaming to the root-fields, those
disturbed returning again and again, it is a certain sign that hard
weather is near.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Weather-wise Beasts and Birds

Animals have a reputation as weather prophets--if their prophecies
strike the human observer as somewhat obvious. The cat washes her
face, and this is commonly held to be a sign of coming rain; in
summer it is thought to be a sign of a thunder-storm when cats are
remarkably lively. Dogs sometimes bury their bones when rain is in the
air--perhaps an inherited instinct to save food against days of bad
hunting. Horses by stretching their necks and sniffing the air seem
to be scenting distant rain; and donkeys have a way of braying before
the storm. Shepherds hold that if sheep turn their tails windward rain
will come; and cowherds read the same prophecy when a herd of cows
gathers at one end of a pasture, their tails to the wind. Changes in
weather mean much to wild life, and we are prepared to believe they are
forewarned. A storm may mean the loss of a meal to a fox, a ruined nest
to a bird, an end of all things to an insect. The fox has done well
that has eaten heartily before the storm. Yet it appears that a change
of weather must be near at hand before wild creatures take notice.
The pheasant crows before the thunder-storm because he hears distant
thunder. The wheatear, a bird nervous of clouds, flies to shelter as
the cloud drives up. It is the first touch of cold weather that sets
squirrels hiding nuts.

Weather has a marked effect on the moods of wild creatures. There are
days when hares or partridges seem overcome by oppression; they move
listlessly if disturbed, and lie or sit about as though all energy
had gone from them. Thunder in the air may be the cause, or perhaps
snow is coming; when the storm has blown over, liveliness is restored,
and new life inspires all things. Before a storm, partridges in the
stubble-fields set up their feathers, and in cold weather the feathers
of many birds have the appearance of being puffed out, so that they
look almost twice their usual size. Many creatures feed at an unusually
early hour if storms are coming. It is a bad sign when rabbits are out
feeding in the fields early on a bright sunshiny afternoon. The birds
of the open fields--rooks, starlings, pigeons, or fieldfares--feed
hungrily and hastily while rain-clouds overshadow the sky; but it
is a sign of good weather when rooks fly to feed far from their
roosting-trees, and fly high. Cock pheasants will go to roost early
before the storm, choosing low branches, and trees that afford good
protection. In bitter weather, even the warm feathers of birds may
become ice-bound.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Green Winters

Between a green and a white winter in England there is a world of
difference to wild creatures. There may come day upon day, week upon
week, of mist, rain, fog, and blustering winds, of hail, sleet,
and furious snow-blizzards--to birds and beasts these are days of
prosperity and fatness. Peewits, snipe, woodcock, blackbirds, and
thrushes then find food far more plentiful than in the hot dusty days
of late summer. Often, in late summer, their breasts are narrowed by
leanness to the shape of a boat's keel. But in moist, warm winter days
the flesh rises roundly as if it would burst the skin--the breast-bone,
no longer up-standing like a bare ridge, is buried almost out of sight
in a valley of fat, on the thighs are little hillocks of fat, and the
bones of the back cannot be seen or felt for their thick warm covering.
But should there come two or three days of frost, which hold through
the day and increase their grip on the land by night, then this loaded
store of fat vanishes as mist before the sun.

                   *       *       *       *       *


What Rainy Days bring

A mild open autumn and a green winter also mean much to the farmers and
to the gamekeepers; a blessing on many accounts, a curse on others. The
farmer groans because his land is so wet and heavy that he cannot sow
his winter seeds; the keeper sees the ruination of many a promising
day's sport. The keeper gains when there are no frost and snow by
having the pleasure of showing bills for corn reduced to a minimum--in
a mild winter he will not need half the amount of corn that must be
distributed to his birds in hard weather, when they are actually in
need of food. What little he gives them in open weather is to keep them
together, as natural food is abundant. But a low bill for corn hardly
compensates the keeper for rain-spoiled sport, or for day after day of
outdoor work in the wet. The work cannot be done in a way to satisfy
the keeper--or possibly others. And the rain means that he falls behind
with that everlasting tax on his time entailed by keeping rabbits
within bounds. After a mild, open winter, by the time the game-shooting
season is ended, and coverts are available for rabbit-killing, young
rabbits have already made their appearance. The keeper welcomes a short
spell of really hard weather in February, so that he may the more
easily catch up all the pheasants he needs for penning. Otherwise the
kind of winter that best suits him is a dry one--without hard frost.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Cubs at Christmas

We met a gamekeeper who had been blessed with a litter of fox cubs born
about the middle of December--just before the usual mating-time of the
foxes. When most of the season's cubs would be born these Christmas
cubs would be three months old, and well grounded in the elements of
a fox's education. And when the pheasants and partridges began to sit
they could save their mother a deal of laborious work--as our friend
the keeper found out. In cub-hunting days, there must have been some
rude shocks for the puppies of the pack, and even the old stagers of
hounds must have been taken aback when they came to close quarters with
one of these forward cubs. The keeper caught one, and by a strange
chance. He had been expecting a visit from hounds. He knew an earth
where he thought that possibly a vixen later on might have a family;
not willing to disturb the place by spade-work when stopping it, he
stuffed the entrance with sacks. Hounds came and went--and afterwards
the keeper visited the earth to recover his sacks. What was his
surprise when he found that inside one of the sacks a cub had curled
itself comfortably for sleep. Well knowing that if he were to say there
was a litter of cubs on his ground at Christmas none would believe him,
he put the cub into a capacious pocket. Then when he told the story
of his early litter, and was laughed at for his pains, he confounded
sceptics by drawing the little fox, alive and uninjured, from his
coat-tails.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Work for Rainy Days

The keeper always has a supply of odd jobs on hand to occupy his time
on a soaking wet day, or when a snow-storm rages. He has always plenty
to do--but much of his work cannot be done properly in bad weather,
and to work out of doors on a wet day may be as much a waste of time
as to work indoors on a fine day on matters of no moment. It would be
foolish to go ferreting in heavy rain--nets become soaked, rabbits will
not bolt, and digging for ferrets in soft mud is heart-breaking work;
at the end of the day, while there may be a few rabbits that look as
if they have been bathing in mud, there is all the tackle to be dried
for the next day. Then again, it would be sheer waste of time to stop
rabbit-burrows when snow has freshly fallen, for half the holes would
be hidden, and the work would have to be done over again. It pays to
wait until the next day, when rabbits have been out to feed and the
holes are seen easily.

When he decides to stay under cover the keeper hardly knows where to
begin, as he looks about his store-houses and sheds. Here are traps
that should be cleaned and overhauled, broken chains to be mended,
bent parts to be carefully straightened--a little judicious filing
and a drop of oil are needed here and there to make all parts work
together smoothly and swiftly. Snares must be overhauled and sorted,
the sound ones to be neatly shaped so that the noose stays open ready
for use, and each one must be fitted with its string, tealer, and plug.
A supply of new snares may be made. Plugs and pegs may be shaped, for
holding snares and traps, from a length of solid ash which the keeper
knows to be well seasoned, so that it will not crack when he drives it
into stony ground with his heavy, steel-shod heel. For months he has
treasured that piece of ash--and terrible was the vengeance that he
vowed on his wife when she dared to hint that it would serve nicely for
her copper fire.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Old Lumber

The wet day brings the chance for doing various little carpentering
jobs, long neglected. The keeper may have set himself the task of
making a new hand-barrow before the coming of another pheasant-rearing
time--a barrow for carrying the coops, two at a time, with the hen and
precious chicks within, where a horse and cart cannot pass through
the coverts. Perhaps he remembers a day when the crazy handle of the
old barrow snapped off and upset two coops of his best birds. Then
a wet day is a good day for sorting coops, and putting apart for
professional treatment those beyond the keeper's makeshift craft. He
can set about painting the whole ones. Now and again he must look to
his ferret-hutches, and fit new wire-netting to the fronts if any
meshes are rotten with rust--should the ferrets escape there is no
telling what may happen. And guns are never the worse for an extra
special examination, and a thorough cleaning and oiling. An all-round
tidying-up of his varied assortment of tackle certainly makes for a
temporary improvement in the look of his work-places--but, as it has
been with every clearance, the same old lumber is once more reprieved.
"You see," says the keeper, "it might come in useful some time."

                   *       *       *       *       *


When Foxes mate

Soon after Christmas the gamekeeper hears the barking of foxes at
night, and he well knows the reason. The foxes are searching for mates.
And here is one of many reasons why hounds in these days fail to find
foxes in woods never hitherto drawn blank. Hunting and shooting have
disturbed the quiet of the coverts, the underwood harvest is going
forward, the supply of fox-food is shorter than at any other time, and
is most hard to catch; so foxes generally have forsaken their haunts,
finding lodging in out-of-the-way places which offer some chance of
peace and quietness. Followers of hounds have much to learn about the
ways of the fox in January. They go from one blank covert to another,
cheerfully riding an intervening couple of miles, while all the time
the fox is lurking in a dell or a hedgerow only two hundred yards from
the first covert drawn. Yet a suggestion that the dell or the hedgerow
should be tried meets with silent scorn. This might be expected from
people who hunt to ride, or people new to the hunting-field; but
it does not become the experienced to pin all their faith to the
well-known coverts. In a southern county hounds have disturbed no fewer
than twelve foxes together--probably a collection of suitors for the
pad of one or two eligible vixens.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Keeper's Dreams

On a Sunday after Christmas we paid a visit to an old keeper, who, on
his own confession, had not dined wisely on the good fare provided by
his wife on Christmas Day. Into our sympathetic ears he poured the
strangest tale of the dreams that he had dreamed. The first began
pleasantly enough, but ended in a nightmare. He was one of a party
shooting in his best wood, and he was ever in the hottest part of the
hottest corner, but each time he threw up his gun to shoot the crowds
of pheasants, the gun fell all in pieces. Never, he said, had he known
such a nightmare; though some of the other dreams that succeeded were
bad enough.

One was to the effect that on an important occasion all the birds of
his coverts utterly refused to rise and rocket, and when he pressed
them with beaters he found that one and all had turned into foxes.
This dream merged into one in which the foxes in his preserves were so
numerous that they outnumbered and overpowered the hounds, and then
attacked the Master, who was eaten. And there was a dream in which the
old keeper found that he had changed places with his employer, whom he
roundly abused for the mistakes he made in placing stops and managing
the beaters. The climax of this was the unkindest cut of all. The
gamekeeper dreamt that his employer, far from bearing him any ill-will
for the abuse, sent to his cottage on Christmas Eve a large tin of
tobacco, beneath the lid of which was a ten-pound note. This worthy
old man has had many queer dreams in his time--if we are to believe
him. He is ready to confess, for the sake of the story following the
confession, that he has never really mastered the art of shooting
driven partridges. But one night he dreamt that he had brought off the
most masterly right and left, and from far and near congratulations on
his brace poured upon him. Then he awoke to find himself in his own
familiar chair by the fireside, in the chill dawn of a winter morning,
and the local doctor, who was also a sportsman, was telling him how
there had arrived safely in the room upstairs a brace of fine young
keepers.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Death-bed Vision

We can vouch for the truth of this fox story: An old keeper--the keeper
of a shoot where partridges were preferred to foxes--lay dying. It was
late in May, when the partridges were beginning to sit. Suddenly he
called for his two sons and told them of a dream. In a certain burrow
in a certain wood adjoining his partridge fields he had dreamt of a
litter of cubs. And he refused to be comforted until his sons had
gone forth to verify his dream. In due time they came home with enough
evidence that the dream was of true things to allow the old man to give
up the ghost with an untroubled mind.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Christmas Sport

The partridge at Christmas is at his best--as a test of reputations.
In this respect there is a world of difference between the slow,
simple yellow-legged bird of September and the partridge of December.
To bag a brace from a September covey is satisfactory to a sportsman.
To get a bird with each barrel at an October drive is no mean thing.
But to bring off a double event at Christmas partridges is to make a
reputation. And it is to experience a feeling of goodwill towards the
whole world. For Christmas and cold hands excuse a multitude of misses.

The birds whirl over the line of guns like brown clusters of bullets.
And if the sportsman is tested, the gamekeeper's reputation hangs
also in the balance; his highest art is called for if he is to drive
birds in the desired direction. Whether or not his birds have been
much harassed by previous driving makes a difference to his chances.
Success will be appreciated, for sportsmen keenly relish a selected
partridge drive as a foretaste to a pheasant shoot. When the drive is
over and the pheasants' turn has come, they feel in slightly faster but
certainly smoother water.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Cunning Cock Pheasants

No bird is more artful than an old cock pheasant, or better able to
take care of himself. At this season a solitary cock may be observed
night after night roosting in some isolated tree, out in the wind-swept
fields, and far from the sheltered coverts. Yet you may hunt this
bird all day, high and low, in vain. When, on the way home, you pass
his dark form on a lonely perch, you feel he deserves to rest in
peace. Sometimes the old cock is over-cunning, or too confident in
the safety of his retreat. He may allow one to approach within a few
feet, although he certainly heard footsteps in time to make his escape.
A certain keeper can tell many tales of the inglorious ends of his
cunning cock pheasants, but most of these episodes are better forgotten.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Dish of Greens

Winter flocks of pigeons are here to-day and gone to-morrow, travelling
far in search of food. If they find little or no beech-mast or acorns,
they are forced early in winter to a diet of salad. It must be a relief
to the wandering hosts when they come to a place where acorns are in
plenty. In hard winters, turnips supply a great part of wood-pigeons'
food; and it used to be held that from this food their flesh acquired
too pronounced a flavour, so that nice judges, who at other times
thought them a delicate dish, would reject them. One old-time
sportsman held that the green leaves of turnips gave a peculiar and
very palatable flavour to the flesh of larks and partridges. In this
connection we always think of the story told by Gilbert White of a
neighbour who shot a ring-dove as it was returning from feed and going
to roost. "When his wife had picked and drawn it, she found its craw
stuffed with the most nice and tender tops of turnips. These she washed
and boiled, and so sat down to a choice and delicate plate of greens,
culled and provided in this extraordinary manner."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Christmas Shoots

Shooting parties in the week following Christmas have a festive air.
As at the hall, so in the keeper's cottage, the air is charged with
the Christmas spirit. Ten o'clock on any morning soon after Christmas
Day may find the keeper entertaining a crowd of beaters at the expense
of his own private cellar, and the good things from the cellar are
served hot and spiced. In hats and caps are seasonable tokens--sprigs
of mistletoe and holly. The keeper himself does not wear button-holes,
but should his children make a garland of holly for the collar of his
old retriever, he will leave it for the brambles to pull away. The guns
turn up late--they have been dancing through the night; when all are
met, in the brief greetings, in the distribution of cartridge-bags, and
in the inquiries about weather and the possible bag, there is a note of
unusual cheeriness.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Woodcock Talk

At a Boxing Day shooting-lunch the talk among the guns was upon the
ways and wiles of woodcock. One spoke of his long bill, with its
sensitive nerves, which tell the bird what he has found when the
bill forages among the dead leaves; speculating as to whether he
lived by his powers of suction only. Another wondered if the eating
qualities of woodcock legs were really improved by pulling out the
sinews. The question arose: Is the man who shoots a woodcock entitled
to its pen-feathers, or is the man who first finds and secures those
delicate trophies best entitled to stick them in the band of his hat?
Woodcock provoked many controversies. Is there any secret in the proper
roasting of them? Would the law absolve a man who shot his fellow when
shooting 'cock?--and would the fact that he shot his bird as well
as his man make any difference? How many people could swear to have
seen the mother woodcock carrying her young; and exactly how does
she carry them? How many of the home-bred birds leave us in autumn?
What proportion of woodcock comes in from abroad, and what is the
difference between the foreigners and the genuine Britishers? In answer
to the last question, a suggestion was made that the foreign birds
were large and light in colour, but the British birds small and dark.
Around this point arose a discussion, and the keeper was called in to
give his opinion. "It ain't nothin' at all to do with Englishmen and
foreigners," he said. "It be whether they be cocks or hens, and 'tis
the large light uns that be the hens."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Spare the Hens

Most gamekeepers hold the killing of a hen pheasant after Christmas
to be a moral crime. And perhaps most genuine sportsmen feel a twinge
of the conscience when they pull a trigger at a hen in New Year
days--irrespective of the host's permission. Of course, when the orders
are to spare hens, the man who kills or even tries to kill one does
something that the keeper will not forget--he loses caste for ever in
the keeper's eyes; whereas the man who is not greedy to take advantage
of an impromptu permission to shoot hens ensures for himself a niche in
the keeper's good graces.

It is true, there are hens and hens. Only a churlish keeper would not
admire the man who stops one of those skyscraping hens, of the sort
bagged by ordinary gunners about once in a lifetime. But the order,
"Shoot hens if they are real tall ones," alarms a keeper--unless he has
full confidence in the guns of a party. When the word has been given,
it is wonderful how many hens are "real tall ones." There are excuses
which must be accepted: for in certain conditions of light, when the
golden moment for pressing the trigger is within grasp, it is almost
impossible to distinguish hens from cocks--length of tail is then the
most reliable evidence.

We remember a knowing old keeper who laid a plot to ensure at least a
merry start to a Christmas shoot, when "Cocks only" was the order of
the day. This worthy, when catching up birds for his pens, had gathered
together some twenty superfluous cocks. These, a dishevelled and
more or less tailless crew, he carried just before starting-time to a
dell thick with spruce, chosen doubtless for decency's sake: and on a
plausible pretext lined out his guns between the dell and a wood. But
he forgot there was no natural inducement to the birds to fly in the
face of evident danger--and all the birds broke away out of gunshot,
and so suddenly as to make their recent history all too evident.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Free-and-Easy

Boxing Day, in many parts, remains a regulation fixture for
rabbit-shooting by tenants, local tradesmen, keepers, and their
friends. Nobody could possibly appreciate the exciting nature of these
shoots unless present in person. It is safer to be present only in
spirit. Otherwise, shot-proof cover becomes the most desirable thing
in the world: and it often seems a wonder how more than one man can
survive the day to count the bag. Talking to a tenant-farmer on such
an occasion, we noticed that his hands were covered with warts, and
suggested remedies. "They b'aint woorts, bless ye--they be only shots,"
came a proud answer--the honourable wounds of many rabbit-shooting
campaigns.

At another tenant-and-tradesman shoot we found the guns unduly
plentiful--there were twenty to begin with, and the party grew as the
day wore on. But all of a sudden there was a magic disappearance of a
large proportion of sportsmen, corresponding with the appearance of an
important-looking individual, who calmly went to the man next to us,
and relieved him of his piece and cartridges, which he began to use in
a liberal fashion. Gradually, the original gunners reappeared--mostly
from fir-trees. And it transpired that they were gunners without
licences--who had taken courage when they saw the local officer of
the law stretching a point himself. One, bolder than the others, made
an appeal to the law for a ruling on the licensing question--and was
informed that notice must be given of the imminent use of the gun, in
order that the law's representative might have time to look the other
way.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Keeper's Ghost-Story

The gamekeeper, perhaps, believes less in ghosts than other countrymen.
He is not afraid to keep vigil in the loneliest wood, though well known
to be haunted by a headless spectre. He carries a gun and his dog is
at heel, so it may be that the ghosts are afraid of the keeper. We
know a house where great alarm was caused by the ghostly ringing of
bells. Watches were set, and one watcher after another made report of
a flitting figure, clad in white, that roamed the corridors. At last
the keeper was called in to deal with the ghost. He took up his watch,
his trusty gun, loaded with buckshot, in his hand. "There I bid," he
relates, "till jest on twelve o'clock--when all of a sudden the old
baize door at the end of the stone passage opens, of its own accord
like, and in slips the ghost. I ups wi' m' gun, and I sez, 'Be you the
ghost?' sez I. 'And if ye moves,' sez I, 'I shoots.' Three times I
speaks, gruffer and gruffer each time. And then I makes a rush for the
ghost--wot turns out arter all to be Mary the 'ouse-maid." "What did
you do with Mary?" we asked the story-teller. "Lor' love ye, I took and
married 'er out o' the way."

This same keeper let us into the secret of his shattered faith in
ghosts. As a young man he and a fellow under-keeper had been told off
to watch the carriage-drive for night poachers. In a jocular moment the
head-keeper warned them not to be afraid if they should see the estate
ghost--the headless body of an old coachman driving a pair of galloping
horses harnessed to a hearse. Naturally, the two young keepers, as
the night wore on, fell to talking about the headless apparition.
Presently, sure enough, hoofs were heard, and a hearse came lumbering
down the drive. The watchers crouched low in the heap of dead bracken
in which they were hidden. Asked, an hour later, if they had seen the
poachers, "No," they said bravely; "we only saw the old fellow without
a head, driving his hearse." "Well," said the head-keeper, chuckling,
"if you'd looked inside his hearse you would have found it full of
corpses--rabbits' corpses! Me and Bill, we ketched the ghost, whiles he
was drinking your 'ealth."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Old Friends in Velveteen

Many gamekeepers we have known. Looking back down the years we can
summon to view a serried regiment of the servants of sport; large men
and small, rough and gentle, brown-clad men, some in velveteen, others
in rough tweed, most of them in stout leggings, all with the keen
eyes of watchmen, bronzed by the sun, beaten by the weather; good men
and true, every man of them. The best of them are strong, upright,
fearless, full of confidence; men who neither beg favours nor grant
them; set their own standards; keep their own counsels; take no false
oaths, whatever the provocation of the poacher; who, in preserving
game, have no enmity against other living creatures; who are all-round
sportsmen and lovers of fair play. At the end of the long line,
farthest from view yet most distinct, stands an old man with silver
hair, with light blue eyes, and a face kindly, yet sharp as a hawk's,
the keeper who was first to show us how to hold a gun.

Many fine stories this old man would tell, leaning over a gate, gun
in hand, of Master this and Master that, uncles and such-like, even
then old men to a boy's eyes, yet still called, by the older keeper,
by their familiar names. "I mind the time," he would begin, his eyes
twinkling: and then he would ramble off into the history of some wild
affray with gipsies or with poachers, enough to make a boy's hair stand
on end.

One time that often came to his mind was when Master Charles plagued
the life out of him to be taken, at night, through a bedroom window,
by way of a ladder, on a hunt for poachers; and how at last he yielded
to entreaty, though it was as much as his place was worth if Master
Charles's guardian got wind of the affair. So he chose a bright
moon-lit night, when he was tolerably certain that no poachers would
venture forth; whistled beneath Master Charles's window, upraised
a ladder, and got the young gentleman safely to ground, in nothing
more than nightshirt, greatcoat, and bedroom slippers. Off they went
together, and it was the keeper's heart that beat fastest. Arrived in
the Long Walk, what should they see but two poachers with bows and
arrows, shooting the pheasants in their sleep. The keeper's first
idea was to send the young master back to bed; but he was not to be
denied this grand adventure: and with a yell and a bound he was among
the poachers before the keeper could say Jack Robinson. It was a
desperate affair, not only for the poachers, but more particularly for
the gamekeeper; but he still lives to tell the tale, with ever more
wonderful variations.

                   *       *       *       *       *


The Converted Shepherd

A favourite story of another old friend tells how he found the cure for
a notorious poacher. It was in the days before the Ground Game Act, and
a farmer had complained, as well he might, of rabbits that had cleared
every blade of a field of oats, and were beginning to attack some wheat
in the next field. The keeper set many traps and wires. His cottage
was a long way from the wheat-field: but the cottage of the poacher,
a shepherd, was near at hand. Knowing that the shepherd would in any
case keep an eye on the captured rabbits, the keeper went to him, and
frankly invited him to remove all those caught overnight, and keep
them safe until he should come himself in the morning. The keeper, of
course, could tell where a rabbit had been caught; and no doubt the
shepherd knew this, for he delivered up each night's catch to a rabbit.
And he confessed, at the end of a week's campaign, that the confidence
placed in him so unexpectedly had broken his heart of its love of
poaching for ever.

                   *       *       *       *       *


A Final Story

All keepers are shamed when sportsmen go home from their preserves with
empty bags. To have in a party a shooter "who never shot noth'n' all
day long" reacts on the keeper's fame. We noticed that a crafty keeper
friend would always scheme to place an old colonel well forward of the
line of guns; and as the colonel was never seen to add to the bag, we
asked for an explanation. "Well, ye see, it be like this 'ere," came
the answer. "I knows as 'e can't shoot, and 'e knows it; but I knows
and 'e knows that if 'e be put forward 'e be likely to get a shot at a
rabbit what's stopped to think. And 'e knows that I knows that 'e will
pay somethink 'andsome when 'e can go 'ome an' tell 'is missus as 'ow
'e ain't bin an' disgraced 'isself agin. So I puts 'im forward; and
every time 'e shoots a rabbit what's stopped to think, it reminds 'e of
I."

                   *       *       *       *       *


Careful Wives

With many gamekeepers we have known many gamekeepers' wives.
Strong-minded, capable women as they are, most keepers are wise enough
to regard them as Ministers of Finance, religiously handing over
all their gain in coins. A shilling a week, perhaps, is handed back
again by way of pocket-money, besides an allowance of 'baccy, out of
housekeeping funds. We have known more than one keeper who never would
have had a shilling had it not been for his wife; and we have known
more than one keeper's wife who would never fail to keep her hand on
every shilling that her good-man brought home.

                   *       *       *       *       *


"What Her was Like"

One old friend, old Henry, made up his mind to revolt against his
wife's cupidity. Coming home one winter night after a shoot, at which
he had been so lucky as to pocket a couple of pounds, the temptation
to conceal them from his good dame was irresistible. He buried the
coins beside an old ash-stump in one of his woods--well beyond scenting
distance from his cottage. He knew from many a past experience that if
he left a farthing in his pockets overnight it would be gone before
morning. That night no sleep came to him. His conscience was troubled.
He turned and tossed; as his good-wife put it, "He carried on like, so
as he couldn't sleep hisself, nor wouldn't let I." At last the good
woman, who had drawn his pockets in vain, put a straight question:
"'Enry," said she, "what _be_ up with 'ee?" Then 'Enry confessed:
he told how he had buried two pounds beside the ash-stump. And then
the two of them rose, in the middle of that winter night, and walked
out into the wood until they stumbled on the ash-stump, and they dug
until they found the money. As poor Henry used to say, in days when no
good-wife remained to take his gains, "That'll tell ye a little what
her was like."




INDEX


  Acorns, 234, 235
  August, 159

  Badger, 121, 122, 254, 255
  Barren birds, 162
  Beaters, 41, 233, 275;
    compensation for wounded, 244
  Birds, at mating-time, 60
  Blackbirds, 123
  Broody hens, 73
  Bullfinches, 122, 123

  Cats, 29, 30, 96, 123, 133, 263, 264
  Cattle, in woods, 112, 113
  Chalk-pits, 255, 256
  Christmas shooting, 294, 295
  Clues, 161
  Cornfields, inhabitants of, 163;
    sport in, 167
  Covert-shooting, 262, 263, 271
  Crows, 49
  Cubbing, 181, 182
  Cubs, 8, 9, 59, 149, 150, 151, 178, 190, 191, 286
  Cub-snatching, 89, 90

  Dog-dealing, 199
  Dogs, for ratting, 98;
    poachers', 16, 17
  Dog-washing, 153
  Dormice, 208, 230
  Doves, 156, 157
  Duck, 159

  Fear and flight, 46, 47
  Feathers, 130
  Ferrets, 95
  Fieldfares, 37
  Foxes, 8, 9, 60, 149, 245, 248;
    and pheasants, 124, 246;
    and ferrets, 256;
    and rabbits, 45;
    and snares, 245, 247;
    how to keep from nests, 153;
    in corn, 167;
    on shooting days, 268, 269;
    trapping, 23, 24;
    turned down, 119
  Foxgloves, for dog-washing, 155
  Fur, changes of colour, 25, 26

  Game, and motors, 125;
    and wire, 135, 136;
    and water, 142
  Gamekeeper, 6, 11, 17, 26, 30, 41, 81, 82, 103, 131, 132, 141,
      144, 208, 227, 228, 287, 289, 290-292, 297-304;
    and marriage, 13, 14;
    and new berth, 14;
    appearance of, 210;
    as advertiser, 14;
    as chorister, 103;
    as cook, 6, 116, 117;
    as dog-dealer, 199;
    as gardener, 6, 9-11;
    cottage and pets of, 3, 4;
    dress of, 104, 300;
    dinner of, 7;
    ethics of, 5;
    larder of, 5-7;
    holidays of, 12, 13, 209-211;
    in North and South, 15;
    position, wages, privileges, and perquisites of, 1-3
  Gipsies, 215

  Hares, 58, 59, 208;
    and small holdings, 265;
    curious accidents to, 202, 203, 225
  Harvest mice, 167, 208, 209
  Hawks, 18, 61, 62, 105
  Hedgehogs, 166, 173, 206, 231
  High birds, 189
  Homely medicines, 7, 8
  Honeysuckle, cause of accidents, 204, 205
  Hounds, 145, 259, 260;
    "finding," 190, 191
  Hunting, 249
  Hurdle-making, 77, 78

  Jackdaws, 111
  Jays, 160

  Landrail, 157, 191, 192
  Leverets, 65
  Long-netting, 219, 220

  Magpies, 31, 49
  "Marking," 193, 194, 195
  Moles, 261
  "Mothering," 117
  Moucher, 257
  Muzzle-loaders, 272

  Nesting-sites, 73, 80, 81
  Nightjar, 125, 126
  Nutters and gamekeeper, 207, 208

  Owls, 105, 205

  Partridge, flying with broken wing, 201
  Partridge-driving, 279, 280, 292
  Partridges, 60, 61, 92, 93, 114, 133, 134, 140;
    and dry summer, 133;
    and foxes, 114;
    and grassland, 93;
    and June, 137, 141;
    and peasants, 93;
    and peewits, 92, 93;
    and policemen, 214;
    and rain, 139;
    cocks and hens, 129;
    French, 75-77;
    hatching of their eggs, 139;
    perseverance of, 115, 116;
    young and old, 129
  Pheasant and young, 117, 118
  Pheasants, 10, 40, 41, 43, 53, 54, 55, 56, 68, 71, 73, 119, 124,
      138, 155, 156, 185, 187, 269, 293, 296;
    food-bill, 225;
    rearing by hand, 85-89
  Pied birds, 199
  Pigs, 198
  Poachers, 15, 57, 180;
    dogs of, 16, 17;
    traps to catch, 111, 112;
    weapons of, 260
  Policemen, sporting, 214, 298
  Prospects, 161-163
  Puppies, 146, 147, 197, 252

  Rabbits, 124, 257;
    and snares, 33, 34;
    as perquisites, 5;
    in autumn, 211-213;
    pressed for food, 44, 45;
    when fattest, 236
  Rats, 22, 94, 99, 131, 222
  Rat-catching, 90, 91
  Ratting, 98, 100, 102;
    without ferrets, 100
  Red-legs, 141
  Retrievers, 148, 206, 207, 270, 271
  Ride-trimming, 172
  Rooks, 47, 66

  Scent, 238;
    and retrievers, 148
  Shepherd, the, 276-279, 302
  "Shocks," shooting among, 192, 193
  Sight, of birds and beasts, 37, 38
  Sleep, of birds and beasts, 34
  Snares, 33, 34
  Snow, 281
  Sparrow-hawks, 10, 62
  Sporting terms and others, 63-65
  Squirrels, 27, 29
  Starlings, roosting, 204
  Stoats, 172, 236, 240;
    and weasels, the difference, 254;
    yellow and white of, 25
  Stock-doves, 62
  Swedes, warts on, 163

  Tipping, 2, 243, 304
  Trapping, 22, 23, 24, 26, 176, 178
  Traps, 24, 25, 26, 32, 33
  Truffles, 206

  Underwood, 226, 227, 241, 242

  "Velveteens," 104
  Vermin, lists of, 18, 19, 20, 26

  Walking-up partridges, 180
  Warts, from shooting, 297
  Wasps, 264, 265
  Water, and game, 142-145;
    for birds and beasts, 133
  Weasels, 25, 173, 254
  Weather-wisdom, 282, 283
  Wines, home-made, 183, 184
  Wire, and game, 135, 136, 253
  Woodcock, 195, 196, 197, 295;
    and woodcock owls, 195, 196
  Woodman, 79, 80
  Wood-pigeons, 4, 5, 63, 157, 293


                    PRINTED BY
            BALLANTYNE & COMPANY LTD
         Tavistock Street Covent Garden
                     London




Transcriber Note

Minor typos corrected. Missing Section breaks added. Original
book set the Section Headers as Sidenotes, they have been
converted to Section Headers.



*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Gamekeeper's Note-book" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files. We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's search system for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.




Home