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perhaps, more rare visitors are found there than anywhere else. Isolated on the open hills, such a copse to birds is like an island in the sea. Only a very few pheasants frequent it, and little effort is made to exterminate the wilder creatures, while they are continually replenished by fresh arrivals. Even ocean birds driven inland by stress of weather seem to prefer the downs to rest on, and feel safer there.
The sward is the original sward, untouched, unploughed, centuries old. It is that which was formed when the woods that covered the hills were cleared, whether by British tribes whose markings are still to be found, by Roman smiths working the ironstone (slag is sometimes discovered), by Saxon settlers, or however it came about in the process of the years. Probably the trees would grow again were it not for sheep and horses, but these preserve the sward. The plough has nibbled at it and gnawed away great slices, but it extends mile after mile; these are mere notches on its breadth. It is as wild as wild can be without deer or savage beasts. The bees like it, and the finches come. It is silent and peaceful like the sky above. By night the stars shine, not only overhead and in a narrow circle round the zenith, but down to the horizon; the walls of the sky are built up of them as well as the roof. The sliding meteors go silently over the gleaming surface; silently the planets rise; silently the earth moves to the unfolding east. Sometimes a lunar rainbow appears; a strange scene at midnight, arching over almost from the zenith down into the
dark hollow of the valley. At the first glance it seems white, but presently faint prismatic colours are discerned.
Already as the summer changes into autumn there are orange specks on the beeches in the copses, and the firs will presently be leafless. Then those who live in the farmsteads placed at long intervals begin to prepare for the possibilities of the winter. There must be a good store of fuel and provisions, for it will be difficult to go down to the villages. The ladies had best add as many new volumes as they can to the bookshelf, for they may be practically imprisoned for weeks together. Wind and rain are very different here from what they are where the bulwark of the houses shelters one side of the street, or the thick hedge protects half the road. The fury of the storm is unchecked, and nothing can keep out the raindrops which come with the velocity of shot. If snow falls, as it does frequently, it does not need much to obscure the path; at all times the path is merely a track, and the ruts worn down to the white. chalk and the white snow confuse the eyes. Flecks of snow catch against the bunches of grass, against the furze-bushes, and boulders; if there is a ploughed field, against every clod, and the result is bewildering. There is nothing to guide the steps, nothing to give the general direction, and once off the track, unless well accustomed to the district, the traveller may wander in vain. After a few inches have fallen the roads are usually blocked, for all the flakes on miles of hills are swept along and deposited into hollows where the highways run. To be dug out now and
then in the winter is a contingency the mail-driver reckons as part of his daily life, and the waggons going to and fro frequently pass between high walls of frozen snow. In these wild places, which can scarcely be said to be populated at all, a snow-storm, however, does not block the King's highways and paralyse traffic as London permits itself to be paralysed under similar circumstances. Men are set to work and cut a way through in a very short time, and no one makes the least difficulty about it. But with the tracks that lead to isolated farmsteads it is different; there is not enough traffic to require the removal of the obstruction, and the drifts occasionally accumulate to twenty feet deep. The ladies are imprisoned, and must be thankful if they have got down a box of new novels.
The dread snow-tempest of 1880-81 swept over these places with tremendous fury, and the most experienced shepherds, whose whole lives had been spent going to and fro on the downs, frequently lost their way. There is a story of a waggoner and his lad going slowly along the road after the thaw, and noticing an odd-looking scarecrow in a field. They went to it, and found it was a man, dead, and still standing as he had stiffened in the snow, the clothes hanging on his withered body, and the eyes gone from the sockets, picked out by the crows. It is only one of many similar accounts, and it is thought between twenty and thirty unfortunate persons Such miserable perished. events are of rare occurrence, but show how open, wild, and succourless the country still remains. In ordinary winters
it is only strangers who need be cautious, and strangers seldom appear. Even in summer time, however, a stranger, if he stays till dusk, may easily wander for hours. Once off the highway, all the ridges and slopes seem alike, and there is no end to them.
THE beechnuts are already falling in the forest, and the swine are beginning to search for them while yet the harvest lingers. The nuts are formed by midsummer, and now, the husk opening, the brown angular kernel drops out. Many of the husks fall, too; others remain on the branches till next spring. Under the beeches the ground is strewn with the mast as hard almost to walk on as pebbles. Rude and uncouth as swine are in themselves, somehow they look different under trees. The brown leaves amid which they rout, and the brown-tinted fern behind lend something of their colour and smooth away their ungainliness. Snorting as they work with very eagerness of appetite, they are almost wild, approaching in a measure to their ancestors, the savage boars. Under the trees the imagination plays unchecked, and calls up the past as if yew bow and broad arrow were still in the hunter's hands. So little is changed since then. The deer are here still. Sit down on the root of this oak (thinly covered with moss), and on that very spot it is quite possible a knight fresh home from the Crusades may have rested and feasted his eyes on the lovely green glades