Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Cotswold Village by J. Arthur Gibbs

Part 6 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

all will be green as emerald. Such infinite variety is there in the
woods! Not only do the tints change month by month, but day by day the
colour varies; so that there is always something new, some fresh effect
of light and shade to delight the eye of man in the quiet English
country. Dotted about in the midst of the stream are little islands of
forget-me-nots. The lovely light blue is reflected everywhere in the
water. Very beautiful are the scorpion-grasses both on the banks among
the rushes and scattered about in mid stream.

The meadows are full of life. There are sounds sweet to the ear and
sights pleasing to the eye. In the new-mown water-meadow
grasshoppers--such hosts of them that they could never be numbered for
multitude--are chirping and dancing merrily. "They make the field ring
with their importunate chink, whilst the great cattle chew the cud and
are silent. How like the great and little of mankind!" as Edmund Burke
said years ago. By catching one of these "meagre, hopping insects of the
hour," you will see that their backs are green as emerald and their
bellies gold: some have a touch of purple over the eyes; their thighs,
which are enormously developed for jumping purposes, have likewise a
delicate tinge of purple.

Contrary to the saying of Izaak Walton, the trout do not seem to care
much for grasshoppers nowadays, although perhaps they may relish them in
streams where food is less plentiful. Our trout even prefer the tiny
yellow frogs that are to be found in scores by the brook-side in early
August. We have often offered them both in the deep "pill" below the
garden; and though they would come with a dart and take the little frog,
they merely looked at the grasshopper in astonishment, and seldom
took one.

As we stand on the rustic bridge above the "pill" gazing down into the
smooth flowing water, dark trout glide out of sight into their homes in
the stonework under the hatch. These are the fish that rise not to the
fly, but prey on their grandchildren, growing darker and lankier and
bigger-headed every year. Wherever you find a deep hole and an ancient
hatchway there you will also find these great black trout, always lying
in a spot more or less inaccessible to the angler, and living for years
until they die a natural death.

Was ever a place so full of fish as this "pill"? Looking down into the
deeper water, where the great iron hooks are set to catch the poachers'
nets, I could see dozens of trout of all sizes, but mostly small. At the
tail of the pool are lots of small ones, rising with a gentle dimple. As
the days became hotter and the stream ran down lower and lower, the
trout left the long shallow reaches, and assembled here, where there is
plenty of water and plenty of food.

Standing on the bridge by the ancient spiked gate bristling with sharp
barbs of iron, like rusty spear and arrow-heads (our ancestors loved to
protect their privacy with these terrible barriers), I listened to the
waterfall three hundred yards higher up, with its ceaseless music; the
afternoon sun was sparkling on the dimpling water, which runs swiftly
here over a shallow reach of gravel--the favourite spawning-ground of
the trout. There is no peep of river scenery I like so much as this.
Thirty yards up stream a shapely ash tree hangs its branches, clothed
with narrow sprays, right across the brook, the fantastic foliage
almost touching the water. A little higher up some willows and an elm
overhang from the other side.

There is something unspeakably striking about a country lane or a
shallow, rippling brook overarched with a tracery of fretted foliage
like the roof of an old Gothic building.

Who that has ever visited the village of Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire
will forget the lane by which he approached the home and last
resting-place of the poet Gray? Perhaps you came from Eton, and after
passing along a lane that is completely overhung with an avenue of
splendid trees, where the thrushes sing among the branches as they sing
nowhere else in that neighbourhood, you turned in at a little rustic
gate. Straight in front of your eyes were very legibly written on grey
stone three of the finest verses of the "Elegy." The monument itself is
plain, not to say hideous, but the simple words inscribed thereon are
unspeakably grand when read amongst the surroundings of "wood" and
"rugged elm" and "yew-tree's shade," unchanged as they are after the
lapse of a century and a half. The place, and more especially the lane,
is a fitting abode for the spirit of the poet. One could almost hear the
song of him who, "being dead, yet speaketh":

"And the birds in the sunshine above
Mingled their notes therewith, like voices of spirits departed."

LONGFELLOW.

Gray is a poet for whom, in common with most Englishmen, the present
writer has a sincere respect. It has been said, however, of the "Elegy"
by one critic that the subject of the poem gives it an unmerited
popularity, and by another--and that quite recently--that it is the
"high-water mark of mediocrity." Although Gray's own modest dictum was
the foundation of the first of these harsh criticisms, we are unable to
allow the truth of the one and must strongly protest against the other.
It has been reported that Wolfe, the celebrated general, after reciting
the "Elegy" on the eve of the assault on Quebec, declared that he would
sooner have written such a poem than win a victory over the French. This
was nearly a century and a half ago. Yet after so long a lapse of time
the verses still retain their hold on the minds of all classes. In spite
of the fact that Matthew Arnold and other admirers have declared that
the "Elegy" was not Gray's masterpiece, yet it was this poem that
brought a man who accomplished but a small amount of work into such
lasting fame. From beginning to end, as Professor Raleigh says of
Milton's work, the "Elegy" "is crowded with examples of felicitous and
exquisite meaning given to the infallible word." Was ever a poem more
frequently quoted or so universally plagiarised? In writing or speaking
about the country and its inhabitants, if we would express ourselves as
concisely as we possibly can, we are bound to quote the "Elegy"; it is
invariably the shortest road to a terse expression of our meaning. Who
can improve on "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife," or "The
short and simple annals of the poor"? If Gray's "Elegy" is but "a mosaic
of the felicities" of those who went before, let it be remembered that
had he not laboriously pieced together that mosaic, these "felicities"
would have been a sealed book to the majority of Englishmen. Not one man
in a hundred now reads some of the authors from which they were culled.
And as Landor said of Shakespeare, "He is more original than his
originals." Even that strange individual, Samuel Johnson, who was
accustomed whenever Gray's poetry was mentioned either to "crab" it
directly or "damn it with faint praise," towards the end of his career
admitted in his "Lives of the Poets" that "the churchyard abounds with
images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which
every bosom returns an echo." But the chief value of the work seems
really to lie in this: it has dignified the rural scenes and the honest
rustics of England. It has invested every hoary-headed swain, every busy
housewife, and every little churchyard in the country with a special
dignity and a lasting charm. The traveller cannot look upon these scenes
and faces without unconsciously connecting them with the lines he knows
so well. Gray's "Elegy" will never be forgotten; for it has struck its
roots deep in the national language and far down into the
national heart.

Very similar to the quiet and leafy lane at Stoke Poges is the brook
below the waterfall at A---- in the Cotswolds. On your left as you look
up stream from the bridge of the "pill," a moss-grown gravel path runs
alongside the water under a hanging wood of leafy elms and
smooth-trunked beech trees, where the ringdoves coo all day. A tangled
hedge filled with tall timber trees runs up the right-hand bank. Here
the great convolvulus, queen of wild flowers, twists her bines among the
hedge; the bell-shaped flowers are conspicuous everywhere, large and
lily-white as the arum, so luxuriant is the growth of wild flowers by
the brook-side.

A silver stream is the Coln hereabouts, the abode of fairies and fawns,
and nymphs and dryads. But when the afternoon sun shines upon it, it
becomes a stream of diamonds set in banks of emeralds, with an arched
and groined roof of jasper, carved with foliations of graceful ash and
willow, and over all a sky of sapphire sprinkled with clouds of pearl
and opal. Later on towards evening there will be floods of golden light
on the grass and on the beech trees up the eastern slope of the valley
and on the bare red earth under the trees, red with fifty years' beech
nuts. And later still, when the distant hills are dyed as if with
archil, the sapphire sky will be striped with bars of gold and dotted
with coals of fire; rubies and garnets, sardonyx and chrysolite will all
be there, and the bluish green of beryl, the western sky as varied as
felspar and changing colour as quickly as the chameleon. And as the day
declines the last beams of the setting sun will find their way through
the tracery of foliage that overhangs the brook, and the waters will be
tinged with a rosy glow, even as in some ancestral hall or Gothic
cathedral the sun at eventide pours through the blazoned windows and
floods the interior with rays of soft, mysterious, coloured light.

I have been trying to describe one of the loveliest bits of miniature
scenery on earth; yet how commonplace it all reads! Not a thousandth
part of the beauty of this spot at sunset is here set down, yet little
more can be said. How bitter to think that the true beauty of the trees,
the path by the brook, and the sunlight on the water cannot be passed on
for others to enjoy, cannot be stamped on paper, but must be seen to be
realised! Truly, as Richard Jefferies says somewhere, there is a layer
of thought in the human brain for which there are no words in any
language. We cannot express a thousandth part of the beauty of the woods
and the stream; we can but dimly feel it when we see it with our eyes.

Below the "pill"--for we have been gazing up stream--some sheep are
lying under a gnarled willow on the left bank; some are nibbling at the
lichen and moss on the trunk, others are standing about in pretty groups
of three and four. One of them has just had a ducking. Trying to get a
drink of water, he overbalanced himself and fell in. He walks about
shaking himself, and doubtless feels very uncomfortable. Sheep do not
care much for bathing in cold water. You have only to see the
sheep-washing in the spring to realise how they dislike it. There is a
place higher up the stream called the Washpool, where every day in May
you can watch the men bundling the poor old sheep into the water, one
after the other, and dipping them well, to free the wool from insects of
all kinds. And how the trout enjoy the ticks that come from their
thickly matted coats! One poor sheep is hopping about on the cricket
field dead lame. Perhaps that leg he drags behind is broken! Why does
not the farmer kill the poor brute? There is much misery of this kind
caused in country places by the thoughtlessness of farmers. How much has
yet to be learnt by the very men who love to describe the labourers as
"them 'ere ignorant lower classes"! Alas! that these things can happen
among the green fields and spreading elms and the heavenly sunshine of
summer days! We should have more moral courage, and do as Carlyle bids
us in his old solemn way: "But above all, where thou findest Ignorance,
Stupidity, Brute-mindedness, attack it, I say; smite it, wisely,
unwearily, and rest not while thou livest and it lives; but smite, smite
in the name of God. The Highest God, as I understand it, does audibly so
command thee, still audibly if thou hast ears to hear."

On the cricket pitch, a bare hundred yards away from the river bank, is
a plentiful crop of dandelions, crow's-foot, clover, and, worst of all,
enormous plantains. A gravel soil is very favourable to plantains, for
stones work up and the grass dies. The dreadful plantain seems to thrive
anywhere and everywhere, and on bare spots where grass cannot live he
immediately appears. Rabbits have been making holes all over the pitch,
and red spikes of sorrel, wonderfully rich and varied in colour, rise
everywhere at the lower end of the field towards the river. The cricket
ground has been somewhat neglected of late.

There is a great elm tree down close to the ground--the only tree that
the winter gales had left to shade us on hot summer days. It came down
suddenly, without the slightest warning; and underneath it that most
careless of all keepers, Tom Peregrine, had left the large
mowing-machine and the roller. So careless are some of these
Gloucestershire folk that sooner than do as I had ordered and put the
mowing-machine in the barn hard by, they must leave it in the open air
and under this ill-fated tree. Down came my last beloved elm, smashing
the mowing-machine and putting an end to all thoughts of cricket here
this summer. It will be ages before the village carpenter will come with
his timber cart and draw the tree away. A Gloucestershire man cannot do
a job like this in under two years; they are always so busy, you see, in
Gloucestershire--never a moment to spare to get anything done!

There was a time when the chief delight of summer lay in playing
cricket. What ecstasy it was to be well set and scoring fast on the
hard-baked ground (the harder the better), cutting to the boundary when
the ball pitched short on the off, and driving her hard along the ground
when they pitched one up! What could surpass the joy of scoring a
century in those long summer days? Now we would as soon spend the
holidays in the woods and by the busy trout stream, reading and taking
note of the trees and the birds and the rippling of the waters as they
flow onwards, ever onwards, towards the sea. There comes a time to all
men, sooner or later, when we say to ourselves, _Cui bono?_ In a few
short years I shall no longer be able to hit the ball so hard, and in
the "field" I am already becoming a trifle slow. Then do we take to
ourselves pursuits that we can follow until the limbs are stiffened with
age and the hair is white as snow.

Having spent the best years of life in the pursuit of pleasures that,
however engrossing, nevertheless bore no real and lasting fruit, we
finally fall back on interests that will last a lifetime, perhaps an
eternity--for who knows how much of knowledge we shall take with us to
another world? Aristotle was not far wrong when he described earthly
happiness as a life of contemplation, with a moderate equipment of
external good fortune and prosperity. There is no book so well worthy to
be studied as the book of nature, no melodies like those of the field
and fallow, wood and wold, and the still small voice of the busy streams
labouring patiently onwards day by day.

In the fields beyond the river haymakers are busy with the second crop.
Down to the ford comes a great yellow hay-cart, drawn by two strong
horses, tandem fashion. One small boy alone is leading the big horses.
Arriving at the ford, he jumps on to the leader's back and rides him
through. The horses strain and "scaut," and the cart bumps over the deep
ruts, nearly upsetting. Luckily there is no accident. So much is
entrusted to these little farm lads of scarce fifteen years of age it is
a wonder they do the work so well. From the tops of the firs comes the
sound of pigeons winging their way from the "grove" to the "conygers"
(the latter word means the "place of rabbits"; there are lots of woods
so called in Gloucestershire). It is a curious piping sound that
wood-pigeons make, and, not seeing the birds, you might think it came
from the throat instead of the wings. One day two of us were looking at
a wood-pigeon flying over, when we observed something drop from the
skies and fall into the stream. On going up we saw that it was an egg
she had dropped. There it lay at the bottom of the brook, apparently
unbroken by the fall. Floating on the soft south wind, a heron flies
over so quietly that unless he had given one of his characteristic
croaks it was a hundred to one you did not see him pass. Many a heron
and wild duck must pass over us unobserved on windy days. It is so
difficult to observe when you are thinking. A man absorbed in reverie
cannot see half the things that many country folk with less active
brains never fail to observe. When we find people who live in the
country unversed in the ways of birds, the knowledge of flowers and
trees, and the habits of the simple country folk, we need not
necessarily conclude that they are dull and empty-headed; the reverse is
often the case. A man absorbed in business or serious affairs may love
the country and yet know little of its real life. A good deal of time
must be spent in acquiring this kind of knowledge, and it is not
everybody who has the time or the opportunity to do it. If we come
across a man with plenty of leisure, yet knowing nothing of what is
going on around him, we may then perhaps have cause to complain of
his dulness.

Mr. Aubrey De Vere relates an amusing story about Sir William Rowan
Hamilton which exactly illustrates my meaning: "When he had soared into
a high region of speculative thought he took no note of objects close
by. A few days after our first meeting we walked together on a road, a
part of which was overflowed by a river at its side. Our theme was the
transcendental philosophy, of which he was a great admirer. I felt sure
that he would not observe the flood, and made no remark on it. We walked
straight on till the water was half way up to our knees. At last he
exclaimed, 'What's this? We seem to be walking through a river. Had we
not better return to the dry land?'"

There is a spot in the woods by the River Coln that is almost untrodden
by man. It is the favourite resort of foxes. Nobody but myself and the
earth-stopper has been there for years and years, save that when the
hounds come the huntsman rides through and cheers the pack. It is in the
conyger wood. No path leads through its quiet recesses, where ash and
elm and larch and spruce, mostly self-sown, are mingled together, with a
thick growth of elder spread beneath them. It was here, in an ancient,
disused quarry, that the keeper pointed out not long since the secret
dwelling-house of the kingfishers. A small crevice in the limestone
rock, from which a disagreeable smell of dried fish bones issued forth,
formed the outer entrance to the nest. One could not see the delicate
structure itself, for it appeared to be several feet within the rock. A
mass of powdered fish bones and the pungent odour from within were all
the outward signs of the inner nest. By standing on a jutting ledge of
the soft cretaceous rock, and holding on by another ledge, which
appeared not unlikely to come down and crush you, one could peep into
the hole and comfort oneself with the thought that one was nearer a
kingfisher's nest than is usually vouchsafed to mortal man. It would be
easy to get ladder and pickaxe and break open the rock until the nest
was reached, but why disturb these lovely birds? They have built here
year by year for centuries; even now some of this year's brood may be
seen among the willows by the back brook.

From this quarry was dug in the year 1590 the stone to build the old
manor house yonder. A few miles away toward Burford is the quarry from
which men say Christopher Wren brought some of the stone to raise St.
Paul's Cathedral. Yet the local people do not care a bit for this
beautiful freestone of the Cotswold Hills. They want to bring granite
from afar for their village crosses, and ugly blue slates for the roofs
of the houses. At a parish council meeting the other day it was
seriously proposed to erect a "Jubilee Hall" of _red_ brick in our
village. Anything for a change, you see; these people would not be
mortal if they did not love a change. The pure grey limestone is
commonplace hereabouts; I have actually heard it said that it will not
last. Yet in every village stand the old Norman churches, built entirely
of local stone, walls and roof; and many an old manor house as well lies
in our midst, as good as it was three hundred years ago. To me, this
limestone of the hills is one of the most beautiful features of the
Cotswold country. I love to stand in a limestone quarry and mark the
layers and ponderous blocks of clean white virgin rock--a tiny cleft in
"the great stone floor which stretches over the face of the earth and
under the limitless expanse of the sea." That solid cretaceous mass is
but the remnants of the countless inhabitants of the old seas,--life
changed into solid, hard rock; and even now, as the green grass and the
sweet sainfoin spring up on the surface, feeding the flocks and herds
that will soon in their turn feed mankind, earth is turning back again
into life. Thus onwards in an endless cycle, even as the earth goes
round, and the waters return to the place from whence they came, does
nature's work go on; and when we consider these things, eternity and
infinity lose part of their strangeness. Does it seem strange when we
look upon this glorious country?--in May a sea of golden buttercups, in
summer a sea of waving grass, and in the autumn a sea of golden corn;
once it was a sea of salt water. And these great rounded banks, these
hills and valleys, these billowy wolds,--could they but speak to us
might tell strange things of the passing of the waters and of the
inhabitants of the old ocean ages and ages ago; the mystery of the sea
would be sung in every vale and echoed back by every rolling down.

A very wonderful matter it certainly is that the stone in which the
whole history of the country-side is writ, not only in rolling downs and
limestone streams, but even in church, tithe-barn, farm, and cottage, as
well as in the walls and the roads and the very dust that blows upon
them, should be nothing more nor less than a mass of dead animals that
lived generation after generation, thousands of years ago, at the bottom
of the sea.

There is silence in the woods--the drowsy silence of summer. Most of
the birds have gone to the cornfields. An ash copse is never so full of
birds as the denser woodlands, where the oaks grow stronger on a stiff
clay soil. Here are no laughing yaffels, no cruel, murderous shrikes,
and very few song-birds. Still, there are always the pigeons and the
cushats, the wicked magpies and the screaming "jaypies," as the local
people call the jays. Then, too, there are the birds down among the
watercress and the brooklime in the clear pool below the spring,
moorhens occasionally awakening the echoes by running down a weird
chromatic scale or calling with their loud and mellow note to their
friends and relations over at the brook; here, too, the softer croak of
the mallard and the wild duck is also heard. A hawk, chasing some
smaller bird, is darting and hovering over the tops of the firs, but,
catching a glimpse of me, disappears from sight. Presently a little
bird, with an eye keener even than the cruel hawk's, comes out from the
hazels and perches on a post some ten yards away. It is a fly-catcher.
As he sits he turns his eyes in every direction, on the look-out for
dainty insects. He seems to have eyes at the back of his head, for
instantly he sees a fly in the air right behind him, makes a dash,
catches it, and flies on to the next post. He repeats the performance
there, then once more changes his ground. When he has made another
successful raid, he returns to his first post, always hunting in a
chosen circuit, and always catching flies. He was here yesterday, and
will be here again to-morrow. When you try to approach him, however, he
flies away and hides himself in the firs.

If there are not many birds in the woods just now, still, there is
always the beauty of the trees. How marvellous is the symmetry of form
and colouring in the trunk and branches of a big ash tree! If you put
mercury into a solution of nitrate of silver, and leave them for a few
days to combine, the result will be a precipitation of silver in a
lovely arborescent form, the _arbor Dianae_, beautiful beyond
description. Such are my favourite ash trees when the summer sunshine
sparkles on them. It is their bare, silvered trunks that give the
special charm to these hanging woods. They stand out from dark recesses
filled with alder and beech and ivy-mantled firs, rising in bold but
graceful outline; columns of silver, touched here and there with the sad
gold and green shades of lichen and moss. The moss that mingles with
golden lichens is of a soft, velvety hue, like a mantle of half drapery
on a beautiful white statue. And, oddly enough, though ferns do not grow
on the limestone soil of the Cotswolds, yet on the first story so to
speak of every big ash tree by the river, as well as on the pollard
willows, there is a beautiful little fernery springing up out of the
moss and lichen, which seems to thrive most when the lichen thrives--in
the winter rather than in the summer. Then, too, the foliage of all
kinds of trees and shrubs is not only different in form, but the
minutest serrations vary; so that the leaves of two kinds of trees are
no more alike than any two human faces are alike. The elm leaves are
rough to the touch, like sandpaper, and their edges are clearly
serrated; those of the beeches are smooth as parchment, and though the
edges appear at first sight to be almost clean cut, they have very
slight serrations, as if nature had rounded them with a blunt knife. The
lobed ivy leaves are likewise highly polished, and they have sharp,
pointed tips. The leaves of the common stinging-nettle ("'ettles" the
labourers call them) have deep indents all round them. A great dock
leaf, in which the chives have a strange resemblance to the arteries in
the human frame, has small shallow indents all round it. Hazels are
rough and almost round in form, save for a pointed tip at the end; they
have ragged edges and ill-defined serrations. Everybody knows the
sycamore from its five lobed leaves; and the chestnuts and oaks are,
again, as different as possible. These are only a few instances; one
might go on for a long time showing the endless variations of form
in foliage.

Then there is the remarkable difference in colour and shade; not only
are there a dozen different greens in one wood, but in one and the same
beech you may see a marked contrast in the tone of its leaves. For about
midsummer some trees put forth a second growth of foliage, so that there
is the vivid yellow tint of the fresh shoots and the dark olive of the
older leaves on one and the same branch. Of the rich autumnal shades I
am not speaking; they would require a chapter to themselves.

There are other things to be noted in the woods besides the trees and
the birds: lots of rabbits and squirrels, not to mention an occasional
hedgehog. Squirrels are the most delightful of all the furred denizens
of the woods. Running up the trees, with their long brushes straight out
behind, they are not unlike miniature foxes. The slenderness of the
twigs on which they manage to find support is one of the greatest
wonders of the woods. The harmless hedgehog, as everybody is aware,
rolls himself up into a lifeless ball of bristles on being disturbed. By
staying quietly by him and addressing him in an encouraging tone, I
lately induced a very large hedgehog to unroll himself and creep slowly
along close to my feet.

It is very extraordinary how all wild animals, especially when young,
can be won by kindness. I once came across a young hedgehog about
three-parts grown; he was running about on the grass in front of the
house in broad daylight, and kept poking his little nose into the earth
searching for emmets and grubs. I made friends with him, dug him up some
worms, and in less than half an hour he became as tame as possible. Tom
Peregrine, the keeper, stood by and roared with laughter at his antics,
saying he had never seen such a "comical job" in all his life. And it
really was a curious sight. The hedgehog, with the merriest twinkle in
his eyes, would take the worms out of my hand; and when I dangled them
five or six inches off the ground, he would rear up on his hindlegs and
snatch and grab until he secured them. Then he would sit up and scratch
himself like a dog. He would allow me to take him up in my hands and
stroke him, and yet not retire into his bristly shell. He ate a dozen
worms and a bumble-bee straight off the reel, and then with all the
gluttony of the pig tribe he went searching about for more food. I
noticed that he ate the grass, in the same way as dogs do, for medicinal
purposes. We put him into a large box with some hay in it, and as he
still seemed hungry that evening, we gave him a couple of cockchafers
from the kitchen, which he appeared to relish mightily. The little
fellow was as happy as a king, crying and squeaking whenever we went to
look at him, and hunting round the box for food. But, alas! we had
overfed him. To our intense regret he died the next day from acute
indigestion.

There are but few snakes or vipers in the district of which I am
writing. But quite recently a man found a large trout about eighteen
inches in length lying dead in the Coln, and protruding from the mouth
of the fish was a large snake, also dead. The snake must have been
swimming in the water (as they are known to do occasionally), and the
trout being in a backwater, where food was scarce, must have seized the
snake and choked himself in his efforts to bolt it This was a remarkable
occurrence, because a Coln trout is most particular as to his bill of
fare, and snakes are certainly not usually included in the list. There
is such a plentiful supply of larvae, caddis, "stone-loach," fresh-water
shrimps, crayfish, and other crustaceans, to say nothing of flies,
minnows, and small fry, that a trout would very seldom attack a snake. A
large lobworm, however, as every one knows, is a very attractive bait
for any kind of fresh-water fish except pike.

Stoats with reddish-brown backs and yellow bellies may often be seen
hunting the rabbits, and the little weasels may sometimes be drawn out
of their holes in the walls if one makes a squeaking noise with the
lips. Stoats usually hunt singly, weasels in packs and pairs.

But we must leave the woods, for the evening shadows are lengthening and
the "golden evening brightens in the west." It is time to go up to the
cornfields on the hill and see the sun set. I have said that there is no
path through this wood; it is sacred to foxes. They are not here now,
however; they will not be back till all the corn is cut. The wheatfields
are their summer quarters.

It is no easy matter to get out of a tangled wood in August. The
stinging-nettles are seven feet high in places; we must hold our hands
high above our heads and plough our way through them. When we finally
emerge we are covered from head to foot with large prickly burrs from
the seeding burdocks, as well as with the small round burrs of the
goose-grass. Then

"On and up where nature's heart
Beats strong amid the hills."

As we pass onwards over the cornfields towards a piece of high ground
from which it is our wont to watch the sun set, a silvery half-moon
peeps out between the clouds. In the north-west the range of limestone
hills is already tinged with purple. In the highest heaven are bars of
distant cloud, so motionless that they appear to be sailing slowly
against the wind. Lower down, dusky, smoke-like clouds, tinged here and
there with a rosy hue, are flying rapidly onwards, ever onwards, in the
sky. Later on the higher clouds will turn deep red, whilst brighter and
brighter will glow the moon.

Yonder, twenty-five miles away, the old White Horse is just visible upon
the distant chalk downs. Overhead the sky has the deep blue of mazarine,
but westwards and south-west the colour is light olive green, gradually
changing to an intensely bright yellow. Heavy banks of clouds are slowly
rising in the south-west; the bleating of sheep at the ancient homestead
half a mile away is the only sound to be heard. As the sun goes down
to-night it resembles a great ship on fire amidst the breakers on a
rockbound coast; for the western sky is dashed with fleecy clouds, like
the spray that beats against the chalk cliffs on the shore of the mighty
Atlantic; and amid the last plunges of the doomed vessel the spray is
tinged redder and redder, ere with her human cargo she disappears amid
the surf. But no sooner has she sunk into the abyss than the foam and
the fierce breakers die away, and a wondrous calm broods over all
things. In twenty minutes' time nothing is left in the western sky but a
tiny bar of golden cloud that cannot yet quite die away, reminding me,
as I still thought about the burning ship and her ill-fated crew, of

"the golden key
Which opes the palace of Eternity."

But eastwards, above the old legendary White Horse, the "Empress of the
Night," serene and proudly pale, is driving her car across the
darkening skies.

[Illustration: Ablington Manor 399.png]

CHAPTER XVII.

AUTUMN.

I.

It is in the autumn that life in an old manor house on the Cotswolds has
its greatest charm; for one of the chief characteristics of a house in
the depths of the country surrounded by a broad manor is the game. The
whole atmosphere of such a place savours of rabbits and hares and
partridges. There may be no pheasant-rearing and comparatively little
game of any kind, yet the place is, nevertheless, associated with sport
with the gun. Ten to one there are guns, old and new, hanging up in the
hall or the smoking-room, and perhaps fishing-rods too. There is a bond
between the house and the fields around, and the connecting link is the
game. Time was when the squire in these English villages lived on the
produce of the estate: game, fish, and fowl, and the stock at the farm
supplied his simple wants throughout the year. Huge game larders are yet
to be seen in the lower regions of the manor house; you must pass
through them to reach the still more ample wine cellars. Nearer London
there is not much connection nowadays between the house and the
land--you must walk on the roads; but away in the country it is over the
broad fields that you roam. Even on a small manor of two thousand acres
you may walk a dozen miles in an afternoon and not pass the
boundary fence.

It is very surprising that there is not more demand for country houses
in England when one considers that an extensive demesne may be rented at
a price which is paid for a small flat in unfashionable Kensington. The
local term in Gloucestershire for renting a manor is "holding the
liberty"--the old Saxon word. The term is singularly expressive of the
freedom possessed by the man who exchanges the life of the town or the
villa for a manor in one of the remote counties. He who enjoys the
sporting rights, with license (as the leases run) to hunt, fish, course,
hawk, or sport without the labour and loss of farming the land,
possesses all the pleasures of the squire's existence with few of its
drawbacks and responsibilities. Yet many a fine old house in the country
remains unlet because the life is considered a dull one by those who
have not been brought up to it. With nature's book spread so amply
before our eyes, the country is never dull. At no time of life is it too
late to commence the study of this book of nature. The faculty of
observation is one that is easily acquired. It is not a case of
_nascitur non fit_. With tolerably good eyesight and a determination to
learn, a man soon

"Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

And the habit of observing once acquired, we can never lose it till we
die.

Of course those who rent a place in preference to purchasing it miss one
of the greatest and most useful privileges the country can confer--that
of following in the footsteps of him who

"Strove for sixty widow'd years to help his homelier brother
man,
Served the poor and built the cottage, rais'd the school
and drained the fen."

These are the true delights of a country existence; and it is, I think,
incumbent on the really rich men of England, if they have the welfare of
the nation at heart, to hold a stake, however small, in the land, even
at a sacrifice of income. I refer to men with incomes ranging from ten
to a hundred thousand pounds per annum, who would not feel the loss of
interest that would possibly accrue on an exchange of investment from
"the elegant simplicity of the three per cents." to an agricultural
estate in the country. They may be giving gold for silver in the
transaction, but will be amply repaid in a thousand different ways. How
infinitely preferable the existence of the poor countryman, even though
times be hard, to that of the misguided being of whom it may be said:

"Through life's dark road his sordid way he wends--
An incarnation of fat dividends "!

C. SPRAGUE.

It is probable that the bicycle will cause a larger demand for remote
country houses. To the writer, who, previous to this summer, had never
experienced the poetry of motion which a bicycle coasting downhill, with
a smooth road and a favourable wind, undoubtedly constitutes, the
invention seems of the greatest utility. It brings places sixty miles
apart within our immediate neighbourhood. Let the south wind blow, and
we can be at quaint old Tewkesbury, thirty miles away, in less than
three hours. A northerly gale will land us at the "Blowing-stone" and
the old White House of Berkshire with less labour than it takes to walk
a mile. Yet in the old days these twenty miles were a great gulf fixed
between the Gloucestershire natives and the "chaw-bacons" over the
boundary. Their very language is as different as possible. To this day
the villagers who went to the last "scouring of the horse" and saw the
old-fashioned backsword play, talk of the expedition with as much pride
as if they had made a pilgrimage to the Antipodes.

As September draws nigh and the days rapidly shorten, the merry hum of
the thrashing machine is heard all day long. The sound comes from the
homestead across the road, and buzzes in my ears as I sit and write by
the open window. How wonderful the evolution of the thrashing machine!
How rough-and-ready the primitive methods of our forefathers! First of
all there was the Eastern method of spreading the sheaves on a floor of
clay, and allowing horses and oxen to trample on the wheat and tread out
the corn. Not less ancient was the use of the old-fashioned flail--an
instrument only discarded within the memory of living man. Yet what a
wonderful difference there is between the work accomplished in a day
with the flails and the daily output of the modern thrashing machine!

In the porch of the manor house, amid an accumulation of old traps and
other curious odds and ends there hangs an ancient and much-worn flail.
Two stout sticks, the handstaff and the swingle, attached to each other
by a strong band of gut, constitute its simple mechanism. The wheat
having been strewn on the barn floor, the labourer held the handstaff in
both hands, swung it over his head, and brought the swingle down
horizontally on to the heads of ripe corn. Contrast this fearfully
laborious process with the bustling, hurrying machine of to-day. And yet
with all this improvement the corn can scarcely be thrashed out at a
profit. So out of joint are the times and seasons that the foreigner is
allowed to cut out the home producer. Half the life of the country-side
has gone, and no man dare whisper "Protection."

Even in these bad times the man with a head on his shoulders above the
average of his neighbours comes forth to show what can be done with
energy and pluck. Twenty years ago a labouring man, who "by crook or by
hook" had saved a hundred pounds, bought a thrashing machine (probably
second-hand) He took it round to the various farms, and did the
thrashing at so much per day. By and by he had saved enough money to
take a farm. A few years later he had two thrashing machines travelling
the country, and in this poor district is now esteemed a wealthy man. I
always found him an excellent game-preserver and a most straightforward
fellow. Another farming neighbour of mine, however, was always talking
about his ignorance and lack of caste. All classes, from the peer to the
peasant, seem to resent a man's pushing his way from what they are
pleased to consider a lower station into their own.

In the autumn gipsies are to be seen travelling the roads, or sitting
round the camp fire, on their way to the various "feasts" or harvest
festivals. "Have you got the old gipsy blood in your veins?" I asked the
other day of a gang I met on their way to Quenington feast "Always
gipsies, ever since we can remember," was the reply. Fathers,
grandfathers were just the same,--always living in the open air, winter
and summer, and always moving about with the vans. In the winter hawking
is their occupation. "Oh no! they never felt the cold in winter; they
could light the fire in the van if they wanted it."

Although many of the farmers here have given up treating their men to a
spread after the harvest is gathered in, there is still a certain amount
of rejoicing. The villagers have a little money over from extra pay
during the harvest, so that the gipsies do not do badly by going the
round of the villages at this time. The village churches are decorated
in a very delightful manner for these feasts: such huge apples, carrots,
and turnips in the windows and strewn about in odd places; lots of
golden barley all round the pulpit and the font; and perhaps there will
be bunches of grapes, such as grow wild on the cottage walls, hung round
the pulpit. Then what could look prettier against the white carved stone
than the russet and gold leaves of the Virginia creeper? and these they
freely use in the decorations. If one wants to see good taste displayed
in these days, one must go to simple country places to find it. At
Christmas the old Gothic fane is hung with festoons of ivy and of yew in
the old fashion of our forefathers.

I paid a visit to my old friend John Brown the other day, as I thought
he would be able to tell me something about the harvest feasts of bygone
days. He is a dear old man of some seventy-eight summers, though
somewhat of the _laudator temporis acti_ school; but what good-nature
and sense of humour there is in the good, honest face!

"Fifty year ago 'twere all mirth and jollity," he replied to our enquiry
as to the old times. "There was four feasts in the year for us folk.
First of all there was the sower's feast,--that would be about the end
of April; then came the sheep-shearer's feast,--there'd be about fifteen
of us as would sit down after sheep-shearing, and we'd be singing best
part of the night, and plenty to eat and drink; next came the feast for
the reapers, when the corn was cut about August; and, last of all, the
harvest home in September. Ah! those were good times fifty years ago. My
father and I have rented this cottage eighty-six years come Michaelmas;
and my father's grandfather lived in that 'ere housen, up that 'tuer'
there, nigh on a hundred years afore that. I planted them ash trees in
the grove, and I mind when those firs was put in, near seventy years
ago. Ah! there _was_ some foxes about in those days; trout, too, in the
'bruk'--it were full of them. You'll have very few 'lets' for hunting
this season; 'twill be a mild time again. Last night were Hollandtide
eve, and where the wind is at Hollandtide there it will stick best part
of the winter. I've minded it every year, and never was wrong yet The
wind is south-west to-day, and you'll have no 'lets' for hunting
this time."

"Lets" appear to be hindrances to hunting in the shape of frosts. It is
an Anglo-Saxon word, seldom used nowadays, though it is found in the
dictionary; and our English Prayer Book has the words "we are sore let
and hindered in running the race," etc. Shakespeare too employs it to
signify a "check" with the hounds.

As I left, and thanked John Brown for his information, he handed me a
little bit of paper, whereon was written: "to John Brown 1 day minding
the edge at the picked cloos 2s three days doto," etc. I found that this
was his little account for mending the hedge at the "picket close."

A fine stamp of humanity is the Cotswold labourer; and may his shadow
never grow less.

"Princes and lords may flourish or may fade,
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied."

Fresh and health-giving is the breeze on the wolds in autumn, like the
driest and oldest iced champagne. In the rough grass fields tough, wiry
bents, thistles with purple flowers, and the remnants of oxeye daisies
on brittle stalks rise almost to the height of your knees. Lovely blue
bell-flowers grow in patches; golden ragwort, two sorts of field
scabious, yellow toad-flax, and occasionally some white campion remain
almost into winter. Where the grass is shorter masses of shrivelled wild
thyme may be seen. The charlock brightens the landscape with its mass of
colour among the turnips until the end of November, if the season be
fairly mild. But the hedges and trees are the glory of "the happy autumn
fields." The traveller's joy gleams in the September sunlight as the
feathery awns lengthen on its seed vessels. What could be more
beautiful! Later on it becomes the "old man's beard," and the hedges
will be white with the snowy down right up to Christmas, until the
winter frosts have once more scattered the seeds along the hedgerow. Of
a rich russet tint are the maple leaves in every copse and fence. On the
blackthorn hang the purple sloeberries, like small damsons, luscious and
covered with bloom. Tart are they to the taste, like the crab-apples
which abound in the hedges. These fruits are picked by the poor people
and made into wine. Crab-apples may be seen on the trees as late as
January. Blackberries are found in extraordinary numbers on this
limestone soil, and the hedges are full of elder-berries, as well as the
little black fruit of the privet. Add to these the red berries of the
hawthorn or the may, the hips and haws, the brown nuts and the succulent
berries of the yew, and we have an extraordinary variety of fruits and
bird food. Woodbine or wild honeysuckle may often be picked during
October as well as in the spring. By the river the trout grow darker and
more lanky day by day as the nights lengthen. The water is very, very
clear. "You might as well throw your 'at in as try to catch them," says
Tom Peregrine. The willows are gold as well as silver now, for some of
the leaves have turned; while others still show white downy backs when
the breeze ruffles them. In the garden by the brook-side the tall
willow-herbs are seeding; the pods are bursting, and the gossamer-like,
grey down--the "silver mist" of Tennyson--is conspicuous all along the
brook. The water-mint and scorpion-grasses remain far into November, and
the former scents more sweetly as the season wanes. But

"Heavily hangs the broad sunflower,
Over its grave in the earth so chilly;
Heavily hangs the hollyhock;
Heavily hangs the tiger lily."

An old wild duck that left the garden last spring to rear her progeny in
a more secluded spot half a mile up stream has returned to us. Every
morning her ten young ones pitch down into the water in front of the
house, and remain until they are disturbed; then, with loud quacks and
tumultuous flappings, they rise in a long string and fly right away for
several miles, often returning at nightfall. Such wild birds are far
more interesting as occasional visitors to your garden than the fancy
fowl of strange shape and colouring often to be seen on ornamental
water. A teal came during the autumn of 1897 to the sanctuary in front
of the house, attracted by the decoys; she stayed six weeks with us,
taking daily exercise in the skies at an immense height, and circling
round and round. Unfortunately, when the weeds were cut, she left us,
never to return.

By the end of October almost all our summer birds have left us. First of
all, in August, went the cuckoo, seeking a winter resort in the north of
Africa. The swifts were the next to go. After a brief stay of scarce
three months they disappeared as suddenly in August as they came in May.
The long-tailed swallows and the white-throated martins were with us for
six months, but about the middle of October they were no more seen. All
have gone southwards towards the Afric shore, seeking warmth and days of
endless sunshine. Gone, too, the blackcap, the redstart, and the little
fly-catcher; vanishing in the dark night, they gathered in legions and
sped across the seas. One night towards the end of September, whilst
walking in the road, I heard such a loud, rushing sound in front, beyond
a turning of the lane, that I imagined a thrashing machine was coming
round the corner among the big elm trees. But on approaching the spot, I
found the noise was nothing more nor less than the chattering and
clattering of an immense concourse of starlings. The roar of their wings
when they were disturbed in the trees could be heard half a mile away.
Although a few starlings remain round the eaves of the houses throughout
the winter, vast flocks of them assemble at this time in the fields, and
some doubtless travel southwards and westwards in search of warmer
quarters. The other evening a large flock of lapwings, or common plover,
gave a very fine display--a sort of serpentine dance to the tune of the
setting sun, all for my edification. They could not quite make up their
minds to settle on a brown ploughed field. No sooner had they touched
the ground than they would rise again with shrill cries, flash here and
flash there, faster and faster, but all in perfect time and all in
perfect order--now flying in long drawn out lines, now in battalions;
bowing here, bowing there; now they would "right about turn" and curtsey
to the sun. A thousand trained ballet dancer; could not have been in
better time. It was as if all joined hands, dressed in green and white;
for at every turn a thousand white breasts gleamed in the purple sunset.
The restless call of the birds added a peculiar charm to the scene in
the darkening twilight.

Of our winter visitants that come to take the place of the summer
migrants the fieldfare is the commonest and most familiar. Ere the leaf
is off the ash and the beeches are tinged with russet and gold, flocks
of these handsome birds leave their homes in the ice-bound north, and
fly southwards to England and the sunny shores of France. Such a
_rara avis_ as the grey phalarope--a wading bird like the
sandpiper--occasionally finds its way to the Cotswolds. Wild geese,
curlews, and wimbrels with sharp, snipe-like beaks, are shot
occasionally by the farmers. A few woodcocks, snipe, and wildfowl also
visit us. In the winter the short-eared owls come; they are rarer than
their long-eared relatives, who stay with us all the year. The common
barn owl, of a white, creamy colour, is the screech owl that we hear on
summer nights. Brown owls are the ones that hoot; they do not screech.

Curiously enough I missed the corncrake's well-known call in the meadows
by the river in the springtime of 1897; and not one was bagged in
September by the partridge-shooters. This is the first year they have
been absent. I always looked for their pleasing croak in May by the
trout stream, and invariably shot several while partridge-shooting in
former years.

The earthquake of 1895 was very severely felt in the Cotswolds. Next to
an earthquake a bad thunderstorm is the most awe inspiring of all things
to mortals. During last autumn the Cotswold district was visited by a
thunderstorm of short duration, but great severity. A gale was blowing
from the south; thunder and lightning came up from the same direction,
and, travelling at an immense speed, passed rapidly over our house about
ten p.m. The shocks became louder and louder; and whilst five or six of
us were watching the lightning from a large window in the hall, there
was a deafening report as of a dozen canons exploding simultaneously at
close quarters. At the same time a flame of blue fire of intense
brilliancy seemed to fall like a meteor a few yards in front of our
eyes. At first we were sure the house had been struck, so that the first
impulse was to rush out of doors; but the succeeding report being much
less severe, confidence was restored. The general conclusion was that a
thunderbolt had fallen, and, missing the house by a few yards, had
disappeared in the earth. A search next morning on the lawn did not
throw any light on the matter. Probably, if there was a thunderbolt, it
fell into the river; for it is well known that water is a great
conductor of the electric fluid, and thunderstorms often seem to follow
the course of a stream. The summer lightning, which kept the sky in a
blaze of light for two hours after the storm had passed away, was the
finest I remember.

It is a pity mankind is so little addicted to being out of doors after
sunset. Some of the most beautiful drives and walks I have ever enjoyed
have been those taken at night. Driving out one evening from
Cirencester, the road on either side was illuminated with the fairy
lights of countless glow-worms. It is the female insect that is usually
responsible for this wonderful green signal taper; the males seldom use
it. Whereas the former is merely an apterous creeping grub, the latter
is an insect provided with wings. Flying about at night, he is guided to
his mate by the light she puts forth; and it is a peculiar
characteristic of the male glow-worm, that his eyes are so placed that
he is unable to view any object that is not immediately beneath him.

It is early in summer that these wonderful lights are to be seen; June
is the best month for observing them. During July and August glow-worms
seem to migrate to warmer quarters in sheltered banks and holes, nor is
their light visible to the eye after June is out, save on very warm
evenings, and then only in a lesser degree.

The glow-worms on this particular night were so numerous as to remind
one of the fireflies in the tropics. At no place are these lovely
insects more numerous and resplendent than at Kandy in Ceylon. Myriads
of them flit about in the cool evening atmosphere, giving the appearance
of countless meteors darting in different directions across the sky.

In the clear Cotswold atmosphere very brilliant meteors are observable
at certain seasons of the year. Never shall I forget the strange variety
of phenomena witnessed whilst driving homewards one evening in autumn
from the railway station seven miles away. There had been a time of
stormy, unsettled weather for some weeks previously, and the
meteorological conditions were in a very disturbed state. But as I
started homewards the stars were shining brightly, whilst far away in
the western sky, beyond the rolling downs and bleak plains of the
Cotswold Hills, shone forth the strange, mysterious, zodiacal light,
towering upwards into a point among the stars, and shaped in the form of
a cone. It was the first occasion this curious, unexplained phenomenon
had ever come under my notice, and it was awe inspiring enough in
itself. But before I had gone more than two miles of my solitary
journey, great black clouds came up behind me from the south, and I knew
I was racing with the storm. Then, as "the great organ of eternity
began to play" and the ominous murmurs of distant thunder broke the
silence of the night, a stiff breeze from the south seemed to come from
behind and pass me, as if travelling quicker than my fast-trotting nag.
Like a whisper from the grave it rustled in the brown, lifeless leaves
that still lingered on the trees, making me wish I was nearer the old
house that I knew was ready to welcome me five miles on in the little
valley, nestling under the sheltering hill. And soon more clouds seemed
to spring up suddenly, north, south, east, and west, where ten minutes
before the sky had been clear and starry. And the sheet lightning began
to play over them with a continuous flow of silvery radiance, north
answering south, and east giving back to west the reflected glory of the
mighty electric fluid. But the centre of the heavens was still clear and
free from cloud, so that there yet remained a large open space in
front of me, wherein the stars shone brighter than ever. And as I
gazed forward and upward, and urged the willing horse into a
twelve-mile-an-hour trot, the open space in the heavens revealed the
glories of the finest display of fireworks I have ever seen. First of
all two or three smaller stars shot across the hemisphere and
disappeared into eternal space. But suddenly a brilliant light, like an
enormous rocket, appeared in the western sky, far above the clouds.
First it moved in a steady flight, hovering like a kestrel above us;
then, with a flash which startled me out of my wits and brought my horse
to a standstill, it rushed apparently towards us, and finally
disappeared behind the clouds. It was some time before either horse or
driver regained the nerve which had for a time forsaken them; and even
then I was inclined to attribute this wonderful meteoric shower to a
display of fireworks in a neighbouring village, so close to us had this
last rocket-like shooting star appeared to be. A meteor which is
sufficiently brilliant to frighten a horse and make him stop dead is of
rare occurrence. I was thankful when I reached home in safety that I had
not only won my race against the storm, but that I had seen no more
atmospheric phenomena of so startling a nature.

In addition to the wonders of the heaven there are many other
interesting features connected with a drive or walk by the light of the
stars or the moon. A Cotswold village seen by moonlight is even more
picturesque than it is by day. The old, gabled manor houses are a
delightful picture on a cold, frosty night in winter; if most of the
rooms are lit up, they give one the idea of endless hospitality and
cheerfulness when viewed from without. To walk by a stream such as the
Coln on such a night is for the time like being in fairyland. Every eddy
and ripple is transformed into a crystal stream, sparkling with a
thousand diamonds. The sound of the waters as they gurgle and bubble
over the stones on the shallows seems for all the world like children's
voices plaintively repeating over and over again the old strain:

"I chatter, chatter as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever."

Now is the time to discover the haunts of wild duck and other shy birds
like the teal and the heron. In frosty weather many of these visitors
come and go without our being any the wiser, unless we are out at night.
Before sunrise they will be far, far away, and will probably never
return any more. Time after time we have been startled by a flight of
duck rising abruptly from the stream, in places where by day one would
never dream of looking for them. Foxes, too, may be seen within a
stone's throw of the house on a moonlight evening. They love to prowl
around on the chance of a dainty morsel, such as a fat duck or a
semi-domestic moorhen. Nor will they take any notice of you at such
a time.

I made a midnight expedition once last hunting season to see that the
"earths" were properly stopped in some small coverts situated on a bleak
and lonely spot on the Cotswold Hills. On the way I had to pass close to
a large barrow. Weird indeed looked the old time-worn stone that has
stood for thousands of years at the end of this old burial mound. A
small wood close by rejoices in the name of "Deadman's Acre." The moon
was casting a ghastly light over the great moss-grown stone and the
deserted wolds. The words of Ossian rose to my lips as I wondered what
manner of men lay buried here. "We shall pass away like a dream. Our
tombs will be lost on the heath. The hunter shall not know the place of
our rest. Give us the song of other years. Let the night pass away on
the sound, and morning return with joy." Then, as the rustling wind
spoke in the lifeless leaves of the beeches, the plain seemed to be
peopled with strange phantasies--the ghosts of the heroes of old. And a
voice came back to me on the whispering breeze:

"Thou, too, must share our fate; for human life is short.
Soon will thy tomb be hid, and the grass grow rank on thy grave."

MACPHERSON'S _Ossian_.

And sometimes when I have been up on the hills by night, and, looking
away over the broad vale stretched out below, have seen in the distance
the gliding lights of some Great Western express--a trusty
weight-carrier bearing through the darkness its precious burden of
humanity--I thought of the time when the old seas ran here. And then
there seemed to come from the direction of the old White Horse and
Wayland Smith's cave the faint murmuring sound of the "Blowing-stone"
("King Alfred's bugle-horn")--that summoner of men to arms a thousand
years ago, like the beacons of later days that "shone on Beachy Head";
and I felt like a man standing at the prow of a mighty liner, "homeward
bound," on some fine though dark and starless evening, when no sound
breaks upon his ear but the monotonous beating of the screw and the
ceaseless flow of unfathomed waters, save that ever and anon in the far
distance the moaning foghorn sounds its note of warning; whilst as he
stands "forward" and inhales the pure health-giving salt distilled from
balmy vapours that rise everlastingly from the surface of the deep,
nothing is visible to the eye--straining westward for a glimpse of
white chalk cliffs, or eastward, perhaps, for the first peep of
dawn--save the intermittent flash from the lighthouse tower, and the
signals glowing weird and fiery that reveal in the misty darkness those
softly gliding phantasies, the ships that pass in the night.

II.

In nine years out of ten autumn lingers on until the death of the old
year; then, with the advent of the new, our English winter begins
in earnest.

It is Christmas Day, and so lovely is the weather that I am sitting on
the terrace watching the warm, grateful sun gradually disappearing
through the grey ash trunks in the hanging wood beyond the river. The
birds are singing with all the promise of an early spring. There is
scarcely a breath of wind stirring, and one might almost imagine it to
be April. Tom Peregrine, clad in his best Sunday homespun, passes along
his well-worn track through the rough grass beyond the water, intent on
visiting his vermin traps, or bent on some form of destruction,--for he
is never happy unless he is killing. My old friend, the one-legged cock
pheasant, who for the third year in succession has contrived to escape
our annual battue, comes up to my feet to take the bread I offer. When
he was flushed by the beaten there was no need to call "Spare him," for
with all the cunning of a veteran he towered straight into the skies
and passed over the guns out of shot. Two fantail pigeons of purest
white, sitting in a dark yew tree that overhangs the stream a hundred
yards away, make the prettiest picture in the world against the
dusky foliage.

Splash!--a great brown trout rolls in the shallow water like a porpoise
in the sea. A two-pounder in this little stream makes as much fuss as a
twenty-pound salmon in the mighty Tweed.

Hark! was that a lamb bleating down in old Mr. Peregrine's meadow? It
was: the first lamb, herald of the spring that is to be. May its little
life be as peaceful as this its first birthday: less stormy than the
life of that Lamb whose birth all people celebrate to-day.

The rooks are cawing, and a faint cry of plover comes from the hill.

Soft and grey is the winter sky, but behold! round the sun in the west
there arises a perfect solar halo, very similar to an ordinary rainbow,
but smaller in its arc and fainter in its hues of yellow and rose--a
very beautiful phenomenon, and one seldom to be seen in England. Halos
of this nature are supposed to arise from the double refraction of the
rays from the sun as the light passes through thin clouds, or from the
transmission of light through particles of ice. It lingers a full
quarter of an hour, and then dies away. Does this bode rough weather?
Surely the cruel Boreas and the frost will not come suddenly on us after
this lovely, mild Christmas! Listen to the Christmas bells ringing two
miles away at Barnsley village I we can never tire of the sound here,
for it is only on very still days that it reaches us across the wolds.

"Hark! In the air, around, above,
The Angelic Music soars and swells,
And, in the Garden that I love
I hear the sound of Christmas Bells.

"From hamlet, hollow, village, height,
The silvery Message seems to start,
And far away its notes to-night
Are surging through the city's heart.

"Assurance clear to those who fret
O'er vanished Faith and feelings fled,
That not in English homes is yet
Tradition dumb, or Reverence dead.

"Now onward floats the sacred tale,
Past leafless woodlands, freezing rills;
It wakes from sleep the silent vale,
It skims the mere, it scales the hills;

"And rippling on up rings of space,
Sounds faint and fainter as more high,
Till mortal ear no more may trace
The music homeward to the sky.

"To courtly roof and rustic cot
Old comrades wend from far and wide;
Now is the ancient feud forgot,
The growing grudge is laid aside.

"Peace and goodwill 'twixt rich and poor!
Goodwill and peace 'twixt class and class!
Let old with new, let Prince with boor
Send round the bowl, and drain the glass!"

ALFRED AUSTIN.

I have culled these lines from the poet laureate's charming "Christmas
Carol," as they are both singularly beautiful and singularly appropriate
to our Cotswold village.

I take the liberty of saying that in our little hamlet there _is_ peace
and goodwill 'twixt rich and poor at Christmas-time.

"Now is the ancient feud forgot,
The growing grudge is laid aside."

Our humble rejoicings during this last Christmas were very similar to
those of a hundred years ago. They included a grand smoking concert at
the club, during which the mummers gave an admirable performance of
their old play, of which more anon; then a big feed for every man,
woman, and child of the hamlet (about a hundred souls) was held in the
manor house; added to which we received visits from carol singers and
musicians of all kinds to the number of seventy-two, reckoning up the
total aggregate of the different bands, all of whom were welcomed, for
Christmas comes but once a year, after all, and "the more the merrier"
should be our motto at this time. So from villages three and four miles
away came bands of children to sing the old, old songs. The brass band,
including old grey-haired men who fifty years ago with strings and
wood-wind led the psalmody at Chedworth Church, come too, and play
inside the hall. We do not brew at home nowadays. Even such
old-fashioned Conservatives as old Mr. Peregrine, senior, have at length
given up the custom, so we cannot, like Sir Roger, allow a greater
quantity of malt to our small beer at Christmas; but we take good care
to order in some four or five eighteen-gallon casks at this time. Let it
be added that we never saw any man the worse for drink in consequence
of this apparent indiscretion. But then, we have a butler of the
old school.

When we held our Yuletide revels in the manor house, and the old walls
rang with the laughter and merriment of the whole hamlet (for farmers as
well as labourers honoured us), it occurred to me that the bigotphones,
which had been lying by in a cupboard for about a twelvemonth, might
amuse the company. Bigotphones, I must explain to those readers who are
uninitiated, are delightfully simple contrivances fitted with reed
mouthpieces--exact representations in mockery of the various instruments
that make up a brass band--but composed of strong cardboard, and
dependent solely on the judicious application of the human lips and the
skilful modulation of the human voice for their effect. These being
produced, an impromptu band was formed: young Peregrine seized the
bassoon, the carter took the clarionet, the shepherd the French horn,
the cowman the trombone, and, seated at the piano, I myself conducted
the orchestra. Never before have I been so astonished as I was by the
unexpected musical ability displayed. No matter what tune I struck up,
that heterogeneous orchestra played it as if they had been doing nothing
else all their lives. "The British Grenadiers," "The Eton Boating Song,"
"Two Lovely Black Eyes" (solo, young Peregrine on the bassoon), "A Fine
Hunting Day,"--all and sundry were performed in perfect time and without
a false note. Singularly enough, it is very difficult for the voice to
"go flat" on the bigotphone. Then, not content with these popular songs
we inaugurated a dance. Now could be seen the beautiful and
accomplished Miss Peregrine doing the light fantastic round the stone
floor of the hall to the tune of "See me dance the polka"; then, too,
the stately Mrs. Peregrine insisted on our playing "Sir Roger de
Coverley," and it was danced with that pomp and ceremony which such
occasions alone are wont to show. None of your "kitchen lancers" for us
hamlet folk; we leave that kind of thing to the swells and nobs. Tom
Peregrine alone was baffled. Whilst his family in general were bowing
there, curtseying here, clapping hands and "passing under to the right"
in the usual "Sir Roger" style, he stood in grey homespun of the best
material (I never yet saw a Cotswold man in a vulgar chessboard suit),
and as he stood he marvelled greatly, exclaiming now and then, "Well, I
never; this is something new to be sure!" "I never saw such things in
all my life, never!" He would not dance; but, seizing one of the
bigotphones, he blew into it until I was in some anxiety lest he should
have an apoplectic fit I need scarcely say he failed to produce a
single note.

Thus our Yuletide festivities passed away, all enjoying themselves
immensely, and thus was sealed the bond of fellowship and of goodwill
'twixt class and class for the coming year.

Whilst the younger folks danced, the fathers of the hamlet walked on
tiptoe with fearful tread around the house, looking at the faded family
portraits. I was pleased to find that what they liked best was the
ancient armour; for said they, "Doubtless squire wore that in the old
battles hereabouts, when Oliver Cromwell was round these parts." On my
pointing out the picture of the man who built the house three hundred
years ago, they surrounded it, and gazed at the features for a great
length of time; indeed, I feared that they would never come away, so
fascinated were they by this relic of antiquity, illustrating the
ancient though simple annals of their village.

I persuaded the head of our mummer troop to write out their play as it
was handed down to him by his predecessors. This he did in a fine bold
hand on four sides of foolscap. Unfortunately the literary quality of
the lines is so poor that they are hardly worth reproducing, except as a
specimen of the poetry of very early times handed down by oral
tradition. Suffice it to say that the _dramatis personae_ are five in
number--viz., Father Christmas, Saint George, a Turkish Knight, the
Doctor, and an Old Woman. All are dressed in paper flimsies of various
shapes and colours. First of all enters Father Christmas.

"In comes I old Father Christmas,
Welcome in or welcome not,
Sometimes cold and sometimes hot.
I hope Father Christmas will never be forgot," etc.

Then Saint George comes in, and after a great deal of bragging he fights
the "most dreadful battle that ever was known," his adversary being the
knight "just come from Turkey-land," with the inevitable result that the
Turkish knight falls. This brings in the Doctor, who suggests the
following remedies:--

"Give him a bucket of dry hot ashes to eat,
Groom him down with a bezom stick,
And give him a yard and a half of pump water to drink."

For these offices he mentions that his fee is fifty guineas, but he
will take ten pounds, adding:

"I can cure the itchy pitchy,
Palsy, and the gout;
Pains within or pains without;
A broken leg or a broken arm,
Or a broken limb of any sort.
I cured old Mother Roundabout," etc.

He declares that he is not one of those "quack doctors who go about from
house to house telling you more lies in one half-hour than what you can
find true in seven years."

So the knight just come from Turkey-land is resuscitated and sent back
to his own country.

Last of all the old woman speaks:

"In comes I old Betsy Bub;
On my shoulder I carry my tub,
And in my hand a dripping-pan.
Don't you think I'm a jolly old man?

Now last Christmas my father killed a fat hog,
And my mother made black-puddings enough to choke a dog,
And they hung them up with a pudden string
Till the fat dropped out and the maggots crawled in," etc.

The mummers' play, of which the above is a very brief _resume_, lasts
about half an hour, and includes many songs of a topical nature.

Yes, Christmas is Christmas still in the heart of old England. We are
apt to talk of the good old days that are no more, lamenting the customs
and country sports that have passed away; but let us not forget that two
hundred years hence, when we who are living now will have long passed
"that bourne from which no traveller returns," our descendants, as they
sit round their hearths at Yuletide, may in the same way regret the
grand old times when good Victoria--the greatest monarch of all
ages--was Queen of England; those times when during the London season
fair ladies and gallant men might be seen on Drawing-room days driving
down St James's Street in grand carriages, drawn by magnificent horses,
with servants in cocked hats and wigs and gold lace; when the rural
villages of merrie England were cheered throughout the dreary winter
months by the sound of horse and hound, and by the sight of beautiful
ladies and red-coated sportsmen, mounted on blood horses, careering over
the country, clearing hedges and ditches of fabulous height and width;
when every man, woman, and child in the village turned out to see the
"meet," and the peer and the peasant were for the day on an equal
footing, bound together by an extraordinary devotion to the chase of
"that little red rover" which men called the fox--now, alas! extinct, as
the mammoth or the bear, owing to barbed wire and the abolition of the
horse; when to such an extent were games and sports a part of our
national life that half London flocked to see two elevens of cricketers
(including a champion "nine" feet high called Grace) fighting their
mimic battle arrayed in white flannels and curiously coloured caps, at a
place called Lords, the exact site of which is now, alas I lost in the
sea of houses; when as an absolute fact the first news men turned to on
opening their daily papers in the morning was the column devoted to
cricket, football, or horse-racing; when in the good old days, before
electricity and the motor-car caused the finest specimen of the brute
creation to become virtually extinct (although a few may still be seen
at the Zoological Gardens), horse-racing for a cup and a small fortune
in gold was only second to cricket and football in the estimation of all
merrie Englanders--the only races now indulged in being those of flying
machines to Mars and back twice a day. Two hundred years hence, I say,
the Victorian era--time of blessed peace and unexampled prosperity--will
be pronounced by all unprejudiced judges as the true days of merrie
England. Let us, then, though not unmindful of the past, pin our faith
firmly on the present and the future. _Carpe diem_ should be our motto
in these fleeting times, and, above all, progress, not retrogression.
Let us, as the old, old sound of the village bells comes to us over the
rolling downs this New Year's eve, recall to mind

".... the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be."

Let our hearts warm to the battle cry of advancing civilisation and the
attainment of the ideal humanity, soaring upwards step by step,
re-echoing the prayer contained in those lilting stanzas with which
Tennyson greets the New Year:

"Ring out the old, ring in the new;
Ring happy bells across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

"Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

"Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right;
Ring in the common love of good.

"Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

"Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land.
Ring in the Christ that is to be."

[Illustration: Coln S' Aldwyns 429.png]

CHAPTER XVIII.

WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN.

"I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright:--
And round beneath it, time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd."

HENRY VAUGHAN.

It is the end of May; a bright, rainless, and at times bitterly cold
month it has been. But now the chill east wind has almost died away.
Summer has come at last. Once more I am making for the Downs. Very
seldom am I there at this period of the year; but before going away for
several months, I bethought me that I would go and inspect the
improvements at the fox-covert, stopping on my way at the "Jubilee"
gorse covert we lately planted, to see if there is a litter of cubs
there this year. Across the fields we go, ankle deep in buttercups and
clover at one moment, then up the hedge to avoid treading the half-grown
barley. We are so accustomed to take a bee-line across these shooting
grounds of ours that we quite forget that the farmer would not thank us
for trampling down his crops at the end of May. But soon we are on the
Downs, well out of harm's way and far removed from highroads and
footpaths. What a glorious panorama lies all around! Why do we not come
here oftener in summer?--the country is ten times more lovely then than
it is in the shooting season. A field of sainfoin in June, with its
glorious blossoms of pink, is one of the prettiest sights in all
creation. Seen in the distance, amid a setting of green wheatfields and
verdant pastures, it ripples in the garish light of the summer sun like
a lake of rubies.

"Land and sea
Give themselves up to jollity;
And with the heart of May
Doth every beast keep holiday."

Ah! there will be lots of foxes when the hounds come to the fox-covert
next October. The unpleasant smell at the mouth of the earth tells us
that there are cubs there; and as we stand over it we can hear them
playing down below in the bowels of mother earth. Very distinct, too,
are the tracks--_traffic_, the keeper calls them--leading by sundry
well-trodden paths to the dell below--a nice sunny dell, facing
south-west, where in spring the violets and primroses grow among the
spreading elder. These cubs were not born here. Their mother brought
them from an old hollow stump of a tree by the river, half a mile away.
When she found her lair discovered by an angler who happened to pass
that way, she brought them across the river by the narrow footbridge
right up here on to the hill. The cubs from the tree have disappeared,
so no doubt these are the ones. Well, there are lots of rabbits for
them; the little fellows are popping about all over the place.

How tame all wild animals become in the summer!--all except the ones we
want to circumvent--magpies, jays, stoats, and such small deer. Lapwings
fly round us, crying restlessly, "Go away, go away!" Their shrill treble
accents remind one of a baby's squall. Pigeons and ringdoves, partridges
and hares seem to be plentiful "as blackberries in September." A
gorgeous cock pheasant crows and jumps up close to us, followed by his
mate. This is a pleasing sight up here, for they are wild birds. There
has been no rearing done in these copses on the hills within the
memory of man.

Tom Peregrine suddenly appears out of a hedge, where he has been
watching the antics of the cubs at the mouth of the fox-earth. He has
grown very serious of late, and tells you repeatedly that there is going
to be another big European war shortly. Let us hope his gloomy
forebodings are doomed to disappointment. Surely, surely at the end of
this marvellous nineteenth century, when there are so many men in the
world who have learnt the difficult lessons of life in a way that they
have never been learnt before, nations are no longer obliged to behave
like children, or worse still, with their petty jealousies and
bickerings and growlings, "like dogs that delight to bark and bite."

Tom Peregrine, having done but little work for many months, is now
making himself really useful, for a change, by copying out parts of this
great work; and, to do him justice, he writes a capital, clear hand. He
is very anxious to become secretary to "some great gentleman," he says.
If any of my readers require a sporting secretary, I can confidently
recommend him as a man of "plain sense rather than of much learning, of
a sociable temper, and one that understands a little of backgammon."
There is no fear of his "insulting you with Latin and Greek at your own
table." He would have suited Sir Roger capitally for a chaplain, I often
tell him; and though he hasn't a notion who Sir Roger may be, he
thoroughly enjoys the joke.

The fox-covert presents a strange appearance. It is full of young spruce
trees, and the lower branches have been lopped down, but not cut through
or killed. Under each tree there is now a grand hiding-place for foxes
and rabbits--a sort of big umbrella turned topsy-turvy. The rabbits
appreciate the pains we have been at; but I fear the foxes, for whom it
was intended, at present look on the shelter with suspicion. They
dislike the gum which oozes continually from the gashes in the bark; it
sticks to their coats, and gives an unpleasant sensation when they
roll. They cannot keep their beautiful coats sleek and glossy, as is
their invariable rule, as long as their is any gum sticking to them.

How clearly we can see the Swindon Hills in the bright evening
atmosphere! They must be more than twenty miles away. The grand old
White Horse, making the spot where long, long ago the Danes were
vanquished in fight, is not visible; but he is scarcely to be seen at
all now, as the lazy Berkshire people have neglected their duty. He
really must be scoured again this summer; he is a national institution.
Londoners take a much greater interest in him than do the honest folk
who live bang under his nose.

We must continue our excavations at Ladbarrow copse yonder. Men say it
is the largest barrow in the county, full of "golden coffins" and all
sorts of priceless antiquities! At present all we have discovered are
some bones, with which we stuffed our pockets. When we arrived home,
however, they were found to have belonged to a poor old sheep-dog that
was buried there. But see! the setting sun is tinging the tops of the
slender, shapely ash trees in yonder emerald copse. The whole plain is
changing from a vast arena of golden splendour to a mysterious shadowy
land of dreams. A fierce light still reveals every object on the hill
towards the east; but westwards beneath yon purple ridge all is wrapped
in dim, ambiguous shade.

It is sad to think that I alone of mortal men should be here to see this
glorious panorama. It seems such a waste of nature's bounteous store
that night after night this wondrous spectacle should be solemnly
displayed, with no better gallery than a stray shepherd, who, as he
"homeward plods his weary way," cares little for the grand drama that is
being performed entirely for his benefit. Nature is indeed prodigal of
her charms in out-of-the-way country places.

Sometimes whilst walking over these remote fields on summer evenings, I
have stopped to ask myself this question: Is it possible that these
exquisite wild flowers, these groves and dells of verdant tracery, these
birds with their priceless music, and these wondrous, ineffable effects
of light and shade which form part of the everyday pageant of English
rural scenery are doomed "to waste their sweetness on the desert air"?
Is it possible (to go further afield) that those lovely scenes in
Wales--the fairy glens near Bettws-y-Coed, or the luxuriant valleys of
Carmarthen, further south, where silvery Towey flows below the stately
ruins of Dynevor Castle; those romantic reaches on the Wye, from
Chepstow to the frowning hills of Brecon; those solitary, but
unspeakably grand, mountains and passes of the Highlands, such as
Glencoe, Ben Nevis, or those of the scarcely explored Hebrides; those
smiling waters of the lovely Trossachs; those countless spots in the
"Emerald Isle" that the tourist has never seen, whether in fertile
Wicklow or among the whispering woods and weird waters of the west;
those gorgeous forests of Ceylon; those interminable jungles of the
beautiful East, with their unknown depths of tropical splendour;--is it
possible that these scenes of wondrous beauty are inhabited and enjoyed
by nothing more than is visible to our limited mortal gaze?

I believed, as a boy, and with a romance still unsubdued by time I would
yet fain believe, that when the soul of man escapes from the poor
tenement of clay in which it has been pent up for some threescore years
and ten, it has not far to go. I would fain believe that heaven is not
only above us, but, in some form or other entirely beyond our mortal
ken, all around us, in every beautiful thing we see; that these hills
and vales, these woods of delicately wrought fan-tracery groining, these
mazes of golden light when the sun goes down, are peopled not alone by
human flesh and blood. "There are also terrestrial bodies, and bodies
celestial. But the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the
terrestrial is another."

Who can imagine the shape or form of the immortal soul? As I walked over
those golden fields to-night it seemed as if there were spirits all
around me--glorious, bright spirits of the dead--invisible, intangible,
like rays of pure light, in the clear atmosphere of those Elysian
fields. I cannot but believe that there arise from the secret parts of
this beautiful earth, at dawn of day and at eventide, other voices
besides the ineffable songs of birds, the rustling murmurs that whisper
in the woods, and the plaintive babbling of the brooks--hymns of unknown
depths of harmony, impossible to describe, because impossible to
imagine--crying night and day: "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and
power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for
ever and ever."

Yes, dear reader,

"Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither."

When the sun goes down, if you will turn for a little while from the
noise and clamour of the busy world, you shall list to those voices
ringing, ringing in your ears. Words of comfort shall you hear at
eventide, "and sorrow and sadness shall be no more,"--even though, as
the years roll on, perforce you cry, with Wordsworth:

"What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind."

THE END.

APPENDIX.

GEORGE RIDLER'S OVEN.

(_Note from the papers of the Gloucestershire Society_)

It is now generally understood that the words of this song have a hidden
meaning which was only known to the members of the Gloucestershire
Society, whose foundation dates from the year 1657. This was three years
before the restoration of Charles II. and when the people were growing
weary of the rule of Oliver Cromwell. The Society consisted of
Loyalists, whose object in combining was to be prepared to aid in the
restoration of the ancient constitution of the kingdom whenever a
favourable opportunity should present itself. The Cavalier or Royalist
party were supported by the Roman Catholics of the old and influential
families of the kingdom; and some of the Dissenters, who were disgusted
with the treatment they received from Cromwell, occasionally lent them a
kind of passive aid. Taking these considerations as the keynote to the
song, attempts have been made to discover the meaning which was
originally attached to its leading words. It is difficult at the present
time to give a clear explanation of all its points. The following,
however, is consistent throughout, and is, we believe, correct:--

"The stwuns that built Gaarge Ridler's oven,
And thauy qeum from the Bleakeney's Quaar;
And Gaarge he wur a jolly ould mon,
And his yead it graw'd above his yare."

By "George Ridler" was meant King Charles I. The "oven" was the Cavalier
party. The "stwuns" which built the oven, and which "came out of the
Blakeney Quaar," were the immediate followers of the Marquis of
Worcester, who held out to the last steadfastly for the royal cause at
Raglan Castle, which was not surrendered till 1646, and was, in fact,
the last stronghold retained for the king. "His head did grow above his
hair" was an allusion to the crown, the head of the State, and which the
king wore "above his hair."

"One thing of Gaarge Ridler's I must commend,
And that wur vor a notable theng;
He mead his braags avoore he died,
Wi' any dree brothers his zons zshou'd zeng."

This meant that the king, "before he died," boasted that notwithstanding
his present adversity, the ancient constitution of the kingdom was so
good and its vitality so great that it would surpass and outlive any
other form of government, whether republican, despotic, or protective.

"There's Dick the treble and John the mean
(Let every mon zing in his auwn pleace);
And Gaarge he wur the elder brother,
And therevoore he would zing the beass."

"Dick the treble, Jack the mean, and George the bass" meant the three
parts of the British constitution--King, Lords, and Commons. The
injunction to "let every man sing in his own place" was intended as a
warning to each of the three estates of the realm to preserve its proper
position and not to attempt to encroach on each other's prerogative.

"Mine hostess's moid (and her neaum 'twur Nell),
A pretty wench, and I lov'd her well;
I lov'd her well--good reauzon why,
Because zshe lov'd my dog and I."

"Mine hostess's moid" was an allusion to the queen, who was a Roman
Catholic; and her maid, the Church. The singer, we must suppose, was one
of the leaders of the party, and his "dog" a companion or faithful
official of the Society; and the song was sung on occasions when the
members met together socially: and thus, as the Roman Catholics were
Royalists, the allusion to the mutual attachment between the "maid" and
"my dog and I" is plain and consistent.

"My dog has gotten zitch a trick
To visit moids when thauy be zick;
When thauy be zick and like to die,
Oh, thether gwoes my dog and I."

The "dog"--that is, the official or devoted member of the Society--had
"a trick of visiting maids when they were sick." The meaning here was
that when any of the members were in distress, or desponding, or likely
to give up the royal cause in despair, the officials or active members
visited, consoled, and assisted them.

"My dog is good to catch a hen,--
A duck and goose is vood vor men;
And where good company I spy,
Oh, thether gwoes my dog and I."

The "dog," the official or agent of the Society, was "good to catch a
hen," a "duck," or a "goose"--that is, any who were well affected to the
royal cause of whatever party; wherever "good company I spy, Oh, thither
go my dog and I"--to enlist members into the Society.

"My mwother told I when I wur young,
If I did vollow the strong beer pwoot,
That drenk would pruv my auverdrow,
And meauk me wear a thzreadbare cwoat."

"The good ale-tap" was an allusion, under cover of a similarity in the
sound of the words "ale" and "aisle," to the Church, of which it was
dangerous at that time to be an avowed follower, and so the members were
cautioned that indiscretion would lead to their discovery and
"overthrow."

"When I hev dree zixpences under my thumb,
Oh, then I be welcome wherever I qeum
But when I have none, oh, then I pass by,--
'Tis poverty pearts good company."

The allusion here is to those unfaithful supporters of the royal cause
who "welcomed" the members of the Society when it appeared to be
prospering, but "parted" from them in adversity, probably referring
ironically to those lukewarm and changeable Dissenters who veered about,
for and against, as Cromwell favoured or contemned them. Such could
always be had wherever there were "three sixpence-under the thumb"; but
"poverty" easily parted such "good company."

"When I gwoes dead, as it may hap,
My greauve shall be under the good yeal tap;
In vouled earmes there wool us lie,
Cheek by jowl, my dog and I."

"If I should die," etc.--an expression of the singer's wish that if he
should die he may be buried with his faithful companion (as representing
the principles of the Society) under the good aisles of the church, thus
evincing his loyalty and attachment to the good old constitution and to
Church and king even in death.

INDEX

Abbey, Edwin
Ablington Manor
Acman Street
Aethelhum, the Saxon
Agriculture
Alder tree
Aldsworth and Oliver Cromwell
Alfred, King
Amphitheatre, Roman
Ampney Park
Angelus, the
Antiquity, charm of
_Arbor Diana_
Architecture, Elizabethan
Aristotle
Arlington Row
Artificial fox-earths
Austin, Alfred

Badgers
Bampton-in-the-Bush
Barnby, Joseph
Barns, tithe
Barometer
Barrows, ancient
Bathurst family
Bathurst, Lord
Battues
Bazley, Sir Thomas
Bettws-y-Coed
Bibury Races
Bibury village
Bigotphones
Blowing-stone, the
Bourton-on-the-Water
Bowly, Mrs. Christopher
Brassey, Albert, M.F.H.
Braydon Forest
Bromley-Davenport, W.
Buckland, Frank
Bull-ring, Roman
Burford
Burton on the Cotswolds

Cadge for hawks
Caesar, Julius
Camps, ancient British
Carlyle, Thomas
Cassey-Compton Manor House
Caves, prehistoric
Characters, village
Charles I.
Charles II.
Charlock
Chaucer
Chavenage
Chedworth
Chepstow, the Wye at
Chiltern Hills
Chivalry, ancient
Choirs, village
"Christmas Carol," Austin's
Christmas festivities
Church ales
Churchwardens
Cirencester
Civil Wars
Clarendon on Falkland
Climate of the Cotswolds
Coats-of-arms
Coffins, old stone
Coln, River
Coln-St.-Aldwyns
Coln-St.-Dennis
Conyger wood
Corinium Museum
Corncrakes, disappearance of
Coulson, Colonel, his trap
County cricket
Coursing on the Cotswolds
Cray-fish
Creswell family
Cricket pitch, how to improve
Cricket, prehistoric
Cricket, the game of
Cripps, Wilfred, C.B.
Crosses, wayside
Cub-hunting
Cubs, fox
Cudgel-playing, old-fashioned
Curlews
Cushats

Deadman's Acre
Deerhounds, Scotch
De Quincey
Derby Day on the Coln
De Vere, Aubrey
Dew
Dew-point
Dialect, Cotswold
Dickens, Charles, on cricket
Dogs
Downs, the mystery of the
Dream, Shakespeare's
Dress, simplicity in
Drayton, Michael
Dry-fly fishing
Ducks, wild
Duleep Singh at Hatherop
Dun, olive
Duerer, Albert

Earthquake of 1895
Earths for foxes
_Ecrevisse_
Eel, curious capture of
Elder tree
Eldon, Lord
"Elegy," Gray's
Elizabeth, Queen, at Burford
Elms
"England, Merrie"
Escutcheons
Evening fishing
Excursion, Roger Plowman's

Fairwood
Falconry, the art of
Falkland, Lord, at Burford
Farmers, Cotswold
Feasts, ancient
Ferns growing on ash tree
Fieldfare, return of the
Field names
Firr, Tom
Flails, old-fashioned
Flanders mares
Flies, artificial
Flocks of lapwings
Flowers, wild
Fly-catcher, the
"Flying Dutchman"
Forest, Braydon
Forest, Savernake
Fossbridge
Fosseway
Fox-earths
Foxes
Fozbrooke
Free Foresters' Cricket Club

Galway nags
Gamekeeper, the
Gannet
Garden, an old
Garne of Aldsworth
Geese, wild
"George Ridler's Oven"
Gilbert White
Gilpin, John
Gipsies
Gloucestershire dialect
Glow-worms
Goethe (quoted)
Golf greens, treatment of
Gothic architecture
Grace, W.G.
Grasshoppers, Burke on
Gray's "Elegy"
Green-drake
Greyhound fox
Grounds, treatment of cricket
Gwynne, Nell, at Bibury Races

Hall, King Alfred's
Hallam, Arthur
Halo, solar
Hamilton, Sir William Rowan
Hangman's Stone, origin of
Hard riders
Hares
Harvest home
Hawking described
Hawks
Hedgehogs
Henry VIII.
Heraldry
Herbs
Herons
Hicks-Beach, Right Hon. Sir Michael
Hic-wall or heckle
Hill, White Horse
Hills, Jem
Hobbs of Maiseyhampton
Horse, description of
Horse for the Cotswolds
Hounds, Badminton
Hounds, Bombay
Hounds, Heythrop
Hounds, Lord Bathurst's
Hounds, Mr. T.B. Miller's
Hounds, Shakespeare on
Hunting, fox-
Hunting poem
Hunting, stag-, in olden times
Huntsman, a good
Hygrometer
Hymns
Hypocaust, Roman

Icknield Street
Implements, old stone
Inscribed stones (Roman)
Inscription on porch of manor house
Irmin Way
Irving, Washington (quoted)
Isaac Walton

Jansen, Cornelius, painter
Jefferies, Richard
Johnson, Dr.
Joyce on Fairford windows

Keble, John, at Fairford
Kelmscott
Kemble
Kestrel
Kingfishers
Kingmaker, the
Kipling, Rudyard
Kite, artificial
Knights Templar

Labourers, Cotswold
Lapwings
Larder, vixen's
Leland
Lenthall, Speaker
Leslie, G.
Limestone quarries,
Llewelyn, W. Dillwyn
Loam, use of clay or

Macomber Falls
Macpherson and Ossian
Madden, Right Hon. D.H.
Magpies
Mallard, a pugnacious
Manor parchments
Manuscript, an ancient
Marsh-harrier
Marsh-marigold
Master, Chester, family of
Maxwell, Sir Herbert
May flies
May-fly season
"Merrie England"
Meteor, a large
Miller, T.B., M.F.H.
Miller, the village
Monk, W.J., on Burford
Moorhens, habits of
Mop, Cirencester
Moreton-in-the-Marsh
Morris, William
Mounds, ancient burial
Mummers' play
Museums, Roman
Musicians, old village

Natal, scenery of
Nest, kingfisher's
Netting trout
Newton, Isaac
Nightjar or goatsucker
Night on the hills
Nimrod on Bibury Races
_Noblesse oblige_
Northleach

Oak, old
Oliver Cromwell
Oman's discovery
Ossian
"Oven, George Ridler's"
Owls
Oxen, ploughing with

Partridges
"Parvise," the
Pavements, Roman
Penance at Burford
Peregrine falcons
Peregrine, Thomas, keeper
Pheasants
Pigeon-shooting
Playing-fields, Eton
Pliny
"Plestor," the
Ploughing with oxen
Plover, common
Plover, golden
Plowman, Roger, goes to London
Poachers, scarcity of
Poges, Stoke
Political meetings
Politicians, village
Pope at Cirencester
Pottery, Roman
Prehistoric cricket
Prehistoric relics
Prescription, an excellent
Proverbs, Gloucestershire
Puffin

Quack, the village
Quails
Quarries, limestone
Quenington
Querns, the

Races, Bibury
Ramparts, ancient
Ready Token
Retrievers
Riders, good
Riding, hard
Roads, limestone
Roger de Coverley, Sir
Roman remains
Rookery, the
Rupert, Prince
Ruskin, John

Book of the day: