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nearly irresistible. Suppose we do so then on paper, and ramble back over a few of the scenes with which I myself am well acquainted, noting the changes which time has wrought in them-not, alas! with his sickle, but with something far less primitive and far less merciful.
Let us step out at the sash-window of the old red brick parsonage, covered with moss and lichens, and showing well against its rich green lawn, and crossing the village road pursue the little path that leads up to the parish church. At one corner of this we find a stile which takes us over a small grass field, shaded by a clump of fine elms, into the village allotment, and so up a gentle ascent and past a narrow copse of oak and larch till we reach the top of the slope, whence, on looking back, we see the village at our feet. Nothing can be prettier. The stackyards of the old farms lying open towards the hill, a few cottages just visible through the apple trees; on the left the church spire; on the right, in the middle, a corner of the old red house; and beyond that again a yellow stone bridge thrown across a narrow stream: the whole landscape interspersed with timber of the finest growth, with gardens and with orchards- a home of ancient peace.' Yet is it not as it once was. Suddenly on the other side of the bridge appear thick puffs of smoke, and a train from London rushes by. I look beyond it on to the hill which rises up abruptly on the other side of the village, and I see only a bare expanse of stubbles, with hardly a tree or a hedgerow to relieve it, while in the near distance stands a stark, staring new stuccoed villa, which some retired tradesman has been Goth enough to build there. I hope he may still live to be ruined by co-operative stores! Here we are then brought face to face with the ancient and the modern rus. The village, the parsonage, the church, the field on which we now stand girdled with tall hedges of ground-ash and hazel, the old lane underneath almost hidden by the overhanging branches, all speaking of centuries of repose, immobility, and sluggish happiness and contentment. The railroad, the villa, and the bare field beyond, stripped of all superfluous ornament as an athlete is of all superfluous flesh-all speaking of the bustle, the science, and the ambition of modern life. If we turn our backs upon the village and move a little further on, we are struck with similar contrasts. We descend from the little eminence towards a green hollow through which, half ditch, half brook, gurgles a thin streak of clear cold water, which used to lose itself in a small wood, dear alike at one time to the nightingale, the wood-pigeon, and the pheasant. Many a time and oft have I sat by the miniature waterfall which tumbled through the bushes, mixing with the help of it a cooler and more refreshing draught than any in Mr. Sainsbury's shop; turning out my game-bag at the mossy roots of some adjacent oak, and feeling that the oftener I refilled it the more pleasure I gave to the farmers on whose land I shot. For in those old days they rarely took a gun in hand except to scare the crows, and never dreamed of counting the cost of a hare or a rabbit. Alas!
alas! the wood is grubbed up; the pheasant, like Cowper's blackbird, has sought another retreat; the farmers consider it due to their position' to shoot when their landlord does not; the old spirit has been banished from its old home; and no more tangled thickets are left for it to revisit. Where I remember two yoke of oxen lazily drawing the plough along the fragrant furrows, a steam-engine is now labouring and groaning, an emblem of the mighty machine progress which groans and labours all round us; while at the same time, unchanged for centuries of centuries, the long gray downs roll away as far as one can see, contemplating, I can fancy, with lofty disdain the puny and transitory works of human generations.
There are several kinds of hedgerows, or at least three, which used to be the delight of my boyhood; but have now either been decapitated or are mostly under sentence of death. There is the hedge peculiar to the country I have last been describing, which consists, as I have said, of ground-ash and hazel, and is cut periodically as woods are. There is also the well-known double hedge, composed of brambles and thorn and underwood of every description, meeting over a broad deep ditch, the very paradise for game of all kinds. And, third, there is the great whitethorn or blackthorn hedge, which is almost peculiar to the midland counties. The first of these makes a fence rather picturesque than efficient, and is useless of course to keep out cattle. Where it shows to its greatest advantage is where it nods to its fellow across one of those deep, narrow lanes which abound in the south-western counties, and are described in White's 'Selborne.' These hedges often meet across the top, and on a hot summer day form the most delightful screen; but as on purely arable farms they certainly seem to serve no purpose, and probably keep the sun from the crops, they are now for the most part kept down to the level of a low stone wall, and all their beauty is gone from them. What is true of this kind of hedge is, à fortiori, true of the double hedge, which is fast going the way of all its kindred. But the big thorn hedges of the midland counties still survive, and form a salient feature in the landscape. They consist of whitethorn and blackthorn growing in a thick mass, and impenetrable when in perfection by man or beast. If we turn for the scene of our walk to Northamptonshire or Leicestershire, and with due deference to the unities place it in the month of June or the beginning of July, we shall see these tall tangled walls of thorn and sweet-brier, and honeysuckle and dog-roses in full perfection. We will follow that footpath running down towards the brook, and through the meadows where the mowers are at work, and after a little while we come to a stile, and a plank thrown across a tributary brooklet which trickles over big stones, and underneath the spreading branches of one of these huge hedgerows in which a narrow opening has been cut to admit of the passage of pedestrians we cross over and throw ourselves down in the thick cool grass under the shadow of an elm, with the scent of the meadow-sweet and the rose and the adjoining bean
blossoms combined into the most fragrant of bouquets. The hedge rises up in front of us festooned with the faintly blushing clusters, sometimes perfectly white, and sometimes a deep pink. If we sit on the bank we may be up to the knees in meadow-sweet, and if we are either tired or footsore, let us take off shoes and stockings and dip our feet into the brook. A water-hen steals along the bank with her pretty cluck cluck; a lark rises out of the grass and sings loudly over our heads, while from the meadow we have just quitted come the cheerful voices of the haymakers, and the still more cheerful sound of the whetted scythe. This is what we should have seen twenty years ago; but whether we should see it still is more than doubtful. The mowing machine would probably have replaced the scythe, and the hedge would very likely be cut down. Still the grass and the brook and the bean-field a little further on, and the cool shady spinney through which the path leads to the adjacent village, would all be there as I remember them. And if we cannot as of old find the nest of the greenfinch and the chaffinch in the topmost sprays of the whitethorn almost hidden among the woodbine, we may still find the yellowhammer's or lark's along the grassy bank, and the wood-pigeon's on the fir tree in the spinney, and the warbler's little bed of hay on a thorn branch projecting over the ditch. On the whole there is less change perceptible in the grass districts of England than in the arable. The substitution of the machine for the scythe has indeed robbed them of one of their most charming features. But then this is not universal, though we suppose it will in time become so; neither is the destruction of the hedges so general as it is elsewhere; and a walk through the broad pastures, the long gray fields' of Tennyson, and the rich meadows of the Midlands will still present a good deal of the old aspect, such as it wore on that memorable Sunday morning in the year one when Mr. Poyser and his family walked to Hayslope church. I am always very fond of haytime, supposing that we have an ordinary summer, and not one like the last three. It is not so suggestive of the end as harvest is. The trees and fields have not yet lost one shade of their first fresh verdure. The corn is still green or perhaps just beginning to turn, and you feel that the whole glory and fulness of the summer is still before you. The village girls, perhaps the farmer's own daughters, are raking in the hay-field. It is a paradise for the children, who tumble about in the hay and catch sticklebats in the brook. And what can form a prettier picture than the whole group assembled together over their tea-for tea is a great institution in the hayfield-about four or five o'clock in the afternoon? Everything about them is so green and warm and happy. And what a perfect picture of repose is the lad stretched out at full length on the top of the loaded waggon as it rumbles across the meadow, through the pebbly ford, and up the little hill beyond to the neighbouring stackyard. How pleasant at such a season to stroll along the banks of one of these No. 611 (No. CXXXI. N. s.
crooked midland brooks overhung by large willows or ancient thorn bushes, fishing-rod in hand, and to feast one's eyes on such scenes! Many a good perch and roach is to be got out of these quiet holes, often nearly covered with the water-lily, so that you have not more than two or three square feet into which to drop your line; and sticking to the bottom of the bricks and stones which have fallen into the water by the bridge, you will find the most killing of all baits, the bright yellow caddis-worm in his stiff case, who is now a grub, but a little on in the year takes wings and is useless.
But we have loitered too long among the hay; we have still to take our walk among the corn. The sickle, I believe, has disappeared more completely than the scythe, as all partridge-shooters know to their cost. But it is still occasionally to be seen in the more sequestered parts of England. I saw some men reaping wheat with it in Hampshire last August, and of course the peasantry continue to use it for the small patches of corn on their allotments. Generally speaking, however, the machine is now always to be heard clicking round and round the field, and terrifying the hares and rabbits inside the ever narrowing piece of standing corn. As the machine gradually closes in upon them they bolt in all directions, and are easily shot, or even knocked over if the field is large enough and they can be surrounded before getting to the hedge. This is considered great fun by those who participate in it, but it can hardly be called sport. When the corn is cut, however, the old harvest operations go on as before. Barley and oats are still raked together in swathes by girls and women, and Smiler and Poppet and Captain still stand idly by the empty waggon waiting while the men are having their afternoon beer before beginning work again. There is a jocund air about the whole scene on a fine August or September day, a promise of plenty and of comfort; but still you are conscious that what you see is the beginning of the end; that as the tall stalks of wheat are laid level with the ground, so too will the bright green leaves soon fall from the oaks and from the elms; that as the wheat turns to gold the hedges also are slowly but surely turning to a duller hue, premonitory of that sombre aspect which they acquire by the middle of October. The days, too, are shorter, and though you have the harvest moon, the evenings, pleasant as they are, are not so sweet and so fresh as those July evenings when you lingered in the meadows till the thick dew began to rise and the owls began to hoot between the tree-tops. It is the afternoon of the year's life, smiling and genial as the autumn of human life should be, but still not like the morning or the noon, though doubtless you have your compensations. The country perhaps is then, in some respects, even more picturesque than at other times, and as you follow your favourite path between the plantations and the standing shocks, you observe a greater variety of colour than you would have done in June or July. Some of the trees will have got their early autumn tints; the gold of the wheat contrasts beautifully with the green of the meadow;
where the fields are cleared the filmy stubble glistens in the sun like silk.
Then, too, you have other sights and sounds to glad your heart and eye than midsummer could have afforded you. When the corn is cut, you begin to see more of the hares, and there are few prettier sights than watching them come out to feed, unless, perhaps, it is a covey of partridges following each other in Indian file, as they often do, under a hedge, led by the old birds, and unconscious of all danger. When they stand still, if you are at a little distance, they look just like ninepins, and when they move on again it is with a delicate, graceful, dainty motion which, I fancy, is peculiar to the species. As you turn to go home, however, and make a short cut over the stubbles towards the house, a fine covey gets up under your feet, and gives rise to a train of thought very different from the one you had been indulging in. I hope the day is very far distant when either pheasants and partridges or 'hares and rabbits' shall be eliminated from the pleasures of a country walk, whether with a gun or without it. One does not necessarily want to shoot them any more than you do the bullfinch or the goldfinch who adorns our lanes and woods; and if we have Acts of Parliament for the protection of small birds, why not laws also for the protection of game birds?
I think of late years, however, I have noticed a considerable falling off in the number of hedgerow birds, and this has made another difference between the country walk of to-day and a generation ago. Some people deny that there is any decrease, others attribute it to the bird-catchers, some to the severity of recent winters. But I cannot think that any of these causes are sufficient to account for it. There are no bird-catchers in remote rural districts, and we have had hard winters before. The fact, if it be one, I attribute in some measure to another change which has taken place in English agricultural life. What the machine has done for the scythe and the sickle, it has also done for the good old flail. Milton mentions the whetting of the scythe as among the most cheerful sounds of rural life, but I really do not know whether the thud of the flail is not equally entitled to the compliment. At one time, from November to May, it was hardly ever silent. As you walked or rode by the farmsteads and villages, this comfortable sound always smote upon your ear, suggesting at once visions of the old barn-yard, with the cattle foddered in the middle of it, pigs reposing on the dunghill, and poultry of every description feeding and cackling in every corner. In those days the ricks were only moved by degrees, a barnful at a time, and this had to be threshed out by manual labour before more was taken. This constant conveyance of the corn to the barn left the roadway from one yard to another strewn with grain through all the hardest part of the year, and, besides this, the stacks themselves supplied constant food and shelter to the feathered race. Nor was it only the domestic and familiar sparrow, the impudent tomtit, or the sacred robin, who enjoyed this hospitality. The yellowhammer left
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