Imágenes de páginas


[ocr errors]

From Macmillan's Magazine. strictly prohibited. Once, in a pepper WHEN WE WERE BOYS.

famine, we tried salt as an alternative.

It was to a starling's skiu that we apWHEN we were boys we used to find plied it; that starling's skin kept that each season of the year was de- moist, as the day it was stripped, all fined by its appropriate pursuits and through the summer and to the followduties just as clearly as if we had been ing winter, when we threw it away ; if farmers.

any fragment of it be yet in existence In the spring a boy's time is so we are morally certain that it is moist occupied with bird-nesting in all its still. Salt is useless. Pepper, on the branches, such as finding the nests, other hand, if it be well rubbed in, is climbing the trees, taking the nestlings, good for a long while ; but in the end blowing the eggs and classifying them, its effect wears off and the moth will that he is left little leisure for other corrupt the skin notwithstanding. things. In the high summer he will | After a month or two of the practice be occupied in pursuing - whether it of taxidermy with the assistance of be butterflies with a net, or, failing pepper, the vigilance of the authorities that, a cap, or the immature fledglings began to lire, and we began with poiof the year, escaped from the nests sons in the shape of corrosive sublia which he has spared, and giving him mate. We do not recommend it; it is. reasonable hopes of a successful issue so liquid that its use is attended with to expeditions with catapult or other inconvenience. Arsenical soap is farmissile engines. The long autumn better for a boy ; it does not spill, and evenings will be his opportunity for if a thing can be spilled, a boy will spill practising his taxidermy, for skinning it. and stuffing the birds which have lately As good-luck would have it, our fallen to his snares or weapons. house was far larger than our needs ;

Surely a very special provideuce so when once we had settled on a watches over the boy, and above all scantily furnished room down a little over the boy who occupies his business used passage, and had made it our own with bird-stuffing. In the first place, by garnishing it with the skins of the aud before more subtle dangers come birds and the peculiar favor of taxito be enumerated, he will of necessity dermy and preservatives, no one careil have to work with a very sharp cutting to dispute such an excellent title. It tool. If one spoke of the knife, with was left in our undisturbed possession, which we skinned our birds, by that scarcely troubled eveu by a housemaid. monosyllabic name we were virtuously Indeed we had so far won over the indignant; it was a scalpel. Then, if housemaid whose duty it was to keep a boy escaped the risk of lockjaw, or this room in the order which is duty's other serious results of a cut from the ideal, that far from combating our knife when it was clean, by how many messes she even aided and abetted times was his danger from incisions them by bringing us raw meat from the multiplied when that kuife had become kitchen for the young birds, or hardencrusted with the blood of a succes-boiled eggs to chop up for those who sion of victims, cleaned from it accord- needed more delicate diet. This room ing to a boy's idea of cleansing? Aud was a perpetual joy, for here we could if the operator were miraculously pre- keep all the live creatures and dead served, and survived this danger from trophies banished by Authority from the microbes of decomposition, there our bedroom, such as the skins of the remained the yet more positive peril bigger birds, which boyish fingers had incurred in the handling of the poi- not scraped with sufficient care in the sons which must necessarily be used in nooks and crannies

rather gruesome curing the skins. At the first, it is objects, in the eye of any but a boy, true, we had to do all our curing with but which, according to his verdict pepper and camphor; poisons were 66 will be all right in a day or two, when


they have dried.” These, tyrannical | Its infantile notes give little promise, Authority, acting on a specious plea of and he has to believe that this creature regard for health, forbade from remain- which constantly declines its food, ing in

a bed-chamber. The same which has to be tempted and cherished power, on a similar plea, fixed a limit like a malade imaginaire, will reward to the number of live birds which were all these cares by glorious song in the permitted to share the bed-chamber of ensuing spring. But the jackdaw boyhood. It was necessary that sun- makes him no promises, raises no false dry of them should be consigned at hopes, begins on the note which will nightfall, in company with the uncer- last him all his life through for extain skins, to the less honorable room pressing his gladness in living and the on the ground floor. Here, too, lived a joy of oatmeal. family of white mice, in constant ap- It was neither in the garden nor in prehensions at the spasmodic move- the wood that we found our jackdaws. ments of a young thrush who, piping When has left the low-lying juvenilely and fed from time to time on marshy house of the moor-hen, and the oatmeal, inhabited a wicker cage at lane with its crumbly wall beloved of their side. From a packing-case, on the blue-tits, one may proceed to climb the floor, fronted with lathes nailed so up through the alternate shades and as to leave inch-wide interstices, two sunshines of the wood which was our young jackdaws said " Jack !” all day great bird-nesting preserve. The woodlong and most of the night; an excla-argus will flit before us across the sunmation only to be appeased by oatmeal lit spaces, the fritillary glance over the thrust so far down the gaping throat Aashing bracken, and finally we may that there seemed a danger of the fin- arrive pantiug and perspiring at the ger being lost irrecoverably. Unvaried head of the hillside. Here is a bank, oatmeal was the food of the nursling with a wonderful tangle of bramble jackdaw, which perhaps accounts for and honeysuckle over which the bees the monotony of its note; whereas the are humming and the little blue butterthrush's food might from time to time, flies coming and going, like gems, from

, on Joe's permission (Joe was the the field of lucerne beyond it. But coachman's boy), be relieved by small when one climbs up the gap in the junks of raw meat. There is a com- bank one looks forth over a scene fort, however, about the solid merit of which at once takes the eye from all a jackdaw which contrasts favorably the nearer objects. At two miles' diswith the more pretentious manners of tance twinkle the waves of the Bristol the young thrush. The jackdaw sits Channel, and the bay over which Mrs. and says " Jack," and does not pretend Leigh looked so long for the coming to say anything else, consumes its sim- of the good ship Rose. The cliffs on ple food with gratitude, and is con- which the waves of that sea thundered tented with one perch through a whole were the jackdaws' home; they were summer's day. We used to put them two miles from our home, and every out in a great elm-tree by the gate of bush and every turn of the road in the stable-yard, and there they would that two mile ramble was full of its own sit all through the afternoon in perfect associations. At the angle of the lane happiness. The young thrushes were which led from our house to the highalways restless, dissatisfied, their tails road a little stream creeps out on to the draggly, jumping about as if they had great thoroughfare, moist even in the hysterics, pining, getting caught by dryest weather. Once, in a dry spring, cats, - perpetual thorn in a boy's peeping cautiously round the corner, flesh. There is nothing so analogous we had seen a little covey of houseto the care of them, in the experience martins settled in the oozy mud which of later life, as coloring a meerschaum that tiny rivulet afforded, an oasis in pipe. Moreover, the rearing of a song. the midst of surrounding dryness. ster is a constant tax on a boy's faith. They were busy collecting mud for the


[ocr errors]



nests which they built beneath the backed shrike would fly out and go eaves. We stole back, for a stone ; before us, much as the yellow-hammer the martins saw the quick movement of bad done, but with longer flights and the arm, and rose as the stone came to greater shyness, now and again rattling them, but it glanced from the ground out his anger at our intrusion. The at an angle beyond the calculation of hedges here were a very high and thick any house-martin, and, on its ricochet, tangle of brambles and wild-growing caught one of the birds from beneath. things. Somewhere among them was It fell dead, and we rushed out in tri- the shrike's nest, doubtless, but it umph to secure it, with a joy which no never happened to us to find it, though rocketing pheasant, cleanly killed, can we searched often and long. After bring to a grown sportsman's heart. this all road and hedges ceased, and we It was so beautiful with its dark steel- seemed to be coming to the world's blue back and snowy patch over the end, for there were no houses nor any tail and white under parts ! Then the sign of cultivation-only, on our lesi, way led on past the home of a great a high rising hillside of gorse, and on friend of ours who owned a single- the right, the sea whose cliffs rose ever barrelled gun, and under the shade more steeply as we went on. AL two of great elm-trees, where once, for a fields' distance or so we would see rabwhole summer, we had been in the bits sitting out on the short-nibbled habit of seeing a chaffinch, with three grass which grew on the narrowing or four white feathers in his tail, but level stretch between the furzy hillside bad never been able to secure him. and the cliffs ; but before we Thereafter the road led off to the left, within measurable distance of them and we were on high ground, they were gone, into the gorse or to whence we could see the sea sparkling their holes in the cliffside.

But by on our right, and where we scarcely this time we would have seen many ever failed to put up a yellow-hammer jackdaws passing us overhead, going to whose habit was to go on along the or from their nests in the cliffs ; the hedge before us in a succession of clamor of many voices, joining in the short flights, perching continually on simple chorus of “ Jack !” would be the top of some low bush, and sending reaching us, and soon, peering over the to us his plaintive song on two notes. edge of the cliff, we would see them We could rely on him to furnish us coming and going like bees round a sport in this fashion for a quarter of a hive. mile of our road ; then he would tire By this time, too, they would be of our persecutions and turn back, growing aware of our approachi, and low-flying, towards the place from the clamor would increase by way of which we had started him. Thence protest, a protest which broke forth ten the way began to bend downwards. times more clamorous when we rolled We had left all houses behind us, and a stone down rattling among their went between steep, gorse-clad banks homes; then their cries would grow with little in them that made sport for deafening. From among them a dark us. Occasionally we would see a wren thing would sometimes sweep out like creeping so close in the thick golden- an over the sea, as our stone blossomed bushes as to be almost invis- went down the cliff ; and at the same ible ; or a yellow-hammer would perch moment a shrill, piercing cry would on their tops, utler his notes once, and come from high above our heads. The then away whither we did not care to dark

would slant upwards follow him through the prickly thicket; towards the cry, and as the light of the or a thrush would rise from grubbing sun caught it we would see it to be a at the foot of a bush and elude us in hen kestrel who had darted out from like manner. Presently we reached her cliff-home and gone aloft to remonthe lower ground where, from a little strate together with her spouse, on this grove of small roadside elms, a red-'invasion of their domesticity.




The kestrel's nest was rather beyond and beating around our heads as the our hopes. We could see it, a bigger Furies pursued and hunted Orestes. leap of sticks than any that the jack. But our hard little hearts were deaf to daws had gathered, perched on a pin- the pathos of the mutual cries, and denacle of cliff inaccessible equally from lightedly we bore off the youngsters above or from below. The sole means who, sooth to say, soon accepted their of getting to it appeared to be by a rope orphanhood and their foster parents from the top ; but though we often with something like Oriental philosdiscussed the project of lowering each ophy. They would sit all day on the other over we never put it into effect bough of the great elm-tree on which by reason of the providential absence we had put them, outside the doors of of a suitable rope. So at the kestrels the stable yard, contented so long as we could only look and wonder as at they might intermittently say “ Jack !” something beyond our best ambitions. and have frequent globules of pasty In the mean time we found sufficient oatmeal thrust down their gullets. danger and delight in scrambling about We have said that we never suc. the shaly cliff in search of the more ceeded in taking the kestrels from accessible jackdaws' nests. One would these cliffs ; but, for all that, we had be on a niche or platform of the cliff's more than one young kestrel as a pet, face, another in the mouth of a hole the gift of a connection by marriage of which a rabbit had deserted for a more Joe's brother,

who was

summat in convenient dwelling. We found them the gaming way," a phrase which in all ages and stages ; youngsters might mean a gambler or a gamealmost able to fly, newly hatched keeper, but, in its real sense, as nakednesses with hardly the rudiments have reason to believe, signified a of tails, eggs hard set and eggs newly poacher. They were wild-eyed caplaid. And all the while that we were tives, these beautiful creatures, with taking this census of the younger popu- the richest chestnut plumage melting lation the old ones would be sweeping into the most delicate pearl-ash gres. around us, almost brushing us with They were not always thus. When their wings and threatening, with ex- they came to us they were little balls clamations of “ Jack!” in the most of grey fluff, but even then with an menacing key, to send us hurtling down eye that was a thing to wonder at and into the waters beneath. Indeed, it a beak which cleft chasms out of our would have taken but a little impetus small fingers. Their demeanor alterto do this, for the cliff was of slaty nated between passionate struggles for shillet, bound here and there by tus- freedom and an air of sullen indiffersocks and platforms of grass or by tufts ence, but they always in either mood of the sea-pink. The shillet slipped showed a healthy appetite for their raw from beneath our feet and gave a meat. We have heard that the experivery insecure hold, but our nerve was ence of others has been more fortuperfect and the schoolboy's special nate ; but, so far as our knowledge of providence protected us, - in which them went, we had no joy of kestrels saying likely enough there is some in captivity. tautology. Above, the shillet still Of all birds which we tried in captiva cropped up from the yellow grass, and ity (“as pets,” we used to call it, for was the well-beloved basking place of euphony), none were so successful as grayling butterflies who would rest in- members of the corvine family, as jackvisible on the grey lichen-grown boul-daws, magpies, and that small relation ders. But we recked little of them of the crows, the starling. None of when our lands, our pockets, our caps them ever talked, though their educawere full of young jackdaw's crying lion was the passion of our young lives. piteously “ Jack !"; to which cries We had been told that starlings would the parents responded with deeper talk only when their tongues had been notes in the same sense, pursuing us I cleft by a sharp sixpence; but we

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



could never bring ourselves to the / which abode in his wicked grey eye. point of performing the operation, and For moʻths he was to us a pure joy, moreover sixpences were But to thy gardeners a joy not altogether the starling, though he did not talk unmi ed, for he was forever playing with the tongues of men, was forever harlequin to their pantaloon. Like chattering, invincibly cheerful though most practical jokers, he erred in going he lived in a cage. The jackdaws did too far. One day he amused himself not live in a cage, yet their cheerful- most excellently in uprooting a clump ness was not in proportion to their of geraniums just bedded out. He was wider liberty, - the liberty of the quite fearless, and it did not occur to clipped wing. They, however, we his free spirit to obliterate his threewere pleased to think, did talk. True pronged footmarks on the newly turned they said but the one word “ Jack !” earth. Clipped in the wing as he was, but they said it very often ; there could he was always a little too feet for the be no mistake about their mastery of best of human pursuers.

It was it, and we longed for the time when strange shambling, side-long progress, the years, bringing the philosophic aided by short flights of a few yards at mind, should add wisdom and variety a time, when his wing had not been to their tones. In youth they were a lately pruned; but it generally served monotonous rusty black, as monoto- him well enough to take him to some nous as their language and as their low-branched tree, and once there no manners, for, after all, the jackdaw is man had a chance of catching him. It deficient in social talent; his virtues needed extraordinary ingenuity to capare sterling and respectable, but he ture him for his periodical clipping, for does not charm.

his cunning was greater even than his Of all pets that ever we kept, the agility. Altogether he had fared far most charming, certainly, was the mag- better than most of our pets, and we pie. It was full of varying moods and looked on him quite as a permanent humors, truly ; but none of them in fixture and a perpetual joy, but two the least akin to melancholy, whereas days after his little joke with the gerathe normal disposition of the jackdaws uiums he was missing. We called for was undoubtedly sombre. At times him and sought hin high and low, in the magpie was as gay as the starling all his favorite haunts, but we never bimself ; but he did not exhibit the heard again the chuckling response with same unreasonable and wearisome which he was wont to greet us.

To cheerfulness. If he had been shut this day his fate remains veiled in the up in a cage which wore out his tail- deepest mystery, only — we make no feathers, he would have bitten the specific charge agaiust any one – but wicker bars to splinters. He was capa- it is significant that his disappearance ble of very genuine anger, and inex- should have followed so closely on his haustible in his ingenuity for mischief. exploit with the geraniums. After all His shape and movement, and the it was but a little matter. What would bright motley of his plumage, were a they have said if we had had for a pet joy to the eye ; he was a Cavalier to Charles Dickens's raven which ate up the jackdaw's Puritan. The starling a grand piano and the greater part of was handsome enough, with the sheen the front staircase ? of his green and purple-mottled back, We never had a raven. We used to but you had to come close to his cage see ravens sometimes flying high above to appreciate him. The magpie at- those cliffs in which we found the jacktracted you from afar, only gaining daws' nests. We knew, -as boys do added grace on a closer view which know things, of their inner consciousrevealed a gloss of gayer colors on ness or some other unimpeachable teswhat affar off had looked like black ; timony (as a matter of fact we think a near view was required, too, to recog. Joe had said so) — that ravens did nize the unspeakable spirit of mischief 'actually nest further along in those

« AnteriorContinuar »