Page images
PDF
EPUB

( 170 )

OUT OF TOWN.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

ON'T tell me that the days of steam

bring places closer together than

they were. I doubt it; I disbelieve it utterly. In the old coaching days—I knew them well—a journey of a hundred miles into the country took the edge off the sensation of change which a Londoner feels at walking in the meadows, or sitting out on the lawn, after a long period in town. The streets melted into the roads, the suburbs into the country, as you drove pleasantly along. The coachman stopped at wayside inns, remarked on the change of farmers, the progress of the hay or the corn. By the time you had got to your journey's end you were familiar with the stage of the seasons and the gossip of the country-side. Now, the train whisks you at once into your friend's garden. No rural sensations enter the window of your carriage. If you do get out you encounter buttoned-upofficials, and see metropolitan advertisements.

Railway Contrast-Town and Country. 171 The guard of the train, and Heal's Family Bedstead, to be had in Tottenham Court Road, form no preparative for the country. When you deliver up the ticket, and leave the station, you appreciate, in a way no coach ever would have enabled you to do, the distance you have travelled. Your friend's house is incalculably remote from your own.

Steam has not brought them together; they are set apart as unconnected places. You leave the world of London, and enter that of green things with a sense of contrast which, to me, does not wear out. Every time I find the change from town to country more striking than I did before. If you let me ramble on about my doings down here, though they hardly deserve so active a name, I may possibly kindle the sense of faded garden memories in some tired town-brain, or give some country idler a hint of much enjoyable but unnoticed life which goes on round his home.

Yesterday at four o'clock I left the city. To-night, I am sitting in my friend's kitchen, where I may smoke and jot down the journal of a day. After breakfast I carried one of the hall-chairs into the greenhouse, and settled myself down with a pipe and a book. surrounded with bloom. Great humble-bees

I was

172 Sitting in the Greenhouse. wandered in through the open door, and after rummaging among the flowers, tried with failures and wrath to fly out through the glass. Insects, green as the leaves on which they lived, pitched upon my page. An inquisitive spider let himself cautiously down to my level by a single line, up which a puff of smoke sent him back, hand-over-hand, far more surprised than satisfied. Birds hopped past the entrance, sometimes pausing for a steady side-look, and then, with a sudden duck of the head, as if they had made up their minds about me, flapping off.

Presently the gardener routed me out. Why are these men so fond of pursuing and interrupting visitors ? On this occasion, "he would not disturb me in the least, but he wanted to water the plants.” There is no privacy in a garden with a gardener. Give me a nook where I shall see no labelled flowers, and where no man at work shall rebuke my repose by his restlessness.

From the greenhouse I went on the lawn, and lay down under a tree. What a world of life is discovered on a nearer inspection of the grass! If the meanest insect feels a pang as keenly as a giant, I can conceive no spot on the face of the whole earth more full of pain The Struggle for Existence. 173 and misery than a well-kept lawn which is rolled, mown, and swept daily. There is no cessation in the torture; every blade of grass which is kept down represents continual death, dismemberment, and mutilation. I can't sing in tune with those kind people who extol the beneficence of Nature. Beneath her smile, countless thousands are wriggling in pain ; they are maimed, eaten alive, drowned, starved. Nature lives by change—that is, by death. When she seems still and gloomy, as in winter, she is in reality less prodigal of life. It is in summer, through the bright blue days, when her face is gay, that most perish in the struggle for existence, and perish with remonstrance

Did you ever see a bird eat a worm ? Have you not noticed the twistings, frantic tumbling, and knottings-up of the captive ? Have you seen an ox put its foot in an ant's nest? Have you seen a thrush, by the hour together, stripping caterpillars off the vegetables ? Conceive the squeeze of that hard bill, and, if you fancy that the caterpillars don't mind it, just lay hold of one with a pair of tweezers. It is all right, I know, and caterpillars have no business to eat our salads; but still, don't make too much of the contrast between gloomy, grumbling man, torn by his passions,

too.

174

Tinning.the Bees. full of envy, ambition, and guilt, and the happy twittering world through which he frowns. It is my belief that man has much the best of it, and that even a bad man, who ought to be ashamed of himself, has more enjoyment than the merriest brute, be it big or small.

While I was lying on the lawn, looking close at the commotion among its inhabitants which the grass-cutting machine had made in its passage, I heard a “tinning” begin. Bees, thought I, looking round. Yes, there was a swarm settling on one of the boughs of the lime-tree under which I was, and on the other side of the wall my friend's man-servant, who, with apron on, had rushed out from his pantry, and catching up a bill-hook and a fire-shovel, was hammering away, as a sedative to the bees. Scientific bee-fanciers say that this din tends to irritate and drive

away the swarm, but still the custom holds its ground. In this case the swarm gradually shrunk down from a buzzing cloud into a living lump of bees walking over one another's backs, and congratulating one another, on having the queen safe beneath their feet in the middle of this solid mob. It hung on a branch about five feet above the ridge-tiles of an outhouse. “An awkward

« PreviousContinue »