« AnteriorContinuar »
“But, hark!” said SPRING, suddenly breaking off her discourse about the flowers. Hark, to the nightingale ! that sweetest of all feathered songsters; he has lately arrived from the wilds of Africa, where he has been passing the winter season, and I know by his singing that my reign is about half over; thousands and thousands of miles has he flown, over sea and over land, since last he built his nest and reared his young ones in yonder grove; and when Autumn shall once more send his messengers, the chill winds, to shake the leaves from the trees, and his pelting rains to beat down and destroy the beautiful summer flowers, then will he, guided by that wonderful intelligence which God has given to all living creatures, to provide for their safety and sustenance, and which is called instinct, once more take wing and fly as straight as if he could see through the whole of his long journey to the destined place of repose, to these warmer regions, where food is abundant, and easily obtained : now he has come back to his old rest. ing-place, and is making the woods and the groves around ring again with his sweet melody. And now
“ The welcome guest of settled Spring,
The swallow, too, has come at last !
And hailed her as she passed.'
See where she comes, like an arrow sent by a strong arm from a stout bow, as though she meant to fly right against us; and now how suddenly she turns, and with a graceful sweep, poised on her motionless wings, skims over the meadow, and along the surface of the stream which glides through yonder valley, and glitters in the sunshine like silver; let us follow the course of her flight, and watch her swift movements for a while, as she pursues the insects, on which she feeds, many of them invisible to the human eye. Take care that you do not crush those five little eggs of a greyish brown, with spots of a darker hue, which are nearly hidden in that tuft of long grass; they are those of the skylark, which we now hear singing far up in the blue heavens; but we must not pause to listen to her strain, for we have many things to see, and to talk about, before the night comes on; and here we are now at the border of the stream, where the bending reeds give out a rustling sound, as the fresh gale passes through them, and where our friend the swallow loves most to sport, for here it is that at this season the gnats and early flies are most plentiful: see how she darts among that little cloud of tiny creatures, keeping close to the surface of the water for a considerable distance, and then taking a wide sweep which conveys her out of sight in an instant, and returning again as quickly to the same spot for a fresh supply of food for her little ones, which are no doubt snug in their nest beneath the eaves, or within the chimney of some cottage, or farm house, near at hand, for she is a social bird, and loves the habitation of man, which is not the case with the one whose curious cry we now hear sounding so far away in the woodland depths; listen! again it comes upon the breese-more like an echo than a real sound. Well might the poet WORDSWORTH exclaim:
“O cuckoo, shall I call thee bird,
for it is not often that a glimpse can be obtained of the singular creature that cries cuckoo— cuckoo as it flits along the shady side of the hedge, or amid the thick underwood, looking for the nest of some other bird wherein to lay its eggs, which are left to be hatched by the owner of the habitation thus intruded on: cuckoo-cuckoo, again it comes, seeming more near. Let us cross the stream, and enter the wood which stretches up the side of the opposite hill; who knows but we 'may get a glimpse of the shy bird, and also of one not less retired in his habits, though much more musical in its voice, I mean the nightingale." And the child laughed and clapped his little hands with glee, as he followed SPRING over the single rough piece of timber which formed a bridge for passengers over the stream. “And is it not a beautiful bird ?” said he, with feathers all coloured like the rainbow? it surely must be a beautiful bird, or it never could sing so sweetly.' His conductor smiled and merely answered. “ We shall see presently.” And so on they passed between two graceful willows, which stood dipping their drooping boughs into the stream, and across the road which led to a pretty little village, whose church spire peeped out from amid some noble elms, that seemed desirous of screening the holy building from the view of the passer by, and protecting it from all insult or injury from man or the elements; and along this road side there ran a mossy bank, whereon grew in abundance the sweetest violets, both purple and white,
that the child had ever smelt or seen; there they were clustering amid the hollows formed by the twisted roots of a row of aged thorns and elder trees, which formed, as it were, a line of sentinels to the wood beyond, and threw out their crooked arms on every side, and perked up their rough mis-shapen forms, as much as to say, “ You cannot enter here! we will not allow it!” But the child was not at all alarmed at their threatening looks, and defying attitudes ; he knew very well that they could not hurt him, for he had often broken off the lesser branches of the first, to stick daisies on the sharp points with which they are armed, and thus make a minature tree full of blossoms, and of the last to convert into pop-guns, and he therefore, at a motion from his smiling companion, boldly began to clamber the bank at the top of which they stood. Suddenly, however, he started back, and almost fell, as a singular looking creature, with a yellow skin, having on it black spots and blotches, as though some one had Aung an ink-stand at it, in short, a frog, leapt out from beneath the root of an elder, whereon the child lad just put his hand, and kept jumping away towards the banks of the stream, as if for bare life; and well it might, for after it there came gliding rapidly, with a motion like that of a rolling wave of the sea, a snake whose beautifully variegated skin shone in the sunshine as though it had been decked in gold and jewels. “Be not afraid,” said SPRING, observing the alarm of the child, • they are both perfectly harmless; although they are very commonly looked upon with fear and disgust, yet they could not hurt you, even if they had the wish to do so, which I am very sure they have not. Many are the gentle and inoffensive creatures which man regards with aversion, and destroys wantonly, because he believes them to be venomous, or in some way injurious to himself or his property; a more intimate acquaintance with their habits and uses would convince him of his error, and lead him to shelter and protect them rather;" and, thus saying, with a look of tender pity upon her beaming countenance, she took the child's hand, who felt as if borne up by a gentle breeze laden with all sweet odours, and ascended the bank, on the other side of which was a copse of hazel and other trees of low growth, beyond immediately adjoining which, was the wood they were about to enter. It was no less curious than pleasant to see how the old elders brightened up as the vernal season passed by, and looked upon them with her sunny eyes, and breathed into their rugged trunks fresh life and vigour; how their leaves fluttered and quivered again with pleasure, and looked fresher and greener than they had done for many a day before; and how the thorns, that before looked so cross, and spiteful, and naked, and sullen, now began to clothe themselves in delicate glossy foliage, and to hide their sharp prickles, as if they were ashamed of bearing them in such company; indeed, they strove very hard, but, of course, unsuccessfully, to appear as gay and agreeable as their relative, the white, or hawthorn, as it is generally called, which at a little distance down the lane, was, as the poet says, wrapping its boughs in a snowy mantle :-